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Dialects of Irish

Since the 1940's, schools in Ireland have taught a unified Standard Irish ( An Caighdeán Oifigiúil), but while the written language has been simplified in this manner, spoken Irish (as heard on Raidió na Gaeltachta or TG4) is still dominated by the three major regional dialects.

Ulster Irish is sometimes known as Donegal Irish, as the sole remaining Gaeltacht in the province is here (Northern Irish learners come over the border). The accent can be quite harsh for beginners and Munster Irish speakers especially, being similar to both that of the North and that of Scots Gaelic speakers. Typical Ulster phrases include cad é mar a tá tú (how are you) compared to the standard conas atá tú, and the word bomaite, rather than nóiméad for minute.

Connacht Irish has two strongholds, one in Connemara (Galway), and the other in the Erris Peninsula of Mayo. The Irish-language TV station TG4 has its HQ in Connemara, so the dialect naturally dominates the home-grown programmes. Apart from using the form muid to denote we, there are no major differences to note, though the accent can be more nasal. The tiny Meath Gaeltacht speaks Connemara Irish, due to a 1930s resettlement programme.

Finally, Munster Irish is spread across three districts in Kerry (Corca Duibhne/Dingle Peninsula & Ballinskelligs), Cork (Cúl Aodh) and Waterford (An Rinn). Like the others, not many of the vocab differences will be seen in Duolingo, but Gaelainn rather than Gaeilge and the word caid instead of peil for Gaelic football are points to note.

September 5, 2014



Thanks for the very practical explanation of the dialects. It's really helpful to me. I love hearing anything about how the language is being spoken at the present time. It makes it more real.

As I learn new words I'm listening to them in the three dialects using a resource that @FearMhaighEo shared. Sound files of the three dialects. http://breis.focloir.ie/en/fuaim/

All the dialects sound beautiful to me, but an added benefit of learning Irish (for me) is that it will give me a bit of access into Scots Gaelic, so the northern dialect attracts me particularly. I became interested in Celtic languages listening to Julie Fowlis singing in Scots Gaelic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDdi6bn06bo


Given your interest, I should add that it is debatable which dialect of Modern Irish best resembles Scots Gaelic, which itself has its own dialects. That said, a knowledge of any dialect of the former is an asset in the study of the latter, as they have still sprung from the same source. I hope that Duolingo can one day release a course for Scots Gaelic.


The Irish course is just wonderful. Thanks to everyone who worked on it. I'm going very slowly (133 words and counting) because so many aspects of the language are brand new to me. Learning Modern Irish is a great pleasure in itself and it's going to be an asset in learning about Celtic languages as well.


I'll second dubhais on it being debatable as to which Irish dialect resembles any Gàidhlig dialect. I am told that the Islay dialect is the closest to Irish, and especially to Tír Chonaill, although Raithlin had something more akin to a mixture of the two until recently. However, Munster Irish is the most conservative in terms of grammar and spelling, and can be a help in getting your head around Gàidhlig. The twentieth-century spelling reforms in Irish have put a bit more of a distance between the two groups, at least on paper. Getting to grips with some Old and Middle Irish really helps too, although the former should come with a health warning...


I like the way the discussion is leaning towards Scots Gaelic, as it reflects the historical relationship between both modern languages, and naturally follows on from a discussion of dialects. It has encouraged me to start another thread here to develop this discussion of Scots Gaelic further, and, given the recent history of our course, perhaps more....

Addendum: Please see here if interested: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/4458709


An intricate and interesting topic. Thank you for all the insights. I'd like to tackle Old and Middle Irish someday.

I stumbled on a simple (Useful to a beginner like me) Irish dialect map from University of Duisberg-Essen https://www.uni-due.de/DI/Dialects.htm

A few sound files and bibliography included.


That sad part is there seems to be a lack of resources for Middle Irish, unfortunately.


That is in the process of being redressed, a Middle Irish dictionary might finally see the light of day in the next few years.


The Líofa course teaches Donegal Irish, which may be closer to Scots Gaelic (Gaeilge na hAlban). The East Ulster dialect was very close to the Scots Gaelic in the south of Scotland, but that dialect died out about a hundred years ago. There are videos of the Líofa course here.

The BBC do a few lessons on Scots Gaelic, but because the two languages are similar, you may get mixed up between the two of them. Irish and Scots Gaelic, while close, are different languages with different grammar, and different spelling reforms. With a good bit of effort though, speakers from both languages can understand each other, to a degree.

Having Irish would mean that the Scots Gaelic spelling system wouldn't look as foreign, the word order would be more familiar, and some of the vocabulary is shared. Be careful though, caileag is Scots Gaelic for "girl", it's very similar to the Irish Cailleach which means "hag" or "witch".


Thank you so much for all the information and for the alert about "falsos amigos" like caileag/Cailleach.. Since I have no background, I'd better focus on Irish till I've completed the tree. Otherwise ...Celtic chaos!!!


