As the Fidelma series has become increasing popular,
many English-speaking fans have written wanting
assurance about the way to pronounce the Irish names and
Irish belongs to the Celtic Branch of the IndoEuropean
family of languages. It is closely related to Manx and
Scottish Gaelic and a cousin of Welsh, Cornish and
Breton. It is a, very old European literary language.
Professor Calvert Watkins of Harvard maintained it
contains Europe’s oldest vernacular literature,
Greek and Latin being a lingua franca.
Surviving texts date from the 7th century AD.
The Irish of Fidelma’s period is classed as Old Irish,
which, after 950 AD, entered a period known as Middle
Irish. Therefore, in the Fidelma books, Old Irish forms
are generally adhered to, whenever possible, in both
names and words. This is like using Chaucer’s English
compared to modern English. For example, a word such as aidche (’night’)
in Old Irish is now rendered oiche in
There are only 18 letters in the Irish alphabet. From
earliest times there has been a literary standard but
today four distinct spoken dialects are recognised. For
our purposes, we will keep to Fidelma’s dialect of
It is a general rule that stress is placed on the first
syllable, but as in all languages, there are exceptions.
In Munster the exceptions to the rule of initial stress
are a) if the second syllable is long then it bears the
stress; b) if the first two syllables are short and the
third is long then the third syllable is stressed – such
as in the word for fool, amadán =
amad-awn; or c) where the second syllable contains ach
and there is no long syllable, the second syllable bears
There are five short vowels – a, e, i, o, u and five
long vowels – á, é, í, ó, ú. On the long vowels note the
accent, like the French acute, which is called a fáda (lit.
long), and this is the only accent in Irish. It occurs
on capitals as well as lower case.
The accent is important for, depending on where it is
placed, it changes the entire word. Seán (Shawn)
= John. But sean (shan) = old
and séan (she-an) = an omen.
By leaving off the accent on the name of the famous film
actor, Sean Connery, he has become "Old" Connery!
For those interested in learning more about the
language, it is worth remembering that, after centuries
of suppression during the colonial period, Irish became
the first official language of the Irish State on
independence in 1922. The last published Census of 1991
showed one third of the population returning themselves
as Irish-speaking. In Northern Ireland, where the
language continued to be openly discouraged after
Partition in 1922, only ten-and-a-half per cent of the
population were able to speak the language in 1991, the
first time an enumeration of speakers was allowed since
Language courses are now available on video and
audio-cassette from a range of producers from
Linguaphone to RTE and BBC. There are some sixty summer
schools and special intensive courses available.
Teilifis na Gaeilge is the television station
broadcasting entirely in Irish and there are several
Irish language radio stations and newspapers.
Information can be obtained from Comhdháil
Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, 46 Sráid Chill Dara, Baile Ãtha
Cliath 2, Éire.
The UK Audio Book versions of
the books read by Irish actress Caroline Lennon provide
an authentic and excellent way to hear the correct
pronunciation. Details of these can be found towards the
bottom of the Foreign
Editions page of this website.
The short and long
vowels are either "broad" or "slender".
six broad vowels are:
- a pronounced
"o" as in cot
- á pronounced
"aw" as in law
- o pronounced
"u" as in cut
- ó pronounced
"o" as in low
- u pronounced
"u" as in run
- ú pronounced
"u" as in rule
The four slender vowels
- i pronounced
"i" as in hit
- í pronounced
"ee" as in see
- e pronounced
"e" as in let
- é pronounced
"ay" as in say
There are double vowels, some of which are
fairly easy because they compare to English
pronunciation " such as
"ae" as say, or ui as in quit. However, some
double and even triple vowels in Irish need to
ai pronounced like "ee" as in
ia pronounced like
"ea" as in near
io pronounced like
"o" as in come
ea pronounced like
"ea" as in bear
ei pronounced like
"e" as in let
aoi pronounced like
the "ea" as in mean
uai pronounced like
the "ue" as in blue
eoi pronounced like
the "eo" as in yeoman
iai pronounced like
the "ee" as in see
Most people will have noticed that many Irish people pronounce the word film as fil’um. This is actually a transference of Irish pronunciation rules. When l, n or r are followed by b, bh, ch, g (not after n), m, or mh, and is preceded by a short stressed vowel, an additional vowel is heard between them. For example, bolg (stomach) is pronounced bol’ag; garbh (rough) is gar’ev; dorcha (dark) is dor’ach’a; gorm (blue) is gor’um, and ainm (name) is an’im.
b, d, f, h, l, m,
n, p, r, and t are said more or less as in
g is always hard
like "g" as in gate
c is always hard
like the "c" as in cat
s is pronounced
like the "s" as in said except before a
slender vowel when it is pronounced "sh"
as in shin
In Irish the letters j,
k, q, w, x, y or z do not exist and v is
formed by the combination of "bh".
Consonants can change
their sound by aspiration or eclipse -
aspiration is caused by using the letter "h"
bh is the "v" as in
- ch is a soft breath
as in loch (not pronounced as lock!) or as
- dh before a broad
vowel is like the "g" as in gap
- dh before a slender
vowel is like the "y" as in year
- fh is totally
- gh before a slender
vowel can sound like "y" as in yet
- mh is pronounced
like the "w" as in wall
- ph is like the "f"
as in fall
- th is like the "h"
as in ham
- sh is also like the
"h" as in ham
Consonants can also change their sound by being eclipsed, or silenced, by another consonant placed before it. For example na mBan (of women) = nah m’on; or i bpaipéar (in the paper) i b’ap’er, or i gcathair (in the city) i g’a’har.
p can be eclipsed by
- t can be eclipsed
- c can be eclipsed
- f can be eclipsed
- b can be eclipsed
- d and g
eclipsed by n