Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Wicklow Irish

The baronies of Wicklow, 1900. Click to zoom. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Updated: 10 January 2017 (the sounds of Wicklow Irish, see below)

The Irish of Co. Wicklow

I was recently contacted by two correspondents asking about the Gaelic dialects historically spoken in what is now Co. Wicklow. 

Wicklow, like North Kildare, is an area of particular interest to this blog as it is likely that the dialects spoken in Co. Wicklow – especially its northern half – were at once quite similar to and yet appreciably different to the (sub)dialects spoken in Co. Dublin. In particular the dialects of the far south of Co. Dublin (e.g. Glenasmole, Brittas) and the far north of Wicklow (e.g. Glencree, Powerscourt) were likely to have been substantially the same. By the same token, the Irish of South Wicklow almost certainly shared a great many features with the Irish of North Wexford, whilst that of West Wicklow probably shaded gradually into the Irish once spoken in South Kildare and Carlow.

Here, we will take a brief look at the decline of Irish in Wicklow and then discuss some of its key features.

How did Irish die out in Wicklow?

Elsewhere on this blog it was pointed out that Irish seems, rather inexplicably, to have retreated more quickly in Wicklow and parts of Wexford, Laois, Kildare and Carlow than in parts of Co. Dublin. Even the well-known dialect investigator Donn Piatt, who is very much given to maximising (or even exaggerating) the potential survival of pockets of traditional Irish in his 1933 booklet The Gaelic Dialects of Leinster strikes an uncharacteristic note of caution when it comes to parts of Co. Wicklow, viz.: 
Until a very recent date, some in the county spoke Irish, but the mines of Tigroney, near Avoca, and the Glendalough mines caused a strong immigration from surrounding counties, and it must be remembered that districts such as North Kilkenny, North Wexford, South Dublin, and quite near, were intensely Irish-speaking [sic!] at O'Donovan's time [i.e. the Ordnance Survey Letters], a century ago. This creates the absolute need of verification of the origin of every old man or woman in Wicklow claiming to have known Irish, dating 1830, 1848, etc. (p. 10)
Wicklow seems nevertheless to have been the first county to lose its Irish: Fitzgerald’s 1983 study of minimum levels of Irish speaking at the barony level – extrapolated backwards from levels of Irish speaking recorded amongst the oldest age groups in the 1881, 1861 and 1851 censuses – states that as little as one per cent of the Wicklow population born in 1771-1781 and 1801-1811 may have been Irish speaking (although the unreliable nature of the data, with many not wanting to return themselves as Irish speakers, means the actual proportion may have been a little – although not much – higher). 

Wicklow was thus undoubtedly the county in Ireland with the lowest proportion of Irish speakers in the nineteenth century. By 1831-1841, this proportion was even less than one per cent and Irish must have stopped being passed on at all (the figures for Kildare and Wexford are not very much higher; by contrast, in Dublin at least seven per cent of the 1771-1781-born cohort was Irish speaking, and even two per cent of the 1861-1871-born cohort in Dublin was Irish speaking, although some of this latter cohort must have been the children of Irish speakers from elsewhere).

This to some extent matches the otherwise exaggerated observations of the Statistical Survey of Wicklow (1801), namely: ‘It is very remarkable, that although the Irish language is common in all the counties around, in the county of Wicklow the Irish language is unknown. Nor did I find any of the natives of this county, even in the most remote vales in the midst of the mountains, accustomed to speak the Irish language’ (see Ó Cuív 1951: 81). The Irish language was certainly not ‘unknown’ in Wicklow, and it was scarcely likely that it was ‘unknown’ ‘even in the remote vales in the midst of the mountains’ given that O’Donovan on his Ordnance Survey travels encountered ‘[a] few old people who [spoke] Irish’ in Kilcommon parish (Arklow barony) nearly forty years later in 1839. 

What is certain, though, is that compared to neighbouring counties in the early nineteenth century, Wicklow was the most English-speaking (and the least Irish-speaking) of them all; that pockets of Irish were almost impossible to find, and that there were very, very few Irish speakers – including bilinguals – left in the county, even before the Famine.

Glendalough, 1890s. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nineteenth century survivals and semi-speakers

Nevertheless, isolated speakers (or in some cases semi-speakers) could still be found in Wicklow well i
nto the nineteenth century. Piatt (1933: 6) reports that ‘Andrew and Hanna Byrne of Glenealy, who both died in 1830, are the last absolutely authentic native speakers I can find in that area’ and claims the grandmother of a Mr John Byrne of Cloneen ‘dead about the Famine period, knew Irish’ (ibid, p. 2) – probably a semi-speaker. A grandson of Irish-speaking Connacht immigrants to Glenmalure told Piatt that Irish was still spoken in that area when his father, who died in 1884, was a boy, i.e. around 1810

In his masterpiece Labhrann Laighnigh (2011, p. 140-141), Ó hÓgáin relates an 1875 report of a ‘carman from Wicklow, a Mr Murphy of Derrybane [i.e. Derrybawn] near the Seven Churches’ who ‘[u]pon being asked whether there was any Gaelic or Irish spoken by the people in the surrounding valleys, he said no, but that he himself had when young learned [some] rhymes from his grandmother, which he supposed was Irish, for he did not understand one word of it.’ Again, Mr Murphy’s grandmother sounds like a semi-speaker, and it thus seems Irish had actually disappeared as the community language of Derrybawn during her parents’ generation, around 1795. All these examples broadly match Fitzgerald’s data above.

Glenmalure, Co, Wicklow (Wikimedia Commons)

Where was Wicklow Irish last spoken?
At an even more local level, Fitzgerald (2003) further extrapolated Famine-era Irish-speaking by working backwards from the 1911 census returns: by looking at the proportion of those aged over 60 years in 1911 who returned themselves as Irish speaking, Fitzgerald calculated the relative strength of Irish at the district electoral division (DED) level circa 1851: i.e. if five per cent of those over 60 years of age said they spoke Irish in 1911, it would be reasonable to assume that that DED was at the very least five per cent Irish-speaking sixty years previously.

In Co. Wicklow, Fitzgerald could identify only two DEDs in which a proportion of those aged 60+ in 1911 spoke Irish and where Irish had thus possibly been a community language at the time of the Famine: Kilpipe, where five per cent of those over 60 in 1911 were returned as Irish-speaking, and Aughrim, where three per cent of those aged over 60 were Irish-speaking in 1911. Both of these are in the south of the county: indeed, Aughrim (the northernmost of the two) and Kilpipe (to the south) are scarcely 5km apart, and lie roughly 5km north of the Wicklow-Wexford county border in the barony of Ballinacor South (see map above).

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald’s methodology in this instance seems mildly compromised by precisely the concerns raised by Piatt in 1933: namely that Fitzgerald apparently did not check the counties of origin of those aged 60+ in 1911. Specifically, in the Kilpipe DED, one of the three elderly Irish speakers – Moses Doyle (72 years) of Toberpatrick – is recorded as originally being from Co. Wexford. (The same methodological flaw also means, for example, that Fitzgerald overstates the Famine-era status of Irish in North Kildare and the Meath-Kildare border.)

Of course, Mr Doyle’s parents may have been from Wicklow; but a cross-check of counties of origin is necessary to prevent Irish speaking migrants to Wicklow, of which there were many, skewing the already extremely low levels of statistical Irish speaking in the county in 1901 and 1911 – as Piatt rightly warned.

Interestingly, of Aughrim Piatt writes – based on local knowledge passed to him – that ‘[i]n the Aughrim area Irish seems to have lasted nearly to the Famine’ (1933: 7), raising the question of whether Piatt, unusually, was actually under-estimating rather than exaggerating the survival of Irish in an area. In any case, any Aughrim ‘speakers’ in 1911 may only have had memories of semi-speaker Irish (i.e. they were not fluent themselves, and neither had their parents been).

Nevertheless, the available evidence strongly suggests that Irish survived longest and strongest in a broad area west of Avoca, as that is where most mentions of Irish survivals and last speakers (and semi-speakers) in Wicklow cluster. 

In the north of Wicklow, the last place where Irish was spoken natively may have been Glencree, directly adjacent to the last Irish-speaking area of South Co. Dublin, Glenasmole. Piatt (1933: 6) reports that around 1900 ‘people in the hills near Glencree knowing a little Irish, prayers, snatches of songs, etc., but not fluent’ implying a situation remarkably like that of Derrybawn in 1875. We may therefore assume a similar four-generation time span and that Irish had died out around Glencree circa 1820 at the latest.

Art's Lough, Co. Wicklow. (Wikimedia Commons)

Claimed (improbable) monolinguals, 1901

The 1901 census records 18 Wicklow-born people from Co. Wicklow returned themselves as speaking only Irish. Of these, seven were over 50 years of age: four belonged to one household (the Merrigans of Laragh West, Brockagh) and two to another (the Lynches of Ballinroan Lower, Eadestown). It is extremely unlikely these people actually were monolingual in Irish, although they may have known some Irish.

Claimed bilinguals, 1901         

In 1901, there were 273 Wicklow-born people returned from Co. Wicklow as speaking both Irish and English. Of these, 29 were 50 years of age or over (cf: Fitzgerald’s methodology above). These 29 Irish speakers were however scattered throughout 16 DEDs: four belonged to one household alone (the Coogans of Clogh Upper, Baltinglass, where all were returned as speaking both Irish and English) and three to another (the Butlers of Ballard, Ballinaclash, similarly all returned as speaking both languages). 

Four other older bilinguals were recorded living separately from one another in Bray; at least one of whom – Daniel Butler (aged 60, a grocer) – is stated as having been born locally (in Callary). Luke Cuddy (aged 50), returned as a bilingual, is recorded in Brockagh about a kilometre away from the Merrigan household mentioned above.

Two Byrnes (a John Byrne aged 60 in Bray and a second John Byrne aged 71 in Drumgoff, Ballinacor) and one Toole (aged 80, Ashford) were the only specifically Wicklow surnames among the 29 oldest bilinguals. Merrigan is perhaps also a Wicklow surname.

Claimed bilinguals, 1911        

A decade later, in the 1911 census, 571 Wicklow-born people returned themselves as bilingual in both Irish and English. Of these, 15 were 60 years of age or over (and hence belonging to the Famine generation) yet only two individuals – Joseph John Lambert of Tinnakilly Upper, Aughrim (returned as 49 in 1901, but 62 in 1911!) and Bridget Nolan of Bray (aged 65 in 1901, 78 in 1911) – were recorded as knowing Irish in both censuses. 

None of those who returned themselves as Irish-speaking monolinguals in Wicklow in 1901 returned themselves as monolinguals in 1911. It is clear both the 1901 and 1911 census data was characterised predominantly by revival Irish.

So, what did Wicklow Irish actually sound like?

As with the Irish of all other counties, it is extremely unlikely that the Irish of Co. Wicklow was a single homogeneous dialect: the Irish of South Wicklow would have had similarities with the Irish of Wexford and Carlow; the Irish of North Wicklow with the adjacent dialects spoken in South Co. Dublin and North Kildare; and the Irish of Mid- and West Wicklow most likely shared features with neighbouring dialects in South Kildare.

Nevertheless, we can from a number of sources identify some general yet key features of the Irish dialect(s) of Co. Wicklow. A great many of these come to light through spelling mistakes in texts in Irish written in Wicklow whilst Irish was still the spoken language of the area, which reveal the pronunciation of the writer (primarily the Leabhar Branach or Book of the O'Byrnes, a book of poems composed in Glenmalure between c. 1550 and 1630); secondly, other idiosyncrasies of local pronunciation have been preserved in place-names (the place-names of Wicklow were painstakingly studied by the late Dr. Liam Price until his death in 1967); lastly, we can infer a great deal about the dialect(s) in question from the few Irish words that have survived in the Hiberno-English of Wicklow, primarily collated by the late Diarmuid Ó Muirithe.

The sounds of Wicklow Irish

-adh, -amh and -abh
As in South Dublin and Offaly (at the very least), the endings -adh, -amh and -abh in e.g. déanamh 'do', talamh 'land' etc. were invariably pronounced the same throughout Wicklow, namely as -a (i.e. most likely as a schwa sound like the -a in Eng. sofa). This is perhaps the most quintessentially Leinster feature of the Wicklow dialect (and of the dialects of South Dublin and Offaly, and probably Kildare too); the rule elsewhere in Ireland is to differentiate between -adh, -amh and -abh. Very generally, north of this area these are pronounced(as in Ulster, although this feature was the norm at least as far south as Athlone, Longford Town and South Meath), and southeast of it -amh is pronounced -av, -adh (in nouns) as -a, and -adh (in the past tense) as -ag (as in Ossory and Munster). The Leinster dialect, of which the Wicklow dialect was a central member, was thus particularly distinct in this regard.

-igh, -aigh
As in the rest of Old Leinster, -igh was probably pronounced -e and -aigh was probably pronounced -a in Wicklow. I strongly suspect that in Wicklow (as in Dublin as far as I can tell) these two sounds had in fact fallen even further together as a schwa sound i.e. [ə] identical to -a above. This leads to the extraordinary situation of -adh, -amh, -abh, -igh and -aigh all having been pronounced as a neutral vowel (i.e. as -a in Eng. sofa) in Old Leinster (including Wicklow). How this may have affected comprehension I cannot say.

-cn, gn
Three-quarters of Ireland habitually pronounce(d) initial cn- and gn- in words such cnoc 'hill' and gnóthach 'busy' as if cr- and gr- respectively; this change took place in the Middle Ages (Williams dates it to before the thirteenth century). Almost everywhere north of a line from Clare (where both forms were used) to South Kilkenny, cr- was (and continues to be) the norm; south of this line, i.e. in parts of Clare, West Kilkenny and all of Munster, cn- and gn- remained cn-. Wicklow was no exception to this rule and throughout the region cn- and gn- were nearly always cr- and gr-, disagreeing with Munster but agreeing with all other dialects.

This spelling, in e.g. gaoth 'wind', is generally pronounced either [i:] i.e. í in Connacht, [ɯ] i.e. a close back unrounded vowel in parts of Donegal (and historically throughout most of Ulster and Louth), or as [e:] i.e. é in Munster and Ossory. In Wicklow (and South Dublin) ao was probably pronounced [e:] i.e. é with Wicklow (and Old Leinster) disagreeing with Connacht and Ulster but agreeing with Munster in this regard, e.g gaoth > gaéh.

-ch, -cht
Neilson (1808), in his introductory grammar on Irish, claimed that 'ch, before t, is quite silent in all the country along the sea coast, from Derry to Waterford' - presumably thereby including the coast of Wicklow. O'Rahilly, in his masterpiece Irish Dialects Past and Present (1932: 112) also states that -ch was silent in (presumably the coastal part of) Wicklow right up to the eighteenth century. There is, however, no conclusive evidence of this that I have seen; on the contrary, there is persuasive evidence that in Wicklow both -ch and -cht were fully pronounced in all positions, as they were in all of the country outside Ulster and Louth. The question is more one of whether -th was pronounced as -ch, as in parts of Wexford and Ossory.

-bh-, -mh-
In the Leabhar Branach medial -bh- and -mh- are typically deleted and the preceding vowel lengthened, so that e.g. leabhar 'book' > leár. In so doing Wicklow concurs with Ossory and Munster and disagrees with Connacht and Ulster.

