Irish Language Blog

Cé Mhéad Réalta? Cé Mhéad Riabh? Posted by on Jun 26, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Among the many topics we could discuss concerning flags is the actual design of the American flag.  This will also give us some practice with counting in general and counting items while including adjectives that describe the topic further.  Here our additional adjectives will be on color, but of course, almost any other adjective (beag, mór, deas, etc.) could be involved.

The basic phrase for saying “How many?” is “Cé mhéad?”   Sometimes speakers may say “Cá mhéad?”  Both are correct.

Unlike English, the noun that follows the question “Cé mhéad?” stays in the singular.

So we can ask:

Cé mhéad réalta? 

Cé mhéad riabh?

Or to get away from the stars and stripes vocabulary briefly, and use even more basic words:

Cé mhéad duine atá anseo? (not “daoine”)

Cé mhéad buachaill atá anseo? (not “buachaillí”)

Cé mhéad cailín atá anseo? (not “cailíní”)

To flesh out our original question:

Cé mhéad réalta atá ar an mbratach?

Cé mhéad riabh atá ar an mbratach?

Remembering the other main word for “stripe,” we could also ask:

Cé mhéad stríoc atá ar an mbratach?

And although we didn’t introduce it earlier, there’s also at least one other word for “star” in Irish (ní nach ionadh!), “rinn.”

Cé mhéad rinn atá ar an mbratach? 

For more on “rinn” as “star,” féach thíos ar nóta a dó, but meanwhile, back to comhaireamh (counting).

To answer our basic questions about the American flag:

Tá caoga réalta ar an mbratach.  The item you’re counting (here “stars”) stays singular in Irish after numbers.

(lit. Fifty “star” are on the flag).

Tá trí riabh déag ar an mbratach.  There are 13 stripes on the flag.

OR: Tá trí stríoc déag ar an mbratach.

To add color, we could say:

Tá seacht riabh dhearga ar an mbratach.

OR: Tá seacht stríoc dhearga ar an mbratach.

So what happened to our basic word “dearg” (red)?  It got lenited, because it’s following a noun in a number phrase, and it got the plural ending “-a,” even though the noun itself is grammatically singular.  Yes, that singular-plural match-up is strange (grammatically) but true, and could also be the subject of blag beag eile, or perhaps dhá bhlag bheaga eile, some day!

Technically, I should be saying the stripes are “Old Glory Red,” since there’s a specific CAUS formula for that color, but that will also have to wait for blag éigin eile, and will probably also be a bit speculative.  ‘Cuz how often do we discuss the scientific formula for the shade of red in the American flag in Irish?  But it’ll be a good work-out, since the words for “old,” “glory,” and “red,” are certainly useful vocabulary, in whatever context.

Back to dathanna na riabh (dathanna na stríoc):

Tá sé riabh bhána ar an mbratach.  Same procedure, lenite and pluralize, so “bán” (white) changes to “bhána.”

OR: Tá sé stríoc bhána ar an mbratach.

So, more on “Old Glory Red,” and its companion “Old Glory Blue,” and a bit more vexillology coming up (hoping you’re not finding the detail too vexing).  At some point, we’ll segue to discussing Bratach na hÉireann, its color scheme and design, and a bit of its history.

If readers on the list would like to submit some sentences describing their bratach náisiúnta in Irish, that would be more than welcome!  The U.S. has been pretty well covered by now, and Ireland will be soon, but there’s always room for more nótaí tráchta on those topics as well.  Idir an dá linn, slán go fóill, Róislín

Nóta a hAon: CAUS, Color Association of the United States

Nóta a Dó:

No, this “rinn” is not the same “rinn” you might know as meaning a “point” or a “tip,” as on a weapon or a triangle.  Examples of the point/tip usage include “rinn saighde” (arrowhead), “ó rinn go sáil” (“from head to toe,” lit. from tip to heel); and rinn tíre (a headland or promontory) as in An Rinn (Ring, Co. Waterford), or Rinn an Scidigh (Ringaskiddy, Co. Cork).  “Rinn” for “point” and “rinn” for “star,” that’s homagraif arís, just as in English, where we have several completely different meanings for “back,” “can,” “fluke,” “temple,” and “skate” (fish vs. roller-, ice-skate), and many other words.

You might be wondering, the same as I have, whether there might not be some connection between a word for a “point” and a word for a “star,” as an example of sineicdicé.  It’s good food for thought, but not readily solvable, at least not i mblag beag amháin mar mo bhlagsa.  But two key points in that discussion would be that real stars don’t technically have points, at least not anything so clear-cut as our notions of well-balanced five- and six-pointed stars, and, secondly, that “rinn” as “star” used to be spelled “reann” and sometimes still is.  Further ambiguating the situation!  So the two words intertwine again once you start declining them, as follows:

Modern usage:

rinn, star, reanna (of a star), reanna (stars), reann (of stars)

rinn, point, tip, rinne (of a point), reanna (points), reann (of points)

Older usages:

reann, star, reanna or rinne (of a star), reanna or reannta (stars)

rinn, point, tip, rinne or reanna (of a point), rinne or reanna (points, tips) 

Ceist do lucht na SeanGhaeilge, is dócha. 

If nothing else, we could at least discuss a “rinn rinneach” (pointed star!), but actually, in general, I really do prefer the least ambiguous vocabulary I can think of, at least for most cases, so I’d tend to say “réalta rinneach” if it comes to that.  Or to totally disambiguate, “réalta biorach,” which also means “pointed star.”

Hmm, we’ve gone from a simple description of the American flag (trí riabh déag, caoga réalta) to réaltaí, réiltíní, reanna, and reannta, and we could add reannáin, reannóga, réilteoga, and réaltóga, to name just a few more variations on these words. Not to mention “réalta reatha,” “scead” (a star on a horse’s forehead), etc.  Enough to make mo mhaothán uisinneach clé see stars, which, curiously enough is expressed with an entirely different word in Irish, léaspáin, as in the sentence, “Tá léaspáin ag teacht ar mo shúile” (I’m seeing stars).  “Léaspáin” more specifically means “dancing colored lights before one’s eyes,” and no, this isn’t the same as “gealáin” as in “na Gealáin Thuaidh” and “na Gealáin Theas,” which are another type of “dancing colored lights,” technically “before our eyes” (as is anything we see, except in our mind’s eye), but on a ginormous scale.  An Ghaeilge ar “ginormous”?  Barúil agatsa?

Gluais don Nóta: clé, left; léas, bright spot, ray of light, also a blister, a welt, or a stripe (if we want to start that over again!); maothán, lobe (of brain); sineicdicé, synecdoche; uisinneach, temporal (cf. uisinní, temples, angles, gills, etc.)

Tags: , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. caroline allen pysell:

    what do the colors of the irish flag stand for Green white & gold thanks

    • róislín:

      @caroline allen pysell Coming up soon, but “idir an dá linn” perhaps some of the “léitheoirí” might like to venture a “freagra.” Duine r b?

Leave a comment: