Irish Language Blog

Which Irish Speaker Visited ‘Oirthear na Gearmáine’ (East Germany) in 1960? (cuid/pt. 1) Posted by on May 8, 2018 in Irish Language

(le Róislín), fearann poiblí; Téacs Gaeilge le Róislín, 2018

Recently we practiced different ways to say “East” and “West” in Irish, and one set of examples used in passing was “Oirthear na Gearmáine” and “Iarthar na Gearmáine.”  Most of the examples, as you may recall, used “Thoir” (East) and “Thiar” (West).  While doing some online checks for examples of these phrases, I stumbled across an interesting situation, as recorded by Seán Ó Maoilbhríde in his 1961 article straightforwardly titled, “Éireannach in Oirthear na Gearmáine,” originally published in Comhar (Imleabhar 20, Uimhir 2, Feabhra 1961), and now available online at (nasc thíos).  His trip was actually in 1960 and the article appeared in 1961.

How many Irish people were visiting East Germany in 1960?  And how many Irish speakers were visiting East Germany in 1960? And how many were in an official capacity?  Not many, certainly, probably just one, and according to Ó Maoilbhríde, he’s pretty sure he was the first Irishman there since the nation had been established in 1949.  The phrases he uses are “chomh fada le m’eolas” (as far as I know) and “ba mé an chéad Éireannach a thug cuairt oifigiúil ar an Stát sin.”I was the first Irishman who gave an official visit to (lit. “on”) that state.”

The main place he stayed was in Erfurt, in the southwestern part of (the former) East Germany.  To get to Erfurt, the group he was in flew from London to Brussels and from Brussels to Berlin (the Wall had not been built yet).  From there, the group traveled in what he calls “gluaisteáin scioptha (fast? express? cars) ar na hAutobahnen (he uses a plural form here — on the Autobahns?)  So I suppose we could say, “Ni raibh aerfort in Erfurt“!  He also visited Weimar and other places in Thüringen (an Túraing, i.e. Thuringia), and Sachsen (an tSacsain, i.e. Saxony).  N.B. “scioptha” = “sciobhta.”

Most of the rest of this blogpost miniseries will be a glossary for learners to go with the article, but first, we will also look brief at briefly at the small bit of information I was able to find out about Ó Maoilbhríde.

Cérbh é Seán Ó Maoilbhríde, and what took him behind the “Cúirtín Iarainn” so many years ago?  I only have a few brief sources of information about him.  One is what he reveals in the above-named article, and the others are simply based  on a few more articles also published in Comhar, starting in 1946.   One earlier article (1960) is called “Birmingham: Príomhchathair na hÉireann i Sasana [Birmingham: Ireland’s Capital in English — obviously he’s speaking somewhat figuratively here].  So it’s likely that he taught school in Birmingham.  Interestingly, Comhar (1962) also has an article by a Séamus Ó Maoilbhríde called “Ag Múineadh Scoile i Sasana” [Teaching School in England].  Deartháireacha (brothers)?

The remaining articles by Seán Ó Maoilbhríde reflect his interest in the relationship between Ireland, England, and the rest of Europe.  The titles include “Éire agus an Eoraip” [Ireland and Europe], “Mar facthas d’Éireannach óg i Laingcisír Shasana [How It Seemed to a Young Irishman in Lancashire, England], and the intriguing title, “Sasana agus Gomorrah” [England and Gomorrah].  For what it’s worth, the translations of all the article titles in this blogpost are my own; they’re pretty straightforward though, no particular challenge.  In the 1949 issue of Comhar, Ó Maoilbhríde also wrote on “An Litríocht Shóibhéideach,” interesting not only for the topic, which I doubt was being real widely discussed in Irish at that time, but also for the earlier spelling for “Soviet.”  Today, the usual spelling uses the letter “v” (Sóivéadach), and for some reason or other (unknown to me), the “d” is now broad.

Ó Maoilbhríde added the abbreviation M.A. to his name for one of his articles, so at least we know a little bit about his credentials, although, so far, I don’t know which university he attended.  If anyone happens to know more biographical information about either Seán or Séamus Ó Maoilbhríde, or perhaps had him as a teacher in the 1950s or 1960s, it would be fascinating if you could let us know.

And now for the glossary, which I’m predicting will extend into at least one more blogpost.  I can’t reprint the article here, but I hope you will check out the link below and follow along.  I should warn you that while the first page of the article is available for free on, for the rest, you either have to join jstor (limited access is free; other levels have a fee) or log in, if possible, through your university or community library.  The vocabulary words are roughly in order of appearance (not “in ord na haibítre”).

1.. ar an taobh thall den Chuirtín Iarainn, on the far side of the Iron Curtain.  Note the genitive case usage, exactly what we would expect, distinguishing “iarann” (iron) from “iarainn” (of iron)

2.. i nOirthear na Gearmáine, in East Germany, as discussed above but today many people would write this as “in Oirthear na Gearmáine”

3.. i bPoblacht Democratach na Gearmáine, in the Democratic Republic of Germany (the formal name of East Germany, 1949-1990); very interesting that “Democratic” basically just gets an Irish ending.  Normally, today, the word would be “daonlathach,” and following “Poblacht,” which is grammatically feminine, it would become “Dhaonlathach.”

4.. rí-spéisiúil, nothing to do with kings, at least not overtly — this means “very interesting,” which could also be expressed as “an-spéisiúil” or “an-suimiúil.”

5.. in Iarthar na hEorpa, in the west of Europe. This might also be translated as “in western Europe,” which also shows how the distinctions between east/west and eastern/western can become blurry, especially when one is trying to focus on what part of speech (noun or adjective) indicates the geographic direction.

Bhuel, sin an chéad chúig focal agus tá tuilleadh le teacht.  I hope you found it interesting, both from a language and a historical viewpoint.  SGF  – Róislín

nasc:, retr’d o5/25/18  Comhar   Iml. 20, Uimh 2, Feb., 1961   JOURNAL ARTICLE  Éireannach in oirthear na gearmaine   Seán Ó Maoilbhríde  Comhar  Iml. 20, Uimh 2 (Feb., 1961), pp. 11-12, 14   Published by: Comhar Teoranta  DOI: 10.2307/20550939   Stable URL:   Page Count: 3

Naisc faoi airde an chompáis:

Saying ‘East’ and ‘West’ in Irish, or, de réir an tseanfhocail, ‘Soir gach siar, faoi dheireadh thiar’ (le Róislín)

Saying ‘North’ and ‘South’ in Irish (A Follow-up to the Blogpost on North and South Korea)Posted by  on Apr 28, 2018 in Irish Language

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