Irish Language Blog

Cé Mhéad Patraisc? Cé Mhéad Drumadóir? (or ’12 Lá na Nollag’ Redux and an Irish Counting Lesson to boot) Posted by on Dec 18, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Cé mhéad bronntanas? 376? 364? 78? Leis na ba agus na huibheacha nó gan iad? (Pictiúr le Xavier Romero-Frias,

Cé mhéad bronntanas? 376? 364? 78? Leis na ba agus na huibheacha nó gan iad? (Pictiúr le Xavier Romero-Frias,

In the last blog, we discussed “fearáin” (aka “fearáin bhreaca“) amongst other members of the order Columbiformes (coilm agus colúir, doves and pigeons, etc.).  And we briefly alluded to the fact that the Irish for “turtledove” doesn’t have the element “turtle” (turtar) or “dove” (colm, or sometimes “colúir”  — for more on the Irish for “turtledove,” please see the note below).  Instead, we have “fearán” (turtledove) as celebrated in “Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag” (The Twelve Days of Christmas).  Outside of that context, the two other main associations I have with the  word “turtledove” are the surname of the alternate history/fantasy novelist Harry Norman Turtledove (agus ní ainm cleite é!) and “The Song of Solomon” 2:12 (…Tá an fearán ag durdáil amuigh … ).  But the Christmas carol is certainly the most timely of these.

Given the season that’s in it, this might be a good time to revisit that perennially favorite carol.  The individual verses have been discussed in previous blogs. as listed below, so this one will look at one specific aspect — using bunuimhreacha and uimhreacha pearsanta for counting things/animals vs. people.

As you probably recall, the traditional carol involves the following animals: patraisc, fearáin, cearca francacha, lonta dubha, géanna agus ealaí (a partridge, turtledoves, French hens, calling (or colly) birds, geese, swans)

As for “nithe” (things, aka “rudaí”), we have an crann piorraí and na fáinní óir.  The latter may actually be a reference to another bird, an piasún muinceach (the ring-necked pheasant), but for this blog, I’ll subscribe to the party line and assumes that “rings” are “rings.” (the pear tree, the golden rings)

And then we count some “daoine” (people) : cailíní bleánaí, mná, tiarnaí, píobairí, agus drumadóirí (maids, ladies, lords, drummers, pipers)

Why is it so important to distinguish people from animals and things for counting?  Irish has a separate system of number for counting people, referred to as “na huimhreacha pearsanta” (the personal numbers).  This system is only used up to twelve; beyond that people are counted like animals or inanimate objects.  And “eleven” is also exceptional, working like the regular “bunuimhir.”

So given the vocabulary above, can you fill in the correct form of the nouns in these sentences.  A couple of hints might help.  First, most of the forms above are given in the plural, but when counting animals and things, in Irish, the noun stays singular (like “trí chapall,” three horses, lit. three horse, and “seacht seirbil,” seven gerbils, lit. “seven gerbil”).  For the personal numbers, there are several systems currently used but I usually stick to the plural form, specifically genitive plural, as in “beirt mhac,” “beirt bhan,” or “triúr buachaillí.”  Freagraí thíos (with a pronunciation guide, to boot).

As a little leg up, I’ve filled in whatever adjectives or other modifiers are necessary, so only the noun needs to filled in.

1a. _________ amháin (the number “one” comes after the noun, all the others come before the noun; NB: the text of the song uses “a,” not “one,” but here we’re practicing numbers, so I’ve included the number).

1b. _________  piorraí amháin (Again, the song text doesn’t say, “one pear tree,” but again, here we’re practicing numbers)

2. dhá ____________  bhreaca

3. trí ____________  fhrancacha

4. ceithre __________  dhubha (remember, “calling” is supposedly actually “colly” or “coaly,” i.e. “black”)

5. cúig ______________ óir.

