Friday, 18 July 2014

A good start is half the work...

Welcome to Dublin Gaelic, a blog on the historical Irish Gaelic dialect(s) of the Greater Dublin region.

The Greater Dublin region includes what is now Co. Dublin, but this blog will also cover related varieties of Irish that were spoken immediately north, south and west of Co. Dublin where relevant (and these, as we shall see, are very relevant!)

Dublin. Source: Chris Hadfield, NASA (Wikimedia Commons)

Why Dublin Gaelic? Why not Dublin Irish?

Originally the plan had been to title this blog 'Dublin Irish' as that is the term most Irish people would be familiar with. That blog title was already taken. Nevertheless, Dublin Gaelic is a fortuituous name - Irish, Scottish and Manx are just varieties of one Gaelic language, spoken historically from western Caithness in extreme northeast to the Beara peninsula in the extreme southwest. This Gaelic dialect continuum - a series of dialects, each one related to each of its neighbours in a vast chain - was and is known to its speakers by variations of the word 'Gaelic' (e.g. Gaoluinn, Gaeilge, Gaelg, Gaedhilg, Gàidhlig). The terms 'Irish', 'Scottish (Gaelic)' and 'Manx' are merely modern differentiations in English, and are not used by any Gaelic language. This blog will use 'Dublin Irish' and 'Dublin Gaelic' interchangeably.

Isn't Dublin Irish dead? What's the point?

Let us be very clear. Dublin Gaelic is indeed dead linguistically, and any hope of its revival are forlorn. It exists only as scattered remains, evidence of what once was - place-names, word lists, the odd recorded sentence here and there, loanwords in the English spoken in Dublin, etc. If you wish to become a fluent speaker of a specific Irish dialect, do not waste your time or effort here - place your enthusiasm in the living dialects of Irish, in Kerry, Waterford, Cork, Galway (the current Irish spoken natively in Meath is a form of Galway Irish), Mayo and Donegal, or the Gaelic dialects of Scotland, or Manx. There are communities speaking all of these dialects, and they need you most.

(If you are a professional linguist interested in studying living dialects of contemporary Irish, I strongly recommend this overview by Professor Raymond Hickey of the University of Duisburg and Essen.)

My main reason to be interested in Dublin Gaelic is its role within the overall Gaelic dialect continuum. The rapid retreat of Irish not only in Dublin and Leinster but throughout the entire country in the nineteenth century left a huge linguistic unknown in the map of Gaelic dialects, stretching from Oriel (Armagh, Louth, Monaghan) in the north, as far west as Fermanagh, Sligo and Roscommon, and as far south as Limerick, Tipperary and Carlow, Wexford and Wicklow. However, we have varying amounst of evidence of the sorts of Irish spoken in every one of these 'missing' counties, and good linguistic work can help us to fill in a few of gaps. The dialects have gone, and much has been lost, but all is not completely hopeless, if one is willing to tolerate a tantalising amount of incomplete answers and uncertainty.

This blog intends to be a linguistic investigation into Dublin Gaelic in its broadest sense, and to show evidence for and discussion of features that were likely to have existed in it (and its neighbours) by looking closely at the fragments of Irish that originate (as place-names, word lists, the odd recorded sentence here and there, loanwords in local English etc.) in Greater Dublin. It will also highlight sociolinguistic aspects of Dublin Irish where relevant. It is driven by linguistic curiosity, by my spare time, and by nothing more than a sincere wish to share knowledge for knowledge's sake.

Will I be able to learn Dublin Irish?

No, is the simplest answer. The intention of this blog is to draw on evidence of Dublin Gaelic for the purposes of comparison and contrast with other Gaelic dialects (whether in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man or elsewhere), and to contribute to research into Gaelic dialectology and the Gaelic languages more generally. It will not be reconstructing or synthesising a Dublin dialect of Irish from these sources (as Cornish was revived, and as an Aboriginal language group in Tasmania, among other examples, seek to do). 

I certainly do not advise anyone to add any of the features posted on this blog to any Irish they might speak in an attempt to make their Irish more eccentrically 'Dublin'. The result would more than likely hinder rather than aid communication with speakers of contemporary Irish; Gaelic language speech communities today are so small that I would advise you to pick an existing dialect and perfect your pronunciation of that, if authenticity matters so much to you. Learn Irish - don't try to learn Dublin!

What about the Irish spoken in Dublin today? Isn't that 'Dublin Gaelic'?

The Irish dialects spoken in Dublin today do indeed constitute an Irish of Dublin, but they originate entirely in dialects that were not native to the area. They are transplanted dialects (or perhaps a koiné of such), which now vary when compared to dialects spoken in Galway, Kerry et al but which are still recognisably subdialects thereof. (I hope to return to the point of the contemporary variants of Irish spoken in Dublin at some point in the future).

Thus people raised speaking Irish in Dublin today do not speak traditional Dublin dialects (although it is highly likely that Dublin's Gaelic-speaking community always included speakers of many different migrant dialects - another point to which I hope to return in a later post), although they do speak various dialects of Irish. This blog focuses on the historical Irish dialect spoken in Greater Dublin, not the Irish spoken there today.

Who is this blog meant for?

Everyone! This blog is aimed at anyone interested (for any reason) in Gaelic dialects, and it is my hope that it will, in some small way, spark curiosity among visitors not only for Dublin Gaelic, but other varieties spoken (or until recently spoken) throughout Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Newfoundland, Cape Breton and elsewhere. 

Despite its title it is not a specifically 'Dublin interest' blog - it just so happened that when I began my research into that missing patch of 'lost' dialects on the dialect continuum map, my eye was drawn unavoidably to Dublin due to its relatively central position on the map. This blog could just have easily been 'Fermanagh Irish' or 'Offaly Irish' or 'Galloway Gaelic' or even 'Newfoundland Gaelic'!

I will try to write this blog in such a way that as many people as possible can get the most out of it, and I hope to reach a general audience as much as I do an academic one. I hope to engage people interested in any of the issues this blog touches upon, and all comments are welcome. 

Part of the reason for setting up this blog was the lack of information in this field available already - and the peculiar difficulty of communication with like-minded people, despite the supposed ease of the internet.

I will try and update the blog as often as possible, but inevitably I will only post points of interest. If I don't have any, I won't post. This is my first blog, so wish me luck! I'll need it!


  1. "This blog focuses on the historical Irish dialect spoken in Greater Dublin, not the Irish spoken there today."

    I wonder whether this sentence near the end of the post should, in fact, start the whole piece?

  2. Thank you very much for your comment.

    I see your point, but the sentence that starts the whole piece already - "Welcome to Dublin Gaelic, a blog on the historical Irish Gaelic dialect(s) of the Greater Dublin region" - seems (to me) to cover this.

    However, if it is unclear or misleading, I will of course change it.

    1. After sending that comment I actually did scroll back up and saw the intro sentence you mention. Which does seem to do much of what I was suggesting.
      So, I don't know whether I glossed over that as I was reading it or by the time I'd read the whole piece and I came across the sentence I highlighted.above I was relieved to get out of the details and see again the forest perspective (of the whole blog).