Monday, 19 September 2022

Donn PIatt's Gaelic Dialects of Leinster (1933)

Any student of the Irish dialects of Leinster will sooner or later encounter the remarkable and valuable work of the self-taught idiosyncratic amateur local historian Donn Sigerson Piatt (1905-70). I urge you all to read Lesa Ní Mhurgaile’s excellent summary of Piatt’s unusual life here.

In the second and into the third quarters of the twentieth century Piatt played a vital role in contributing to academic research into the few remnants of the Gaelic dialects of Leinster – at a time when the urgent focus of dialectology in Ireland was instead on tracking down the few isolated remaining speakers in the west, north and south of the country, stranded by old age in the Galltacht.    

Piatt’s strongly-held opinion was that what remained of Irish in Leinster could still be collected and studied with a view to identifying its manifold dialect characteristics, by focusing on local memory and the Hiberno-English dialect in Leinster. Piatt was undoubtedly driven to do so by the antipathy he felt for what he (and others) felt to be the Munster chauvinism inherent in T F O’Rahilly’s Irish Dialects Past and Present. In short, Piatt sought to defend the dialects of Leinster by providing more detail as to what they had been like – in particular, Piatt was (like many others) highly opposed to O’Rahilly’s controversial position that the dialects of the Northern Half had been unduly influenced by Scottish dialects, particularly in matters of stress.

The absurd irony here is that we actually owe to this dispute – which embodies bitter parochialisms of its era on O’Rahilly’s part at least – a debt, because if O’Rahilly had not been so unnecessarily strident and petty in his chauvinism he would not have provoked such fine dialectological responses afterward. Piatt took such umbrage with O’Rahilly that he set out – entirely untrained – to gather word-lists and dialect information from as many sources as he could throughout Leinster, with a special focus on Old Leinster, in order to rebut O’Rahilly’s specific arguments.

The result of Piatt’s energetic efforts was the self-published (!) pamphlet Gaelic Dialects of Leinster (1933), issued in very, very few copies just one year (!) after O’Rahilly’s work.

While Gaelic Dialects of Leinster is disordered, often all-too frustratingly tantalising, and beholden to superficial anecdote and a tendentious urge to defend Leinster’s dialects against O’Rahilly’s charges rather than displaying dispassionate academic rigour, Piatt’s pamphlet remains a key work in study of Leinster dialects, and is rightfully a standard reference work used by more recent academics in the field, such as N.J.A. Williams.

Gaelic Dialects of Leinster is very short – just 33 pages – and a jumble of dialectological word-lists, amateur sleuthing, rhetoric, second-hand sources and even educated guesswork, but Piatt deserves eternal credit and praise for his ingenuity and drive in recording a great deal of valuable information. While Piatt is often either wildly optimistic or wildly pessimistic in his assessments of the retreat of Irish from an area, and his work must be approached with the greatest caution due to some of the idiosyncratic flights of fancy therein, the core of Gaelic Dialects of Leinster remains a robust contribution to our knowledge of the Irish dialects of the south-eastern quarter of Ireland.

I present Gaelic Dialects of Leinster here in its entirety, in (admittedly deficient) screenshotted form – as far as I know, for the first time ever. In so doing, I hope that many more people than can see it at present will now be able to do so in the future, and I hope that Donn Sigerson Piatt’s hard work and good intentions will finally receive due appreciation. We owe an immense debt to Donn Piatt, and to amateur local historians like him; it is a rare honour to at last be able to share Gaelic Dialects of Leinster in full with visitors to this blog.



  1. Hi - recently I came across your blog and have been enthralled. Your posts on Dublin Irish have been absolutely fascinating; I hope you'll be posting more in the future!

    I had a couple of questions, if I might. Firstly, I noticed in an older post you'd mentioned you were hoping to digitise Alf Sommerfelt's 1929 monograph on the Irish of South Armagh. Have you succeeded in doing so yet, and would it be possible for me to obtain a copy? I also wanted to let you know that I've been playing around with restoring and retouching the page photos you posted here from "Gaelic Dialects of Leinster", and I've now got the whole pamphlet organised into a PDF. Would you like a copy?

  2. Go raibh míle maith agat a dhuine. An bhfuil an leabhairín seo ar díol áit ar bith?