We can confidently assign Wicklow in its entirety to the zone that used g- interrogatives (i.e. goid~gad < cad), as Labhrann Laighnigh (p. 170) records the mixed form Goidé an chaoi athá tú from Carlow, to the south east of Wicklow. Wicklow was thus surrounded to its west and north (Dublin also used goid and gad; see Labhrann Laighnigh p. 26-27) by g-forms and it is thus highly likely that Wicklow used them too, meaning the isogloss ran fairly cleanly from Tobercurry, Sligo (LASID pt. 61) to the Barrow. North Kilkenny (LASID pt. 6) also has goidé.

Further updates concerning what can be reconstructed of the phonology of Wicklow Irish will follow. I will also include lexical information about the dialect. Watch this space!

 Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow (Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Essential sources for Irish dialect study II: Doegen

Oileán Thoraí, radharc as Machaire Robhartaigh. (Wikimedia Commons)

Updated: 10 January 2017

Doegen: hundreds of recordings of native speakers - online

As mentioned earlier here, we are truly fortunate to have - in the form of the Royal Irish Academy's Doegen Records Web Project - direct, free online access to around 400 sound recordings of 136 different speakers from 16 counties, made between 1928 and 1931. This is an enormous amount of rare source material which is now, thankfully, available for all to study or simply enjoy, rather than sitting locked away half-forgotten in a university archive.

The Doegen material - which includes stories, songs and simpler texts - is extremely valuable not merely because it gives us the precious opportunity to hear the actual Irish speech of counties where the language is no longer spoken and where little was recorded phonetically (e.g. Cos. Derry, Leitrim, Cavan and Roscommon), but also because it is so extensive geographically and content-wise. Doegen offers us sound recordings of speech from areas within counties which were Irish-speaking until recently and which are otherwise relatively well-studied (e.g. Urris in Inishowen; Co. Clare). It offers a wealth of material concerning the Irish of 85 years ago - also for areas within the contemporary Gaeltacht. 

I have noticed, however, that the Doegen Records Web Project website was not designed with comparative dialectological research in mind. The browse function works well if you wish to directly locate the recordings of a named speaker, but if you are seeking to compare speakers within a certain geographical area you must take a circuitous route via individual speakers' biography pages here, finding out which townland they are from, noting it, and moving on to the next speaker, and so forth. 

A shortcut for dialect research using Doegen

Therefore, I have below prepared a list of shortcut links based on general geographical areas within the 16 counties for those who may wish to compare dialect features. The shortcut will take you to the speaker's information page, on which you can read more about them and listen to all the tracks on which they were recorded.

The list is arranged very roughly north to south by county (this is why Armagh and Louth come after Sligo), and within each county by very general dialect area. Thus far speakers are identified by surname (in alphabetical order if there is more than one person recorded at the location), first name; townland or location of origin (in English); civil parish; barony and county. Wider dialect areas and dialectal relationships are sometimes clarified in parentheses. Spellings are the official English forms used by Placenames Branch of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and may depart from colloquial versions.

Where relevant I have also included suggestions for further (usually but not always academic) reading, including some downloads where possible. The suggestions for further reading are in no way meant to be exhaustive (for that, start here), but merely to provide a useful overview for researchers and students who may wish to discover or become more acquainted with key resources.

All links are tested and active as of 10 January 2017.

Further dialect resources - including more from some of those included below - will be discussed in later posts. A key overview of Irish dialects in general and historical perspective (including those of Leinster and Meath) is Williams, Nicholas. 'Na Canúintí a Theacht chun Solais' in McCone et al. Stair na Gaeilge: in ómós do Phádraig Ó Fiannachta. Maigh Nuad: Roinn na Sean-Ghaeilge, Coláiste Phádraig (1994).

Donegal (28 speakers)
Mac an Bhaird, Séamus, Tory Island, Tullaghobegly, Kilmacrenan, Donegal

Mac Giolla Cheara, Diarmuid, Urris, Clonmany, East Inishowen, Donegal
Mac Giolla Cheara, Phil, Letter, Clonmany, East Inishowen, Donegal

For more on the dialect of Urris, see Evans, Emrys. 'The Irish Dialect of Urris, Inishowen, Co. Donegal' in Lochlann 4 (1969, p. 1-130. This is intended as a supplement to Wagner, Heinrich (ed). Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects (hereafter LASID; four volumes; 1958 onward).

Nic Conaglaigh, Nóra, Glashagh, Clondavaddog, Kilmacrenan, Donegal (Fanad)
Mac Conaglaigh, Pádraig, Ballincrick, Clondavaddog, Kilmacrenan, Donegal (Fanad)

For more on the dialect of Fanad, see Evans, Emrys. 'A Vocabulary of the Dialects of Fanad and Glenvar, Co. Donegal' in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 32 (1972), p. 167-265 (a supplement to LASID). There are also a great deal of excellent downloadable resources relating to Fanad, and Donegal and Ulster (including East Ulster and Oirialla) in general, available at Dr. Ciarán Ó Duibhín's brilliant site here, including his personal view on the Doegen recordings here

Ó Siadhail, Pádraig, Ardbane, Mevagh, Kilmacrenan, Donegal (Ros Guill)
Ó Gallchobhair, Doimnic, Derrycassan, Mevagh, Kilmacrenan, Donegal (Ros Guill)

Ó Conaglaigh, Seán, Carrowcanon, Raymunterdoney, Kilmacrenan, Donegal (Falcarragh)
Ó Cuirreáin, Séamus, Gortahork [Gort a' Choirce], Tullaghobegly, Kilmacrenan, Donegal
Ó Dubhthaigh, Aodh, Gortahork, Tullaghobegly, Kilmacrenan, Donegal
Mag Fhionnlaoigh, Séamus, Gola Island, Tullaghobegly, Kilmacrenan, Donegal

Mag Grianna, Éamonn, Rinnafarset [Rann na Feirste], Templecrone, Boylagh, Donegal
Mag Grianna, Feidhlimidh, Rinnafarset, Templecrone, Boylagh, Donegal
Ní Mhuireadhaigh, Áine, Rinnafarset, Templecrone, Boylagh, Donegal
Ó Domhnaill, Séan, Rinnafarset, Templecrone, Boylagh, Donegal
Ó Baoighill, Pádraig, Loughanure [Loch an Iúir], Templecrone, Boylagh, Donegal
Ó Conacháin, Pádraig, Tor, Tullaghobegly, Kilmacrenan, Donegal
Nic Cumhaill, Róise, Stranarwa, Tullaghobegly, Kilmacrenan, Donegal

Ní Dhomhnaill, Maighréad, Adderwal, Inishkeel, Boylagh, Donegal (Central Donegal)
Mac Meanman, Seán, Kingarrow, Inishkeel, Boylagh, Donegal (Central Donegal)
Ó Baoighill, Domhnall, Classy, Inishkeel, Boylagh, Donegal (Central Donegal)

Ó Creag, Mánus, Tawnawully, Donegal parish, Tirhugh, Donegal (South Donegal)
Ó Gallchobhair, Tomás, Ardara, Killybegs Lower, Tirhugh, Donegal (South Donegal)

For more on the dialect of this area, see Quiggin, E. C. A Dialect of Donegal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906), available to download here.

McConnell, Nellie, Laconnell, Inishkeel, Banagh, Donegal (South West Donegal)
Campbell, Patrick, Meenadreen, Glencolumbkille, Banagh, Donegal (South West Donegal)
Mac Giolla Chearr, Seán, Teelin, Glencolumbkille, Banagh, Donegal (South West Donegal)
Ó Caiside, Séamus, Teelin, Glencolumbkille, Banagh, Donegal (South West Donegal)
Mac Seagháin, Tomás, Cappagh Upper, Banagh, Donegal (South West Donegal)

For more on the dialect of South West Donegal, see Wagner, Heinrich. Gaeilge Theilinn (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1958), available to buy here.

Antrim (2)
Mac Amhlaoibh, Brian, Clonreagh [Glenariff], Ardclinis, Glenarm Lower, Antrim (Glens of Antrim)
McKiernan, Michael, Knocknacarry, Layd, Glenarm Lower, Antrim (Glens of Antrim)

For more on the dialect of the Glens of Antrm, see Holmer, Nils. 'On Some Relics of the Irish Dialect Spoken in the Glens of Antrim' in Uppsala Universitets årsskrift 7 (1940). I am hoping to digitise this resource soon, as it is very rare.

Further information on the dialects of Rathlin Island and the Glens of Antrim is available at Ciarán Dunbar's Rathlin and Glens Irish blog here. You can also download Holmer, Nils. 'The Irish Language in Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim' (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1942), the comprehensive and detailed linguistic overview of Rathlin Irish, via Ciarán's blog here.

Derry (1)
Ní Chleircín, Eilis, Glengomna, Ballynascreen, Loughinsholin, Derry (South Derry)

Tyrone (4)
Nic Ruaidhrí, Jane, Leckin, Bodoney Lower, Strabane Upper, Tyrone (Muintir Luinigh)
Ó Cianáin, Eoin, Formil, Bodoney Lower, Strabane Upper, Tyrone (Muintir Luinigh)

The standard work on the Irish of Muintir Luinigh is Ó Tuathail, Éamonn. Sgéalta Mhuintir Luinigh (1932), which is available for download at Ciarán Dunbar's Gaeltacht na Spéiríní blog here. See also, however, Stockman, Gerard, and Wagner, Heinrich. 'Contributions to a Study of Tyrone Irish' in Lochlann 3 (1965), p. 43-236, a supplement to LASID.

McDaid, Máire, Tullycar, Termonamongan, Omagh West, Tyrone (West Tyrone)
Ó Gallchobhair, Pádraig, Tulnashane, Termonamongan, Omagh West, Tyrone (West Tyrone)

Leitrim (1)
Feely, Anna, Cleighragh [Glenade], Rossinver, Rosclogher, Leitrim

See Ó Ceilleachair (1967-8) below (Sligo).

Cavan (1)
Mag Uidhir, Seán, Legnagrow, Templeport, Tullyhaw, Cavan (Glangevlin)

For more on the dialects of Cavan, see Ó Tuathail, Éamonn. 'Seanchas Ghleann Ghaibhle' supp. Béaloideas 4.4 (1934) and Ó Tuathail, Éamonn. 'Gleanings from Lough Ramor' in Béaloideas 7:2 (1937). The first deals with Glangevlin; the second with the Irish of South East Cavan (Carrigabruse and Clonkeiffy).

Sligo (5)
Ó Coisdealbha, Seán, Moneygold, Ahamlish, Carbury, Sligo (North Sligo)

Ó Cearbhaill, Tomás, Letterbrone, Kilmacteige, Leyny, Sligo (South Sligo; cf: East Mayo)
Ó hEadhra, Pádraig, Letterbrone, Kilmacteige, Leyny, Sligo (South Sligo; cf: East Mayo)
Mac an Déisigh, Seán, Culdaly, Kilmacteige, Leyny, Sligo (South Sligo; cf: East Mayo)
McEvey, Brigid, Curry, Achonry, Leyny, Sligo (South Sligo; cf: East Mayo)

For more on dialects of Sligo, se Ó Ceilleachair, Stiofán. 'Canúint Mhuintir Chionnaith agus Chlann Fhearmaighe' in Breifne 1967-8 (also includes information the dialects of North Leitrim, West Cavan and East Mayo).

Armagh (1)
Ní Arbhasaigh, Máire, Clonalig, Creggan, Fews Upper, Armagh (Oriel; cf: Louth)

For more on the dialect of South Armagh, see Sommerfelt, Alf. 'South Armagh Irish' in Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap 2 (1929). I am hoping to digitise this resource soon, as it is very rare.

Further information about the dialect of South Armagh can be found at Ciarán Dunbar's Ráidhteachas an Fheadha blog here.

Louth (3)
Ní Chaslaigh, Brighid, Drummullagh, Carlingford, Dundalk Lower, Louth (Oriel; cf: Armagh)
Mac Cuarta, Brian, Ardaghy, Carlingford, Dundalk Lower, Louth (Oriel; cf: Armagh)
Ní Ghuibhirín, Cáit, Ardaghy, Carlingford, Dundalk Lower, Louth (Oriel; cf: Armagh)

For more on the dialect of Oirialla (including South Armagh and East Co. Monaghan), see Dunbar, Ciaran. Cnuasach Focal as Oirialla. (Dublin: Coiscéim, 2012), which is available to buy here. Ciarán's blog is an extensive supplement to the book. 

On the dialect of East Co. Monaghan (specifically Inishkeen, Farney) see LASID  Vol. 4 p. 4-13.

Mayo (17)
Ó Dubhagáin, Mícheál, Curraunboy, Kilcommon, Erris, Mayo
Ó Neachtain, Seán, Muingnabo, Kilcommon, Erris, Mayo

Ó Monacháin, Seán, Ardmore, Kilmore, Erris, Mayo (Belmullet)

Breathnach, Pádraig, Inishkea North, Kilmore, Erris, Mayo

Mag Uidhir, Pádraig, Doohooma, Kilcommon, Erris, Mayo (Gweesalia)

McGinty, Frank, Ballycroy, Kilcommon, Erris, Mayo
Mac Meanman, Pádraig, Claggan, Kilcommon, Erris, Mayo

Ó hInnéirghe, Mícheál, Inishbiggle, Kilcommon, Erris, Mayo

For more on the dialect of Erris, see Mhac an Fhailigh, Éamonn. The Irish of Erris, Co. Mayo. (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1968), available to buy here.

Mac Giolla Bháin, Séamus, Cloghmore, Achill parish, Burrishoole, Mayo (Achill)

For more on the dialect of Achill, see Stockman, Gerard. The Irish of Achill, Co. Mayo. Belfast: Queen's University of Belfast (1974).

Ní Mháille, Brighid, Rosturk, Burrishoole parish, Burrishoole, Mayo
Ó Móráin, Liam, Rosturk, Burrishoole parish, Burrishoole, Mayo
Ó Ceallaigh, Tomás, Rockfleet, Burrishoole parish, Burrishoole, Mayo

Ó Ceilleacháin, Aindréas, Carrowbeg, Kilmovee, Costello, Mayo (East Mayo; cf: South Sligo)
Ó Dubhthaigh, Tomás, Lurga Lower, Kilbeagh, Costello, Mayo (East Mayo; cf. South Sligo)

For more on the Irish of East Mayo, see Lavin, T. H. 'Notes on the Irish of East Mayo' in Éigse 9 (1957) p. 10-17; Dillon, Myles. 'Vestiges of the Irish Dialect of East Mayo' in Celtica 10 (1973), p. 15-21 (Kilmovee); Mhac an Fhailigh, Éamonn. 'Notes on a Mayo Dialect' in Celtica 12 (1977), p. 171-184 (Rinnananny); and Ó Ceilleachair, Stiofán. 'Canúint Mhuintir Chionnaith agus Chlann Fhearmaighe' in Breifne 1967-8 (Kilmovee; mainly focused on Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan).

Ó Meadhra, Pádraig, Toormakeady, Ballyovey, Carra, Mayo (cf: Leenaun, Galway)
Ó Murchadha, Éamonn, Cahernagollum, Ballinchalla, Kilmaine, Mayo
Ó Gioballáin, Seán, Kildun, Cong, Kilmaine, Mayo

For more on the dialect of South Mayo, see de Búrca, Seán. The Irish of Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo. (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1958), available to buy here.

Roscommon (2)
Ganley, Thomas, Cloonmaul, Tibohine, Frenchpark, Roscommon (North Roscommon)

Sarsfield, Mary Ellen, Cloonfineen, Kiltullagh, Castlereagh, Roscommon (South Roscomon)

Galway (35)
Ó Maoilchiaráin, Labhrás, Lisheennaheltia, Boyounagh, Ballymoe, Galway (East Galway)
Ó Lócháin, Tomás, Camderry, Kilbegnet, Ballymoe, Galway (East Galway)
Mullrooney, Eileen, Lissavruggy, Killian, Galway (East Galway)

Ó Caodháin, Seán, Leenaun, Ross parish, Ross, Galway
Ruddy, Sally, Leenaun, Ross parish, Ross, Galway
Ó Máille, Peadar, Munterowen, Ross parish, Ross, Galway
Breathnach, Mícheál, Maum East, Ross parish, Ross, Galway
Ó hAllmhuráin, Pádraig, Knockaunbaun, Ross parish, Ross, Galway
Breathnach, Tomás, Cloughbrack, Ross parish, Ross, Galway
Ó Ceithearnaigh, Máirtín, Cloughbrack, Ross parish, Ross, Galway
Breathnach, Séamus, Cornamona, Cong, Ross, Galway
Brún, Séamus, Cornamona, Cong, Ross, Galway
Ó Súilleabháin, Pádraig, Cornamona, Cong, Ross, Galway

In 'The Irish of Leenane, Co. Galway', Celtica 7 (1966), p. 128-134, Seán de Búrca states that the dialect of Leenaun at least was substantially the same as that of nearby Tourmakeady (see above).

A very interesting overview of a dialect with features transitional to both North Galway and South Mayo - that of Derryvoreada - is Nilsen, Kenneth E. 'Some Features of the Irish of Bun a' Cruc, Recess, Co. Galway' in Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium Vol. 3 (1983), p. 91-106. Nilsen chose to study this dialect because it fell between two isoglosses on the LASID map and had not been studied before.

Mac Confhaola, Seán, Errislannan, Ballindoon & Islands, Ballynahinch, Galway
Ó Niadh, Tomás, Bunnahown [Bun na hAbhann], Moyrus, Ballynahinch, Galway
Mac Con Iomaire, Tomás, Cuilleen, Moyrus, Ballynahinch, Galway

Ó Néill, Pádraig, Ardgaineen, Annaghdown, Clare, Galway (East Galway)
Ó Murchadha, Mícheál, Cahernahoon, Lackagh, Clare, Galway (East Galway)

Ó Colláin, Seán, Corrandulla, Annaghdown, Clare, Galway
Mullryan, Brigid, Montiagh, Claregalway, Clare, Galway
Ó Concheanainn, Mícheál, Montiagh, Claregalway, Clare, Galway

Ó Lonnáin, Séamus, Anglingham, Oranmore, Galway, Galway
Nolan, Thomas, Tonabrocky, Rahoon, Galway, Galway

Costello, Mary, Rosmuck [Ros Muc], Kilcummin, Moycullen, Galway
Ó Mainnín, Pádraig, Rosmuck, Kilcummin, Moycullen, Galway
Ó Niadh, Pádraig, Rosmuck, Kilcummin, Moycullen, Galway
Mac Con Iomaire, Tomás, Camus Oughter [Camas Uachtair], Kilcummin, Moycullen, Galway
Ó Gábháin, Pádraig, Clynagh [Cladhnach], Kilannin, Moycullen, Galway
Ó Direáin, Séan, Lettermullan Island [Leitir Mealláin], Kilcummin, Moycullen, Galway

Conlan, Kate, Ballintaggart [Baile an tSagairt], Moycullen parish, Moycullen, Galway (Cois Fhairrge)
Ó Tuairisc, Seán, Loughaun Beg [An Lochán Beag], Killannin Moycullen, Galway (Cois Fhairrge)

For an overview of the dialect of Cois Fhairrge, see de Bhaldraithe, Tomás. The Irish of Cois Fhairrge, Co. Galway. (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1945), available to buy here.

Ó Fathaigh, Mícheál, Tawin East, Ballynacourty, Dunkellin, Galway (South Galway)

Ó Direáin, Máirtín, Sruffaun, Inishmore [Inis Mór], Aran, Galway (Aran Islands)
Ó Concheanainn, Peadar, Inishmaan [Inis Meáin], Inishmaan parish, Aran, Galway (Aran Islands)

Mitchell, Martin, Tirneevin, Kiltartan, Galway (Galway-Clare border; cf: Aughinish below)

Clare (5)
Mag Fhloinn, Máirtín, Aughinish, Burren, Clare (Galway-Clare border; see Tirneevin above)

Shannon, James, Ballyvara, Corcomroe, Clare (North West Clare)
Ó hEilíre, Stiofán, Ballycullaun, Corcomroe, Clare (North West Clare)
Carún, Seán, Luogh North, Corcomroe, Clare (North West Clare)
Ó Dileáin, Liam, Knockevin, Corcomroe, Clare (North West Clare)

For more on Galway-Clare border dialects, see Holmer, Nils. The Dialects of Co. Clare. (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1962), available for download here.

Tipperary (1)
Ó Liatháin, Séamus, Curragh, Iffa and Offa West, Tipperary

Kerry (12)
Ó Conchúir, Séamas, Ardaneanig, Magunihy, Kerry
Breathnach, Tomás, Coom, Magunihy, Kerry
Ó Cathaláin, Tomás, Fybagh, Trughanacmy, Kerry

Ó Ruairc, Pádraig, Cloghane, Corkaguiny [Corca Dhuibhne], Kerry
Ó hAiniféin, Seán, Lispole, Corkaguiny, Kerry
Mac Gearailt, Mícheál, Dunquin [Dún Chaoin], Corkaguiny, Kerry
Ó Dálaigh, Tomás, Dunquin, Corkaguiny, Kerry

For more on the dialect of Corca Dhuibhne, see Ó Sé, Diarmuid. Gaeilge Chorca Dhuibhne. (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 2000), available to buy here. A shorter and more practical introduction to the dialect by the same author, in the An Teanga Bheo series, is available to buy here.

Ó Gealbháin, Aindréas, Derreennagreer, Dunkerron South, Kerry
Ó Sé, Tadhg, Caherdaniel, Dunkerron South, Kerry

Mac Coluim, Fionán, Spunkane, Iveragh [Uíbh Ráthach], Kerry
Ó Ceallaigh, Pádraig, Ballinskelligs, Iveragh, Kerry
Ó Conaill, Seán, Ballinskelligs, Iveragh, Kerry

Waterford (6)
Ó Cadhla, Labhrás, Ballinamult, Decies-Without-Drum [Na Déise], Waterford
Ó Corcráin, Tomás, Bohadoon, Decies-Without-Drum, Waterford

de Breit, Pádraig, Island, Decies-Without-Drum, Waterford

Ó Cionnfhaolaidh, Mícheál, Ring [An Rinn], Decies-Without-Drum, Waterford
Ó Droma, Seán, Ring, Decies-Without-Drum, Waterford
Turraoin, Mícheál, Ring, Decies-Without-Drum, Waterford

For more on the dialect of Rinn, see Breathnach, Risteard B. The Irish of Ring, Co. Waterford (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1947), available to buy here. A voluminous glossary of Waterford Irish is the study by Archbishop Michael Sheehan (1870-1945), available as Breathnach, Risteard B. Seana-chaint na nDéise II. (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1961), available to buy here.

Cork (12)
Mac Coitir, Diarmuid, Derrynasaggart, Muskerry West, Cork
Ó Cruadhlaoich, Pádraig, Ballyvourney, Muskerry West, Cork
Ó Luineacháin, Diarmaid, Clondrohid, Muskerry West, Cork
Ó Céilleachair, Domhnall, Coolea [Cúil Aodha], Muskerry West, Cork
Ó Loingsigh, Amhlaoibh, Coolea, Muskerry West, Cork

For more on the dialect of this area, see Ó Cuív, Brian. The Irish of West Muskerry, Co. Cork (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1944), available to buy here.

