Irish Language Blog

Deich bhFrása Shuimiúla as Alt Uí Mhuirthile (‘Saoirí Samhraidh’ san Irish Times), Cuid 1 Posted by on Jul 25, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

In the most recent blogpost, we looked at how the word ‘samhradh‘ appeared in four different ways in an “An Peann Coitianta” column from the Irish Times (naisc thíos).  Even as I was focusing on those four forms (samhradh, samhraidh, an tsamhraidh, samhraí), I kept thinking, “This article is full of great phrases and vocabulary.”  Not super-difficult or anything, but just a little beyond what learners might often find in textbooks, even the conversational ones.  So I’ve picked ten phrases to look at a little more closely and hope you’ll find them as enriching, vocabulary-wise, as I do.  Whether it takes one blogpost or two to cover the  10 phrases remains to be seen.  I’ll know by “deireadh bhlag an lae inniu.”

Ní both ach cathaoir ard atá ag an ngarda tarrthála (ag an snámhaí tarrthála) seo. Ce acu a úsáideann na gardaí tarrthála i do cheantarsa -- cathaoir ard nó both (bothán). Agus an mbíonn siad ag fearaíocht mar a dhéanann siad i mblag an lae inniu? Iad atá ina bhfir, ar ndóigh. (grafaic: By Maria Moreno from Figueres, Girona (Barcelona's bodyguard) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Ní both ach cathaoir ard atá ag an ngarda tarrthála (ag an snámhaí tarrthála) seo. Ce acu a úsáideann na gardaí tarrthála i do cheantarsa — cathaoir ard nó both (bothán). Agus an mbíonn siad ag fearaíocht mar a dhéanann siad i mblag an lae inniu? Iad atá ina bhfir, ar ndóigh. (grafaic: By Maria Moreno from Figueres, Girona (Barcelona’s bodyguard) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Before we start, I’d first like to look at today’s blog title in a little more depth and also just set the scene for the time period “An Peann Coitianta” is covering here.  Of course, I hope you’ll open up the link for the article, so you can see these phrases in their fuller context.   And even glancing through it, with phrases like “na Stones” and “na Beatles,” it pretty much sets the stage, with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as one of the hit songs of the day.  “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” came out in May of 1968, so we’re probably talking about the summer of that year.

So for today’s title, there are two points of, yes, grammatical interest.  The first one I’ve always found to be unusual compared to singular/plural rules in any other language I’ve studied.  Spotted it?

deich bhfrása shuimiúla [djeh VRAW-suh HIM-yool-uh], ten interesting phrases.  As you might have noticed, “frása” (by itself a nice easy adaptation of “phrase”), is …

a)) eclipsed, meaning it has picked up the initial “bh,” changing the pronunciation from an “f” to a “v” sound. Why eclipsed (or as one would say in Irish, “Cén fáth a bhfuil urú air?“). Because it comes after the number 10, which triggers eclipsis, one of the two types of “initial consonant mutations” in Irish.  You’ve probably seen it in “deich mbliana” (the “b” of “bliain” becoming “mb,” never mind about the ending for now) or “deich gcat,” or to keep with the eclipsis of “f” as the initial letter, “deich bhfata” (10 potatoes), unless you’re outside of  Conamara, in which case you’d probably have “deich bpráta” (most typical) or possibly “deich bpréata” or “deich bpreáta,” but that should probably be ábhar blagmhír eile.

b)) followed by a plural adjective even though “bhfrása” is still technically singular. Furthermore, the adjective is lenited (s changing to sh), even though none of the typical triggers of lenition are there. But it doesn’t really matter what’s typical.  The adjective is lenited because most adjectives following nouns that come after numbers are lenited.  I know the reasoning is a bit circular, but often I think it’s more expedient simply to learn what the rule is and how to apply it rather than wondering why a particular structure is the way it is, in any language.  In English, for example, how can we “make do” and “come for to go,” to name just two interesting expressions, and how can “cleave” mean both “to separate from” and “to stick to”?  Pretty complicated to explain to an ESL learner.

I suppose this structure begs the question (“begs” a question, that’s odd, too), is “frása” really still singular here?  The word ending is singular.  If it were plural in the normal sense, it would be “frásaí.”   But maybe it’s theoretically plural while looking singular, sort of the opposite of “feelin’ single, seein’ double,” to apply Emmy Lou Harris lyrics (!) to explain grammar.  This one’s “lookin’ single(ular)” while “acting double,” well actually, ten-fold, since we have deich bhfrása to look at.  That is if we get beyond the blog title today.

