Irish Language Blog

Bean an Tuíodóra (The Wife of the Thatcher) Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in Irish Language

teach ceann tuí

(le Róislín)

Well, no, this blog is not going to be about the late Margaret Hilda Thatcher, An Banbharún Thatcher (13 Deireadh Fómhair 1925-8 Aibreán 2013).  She actually only acquired the name “Thatcher” through marriage, having been born a “Roberts.”  While it’s interesting to ponder the origin of the surname “Thatcher” in England, and the history of thatched cottages (plus the “cottage orné” movement there), that would be beyond the scope of this blog.

So let’s look at thatch (tuí), thatching (tuíodóireacht), and thatchers (tuíodóirí) in Irish.  As words, that is — discussing the actual practice would take far more space than this blog affords.  A good place to start, for those interested in the tradition and the craft in general, would be: Donegal Homesteads: The Disappearance of the Irish Thatched Cottage (Paperback), by Lida Bulf (, or, for DFÉ diehards (more power to ye, a lucht “Deán Féin É!), you’ll find the cur chuige teagmhálach at

Here’s the basic vocab for “thatch”:

tuí (thatch); an tuí (the thatch); na tuí (of the thatch).  Regarding pronunciation, this is a fairly straightforward word, but remember the “t” is the typical Irish “dental t,” meaning that the tongue sticks out a little bit between the upper and lower teeth as you say it (unlike the “t” in American English).  The initial “t” is not like the “t” in the English words “tee” or “tea.”  As for the “-uí,” remember that when there are two Irish vowels together, and one is long, it’s the long one that gets pronounced.  So the only vowel sound is “ee.”

tuíodóireacht (thatching, the act or practice of thatching)

tuíodóir (thatcher); an tuíodóir (the thatcher); an tuíodóra (of the thatcher); na tuíodóirí (the thatchers); na dtuíodóirí (of the thatchers)

bean an tuíodóra (the wife of the thatcher); dréimire an tuíodóra (the ladder of the thatcher)

ceann tuí: thatched roof (“ceann” normally means “head” but here means “roof” and it can be used for the upper portion of many things, e.g. ceann tairne, the head of a nail, or ceann leapa, the head of a bed)

teach ceann tuí: thatched roof house, as in the catchphrase “teach beag ceann tuí in ascaill an ghleanna.”  Presumably this would be another way to describe the “teach beag aolbhán neamhfholláin” (small unhealthy whitewashed house) which was the home of Micheálangaló Ó Cúnasa, the protagonist of Myles na gCopaleen’s classic satire, An Béal Bocht [The Poor Mouth, 1941].  “An ghleanna” means “of the glen,” and “ascaill” means, bhuel, “armpit” (aka “oxter”).  More on the relationship of “ascaillí” to “gleannta” in another blog, b’fhéidir.  I’ll just leave the topographical “ascaill” as a linguistic cliffhanger here.

What exactly is “thatch” anyway?  It can refer to various materials used to make roofs.  In Ireland or Britain, it is generally straw, rushes, bent-grass, or sedge.   Styles of thatching exist far beyond Ireland and Britain, of course.  Palmetto thatch was used in Florida by the Seminoles for the traditional “Chikee” house, and to some extent, it is still used decoratively today.  Attap palm leaves are used in thatching some traditional homes in Southeast Asia.  These “attap huts,” which also use the attap palm to make wattle for the hut walls, inspired the design of Singapore’s 36-storey Newton Suites, which won the 2007 Silver Emporis Skyscraper AwardNí hé teach beag ceann tuí do mhamó é! 

As for the next logical extension of “thatch” as our basic theme for the day, “Thatcherism,” I don’t actually see any official listing for “Thatcherachas” in any dictionary, but I did find 5 different references to “Thatcherachas” online.  One is a particularly emphatic expression, adding “amach is amach” (“Thatcherachas amach is amach atá anseo …), in a comment by “Colm” responding to a “Suirbhé” posted by igaeilge on 19 Bealtaine 2009 asking what you would do with a  €3m grant to support the Irish language (

And, lo and behold, double-checking for “Thatchereachas” (with the suffix “-eachas” instead of “-achas“) brings up a grand total of dhá amas eile, reminding us of the pervasive and very important system of “gutaí” and “consain” being either “caol” or “leathan” in Irish.   Meirgeach?  The gutaí caola are “e” and “i.”  The gutaí leathana are “a,”o,” and “u.”  According to the vowel harmony rules of Irish, a suffix should match the consonant it’s being attached to.  For broad consonants, we add endings like “-anna” for “carr” or “bus” (carranna, busanna) but for slender consonants we add “-eanna,” as with  “scoil” or “scil” (scoileanna, scileanna).  Similarly, “-faidh” for “ólfaidh” but “-fidh” for “brisfidh.”  So for the abstract “-ism-izing” suffix, we have two versions in Irish “-achas” and “-eachas.”  Since “Thatcher(e)achas” is not really a standard word in Irish, and since its root is an English word, both options exist at the moment.   Cé acu litriú is fearr leatsa?

Finally, no discussion of thatching would be complete without an seanfhocal coitianta seo:

Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb.  The windy day is not the day for thatching   Lit. The day of the wind isn’t the day of (for) scollops.  “Scollop” refers to a looped stick used in thatching.  “Scollop” is a Hiberno-English word based on the actual focal Gaeilge, “scolb,” which can also mean a splinter or the indentations on the edge of a scallop-shell.  “Scollops” can also be referred to as “thatching spars,” and they were traditionally made of wood, but more recently might be made of steel.

So, with a nod to the passing of the Thatcher era, there you have some of the basics creating the iconic calendar-photo Irish cottage, or at least talking about one i nGaeilge.

Nóta: Yes, “ism-ize” is a fairly new verb in English, but it fits a purpose and is gaining some popularity on the Internet.  So tá mé á úsáid anseoAn Ghaeilge ar “to ism-ize” — sin ceistMholfainn “*achasú,” mar thriail ar a laghadSamplaí: *D’achasaigh sé an focal (He ism-ized the word).  *Achasaítear a lán focal inniu (A lot of words are ism-ized today).  Do bharúil?

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