Ask the author With special guest Gary Bannister


This month Ben hosted an insightful ‘ask me anything!’ session with Irish language author and academic Garry Bannister. They discussed the links between the Irish language and Russian, the Irish language roots of Hiberno-English, proverbs in Irish (seanfhocail) and approaches to Irish language education.

The elusive irish-russian dictionary

Dr. Bannister’s background told us how he came to study Rusian by chance, and about his role in the publication of the first (and only) Irish-Russian dictionary in the early 1980s. He is currently busy working on a new edition of this impossible-to-find dictionary, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the near future!

echoes of lost words

Garry also described the process of compiling his recently-published Irish-English Thesaurus (4th Edition). He laments the amount of words that he could not include due to them no longer being in use. He describes one such word, the beautuifully onomatopoeic ‘fafall‘. This word was used in reference to when the rain is starting to die away. ‘Fafall’ seems to describe perfectly the sound that water makes when dropping from one leaf of a tree to a leaf lower down after the rain has eased, doesn’t it?! Perhaps it is time to start using this word again..

Common roots

Having explained that the Slavic group of languages is a different branch of Proto-Indo-European than the Celtic group of languages, Garry discussed words in Russian and Irish that have common roots in Latin, English or Greek.

Bizarrely, the Irish and the Russians have some proverbs in common. This may be explained by older Proto-Indo-European shared heritage. Garry gives two examples. Firstly, ‘Tá lapa gruaigeach aige’ /thaw loh-pah groo-ig-ukh ah-geh/ , which translates literally as ‘he has a hairy paw’ but is used to indicate that a person has influence. Garry’s second example is ‘Ní sonas seanaois, ní bainis bás’ /nee sun-nus shan-eesh, nee bon-ish bawss/. This translates as ‘Old age isn’t happiness, death isn’t a wedding’, something upon which Irish and Russian people evidently agree!

traces of irish in hiberno-english

In response to a question from Fraser from Scotland Garry discussed how the way in which some Irish people speak English is influenced by the grammar of the Irish language. These include various ways in which the Irish language conditional tense shows up in Hiberno-English (saying ‘I would’ rather than‘I used to’, for instance), and statement forms such as ‘I’m after making a mistake’ (a manifestation of the Irish ‘tar éis’ /tarr aysh/). Garry explained how the expression ‘that put the kibosh on that’ (meaning, that out an end to that) is derived from the Irish ‘caidhp bháis’ /kyp vaww-ish/, meaning ‘death cap’.

language as a window to the soul of a people

Answering a question from Julia about how phrasings in the Irish language may mirror how Irish speakers view the world, Garry discussed words in Irish that do not have direct equivalents in English. Amongst these Garry mentions the preponderance in the Irish language of words for different types of love, the richly suggestive term for desire ‘dúil’ /dhoo-il/, and the concept of being under-obligation to someone (‘faoi gheasa’ /fwee gyas-ah/) which originates in early Irish Brehon law.

Books referenced in this Q&A include

Irish-English Thesaurus (4th Edition) by Dr Garry Bannister (New Island)
Peig Sayers Vol. 1: Labharfad le Cách / I Will Speak to You All by Professor Bo Almqvist and Dr Pádraig Ó Héalaí (New Island)
The Open Door collection of books for intermediate level Irish language learners published by New Island Publications.

P.S. What did you learn from this Q&A? Leave a comment below!

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