Dé hAoine, Samhain 19, 2010

Two Rathlin Folktales in Translation

Ciarán Dunbar

These are two folklore stories from Rathlin Island, translated into English from the Island’s now almost extinct native Gaelic dialect. The translation style employed is mostly a direct one, designed to facilitate comprehension of the original Irish.

Re-edited versions of the Irish tales in Rathlin Irish, together with translations / transliterations into Standard Irish and into Scottish Gaelic are to be found in Dhá Scéal Reachlann agus Eile (Dunbar : 2008) published by Coiscéim.

The first story Mac na Baintreabhraí agus Níon an Rí, translated here as ‘The Widow’s Son and the Kings Daughter’ was first published in Foghraidheacht Ghaedhilge an Tuaiscirt (Séamus Ó Searcaigh : 1926) published by Browne and Nolan.

Ó Searcaigh collected the story from Domhnall Mac Mhuireachtaigh (Daniel McCurdy), Kinramer, Upper End, Rathlin around the year 1915.

The second of the two stories An Sionnach agus Cailleach na gCearc, translated here as ‘The Fox and the Old Hag or the Hens’ was first published in the Irish Independent in 1908.

It was recorded by Aoidhmín Mac Gréagóir of Belfast but it is not clear who the source was in this instance.

The Widow’s Son and the Kings Daughter

There was once a king and he had a daughter; and she would only marry a person who would make her laugh three times; and plenty were courting her; and not one of them could make her laugh. There was a widow and she had one son; and he said to his mother that it would be better for him to go and see if he could get the king’s daughter to laugh.

‘Well,’ says his mother to him, ‘many an honourable person went to her and none of them made her laugh.’ ‘Well,’ says her son to her,’ Make you a bannach for me and kill a hen.’ ‘Well son,’ says she, ‘I’ll do that for you. Which would you prefer a big bannach and my curse or a wee bananch and my blessing?’ ‘Well,’ says he, ‘I would prefer a small bannach and your blessing.’

When he got the bannach and the hen, off he went and when the hunger came on him, he sat down and made his dinner.

Then he made ready to go to the house of the king. He was wondering what he would do to get three laughs from the king’s daughter.

Then as he was going, he fell in with a goat at the side of the road; and he went and jumped up riding on the goat and he turned his back to the goats head. He grabbed the stump of the goat’s tail with his two hands; and then he was close to the house of the king.

The king’s daughter had a room in the loft; and the widow’s son sent the goat mad; and when she saw the idiot of a person riding a goat and the goat going mad, she clapped her two hands together and let a great laugh out of her.

The widow’s son went to the king. ‘Now,’ says the widow’s son, ‘I have your daughter.’ ‘Indeed you have not got her yet. You have to make her laugh twice more.’

He came home to his mother; and his mother asked what happened to him. He told her that he got one laugh from her.

He made ready then and he went the next day but he did not know what he would do to make her laugh a second time.

He was walking for a time, and what did he then find but a cow’s skin. He walked on another wee bit along the road and he fell in with a horse; and he wondered, when he found the horse what would be the best thing for him to do to make the king’s daughter laugh for the second time.

He was walking for a spell and what did he find but a cow’s hide. He walked on for a bit at the side of the road and he fell in with a horse, and he thought, when he got the horse, of the best thing to do to get the king’s daughter to laugh a second time.

He went off and brought with him the horse and spread the cow’s hide out on the forehead of the horse. He went and he pulled down the cow’s hide on the horse’s feet and up he jumped riding on the horse and off he galloped towards the king’s house.

The kings’ daughter was sitting in her own room looking out the window, when she saw the fool of person riding a cow, she let another laugh out of her.

The widow’s son went to the king. ‘I have your daughter now,’ ‘Indeed you do not,’ said the king. You do not have her yet. You have to made her laugh one more time.

He came home then, his mother inquired what had happened to him. He told her that he made her laugh twice.

On the third day he prepared to make her laugh a third time. When the widow’s son came in within sight of the king’s house, he knew that the king’s daughter would still be looking out of the window.

