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Irish monks’ living footprints in central Europe

This is a guest post by Michi who lives in Austria with her family. She’s been learning Irish, and shares below an ancient pattern she came across.

First of all I want to thank Eoin and Audrey for the great work and the big efforts they are making.

I am happy to contribute a little guest comment about a really nice find.
A nice find to report an a more glorious time of the Irish language in the past. And I found it here where I live, nearly 2000 km away from Ireland.

Ireland map Europe
Map of Europe, with Ireland and Austria (center) marked. Modified from youreuropemap.com.
Austria view
View over Inn valley, Austria in Feb. 2013. Copyright Michi, along with other photos in this post unless otherwise noted.

An Austrian tradition linked back to Ireland?

But to understand the link we have to dig a bit into the incomprehensible gibberish of Bavarian/Tyrolean. It is the way we greet each other by using “Griass god!”. The word-by-word translation is “greet god!” and this is nonsense, as you hardly ever meet him/her personally. And I have always asked myself, why we use such a strange formula.

The fascinating answer is: it is a gift from Ireland.

Mountain in Austria
View of mountaintop in Austria.

Evidence 1:

The standard way to greet each other is to use notion wishing you a good day/part of the day:

  • good morning (English)
  • goddag (Danish)
  • guten Tag (German)
  • góðan dag (Icelandic)
  • buon giorno (Italish)
  • bonjour (French)
  • buenos días (Spanish)
  • dober dan (Slovenian)
  • добър ден (dуbar den – Bulgarian)
  • Laba diena! (Lithuanian)

…and even the non Indo-European languages of Europe follow this pattern: jó napot (Hungarian), hyvää päivää (Finish) and the ancient language of the Basque uses “egun on“.

And most amazingly other Celtic languages are reported to copy this pattern, too like Prynhawn da or dydd da (Welsh).

Mountain cross
Cross on an Austrian mountain.

The only two language that seem to differ

There are only two languages that use a different formula: Irish and the Southern German languages/dialects and both use the word of GOD in their salutation This might be a coincidence, as both regions are Catholic and were very pious.

Evidence 2:

Let us go back to „Griass god!“. When – in German languages – a noun follows the verb it is mostly seen as an object – and so I have always interpreted „god“ as an accusative. But this cannot be true when you take a closer look especially at the longer form of the greeting, which is „Griass di god“ – and now you have to translate the notion as: greetS you god!

As this is not a question but an exclamation, even a beginner of Irish can spot out a rather Celtic word order with the predicate at the beginning of the sentence. If the greeting were German by origin, it would be “God greets you”.

Beautiful view of Kellerjoch mountain in Austria.

So distinguished linguists and Germanists like Ludwig Zehetner (“Baririsches Deutsch”) or Anthony Rowley (editor of the Bavarian dictionary) propose and it seems now undisputed that the standard low German greeting used in Bavaria and throughout Austria is of Irish origin, especially considering that “to greet” meant “to bless” in former times.

Sources (sorry German only!): Ludwig Zehetner, Bairisches Deutsch, edition vulpes, ISBN 3-9807028-7-1

How come this happened?

Saint Columba leaving Ireland.
Saint Columba leaving Ireland. See Wikipedia.

When we look at the map of Europe you will find, that there is quite a distance between Dublin and Munich or Cork and Innsbruck.

How on earth did the salutation come the long way from Ireland to this central part of Europe?

Many moons ago

The answer can be found in early Christianity.

While the European continent was still a mess thanks to the fall of Rome and turmoil caused by the Migration Period, the more isolated Ireland had developed a profound Christian culture.

Saint Gallen
Monastery of St. Gallen/Switzerland founded in 612 by Irish monks – St. Gallus – the holy Celt, the present church is in baroque style and was erected in 18th century. Used under Creative Commons license from Wikipedia.

And Irish monks spread their beliefs over the continent in the famous Hiberno-Scottish mission. They founded monasteries in France, Italy, Switzerland, Bavaria, Baden-Würtemberg and Austria.

If you are interested in this early but very influential part of Irish history please read more about it on Wikipedia.

And obviously thanks to the religious and cultural influence spread by the monasteries the local population fell in love with the pious blessings of the irish monks and translated it word-by-wordy to use it as a salutation in their own language. And we still use it nowadays.

PS: The Irish monks were reported to be very ascetic (??????). Dear historians, please, go through your files once again! There must be mistake!!!!!

