Learn to Speak Irish: Tá Ceist Agam (Have a Question?)

Speak Irish: Tá Ceist Agam
By Bob Carney

There are many different types of fairies in Ireland, called by many names. Some call them the good people, possibly to avoid rankling them. Others, because they believe them to be fallen angels, cast down on account of their rebellious acts, are called bad.

Irish Tales
There is a story from Killarney that takes place shortly after An Gorta Mor, or the Great Hunger, concerning a farmer named Tadgh O’Moriarty. Tadgh had lived through that terrible time, but it had taken a toll on his body and spirit.

On the night of Samhain, he was in such decline that a priest was sent for. The priest had no desire to venture out alone on this eerie night, as Ireland’s pagan past and Christian beliefs collided, so he took one of the altar boys with him to O’Moriarty’s farm just beyond the edge of the village.

As they turned up the lane leading to the house, they heard the strains of a harp playing a haunting but beautiful lament. The boy saw him first, a man in black sitting on the stone wall with his back to them, playing an ancient Irish harp.

“Sheoguey creature!” the boy exclaimed under his breath. “Nonsense!” the priest replied, as he reached in his pocket for a coin to give the music maker.

“I have no need of your money priest,” said the man. “I insist, it is customary to pay for your sharing of your craft,” the priest stated.

“If you wish to help me, there is something you can do,” the musician replied. “And what might that be?”

“Tadgh O’Moriarty will die this eve.” said the man quietly. The priest started to object, saying only God knows the future, but the man cut him short, saying, “Nevertheless, O’Moriarty will die tonight. As he breathes his last, ask of him where I will go on the Last Day.”

“I will ask him, but who do I say you are?” the priest coldly asked. “Say to him, “The man on the road to Sliabh Luachra, needs to know.”

The priest nodded and he and the boy hurried on towards the house. They found Tadgh deathly pale and as he performed Last Rites and anointed him with oil, he had forgotten the minstrel and his strange question.

When there was nothing left to do but wait, he held the dying man’s hand. In the silence, they heard the lament faintly playing on the wind. The priest recalled the man and his question and posed it to Tadgh.
The dying man smiled weakly and said, “I do, tell him if he has enough blood in his body to write his name, he will return to heaven.”

“Return?” the priest asked, confused. But it was too late, Tadgh had breathed his last.

The priest and the boy left just before dawn and found the man waiting at the wall for them. “What news,Priest?” the man demanded.

The priest told him that he didn’t understand what Tadgh had meant, but repeated it word for word to him. “It’s blood he wants, is it?” the man screamed, as the boy nearly fainted in terror.

The priest stood tall. “Tadgh is gone, he doesn’t want any blood,” he said.
“Fool! I don’t mean him,” the man said. As he spoke, he drew a dagger from his coat. The priest jumped back, but the man plunged the blade into his own heart, repeatedly. Not not a drop of blood came out.

The priest and the boy both crossed themselves. “What are you? What do you want?”

“I was cast from heaven with others for doing nothing when Lucifer Morningstar challenged my Lord. I have never harmed anyone or desired to, but now I see I have nothing to gain and nothing to lose and from this day on, I will do nothing but evil to man.”

With that, there was a flash of smoke and fire and the creature was gone. The priest led the hysteric boy home. Neither ever encountered the aosán or his ceol sí again, even though they both lived very long lives. However, they never left their firesides again after dark.

I love these types of stories and hope you enjoy them as well. Our questions this month won’t be quite as intense, but if the purpose of language is communication, then questions are the source of knowledge.

There are a few words that may be unfamiliar in our story. A sheoguey creature is magical or otherworldly. Aosán is an evil fairy and ceol sí is fairy music. Sliabh Luachra is an upland region in Munster, on the borders of counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick; it was the birthplace of Patrick Dineen, who compiled Dineen’s Dictionary, a must when your reading some of these great old Irish tales.

Tá ceist agam.  (taw keysht ah-gum) I have a question

Cén t-anim atá ort? (kehn tan-im ah-taw ort) What is your name?    Connacht

Cad is anim duit?  (kahj iss an-im gwit)  What is your name?   Munster

C’anim ort? (kan-im ort) What is your name?   Ulster

Seán is anim dom. (shawn is an-im dom) Sean is my name.

Is mise Nora. (iss me-sha nora) I am Nora.

We talked before about changes to words to show emphasis, ort can be changed to ortsa and dom to domsa  to achieve that.

Tá sé go deas bualadh leat/ leatsa. (taw shay guh jess bool-ah laht/lahtsa) It’s nice to meet you.

Tá se go deas bualadh leatsa freisin. (taw shay guh jess bool-ah lahtsa fresh-in) It’s nice to meet you as well.

Seo é Micheál (sho ay mee-hall) This is Michael

Seo í Bríd. (sho ee breedge) This is Bríd. 

Seo iad Brendan agus Aoife. (sho ee-id brendan ah-gus ee-fa) This is Brendan and Aoife.

Note here the three different versions of the word used for it, é, í and iad.

An bhfuil tú pósta? (ahn will too post-a) Are you married?

An bhfuil tusa pósta? (ahn will tuh-sa post-a) Are you married? Emphatic

An bhfuil tú fein pósta? (ahn will too fayne post-a) Are you married yourself?

Tá mé pósta. (taw may post-a) I am married.

Níl mé pósta. (neel may post-a) I’m noot married.

Tá mé singil. (taw may single) I’m single.

Is baintreach mé. (iss byntrahk may) I’m a widow/widower.

An bhfuil páistí agat/agatsa? (ahn will paw-shtee ah-gut/ah-gutsa) Do you have children?

An bhfuil clann agat? (ahn will clan ah-gut) Do you have a family?( implies having children)

An bhfuil páistí agaibh? (ahn will paw-shtee ah-giv) Do you (two) have children?

Tá / Níl (taw neel) Yes or No

Níl páistí ar bith agam. (neel paw-shtee ar bih ah-gum) I have no children.

Níl clann ar bith agam. (neel clan ar bih ah-gum) I have no children.

Níl páistí ar bith againn. (neel paw-shtee ar bih ah-gihn) We have no children.

Cé mhéad páistí agat? (kah vayd paw-shtee ah-gut) How many children do you have?

An bhfuil garchlann agat? (ahn will gar-klahn ah-gut) Do you have grandchildren?

Cé mhéad garchlann agat? (kah vayd gar-klahn ah-gut) How many grandchildren do you have?

Cá (kaw) where

Cá bhfuil (kaw will) where is

Cá raibh sé? (kaw rev shay) Where was he/it?

Cén uair? (kayne oo-ir) when

Cad é (kah jay) what

Cén fáth (kayne fah) why?

Slán go fóill!

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and languages and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland Class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Rían and Aisling, and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be raeched at [email protected]

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