Irish Gaelic Dialects

by Panu Höglund

Roughly speaking we usually reckon there are three main dialect groupings


Here, I would say:


There is a tendency to regard Munster Irish peculiarities as "standard" Irish, at least it seems to me that Munster has had a tremendous impact upon learners' Irish. Well, people read Peig Sayers and look upon her Irish as the good Irish Gaelic.

Typical of Munster is:

The eclipsis of nouns after a simple preposition + article. This eclipsis also affects d and t: Munster: ag an ndoras instead of ag an doras

The confusion of de and do into one single do. When this do is fused into don with a definite article, it eclipses: don bhfear (=den fhear, don fhear)

The Munster accentuation: non-initial long vowels and non-initial -ach are stressed. This leads sometimes into a violent obscuring of the word's identity: f'reacht for fanacht - the stressed ach knocks away the non- stressed a in fan-.

The Munster pronunciation of final -igh or -idh is -ig.

The verbs prefer to use the synthetic forms: tiocfad for tiocfaidh mé, "I will come", etc.

The "do" in "do dhíolas"(=dhíol mé, I sold) is still heard.


The most important of Connacht dialects are those of Connemara an the Aran Islands. They show mostly initial accent, but there are some traces of a Musnter-type accentuation: a word like scadán, "herring" is stressed on the first syllable, not on the second as in Munster, but the short a is often obscured like it would be before a long stressed non-initial syllable in Munster.

The intervocalic h (orthography: -th-) tends to disappear: bó'r = bóthar.

The initial mutations are very similar to those of standard Irish, but sa (= "anns an" of Scottish Gaelic) does not lenite - it eclipses: sa mbaile instead of sa bhaile.

Connacht dialects show a special form of verb used in direct relative clauses, ending in -s. This is used in the present and future tenses.


are said to be nearest Scottish Gaelic, but since the East Ulster dialects of Rathlin Island and the Glens of Antrim have become extinct, I doubt if this is stil the case. Rathlin at least always showed strong links with the EarraGhaidheal Scottish Gaelic dialects.

Of today's Ulster dialects, those of Tír Chonaill are the most important. They show considerable differences from the rest of Ireland in vocabulary, too: "look!" is "féach!" in other dialects, but "amharc" (pronounced often omhc, onc) in Ulster, as "féach" in Ulster means "try" (féach, féacháilt, le rud a dhéanamh; cóta a fhéacháilt ort). Ulster shows a marked preference for compound preposition: ionsar, "towards" instead of "chuig", ar son, "for" instead of "as" in "díol ar son ruda" = "pay for something" instead of "íoc as rud".

The Scottish Gaelic verbal particle "cha", "chan" does exist in Ulster Irish, but even there it seems to be a comparatively recent borrowing from Scottish Gaelic. The standard says it lenites the verb if it doesn't begin with d or t, which it eclipses: chan fhéachann, but cha dtig. Still, cha often eclipses the b(h)- forms of the verb "to be": cha mbeadh, cha mbíonn instead of cha bheadh, cha bhíonn. The present forms with cha have also a future meaning: cha bhíonn can mean either ní bhíonn or ní bheidh. Cha has not ousted in Ulster dialects; it is probably common only in the northernmost dialects, as in Tory Island.

The verbal conjugations in Ulster are more complicated than elsewhere. For instance, most strong verbs still have a distinction between absolute and dependent forms in the present: tchí, "sees" - chan fheiceann, "doesn't see". Also, the verbs tabhair! and tar! use the present verbal particles even in the past tense: cha dtáinig, go dtáinig (standard: níor tháinig, gur tháinig); cha dtug, go dtug (standard: níor thug, gur thug).

The second conjugation has still audible long future and conditional endings, which tend to spread into the first conjugation: beannóchaidh, bheannóchadh, even féachóchaidh, d'fhéachóchainn.

Long vowels become short in non-initial position, but they stay clear. Thus, the long clear/short obscure opposition is in non-initial syllable replaced by a clear/obscure opposition.

Short clear o and a tend to be confused. Foclóir, "dictionary" sounds thus in Ulster very much like Scottish Gaelic faclair.

The combination simple preposition + article doesn't eclipse but aspirates: ag an fhear instead of ag an bhfear.

Where the current standard has -í- between two broad vowels, Ulster pronunciation often comes nearer the Classical orthography -ighe-, -idhe-.

Panu Höglund

1997-01-05 CPD