Irish Lessons for the Gaeilge-Impaired.

Research for a novel can lead to unexpected places. For me, learning Irish was one of them.


pimsleurWhen I started writing Irish Firebrands,  I knew that the Irish spoke a version of Commonwealth English, which I was comfortable reading and writing (my mother’s personal library having included very many books written in that dialect). I began by reading Irish newspapers online, to pick up the flavor of Hiberno-English usage.

spoken world irishThen, my back-story and character background research in the newspapers began running into oddly spelled names, and other words that resembled no language I’d ever encountered that used Roman letters. These words were as unintelligible to me as Cyrillic characters or Asian pictographs. Welcome to Irish!

dictionary & phrasebookI started out studying this new language by consulting early 20th-century Irish reference books at Project Gutenberg and other public domain sites, to gain a linguistic-historical perspective. Acting on an item found in one of the Irish newspapers, I located a small set of short Irish vocabulary lessons online that were free to download. At the public library, I found an old set of Irish language lessons on cassettes, in the Ulster dialect. Next, I invested in a small dictionary-phrasebook that approximated the Connacht and Munster dialects. I ended up acquiring several sets of Irish language lessons.

speaking irishAt the same time, while wading through enough Irish history to learn about the Gaelic League, I became aware that a segment of subplot in my novel would have to deal with some of the dragon’s teeth that the Gaelic Revival had sown.

speak irishThe outcome of all this was the incorporation of well over 150 Irish-language names, proper nouns, other words and phrases (including a song), into Irish Firebrands. About twelve dozen of these have been extracted and appear on the Learn Irish page on the main menu of this blog.

complete irishNative Irish speakers and those who Google Translate the words may come up with different interpretations than I did. (Google Translate is a wiki, so there are a lot of opinions expressed therein.)

irish grammarAlso, not all of the vocabulary in the novel follows the most recent standardized spelling, but all of the words are intelligible as Gaeilge by the online Irish text-to-voice synthesizer at For those who’d like to pick up a cupla focal as Gaeilge, I’ve included a link to the synthesizer: just copy and paste the words to their text box and push the button. The page will reload, and then it will speak. You can also save the speech on your computer. The speech can be slowed to help detect syllables. The link to the synthesizer can be set to speak in the Connemara (Connacht) dialect, which is almost like hearing the voice of the Irish Firebrands main character Dillon Carroll.

Irish text-to-speech synthesizer

Irish text-to-speech synthesizer

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