That's an interesting cognate. Apparently, duine is just a man instead of a person of either gender.


Dinneen’s Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla (1904) defined duine as

{@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}Duine, g. id., pl. {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}daoine, people, mankind; gpl. {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}daoineaḋ or {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}daoine, m., a man, human being, person, individual; a mortal (used of male or female, but generally male); employed without article = Fr. on, Germ. man, English one or they, as in “one goes,” “they say”; {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}aon d., d. ar biṫ, anyone, anybody; with neg., nobody; {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}d. éigin, some one, somebody; {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}an uile d., every one, everybody; {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}a ḋuine ċóir, honest man! my good sir! {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}d. tíre, peasant; {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}d. uasal, gentleman, {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}d. mór, great man, nobleman; {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}na daoine móra, the gentry; {@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}sean-duine, old man.

It doesn’t seem as though Irish is too far removed from duine = man.


It's more complicated, I agree, especially compounds like seanduine, but I was under the impression it substitutes for fear, which is exclusively male.


I'm not 100% either, hence the "apparently". Wikitionary had it as its first definition, but there could be a fear cognate in less common use or in a dialect.


Certainly duine as “person” in Irish is a useful definition to have. I’m completely unfamiliar with Scots Gaelic; is it without a cognate to Irish fear?


The following is found in O’Donovan’s A Grammar of the Irish Language (published in 1845).

EDIT: See this discussion to ensure that the Gaelic typeface below renders properly.

The dialects now spoken by the people differ considerably from each other, in words, pronunciation, and idiom, throughout the four provinces. The difference between them is pretty correctly expressed in the following sayings or adages, which are current in most parts of Ireland:

{@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}Tá blas gan ċeart ag an Muiṁneaċ;

{@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}Tá ceart gan ḃlas ag an Ulltaċ;

{@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}Ní ḟuil ceart ná blas ag an Laiġneaċ;

{@style=font-family: 'Bunchlo Arsa GC', 'BunchloArsaGC', serif; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 12pt}Tá ceart agus blas ag an g-Connaċtaċ.

“The Munsterman has the accent without the propriety;

The Ulsterman has the propriety without the accent;

The Leinsterman has neither the propriety nor the accent;

The Conaughtman [sic] has the accent and the propriety.”

The antiquity of these national Irish sayings has not been determined; but they must be of considerable age, as they are paraphrased by Lombard in his work entitled De Regno Hiberniæ Commentarius, published in 1632 […]

I took “propriety” in O’Donovan’s translation as meaning “correctness”. I don’t know if those sayings are still current in most parts of Ireland.


Golly gosh! Thank you for introducing me to O'Donovan's grammar and Gaelic typefaces, not to mention De Regno Hiberniæ Commentarius.

The saying appears to be widely quoted. Why do I think it was composed by a Conaughtman [sic]?

Someday when my Irish is good and I understand the dialects, I'll rewrite the saying to praise the language of the Munsterman, Ulsterman, Leinsterman and Connaughtman. But it would need a dash of humor. Something as good as the original but with an inclusive twist rather than exclusive.

If someone who already has good Irish wants to give it a go ...

And now I absolutely must get back to the Irish tree or I'll never reach my goal of getting through the lenition section this weekend. Slán


Should you need another distraction, a good overview of historical type for Irish can be found at this Dublin City University site. O’Donovan’s book used the Petrie type (a sample can be seen at the link above) for its Irish text.


I heard a few people on DL call Donegal Irish "harsh". I don't even know what that means. I think it sounds beautiful, a lyrical dialect. If I was learning Irish for the first time I'd choose Donegal Irish, and that is coming from a Connemara speaker. Another big advantage for learners is that the Standard/Caighdeánach totally bypassed it, so really Donegal Irish has remained pure.

As somebody else mentioned, before the coming of Raidió na Gaeltachta we had little chance to hear another dialect, and would find it difficult at times to understand some of the other dialects. But now we are immersed in it so it is not a problem.

It is also an advantage if you also want to learn Scottish Gaelic as the pronunciation is similar.


Since this fascinating discussion started yesterday I've been listening to sound files of the Irish dialects (instead of working through my Irish tree like I should) and for me they are all beautiful.

RTÉ looks like a wonderful resource for hearing spoken Irish. As soon as I've learned enough for basic comprehension I will try it on my Fón Póca (cellphone) or Idirlíon (Internet Radio?). :-)


Yeah, the dialect I speak is Munster Irish and I'd have to agree with Bríd that Ulster Irish sounds very smooth and even, many consonants have been smoothed out into nice vowel sounds. Interesting pieces of Old Irish the other dialects haven't kept as well.


You've piqued my interest: what sort of things have been kept that others cast aside?


I think that it largely depends on the voice of the speaker as to whether a Dialect sounds "harsh" or "lyrical". In secondary school, I had a teacher from Gaoth Dobhair, and she never talked - she screeched - so I can never listen to Donegal Irish without the bad memories flooding back. In college, the teachers were all from Conamara, so we heard both the lyrical and harsh parts of the accent. That said, I think that Sean Nós singing in Donegal Irish sounds better than French, which is supposed to be a musical language, although it has its "harsh" parts too.