The widow’s son went and put his two hands down on the ground, and he threw his two legs up into the air and he was walking on his hands, and when she saw the fool walking on his hands and the legs in the air, she laughed for the third time.

The widow’s son went to the king. ‘I have your daughter now,’ ‘Indeed you do not,’ said the king to the widow’s son. ‘There is a great giant there,’ said the king, ‘unless you bring me his head, you will not get my daughter.’

The widow’s son went off until he was at the giant’s house. When he heard the widow’s son at the house, he said to him, ‘is it a fight you want?’ The widow’s son said that he would prefer to wrestle than to fight.

The first throw or two that he did, he put the giant up to his two knees into the hard ground. ‘Spare my soul and I will give you a sword and a pot of gold.’ ‘Tell me where they are and I will spare your soul for you.’

The giant told the widow’s son where he would find it.

Then he put the giant down through the hard ground. The giant asked him to spare him and that he what do anything for him.

The widow’s son went and put him down through the ground. There was not a bit above but his head and neck. The widow’s son found the sword which would cut rock or anything.

‘Now,’ said the widow’s son, ‘on what would he strike the sword first?’ The giant told him to strike it on a tree stump which was by his side. If the widow’s son had have struck it on the tree there would not be any worth left in it.

The widow’s son said to him, ‘the best stump to strike it on – your neck.’

He struck a blow of the sword on the giant’s neck and his head went up between them and the skies.

Went the head came back down again, it went on the neck and it was as sound as it ever was.

He stuck it again and it came down onto the neck as well as it was the first time. The widow’s son did not know what he would do to put an end to the giant.

The thug blow he delivered to him the head went up between them and the skies. And when the head came back the widow’s son stuck the head with the top of his right foot and the hair side turned towards the ground, and it lay there. There was no more life in it.

The widow’s son took with him the head and gave it to the king. The widow’s son said to the king : iI have your daughter now.’

They married then and the wedding lasting the whole of seven years and the last day was as good as the first. They married and I left them then.

The Fox and the Old Hag of the Hens.

It was Christmas night and terribly cold. The peaks and glens where hidden with snow. The fox was away at that time to the Old Hag of the Hens little house and he was very hungry. He and the Old Hag of the Hens’ cock happened upon each other and they began to converse.

‘How many tricks have you?’ said the fox.

‘Well, I have only the one trick,’ said the cock, ‘how many do you have yourself?’.

‘I can do fifteen tricks,’ said the cock.

‘What are those you speak of?’ said the cock. ‘Well,’ said the fox, my grandfather used to close one eye and let out a great screech.’

‘I can do that one,’ said the cock.

‘Try and see if you can,’ said the fox. The cock closed the eye closest to the fox and the fox caught a bite on him away he went but the Old Hag of the Hens saw him and she shouted loudly, ‘let go of that cock, it is mine.’ ‘Say you,’ said the cock to the fox, ‘he is my cock.’

The fox opened his mouth to say these words and when he opened his mouth the cock went off, going and going until he was at the top of the Old Hag of the Hens’ house. He winked his eye to the fox and he let a great crow from himself and because of that the fox did not play a trick on him again.

Dé Domhnaigh, Samhain 07, 2010

Antrim Irish Folkore

This is a booklet of Antrim Gaelic folklore, collected by Pobal an Chaistil, collected originally by Séamus Ó Duillearga.

Originally published in ...

Watson, Seosamh: "Séamus Ó Duilearga's Antrim Notebooks - I: Texts", Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 40 (1984) 74-117.
____: "Séamus Ó Duilearga's Antrim Notebooks - II: Language", Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 42 (1987) 138-218.
____: "Séamus Ó Duilearga's Co Antrim Notebooks", Éigse 20 (1984-5) 187-211.
____: "Seanchas Ghlinntí Aontrama - 1", An tUltach 66:1 (1/1989) 9-11.
____: "Béaloideas", An tUltach 66:10 (10/1989) 9-10.

Re-edited by Seosamh Watson, with notes by Ciarán Dunbar.

Tá mé fíorbhuíoch do Phobal an Chaistil as cead a thabhairt domh an t-ábhar seo a fhoilsiú.

Dé Sathairn, Samhain 06, 2010

Some Samples of Islay Gaelic

Some Samples of Islay Gaelic for Comparison with Antrim (from Ionad Chaluim Cille Website) [1].

34. maidin [2] mhaith [3]
Maidin mhaith
Good morning

35. Thá [4] mi ‘fantáil [5] ann an Ìle
Tá mé ag fanacht in an Íle
I am staying/living in Islay

36. Latha maith [6]
Lá maith
Good day

37. Thá na páisteán [7] a’ cluich’ san uisge
Tá na páistí ag súgradh san uisce
The children are playing in the water

38. Go rabh maith agat [8]
Go raibh maith agat
Thank you

39. Dé timcheall air?
Cad é faoi?
What about it?


[1] http://www.iccile.co.uk/
[2] This is considered more an Irish form. Scottish Gaelic normal has ‘madainn’.
[3] This form is more similar to standard Irish that Rathlin Irish which had maidin mhath [va]
[4] This is the normal Scottish Gaelic form. Rathlin invariably employs ‘tá’ although ‘thá’ has [5] been recorded in North Donegal and is also in use throughout Munster.
[5] This was also one of the verbal noun forms of ‘fan’ that was to be found in Rathlin, the other being the related ‘fantain’, standard Irish having ‘fanacht’ although other forms occur in the spoken dialects.
[6] see footnote 17. Rathlin would have math [ma].
[7] see foot note 16.
[8] ‘go rabh maith agat’ is generally regarded as Irish but it is also considered a distinguishing feature of Islay Gaelic. The usual form of ‘thank you’ is Scottish Gaelic being the more northern form, ‘tapadh leat’. The Rathlin expression being ‘go rabh math agat’ although ‘go rabh math duit’ is also recorded.
[9] See footnote 10.

Some samples of Rathlin Irish, Lower End

Some Samples of Bob McCormick of Rathlin, The Lower End,  speaking with Proinsias Ó Conluain of RTÉ.

- Rathlin Irish (Click to hear)

- Standard Irish
- English
Rathlin, I understand that Bob McCormick lived close to McCuaig's Bar.

26. as m’athair is mo mháthair
as m’athair is mo mháthair
from my father and mother

27. Chan fheil aon sean-scéaltán a'm 

Níl aon sean-scéalta agam
I have no old stories

28. Timpeall thart ar na hoileán

Timpeall thart ar an oileán
All over the Island

29. 'bhfeil é ar cheart anois?

An bhfuil sé ag obair anois?
Is it working now?

30. abair sin aríst

abair sin arís
say again

31. bhá sí*

bhí sí
it (fem.) was

32. ar fud** na hoileán

ar fud na hoileán
throughout the island

*One would normally expect ‘bhá í’ in Rathlin Irish, it could be assumed that the speaker was influenced in this instance by the interviewer.

** This is sound as almost as 'fúd' rather than 'fud' in 'Lárchanúint na Gaeilge'.

Gáidhlig Íle - Islay Gaelic

Learn Islay Gaelic, one of Rathlin's closest linguistic neighbors.

Ionad Chaluim Chille Íle have a page for learners of the dialect. 

There are basic phrases along with a good collection of folklore, both printed and as sound files.

Here is a link to an Islay wordlist.

Dé Sathairn, Meán Fómhair 18, 2010

Samples of Rathlin Irish, Upper End

Samples of Rathlin Gaelic from conversation of Bella McKenna (nee McCurdy) with Liam Mac Carráin (Belfast)

The Rathlin Irish (upper end) comes first, followed by Standard Irish, followed by English.

This is upper end Rathlin Irish, it was recorded very late in the 70s. 

It represents the latter stages of late Rathlin Irish, however considerable material has been recorded from a semi-native speaker after this date. 

The speaker in these samples died in the mid-80s, having lived most of her life in Belfast.

