First, a word of encouragement. Let's face it - the only thing humans are really good at is talking. We're not
faster than the cheetah, stronger than the elephant, or smarter than dolphins (who long ago decided to
bio-engineer technological wonders like sonar). We used to try to claim that we're the only tool-users, but
chimpanzees make straws to sip up ants, and seagulls open clams by dropping them onto highways which
they somehow trick us into building for them. We used to claim that we're the only ones who can put our
thumb and forefinger together, but how many lobsters really actually have a problem with that? So, the only
thing we're really good at, and what we naturally, instinctively, inexorably can't stop ourselves from doing, is
talking and learning more about how to talk. Yak, yak, yak, every day you learn new names, new words, new
people, new things, new pronunciations, new accents, new dialects - no matter how old you are, you're great
at it, and there's nothing you can do to stop yourself. Millions of years of human development have seen to
that. So, if you practice what is provided below, you will not fail to learn it.
The Irish Phonetic System Is Different
The Irish phonetic system is quite a bit different from the phonetic systems of other languages. Therefore, for
most students who set out to learn Irish, "How do you pronounce that?" is the biggest and most frequent
question. Once fully answered, students discover that Irish grammar is extremely well-ordered (unlike
English), almost like a computer program, having been nearly perfected by our poets when they basically took
on the task of creating Early Modern Irish in the 12th century. In fact, a computerized Irish language
dictionary developed with the help of our friend Barra Ó Donnabháin (beannacht Dé ar a anam) in the
mid-1990s in the U.S. was able to save extensive amounts of memory because it incorporated the
extrapolation of Irish grammatical rules.
But back to pronunciation. At Scoil Ghaeilge Ghearóid Tóibín / The Gerry Tobin Irish Language School in
Babylon, Long Island, New York, we fully and easily answer the pronunciation question by offering a phonetics
class which allows our beginning students to become masters of about 90-95% of all Irish phonetic rules
before they move on to learn conversation and grammar. We offer this class in our fall and spring semesters
and have had great success using the phonetic system laid out below. By the time our students finish this
class, they've memorized the system, can write phonetically whatever they hear, and can pronounce anything
they read. So learn this system, memorize it, and then move forward to learn Irish with pronunciation already
A Note About Dialect
Just as in English pronunciation, you'll run into variations in Irish pronunciation. Imagine for a moment all the
different ways an American can say a simple word like 'Boston' - Bahstin, Bawstin, Bohstin, etc. Irish is a
living language, so there are variations and exceptions. And every human naturally pronounces every word
and sound slightly differently than every other human, unless they're making a living as an Elvis impersonator.
So don't worry if you don't sound exactly like anyone else. You're not supposed to. Also, if you've
memorized this system and somebody says to you "Your pronunciation is wrong, it should be said this way...,"
don't worry about it. Most likely they just haven't heard another dialect's way of pronouncing it, and we teach
just about all the dialects here. Also, you'll have the opportunity to make some choices in pronunciation. This
is like the Cole Porter tune "You say tomAto, I say tomAHto, you say potAto, I say potAHto..." In other words,
eventually you're going to be able to make some choices to develop your own personal dialect, just like when
you're talkin' American. So lighten up! Relax! If you basically use this guide, Irish speakers will understand
what you say in Irish, and you'll understand what they say in Irish.
On the left side of this page you'll see links to vowels, 'vowel surprises' (diphthongs), other vowel
combinations, consonants, and more. Start with vowels, and then proceed through the rest one by one.
You Already Know More Irish & Its Pronunciation Than You Realize
Lastly, in our Practice section, you'll see over 100 Irish words which came into English 1) directly from Irish, or
2) from Norman French which got them from ancient Gaullish, a Celtic language closely related to Irish. So
you already know more Irish and Irish pronunciation than you think.
Críoch / End
Well, that's it. You now know about 90-95% of all Irish pronunciation rules. There are only a handful of dialect
variations left. As you go forward to learn Irish, keep your ears and eyes open and you'll pick them up. Pay
special attention to native speakers of Irish. In the meantime, however, this system gives you more than a
good start. In fact, you are now an expert in Irish pronunciation. So get out of here and learn more Irish!
Mo bhuíochas le Séamas Ó Neachtain, Réamonn Ó Cléirigh, Stan Ó Faoláin, Pádraig Ó Clúmháin, Rita
Bowden, Cathal Mertens, Séamus Ó Maoláin, Barra Ó Donnabháin, Brian Ó Mealláin, Ken Nilsen, Gail Ní
Dheághaidh, Conor Ó Ceallaigh, Máire Ní Cheallaigh, William A. Kelly, agus Rosalie Marie Kelly dona
gcabhair thar na blianta chun an clár seo a chur le chéile. Buíochas áirithe do Shéamas Ó Neachtain dá
tháblaí thuas. Ar ndóigh, is liomsa aon bhotúin atá ann. - Gearóid Ó Ceallaigh