Ulster Irish

The percentage of people in each administrative area in Ulster who have the ability to speak Irish. (Counties of the Republic of Ireland and District council areas of Northern Ireland.)

Ulster Irish is the dialect of the Irish language spoken in the province of Ulster. It "occupies a central position in the Gaelic world made up of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man".[1] Ulster Irish thus has more in common with Scottish Gaelic and Manx than other Irish dialects do. Within Ulster there have historically been two main sub-dialects: West Ulster Irish and East Ulster Irish. The Western dialect is spoken in County Donegal and once was in parts of neighbouring counties, hence the name Donegal Irish. The Eastern dialect was spoken in most of the rest of Ulster and northern parts of counties Louth and Meath.[1]


Irish was the main language spoken in Ulster from the earliest recorded times until the 17th century Plantation of Ulster by English and Scots speakers. Since the Plantation, Ulster Irish was steadily replaced by English and Scots. The Eastern dialect died out in the 20th century, but the Western lives on in the Gaeltacht region of County Donegal. In 1808, County Down natives William Neilson and Patrick Lynch (Pádraig Ó Loingsigh) published a detailed study on Ulster Irish called An Introduction to the Irish Language. Both Neilson and his father were Irish-speaking Presbyterian ministers. When the recommendations of the first Comisiún na Gaeltachta were drawn up in 1926, there were regions qualifying for Gaeltacht recognition in the Sperrin Mountains and the northern Glens of Antrim and Rathlin Island. The report also makes note of small pockets of Irish speakers in northwest County Cavan, southeast County Monaghan, and the far south of County Armagh. However, these small pockets vanished early in the 20th century while Irish in the Sperrins survived until the 1950s and in the Glens of Antrim until the 1970s. The last native speaker of Rathlin Irish died in 1985.

In the 1960s, six families in Belfast formed the Shaw's Road 'Gaeltacht', which has since grown.[2][3] The Irish-speaking area of the Falls Road in West Belfast has recently been designated the 'Gaeltacht Quarter'.[4]


The Ulster dialect contains many words not used in other dialects—of which the main ones are Connacht Irish and Munster Irish—or used otherwise only in northeast Connacht. The standard form of Irish is An Caighdeán Oifigiúil. In other cases, a semantic shift has resulted in quite different meanings attaching to the same word in Ulster Irish and in other dialects. Some of these words include:

Words generally associated with the now dead East Ulster Irish include:[1]

In other cases, a semantic shift has resulted in quite different meanings attaching to the same word in Ulster Irish and in other dialects. Some of these words include:


The phonemic inventory of Ulster Irish (based on the dialect of Gweedore[5]) is as shown in the following chart (see International Phonetic Alphabet for an explanation of the symbols). Symbols appearing in the upper half of each row are velarized (traditionally called "broad" consonants) while those in the bottom half are palatalized ("slender"). The consonants /h, n, l/ are neither broad nor slender.

Labial Coronal Dorsal Glottal
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Alveolo-
Palatal Velar

Tap                   ɾˠ

The vowels of Ulster Irish are as shown on the following chart. These positions are only approximate, as vowels are strongly influenced by the palatalization and velarization of surrounding consonants.

The long vowels have short allophones in unstressed syllables and before /h/.

In addition, Ulster has the diphthongs /ia, ua, au/.

Some characteristics of the phonology of Ulster Irish that distinguish it from the other dialects are:

Differences between the Western and Eastern sub-dialects of Ulster include the following:


Initial mutations

Ulster Irish has the same two initial mutations, lenition and eclipsis, as the other two dialects and the standard language, and mostly uses them the same way. There is, however, one exception: in Ulster, a dative singular noun after the definite article is lenited (e.g. ar an chrann "on the tree") (as is the case in Scottish and Manx), whereas in Connacht and Munster, it is eclipsed (ar an gcrann), except in the case of den, don and insan, where lenition occurs in literary language. Both possibilities are allowed for in the standard language.


