Irish Language Blog

Mónóg, the Irish for Cranberry, Bogberry, and Mossberry Posted by on Nov 22, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

I’ve long been intrigued by the definition of “mónóg” both as “cranberry” and “bogberry.” Intrigued for two reasons. One, because I’ve never noticed any great emphasis on cranberries in traditional Irish cooking or in the Irish diet, and yet the word “mónóg” is certainly not simply a phonetic adaptation of “cranberry,” the way “ceibeab” is for “kebab” or “citsire” is for “kedgeree.”

The other reason I’ve been so intrigued by “mónóg” is that I’ve never observed much discussion of “bogberries,” period. And yet “mónóg” is a very logical counterpart to “bogberry,” since it’s based on “móin” (peat, turf, sometimes translated as the peat-bog itself).

More recently, I noticed that there is a third possible translation of “mónóg,” still in the realm of food, which is “mossberry.” This term is mentioned as being typically used in Canada and Scotland and it also appears to be a somewhat dated term in Irish English. I say “dated” because I don’t see “mossberry” in any of the modern dictionaries I have to hand, Irish or English. Presumably this use of “moss-” is the same “moss” as in Seamus Heaney’s home of “Mossbawn,” where “moss” means “bog,” not the plant. Moss, as a plant, is “caonach” in Irish, a completely different topic.

I suppose numbers can always contribute to such a discussion. Here are the relevant hits (unsorted or filtered) for today’s discussion (cuardach Google):

61,800,000: cranberry

35,400: mossberry (which includes several thousand hits for “Mossberry Ethical Boutique” in London, which don’t really count for the discussion of the berries themselves. Looks like a really cool place to shop, though (

11,000: bogberry

And now, when we look for the Irish:

7050: mónóg, this search sorts down to 177 when you start going through it, which is actually more like what I expected

522: mónóga, cranberries (including a couple for the music group, The Cranberries; this reduces to 74 when filtered for duplicates, etc.

63: na mónóg (of the cranberries); sorts down to 17, of which “Loch na Mónóg” (Lough Namanoga, Co. Galway), is one of the most interesting.

9: mhónóg (as in “an mhónóg,” the cran-/moss-/bogberry)

0: na mónóige (of the cranberry)

Just for comparison, I also tried Googling a type of berry that’s much more prominent in Irish tradition, the “fraochán” (bilberry aka blaeberry plus many other names in English). This gets 50,900 hits, unsorted.   The genitive singular (an fhraocháin, of the bilberry), gets 248, sorting to 33, but still a lot more than “na mónóige,” which got zero. Genitive plural (na bhfraochán, of the bilberries), gets 551, sorting down to 92, again not a whole lot, but significantly more than our phrase for “of the cranberries.”

So the trend, at least, is clear. Although a berry similar to the American cranberry grows in Ireland, it’s not as significant in Irish tradition as some other types of berry, like the bilberry (fraochán). And the Irish language usage for these berries, at least as searchable online, reflects the reality of their use. Bilberries are widely used in general, but also get a special boost because of their role in the traditional Lúnasa (Lughnasa) celebrations, so their numbers are much higher.

In contrast, a lot of references to mónóga online are actually descriptions of American Thanksgiving Day meals, probably used or created more by Irish-Americans or Irish people in America than within Ireland.

Having said that cranberries never seemed very prominent in Irish cuisine, I did just spot this oideas (recipe) for Apple and Cranberry Crumble on the BBC website, Greim Gasta (lit. “a quick bite”): In Irish, that dessert is “mionbhruar úll agus mónóg,” with both “úll” and “mónógsa tuiseal ginideach, iolra.

It’s interesting to note that the chef, Éamonn Ó Catháin comments: “In Ireland, cranberries have become very popular, joining blueberries and pomegranates in the ‘superfood’ stakes, so here’s an idea for an apple and cranberry crumble, should the notion take you.”

Note the use of the verb “have become,” supporting my earlier comment that mónóga aren’t particularly traditional in the Irish diet. “Have become” implies a recent trend.

To wrap up, let’s look at some of the forms of the word “cranberry” in Irish. Most of them were mentioned above, describing the searches:

an mhónóg [un WOH-nohgg], the cranberry

mónóige, of a cranberry; dath mónóige, color of a cranberry

na mónóige [… MOH-noh-ig-yuh], of the cranberry. If we said “sú na mónóige,” it would refer to the amount of juice that could be squeezed from one cranberry, probably minuscule.

na mónóga, the cranberries

mónóg, of cranberries; sú mónóg, juice of cranberries; anlann mónóg, sauce of cranberries

na mónóg, of the cranberries; note the lack of any ending, typical of nouns of this category (2nd declension); sú na mónóg seo, the juice of these cranberries

As for the relative less frequency of discussing “bogberries” or “mossberries,” especially in the culinary context, it’s an interesting question. Somehow, the idea of marketing “bogberry juice” or “sweetened dried bogberries” doesn’t seem particularly appealing, i mo bharúil féin, pé scéal é. Nor does mossberry. But these berries could be “blasta” as well as “cothaitheach” (or beathúil or scamhardach or scamhardúil). And, after all, that’s the reason that cranberries are so popular in the U.S., and growing in popularity in Ireland. Bain sult as do chuid anlann mónóg, if you’ll be eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal on the 27th. SGF — Róislín

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

Leave a comment: