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BLOG: Ancient Irish 101

One of my favorite historical fiction periods to read about happens to be the ancient Briton/Ireland/Scotland or Anglo-Saxon periods. They were unique in their shadowy history and so full of folk-lore and myth. However, I've often been at a loss when it comes to pronouncing some of the names and terms that evolved linguistically during this early time in history.


Today, I'm absolutely thrilled to introduce Micheal Cladain, and author fascinated with ancient Ireland. And he's written a most useful blog that discusses the pronunciation of ancient Irish. So let's jump right in and try some of these pronunciations! And below that you can check out After Gairech, Micheal's book!


Ancient Irish

By Micheal Cladain


The language of pre-Christian Ireland was a proto-Celtic Indo-European language. Meaning, there was a single origin for the Celtic languages, which later developed into regional versions, and it originated in Europe. Celtic arrival in Ireland brought Ancient Irish with it. Scholars think the arrival, whether by migration or invasion, might be as early as 500 BCE. Languages did exist before Ancient Irish arrived. However, by the time of Christ, Irish was the common language. Ancient Irish is known as Gaeilge Ársa (pronounced gwailga orsa) or Primitive Irish (a Goidelic language), which survives only as ogham inscriptions. As such, historians have little understanding of how the words sounded.


That said, pronunciation in the different Kingdoms was likely to be different. This is, of course, still true of the country today. A Cork man speaks with an entirely different lilt to say a Dubliner or someone from Ulster. This further complicates what is already a complex topic.


It is a reasonable assumption that Ancient Irish evolved into Old Irish, carrying some pronunciation with it.


Medieval monks used Old Irish (Sengoídelc) when they transcribed Irish Mythology. As such, the examples I use stick with that version. Sengoídelc was spoken in Ireland from about 700 to 1000 in the common era (formerly Anno Domini).


The pronunciation rules for Old Irish could fill a book. Rather than provide them, I have listed some names and places found in After Gáirech. I also think the following should be kept in mind:


Not necessary – How the words were pronounced over two-thousand years ago will not impact the story. You can pronounce them however you like. No one will ever know.


Consonants – The pronunciation of consonants depends on their position in a word. For example, m at the beginning of a word is as in English, although in other positions it can take a v sound, or a w sound, such as Temuir (Tara) is pronounced Tay-vir.


Vowels – The pronunciation of vowels, as well as their position, is changed when they are accented. For example, a as the first syllable in a word is long, as in farther, and as the second syllable is short as in pass. When the á is accented, it is long (ah as in car) but does change when positioned with another vowel: áe – gives an eye sound, as in bye; ái – gives an a sound as in hand; – gives an e sound as in seed.


This is also true of other accented vowels: ó – gives an oh sound as in show; óe gives an a sound as in hay; ú – gives an oo sound, as in brood; é – gives an a sound as in hay; í – gives an ee sound, as in seed.


There are many more rules, and I won’t list them all here.


With those in mind, here are some of the names from After Gáirech, with their phonetic spelling:


Bóand – The River Boyne. Pronounced bow an.


Cailleach – Ancient crone (witch). Pronounced Kal yack.


Crúachain – The royal seat of Connacht. Pronounced cruck an.


Dún – a fortress. Pronounced doon.


Emain Macha – The royal seat of Ulster. Pronounced eh-vin macca.


Gáirech – The battle that happened at the end of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Pronounced gareck.


Medb The warrior queen of Connacht. Medb is pronounced as it would be for the Anglicised spelling Maeve (may ve).


Morrigan – The Goddess of war and fate. Pronounced mor ee gan.


Ráth – a circular earthen fort, as in a ramparted fort. Pronounced raar.


Scáthach – The warrior witch from the Isle of Skye. Pronounced Scar thack.


All About Micheal


Micheál Cladáin studied the classics and developed a love of ancient civilizations during those studies. Learning about ancient Roman and Greek cultures was augmented by a combined sixteen years living in those societies, albeit the modern versions, in Cyprus and Italy. As such, Micheál decided to write historical fiction, trying to follow in the footsteps of such greats as Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden. Because of his Irish roots, he chose pre-Christian Ireland as his setting, rather than ancient Italy or Greece.


Micheál is a full-time writer, who lives in the wilds of Wexford with his wife and their border terriers, Ruby and Maisy.


Connect with Micheal

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Amazon Author Page


After Gáirech Blurb

The battle of Gáirech is over; the armies of Connachta, Lagin, and Mumu are destroyed! Survivors are ravaging The Five Kingdoms of Ireland!


While working to resolve the Kingdoms’ issues and bring peace, Cathbadh is murdered, dying in his son Genonn’s arms. Genonn vows to avenge the death of his father.


For his revenge to work, he needs Conall Cernach and the Red Branch warriors of Ulster. But Conall is gone, searching for the head of Cú Chulainn. Genonn sets out to find him, aided by the beautiful Fedelm, the capricious Lee Fliath and the stalwart Bradán.


Buy the Book!


Available on KindleUnlimited.

Amazon UK

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