Irish Orthography

Gaeltacht Map of Ireland 2006 by Angr

The Irish language was a mode of the Goidelac branch of Celtic language, it was known also as ‘Q-Celtic. ‘   It was closely related to Manx (Gaelg / Gailic), or Scottish Gaelic (Gáidhlig ): it is distantly related to Welsh Cymraeg also Cornish Keenewek &  Breton Brezoneg.  These form the Brythonic brand of Celtic language known as ‘P-Celtic.‘  Language of middle Irish was known as Gaoidhealg, in classic Irish as Gaoidhealg also as Goídelc in old Irish.  Within Ulster or north Connacht; it is known as Gaedhilic / Gaelic / Gaeilig /or Gaedhlag, in Munster it is represented by Gaedheilaing / Gaoluinn or Gaelainn.  [i]

Indo-European language was possibly the speech used from as early as 2400 BC-2000 BC within Ireland.  It evolved over centuries to archaic during third or fourth centuries, old Irish from the fifth  whilst middle Irish began during the sixth century.  [ii]

Irish orthography has evolved over many centuries: since old Irish was first written down in the Latin alphabet circa the sixth century AD.  Prior to that primitive Irish was written in Ogham.  The origin of Gaelic Gael + Ic represents Scots-Gaelic as a derivative of Gaidheal from 1590-1600. [iii]

The first publication printed in Ireland was a Protestant Catechism that contained a guide to spellings also sounds in Irish by John Kearney, treasurer of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during 1571.  [iv]

Up to the seventeenth century Irish had been the spoken language of citizens.  Later with British dominance also the effects of the famine (i.e. mass emigration) Irish mostly died out or was confined to areas called The Gaeltacht.  [v]

Initial moves to reverse the decline of the Irish language was promoted by Irish Protestants i.e. William Neilson & Samuel Ferguson towards the end of the eighteenth century.  [vi]

At the later end of the nineteenth century members of the Gaelic Revival Movement encouraged the daily use of the Irish language.  [vii]

Douglas Hyde founded Conradh na Gaeilge in 1893; by 1904 it had 50.000 members!  [viii]

During 1914 the Church of Ireland’s campaign to promote worship & religion through Irish was enabled with the foundation of Cumann Gaeltact na hEaglaise.  The Roman Catholic Church replaced liturgies from Latin to Irish.  In 1928 the Irish language was made a compulsory subject in the Intermediate Certification followed during 1934 with the Leaving Certificate.  [ix]


The first Irish translation of The New Testament   begun by Nicholas Walsh, Bishop of Ossory until his demise in 1587.  It was continued by his assistant John Kearney with Dr. Nehemiah Donnellan, Archbishop of Tuam.  Finally completed by Uiliam Ó ‘Domhnaill (who had succeeded Bishop Donnellan) then published during 1602.  The work of the translation of  The Old Testament  was undertaken by William Bedel: it was not published until 1680 by Narcissus March, archbishop of Dublin.  John Richardson published a revised edition of the 1606 Common Prayer Book  in 1712.  [x]


Several dictionaries were published over the years: from The Royal Dictionary  of 1699 & 1729 by Abel Boyer to The English- Irish Dictionary   of Begley & Mc Curtain in 1732.  John O ‘ Brien published Foclóir Gaoidhilge-sags-béarla Or  in 1768.  An English-Irish edition of 1814 by Thaddaeus Connellan was produced.  During 1855 an English-Irish  edition by Daniel Foley was printed.  Edward O’ Reilly’s Irish-English 1864 edition was later revised by John O ‘  Donovan.  [xi]

The Irish Texts Society’s 1904 Irish-English Bilingual Dictionary by Patrick S Dineen used traditional spellings. [xii]

Timothy O ‘Neill Lane published Foclói béarla-Gaedglige  during 1917.  An English-Irish Phrase Dictionary  was published by Lambert Mc Kenna in 1922.  [xiii]

Following the creation of the Irish Free State during 1922 all Acts of the Oireachtas that included Dineen’s spellings were translated into Irish.  These were followed by several simplifications over the years.  [xiv]

Old Spellings

The following old spellings were criticized by T. F. O ‘Reilly with their simplifications from old spelling to new spelling: Beirbhiughadh to Beiriú, Imthighthe to Imithe, FIrish Dialects past & present; with chapters on Scottish & Manx  1932 (Brown & Nolan Dublin) waaghbháil to Fáil, Urradhas to Urrús also Filidheacht to Filíocht.   His publication ‘s expanded in 1947, then republished during 1957 combined with the standard  grammar of 1953    It attracted initial criticism as unhistorical or artificial; several spellings failed to represent the Pronunciation of several dialects, while others preserved letters not pronounced in any dialect.  Its status was reinforced by use in the Civil Service also as a guide for Tomás de Bhaldraithe‘s 1959 English-Irish dictionary.  During the early 1940’s Seamus Dalton issued his own guidelines re. standardization of Irish spelling & grammar.  [xv]

Election / Constitution

Eamon de Valera, President of the Executive Council from the 1932 Election insisted that policy reverted to older spelling which was then used for the 1937 Constitution.  During 1941 he decided to publish a ‘popular’ edition of the Constitution.  De Valera also established an expert committee that failed to agree to recommendations; instead the Oireachtas’s own translation service prepared a booklet: Litriú na Gaeilge: lámhleabhair an Chaighdeáin Oifigiüil  published during 1945.  [xvi]