I wouldn't say Ulster Irish sounds harsh, but it definitely has a different sound than the usual Irish you can hear on RnaG (I'm guessing most international learners will be exposed to the language through the radio or TG4). I was listening to it once and left the computer for a couple of minutes; when I got back, a new show had started and I had a total "LOLWUT what am I hearing now?!" moment before realizing the speaker was from Radio Ulster. Maybe it was that one particular speaker that had a pleasant voice, but I thought the whole accent sounded kind of nice, to be honest.

Not that it's got anything to do with Irish, but standard Croatian is a highly artificial dialect; the language you can hear spoken among people sounds pretty different in each region. I've been told that we in Dalmatia sound like we're constantly angry and yelling at each other! And... it's kind of true. An "indoor voice" is not really our thing. xD Anyway, don't take offense at some of the words people use to describe your dialect; there's probably a grain of truth in it, and you could come up with a few unflattering descriptions of theirs as well. ;)


It's nice to get another view on this. Just to clarify, though, a fair few presenters on RnaG are from Ulster, and the news nearly always features at least one Ulster voice.

I wasn't so much taking offence as exposing the inherent subjectivity of broad-sweeping statements. A similar discussion could be had on the relative merits of flavours of ice cream, with less personal investment in the issue, of course.


I'll second you there again, it was RnaG that helped me get used to that canúint a few years back, as did actually talking to people from up there AG. It's all a matter of exposure. When I moved to Galway from Ennis, I hadn't a clue what most people were saying to me AG for the first fortnight or so, despite Clare Irish being almost a mixture of the two dialects.


That could almost start another discussion about the "lost Gaeltachts" - West Clare having had a Gaeltacht until the language declined there in the Fifties, roughly the same time that a small Irish-speaking community in Tyrone died out. The last stronghold of Leinster Irish, in Louth faded approximately when independence was granted, while some claim that Irish was spoken in the Glens of Antrim until the late Seventies.


Would you believe that the last native speaker in the other Clare Gaeltacht, Gleann Eidhneach on the north/northwest coast, the one without an Irish college, only died in 1986. I'm told that the Irish spoken on the small island in Aran resembles Clare Irish closest.


Yes, Inis Oírr. The people there traded with Clare because of its proximity. Inis Mór, and Inis Meáin trades more with Galway, in particular since the port at Ros a'Mhíl opened.

Actually I have a little booklet, I've been meaning for ages to put it on Scribd.


The point in your first paragraph is really interesting. Even though a Standard Irish is taught in schools, "spoken Irish (as heard on Raidió na Gaeltachta or TG4) is still dominated by the three major regional dialects." I wonder why? Usually the media leans toward, even creates, standard versions of a language (think RP or American Standard or Hochdeutsch). An intriguing cultural difference.

And, off-topic fact of the day... Did you know that John McCormack (famous tenor) named his California estate "San Patrizio", after Saint Patrick? I was just researching to see if he ever recorded in Irish, though I still don't know the answer.


If either station adopted the artificial "standard" they would lose their native and fluent listeners/viewers very quickly.


This was quite interesting! Thank you! (:


Hi all. I see there is some discussion of Scottish Gaelic below.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig are currently looking at Duolingo or another app for Scottish Gaelic. Their questionnaire is available at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/aplacaidean-ionnsachaidh


As a new learner, (although I've been at it for some time, but nwo I'm getting to a level of advanced-ness that necessitates me speaking with local clubs, etc.) what would your propose as the most NEUTRAL accent, i.e. the one I could absorb using focloir.ie to introduce more nuanced words without sound like a complete idiot mixing the accent with the more basic words I am understanding from Duolingo? I think it's leaning towards Munster but I'm not sure! Also, As an American learner and one who hopes to soon visit the Canadian Gaeltacht, does anyone know what accent if any if predominant there?

Sidenote: I honestly don't know if all this sounds stpid. I live in NYC and as such work with a variety of immigrants from all over the globe. I think I might laugh in their face if they wrere to ask meif they should pronouce something with a southern drawl or bostonian accent and just tell them to try whatever feels right! Does anyone think that advice should apply here?



I'm perhaps not quite as new to Irish as you (by a couple of months), but my opinion is more formed by my membership of a professional group which includes people from various countries all over the world, with their varying accents of English.

Not to worry. I had a dear teacher, now gone, who had thirty more years of English than I did, who still sounded like he was from the hills of northern Spain. Trust me, if you are a good, kind person the people will want to hear you even if your Irish sounds like its from the Bronx.

My take is that your accent will be understandable no matter which you choose. And regardless of choice you will develop your own accent. Just work on memorizing the basic Irish ways of pronouncing those clusters of jammed together letters. And listen to RTE radio to get the gist of the colloquialisms!

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