Irish Language Blog

Ó Abair An Léir Dhuit: Oh Say Can You See (Amhrán Náisiúnta na Stát Aontaithe) Posted by on Jun 18, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bratacha: Na Stáit Aontaithe agus Éire

As those of us sna Stáit Aontaithe transition from Lá na Brataí (14 Meitheamh) go Lá na Saoirse (i Meiriceá; 4 Iúil), this might be an apt time to try the American National Anthem in Irish.  It was translated long before the ongoing row as to whether “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be sung in any language other than English.

Just how old is the translation?  1898.  Who was the translator?  An tAth. Eoghan Ó Gramhnaigh, pronounced “OH-wen oh GROW-nee.”  That’s “grow” to rhyme with “cow” or “now,” not the actual English word “grow,” which I would transcribe as “groh” in this series.  The “an tAth.” part is “un TAH-hirzh” (Father, as a religious title).  Even though the written form is abbreviated, the full word is pronounced if we’re reading aloud, just as “Fr.” is pronounced as “Father.”

This blogpost will address the first verse, and perhaps we’ll continue with the remaining verses in future posts, as time permits.   We’ll look at pronunciation and vocabulary, and perhaps add some nótaí tráchta breise.   In the interests of space for the columns, each line is divided in half (1a, 1b, etc.) and a close examination will show that parts of the text do not match up line by line, in sequence, which is par for the course when translating, especially when trying to maintain both rhyme and meter.

For the pronunciation guide, I’ve made one concession here, compared to my usual rough guides to the sounds of Irish, since some people may want to plunge right into singing the song, not laboring over pronunciation.  For the broad “dh” sound, best represented by the IPA symbol /ɣ/, I’ve simply used “h.”  Experienced Irish speakers will know that this is really a guttural (throaty) sound not found in English but it’s better to lean toward softening the sound further than to ending up with too much of a “d” sound.  The consonant cluster “dh” has no “d” sound to it whatsoever.  For details on this sound, see the nóta thíos, marked by a réiltín.

And by the way, the very literal translation in the right-hand column is not meant to be singable; it’s about as word for word as one can get.  The regular English text appears below each cell, also on the right side, in italics.

Gaeilge agus Treoir Fhuaimnithe Aistriúchán Focal ar Fhocal (NB: very literal!) agus faoi sin, an gnáth-théacs i mBéarla
An Bhratach Gheal-réaltach The Star-Spangled Banner
Mini-Guide to the Transcription System: a) “rzh” like the “r” in English “tree” b) “le” like “let,” not like French “lec) “kh” like German “Buch,” Welsh “bach,” Scottish “Loch;” this sound isn’t in std. English; d) “uh” like the “u” in “putt,” not like “put” or German “Huhn;”  e) “oo” like English “fool” or “cool;” f) “hy” like English “human,” “hew,” or “hue,” not like “hydrogen” or Welsh “hylo
1a Ó abair, an léir dhuit,*                                       [oh AH-birzh un layrzh hitch*] Oh say, is it clear to you (can you clearly see)     (O say can you see,)
1b Le fáinne an lae,  [le FAWN-yuh un lay] With the ring of the day   (by the dawn’s early light)
2a An bhratach ‘bhí ‘n-airde                                [un VRAH-tukh veen AHR-djuh] The flag that was up   (What so proudly we hail’d)
2b Le titim na hoíche                                            [le TIH-chim nuh HEE-hyuh] with the falling of night  (at the twilight’s last gleaming)
3a Tríd an chath ‘bhí na riabha                        [treedj un khah vee nuh REE-uh-vuh] Through the battle, the stripes   (Whose broad stripes and bright stars,)
3b ‘s na réaltaí geal-ghlé                               [snuh RAYL-tee gyal-lyay] and the stars were bright-clear (through the perilous fight)
4a Ag luascadh go huasal                                [egg LOO-us-kuh guh HOO-us-ul] Swinging nobly   (O’er the ramparts we watch’d)
4b ‘s ag míniú ár gcroíthe                                    [segg MEEN-yoo awr GREE-huh] and comforting our hearts   (were so gallantly streaming)
5a Is ar n-imeacht don ló                                     [iss err NIM-ukht dun loh] And at going to the day (as the day ended),     (And the rocket’s red glare)
5b níor ghéill sé go deo                                   [nee-or yayl shay guh djoh] it never yielded   (the bombs bursting in air)
6a Ach a caorthinte ag pléascadh                    [ahkh-uh KEER-HIN-tchuh egg PLAY-skuh] But its fireballs exploding   (Gave proof through the night)
6b sna spéartha le gleo!                                 [snuh SPAYR-huh le gloh] In the skies with clamor   (that our flag was still there)
7a Ó abair ‘bhfuil an bhratach                          [oh AH-birzh wil un VRAH-tukh Oh, say, is the flag   (Oh, say, does that star-spangled)
7b Gheal-réaltach go síor                              [YAL-RAY-UL-tuh-ukh guh-uh shee-ur] Brightly-starred eternally [waving / flying]   (banner yet wave)
8a Os cionn thír na gcrógach                            [us kyun HEE-IRzh nuh groh-GUKH] Above the country of the brave   (O’er the land of the free)
8b is talamh na saor?                                    [ih-iss TAL-uv nuh seer] and the land of the free?                              (and the home of the brave)