The Oireachtas’s own translation service during 1945 printed a booklet Litiúna Gailge: Lámhleabhar an Chaighdeain Oifigiúil.  (Published in Early Modern History 1500-1700 issue 5 September-October 2012  vol 20)  That booklet was expanded during 1947 then republished as An Caighdheán Oifigiúi   in 1959, combined with a standard ‘graminer ‘ of 1953.  During 1959 Tomas de bHaldraille’s  English-Irish Dictionary  was mandated within the Irish Civil Service.  [xvii]

Lehmann R. P. M.  & Lehmann W. P.   An Introduction to old Irish  1975  (Introduction to older languages) was intended to enable students to understand old Irish writings & spellings.  [xviii]

During 1977 Niall Ó ‘Dónaill’s Irish-English Dictionary  was mandated into the Irish Civil Service.  [xix]

A review of the written standard that included spelling was initiated during 2010, with a view to improve ‘simplicity, internal consistency, and logic.’  [xx]

An updated publication of Caishdean Oifiguil  occurred during 2017.  [xxi]


The grammar of early ,modern Irish was initially presented in a series of grammatical tracts. Edited & published by Osborn Bergin as a supplement to Éiru between 1916-1955.  [xxii]

Irish has a case system like Latin or German.  It has four cases showing functions of nouns or pronouns in a sentence.  In phonology it exhibits initial ‘sandi ’  in which the first consonant of a word is modified according to the prehistoric finial sound of the previous word in the phrase, eg. An tobar the wall ’  or Mo thobar ‘My wall. ’  [xxiii]


Presently there are three main dialects in the Irish language: Munster (An Mhumháin ), Connnacht (Connachta) also Ulster (Ulaidh)  The Munster dialect is spoken mainly in Kerry (Ciarraí) & Muskerry (Múscraí) in the western part of Cork (Contae Chorcai)  Connacht dialect is spoken mainly in Connamara (Conamara), the Aran Islands (Oiléain) also in Tourmakeady (Thur Mhic Éadaigh) in Co. Mayo (Maigh Eo)   Ulster dialect is spoken in the Rosses (na Rosa) area while in Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) they speak mainly in the Ulster dialect.  [xxiv]

Current Irish

In modern Irish just a few sounds are not found in English dialects.  It has an unique spelling system.  Although it may appear complicated it is in fact more regular that English spelling.  With the exception of a few common words: that have an unstressed prefix-all words are sharply accented on the final syllable.  [xxv]

Gaelic Irish type today with the buailt’e are rarely used except for when ‘traditional ’ type is required, i.e. as the motto of UCD or on Coat of Arms or symbols of Óglaigh na Éireann.  [xxvi]

Irish languages revival experienced a growth with radio service, a television service also new publications.  There has been a growth in Irish-medium education.  [xxvii]

The Gaeltacht areas, several Gaelscoileanna throughout Ireland, Official Language Act 2003, RTE, TG4, Radio na Gaeltachta also Foinse are the modern ways to protect the Irish language.  [xxviii]

Additional Information

Within Northern Ireland the Irish language was recognized following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.  [xxix]

On the 1st January 2007 Irish became an official language of the European Union.  [xxx]

O ‘Reilly Edward & O ‘Donovan John 1864  An Irish-English dictionary  (J. Duffy Dublin) It may be assessed online at this link:

Dineen Patrick S. An  Focloir Gaedlighe agus Bearla  was produced during 1904  (M. H. Gill & Son, Dublin[xxxi]

This site features interesting information with a list of dictionaries:

A guide to old Irish spelling & pronunciation may be viewed at this link (Dennis King ):

One may read a PDF of the Irish language by Mícheál Ó Searcóid 1990 at this link:

Spellings, verbs etc. are included at this link:

YouTube video re Irish language may be viewed at this link (31st December 2018):


[i] Irish Language, alphabet & pronunciation ( [Assessed 10th January 2020]

[ii] History of the Irish Language ( [Assessed 11th January]

[iii] Definition of Gaelic ( [Assessed 10th January 2020]

[iv] History of the Irish Language ( [Assessed 11th January]

[v] Irish Language, alphabet & pronunciation ( [Assessed 10th January 2020]

[vi] History of the Irish Language ( [Assessed 11th January]

[vii] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[viii] History of the Irish Language ( [Assessed 11th January]

[ix] Ibid

[x] History of the Irish Language ( [Assessed 11th January]

[xi] Irish Dictionary ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xii] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xiii] Irish Dictionary ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xiv] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xv] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xviii] An Introduction to Old Irish ( [Assessed 10th January 2020]

[xix] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xx] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xxi] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xxii] History of the Irish Language ( [Assessed 11th January]

[xxiii] Irish Spelling & Pronunciation ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xxiv] Irish Language, alphabet & pronunciation ( [Assessed 10th January 2020]

[xxv] Irish Spelling & Pronunciation ( [Assessed 10th January 2020]

[xxvi] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xxvii] Irish Language, alphabet & pronunciation ( [Assessed 10th January 2020]

[xxviii] History of the Irish Language ( [Assessed 11th January]

[xxix] The Good Friday Agreement ( ) [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xxx] Irish Orthography ( [Assessed 11th January 2020]

[xxxi] An English-Irish Dictionary ( ) [Assessed 10th January 2020]


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