Breathnach, Séamas, Knockadoon, Imokilly, Cork

This dialect and its relationship both to other Cork dialects and to the Irish of Waterford is discussed in detail in Ó Cuív, Brian. Irish Dialects and Irish Speaking Districts (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1951).

Ó Sé, Pádraig, Ardgroom, Bear, Cork
Ó Scolaí, Séamus, Crossterry, Bear, Cork
Ó hArachtáin, Pádraig, Adrigole, Bear, Cork
Ó Súilleabháin, Proinnsias, Adrigole, Bear, Cork
Ó Laoghaire, Mícheál, Cloghfune, Bear, Cork

Ó Síocháin, Conchúr, Clear Island [Oileán Chléire], Carbery West, Cork

For more on the dialect of Cléire, see Ó Buachalla, Breandán. 'Phonetic Texts from Oileán Chléire' in Lochlann 2 (1962). p. 103-121. A shorter and more practical contemporary introduction to the dialect by the same author, in the An Teanga Bheo series, is available to buy here.

Total number of speakers in Doegen recordings: 136

Oileán Chléire. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Specimens of North Kildare Irish

The baronies of Kildare, 1900. Kill and Laraghbryan are in the baronies of Salt South and Salt North respectively; Cut Bush is in Offaly East. Click to zoom. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Irish in North Kildare

Whilst this blog focuses on Irish dialects once spoken in Greater Dublin, dialects of adjacent areas will also be discussed where relevant.

North Kildare is especially interesting for this blog as we have two tiny (and tantalising) snippets of the dialect spoken there, originating in Kill (An Chill; just east of Sallins and Naas, near the Kildare-Dublin county border) and Laraghbryan (Láithreach Briúin; a parish directly next to the current site of Maynooth University, the former Maynooth College) in the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries respectively. We also have a piece of Irish from Cut Bush (An Tom Gearrtha, near Ballysax and a kilometre south of the Curragh), in mid-Kildare.

The Irish of Kill

Kill is particularly close - about 5km - to locations in South Dublin where local Irish was known to have persisted at least into the early nineteenth century. It is thus tempting for us to wonder how similar the Irish of Kill might have been to the dialect used in Brittas and Glenasmole (and nearby areas of Wicklow). 

Donn Piatt, in his self-published pamphlet Gaelic Dialects of Leinster (1933, p. 7) records, without specifying the date of collection:
Kill (Cill) where some recent Irish is claimed to have existed - a little village near the Glenasmole end [sic] of the Dublin hills, but in Co. Kildare. Tá mé gul awailí was given me as a Kill version of Tá mí [sic] ag dul abhaile.
It is unfortunate, and a little curious, that Piatt only succeeded in getting a single isolated sentence of what remained of the Irish of Kill.

The late Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, in his masterpiece on the Irish of old Leinster Labhrann Laighnigh (Coiscéim, 2011, p. 71) transliterates Piatt's Kill sentence as Tá mé ag go'il abhailí.

Maynooth Castle, 1885. Situated in what is now the grounds of Maynooth College, it is only a few hundred metres from Laraghbryan. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Irish of Laraghbryan

Laraghbryan and the barony of Salt North are a different case altogether. Brian Ó Cúiv, professor of Celtic Studies at University College Dublin and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, relates in his Irish Dialects and Irish-Speaking Districts (1951) that 232 Irish speakers were recorded in North Salt in the 1851 census - fully 45.1 per cent of all Irish speakers recorded in all of Co. Kildare that year! However, Ó Cúiv issues the important clarification:
[...] in the barony of North Salt there were 232 Irish speakers of whom 227 were male. These, no doubt, were to be found in Maynooth College which is situated in that barony. The remarkable fact is that at most only 45% of the students and staff of the College can have registered themselves as Irish speakers.
That is to say, the Irish speakers recorded in the area were most probably from all over Ireland (with dialects to match), and thus not evidence of any residual Irish speaking community in Salt North.

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned here that only a generation earlier (1820) in Balraheen parish (Ikeathy and Oughterany barony) - scarcely 7km south of Laraghbryan - there were sufficient numbers of native Irish speakers to justify Irish-language books being supplied to a teacher by the (predominantly Anglican) Irish Bible Society (de Brún, Éigse 19: 322), intended primarily to teach through the medium of Irish 'as a means for obtaining an accurate knowledge of English'.

North Kildare Irish as highwaymen's cant?

Yet we have what may be a tiny piece of earlier evidence of the actual Irish dialect spoken in Salt North - specifically from the area near what later became Maynooth College - from a highly unusual source: a 1744 Old Bailey trial of Irish highwaymen found guilty, sentenced to death and ultimately executed by hanging on 5 October that year for a robbery in England, the relevant excerpt of which I quote here in full:
THE next Day, about 3 or 4 in the Afternoon, Christopher, Patrick, and Mackavoy, went out together, (Ryley not yet having bought his Fire-Arms, staid behind) they all three went to Hackney Marsh, intending to bath themselves in the River, 'till they thought it was time for the Gentry to be coming from Ruckholt House; finding the Water cold, they soon left it, and went to Temple-Mills, drank some Beer, and Drams, then came over the Bridge, walk'd up and down Hackney River 'till near dark, and then they thought 'twas Time to begin their Work; accordingly they disguis'd themselves, Mackavoy turn'd his Coat inside outwards, and they all three put on Woollen Caps, and Handkerchiefs, went to the Foot of the Bridge, to see if there was any Watch; found the Coast clear, came back, saw two Men, who suspecting what they were, ran away: They heard a Coach coming from Hackney, which prov'd to be Mr. Alderman Heathcote's; Patrick stept forward, to see if there was any Danger from Attendants, it being the first Coach they ever stopt; found there was none, then gave the Word ‡, and went up to the Coachman, and presenting his Pistol, said D - n you, Stop, or I'll blow your Brains out! and the Coachman stopt. Mackavoy went to the Coach Door, put in his Pistol, and demanded the Alderman's Money and Watch; the Alderman said, Take away your Pistol, and I'll give you what I have: and he gave him his Gold Watch, with a Gold Chain, and two Seals, set in Gold, two Guineas and a half, and some Silver, his Mourning Sword and Belt; they also made him come out of his Coach, and took his Hat, and his Stock and Stock-Buckle; the Alderman desired they would return his Stock and Buckle; but they refused, and Christopher would have taken his Coat and Tye Wig, but Patrick prevented him; at which, Christopher was afterwards very angry, because he design'd them for Ryley's wear, (to whom he gave the Alderman's Sword and Belt, being determined to equip him like a Gentleman.)
... ...
‡ They had different Words between themselves, which were generally Irish; the Word Patrick now made use of, as near as it can be pronounced, was, Cornahasea, the meaning of which is, make 'em Stand.
'Cornahasea' is apparently Cuir 'na sheasa' é < Cuir ina sheasamh é, and represents the genuine Irish dialect of Laraghbryan (where the Mackavoys were from), in the period 1700-1750. Significantly, this short sentence fits what we expect, phonologically and morphologically, of the Irish of this part of Leinster.

(I am very grateful to a correspondent - who wishes to remain anonymous - for bringing this extraordinary source to my attention and encouraging me to place it on the blog.)

The plain of Kildare: the Curragh. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Irish of Cut Bush

Lastly, Piatt leaves us the following snippet from Cut Bush, just south of the Curragh (Gaelic Dialects of Leinster, p. 7):
An old man born in 1844 near the Curragh gave me a snatch of the Irish song "Is truagh gan Peata an Mhaoir agam" mixed with English, and said he heard it in his youth. He said "Cut Bush" Currach, was called Cearna (sic) in his youth.
Unfortunately as this is an excerpt from a song, it need not be representative of the Irish of the local area; and in any case it betrays no extraordinary features.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Irish in North Co. Dublin

The baronies of Co. Dublin, 1900. Fingal consists of most of the northernmost five: Balrothery East; Balrothery West; Nethercross; Castleknock and Coolock. Click to zoom. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

So far this blog has focused on the retreat of Irish in South Co. Dublin. This is not by preference; it is because the decline of Irish in the south of the county is much better documented, and includes unequivocal evidence of at least three Irish speakers at Glenasmole in the 1830s, and (possibly) the persistence of vestigial Irish there in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Nevertheless, we do have enough evidence to plot a history of Irish in North Co. Dublin.


Before describing this history, it is important to clarify that the linguistic situation in North Co. Dublin was complicated by the presence of a third language besides Irish and English: Fingallian.

Fingallian was a poorly documented local descendant of Middle English, and appears to have originated in the very earliest English spoken by Anglo-Norman settlers in Co. Dublin; in this and other respects it was substantially identical to the Forth and Bargy dialect spoken in the south of Wexford. 

Despite pressure at first from Irish (from which, like the dialect of Forth and Bargy, it borrowed a number of words; see below), Fingallian survived as a curious, precarious linguistic island in North Co. Dublin until the mid-nineteenth century, when it eventually succumbed to local English.

Unfortunately we have so little information on Fingallian that we do not know exactly how far its area of use extended or how this area then contracted. Its name and existing texts suggest it was spoken north of the city in the 1600s and 1700s; its influence is certainly detectable in the nineteenth century English of Oldtown, Co. Dublin, recounted in Patrick Archer's Humours of Shanwalla (1906) here; remnants of it are perhaps also just noticeable in the twentieth century English of Swords, Lusk, Rush, Skerries, Naul et al.

Irish loanwords in Fingallian

Irish loanwords in Fingallian are of particular interest to us; they must have been borrowed directly from the local Irish dialect then spoken in North Co. Dublin. (We have no direct information on whether or not Fingallian speakers also knew Irish; but given the extensive nature of borrowings from Irish - which mirror the pervasive English we find in the Irish of today - a situation where Fingalian was a minority language surrounded by and under pressure from Irish, and where the two languages were used indifferently by bilingual speakers, seems most likely.)

The following short example, from John Dunton's Teague Land, or, a Merry Ramble to the Wild Irish: Letters from Ireland (1698), contains three loanwords from Irish and a name in Irish vocative case with Irish dimunitive (in italics). It is a caoineadh (funeral lament) from a mother to her fisherman son, Robin: 
Ribbeen a roon
Ribbeen moorneeng

Thoo ware good for loand stroand and mounteen
For rig a tool and roast a whiteen
Reddy tha taakle
Gather tha baarnacks
Drink a grote at Nauny Hapennys
"Ribbeen a roon" is Irish < (a) Roibín a rúin, 'Robin O sweetheart'; "Ribbeen moorneeng" is < (a) Roibín (a) mhúirnín, 'Robin darling' (the vocative case is curiously missing from the personal name and moorneeng). Baarnack < bairneach, literally 'limpet', was a nickname in Irish for coastal folk (Dinneen, p. 73); thus "gather tha baarnacks / Drink a grote at Nauny Hapennys" means 'gather all the fisherfolk [that knew you], that they can drink to your memory (at Nauny Hapenny's tavern)'. In addition, whiteen < faoitín is a loanword from Irish, but the Irish word is in fact in turn originally a borrowing of English 'whiting'.

While Fingallian is generally outside of the scope of this blog, I will return to the importance of loanwords from local Irish in Fingallian - including further examples - in later posts.

Back cover of Carpenter, Andrew (ed.) Verse Travesty in Restoration Ireland: 'Purgatorium Hibernicum', with 'The Fingallian Travesty' (Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2013) - a fine overview of texts relating to Fingallian.

So how exactly did Irish die out in North Co. Dublin?

The effect of local Irish on Fingallian above shows that Fingal - like Dublin city and elsewhere in Co. Dublin (see here for more information) - was a place where Irish and English co-existed, quite possibly in that order of precedence, for some centuries.

If we consider the evidence in chronological order: Maighréad Ní Mhurchadha (2005, p. 115-120) demonstrates that Gaelic surnames comprised majorities in at least half of the parishes of North Co. Dublin in 1665, and significant minorities in the rest. Old English surnames comprised much of the remainder. Both groups had, at the time, a propensity to be Irish-speaking.

At a more local level, Piatt (1933, p. 6) reports that Finglas was Irish-speaking in 1690, while in 1694 the Howth-Portmarnock area was sufficiently Irish-speaking as to be able to readily provide Irish-speaking crews to passing ships. These were at the time, we should stress, predominantly Irish-speaking areas at their peak - fíor-Ghaeltachtaí - not remnant areas where Irish had otherwise died out or was even close to dying out.

We then learn of Richard Tipper (fl. 1709-1742; note the New English surname) of Mitchelstown near modern Blanchardstown in Fingal, a noted Gaelic scholar, scribe and member of the classical intellectual circle surrounding Liberties (South Co. Dublin)-born Tadhg Ó Neachtain (1670-1749). There is no evidence to suggest Tipper was unusual in being an Irish speaker in Mitchelstown at this time; indeed, as a classical scribe he was quite literally an Irish speaker par excellence.

So far, we see in North Co. Dublin a repetition of the pattern elsewhere in the county between 1600 and 1700: Irish is holding its own, spoken and understood not only by the poor but also by the rich. Those of Gaelic Irish origin, of Old English origin and even those of New English stock all seem to know it well. English also seems well known, although not presumably by the peasantry. It is impossible to say how widespread Fingallian was; but the scanty evidence suggests that wherever it was spoken (fishing villages and the countryside), it was spoken alongside Irish.

Sudden change: the beginning of the decline of Irish

After approximately 1750, however, evidence for Irish-speaking in North Co. Dublin begins to appear very mixed. For instance, John Rutty's hobby botanical survey of the entire area makes intermittent (if desultory) note of local Irish words, but is oddly silent on the extent of local Irish-speaking. Most tellingly, Rutty reports both Irish and English terms used by the fisherfolk of Skerries, Rush and Portrane: some of the terms are clearly corrupt Irish, others perfectly good Irish, still others very colloquial English - all current in, as Rutty puts it, "vulgar" use. It is thus clear that by the time Rutty is writing (his information is from 1758-1764 but was published in 1772) English is making significant inroads into a traditionally Irish-speaking area, although it is unclear the extent to which Irish or English is the predominant language; the evidence I have supports both conclusions.

We then find that data for 1771 - extrapolated backwards from responses to the language question from those over 60 years of age in the 1851 census in Fitzgerald (1984), p. 130 - show minimum Irish-speaking levels in North Co. Dublin of between four per cent (baronies of Nethercross, Coolock) and 12 per cent (Castleknock). These seem extremely low, but are perhaps evidence of an elderly cohort that had by 1851 long since ceased to consider Irish its everyday language, making backwards extrapolations misrepresentative (see below).

What is abundantly clear in North Co. Dublin is that (as elsewhere in Greater Dublin) between 1700 and 1800 Irish declined swiftly, and to a large extent very mysteriously. In North Dublin as in South Dublin, Irish-speaking communities receded as quickly as an ink blot on paper, shying further and further away from Dublin city.

Bremore, Fingal. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The nineteenth century

By the early nineteenth century English seems essentially ascendant in Fingal; we are thus forced to search for remnant Irish-speaking pockets. Irish was widely spoken at Stamullin townland in the far north of the county (directly adjacent to Stamullen in Meath; the river Delvin cuts between the two and forms the county border) at the time of the Ordnance Survey letters (1836); according to Piatt (1933, p. 29), old people in the Stamullin area still had Irish of some sort - most probably residual passive bilinguals - as late as 1893. Yet Piatt considers that the final stronghold of Irish in North Co. Dublin - 1899 - was in fact to be found about seven kilometres to the west at (the) Naul, also on the Meath border (ibid.):
Tradition has it that the Naul area, just west of Balbriggan, preserved Irish until very recently, a family of Kirwans, locally "Karvan," being said to be the last speakers, though Mr. A. Ward disputes the claim of Catherine Karvan, who died about 1899, to have known more than "very little" Irish.

