Irish Language on the Rise in America

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, the one day each year that people across the world “embrace Irish culture” by wearing green and consuming copious amounts of beer laced with green food coloring. More encouragingly, however, the Washington Post notes that increasing numbers of Americans are learning to appreciate their Irish heritage on a much deeper level: by learning the language.

Per the Washington Post, enrollment in Irish-language courses at universities has almost doubled over the past decade, to 409 students in 2009 from 278 in 1998. That may not sound like much, but you have to consider that only 152 students at the university level were learning Greek, and even fewer were learning languages like Danish. Also, that doesn’t the count the number of people who learn the language on their own or from somewhere other than a university.

The BBC notes that the interest in Irish abroad has corresponded with increased interest in the language back home in Ireland, though the linguistic experts it spoke to were only guardedly optimistic. For example, David Crystal of Bangor University said

“There is a huge amount of fresh interest in speaking the language. That’s great, but it’s really late. There is a question mark as to whether it’s too little, too late.”‘

Most of the students learning Irish in America are Irish-American, looking to reconnect with their Irish heritage. According to Crystal, their interest may help preserve the language, especially now that the internet provides so many opportunities for Irish speakers to congregate online:

“The biggest thing that an endangered community can do to ensure that its language survives is to have a very strong presence on the Internet. All over the world these virtual speech communities are becoming a reality.”

However, Irish language activists, like Mait O Bradaigh, who runs an Irish-language immersion school, say that while more Irish learners are definitely merrier, steps still need to be taken to address the Irish-speaking communities in Ireland:

“There’s a worldwide network of Irish speakers, but the native speaker areas are under severe distress. In some ways, we spend too much time on learning, and not enough time addressing the Irish speakers we already have.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

St. Patrick’s Day

A little history….

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on the 17th March.

St. Patrick himself is a man of mystery and very little is known about him. What we do know is that St. Patrick was born in Britain to a wealthy family. When he was 16 years old he was taken to Ireland as a bargaining prisoner.

After being transported to Ireland he worked in the hills as a shepherd. During this time he was lonely and scared and turned to Christianity to help him get through. To escape St. Patrick walked over 200 miles to the Irish coast and made his way back to Britain.

St. Patrick had visions of a Christian Ireland and after returning to Britain he gathered himself and returned to Ireland to preach to the people.


St. Patrick’s Day falls in the time of lent, a time of fasting. In Ireland families would generally attend church in the morning and then celebrate in the evening. On this day they ignored the rules of lent and would have lots of good food and plenty of drink.
In Ireland up until the 1970’s pubs were closed by law (as they were on a Sunday) on St. Patrick’s Day. In 1995 the Irish government realised the potential profit in opening their doors to tourists and began a marketing campaign to showcase Ireland to the rest of the world. Last year they attracted almost 1 million people to the capital Dublin and I have to say the really do put on a good show.

Typically the first big St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in good old New York in the USA not in Ireland at all. In 1962 the city of Chicago took the day to a whole new level and actually dyed the river that runs through the city green!
It was an idea put forward by the cities pollution-control workers who used dyes to trace illegal sewage waste. They released 100 pounds of vegetable dye which was enough to keep it green for a whole week. Today they still carry on the tradition but only use 40 pounds of the dye to minimise the environmental impact. This amount keeps it green just for the day.

Shamrocks are everywhere on St. Patrick’s Day, also knows as the ‘seamroy’ to the Celts. It is a sacred plant which symbolises the rebirth of spring. It also became a symbol for the patriotic Irish, as the English claimed Irish soil the Irish men began to wear Shamrocks as a symbol of pride in their heritage and to state their displeasure with English rule.

The day has become more about advertising and drinking than the religious feast it once was. It is celebrated all over the world. So go out, celebrate and drink Guinness (please drink responsibly).

And while you are out enjoying yourself here are a few Irish ditties and toasts to say whilst raising your glass to good old St. Patrick….