Irish verbs are characterized by having a mixture of analytic forms (where information about person is provided by a pronoun) and synthetic forms (where information about number is provided in an ending on the verb) in their conjugation. In Ulster and North Connacht the analytic forms are used in a variety of forms where the standard language has synthetic forms, e.g. molann muid "we praise" (standard molaimid, muid being a back formation from the verbal ending -mid and not found in the Munster dialect, which retains sinn as the first person plural pronoun as do Scottish Gaelic and Manx) or mholfadh siad "they would praise" (standard mholfaidís). The synthetic forms, including those no longer emphasised in the standard language, may be used in short answers to questions.

The 2nd conjugation future stem suffix in Ulster is -óch- (pronounced [ah]) rather than -ó-, e.g. beannóchaidh mé [bʲan̪ˠahə mʲə] "I will bless" (standard beannóidh mé [bʲanoːj mʲeː]).

Some irregular verbs have different forms in Ulster from those in the standard language. For example:


In Ulster the negative particle cha (before a vowel chan, in past tenses char - Scottish Gaelic/Manx chan, cha do) is sometimes used where other dialects use and níor. The form is more common in the north of the Donegal Gaeltacht. Cha cannot be followed by the future tense: where it has a future meaning, it is followed by the habitual present. It triggers a "mixed mutation": /t/ and /d/ are eclipsed, while other consonants are lenited. In some dialects however (Gweedore), cha eclipses all consonants, except b- in the forms of the verb "to be", and sometimes f- :

Ulster Standard English
Cha dtuigim Ní thuigim "I don't understand"
Chan fhuil sé/Cha bhfuil sé Níl sé (contracted from ní fhuil sé) "He isn't"
Cha bhíonn sé Ní bheidh sé "He will not be"
Cha phógann muid/Cha bpógann muid Ní phógaimid "We do not kiss"
Chan ólfadh siad é Ní ólfaidís é "They wouldn't drink it"
Char thuig mé thú Níor thuig mé thú "I didn't understand you"

In the Past Tense, some irregular verbs are lenited/eclipsed in the Interrogative/Negative that differ from the standard, due to the various particles that may be preferred :-

Interrogative Negative English
An raibh tú? Cha raibh mé "I was not"
An dtearn tú? Cha dtearn mé "I did not do, make"
An dteachaigh tú? Cha dtearn mé "I did not do"
An dtáinig tú? Cha dtáinig mé "I did not come"
An dtug tú? Cha dtug mé "I did not give"
Ar chuala tú? Char chuala mé "I did not hear"
Ar dhúirt tú? Char dhúirt mé "I did not say"
An bhfuair tú? Chan fhuair mé "I did not get"
Ar rug tú? Char rug mé "I did not catch, bear"
Ar ith tú? Char ith mé "I did not eat"
Ar chígh tú/An bhfaca tú? Chan fhaca mé "I did not see"


The Ulster dialect uses the present tense of the subjunctive mood in certain cases where other dialects prefer to use the future indicative:

Suigh síos anseo aige mo thaobh, a Shéimí, go dtugaidh (dtabhairidh, dtabhraidh) mé comhairle duit agus go n-insidh mé mo scéal duit.
Sit down here by my side, Séimí, till I give you some advice and tell you my story.

The verbal noun can be used in subordinate clauses with a subject different from that of the main clause:

Ba mhaith liom thú a ghabháil ann.
I would like you to go there.


Some notable Irish singers who sing songs in the Ulster Irish dialect include Lillis Ó Laoire, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Ó Duibhín, Ciarán. The Irish Language in County Down. Down: History & Society. Geography Publications, 1997. pp.15-16
  2. Nig Uidhir, Gabrielle (2006) “The Shaw’s Road urban Gaeltacht: role and impact.” In: Fionntán de Brún (ed.), Belfast and the Irish Language. Dublin: Four Courts Press, pp. 136-146.
  3. Mac Póilin, Aodán (2007) "Nua-Ghaeltacht Phobal Feirste: Ceachtanna le foghlaim?" In: Wilson McLeod (Ed.) Gàidhealtachdan Ùra; Leasachadh na Gàidhlig agus na Gaeilge sa Bhaile Mhòr. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, pp. 57-59.
  4. "All roads lead to the Gaeltacht Quarter". Belfast City Council. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  5. Ní Chasaide, Ailbhe (1999). "Irish". Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge University Press. pp. 111–16. ISBN 0-521-63751-1.
  6. PlaceNames NI: Townland of Moyad Upper

