Irish language

A book that takes us through our weird and wonderful language

DARACH Ó SEAGHDHA: Dara has a surname with more silent letters than you can shake a stick at which is why he is eminently suited to taking us through the mysteries of the Irish language via his @theirishfor twitter account; in his book, Motherfoclóir, and its companion podcast
Robert McMillen

Go mbeannaí Dia daoibh, boys and girls  and a big Dia duit to Bluffer’s Guide to Irish.

Last week, we looked at some twitter sites that showed us the sheer loveliness of old and medieval Irish and today we’ll look at the mouth-watering gorgeousness that is the language we have today and some we’ve forgotten.

Our guide wiil be a book called Motherfoclóir: Despatches from a not so dead language by Darach Ó Seaghdha.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that Ó Seaghdha - is pronounced o shay.

Darach came to prominence with a twitter account sensibly called 

@theirishfor which looks at the brilliance of Irish words.

It has a réamhrá - a foreword by Dara Ó Briain who says he was like everyone else in blaming his lack of enthusiasm for Irish on an córas oideachais - the education system, drochmhúinteoirí - bad teachers and an modh coinníollach - the conditional mood.

However, “At some point in my mid-twenties, though, that ill-feeling suddenly fell away and I realised that, almost despite my best efforts, I had been gifted a rich inheritance,” writes Britain’s favourite Gaeilgeoir.

The rest of Motherfoclóir takes us on a roller-coaster ride through that inheritance, starting off with Irish names. The girls’ name Orla is the same as the word for vomit but it is short for Órfhlaith meaning “golden princess”. A big difference.

Some Irish names have disappeared, such as Faoiltighearna - wolf lady and you have to wonder why.

Words have disappeared from Irish too.
Deimhe was darkness and protection, corrchoigilt was the strange coloured glow in embers and dricc was a dragon.

But as the Bluffer was saying, Motherfoclóir has Irish bang up to date.

Darach quite rightly asks why we should copy English words when we have Irish words that do the job.

Darach suggests éigsín as the equivalent of a hipster. Its original meaning is “an annoying self-described creative type who is also a beadaí - a foodie, rides a rothar stadghléasra - a fixed-gear bike and is also a feoilséantóir - a vegetarian.

What about other neologisms? 

Darach asked via 

@theirishfor what ideas people had for “a flat white” (coffee) in Irish? 

Answers suggested mín bán - smooth and white

and caifé Astráileach - as that is where the flat white originated but the winner was báinín - a little white thing and also a traditional knitted waistcoat in the west of Ireland.

Darach also reminds us of great sayings in Irish such as fómhar beag na ngéanna - the little Autumn of the geese which is how we say an Indian summer or cad é a dhéanfadh mac an chait ach luch a mharú - what would the cat’s son do but kill a mouse - in other words, like father, like son.

And all through the book is Darach’s memories about growing up and his relationship to this weird and wonderful language we call Irish or Gaelic or Gaeilge.  

Motherfoclóir by Darach Ó Séaghdha is published by Head of Zeus. 


Ó Seaghdha (o shay) - O’Shea

réamhrá (rayooraa) - a foreword

an córas oideachais (un coriss iddahiss) - the education system

drochmhúinteoirí (drawkh-woontchoree) - bad teachers

an modh coinníollach (un moe cunyeelalkh) - the conditional mood

Faoiltighearna (fweelcheerna) - wolf lady

deimhe (jayva) - darkness and/or protection

corrchoigilt (corkhigiltch) - the strange coloured glow in embers

dricc (drick) - a dragon.

éigsín (aygsheen) - a hipster

beadaí (baadee) - a foodie

rothar stadghléasra (roher stadylaysra) - a fixed-gear bike feoilséantóir (fyawlshayntore) - a vegetarian

mín bán (meen baan) - smooth and white

caifé Astráileach (caafay astraalakh) - an Australian coffee

báinín (baanyeen) - a little white thing

fómhar beag na ngéanna (fower big na nyayana) - an Indian summer 

cad é a dhéanfadh mac an chait ach luch a mharú (cadge ay a yanhoo mac un kitch akh lukh a waroo) - what would the cat’s son do but kill a mouse/like father, like son

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Irish language