Irishon the BBC
Chapter 4 of an online drama for learners of the Irish language (intermediate level) - 20 chapters. Written by Pól Ó Muirí. Additional resources in association with the Ultach Trust.
Loisc sí a gual agus ní dhearna sí a goradh She burned her coal but didn’t get the warmth of it.
1. Some words and phrases
The word damhsa, like the word ‘dance’ in English, is borrowed from the French. Interestingly, nowhere in the extensive body of ancient Irish literature is there a record of dancing, although a 12th century account in Irish of Salome dancing before Herod uses the words clesaigecht, lémenda and hopairecht – tumbling and leaping and hopping – to describe her antics. (While absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it is possible that Ireland is the only civilization in the world without a native dance tradition – modern Irish dancing is an import.)
The word seanfhondúirí means the old-timers, particularly the old men. It is a compound word. The first element sean- means ‘old’. Nobody knows for certain what the second element means, but ionadóirí has been suggested, which would make it mean something on the lines of ‘old residenters’.
2. Some verbal idioms
Have a look at the following sentences from the passage, all using the verb cuir:
Caithfidh muid oiliúint a chur ar dhaoine – We must educate people
Ní chuireann muid cosc ar na heachtrannaigh seo – We don’t prevent these foreigners (from coming)
Cuireann muid fáilte roimh na cuairteoirí seo ón Aifric – We welcome these visitors from Africa
Cuireann tú do chuid acmhainní amú – You waste your resources
In the first three cases, the meaning is constructed using a simple verb, a noun and a preposition
Cuir oiliúint ar – Educate
Cuir cosc ar – Prevent, stop, put a stop to
Cuir fáilte roimh – Welcome
In the fourth case, the simple verb is linked to an adverb
Cuir amú - Waste
Chuir mé mo chuid airgid amú – I wasted my money
2. More verbal idioms
Níor éirigh leo – They didn’t succeed.
A phrase based on this idiom appears on a kitsch tea-towel entitled “An Irish Blessing” that is sold to unwary tourists. It starts with the phrases “May the road rise with you, May the wind be always at your back” and finishes with “and may you be in heaven an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.” This twaddle is Paddy-Whackery of the worst order, and goes well with shamrocks, leprechauns and harps. There is indeed a blessing in Irish that goes Go n-éirí an bóthar leat. Note the word leat. What it actually means is “May you have a successful journey”. Not much good for a tea-towel.
Rinne sí a goradh – She warmed herself
Déan do ghoradh is another example of how in Irish, a simple verb and, in this case, a noun convey the sense of an English verb. As it happens, there is a verb in Irish which can be used. Téigh tú féin means ‘warm yourself’ but will not impress people as much. Déan do ghoradh, is time-specific, climate-specific and culture-specific, and comes from a time before central heating was the norm. When someone said Déan do ghoradh it was an invitation to warm yourself in front of the fire, in the only spot in the house that was warm. Never mind the other dictionary meanings – this is the one to look out for. The proverbial saying, Loisc sí a gual agus ní dhearna sí a goradh means she burned her coal and didn’t warm herself. In other words, she used a scarce resource and got no benefit from it.
The verb Déan is often used for emphasis, even when there is a perfectly good verb available. Léigh an leabhar sin and Déan an leabhar sin a léamh both mean ‘Read that book’, but the second version is much more emphatic.
3. Compound prepositions (A)
Simple prepositions consist of one word, ar, ag, faoi. Compound prepositions generally have two, a simple preposition and a noun. The example in the selection is os comhair, as in the phrase Tá fáinleog os mo chomhair – There is a swallow in front of me.
Compound prepositions take the genitive, as many of them do in English. In front (of); in place (of); on behalf (of).
Here are some common compound prepositions in Irish. They are given with an accompanying noun in the genitive:
ar bharr an tí – on the top of the house
ar thaobh an bhealaigh mhóir – by the side of the road
ar feadh seachtaine – for a week (throughout the week)
go ceann seachtaine – for a week (until the end of a week)
ar chúl an dorais – behind the door
i measc na gcnoc – among the hills
i rith na hoíche – during the night / all night
os cionn an dorais – above the door
ar nós na gaoithe – like the wind
Note the following, which have only one word but which also take the genitive:
Trasna na tíre – across the land
Chun an bhaile – homewards (towards home)
3. Compound prepositions (B)
We have already seen that compound prepositions take the genitive in Irish. This becomes a problem when you want to say something like ‘in front of me’ or ‘on top of it’. The problem is because words like mé, tú, é and so on do not have a genitive form. In other words, there is no way of saying ‘of me’, ‘of you’, ‘of it’ in Irish.
There are a small number of compound prepositions in English which have the same problem, and the same solution. Phrases like ‘on behalf of’, ‘in place of’, ‘in care of’ are compound prepositions, but you would not normally say ‘on behalf of me’, or ‘in care of me’. Instead, you would normally use a completely different construction: ‘on my behalf’, ‘in my care’. This construction can be used as an alternative form for other compound prepositions in English, such as: ‘in my favour’, ‘in my place’, ‘on my account’, and old-fashioned formulations such as ‘in his stead’ and ‘in my charge’.
i measc – among
inár measc – among us
os cionn – above
os mo chionn – above me
ar chúl – behind
ar do chúl – behind you
ar bharr – on top of
ar a bharr – on top of it
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