From Scotland we move to Ireland, where Colm Ó Caomhánaigh from Dublin is compiling a Dictionary of Bird Names in Irish. He writes:

Reading W.B. Lockwood’s The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names (Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-866196-7) inspired me to look into the meaning and origin of bird names in Irish. I do not speak Irish, though I learned it at school like everyone else. Most of my research on the bird names has been through the dictionaries and other books noted in the texts. I am hoping to get access to some older dictionaries which may yield more results.
I have organised my information into a dictionary form and would be very pleased to hear opinions on the theories. In particular, in the Irish-English section I have tagged with an * names for which I have no probable explanation – many of them the more common names which have probably changed most over the years. The pictures are my own.

Well, I say “is compiling,” but the latest update is from 25 February 2002, so it may be fair to say this is an ex-project (having kicked the bucket, shuffled off the mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible), but it’s still a nice thing to know about. Thanks, Bathrobe!


  1. Isn’t it “rung down the curtain”? Though I’d never thought about where the phrase comes from.

  2. Any bird names can be found at – and they actually know the lingo.

  3. Isn’t it “rung down the curtain”?
    Yes, but a quick search for “run down the curtain” reveals many instances of “run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible”, as if Monty Python either said it that way or were heard as saying it that way.

  4. dearieme says

    “Colm Ó Caomhánaigh …writes:… I do not speak Irish”. I’m just wondering how he copes with his own name, then.
    On a different note, I saw someone allege recently that some much-loved Irish folk songs were originally English folk-songs introduced by Cromwell’s troops, but largely unrecognised because they had died out in England in the interim. I’ve no idea whether he was just teasing.

  5. Bathrobe says

    Panu, is very nice. And it does indeed carry bird names as part of its terminological database (although it doesn’t necessarily carry variant names, and it doesn’t attempt to come up with an etymology).
    This kind of database certainly seems to be the sort of thing that any standard or national language would find useful in maintaining its viability. But I’m curious how successful it might be in defending Irish given the almost complete victory of English in modern Ireland.

  6. Bathrobe says

    I even found saorfhréamh for ‘free radical’. ‘Free radical’ is not a term I can find in my English-Mongolian dictionary 🙂

  7. I’ve been keeping my eye on this project for a while now (I linked to it from my own blog last year), but sadly it appears to have been abandoned indefinitely. Even as it stands, though, it’s a fascinating compilation.
    Regarding Ó Caomhánaigh’s credentials as a gaeilgeoir: many Irish people no longer speak Irish (or would claim to) but retain a certain command of the language, especially in its written form; their fluency is dormant rather than non-existent. And if it’s the same Colm Ó Caomhánaigh who is currently General Secretary of the country’s Green Party, his lack of free time is quite understandable…

  8. “chölööt radical”
    though about radical, it translates like yazguur, then it’s “chölööt yazguur”
    everything can be translated into my language, myocarditis for example becomes bulchintas, or “zurkhnii bulchingiin urevsel”
    about electron positron etc scientific terms though sure there are the exact words for them, just in everyday life it’s less bother to use them straightforwardly than “nemex tseneg -xasakh tseneg”
    if the word is untranslateble, then the word becomes like the explanation of all what it stands for, pretty similar to the Japanese words with multiple kanjis, shinkinen for example
    if we try their methods to shorten the word, or like in Russian “komsomol”, it would sound like myocarditis – zurkh-bul-ur, but it sounds nonsense then
    there are abbreviated words, of course, OXU – Orosun Xolboonu Uls, Russian Federation or ANU – Amerikiin Negdsen Uls, USA etc.

  9. i hope this dictionary could be helpful for you, B

  10. it gives free and radical, but not electron, positron or myocarditis, sorry
    there must be more comprehensive dictionaries i thought, if i know the words
    just not online yet maybe

  11. there is a function to add words there, perhaps i should use that function to help expand the dictionary if only my lazyness won’t hinder sure

  12. Would Caomhanaigh be Cavanaugh in English spelling?
    (Haven’t yet learned how to apply accent marks)

  13. Would Caomhanaigh be Cavanaugh in English spelling?
    Yes, the root of the name is Irish caomh ‘kind, mild, dear’ (from Old Irish cóim), where mh is pronounced /v/ (the gh at the end of the name is silent).
    (Haven’t yet learned how to apply accent marks)
    Well, you can use & aacute ; (without the spaces) to get á, but in this case the easiest thing to do would be to simply copy and paste from my post: Ó Caomhánaigh.

  14. Thanks, Hat.
    But your comments come onto my screen in a small box which I can’t move or expand, only reduce to the bar at the bottom, so I can’t edit.

  15. marie-lucie says

    iakon, instead of opening “comments”, try clicking on the date and time, and you should see the whole screen.

  16. Yes! Thanks, m-l.

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