Gaelic For Visitors

As I mentioned in a previous post, Road Signs in Irish Gaelic, I’m often surprised when friends come back from a visit to Ireland and tell me “we didn’t see/hear a word of Gaelic the whole time we were there.”

The reality is, even outside of the Gaeltacht (The Gaeltacht is the traditional Irish-speaking area, where people live their lives through Irish on a daily basis), there’s plenty of Irish to be seen and heard throughout the country, and knowing a bit of it can greatly enrich your visit to Ireland.

Wait: Is it Irish, Gaelic, or Irish Gaelic?

To clarify: “Irish” is what the native Celtic language of Ireland is called by Irish people (unless they’re actually speaking Irish, that is, in which case it’s An Ghaeilge). We sometimes use the term “Irish Gaelic” here to avoid confusion on the part of non-Irish readers, who may think that “Irish” refers to Hiberno-English.

For more on the “Irish vs. Gaelic” question, you might want to check out our post on The Name of the Irish Language, as well as Eoin’s video chat with American Irish study group leader Caron Osberg on the subject.

The most important point, though, is that it really is everywhere in Ireland once you start looking for it!

A brief stroll through Dublin

Let’s imagine you’re walking around downtown Dublin. Dublin’s not generally noted as being the most Gaelic of Irish cities, but once you start looking, you’ll see there’s plenty to be found there. For example, let’s’ say you step up a curb and, glancing down, you see a little metal plate that says uisce on it.

Congratulations.  You’ve just spotted a water main. Uisce (pronounced “ISH-keh”) is the Irish word for “water.” 

If you pop into a shop for a bit of refreshment, you may encounter this word in an Anglicized form (there’s a brand of bottled spring water in Ireland called “Ishka”). You’ll probably see some other Irish words as well, such as madra (dog), which is also the name of a brand of dog food.

Back out on the street, you may spot a bus with a sign on it saying An Lár (Pronounced “un lahr”: The Center), the Irish term for downtown.

If you’re anywhere near Busáras (“buss-AHR-uss” — the central bus station), you may see another bus with a picture of an Irish red setter and the words Bus Éireann (“buss AYR-un” — “Bus of Ireland,” Ireland’s national bus service) on the side.

Perhaps in your wanderings you’ll also decide to take a ride on An Luas (uh LOO-uss: The Express), a light rail line.

Once you start looking around, you’ll realize that most of the signs you see, including street signs, are bilingual, and some are Irish-only.

Back at your lodgings

As you head back to your hotel, hostel or B&B for a bit of a rest, have a look around the entrance or lobby. You may just spot a sign saying Céad Míle Fáilte (kayd MEE-leh FAHL-cheh) “A Hundred Thousand Welcomes”). You’ll often see this in shops, restaurants and pubs as well.

Two very important public signs you’ll see just about everywhere, by the wayare Fir (pronounced a little like “fir” as in the tree) and Mná (pronounced “mrah” or “menah”): “Men” and “Women.” You don’t want to get those confused!

Should you decide to relax with a local newspaper, even an English-language newspaper, you’ll encounter a slew* of Irish terms, including:

Taoiseach (TEE-shokh): Prime Minister

Tánaiste (TAH-nuss-cheh): Deputy Prime Minister

Uachtarán (OOKH-tuh-rahn): President

Dáil Éireann (Dahl AYR-un): Irish Parliament

You’ll also encounter the word bord (board/ministry) a lot, as Irish government ministries are typically named in Irish.  For example, you may see:

Bord na Móna (Bord nuh MOH-nuh): The Turf Board

* By the way, the word “slew” meaning “many” comes from the Irish word slua (SLOO-uh), meaning “many/a host”).

Some other useful terms to know

As you start noticing the wealth of Irish around you, you may want to be aware of some of these frequently spotted terms:

Garda Siochána (GARD-uh SHEE-uh-khahn-uh): Guardian of the Peace (the Irish police force). Often simply shortened to Garda (Plural Gardaí, pronounced GARD-ee).

Oifig an Phoist (IF-ig un fwisht): Post Office

Staisiún Dóiteáin (STASH-oon DOH-chahn): Fire Station

Aerphort (AIR-furt): Airport

Tigh (tee or chee): House (often seen in pub names, both real and fictional, such as “Tigh Thaidhg” in the Irish soap opera Ros na Rún).

Ól, Ceol, agus Craic (ohl, kyohl, AH-guss crak): Drink, Music, and Fun (also often seen on pub signs).

Surrounded by Irish

Once you start thinking about it, you’ll realize that the Irish language is all around you, even in the predominately English-speaking city of Dublin.

When you get out of the city, it’s even more evident. For example, every city and town in Ireland has a name in Irish (in fact, most of the town names you see “in English” are actually Anglicized versions of Irish names), and you’ll see them on the road signs. For a sampling, you might want to have a look at our post Irish Cities in Gaelic.

Most bookstores have Irish-language sections. Souvenir stores and woolens shops often offer little booklets for sale with common Irish phrases in them. Newsstands offer newspapers and magazines in Irish.

Tourist stops and historical buildings will typically have signs and literature in both English and Irish as well. In fact, for a country that most people think of as predominately English-speaking, there’s still a lot of the Irish language to be encountered!

Would you like to know before you go?

If you’re planning a visit to Ireland, or if you’re just trying to get in touch with your Irish roots, you may want to take advantage of our free Irish for Beginners mini-series, which will give you a very basic introduction to the language, right up to a very simple conversation, complete with audio.

You might also find some of our blog posts useful, such as How to Greet in Irish Gaelic, Saying Please, Thank You, and You’re Welcome in Irish Gaelic, Counting in Irish, and The Days of the Week in Irish.

Whatever  you do, knowing something about the Irish language can only serve to enrich your experience of Ireland!

Did you find this post helpful?

Did you know that the Irish language was still so prevalent in Ireland? Have you ever thought about learning it, or are you currently doing so? Let us know your thoughts below!

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2 thoughts on “Gaelic For Visitors”

  1. As an adult student of Irish language, I have visited Ireland twice, once in 2003 and once in 2008. The line in the above article “Most bookstores have Irish-language sections” reminded me of this little tidbit.

    In 2003, every time I saw a bookstore I would go in and ask for their Irish language section. Nine times out of ten, there was none, and most of the time the bookstore clerk would look a bit embarrassed to admit it.

    In 2008, nearly every bookstore I went to had at least a small Irish book section, and often had a variety of children’s books in Irish. One or two of the places I found books at in 2003 I had the opportunity to revisit in 2008, and found their selections greatly expanded. I was so happy to see the growth of Irish language materials in just a few short years – I hope this trend continues!

  2. It’s grand to see, isn’t it? I was thrilled to find that even the Eason’s on O’Connell street in Dublin had a really nice Irish section.

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