6. sé ___________ ag breith

7. seacht ______________ ag snámh

8. ochtar ______________ bleánaí (or “ag bleán”)

9. naonúr ______________ ag damhsa

10. deichniúr ____________ ag léimneach

11. aon _______________ dhéag ag píobaireacht

12. dháréag __________________ ag drumadóireacht

Oh, and by the way, this exercise subscribes to the idea that each item was only given once, one partridge on the first day, etc.  There is an alternate philosophy in which the recipient gets 12 partridges, 12 pear trees, 22 turtledoves, 30 French hens, etc., with the gifts being repeated each day, a sort of St. Ivesian kits-cats-sacks-wives paradox.

Hope you enjoyed this exercise and bíodh laethanta saoire deasa agat.  And to say, “Merry Christmas,” remember the Irish phrase actually says “Happy Christmas” — “Nollaig Shona” and the greeting is “Nollaig Shona duit” (to one person) and “Nollaig Shona daoibh” (to two or more people).   “Shona” is pronounced “HUN-uh” and “daoibh” is pronounced “deev.”  SGF — Róislín

Nóta maidir le “fearáin” (turtledoves):  There is another version of the word “fearán” which is “féarán,” with an é-fada.  There is also the phrase “fearán breac” (and presumably “féarán breac“), which can also be used for “turtledove.”


1a. patraisc amháin [PAHT-rishk uh-WAW-in, the “m” is silent]

1b. crann piorraí amháin [krahn PyUR-ee uh-WAW-in]

2. dhá fhearán  bhreaca[γaw AR-awn, that gamma sign (γ) is the voiced velar fricative, for which there is a description at the following link  and various other blogs in this series; loosely speaking it’s like a guttural “h,” similar to the “ch” of German “Buch,” Welsh “bach,” and Yiddish “chutzpah.”  For starters on the “dh,” try “Saying “I love you” in Irish and Minding Your Velar Fricatives (9 Meán Fómhair 2011) at]

3. trí chearc fhrancacha [trzhee hyark RANK-ukh-uh]

4. ceithre lon dhubha (remember, “calling” is supposedly actually “colly” or “coaly,” i.e. “black”)

5. cúig fháinne óir [KOO-ig AWN-yuh oh-irzh]

6. sé ghé ag breith [shay yay egg brzheh]

7. seacht n-eala ag snámh [shakht NAL-uh egg snawv]

8. ochtar cailíní bleánaí (or “ag bleán“) [OKH-tur KAI-leen-ee BLyAW-nee … or “egg blyawn”]

9. naonúr ban ag damhsa [NEE-noor bahn egg DOW-suh; remember: “ban” means “of women,” so this phrase is close to saying “a nonet of women,” although the English word “nonet” is mostly limited to describing musical groups.

10. deichniúr tiarnaí ag léimneach [DJEH-nyoor TCHEER-nee egg LAYM-nyukh]

11. aon phíobaire dhéag ag píobaireacht [ayn FEEB-irzh-uh yayg egg PEEB-irzh-ukht]

12. dháréag drumadóirí ag drumadóireacht [γawr-ayg DRUM-uh-doh-irzh-ee egg DRUM-uh-doh-irzh-ukht; remember that “drum-” in Irish isn’t quite like the English “drum.”  The vowel “u” in the Irish is more like the English “put” while in English, “drum” and “to putt” have the same vowel sound.

Blaganna Eile faoin Amhrán Seo:  Bunuimhreacha, Orduimhreacha is Maoluimhreacha — A Thiarcais! (Oh my!) Posted on 25. Dec, 2012 Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag (The Twelve Days of Christmas), Posted on 25. Dec, 2010 Cearca Francacha agus Lonta Dubha (Cuid a Dó don tSraith: Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag) Posted on 29. Dec, 2010 “Ór,” “Óir” or “Órga”? “Fáinne” or “Éan”? Éan?! (Cuid a Trí: Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag) Posted on 31. Dec, 2010 JAN 4 2011: Géanna agus Ealaí (Cuid a Ceathair: Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag) Posted on 04. Jan, 2011 Na hUimhreacha Pearsanta i nGaeilge (Irish Personal Numbers and Cuid a Cúig or the Last Installment of Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag) Posted on 06. Jan, 2011


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