The Scots have their whiskey
The Welsh have their tongue
But the Irish have Paddy
Who’s second to none


I’ve drunk to your health in the pubs ,
I’ve drunk to your health in my home ,
I’ve drunk to your health so many times ,
That I’ve almost ruined my own.


May you never forget what is worth remembering,
Or remember what is best forgotten.


There are many good reasons for drinking,
One has just entered my head,
If a man doesn’t drink when he’s living,
How the hell can he drink when he’s dead?


May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future.


May you get all your wishes but one,
So you always have something to strive for.


Here’s to you,
here’s to me,
the best of friends we’ll always be.
But if we ever disagree,
forget you here’s to ME!!


Here’s to you as good as you are,
Here’s to me as bad as I am,
As good as you are,
And as bad as I am,
I’m as good as you are,
As bad as I am.


May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.


Health, and long life to you
Land without rent to you
The partner of your heart to you
and when you die, may your bones rest in Ireland!

An Irish Message from Space

It was one small tweet for a man, but one giant leap for Irish on Monday, when the language was used in space for the first time.

The milestone came courtesy of Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield, an avid Twitter user who has also been honing his photography skills from the International Space Station.

On Monday night, he tweeted a gorgeous photo of Dublin from space, captioned with the following text: Read more

When Irish Tongues Are Talking… 

When Irish tongues are talking (in Irish, of course!) scientists from a California university will be watching. Researchers at the University of California in Santa Cruz just received a $260,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how Irish speakers use their tongues in speech.

Despite being protected as the official language of the Republic of Ireland and as a minority language in Northern Ireland, UNESCO classifies  Irish as “definitely endangered.” That means it’s still a priority for linguists to document. Recording the language is a good start, but for preservation purposes, it’s not enough to know what it sounds like. Scientists also want to know how those sounds are made. Enter the UC Santa Cruz project, called ” “Collaborative Research: An Ultrasound Investigation of Irish Palatalization.”

As Principal Investigator Jaye Padgett explained on the UC Santa Cruz blog:

“Although we all have tongues, we are surprisingly bad at knowing precisely what they’re doing or conveying that to others.”

The solution? Documenting native speakers as they speak, using an ultrasound machine to record how they use their tongues. One of the main goals of this project is to document the different between “slender” and “broad” consonants in Irish. In Irish, the same consonant sound can be pronounced one of two ways: broad,  with the back of the tongue pulled back towards the soft palate, and slender,  with the middle of the tongue pushed up towards the hard palate.

As you can see, words are only somewhat useful when it comes to describing the difference between the two. According to Professor Padgett, the team will use a portable ultrasound machine to “non-invasively capture video of the tongue’s surface while it moves during speech. Analysis of this ultrasound data will also allow us to answer more general questions about speech production.”

Researchers will travel across Ireland to collect data from native speakers of all three Irish dialects.

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by M Glasgow

An Irish Translation of "The Hobbit"

Irish-speaking Tolkien fans, rejoice! A special edition of The Hobbit is due out this month — translated entirely into Irish!

The Irish version of Tolkien’s classic tale is being published by Evertype Publishers, a small publishing company owned by Michael Everson which specializes in minority language translations, specialty fonts and typesetting. Here are some details of the release, courtesy of The Independent:

  • The book will cost €39.95 for the hardcover edition, which is all that will be available at first. The publisher does plan to release a cheaper paperback version later on.
  • When it’s first released, it will be available only on the publisher’s website, Eventually, you’ll also be able to order a copy from Amazon.
  • Only 18 copies will be printed initially, with additional copies printed “on demand” as orders are placed.
  • The book is due to be released on the 25th of March.

