Irish Language Blog

How Magonus Succetus Became ‘Naomh Pádraig’ (St. Patrick) — Or Is It ‘Pádraig Naofa’? Posted by on Mar 17, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

There are  so many topics concerning “Lá Fhéile Pádraig” (béigil uaine and beoir uaine, aibhneacha uaine and amhráin mar “Chaitheamh an Ghlais,” to name just a few), that they can’t possibly fit into one blog.  So for this “Blag Fhéile Pádraig” we’ll just concentrate on the saint’s name (Magonus, Maewyn, Succetus, Succat, Pádraig, Qatrikias, et al.) and his title, Naomh (sometimes “Naofa“).

Seanstampa le pictiúr de Naomh Pádraig

Many of you are probably already aware of the fact that St. Patrick was not born in Ireland.  He mentions his birthplace in his Confessio, which he wrote in Latin. But the place he mentions, “Banna Venta Berniae,” has remained a mystery for as long as scholars have been investigating it.  Many say it was in northwestern Wales, others say southwestern Scotland, and right now the leading theory is Cumbria, in northwestern England, which is roughly halfway in between.  I’ve seen about a dozen proposals for the specific location!

At any rate, a key point to remember is that anywhere in that, let’s say, Aberystwyth-to-Ayr stretch, would have been Romano-Celtic in St. Patrick’s youth.  In the Confessio, he clearly describes a Romano-Celtic background, with the Latin names of his father and grandfather, Calpornius and Potitus, and their occupations, deacon and priest, respectively.  An early form of the Welsh language was spoken in what we would today call southern Scotland, as indeed it was throughout the area we now call England.  The Saxons and the Angles (from whom we get the name England) had yet to make an appearance.

St. Patrick was not originally named “Patrick,” not even in any Irish version of the name, whose variants range from “Qatrikias” in Proto-Irish to today’s “Pádraig.”  As much as can be pieced together, he was “Maewyn Succat,” which was Latinized as “Magonus Succetus.”  The name “Patrick” is derived from the Latin “Patricius,” related to “patrician,” and, less directly, to “pater” (father).

It was the declining years of the Roman Empire, especially from the early British perspective.  St. Patrick was born ca. 386 A.D. and by the first decade of the 5th century, the Romans had pulled their troops out of Britain, leaving the land relatively unprotected.  The troops were being called back to Italy to protect Rome, which was considered more vital to the Empire than its far-flung, not to mention cold and rainy,, territories to the northwest.  The teenaged St. Patrick was kidnapped from “Banna Venta Berniae,” which was probably near the coast, by Irish pirates.  Although these pirates may have been raiding the coastline for years, the declining presence of the Romans probably facilitated their activities, making retribution less likely.

Thus begins the long saga of Patrick’s life, first as a sclábhaí (slave) and muicí (swine-herd) in northeastern Ireland, his trek across Ireland six years later to a boat which would take him to France, his studies in a monastery there, and his eventual return to Ireland, where he began his missionary activities.

But back to our main goal for this blog, ainm an naoimh.

Today, St. Patrick is mostly known in Modern Irish as “Naomh Pádraig.” “Naomh” [neev OR nayv] means “saint.”  In formal contexts, he is sometimes known as “Pádraig Naofa,” which is essentially the same, but more literally means “Holy Patrick” or “Sanctified Patrick.”  You might recognize “naofa” from a related word in the most recent blog, “naofacht” (holiness), used in addressing the Pope or in announcing the Pope’s entry into a room.

How exactly do we get from the “-mh” of “naomh” to the “-f-” of “naofa” and “naofacht.”  Piece o’ cake, that is, Guinness cake, of course!  The Irish language underwent a major spelling reform in the 1950s, reducing the number of silent letters.  “Naofa” used to be spelled “naomhtha.”  Likewise, “naofacht” used to be spelled “naomhthacht.”  Originally the “-tha” ending was added to “naomh” to make the word into an adjective (naomh + -tha).  Since that “mhth” sounded like an “f,” the spelling was changed during the reform.  A similar process happened with other words, including the very basic vocabulary word “scríofa” [SHKREE-fuh] which used to be spelled “scríobhtha,” more closely resembling its verbal forms “scríobh” [shkreev, “to write”], “scríobhaim” [SHKREEV-im, “I write”], etc.

To create the word “naofacht” (holiness), a similar process happened, adding the ending “-thacht,” which created the abstract noun.

So, now that you’ve learned all that, guess what happens when you want to say “Saint Patrick’s Day” or “Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!”  The “naomh” part goes away altogether, at least in the traditional versions.  It’s characteristic in Irish not to include the actual word for the saints in the names of many institutions or set terms (like feast-days) referring to them.  For example, we have “Faiche Stiabhna” (St. Stephen’s Green) and numerous schools called “Coláiste Bríde” (“St. Bridget’s College,” although the college’s name is often not translated at all but left in Irish).

