Irish Language Blog

Lá Fhéile Bríde (Lá ‘le Bríde): 1 Feabhra Posted by on Feb 1, 2010 in Irish Language

Inniu (an chéad lá de mhí na Feabhra) Lá Fhéile Bríde.  Today (the first day of the month of February) is St. Bridget’s day.


Tá mé faoi dhubh-iontas ag breathnú ar an uimhir de shuímh Idirlín atá ag cur síos ar Naomh Bríd agus a féile.   I’m amazed looking at the number of websites describing St. Bridget and her feast day. 


Thart fá 95,400 do “Lá Fhéile Bríde” agus 7,340 do “Lá ‘le Bríde.”   That’s not even including a search in English!  Of course, some may just be tagairtí gairide (brief references), but still the amount of activity is impressive. 


The details of her life are available in many forms, from capsúlbheathaisnéisí (, mar shampla, ón scoil “St. Bridget of Kildare” sa bhaile Pacific, Missouri) to leabhartha (m. sh. Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe, by Lisa M. Bitel) to name just a few.  These two publications are at the opposite extremes of length (a one-paragraph website and a 320-page book, the latter admittedly dealing with a second major female saint, that is, Genovefa as well as Bridget. 


Given that there’s plenty to read elsewhere on Bridget’s teaghlach (Christian mother, Celtic chieftain father), the míorúiltí associated with her, and her naofacht, this blog will concentrate on the basics: the pronunciation and grammar involved in the name of her feast-day, and the variations which occur.  Now if any of you want the secrets of how she made multiple dabhcha leanna (vats of ale) out of the ingredients for just one vat’s worth, I’m afraid the answer is “Níl a fhios agam.”  Perhaps some of those símeoirí and símeolaithe (zymurgists and zymologists) among you might have some better insight.  Like I said, níl anseo ach an “nitty-gritty.” 


There are at least half a dozen forms of her name out there, especially if you count both Irish and English.  The earliest is probably “Brigid” and, at one time, the medial “g” may have been articulated.  But for most of Modern Irish (several hundred years’ worth), the spelling was “Brighid” [breedj], with the “gh” silent.  Actually that “h” would have been represented sa seanchló (old print) with a ponc (dot) above the “g” but … scéal na bponcanna, sin scéal eile.  In the current spelling (devised in the 1950s), the silent “gh” is left out, the vowel is lengthened, and the spelling is simply “Bríd” [breedj]. 


Naomh” [neev OR nayv] is the Irish word for “saint,” typically used for Irish saints.  “San” is typically used for non-Irish saints, although the distinction is not always hard and fast.  Either way, though, the word “naomh” generally does not appear in the names of Irish saints’ feast-days.  Just referring to the saint by name is apparently sufficient (e.g. Lá Fhéile Bríde, with no “naomh” in the phrase). 


Féile” means “feast day.”  It is lenited (insert “h”) after the word “” since it is part of a double genitive (possessive) construction: day of the feast of Bridget. 

When lenited, the new initial letters are “fh” and they are silent.  So “fhéile” is pronounced “AYL-yeh.”  Given that silent initial consonant cluster, it’s a typical variation to just write “Lá ‘le Bríde,” with the apostrophe representing the rest of the word (f-h-é-i).  For those of you who may be among the myriad writers today who never or rarely use apostrophes in English, I can only plead their case in Irish.  They often represent major missing chunks of words (often silent) and it’s really important to include them in Irish.  I know there’s an Apostrophe Protection Society for the English language.  Maybe I should set one up for Irish!  Or maybe there is one already.  At any rate, however slack the rules may have become in English (see Lynne Truss, etc.), please don’t apply that slackness to Irish. 


Why?  If the apostrophe were left off here, we’d have a completely different word, the preposition “le” (with).  Then the phrase wouldn’t make sense because we’d have an object of a prepositional phrase in the genitive case even though the preposition doesn’t take the genitive case!  If that’s more of a bolgam gramadaí than you’re interested, please just “slog siar é” (swallow it down) and then ignore, since the dea-scéal is that everyone writes their uaschamóga in Irish, don’t they?  So the confusion would never happen, right? 


Finally, for the name of the feast-day, the ending to the name “Bríd” is “-e,” which shows that it is possessive (genitive case).  That makes a major exception to normal Modern Irish rules for showing possession.  While “Bríde” has the genitive ending (-e), it doesn’t get lenited (no “h” inserted), even though lenition is usually a hallmark of the possessive forms in Irish (cóta Bhriain, Brian’s coat; banbh Shéamais, Séamas’s bonham, etc.).  The reason for this exception, such as it is, is that the name pertains to a saint.  So we see the same issue in Lá Fhéile Pádraig (aka Lá ‘le Pádraig). 


Which means that the good news is that all the grammar you learned in order to say “the day of the feast of Bridget” can also be applied to St. Patrick’s Day and other saints’ days.   Ailliliú!  Recycled grammar go deo


N.B. uaschamóg: lit. “upper comma,” i.e.  apostrophe.  In Irish, “apastróf” is more of a literary or rhetorical term, not a punctuation term. 


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  1. Doug:

    Hi, you say the ‘gh’ in ‘Brighid’ would have been silent. So it wouldn’t have represented a slenderised (palatalised) velar fricative (gh)?

    • róislín:

      @Doug Dia dhuit, a Doug. What I was saying was that for the past several hundred years (approximately) the “gh” in “Brighid” has been silent, as have many slender “gh’s” in Irish (ceannaigh, uaigh, etc.). In some cases, like “Brighid,” “ceannaigh,” and “uaigh”, the “-igh” is now an /i:/ sound (like English “me” or “bee”). So when the spelling reform of the 1950s changed the spelling to “Bríd” (/b’r’i:d’/, to use the Irish-modified IPA), no sounds were lost. But even with the spelling reform, the spellings of “uaigh” and “ceannaigh” were left with the “-gh.”

      We don’t really know what the name “Brigid” would have sounded like 1500 years ago, but probably the “g” was pronounced in some way. Thanks for writing in – Róislín

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