Speaking Irish

Ireland is a country that speaks two languages – English and Irish.  The language we refer to as Gaelic, the Irish refer to as Irish.  As I traveled around Ireland, I noticed that all road signs were in both English and Irish.  I was determined to learn a few words in Irish while I visited.

Let me first get my teacher talk out-of-the-way with a little background on Irish and then I will show off a few words I learned while visiting.

Gaelic languages are spoken from Southern Ireland through the Isle of Man and to Northern Scotland and derive from the Celtic language group.  There are 3 modern branches of the Gaelic languages: Irish (Gaeilge), Scottish (Gàidhlig),  and Manx (Gaelg).

The family tree of the Gaelic languages is as follows:

  • Insular Celtic

Insular Celtic languages are the Celtic languages that originated in the British Isles.

  • Primitive Irish

The oldest known form of the Gaelic languages and  is known only from fragments, mostly personal names, inscribed on stone in the Ogham alphabet in Ireland and western Great Britain from around the 4th century to 7th or 8th century.


Ogham, sometimes called the “Celtic Tree Alphabet,” is an Early Medieval alphabet used primarily to write the Old Irish language. There are approximately 400- 500 Ogham inscriptions on stone monuments throughout Ireland and western Britain.

  • Old Irish

Old Irish  is the name given to the oldest form of the Gaelic languages for which extensive written texts are extant. It was used from the 6th to the 10th centuries, by which time it had developed into Middle Irish.

  • Middle Irish

Middle Irish is the name given by historical philologists to the Gaelic language spoken in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man from the 10th to 12th centuries.

  • Modern Irish

Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of the population. Irish enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is an official language of the European Union and an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.

Slane 2

Oh Captain, my Captain, giving us a breif history of Slane Castle on the way from Dublin to Bundoran.


The first Irish I heard, was a warm welcome by my Captain, and now friend, Niamh.  Upon meeting her in Dublin she proclaimed “Céad mile failte!” This is pronounced as “kade meela fawlcha,” and translated into English means 100 thousand welcomes.  What a lovely way to greet someone.  Irish people have a wonderful way of speaking that can make you want to converse for hours.

I also learned a few words that were on all those road signs as we traveled from Dublin to spend time in Bundoran in Co. Donegal.  We rode in a bus east and north stopping along the way to see interesting areas.  Some Irish words I learned were:

  • Cille (sounds like kill) – means church
  • Baile (bally) – means town
  • Dun – Fort
  • Dun e gal – fort of the foreigner, the name of the Co. and a town we visited

Two other interesting words I learned were Cara and CraicCara means friend.  Many of the people I spent time with on our trip became me cara.  The other, craic (sounds like crack) means fun.  We had great craic in Ireland, especially in 51 pub with me cara Connie on his birthday.  Pub 51 pours a good pint 😉

Well, that seems like enough random musing for today.  Stay tuned for more of my Gypsy escapades around Western Ireland….


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ann
    Jan 22, 2013 @ 14:28:34

    Love it Cara!!!


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Chair of Social Science, Humanities,
& Foreign Languages

Liberal Arts & University Transfer
Craven Community College

800 College Court
New Bern, NC 28562
Email: bellaceroc@cravencc.edu
Phone: 252.638.7328
Fax: 252.638.3231

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