For the feast days of the saints, we have terms like “Lá Fhéile Pádraig” (the day of the feast-day of Patrick), Lá Fhéile Bríde (the day of the feast-day of Bridget), and “Lá Fhéile Niocláis” (the day of the feast-day of Nicholas).  With “Lá Fhéile Pádraig” in particular, the full spelling of “Fhéile” [AYL-yuh] is sometimes dropped, leaving us with “Lá ‘le Pádraig.”  The “fh-” of “fhéile” is silent, making it all the easier for the pronunciation to be shortened.  Either way, the word for “saint” doesn’t appear.

For “Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” the traditional form is actually a blessing, “Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort” (or “oraibh” for plural).   Literally that’s “the blessings/greetings of the feast-day of Patrick on you.”  Again the word “saint” is not actually present.  Nor is the word for “happy” (actually Irish has quite a few words for “happy” — sona, áthasach, gliondrach, etc. — ach sin ábhar blag eile) but they’re not used here because the word “beannachtaí” [BAN-ukh-tee] implies the happiness of the day.

Just as an experiment, I tried putting “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” into Google Translate.  Sorry, a lucht an aistriúcháin uathoibríoch (“followers of machine translation”), but I wasn’t very satisfied with the results.  I got “” followed by “sona” followed by “naomh” (lower-case, to boot) followed by “Pádraig.”  By the way, I just added the phrase “followed by” each time in writing this blog to minimize the likelihood that the incorrect phrase will be cut and pasted from this here.  The Google result simply doesn’t fit Irish word order, let alone the culture behind the expression (the blessing, the idea that it’s a feast-day, not just a generic “,” and the idea that often saints are so honored that we don’t actually need the word “saint” to honor them in their institutions).

The adjective “sonais typically used for “Nollaig Shona” [NUL-ik HUN-uh] and for “Lá Breithe Sona Duit” [law BRzhEH-huh SUN-uh ditch], which are “Merry/Happy Christmas” and “Happy Birthday To You,” respectively.  But I don’t seen any reason to change a good traditional Irish phrase just to make it match the English more literally.

When I put “Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig” into Google for it to translate into English, it gives me, “Pádraig greetings.”  Apparently it ignored the middle of the phrase.  Hmm, I thought the “féile” (feast-day) part was a key point here!

Bhuel, pé scéal é, “Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig” oraibh go léir, and maybe next blog we’ll do a little follow-up.  Which gets more hits this year — “béigeal uaine,” “beoir uaine,” or “abhainn uaine“?  Or the same terms searched with “glas” instead of “uaine.”  A tricky topic because “uaine” is usually for man-made or dyed objects and “glas” for objects that are naturally green (unless they’re gray, like a cow or a horse, as noted in the previous blog).  But if all of this greenery at St. Patrick’s Day evokes the naturally growing shamrock, then is it “uaine” because we’re using dye or “glas” because of the symbolism?  It’s a difficult issue to answer absolutely, but I think we can safely count references to “green bagels” et ól, úúps “al.” for next time and see where that leaves us.  SGF, Róislín

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  1. Jaic McKillip:

    Go hiontach

    • róislín:

      @Jaic McKillip Go raibh maith agat, a Jaic. Tá áthas orm gur thaitin sé leat.

  2. Tomas Gallagher:

    an Focal LUCHT a Usaideadh ina abairt { a lucht an aistriuchain uathoibrioch } cad chuige e Usaidfidis sin. Shilim go Usaidfeadh se ina iolra mar shampla daoine scata bain me mo dhicheall as Ba mhaith liom irracht a dheanamh air aris as Gaeilge .go raibh maith agatsa Fa choinne do blog Ta ceist agam. cad e mar a chuireann tu sineadh fada focal orthu seo . le mo riomhaire

    • róislín:

      @Tomas Gallagher A Thomáis, a chara, Maidir leis an bhfocal “lucht,” úsáidtear go minic é, mar shampla: lucht éisteachta, lucht féachana, lucht na cúlchainte, lucht déanta poitín, srl.

      Tá sé go hiontach go bhfuil tú ag tosú a bheith ag úsáid Gaeilge arís. Tá áthas orm go dtaitníonn an blag leat agus tá súil agam go gcuideoidh sé leat.

      Don síneadh fada: ar PC úsáidim: a l t + 0225 do a, + 0233 do e, + 0237 do i, + 0243 do o, agus + 0250 do u. I “Word,” control’ + an litir. TSAGgCSSL (i.e. HTH!).-R

  3. Catherine Ann Cullen:

    Róislín, what a wonderful blog, íontach! I found it when I was googling how to spell congratulations in Irish, turns out I was mixed up between the Northern Irish and other version. Could you put up a bit of information about yourself on the blog? Or maybe it is there but I can’t see it! GRMA, Catherine

  4. paiste beag i rang a 7:

    dean and rud seo I geailag ar fad!!!!!!!!!!!11

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