The second major point from the title of today’s blog is the “” of “alt Uí Mhuirthile” [alt ee WIRzh-hil-yeh].  All of us have, no doubt, seen umpteen examples of the “Ó” form of many Irish surnames (sloinnte), like “Ó Murchú” and “Ó Domhnaill.”  But the possessive forms of those surnames might not be so obvious.  In my experience with textbooks, the “” form isn’t always introduced very early.  Ó Siadhail’s _Learning Irish_ (for which I have enormous respect, having taught from it for years), discusses the “” form in “Ceacht 36” of 36.  So you wait a long time before you learn to say, “O’Neill’s family” or some such phrase.  Ar aon chaoi, for anyone for whom this is a new structure, “alt Uí Mhuirthile” means “Ó Muirthile’s article,” i.e. “the article of [Liam] Ó Muirthile.”

A thiarcais!  All of that merely by way of introduction.  This is definitely going to be at least a two-parter, maybe three.  Well, the words are worth it.  So let’s turn now to the first two entries on my list, and save the rest for “níos moille.”  I hope you have the article open, because the phrases will be in their full context that way.

Dhá fhrása shuimiúla in alt a haon (oh, right, by the way, “alt” not only means “article,” but also “paragraph.”  Also, “knuckle,” but that’s definitely getting away from our main agenda here).  So we’ll wrap up today’s blogpost with two interesting phrases in paragraph one of Ó Muirthile’s article.

1) na glamanna ag na fir óga ag rás: I’ve mostly heard the word “glam” in reference to dogs, not people, so it was interesting to see it here applying to “fir óga” (young men).  And the “-anna” ending is the plural.  And, after all, since Ó Muirthile’s setting seems to be the late sixties, I can imagine lots of howling going on.  Or barking, baying, shouting, roaring, or bellowing, or however you care to translate it.

2) ag  guailleáil: since it’s two words, I’ll call it a “phrase” here, but really the translation boils down to one word.  I’ll opt for “swaggering” as in “swaggering about” or “sauntering about.”  The word is based on “gualainn” (shoulder), which may not look all that similar till we get to its plural, “guaillí.”  So “guailleáil” sort of means moving emphasizing the shoulders, or, I assume, sort of thrusting the shoulders forward.  It can also be used for “shouldering one’s way” (through a crowd, mar shampla), although in English I’d probably say “elbowing one’s way through.”  Intriguingly, Irish also has an “agent” form of this word, “guailleálaí,” meaning “a shoulderer.”  That’s a concept I never really felt a need for in English.  But “guailleálaí” can also mean ” a swaggerer” or “a saunterer,” which I could easily imagine using.

And I can easily imagine the “fir óga” of Ó Muirthile’s recollection racing about, howling (or shouting), and swaggering around.  After all, it was a late sixties summer, and oh yes, he says there were “buíonta ban” [bands, could I say “bevies,” of women] timpeall ar na bothanna acu [around the booths/huts at them].  Who specifically is “them”?  Apparently the “snámhaithe tarrthála ag fearaíocht.”  By which I assume he means “lifeguards macho-ing around,” if “macho” can be a verb in English.  I say “assume” because I knew “garda tarrthála” as the word for “lifeguard.”  But, “snámhaithe tarrthála” (lit. swimmers of saving) appears to work as well.

Well, there’s a few more words beyond even the original ten I’d planned (guailleálaí, fearaíocht, buíonta, snámhaí tarrthála).  Like I’ve said before with vocabulary, “dá mhéad is ea is fearr é” (the more the merrier).  SGF agus bain sult as an trá má tá tú ann!  – Róislín


alt Uí Mhuirthile san Irish Times: (14 Lúnasa 2002)

an blag roimhe seoSamplaí an fhocail ‘samhradh’ in alt le Liam Ó Muirthile san Irish TimesPosted by on Jul 22, 2016 in Irish Language

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  1. Fearn:

    Dea-alt arís, a Róislín. maith thú!


    i gcead duit, chuir an sampla seo ionadh orm: “deich mbuntáta”. Is aisteach liom go bhfuil an focal seo i bhFoclóir Uí Dhonaill. Focal i nGaeilge na hAlban é, agus níor chuala mé riamh in Éirinn é. Rud eile is cnuasainm é “buntàta” .i. tá sé uatha agus iolra

    • róislín:

      @Fearn Go raibh maith agat as scríobh isteach arís, a Fhirn. Bhain mé an frása den alt tar éis a bheith ag smaoineamh air. Níl sé soiléir ó Fhoclóir Uí Dhónaill an cnuasaimn i nGaeilge na hÉireann é an focal sin. Ní príomhábhar an bhlag é, pé scéal é, agus tá go leor samplaí eile san alt fós.

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