Translating The Hobbit into Irish proved to be a quest in and of itself. In The Independent, Everson said he argued with the translator, Nicholas Williams, for “for about five years on what to call the elves.”  Another challenge was finding appropriate translations for Tolkien’s lyrical, evocative place names.  According to Everson, here’s what they finally decided on:

“Gleann na Scoilte’ was chosen for Rivendell, ‘An Mhodarchoill’ for Mirkwood and ‘An Dobhar’ for The Water, while Hobbiton will be known as ‘Baile na Hobad’.”

Despite Tolkien’s passion for languages, he didn’t have much l0ve for Irish. In a letter excerpted in the Irish Times, he wrote :

“I go frequently to Ireland (Éire: southern Ireland) being fond of it and of (most of) its people; but the Irish language I find wholly unattractive.”

Hence, one of the only scraps of Irish you’ll find in any of Tolkien’s invented languages is the word “Nazg,” or “ring” in the Black Speech of Mordor, which may be derived from the Irish word “nasc”.  In another letter quoted in the Irish Times, Tolkien denied intentionally including using nasc as the source, but admitted that it had most likely become “lodged in some comer of [his] linguistic memory.”

To whet your appetite, here’s the first paragraph of the Irish translation:

I bpoll sa talamh a bhí cónaí ar hobad. Níor pholl gránna, salach, fliuch é, lán le giotaí de phéisteanna agus le boladh láibe. Níor pholl tirim, lom, gainmheach a bhí ann ach an oiread, gan aon rud ann le n-ithe ná le suí síos air; poll hobaid ab ea é agus is ionann sin agus compord.

Image credit: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by loresui


Schools in Irish Translation Debate

The 11-plus examination is the entrance test for Grammar Schools. In Northern Ireland they are debating as to whether or not an Irish translation of the exam should be provided.

According to the BBC an Irish language education body has requested that all schools provide suitable translations for the test so that it is fair.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta who are the representative body for Irish-medium education in Northern Ireland has written to schools about this matter.

The BBC quote spokesman Seán Ó Coinn as saying ‘parents could remove their children from Irish language schools or take legal action if a suitable translation was not available.’

“We’re unclear what the implications might be, and it very much depends on how parents react,” he said.

When last years 11-plus Grammar school tests took place, 150 out of 327 students sat the Irish version.

It is so important that we provide translation for all just because a pupil speaks both English and Irish doesn’t mean they are comfortably taking such an important test in English, they may feel more confident in doing the test in Irish if it is their first language.

The Welsh Assembly Government work very hard to ensure that Welsh translations are available for all in business and education, the Northern Ireland Government should be doing the same.

Irish Translations and Traditions for St. Patrick’s Day 

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, the time of year when everyone is at least part Irish (or pretends to be.) But put down the green beer – it’s time to take your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to the next level.  And we’re here to help, with a round-up of St. Patrick’s Day traditions from around the world and some helpful Irish translations for a more authentic St. Patrick’s Day experience.

St Patrick’s Day Traditions Around the World

St. Patrick’s Day originated in Ireland as the feast day of St. Patrick. But it really came into its own amongst Irish immigrant communities in the United States. And since Ireland has historically been a nation of emigrants, St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated around the world.

St. Patrick’s Day Traditions Around the World: Parades6995631593_da7b3ac6b3

Surprisingly, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade didn’t even take place in Ireland. It was held in New York City in 1762. Ireland didn’t get in on the action until 1903!  Read more

It’s Irish Language Week!

There’s no doubt about it, March belongs to the Irish. It’s not just St. Patrick’s Day, either- right now, we are in the middle of Seachtain na Gaeilge. Though ” Seachtain na Gaeilge” is usually translated as “Irish Language Week,” the festival actually runs for two weeks each year.

The first Seachtain na Gaeilge was held in 1903, by the Irish language organization Conradh na Gaeilge.  Since then, it has evolved into an international celebration of Irish language and culture, according to the Seachtain na Gaeilge website:

“The festival has built up incredible momentum in recent years, becoming the largest celebration of our native language and culture held in Ireland every year and sweeping other countries up in the whirlwind along the way.   With events ranging from simple conversational evenings to street céilís; speed dating to wine tasting it gives everyone a chance to experiment with Irish whether fluent from youth or only dipping their toe in for the first time.   Organisations, local councils, schools, libraries, music, sporting & cultural bodies all register their Seachtain na Gaeilge events with us.”