What happened to Irish in North Co. Dublin?

If we consider as a general model the process of language death that took place at Glenasmole in the second half of the nineteenth century (i.e., Irish monoglots to bilinguals to passive bilinguals to English monoglots within a period of about sixty years), we can draw some tentative conclusions for Fingal based on the information above.

In order for Irish to only be remembered by residual elderly bilinguals in Stamullin in 1893, the last generation to have Irish as its native, normative preferred language in North Co. Dublin must have been born near Stamullin around 1773. This in turn means that Irish ceased to be passed on there, with the usual exceptions, by around 1830. This allows for Irish speakers to be found in relative abundance by the Ordnance Survey of that decade, but they would have belonged to the older age groups - the younger people having gone over to English among themselves and only using Irish to communicate with their elders.

The switch from Irish as community language to English in Stamullin therefore took place just slightly over a generation earlier than at Glenasmole (this would help explain the low returns in the language question on the 1851 census: by 1851, English had been the predominant language of Stamullin for at least a generation).

The Glenasmole transmission model also suggests - if Catherine Kirwan really was an exception and that her Irish was "very little" as Mr. Ward protested - that, despite Piatt's assertion of Naul being the last area locally where it was spoken, Irish in fact passed away as the everyday language in Naul a little earlier than at Stamullin (around 1820).

Using the same method, we can extrapolate that Skerries, Rush, Portrane - the fishing village coast - probably ceased passing on their Irish relatively early, around 1790. This would also explain the sudden preponderance of Anglo-Irish terms and English found by Rutty in the fishing villages: the first truly bilingual generation on the Fingal coast would probably have appeared around 1750 (or likely even a little earlier), at coincidentally about the time Rutty was collecting his botanical information. Certainly the coastal villages succumbed to English much earlier than the interior; why this should be so is puzzling, unless their commercial relationship with the rapidly anglicising Dublin city is the primary culprit.

Howth, 1792. By this point in time, the people shown here probably preferred to speak English,  though some of them likely knew Irish.

Likewise, extrapolating even further, we can conclude that local Irish likely ceased to be the community language of rural areas around Balbriggan by about 1810. What caused this rapid abandonment of traditional speech in Fingal remains unclear, but it is worth nothing that, of the Fingal areas listed, Stamullin was situated closest to other surviving Irish-speaking areas (in Meath) - for instance Julianstown, which still had a residual Irish-speaking community around 1900 according to Piatt.

Farmland meets the Irish Sea near Balbriggan, Fingal. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Postscript: the forgotten local Irish of North Co. Dublin

Irish had ceased to be the majority community language of any place in North Co. Dublin by 1830; even isolated semi-speakers are not recorded after 1893-1899.

As elsewhere, a significant amount of local Irish words survived in some fashion in the Anglo-Irish dialect of Fingal; yet, as elsewhere, no sound recordings were made and no texts of any kind were taken down in the Gaelic dialect of Fingal while it was alive.

Put simply, the local Irish dialect(s) of North Co. Dublin was ignored by observers in its lifetime, and it has remained sadly ignored in death.

Fishing at Loughshinny, Fingal. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, 1 August 2014

Is Leinster Irish really totally forgotten?

Fitzgerald's famous estimate of pre-Famine Irish-speaking areas by district electoral division (DED), worked back from those over 60 in 1911. The mass of white in the south-east wrongly implies the region was devoid of Irish (it in fact shows areas where less than three per cent returned themselves as Irish-speaking, and the author deliberately excluded Dublin, incorrectly presuming it only contained 'revival Irish' and migrants, so Glenasmole is not shown). Many scattered Irish speakers, often elderly and isolated, remained, and many bilinguals did not return themselves as Irish-speaking. (Source: Fitzgerald 2003).

Memories of Irish and Irish-speaking areas in Leinster

Since starting this blog, I have been lucky enough to be contacted by readers in or connected to Leinster who have told me that elderly relatives either spoke some Irish, or recounted to them (as children) tales of other elderly individuals in the area who knew Irish. These elderly relatives or individuals referred to by them were typically born in the late nineteenth century, and lived well into the twentieth century.

These statements concur with the findings of local historians and researchers in the 1930s and 1940s, and in some parts of north Leinster well into the 1970s, for whom it was no great difficulty to find people who either remembered Irish spoken by the old people when they were young, or who remembered fragments of Irish themselves. Moreover, the English spoken by the elderly - even in Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare et al - was usually peppered with words, and often whole sentences, from what had been the local dialect of Irish.

Local remnants, easily ignored

Such memories of Irish are far more important than they at first might seem. Yet what they represent in 2014 is a direct link to the Irish-speaking past of places far removed from Irish-speaking areas of our own time and - where the odd sentence and word can be remembered (no matter how seemingly garbled by time and failing memory) -  consequently, to the local dialect of Irish spoken there. 

Someone born in 1930, for example, would remember the old people of their childhood; in many cases these might have been born as early as 1850. In 1850 many parts of Leinster still had remnant Irish-speaking communities, and many more areas had individual, elderly Irish speakers. Even knowing that Irish was not spoken in a certain area among the old people can be a valuable clue as to when Irish died out in that area.

In many cases we have little otherwise recorded of the Irish of these locations. Remarkably, I sometimes see glossaries of Irish words in local dialects of Irish English that try to 'correct' these words in spelling and pronunciation to make them conform to today's standard Irish. The dialect aspect of them is ignored unless you know what you are looking for.

Yet time marches on. Many people still believe that 'no one is interested' in what they remember of their old granny's tall tales, or the sentences that old Seán down the road in 1960 used to insist were Irish. They do not tell anyone what they remember. They believe that Irish was not spoken in their area for hundreds of years, and that the words they heard as a child were just slang or gibberish.

The importance of acting quickly

Consequently, much of the remnants of Leinster Irish has been and is still in the process of being lost. This is nothing new; in 1933, Donn Piatt could plead:
"[You] can visit Shannonbridge, Ballykilty (Wexford) [...] and South Dublin, and I can offer [you] every help in seeking out old people - moreover, in nearly all cases the words on which my arguments are based are words current in the speech of people of forty to fifty or under, so that for twenty years to come it will be possible for other workers to test their accuracy - the words I get from the Ballykilty area being in the greatest danger, owing to the age of my informants." (p. 31)
"I would suggest that the RIA [Royal Irish Academy] try to have records made at given points in Leinster and North Tipperary, old people to speak through the microphone and give a list of Irish words used natively, in some form such as 'This is so-and-so, of such an age, speaking at _______. The following are the only words used here which seem to be Irish...' - and give the natural pronunciation. This work is vital, as no man's ear is infallible." (ibid.)
To my knowledge - and I would be delighted if I were wrong - the Royal Irish Academy never followed up on Mr Piatt's suggestion, and no records of the Irish remnants in the English spoken in Leinster were ever systematically made (although a number of individual studies were). This is a great shame.

Maybe you can help!

Yet all is not lost. If you know of an elderly relative or acquaintance who knows what they think might be Irish, or who can tell you of when they think Irish was last spoken natively in a district, or are able to direct you to someone who can, you will be doing very great and important research work. If you can record these words in any way - if you can actually record the conversation - then you will be providing us with valuable data on not just whether Irish was spoken in your area but also when and of what type.

Everything is of value, whether you at first recognise it or not.

My thanks to those who have contacted me already on this matter. It is not easy to pluck up the courage to send an e-mail or a tweet into the dark, especially when you might think that your family's memories of Irish are of no importance; but if you happen to suspect that you might know someone who knows something about the Irish that was once spoken in your area, do get in touch with them and in turn with this blog.