Category Archives: irish

Books for Irish

As you know I’m trying to teach myself Irish these days. My main sources are two books: Learning Irish by Micheal O’Siadhail and a three-volume set of Buntús Cainte which is, I think, an interesting and effective combination. I don’t want to fully review either of them but let me just say how their philosophies compliment each other.

“Learning Irish” is very demanding and grammar-heavy. The explanations are succint and you really have to pay attention or you’ll miss a footnote with an essential point. It progresses in a very systematic manner, one  which aims at giving the learner a sound understanding of the inner workings of the language and not at getting him to speak as soon as possible. As a result, there are no chatty dialogues and for one-third of the book you know just one verb – to be.  If you are patient, by the time you reach the end of the book, you’ll have achieved a solid competence in Irish, be sure of that. There are many exercises (and the key!) and all the reading passages are translated. The variety being taught is Cois Fharraige dialect, a variety of Connamara (ie. western) Irish, which again contrasts “Learning Irish” with “Buntús Cainte” because the latter teaches  Standard Irish (but SI is sort of close to Connamara, so that’s not a big problem).

If “Learning Irish” is serious then “Buntús Cainte” is above all fun. It gives no dull explanations, has lots of  cute and  funny pictures and teaches conversation right from the start. The point is, going by it alone, you would never get the idea that there are two genders in Irish and thus you wouldn’t be able to predict eg. if a new noun is lenited after an or not. If you learn your grammar elsewhere, “Buntús Cainte” serves as an excellent source of conversation patterns.

In short – I recommend them both, but only in tandem.


I have a bit of Irish.

I have said earlier that Irish was the first weird language I ever tried to learn. Let me now illustrate its weirdness in a couple of sentences.

Its syntax is verb-initial, which is quite unusual for an Indo-European language:

Deir Seán nach bhfuil siad sásta leis an gcoláiste.

“Sean says that they’re not happy with the college”

Níl mo chuid Gaeilge go maith.

“My Irish is not good”

There are many languages which lack the verb “to have”. It’s not that uncommon that the meaning “I have a X” is expressed by “an X is at/by/on me”. It’s like that in Irish too…

Tá cat agam

“I have a cat”

… but it goes further with it:

Tá Gaeilge agam

“I know Irish”

Níl caint aige

“He can’t talk”

An bhfuil a fhios agad é?

“Do you know it?”

Weird, huh? And we didn’t even touch the mutations yet… In brief – in Irish a word can change its initial sound in some contexts. In the examples above gcoláiste [pron. goolashte] is from coláiste [koolashte], chuid [khid] is from cuid [kid] and fhios [ees] is from fios [fees]. Fascinating… add to that the extravagant orthography (‘oíche’ is pronounced [i]), the rich imagery and all the romanticism of being spoken by a small minority only…