So, what’s going on this year? Tomorrow in Dublin, there will be a performance of Irish ballads and other traditional music .Meanwhile, across the sea in America, Moya Brennan will be performing in Boston.  During the two week period, schools across Ireland are having traditional dances called céilithe. Libraries are hosting free Irish classes for people who’d like to learn. Irish karaoke nights, dances and bingo are also popular ways of celebrating  Seachtain na Gaeilge.

To celebrate, you might want to teach yourself a little bit of the language. If so,  check out our entry on Gaelic translators for some great online resources.



Lá Nua Closes Its Doors

Lá Nua, the only Irish language newspaper published on a daily basis, has closed down due to a lack of funding.

Lá Nua, which means “New Day” in Irish, stopped its presses at the end of the year. The newspaper had been in print for more than 20 years, but according to, there simply wasn’t enough demand to keep publishing it.

The newspaper was funded by Foras na Gaeilge, an organisation set up to promote the development of the Irish language and to serve as its governing body. According to Eurolang, the organisation stopped funding the paper because not enough people were reading it.

However, the paper’s managing director, Mairtin Ó Muilleoir, believes the decision was made too hastily. He is quoted as telling the Belfast Telegraph, “At a time when an Irish-speaking Gaeltacht Quarter is taking shape in west Belfast, the decision to stop publishing a daily newspaper is counterintuitive and unwise.”

According to Wikipedia, the newspaper had a circulation of “a few thousand” readers. The paper has been struggling for some time: according to this blog post, it almost closed in March of 2008, again due to funding issues.

While it’s definitely sad that Ireland no longer has a daily newspaper written in Irish, Foras na Gaeilge is going to replace Lá Nua with a weekly publication and a website. They’re currently looking for a company to publish it and offering a grant of 400,000 euros per year. If demand grows for a daily newspaper written in Irish, they might be willing to start funding for a daily paper again.

The closure of the paper is an excellent example of how hard it is to reverse the decline of a language once the process has started. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less of a worthwhile endeavour, but it does offer a lesson about the importance of encouraging language preservation before the situation becomes dire.

A Premium Price for Irish Text Messages

Want to send a text message in Irish? Irish mobile phone users recently awakened to an unpleasant truth: it’s much more expensive to send a text in Irish than it is in English. In fact, according to the Belfast Telegraph, it’s cheaper to send a picture message than it is to send a full-length text in Irish.

The culprit? A little accent mark called the síneadh fada that distinguishes between long and short vowels in the Irish language. You wouldn’t think that a little dash should be that expensive to send over the airwaves, but according to Irish mobile phone carriers Vodafone and o2, it is. That’s because accented vowels are not part of the standard SMS alphabet. Basically, they aren’t recognized as text, and so require more data to transmit.

A spokeswoman for Vodafone explained the company’s logic:

“If a customer is texting in Irish and they type the full 160 characters, a standard text message, that includes at least one fada, they will be charged for three text messages.”

Still, it seems odd that sending a text with accented characters would cost more than sending a picture. Also, in the Republic of Ireland, where Irish is one of the official languages, it rubs Irish speakers the wrong way to be charged more for a service than their exclusively English-speaking brethren.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that other countries facing the same issue have resorted to regulations to solve the problem:

Under regulations in Turkey, both mobile phone device producers and operators must allow the devices to use Turkish characters without an extra charge. Any devices that don’t comply are not allowed on to the Turkish market. Similar initiatives have taken place in Spain and Portugal.

However, since the mobile carriers are private businesses, the relevant Irish regulatory bodies have so far been reluctant to interfere.

What do you think? Should this particular cost be passed on to Irish consumers?