One should note, that one occasions she corrects herself, from a Donegal type pronunciation to the Rathlin one. 

I understand that she actually attended Irish classes in Belfast, learning some Rosses Irish, which was in vogue among Belfast Irish speakers at the time.

That may seem surprising to readers but one should remind one's self that the Gaelic League sent a speaker from the Rosses to teach Irish in Rathlin and that native speakers in the Glens of Irish often mixed Donegal Irish with their native dialect having been exposed to it in Gaelic League classes. 

A full description, short off of a phonetical transcription is to be found in Irish ...

Dunbar, Ciarán, "Guthanna Reachrainn, guthanna Uladh", An tUltach 82:2 (2/2005) 14-16

and in English (and slightly revised)  ...

Dunbar, Ciarán, "Some Phrases of Rathlin Irish", The Glynns 35 (2007) 65 - 74.

Hit the Rathlin Irish (the first one to listen) 

(Note that item 1. & 25 lack a sound sample)

1. [tá] brón orm anois
[tá] brón orm anois
I [am] sorry now

An bhfuil a fhios agat cad é tá mé ag rá?
Do you know what I am saying?

An rabh a fhios agatsa?
Do you know?

4. Bhá bachaill[3] eileag[4] anseo
Bhí buachaill eile anseo
There was another boy here

5. Bhá ceann ruadh[5], ceann ruadh … dearg ar m’athair
Bhí ceann rua, ceann rua …. dearg ar m’athair
My father had a red (ginger) head [of hair] a red head ….red.

Bhí mé ar mire
I was mad

7. Bhá sean-saighdiúir ansin
      Bhí sean-saighdiúir ansin
      There was an old soldier there

8. ‘Bhfeil[7] mé deas?[8][9]
      An bhfuil mé críochnaithe?
      Am I finished?

      An bhfuil fhios agat air Danny Diffin?
      Do you know Danny Diffin?

      An raibh go leor Gaeilge agam?
      Did I have enough Irish?

      ‘chan fheil’ sin an fhocal a bhí ag na daoine in Reachlainn
      ‘chan fheil’ that is the word the people had in Rathlin

      Níl fhios agam rud ar bith fán ait sin
      I don’t know anything about that place

      Níl a fhios agam fán ainm atá ar loch
      I don’t know the word for loch

      Níl cuimhin …Níl mórán Gaeilge, Gaeilge, Gaeilge agam     anois.
     [I] don’t remember …I don’t have much Irish ….now.

    Ní cuimhin liom … nl cuimhin liom
    I don’t remember

      Cleggan (skull shaped hill?[13]

     Níl a fhios agam anois
     I don’t know now

     Cnoc an Tairbh
     ‘The bull’s hill’

      Rugadh mé ansin ins an teach, bhí … an t-ainm a bhí air     Lartach Aoibhinn
       I was born there in the house,

      I mo chónaí ansin
      Living there

     Sin an ait a bhí mise
     That’s were i was

     Rachadh mé ansiúd is anseo
     I used to go here and there

     Teacht arís
     Coming again

     Tá a fhios aigesean cá huair a gheobhaidh mé bás
     He knows when i will die

na páistí
the children

na mic
the sons

na rudaí
the things

Big Mary has big feet


25. ‘bhfeil blas na Béarla air
An bhfuil blas na mBéarla air
Does it have an English ‘blas’

