Speak Irish: : Irish and Scots Gaelic

The month of June kicks off festival season here in northern Ohio. We try to attend as many as possible, one of our favorites is The Ohio Scottish Games and Celtic Festival, held June 23 and 24 at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds. For more information on the festival go to or visit and search Cleveland Comhrá Ohio Scottish Games and Festival.

Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx
As you may remember, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx are closely related, all descendants of Old Irish. There are many similarities in spelling and phrasing, but there are also many differences, enough to make them distinct enough that a speaker of one will not be able to understand a speaker of the others aside from a few words or phrases.

Pronunciation is one of the biggest differences and that accent mark Irish uses over vowels, called a fada áéíóú,  to indicate the vowel has a long sound is the opposite in Scots Gaelic àèìòù. I thought we could look at some common words and phrases and see how they compare.

One other very noticeable difference is the presence of a word for yes and a word for no in Scots Gaelic. In Irish you must answer with the appropriate verb that was used in posing a question. Tha (ha) is used for yes and chan eil (chan yayl) means no.

Recognized Languages of Scotland
The Scots Language Centre lists Scots Gaelic, Scots and English as the three languages spoken in Scotland today. Scots is a collective name for Scottish dialects that evolved from Old English, but it is not a dialect of English. The language has evolved to the point that it is considered a language unto itself. Robert Burns is probably the most well known writer of Scots.

What is Gaelic?
The word gaelic usually refers to Scots Gaelic when used in English, to describe the Irish language we simply use Irish. The word gaelic is spelled the same in both languages, but the Scots pronounce it gaa-lik while the Irish say gay-lik. Our examples will start with the English, followed by the Scots Gaelic, it’s phonetic spelling and then the Irish with it’s phonetic spelling.

Hello –  Halò  (ha-lo) –  Haigh  (hi)   Good morning –  Madainn math (mateen ma) –  Maidin mhaith (mo-jin wah) Good evening – Feasgar math (fes-ker mah)*  – Tráthnóna maith (trah-nona mah) *There is a similar word in Irish that also means evening, feascar (fes-kar).

Regional Dialects
In Irish we have three regional dialects that will sometimes change pronuciation and can have things phrased differently:

How are you? – Ciamar a tha sibh?  (kemer ah-ha shiv)  – Conas atá tú? (kun-us ah-taw too) Munster dialect – Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? (keh hee will too)  Connacht dialect – Cad é mar atá tú? (kuh-jay mar ah-taw too) Ulster dialect. In the Scots Gaelic phrase, they use the pronoun sibh (shiv) which is also used in Irish and is pronounced the same, it means y’all.

To reply, How are you? back, the Scots would add the word fèin (fayne) Ciamar a tha sibh fèin? (kemar aha shiv fayne) We share the word fèin, but use our fada over the e, Conas atá tú féin? (kun-us ah-taw too fayne), changing the meaning to, How’s yourself?

Of course, if someone asks us how we are, it’s best if we can respond I’m good. Tha gu math. (ha goo ma), Tá mé go maith (taw may guh mah), or maybe, I’m not bad: Chan eil dona (han ehl dona). Níl mé go dona (neel may guh duh-na).

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Asking Someone Their Name
What’s your name? De an t-ainm a tha oirbh? (je un tenem a herev). Cén t-ainm atá ort? (kayn tan-um ah-taw ort). Both translate to ”What is the name on you?”  To answer I am…  Is mise… (iss meesha…). Irish is the same, Is mise… (iss meesha…).

Scots Gaelic will use the words is mise to describe how they are feeling as well. In Irish, we would use the verb tá. For example, to say I’m cold in Scots Gaelic, Is mise fuar (iss meesha foo-er); in Irish, Tá mé fuar. (taw may foo-er).

We already saw the verb tha used in the phrase I’m good: Tha gu math. To say I’m sorry: Tha mi duilich (ha mi doolich). Tá bron orm (taw brawn or-um).

Basic Numbers 1-10
One, aon (un) a-haon (uh hayn); Two, dhà (ga) a dó (uh doe); Three, trì (trey) a trí (uh tree); Four, ceithir (kayhyer) a ceathair (uh kya-her); Five, còig (kooik) a cúig (uh kooig); Six, sia (shayer) a sé (uh shay); Seven, seachd (shechk) a seacht (uh shakht); Eight, ochd (ochk) a h-ocht (uh hawkht); Nine, naoi (nigh) a naoi (uh nee); Ten, deich (jeych) a deich (uh jeh).

We have many ways to say goodbye in English, and the same is true in Scots Gaelic and Irish.  Here are just a couple: Goodbye, Mar sin leibh (mar shun leev); Slán (slawn); See you, tìoraidh (cheerie) Feicfidh mé thú. (feck-ee may who).

Thank You
Tapadh leibh (tapa leev) Go raibh maith agat (gorra mah ah-gut).

I hope you get a chance to make it out to the Scottish Games and experience some of Scotland’s culture and language for yourself. Maybe even enjoy a glass of uisge beatha (ishke behe) or uisce beatha (ish-ka ba-ha), both translate to water of life, whisky, or if you’re not a scotch drinker, whiskey. Just remember to say “Good Health” when you raise your glass. Salinte mhath (slan-juh va), Sláinte maith (slawn-cha mah).

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

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