Basic Irish Conversation and Grammar by A.J. Hughes (Ben Madigan Press) Book & 2 CDs in the Ulster dialect

Irish day by day A.J. Hughes book & 2 CDs in Ulster dislect

Published literature

- Slán Leat, a Mhaicín. Úrscéal do Dhaoine Óga. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1998 (úrscéal) Na Rosa

- Gura Slán le m’Óige. Oifig an tSoláthair, Baile Átha Cliath 1974 (úrscéal) Na Rosa

- Pádraic Ó Conaire agus Aistí Eile. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1986 (aistí) Na Rosa

- Dá mBíodh Ruball ar an Éan. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1992 (úrscéal gan chríochnú) Na Rosa

- Mo Bhealach Féin. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1997 (dírbheathaisnéis) Na Rosa

- An Dara Mám. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 1991 (gearrscéalta) Lár Thír Chonaill

- An Tríú Mám. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 1992 (aistí) Lár Thír Chonaill

- Cnuasach Céad Conlach. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 1989 (béaloideas) Lár Thír Chonaill

- Óglach na Rosann. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 1994 (beathaisnéis) Na Rosa

- Cuimhní ar Dhochartaigh Ghleann Fhinne. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 1994 (aistí beathaisnéise) Na Rosa

- Nally as Maigh Eo. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 1998 (beathaisnéis) Na Rosa

- Gaeltacht Thír Chonaill - Ó Ghleann go Fánaid. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 2000 (seanchas áitiúil) Na Rosa

- Srathóg Feamnaí agus Scéalta Eile. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 2001 (gearrscéalta) Na Rosa

- Ceann Tìre/Earraghàidheal. Ár gComharsanaigh Ghaelacha. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 2003 (leabhar taistil)

- Amhráin Hiúdaí Fheidhlimí agus Laoithe Fiannaíochta as Rann na Feirste. Pádraig Ó Baoighill a chuir in eagar, Mánus Ó Baoill a chóirigh an ceol. Preas Uladh, Muineachán 2001

- Gasúr Beag Bhaile na gCreach. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 2004

- (Eag.) Faoi Scáth na Mucaise. Béaloideas Ghaeltachtaí Imeallacha Thír Chonaill. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 2005

- …Imleabhar 2. Cumann Staire agus Seanchais Ghaoth Dobhair i gcomhar le Comharchumann Forbartha Gh. D. Gaoth Dobhair 1996 (béaloideas) Gaoth Dobhair

- Seanchas na Féinne. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1998 (miotaseolaíocht) Na Rosa

- Castar na Daoine ar a Chéile. Scríbhinní Mháire 1. Eagarthóir: Nollaig Mac Congáil. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 2002 (úrscéal, altanna) Na Rosa

- Cith is Dealán. Cló Mercier, Baile Átha Cliath agus Corcaigh 1994 (gearrscéalta) Na Rosa

- Cora Cinniúna 1-2. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1993 (gearrscéalta) Na Rosa

- Cúl le Muir agus scéalta eile. Oifig an tSoláthair, Baile Átha Cliath 1961 (gearrscéalta) Na Rosa

- Na Blianta Corracha. Scríbhinní Mháire 2. Eagarthóir: Nollaig Mac Congáil. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 2003 (altanna) Na Rosa

- Nuair a Bhí Mé Óg. Cló Mercier, Baile Átha Cliath agus Corcaigh 1986 (dírbheathaisnéis) Na Rosa

- An Sean-Teach. Oifig an tSoláthair, Baile Átha Cliath 1968 (úrscéal) Na Rosa

- Tairngreacht Mhiseoige. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1995 (úrscéal) Na Rosa

- Laochas - Scéalta as an tSeanlitríocht. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1945/1984/1996 (miotaseolaíocht) Na Rosa

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