Irish Language Blog

In Search of the Wild, Domestic, Whatever, Blueberry – as Gaeilge Posted by on Nov 27, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Some of you may remember the picture of the blueberry tart from the last blog (   While the blueberry (and its kin, the bilberry, blaeberry, whortleberry, winberry, whinberry, bog bilberry, myrtle blueberry, and black-heart) may not be overwhelmingly associated with this time of year (an Fómhar), there’s no reason we can’t enjoy them.

So how would we describe that scrumptious (and healthy-looking) arrangement of concentric circles of blueberries, crowned with a mound of raspberries?

Well, the raspberries part is child’s play (no more “pie” clichés!).  The Irish word for raspberry is “sú craobh [soo kreev]” with “sútha craobh [SOO-huh kreev]” as the plural.  “The raspberry” (definite) is “an tsú craobh [un too kreev]” and “the raspberries” is “na sútha craobh.” Literally “sú craobh” means “red berry of (the) branches.”  Which may or may not parallel the basic meaning of “raspberry” itself as an English word.  It’s actually a bit of a mystery word as far at the English etymology goes, but most sources point either to an focal SeanVallúnaiseraspoie” (“muine,” “caschoill,” or “mothar” in Irish, “thicket” i mBéarla), which would parallel the Irish in concept, or to an focal MeánBhéarlaraspise” (fíon milis rósdaite, a sweet rose-colored wine) ón Angla-Laidinvinum raspeys.”  Based on my rusty Latin, I’d say “raspeys” looks an-aisteach for a Latin word, but then this is Angla-Laidin, from about 1000 years after the Latin I studied.  And the trail for “raspeys” seems to come to an end with Old French “raspe,” so I guess we’ll have to leave it there.

What really intrigues me about this is that Irish has a single word, “,” for “red berry.”  It is used in the phrases “sú craobh” and “sú talún” (a strawberry).  The latter literally means “red berry of (the) ground.”  Irish also has a single word for berries that are black, “sméar” [smayr]. “Sméar” can be, and usually is, further modified by the adjective “dubh” (black), but even by itself, sméar means “a black berry.”  Additionally, as you might remember from the last blog, there is the word “caor,” which means “berry” in a somewhat more general way.  It can be used to say, among others, “juniper-berry” (caor aitil, which are purple-black when mature), rowan-berry (caor chaorthainn, red in color), and “elder-berry” (caor throim, which are usually blue-black or red, but which may be yellow or white), as well as caora fíniúna, grapes.  Given the range of berries encompassed by “caor,” I’m a bit baffled by what the phrase “ar dhath na gcaor” (berry-colored) is supposed to mean, but I suppose it’s based on context.

So that brings us up to the blueberry, such as Vaccinium caesariense  (New Jersey blueberry, from the heartland of domestic blueberry cultivation in the U.S) and V. cyanococcus (American blueberry), among other types.  For many years I actually combed through all the Irish dictionaries I could get ahold of, and found nary an entry for “blueberry.”  Plenty of backup for bilberry, blaeberry, whortleberry, winberry, whinberry, bog bilberry, myrtle blueberry, and black-heart (as mentioned above).  They are all simply “fraochán.”  But the American blueberry isn’t quite the same, so I always hesitated to simply use “fraochán.”  I also toyed with the idea of combining “caor” with “gorm” (blue), or perhaps combining “sméar” with “gorm.”  Finally, thanks to online sources, I found that fraochán gorm has been established as the Irish for “blueberry.”  Which brings us back to our toirtín (toirtín fraochán gorm), with “fraochán gorm” in the “____” case?  (líon isteach an bhearna–freagra 1 thíos; remember, fraochán is a 1st-declension noun).   Or muffins (muifíní fraochán gorm).  Or pies (pióga fraochán gorm).  Or pancakes (pancóga fraochán gorm).  Agus araile!

And for what it’s worth, courtesy of Wikipedia, “Except in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain, a blueberry industry is developing in all regions [in Europe] where the production is possible due to the climatic and edaphic conditions…”(quote from W. D. Naumann, “Overview of the Vaccinium Industry in Western Europe,” 1993).  So, if blueberries as known i Meiriceá Thuaidh aren’t so widely used in Irish cooking, I guess it isn’t surprising.  But there are all kinds of references to the bil-blae-whin-etc.-berry in Irish cooking, folklore and literature, including among others, Brian Friel’s use of bilberries as a game-changer in Dancing at Lughnasa, and Séamus Ó Néill’s Ag Baint Fraochán agus Scéalta Eile, with “fraochán” translated as “blaeberries.”  And, dála an scéil, what case is “fraochán” in Ó Néill’s title? (Freagra 2, thíos).  Anyway, to loosely paraphrase and translate Al Lewis via the singing of Fats Domino, Andy Williams, The Everly Brothers, and even Vladimir Putin (!), I imagine both situations were ábhar drithlín.

Well, that more or less covers blueberries, and is also an object lesson in the creation of new vocabulary in Irish, particularly where items not native to Ireland are involved.  Words often have subtle nuances, which means one can’t always just put two word parts together and get a whole.

My sú pomagránaite le fraocháin ghorma beckons.  SGF, Róislín

Freagra 1: genitive case (an tuiseal ginideach); also, btw, plural

Freagra 2: also genitive case and plural; if it said “ag baint fraocháin,” it would mean “picking one blaeberry,” at least according to traditional Irish grammar.

Gluais: drithlín, a thrill (here, as obtained on the infamous “Blueberry Hill,”) a tingle, a twitch; , as a feminine noun, is used for berries, although the sú talún, is not technically a berry, with its síolta (seeds) on the outside; , as a masculine noun, is “juice,” as in “sú oráiste,” or, as used above “sú pomagránaite.”  , masculine, can also mean “soup,” especially in the North (sú caoireola, sú glasraí, srl.).

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. con:

    re|”ar dhath na gcaor”.I live in south Dublin in Ireland and have often heard somebody who had a good tan described as being ” as brown as a berry”. It always struck me as an odd expression as berries are different colours depending on the type of berry,ach sín é. Con

    • róislín:

      @con GRMA as scríobh, Con. Tá sin suimiúil agus tá an ceart agat — cén sórt caoire atá i gceist agus cén chaor atá “donn”? B’fhéidir go gcuirfeá suim sa fhrása seo freisin: “His palfrey was as broune as is a bery.” Cé a scríobh é? Chaucer (Scéal an Mhanaigh).

Leave a comment: