Long-time readers will be aware of my hopeless love for Old Irish, that maddening tongue that squashes verbs into unrecognizable shapes and forces you to remember the rules of lenition and nasalization in order to interpret initial consonants. I haven’t actually done anything with it for decades, but every once in a while I pull down my beat-up and much-annotated copy of Thurneysen and flip reminiscently through the dozen pages of strong and suppletive verbs (té(i)t ‘goes,’ imperative eirg, future ·rega, preterite luid, passive ethe, present perfective do-s·cuat [where the c is nasalized and thus pronounced g], deuterotonic form of the previous ·dichet…) Anyway, it turns out the internet, among its many other treasures, holds an Early Irish Glossaries Database (“A project by Paul Russell, Pádraic Moran, University of Cambridge”):

An important resource for our understanding of the literary and cultural environment of medieval Ireland is a series of three inter-related early Irish glossaries, known as Sanas Cormaic ‘Cormac’s Glossary’, O’Mulconry’s Glossary, and Dúil Dromma Cetta ‘the Collection of Druim Cett’. They each consist of alphabetically listed (first letter only) headwords followed by an entry which can range from a single word explanation, often an explanation of the headword, to a whole narrative running to several pages.
The Early Irish Glossaries Database (EIGD) is a powerful and flexible tool for searching and analysing the headwords in these glossaries. The database currently contains headwords for each manuscript version of these glossaries, and allows you to list headwords, search for occurrences of words, and generate concordance-tables of different versions.

Thanks for the link, Patricia!


  1. and we are all now snapping along with box woods from a young natural

  2. I know nothing about Old Irish, except that it seems to make English orthography the very model of phonemic exactness and logicality. Seriously,whose brilliant idea was it to spell Irish the way they do, and why didn’t they just invent their own characters since the Roman ones obviously aren’t up to the job?

  3. And Rosta (whom I cannot link to, but who is a syncactician [sic] at the University of Central Lancashire, a conlingweenie, and a poet) delivered himself of the following view on the Lojban list back in 1993:
    “Some of the English might say that the Irish orthography is very Irish. Personally, I have a lot of respect for a people who can create something so grotesque.”

  4. On a tangential note, is an increase in spam a perverse sort of badge of honour, indicating rgowing popularity for the blog so targetted?

  5. Actually, spam has been much less of a problem since I started ruthlessly closing entries to comments after a week or so. It’s unusual to hit the latest thread, which is why you noticed the comments I just cleaned out, but it’s not unusual for there to be spam—every day I zap a few. But a couple of years ago I had to clean out hundreds at a time. That was annoying.

  6. Seriously,whose brilliant idea was it to spell Irish the way they do
    I don’t get this thing about Irish spelling being somehow illogical or difficult. Irish is rather phonetic along its own lines, and definitely more regular and consistent than English.

  7. I think part of it is that people assume that the phonology and the morphophonetics can’t be as complex as the orthography seems to indicate.

  8. mollymooly says

    For Irish people who speak English, most exposure to the Irish language is via speakers who are far from fluent. Mapping Irish phonemes to the nearest Hiberno-English equivalents will screw up the spelling correspondences. Thus the spelling seems more arbitrary than it fundamentally is.

  9. Ah, but you’re talking about Modern Irish, which is a walk in the park compared with Old Irish!

  10. Ah, but you’re talking about Modern Irish, which is a walk in the park compared with Old Irish!
    No doubt. And Old Irish is a relative walk in the park – phonologically and otherwise – for those proficient in Modern Irish, which is a very reliable indicator of voicing, lenition etc.
    Presumably the spelling of Old Irish reflects the way the language was pronounced at the time that that spelling was adopted…

  11. For Irish people who speak English, most exposure to the Irish language is via speakers who are far from fluent.
    Yes, you’re right. A couple of years ago we had a girl teaching Irish over here in Finland who actually couldn’t handle the tá/is difference. And she studied the lingo on university level!!

  12. You might be interested to know that there is a new “grammar and reader” by Kim McCone, whose authority in the field has not been questioned in my presence:
    The troublesome verbal system is treated somewhat late in the book, which might seem disconcerting for beginners (I do not presume you are a beginner, but it is out of question, that a “First Reader and Grammar” by McCone is useful not only for such), eager to taste early what will make most stumble and fall later, but using real OI texts is a serious (though demanding) advantage as anyone who tried to use Quin’s Workbook would attest.

  13. Thanks for the recommendation!

  14. david waugh says

    I’m a bit puzzled. If you actually look up words in the Old Irish Glossaries database you are taken straight to entries in the eDIL (electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language), an excellent resource, but one which has already been mentioned on this blog. It doesn’t look as if there’s anything substantially new here at all – or have I missed something?

  15. Huh. On further investigation, you appear to be right. Hey, Paul Russell and Pádraic Moran, what’s the story?

  16. It is a work in progress. I believe they are working on adding the text of the entries, with all their wild etymological speculations (Sanas Cormaic or Cormac’s Glossary is often compared to the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville.) What you *can* do with it now is search for discrete lexical items across the various manuscript versions and pull up entries in all of their glorious orthographic variation. (For example, search for DIL accais ’cause, reason’ (cp. Lat. occasio) and you will find acuis, acais, acauis, etc.) You can search for occurrences of forms in the various manuscripts, generate concordance tables to make comparisons among the different versions, and search headwords for exact spellings or allow for spelling variation.
    If nothing else, the database gives you a sense of what Old and Middle Irish were like “in the wild” so to speak. (Cormac’s Glossary was probably compiled in the 9th century. The others are a bit later.)

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