Want to share you comments with Michi? Please leave a comment below.

15 thoughts on “Irish monks’ living footprints in central Europe”

  1. Well yes..i have had the misfortune in a pub.to meet a little bit rightwing guys..i responded by quoting cill cais..they looked a bit confounded..then i told them that this language was spoken in germany before german.they nicely accepted that.slan agus beannacht duit ..david ward

  2. Thanks for posting this! I began learning irish a few months ago and noticed a few more similarities like “buali” (boy in austrian/ Bavarian) and “buachaill” (boy in irish ), “biacha” (books in Bavarian) and “biachlar ” (menu in irish),

  3. What a surprise Michi
    did not know the were bonds between Austria and Ireland which stretch so far back. I was researching how far the scholars from clonmacnoise monasteRyan had travelled in the 5th century.
    If you ever get to Ireland there will be the ” Failte Ui Cheallaigh” (the welcome of the O’Kellys) for you

  4. In Spanish, is the full phrase not “Buenos días le dé Dios”,
    which means God is also referred to, in other languages, when saying Hello?


  5. Mr.Derlin Gerard Thomas Clair

    Thanks a lot for kindly showing my comment,my dear friend,Eoin.GOD kindly bless you,and also kindly keep you well,dear man.Erin go Bragh!

  6. A funny detail, the irish were called “Schotten” (scots) and the monasteries are called “Schottenklöster” (derives from latin Scotia Major the roman name for Ireland). So whenever you run into something saying “Schotten” it is goes back to the irish (for instance: Schottentor/Schottenring in Vienna).

    Books sound good!!!


    1. Another tome dealing wit da same subject~The Irish Empire~{Patrick Bishop; ISBN0 7522 1395 4}, from my memory of it is scant about the golden years, but worth the read regardless.

      On the same pedestal wit “how the Irish Saved Civilization” though, in some ways superior to it, is an old book copyright 1922 from Funk and Wagnall.~IRELAND and the MAKING OF BRITAIN~ by one Benedict Fitzpatrick.I have seen this wonderful book criticized by a scholar who, among other things said few educated people quote from it. It is a bull tearer of a work, un-apologetically biased, that depicts post Roman Britain as a savage, primitive, and godless place, peopled by cannibal Saxons who sell their children as slaves to the Irish ,or anyone else who’ll buy them, for profit. He also , in a fashion reminiscent of the Nazi enthusiasms, extols the natural superiority of the Gael in all pursuits admirable, from war to poetry.
      If you compare this work to other “so called histories” written of the “The British Empire” , at the time 1800’s and on to relatively recent times, it can seem a lot less outrageous.Where the English histories of the time didn’t didn’t explicitly claim a racial superiority, it was, more often than not, because this was assumed to be so well known that it didn’t need to be mentioned outright.

      For all its Bragging, there are many authoritative references, and much unarguable history quoted to support the conclusions stated. This is no light weight chauvinistic rant, despite what,even i have to admit, is a possible hint of bias, that might make checking the context of some quotes a prudent precaution.

      All in all, in the context of the times it was written, i think it a wonderful bit of chest swelling balance, and i hold it one of my most precious possessions.

      PS.I do like “How the Irish Saved Civilization” ,but a good half of it is about describing what “Civilization” is, and for me , i found that disappointing to the expectations given by the title. NO ONE who reads Fitzpatrick’s work will have such a complaint.

      is mise mehull

  7. Being from Austria myself and trying to get to know a little bit of Irish I think this connection soooo great. 😉 Go raibh maith agat!

    1. Mr.Derlin Gerard Thomas Clair

      The article showed clearly how Irish Gaelic influenced the Hoch Deutsch(High German) of southern Germany,including Bayern,and also@ Oesterreich(Austria),meinen lieber Babsi.Very,very interesting indeed,I nust say.Well,GOD bless you,Babsi,and also kindly keep you well,my Vabsi, Herzliche Gruessen,meinen lieber Frend,Babsi. PS.My first name,Derlin is of Deutsch origin.It,Derlin apparently means “From/Of the Deerland”.There was a Derlin county in Northern Germany(Saxony) back in 1000AD,and there was also a Derlin family living in Baden-Wuerttemberg back in the late 1500’s,meinen lieber Freund.Also,there’s a related form from England called Derland”. ky ubd

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