Irish of the Burren.

I’m a sucker for lost-dialect stories, and especially for Irish dialects, so this piece by Ciarán Lenoach was meat and drink to me:

Poet and playwright Liam Ó Muirthile, who was buried in Baile Bhuirne in the Cork Gaeltacht yesterday, was also an accomplished broadcaster and worked for many years in RTÉ. While working on the Irish-language programme Súil Thart in 1980, he went to the Burren in northwest Clare to speak to two of the last remaining native Irish speakers in that area.

By that time, there were only a handful of speakers of that particular dialect left and by recording two of them Liam Ó Muirthile preserved for us a little piece of socio-linguistic history. […] In the following video, Tomás talks about his native place and Maggie tells us about her family, her school and her heartburn. She even ticks him off for apparently not understanding her. […]

Prof Ó Curnáin says that although northwest Clare is geographically very close to south and east Galway and the Aran Islands, due to historical socio-political circumstances the Irish dialect there resembled more the Irish of Waterford.

Liam Ó Muirthile had hoped to record more of the Clare Irish speakers but the batteries in television cameras in those days had a short lifespan. Nonetheless, he left us a very valuable snapshot of the linguistic variety and diversity that once existed in Ireland.

Thanks, Trevor!


  1. No electricity, no running water, in a Western European country in the 1970s. This is a big part of why leaving the EU has no attraction for .ie!

    “The speakers he recorded lived along the coast between Murroogh (Muiriúch) and Fanore (Fánóir), the terminus of the dialect continuum of the Gaelic language, which once covered all of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.”

    I hadn’t been aware of the evolution of the Gaeltacht in Clare, in my life (1981 onward) it was always non-Gaeltacht and that was just the way it was.

  2. David Marjanović says

    all of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man

    Never actually all of Scotland…

  3. Wilhelm Doegen’s 1928-31 recordings from 17 counties are available online

    “Never actually all of Scotland…” — true Scotland was of the Scotii, not Pictland

  4. Wilhelm Doegen’s 1928-31 recordings from 17 counties are available online

    Doegen had his own post in 2013, but not focused on the Irish material, which I’m glad to know about.

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    But perhaps the future of the language involves overcoming these regional distinctions in order to create sufficient critical mass to engage with the wider world?

  6. David Marjanović says

    overcoming these regional distinctions

    Judging from all the [ɹ], even distinctions from English are already being lost.

  7. Not surprising. Languages in intimate contact with English will preserve their non-English phonemes fairly well, but will assimilate phonemes with English counterparts to their English form.

  8. will assimilate phonemes with English counterparts to their English form

    I remember a video sent by relatives from Adelaide, SA, some 15 years ago. It showed a Sabantuy festival, and the younger singers said their qara‘s with an English r. The older people had it right. The Tatar diaspora there, afaik, comes mainly from Xinjiang.

  9. Judging from all the [ɹ], even distinctions from English are already being lost.

    The singers are not native speakers. Coláiste Lurgan is in the Gaeltacht but it is a summer school for L2 students. The leads have pretty good accents but to my ear their L2 shibboleth is the overenunciation of /x/ and /ɣ/ , the most exotic consonants for anglophones.

  10. In my opinion, assimilating phones to another language is not a big deal. The foreigner’s [b/v, d, g] for Spanish [β, ð, ɣ] doesn’t interfere with comprehension (indeed, saying [b] for written b and [v] for written v doesn’t either). If Spanish-English bilinguals adopted these English allophones here in NYC (they haven’t yet, as far as I can tell), it wouldn’t compromise their status as bilinguals: it would just be yet another accent of Spanish. It’s quite another matter when phonemes are merged away under the influence of another language.

  11. Peter Ryan says

    Yes, all of Scotland. For an analysis of the linguistic implications of majority language dominance of minority languages, may I suggest An Chonair Chaoch: An Mionteangachas sa Dátheangachas (2012). And perhaps the most sophisticated field study ever on the topic Iniúchadh ar an gCumas Dátheangach (Analysis of Bilingual Competence). Some of the introduction in the latter is in English.

  12. David Marjanović says

    Yes, all of Scotland.

    What about the southeastern Lowlands, where Scots seems to have descended from Old English in situ?

  13. Right, I’m pretty sure Lothian (which means “England” after all) was never Gaelic-speaking, though IIRC it has a couple of place names beginning with “Dun-“, which is a bit of a giveaway.

  14. Wikipedia says s.v. Lothian:

    The origin of the name is debated. It perhaps comes from the British *Lugudūniānā (Lleuddiniawn in Modern Welsh spelling) meaning “country of the fort of Lugus”, the latter being a Celtic god of commerce. Alternatively it may take its name from a watercourse which flows through the region, now known as the Lothian Burn, the name of which comes from the British lutna meaning “dark or muddy stream”.

    A popular legend is that the name comes from King Lot, who is king of Lothian in the Arthurian legend. The usual Latin form of the name is Laudonia.

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