Déardaoin, Nollaig 29, 2011

Rathlin’s nearest (linguistic) neighbours

The relationship of Rathlin Irish to other Gaelic dialects has long been a subject of debate, much of which in a knowledge vacuum.
I discuss here matters of intelligibility without regards to the labels ‘Irish’ or ‘Scottish’ which I contend to be senseless when discussing this linguistic matter[i].

However, in reality, there is no doubt about it, that the most similar Gaelic dialect to Rathlin was Gaelic of the Antrim Glens, which was “practically the same language” (There were of course some important distinctions which I will return to at a later date).

This is the assessment of Nils Holmer, the leading expert on not only Rathlin Irish but also on the Gaelic of Argyll and the Glens of Antrim.

“According to Prof 0’Rahilly {Irish Dialects, p. 191), the dialect is essentially a Scottish dialect ... If it be admitted that this is a characteristic specimen of Gaelic of the Scottish type, it must not, however, be thought that the difference between the Rathlin dialect and, for instance, that of Kintyre or Arran is approximately the same as between the latter and that of Islay or Skye. Though the distance between Rathlin and the Mull of Kintyre is only about one tenth of the distance between the latter and Skye, the differences are far greater.”
“And, though historically the Rathlin dialect shows closer affinities with Scottish than with Irish Gaelic, the external similarities with the neighbouring Irish dialects are more prominent. This means that a person from Tirconnel would not have very great difficulty in understanding a Rathlin man, while a native speaker from the opposite part of Antrim speaks practically the same language.”
“The morphological similarities between Rathlin and southern Scotland are altogether remarkable. This fact, like so many others, is accounted for in part by Irishisms in southern Scottish Gaelic, in part by the strong Scottish influence on northern Irish.”

One can listen to Rathlin Irish HERE and to Glen’s Irish HERE.
With regards to Scotland, it is assumed, as Kintyre is closer, and that Islay has many ‘Irish’ traits that their Gaelic dialects are the most similar Scottish dialects to Rathlin.

However, the Scottish Dialect most similar to Rathlin was the Gaelic of Arran and Kintyre Gaelic was more similar to Rathlin Irish than the Gaelic of Islay.

I can personally testify to a striking similarity between Rathlin Irish and Arran Gaelic, which can be listened to on the Tobar an Dualchais site HERE. (Go rabh míle maith agat Crìostòir-Pòl de Piondargás as a sin a rá liom!)

Clearly, it is not simply a matter of geographical proximity but one of dialectical gravity, which leads one to suspect that the Gaelic of Galloway (and Ayrshire?) must have been quite ‘Irish’ indeed.
We can listen to samples of Kintyre Gaelic HERE, and Islay Gaelic HERE.

Would Rathlin Irish have been more similar to Arran that say the Irish of Co. Derry (which we can listen to HERE)?

I would say that I would think that for a Rathlin person, communication with a speaker of Derry Irish may have been a little easier than with an Arran speaker but neither should have posed much of a problem.

I would also say that I would perceive Rathlin Irish to be equally similar / distinct to the Irish of Tory and the Gaelic of Islay.

[i] [Those concerned with this subject may I direct you to this reference, Ó Baoill (Colm): The Gaelic continuum. In Éigse 32 (2000), pp. 121–134. ad B. Ó Cuív 1951, Irish dialects and Irish-speaking districts (BILL III: 1240). Reexamines the grammatical features that traditionally have justified the linguistic divide between Irish and Scottish Gaelic. It is argued that the differences between the transitional dialects of NE Ireland and SW Scotland never prevented mutual intellegibility.]

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