[1] This ‘g’ is always aspirated in Rathlin. i.e agham (pron. a’m) aghad (pron. a’d)
[2] See footnote 1.
[3] This word appears to be a confusion of the Scottish Gaelic word word ‘bachlach’and the Standard Irish ‘buachaill’. Holmer records Bachlach as the Rathlin form (HOLMER, N.M., The Irish language in Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim, (Royal Irish Academy [Hodges Figgis], Dublin 1942) whilst Wagner records ‘bachaill’. (WAGNER, H., Ó BAOILL C., Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects IV, (Royal Irish Academy Dublin 1969) p16)
[4] This form was also recorded by Holmer ibid p190.
[5] ‘dh’ at the end of a word normally pronounced like a ‘g’ in Late Rathlin Irish.
[6] ‘bhá’ is always the word used in Rathlin where standard Irish has ‘bhí’. ‘bhá’ also occurred in Irish of the Glens along side ‘bhí’. ‘bhá’ is considered Scottish Gaelic.
[7] Where standard Irish has ‘bhfuil’, East Ulster (including Rathlin), Scottish Gaelic and Manx have ‘Bhfeil’.
[8] Literal meaning is ‘am I nice?’
[9] A distinguishing feature of East Ulster Irish (including Rathlin), North Donegal Dialects Scottish Gaelic and Manx is the pronunciation of ‘ea’ as ‘e’ (i.e. d´es) whereas in most of Ireland it is pronounced as an ‘a’ sound (i.e. d´as)
[10] ‘timpeall air’ (about that) is a Rathlin Idiom which can also be found in Islay Gaelic – see footnote 26.
[11] This pronunciation of the word ‘ainm’ as ‘arm/airm’ was also to be found in Farney Irish. Ó SEARCAIGH, S., Foghraidheacht Ghaedhilg an Tuaiscirt (Brún agus Ó Nualláin, Baile Átha Claith 1925) pp.182-183
[12] Rathlin place-name.
[13] See Place-Names of Northern Ireland, Co Antrim II, (The Institute of Irish Studies, QUB) p299.
[14] This is an example of metathesis, the standard Irish word being Latrach normally meaning a piece of rough scrubby ground. See footnote 5.
[15] pronounced as ‘rachag’ in late Rathlin Irish.
[16] the plural constructed in Rathlin Irish by simply adding ‘an’ or ‘ean’. For example, taigh (house) taigheán (houses)

Dé Sathairn, Meán Fómhair 11, 2010

A Glens Song, 'Airde Cuain'

Áirde Cuain

(Éist leis)

Dá mbeinn féin in Airde Cuain,
in aice an tsléibhe úd atá i bhfad uaim
B'annamh liom gan dul ar cuairt
go Gleann na gCuach de Domhnaigh

Agus och, och, Éire uilig is ó,
Éire lionn dubh agus ó
Is é mo chroí atá trom is bronach.

Is iomaí Nollaig a bhí mé féin
i mBun Abhann Doinne is mé gan chéill
ag iomáint ar an Trá Bhán
is mo chamán bán i mo dhorn liom


Nach tuirseach mise anseo liom féin
nach n-airím guth coiligh, londubh nó traon,
gealbhán, smólach, naoscach féin
is chan aithním féin an Domhnach.


Is é seo an choraíocht atá buan
is ar an tsaol seo go gcuirfeadh sé cluain
Mheallfadh sé an chaora ón uan
agus mheall sé uaimse an óige.


Muna mbeadh agam féin ach coite is rámh
le go n-iomróinn ar an tsnámh
ag dúil le Dia go sroichfinn slán
is go bhfaighinnse bás in Éirinn.


A Rathlin Song, Mo Mháire Óg


D'éalaigh m'athair 's d'éag mo mháthair,
Is chan fhuil mo chairdean le fáil;
Ach cad atá mé gan chrodh gan toigh,
A bheith in dtóir ar Mháire Óg.

Hó-ró-ró 'gur thú mo rún
Thug mé an gaol 's cha b'aithreach liom,
Don níon úd an chúil dualaigh doinn,
Is gur teith liom féin mo Mháire Óg

Chan fhuil duine uasal ó ná barún
Ná fear óg anns na fearann
Nach bhfuil dúil acu le bainis
Gach uile fhear, le Máire Óg.

Chan fhuil duine sa ghleann úd thall,
Eadar bun 's barr a' ghleann',
Nach bhfuil ag bagairt ar mo cheann
Ar son bheith in dtóir ar Mháire Óg.

Ach ná cuireadh sin ortsa brón
Fad is bhéas mo chuideacht beo,
Coinneoidh mise duitse an lón,
Is má bha seór ann gheobhaidh sé dram.

