Irish Language Blog

To ‘tear down’ a wall (Balla Bheirlín) — i nGaeilge Posted by on Nov 12, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Balla Bheirlín, 21 Mí na Nollag 1989 (fearann poiblí, SSGT F. LEE CORKRAN -

Balla Bheirlín, 21 Mí na Nollag 1989 (fearann poiblí, SSGT F. LEE CORKRAN –

Writing the last blog, about the Fall of the Wall in Berlin (nasc thíos), I got to thinking about the celebrated phrase, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Specifically, I was thinking about the verb “to tear down.” So, as you might have guessed, this blog will look at several verbs with related meanings to see how they could apply to “Balla Bheirlín.”

I browsed around the Internet looking for articles in Irish about “Titim an Bhalla.” I can’t say I found many, but of those I did find, two key verbs kept reappearing, “thit” [pronounced almost like “hitch,” the first “t” is silent] and “leagadh” [LyAG-uh, the “dh” is silent]. And that is, in fact, what I expected. “Thit” means “fell.” Obviously the wall didn’t ”fall,” as such, but certainly the phrase works symbolically. To actually “fall” would suggest either that something like an earthquake or a weak foundation caused the wall to collapse.

In the handful of article I found in Irish, the verb “leag” is usually used to describe the actual destruction of the Wall. “Leagadh” would typically be translated as “was knocked down,” not literally “was torn down.” Notice that the verb “leag” inherently contains the idea of “down.”

Adding a word like “anuas” (down) tends to change the meaning to “lay down,” “carry down,” or “reduce.” Adding “síos” (another way to say “down”) suggests putting or placing something down, i.e. lowering it.

As for the opposite of “knock down,” I won’t even go there, but will simply note that the phrase has completely different meanings in American and British English. Caveat usor! If you didn’t learn the word “usor” in your classical Latin class, please see the note below, since that’s getting a bit thar scóip an bhlag seo.

So while Reagan’s instructions, at least in English, were to “tear down” the wall, the usual Irish verb to describe what happened is “knock down.” Am I simply splitting hairs here? I don’t think so. I’d say there’s a significant difference between various words for “to tear down” vs. “to knock down” in Irish.

What’s “to tear” in Irish? My first response would be “stróiceadh,” which would typically be used for things like paper or fabric, not stone or cement.

What’s “tear down” in Irish? Well, there are several ways to say this but I don’t think either of them could replace “leag” for today’s discussion of the Berlin Wall:

tarraingt anuas, to tear down, but this is more like pulling or drawing something down, like a flag, and, a bit ironically, this could also be translated as “to rake up” as in raking up (reviving) an old scandal.

sracadh anuas, to tear down, as in taking a poster down from a wall; “sracadh” on its own typically means “to pull,” “to tear,” or “to drag,” and more abstractly, followed by “le” (with), “to struggle with.”

In a more general way, one could say ‘scriosadh” or “milleadh” but this would have more an implication of “destruction,” rather than the physical act of “tearing down,” “pulling down,” or “knocking down.”

So that brings us back to “leag,” with its various forms, such as:

Leag an balla seo! (Knock/tear down this wall!)

Leagann muid ballaí go minic. (We knock down walls often — hopefully this only applies to walls that are no longer needed!)

Leag muid an balla. We knocked down the wall.

Leagfaidh muid an balla. We will knock down the wall.

an balla a leagan, to knock down the wall

The verb “leag” can be translated in about 50 other ways, depending on context. These can range from “to lay a foundation stone” (cloch bhoinn a leagan” to “to cast off a stitch” (lúb a leagan). And OMG, I never noticed it before, a slang usage (perhaps dated?), “bean a leagan suas,” which, in keeping with my earlier comment, I’ll leave untranslated.

So, bottom line, I’d say “Leag an balla seo!” for “Tear down this wall!” The only way I’d imagine saying “Tarrraing anuas an balla!” would be if the complete demolition was accomplished by thousands of people who were literally pulling small pieces down off the wall, le gróite mar shampla, nó fiú lena n-ingne, till there was nothing left. I know this happened in areas, to great effect and with amazing rapidity, but overall, I think the destruction was mostly accomplished by industrial equipment. And “stróic,” while perfectly fine for tearing paper or cloth, and even for doing certain actions intensely, such as playing the fiddle (ag stróiceadh ar an bhfidil) or cursing strongly (ag stróiceadh eascainí), isn’t really appropriate for something once as solid as Balla Bheirlín.

Hope you’re down with that. SGF – Róislín

Nóta faoin bhfocalusori Laidin: Apparently this is more of a neologism than a traditional Latin word and its relative merits are comprehensively discussed here:

Nasc: The Fall of the Wall (.i. Balla Bheirlín) … as Gaeilge, Posted on 09. Nov, 2014 by in Irish Language (

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