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Location, Location! Compass Points in Irish

“Go north two blocks and then turn west.” 

Compass Rose at the corner of Powell and O'Farrell, San Francisco, CA: : http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecastro/354578085/
Compass Rose at the NE corner of Powell & O’Farrell Streets, San Francisco, CA  http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecastro/354578085/

“He came from the south.”

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“The wind is blowing from the east today.”

Last week I wrote a post about the different uses of “up” and “down” in Irish (“Up, Down…In Irish, It’s All Relative!”).

In that post, you learned that how you express these concepts is relative to your position, and depends on whether the thing you’re talking about is moving away from you, toward you, or is in a static position.

You’ll probably not be too surprised, then, to learn that there’s a similar system for the points of the compass: North, South, East, and West.

The points of the compass

Just as with “up” and “down,” how you say “North,” “South,” “East,” or “West” in Irish is a matter of perspective.

  • Are you talking about the points of the compass, also known as “cardinal” and “ordinal” directions?
  • Are you talking about where a particular place is oriented in relation to another? (for example “Donegal is north of Mayo”?)
  • Or do you perhaps want to say that something is coming from, or going toward, a particular direction?

It probably won’t come as a terrible surprise that each of these is expressed differently in Irish!

The North

If you’re talking about the north as a point on the compass, or as a location within a particular area, you use the word tuaisceart (TISH-kyart):

  • An Tuaisceart: The North
  • Tuaisceart Éireann: Northern Ireland
  • Tuaisceart Shasana: Northern England

If you’re talking about north as in a direction you (or someone else) are traveling, however, you use ó thuaidh (Oh HOO-ee). You also use ó thuaidh if you’re talking about something that lies north of another place.

  • Ó thuaidh de San Francisco atá San Rafael: San Rafael is north of San Francisco.
  • Tá sé ag gluaiseacht ó thuaidh: He is going north.

You can also use thuaidh by itself, without the ó, as an adjective:

  • Meiriceá Thuaidh: North America

When something is coming toward you FROM the north, however, you use aduaidh (uh-DOO-ee):

  • Gaoth aduaidh: Northwind (literally “wind from the north”)

The South

The south works similarly, with one small difference (the adjective form, which we’ll get to in a minute). The basic word for the point on the compass is Deisceart (JESH-kyart).

  • Deisceart na hÉireann: The South of Ireland

When you want to say that something is going south, or that it lies south of something else, you use ó dheas (oh yass):

  • Ó dheas de Dún na nGall atá Maigh Eo: Mayo is south of Donegal.
  • Tá sí ag gluaiseacht ó dheas: She is going south.

The adjective form, however, is different. When you want an adjective, you use theas (hyass):

  • An Aifric Theas: South Africa
  • An Cósta Theas: The South Coast

And when you want to say that something is coming toward you from the south, you use aneas (uh-NYASS):

  • Gaoth Aneas: Southwind (literally “wind from the south”)

The East

You’ve got the basic pattern down now, yes? So here goes:

East as a compass point: Oirthear (ER-hur)

Going east: Soir (sir)

Located east: Thoir (hir)

As an adjective: Thoir (hir)

Coming from the eastanoir (uh-nir)

And, last but not least, the west

West as a compass point: Iarthar (EER-hur)

Going west: Siar (sheer)

Located west: Thiar (heer)

As an adjective: Thiar (heer)

Coming from the west: aniar (uh-NEER)

It’s all in the practice!

While all this may seem unnecessarily complicated at first, it’s a basic feature of the language, and one that will come easier with practice.

13 thoughts on “Location, Location! Compass Points in Irish”

  1. Just wondering about the ‘ordinal’ or ‘Intercardinal’ directions….How would you say South East etc.?
    And the secondary inter cardinals, how would you say North by North West, etc.?

  2. A Audrey. a chara–

    I’m practicing, practicing, practicing but I have a question. Everywhere I look, http://www.focloir.ie/en/dictionary/ei/north, http://www.teanglann.ie/en/eid/north, even the untrustworthy, https://translate.google.com/#ga/en/tuaisceart, I see “North” referred to as “tuaisceart”. Is the form you using, “tuisceart”, a variant, dialect difference, or an older form? And are they interchangeable?

    Go raibh maith agat!

    Le meas,

    1. Something coming from the north (and thus heading south) is “aduaidh”…for example “An ghaoth aduaidh” = “The north wind” (i.e., “the wind from the north”).

      “Ó thuaidh de” = “To the north of.” “To travel north” is “gluaisteach ó thuaidh.”


  3. patrick mc nally

    I was listening to TG4 the other day, Audrey, and heard this phrase on “Scéal na haimsire”. “Beidh tréimhse gheal ghréine ó thuaidh”. I see the adjective “gheal” between the two nouns. I was wondering how one would say A BAD ROAD ACCIDENT IN irish,would it be “Timpiste bóthair dona. Pádraig

  4. patrick mc nally

    Go north two blocks and then turn west. “Téigh ó thuaidh dhá bloc agus tiontaigh siar.” He came from the south.”Tháinig sé aneas”. The wind is blowing from the east today. “An ghaoth ag teacht anoir inniu. Thank you Audrey for that bit of homework.Pádraig.

  5. Phoebe Cristina

    It will definitely take me some practice! I’ll get it eventually. It seems odd to me, though, that you use Tuisceart for Northern Ireland or the North of England, but Thuaidh for North America. There must be some subtle difference here that escapes me.

    1. It’s a subtle distinction, Cristina, and it does take a bit of getting used to. For me, it helps to remember how Irish people say these things in English. “Tuisceart” is a noun, and its use reflects (or is reflected by) the tendency to refer to these places as “The North of Ireland” or “The North of England” (I’ve used “Northern” above, partially because there are some political issues surrounding using “The North of Ireland” to refer to the Six Counties). “Thuaidh” is an adjective, and reflects the tendency to say “North America.”

      This may not hold true in all cases, but generally, if you’re speaking of the northern section of a country or continent (or any other physical or political entity), you’d be safest using “Tuisceart.” If you’re referring to something that has “north” as part of its name (“North America”), you’d use “thuaidh.” But as I said, I wouldn’t be certain that holds true in all circumstances.

  6. I think it is interesting that compass directions were not apparently always part of the Irish language/culture. Some of the ancient texts have been said to have been mistranslated by early scholars thinking that the authors must have meant~North~ for example, when they in fact, with the benefit of reexamination, were found to have used either the sun or geographical known locations to describe direction. I am not clever enough to remember for you the specific references for this, but i remember that i read it in the writings of those who were. From memory, we are talking way before the time of Patrick.
    may goodness be at you. is mise mehull

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