*Nóta: You can hear the broad “dh” sound at the following site, but you’ll have to listen to four other velar sounds first: (Click on “velar” and listen for the 5th example, marked as /ɣ/).  The sounds are recorded in columns and rows, so you have to listen to all the sounds in that particular column or row.  Alternately, you could click on the “fricative” row, but then there are 15 fricatives ahead of the one we want.  Which, in Irish, is called the … <tormáil drumaí> … “cuimilteach glórach coguasach.”   Or, más fearr leat i mBéarla é, “voiced velar fricative.”   That sound, which doesn’t occur in English, has been pretty thoroughly discussed in previous blogs in this series, like the following:

a) Saying “I love you” in Irish and Minding Your Velar Fricatives,

b) Fools on Hills, and Otherwise, with Irish Pronunciation Tips,

c) Pronunciation Follow-up to the “Cúig Fhocal gan Mhaith” Series

And, well, to wrap up, maybe sometime I’ll check out “O’zog , kenstu sehn?”  But that won’t really pertain to an Irish blog, unless, of course, I back-translate the Yiddish literally into Irish, but even I would say … bhuel, maybe not.  SGF, and happy vocal-cord stretching, Róislín


1 A Its, her (possessive) 24 Lá; don ló Day; to the day
2 Abair Say (command form) 25 Lae; an lae Of day; of the day
3 Ach But 26 Le With
4 Ag At 27 Léir Clear
5 An léir? Is (it) clear? 28 Luascadh Swinging
6 ár Our 29 Míniú To explain, to comfort
7 Ar n-imeacht On (upon) going 30 Na The (plural)
8 Bhí Was 31 Oíche;na hoíche Night;of the night
9 Bratach; an bhratach Flag; the flag 32 Os cionn Above, over
10 Caorthinte Fireballs 33 pléascadh exploding
11 Cath; tríd an chath Battle; through the battle 34 Réaltaí Stars
12 Crógach; na gcrógach Brave (person); of the brave (people) 35 Riabha Stripes
13 Croí; croíthe Heart; hearts 36 ‘s = is =agus And
14 Dhuit To you 37 Saor;na saor Free (person);of the free (people)
15 Fáinne Ring 38 He; it
16 Fáinne an lae Dawn 39 Sna In the (plural)
17 Geal-ghlé Bright-clear 40 Spéir; spéartha Sky; skies
18 Geal-réaltach “Star-spangled,” lit. bright-starry; “spangled” itself is “spaglainneach 41 Talamh Land
19 Géill; níor ghéill Yield; didn’t yield 42 Tír (thír) Country
20 Gleo Clamor, tumult 43 Titim Falling
21 Go deo Ever, never 44 Tríd Through
22 Go síor For ever 45 Uasal; go huasal Noble; nobly
23 In airde In a high place


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  1. Réamonn:

    maith thú a Róislín,obair mhaith déanta agat. Rúgadh mise in Albainn ach thanaig mo mhuintir uilig as Eireann marsin de is Eireanach mé agus is cuma liom fá amhráin náisiúnta eile eadar an cheann shassanach nó an cheann Mheiriceanach ach tá port nios deise ar an cheann s’agaibhse ar ndoigh, Ré

    • róislín:

      @Réamonn A Ré, a chara,
      Tá brón orm go bhfuil mé chomh mall (mo náire mé) ag scríobh ar ais chugat, ach “Is fearr go mall ná go mithid.” Sílim go raibh mé cloíte nuair a bhí an tsraith seo críochnaithe agam — trí bhlag eile leis an oiread céanna de mionrudaí. Ach tá mé buíoch as do nóta cineálta. Tá an ceart agat go bhfuil an port go deas (“To Anacreon in Heaven” an bunphort) ach tá sé thar a bheith deacair é a cheoladh leis an nóta ard sin (“free” i mBéarla, “(gcró-)gach_ i nGaeilge!). Scríobh mé blaganna eile leis na 3 véarsaí eile. A lán oibre ach obair a thugann sásamh dom. Agus i 2014 chuir mé na ceithre bhlag le chéile i mblag amháin (, 6 Iúil 2014). B’fhéidir go bhfuil sin feicthe agat, ach muna bhfuil, b’fhéidir go mbeadh suim agat. Go raibh maith agat arís as léamh an bhlag seo agus as scríobh isteach. – Róislín

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