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John ( -
Posted on Monday, January 12, 2004 - 05:27 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I am trying to find a Celtic Linguist,

When I first started going to Irish class in the US I was told that there were three dialects of Irish. (Ulster, Connaught, and Munster)

Then as time moved on they started referring to them as Northern, Western, and Southern dialects. Which to me means more than three.

I just saw a book on the web called "The Grammar of Ros Goill Irish." Which comes from somewhere in Donegal if I read that right.

So here is my question, "how many dialects and sub-dialects are there?"

Are they like accents where every Irish county has a few?


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Jonas ( -
Posted on Monday, January 12, 2004 - 05:40 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

A chara

A good question, and fortunately one that is relatively easy to answer. The only problem is that the answer will rather long and I'm in a hurry right now. I'll try to have it posted by this time tomorrow, though.

Slán go fóill,

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John ( -
Posted on Tuesday, January 13, 2004 - 11:14 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Jonas a chara,

I have to leave today for a couple of days...
I will check your answer when I get back. Thanks, it is just one of those things I have been wondering for some time now.


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John ( -
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2004 - 01:31 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Hello, I was the one who was trying to find out how many dialects of Irish there were...can anyone here answer this question?


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Seosamh Mac Muirí ( -
Posted on Saturday, January 17, 2004 - 05:22 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Dia duit a John,

Tharla Jonas a bheith bailithe ón ríomhaire an t-achar seo níor mhiste seanphost dá chuid, ceann a chuimsíonn an t-ábhar go paiteanta, a scaoileadh leat anseo arís. Le 'search' an tsuímh seo a cheapas é. Baineann an cuntas seo thíos le príomhchanúintí Ghaeilge na hÉireann.

As Jonas is away from the computer until now it doesn't do any harm to repost one of his former posts on the matter here again. I obtained it via the search facility on this site. The account below deals with the main dialects of Irish in Ireland.
(Seosamh eile a bhreac an méid thíos / The Seosamh posting below is not myself.)


By Seosamh ( - on Tuesday, August 29, 2000 - 12:41 pm:

See 'Learning Irish in Peru', 19 Aug. in this forum. I wrote some basic info. on the dialects there. Besides starting with a text based on a specific dialect, you can use something that is Standard Irish and adjust your Irish as you go on. I've heard that's the standard approach to learning Welsh. They teach you a standard form of the language and you are expected to then go out and assimilate to some dialect or other. All three of the dialects are 'sonorous' etc. and worth learning. Some people prefer to learn one dialect or even a subdialect as minutely as possible. Others aim to be able to express their thoughts as accurately as possible within the rules of Irish, without too heavy an emphasis on a specific dialect -- although every one gravitates to one or other.

By Jonas ( - on Tuesday, August 29, 2000 - 12:49 pm:

Hi Daniel!

That’s an easy question, you should learn the West Kerry dialect.
1. It is the most beautiful Irish dialect.
2. It is spoken in the most beautiful part of Ireland
3. Its speakers are extremly nice
4. The best irish books are written in this dialect.

Quite easy, don’t you think ;-)

Seriously, it is a very hard question to answer, and no short simple answers exits. Which dialect you should learn dependens solely on your own preferences, but I’ll try to give a briefe introduction.

You may know that there are three main dialects of Irish: Ulster in Co. Donegal; Connacht in Co. Galway and Co. Mayo; Munster in Co. Kerry, Co. Cork and Co. Waterford.
All these three main dialects (with a number of subdialects) are spoken as the first, and sometimes the only, language in communities along the western seabord.

1. Ulster. This dialect is the main language northwestern Ireland, the most important villages include Gaoth Dobhair, Bun Beag, Gort a’ Choirce, and Rinn na Féiste as well as Tory Island.
It is also spoken somewhat further south in places like Gleann Cholm Cille, Teileann and Baile na Finne, but English is the first language is these villages.
The Ulster dialect is quite different from other Irish dialects, some even claim that it is closer to Scottish Gaelic. (Then there are those who claim that Scottish Gaelic is a dialect of Irish...) Admittingly, the dialect shares many features in grammar, vocabulary and pronounciation with Scottish Gaelic, which makes it a bit hard for speakers of other dialects to understand the speakers of this dialect. The differences aren’t, however, be insurmountable, but it takes some practising before a speaker (or learner) of other dialects can converse with the speakers.

2. Connacht. This is the largest dialect, and is the main language along the northern coast of Galway Bay in an area stretching from An Spidéal to Carna. Villages in this entirely Irish-speaking area include Indreabhán, An Cheathrú Rua, Tír an Fhia (where I’ve lived), Ros Muc and Cill Chiaráin; it is also the first language of the Aran Islands. A subdialect is spoken in some villages in Co. Mayo, i.e. Tuar Mhic Eadaigh and Ceathrú Thaidhg, but English has almost replaced the Irish of Mayo.
The Connacht dialect is in many aspects halfway between Ulster and Munster. This is, without doubt, the least archaic dialect: it is strikingly modern and simplified.

3. Munster. This dialect is the first language of the western part of the Dingle Peninsula (the westermost part of Europe), including villages such as Dún Chaoin, Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (where I’ve also lived and learned my Irish), Baile na nGall, Muiríoch and An Feothanach. It is also the first language of Cuil Aodha in the Cork Mountains.
The dialect is also spoken in the easten part of Dingle peninsula, in the Uíbh Ráthach peninsula, on Cléire Island and along the river Lee (Laoi) in villages such as Béal Átha an Gaorthaidh, but English dominates in these areas. A subdialect is spoken in An Rinn in Co. Waterford, and is quite strong.
The Munster is in many ways the most archaic dialect (the oldest living Celtic speech, if you want). Because of this its conjugations are a little bit more complicated than the other, but at the same time it adds a certain charm.

Now, which dialect is easiest to learn?
1. Ulster. The pronounciation may present some problems when learing this dialect, but apart from that it sould be quite easy to learn, and once learned it should be easy to converse with other speakers of the same dialect. (as well as speakers of other dialects with a little effort)

2. Connacht. This dialect has one huge advantage for learners, the best book for beginners is written in it: Learning Irish by Mícheál Ó Siadhail. On the whole, it is quite easy to learn this dialect with it’s simplified grammar BUT unlike the other dialects, you might have problems conversing with its speakers even once you’ve learned it. The reason is that in normal speech most endings are reduced to a simpel schwa-sound (like e in english the, french le). In addtion, many other sounds are frequently dropped. This gives the dialect a sound like where it spoken deep down in the throat. Actually, it IS spoken deep down the throat. Because of this, native speakers of this dialect can be tricky to understand for beginners. When I first came to Connemara I spoke Irish, but I still had trouble the first weeks.

3. Munster. As said, the conjugations make this dialects slightly harder, but they can easily be mastered in a day or two (they are perfectly regular). The advantage with this dialect is that its speakers normally are well-articulated and don’t speak as fast as in some other dialects. This contributes to making the speakers of this dialect the easiest to converse with for a learner.

Then about the beauty. I can, of course, only speak for myself here.
1. Ulster. When asked the question “which dialect is the most beautiful” many native speakers will answer Ulster, regardless of which dialect they speak themselves. Part of the reason is that is sounds somewhat exotic to other Irish speakers, but I guess that most English speakers think that all dialects sound exotic.

2. Connacht. To the mentioned question “which dialect is the most beautiful” hardly any speakers will answer Connacht. The deep-throat sounds combined with reductions do have their charm, but they are not commonly appreciated. Another reason may be that Ulster and Munster speakers reject the simplification of the grammar.

3. Munster. Once again, many Irish speakers, regardless of their own dialect, think this is the most beautiful. The archaic forms and stress-pattern do have a certain appeal, it certainly gives it a more musical sound.

Well, there's some information of the dialects from my personal point of view.

By Máire Ní Ógáin ( on Wednesday, August 30, 2000 - 08:25 am:

I saw this question yesterday and avoided answering it, as I anticipated something of a dialect war. I have to say, though, that what Jonas says above is about the best description I've ever come across of the merits and drawbacks of each. Well done! And this from a committed Ulster speaker!

By Seosamh ( - on Wednesday, August 30, 2000 - 01:16 pm:

Aontaím le Máire. Maith thú, a Jonas!

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