Dé hAoine, Iúil 30, 2010

Dialects of Rathlin Irish

'Dialects' of Rathlin? on one wee Island?

In fact yes. We can (simplifing somewhat) state that Rathlin Irish can be sub divided into two sub-dialects, that of the Upper End and that of the Lower End. 

There were a few pronouncation differences, even a few minor grammar differences, but for now lets concentrate on vocabulary.

It is said that the Upper End is somewhat more 'Irish' and the Lower End somewhat more 'Scottish'.

For instance In the Lower End for 'away' one would say 'ar folbh' whilst in the Upper End people would say 'ar shiúbhail.'

In the Lower End people would say 'Gabh sin' for take that whilst the Upper End people say 'Glac sin'.

To get is 'a fháil' in the Upper End but 'a fháin' in the Lower.This distinction in áil / ain in the verbal endings is a common feature.

Ceart gos leor? as the Lower End folk say, ceart go leor as those on the Upper End say.

More of this in the future.

Dé Domhnaigh, Iúil 04, 2010

Tobar an Dualchais


Díreach ag cur in iúl mu'n suíomh seo, Tobar an Dualchais, chan fheil aon Ghaedhilg Cheann Tíre ná Arann ann ach tá go leor Gaedhilg Íle is Diúra ann - cosail go leor le Gaedhilg Reachraidh.

Dé Máirt, Bealtaine 25, 2010


Ar an drochuair, tá roinnt botúin ann in 'Dhá Scéal Reachlann agus Eile' sa leagan caighdeánaithe.

l. 2, líne 10, 'is fhearr,' 'is fearr' is ceart dó a bheith ann.
l. 2, líne 12, 'bonnóg beag,' 'bonnóg bheag' is ceart dó a bheith ann.
l. 11, líne 11, 'a bhuailfeadh é,' 'a bhuailfeadh sé' is ceart dó a bheith ann.
l. 19, líne 7, 'scrog,' 'gréim' is ceart dó a bheith ann.
l. 20, líne 3, 'd'oscail é,' 'd'oscail sé' is ceart dó a bheith ann.
l. 20, líne 7, 'Chaoch é,' chaoch sé' is ceart dó a bheith ann.
l. 20, líne 8, 'thug é,' 'thug sé' is ceart dó a bheith ann.

Dé Domhnaigh, Bealtaine 02, 2010

Ulster Gaelic Voices

Anyone interested in Antrim Irish will be pleased to know that texts and recordings of the dialect are now available in the new book, Ulster Gaelic Voices.

Here is the discription from the publisher's website.

"Ulster Gaelic Voices / Bailiúchán Doegen                                                                                                                                                                  Ulster Gaelic Voices presents a unique record of 1930s native speakers from the lost Gaeltachts of Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Louth and Tyrone, as well as recordings of renowned storytellers from the Donegal Gaeltacht. The recordings provide a fascinating insight into the rich linguistic and cultural heritage of another day - its folklore, myth, legend and song. Each recording is accompanied by a transcription, an English translation and a brief introduction.

Is beag rud atá chomh híogair le guth duine; iompraíonn sé ceol, scéalta agus mianta na ndaoine. Bheir na guthanna sa bhailiúchán tábhachtach seo léargas dúinn ar bhlas agus chiútaí cainte na Gaeilge fud fad Chúige Uladh. Beidh siad ina ndíol spéise go háirithe acu siúd ar suim leo canúintí oirthear Uladh. Tá léargas luachmhar ann ní amháin ar shaibhreas teanga ach ar chomharthaí sóirt mheath teanga chomh maith. Tá réimse leathan ábhair ann ón traidisiúin béil a bhéas ina acmhainn luachmhar ag scoláirí teanga agus béaloidis.
Ulster Gaelic Voices, Bailiúchán Doegen 1931, Róise Ní Bhaoill, ISBN 978-0-9555081-1-0, 366pp, Praghas/Price GBP 22"

Here is an interview from Nuacht 24 with the author Róise Ní Bhaoill.