Irish Language Blog

Logainmneacha Ceilteacha agus Náisiúntachtaí a Trí: Celtic Place Names and Nationalities – Wales and the Welsh Posted by on May 3, 2009 in Irish Language

We’ve recently discussed the place names Albain (Scotland) and Éire (Ireland).  Now we’ll turn to ”An Bhreatain Bheag” (Wales).  Since “Breatain” is a feminine noun, the adjective that modifies it, “beag” (little) becomes “bheag.”  And since this country name includes the definite article “an” (the), it also causes “Breatain” to change to “Bhreatain,” pronounced with an initial “v” sound.  Here are some examples how to use the place name and how to indicate that someone is Welsh. 


Breatnach, a Welshman or Welsh person.  Like the terms for Irish and Scottish, it can be made feminine, “Breatnach mná,” but, as I’ve previously mentioned, most people don’t seem to bother.  The feminine form basically means “a woman Welshman.”  The Welsh themselves, though, quite regularly use the masculine and feminine forms in their own language (Breatnais, Welsh): Cymro (a Welshman) and Cymraes (a Welshwoman). 


an Breatnach, the Welshman.  Since “Breatnach” starts with a consonant, there are no special rules to remember for prefixing letters when you add the definite article. 


Breatnach is also the adjective form, as in “capaillín Breatnach” (Welsh pony).  A Welsh corgi, though, doesn’t need to be labeled “Welsh” when you’re speaking Irish; it’s just “corchú” (corgi, which literally means “dwarf dog” in Welsh).  Of course, the Welsh don’t need to label their iconic dog as being Welsh either – again, “corgi” alone suffices.   


In theory, there should be evidence for the existence of “Breatnachas” as a word to mean “Welshness,” but a quick online search reveals no cyberfootprint for it.  But with this blog, I guess I’ve started one!


Some phrases with the place name include:


An Bhreatain Bheag: used as the subject or direct object of a sentence


sa Bhreatain Bheag: in Wales


go dtí an Bhreatain Bheag:  to Wales


na Breataine Bige, of Wales, as in caisleáin na Breataine Bige (the castles of Wales)


Seo samplaí leis an bhfocal “Breatnach” nó leis an bhfrása “An Bhreatain Bheag”:


Is Breatnach í an t-amhránaí Charlotte Church.  The singer Charlotte Church is a Welsh person.    


Tá mé ag dul go dtí an Bhreatain Bheag ar mo laethe saoire.  I’m going to Wales on my holidays.   


Cá bhfuil Caerdydd (Cardiff)?  Tá Caerdydd sa Bhreatain Bheag.  Where is Cardiff? 

Cardiff is in Wales.


Breatnach” or its anglicized form “Branagh” also shows up fairly often as a surname in Ireland.  One famous namesake is Belfast-born Kenneth Branagh.  Sometimes the surname is actually translated to “Welsh” or “Walsh.“


Anyone care to say their nationality in Irish?  After we finish the sraith Cheilteach (Celtic series), we’ll try some others from around the world.  You might be able to figure these out: Is Meiriceánach mé.  Is Ceanadach mé.  Is Francach mé.  Is Síneach mé.  Agus tusa (and you)?  Bhur mblagálaí, Róislín

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  1. Al:

    Thank you for the education – I ended up here because I notice google maps mark the English side of the Anglo-Welsh border as ‘England’, and the Welsh side ‘An Bhreatain Bheag’. Good to know that they’re correct, even if their choice of language is a little curious.

  2. Róislín:

    Good point, Al. You’d think that if the map was intended to be in Irish, they’d use “Sasana” for England. If they’re going with each country’s name in its native language, then Cymru. At least, as you say, Google got the mutations correct. Thanks for writing in.

    Ydych chi’n siarad Cymraeg? Dw i’n siarad tipyn bach.

  3. Paddy:

    Brilliant blog, Ar fheabhas ar fad.

    Keep it up.


    • róislín:

      @Paddy Go raibh maith agat, Padster! Tá áthas orm go mbaineann tú sult as.

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