Monday, 23 August 2021

How to learn Kilkenny/Ossory Irish?

Want to learn how to speak Kilkenny Irish? Great choice. How is it done though?

This is a good question and possibly something I could have thought about and posted earlier on.

Kilkenny Irish is unfortunately extinct with no living speakers in decades but I do think it can be learned to a high degree of authenticity. There are few resources to learn and unfortunately, possibly the most important document, a thesis written by Risteard (R. A.) Breatnach on the dialect, is locked up unpublished in UCD where it is not available for me to read.

You could use this thesis and other materials to learn Kilkenny Irish from scratch although I think it would probably be extremely difficult.

A better way would be to first learn a living Irish dialect to a middling level and adapt your Irish until it conforms with the materials currently available. This is no doubt the easiest way and using the Irish of Waterford (and Tipperary, another dead dialect) to supplement your learning would be very helpful as the dialects are quite similar.

A number of excellent materials exist for learning Waterford Irish. Phonology, grammar and idiom from this region are all very well documented with a sizeable corpus written in the dialect so this is definitely a great help.  

That’s basically it. How am I learning Kilkenny Irish? With difficulty!

Currently what I am doing is constantly listening to the audio from Pádraig de Paor trying to memorise it and figure out the general sound of the dialect. This presents a few difficulties. The audio is not clear and can be difficult to make out. De Paor is telling a story and so presumably using a storytelling register different from casual speech and de Paor likely also hadn’t been used to speaking the language in several decades and there is a good bit of interference of English in his Irish.

This is manageable though and any details missing from records of the dialect are possible to reconstruct through other means. The original intonation, for example, may be worked out from neighbouring regions or from the speech of people whose English retains many features of Irish.

I have also tried listening to recordings from Waterford and Tipperary on and repeating the phrases but changing any minor bits of pronunciation to match how I think it was in Kilkenny. This helps to add some fluency and energy and is also generally just good practice.

I hope that’s helped anybody interested in learning this dialect and if you’re thinking about doing it I’d absolutely urge you to give it a go. It is packed with interesting features and is a dialect historically spoken in Leinster. It has an interesting spot in the dialect continuum sharing qualities with Irish from all provinces and for anybody from the historical area of Ossory, it is of course the dialect of our recent ancestors whose language died too soon.

Until myself and others are able to make our own materials, learning Kilkenny Irish will be a struggle compared to any living Gaelic dialect but it is definitely worth it.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Materials in Kilkenny Irish

Update: I received an email back from St. Kieran's College unfortunately confirming that they do not have any recording from Margaret Cody meaning it doesn't survive.

Here are all the materials I am aware of in the Kilkenny dialect or in native Irish from the county. 

The further back in time we go, the amount of written material grows quite a bit however most of this is written in non-dialectal Classical Gaelic. I will try to take this into account and choose sources from around 1750~ onwards focusing on material that gives in insight into the actual local dialect.

Cín Lae Amhlaoibh Uí Shúilleabháin, 1827 - 1835

A diary kept by Amhlaoibh Ó Shúilleabháin. Ó Súilleabháin was born in Cill Airne/Killarney in Co.  Kerry but relocated to Callainn/Callan Co. Kilkenny aged nine with his family. His diary was apparently  not written in the Classical Gaelic of the time but rather in a colloquial style. I do not have this but Tomás de Bhaldraithe published a version in 1970.

Duanaire Osraíoch

A collection of poetry and songs written from the region, the majority of which comes from pre Famine Kilkenny. I would assume that a lot of what's written here is again in Classical Gaelic since it is verse but that's to be seen.

Labhrann Laighnigh

This book has plenty of material from Kilkenny as well as other counties in Leinster. The longer material is generally older however there is still quite a bit

Recording and stories from Pádraig de Paor, 1936

A 12 minute recording featuring 10 stories in Irish and 1 story in English and written material mostly in  English here. The audio in the recording is quite difficult to make out at times and the written material appears to be standardised somewhat. I have access to this recording.

Recording from Margaret Cody, 1933

A recording made by Canon William Carrigan in 1933 of Margaret Cody. I don't have access to this recording but I'm awaiting response from St. Kieran's College in Kilkenny on whether they have the recording in their archives or where I might be able to find it. If it still exists, which is doubtful, it would be useful to compare with the audio from de Paor for to figure out more details about phonology, particularly intonation which is difficult to gage from the storytelling register de Paor uses in the audio from him.

That is basically all the information available written in the native dialect from Kilkenny. There are, of course, further records of linguistic information published in journals and books but that is different. I plan on putting up a list of all the resources there are for learning this dialect.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Great video from An Loingseach

This video was put out a while ago and I never thought to share it but here it is. A great video from An Loingseach about two texts from County Laois written in Ossory Irish.

I enjoyed it very much and hope I could possibly get into contact with An Loingseach one day to talk about Ossory Irish.

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Little scéilín

Here is a small story from the recording made of Pádraig de Paor that I've talked about before. I might make a future post talking about this story in more detail. I haven't changed any of the wording or spelling from Labhrann Laighnigh where the story, along with other texts, is written out in full. It shows a number of interesting little features of the local dialect like 'chún' or 'i ndia' ' and the use of synthetic verbs such as 'bhís' and 'bhíos'

Bhí fear ón áit seo fadó, agus bhí sé ag obair in sna tite ag baint phrátaí, agus bhí toice aige, agus bhíodh sé a rá anois is aríst léi: 'B'fhearr liom go mbeitheá thoir!'

'Bhuel, nuair a bhís thoir chonaic tú cad a bhí agat - tú féin is do dhá ghabhairín!'

Bhuel, chua' sí siar, agus chua' sí chun an tí. Agus bhí sé ar lár an urláir istigh, é féin is a dhá ghabhar, ag ithe prátaí as an gcorcán. Tháini' sí abhaile, agus tháini' sé sin i ndia' seachtaine eile chún a ghnó a dhéanadh. Agus dúirt sé: 'B'fhearr liom go mbeitheá thoir!'

'Bhuel, nuair a bhíos thoir,' ar sise, 'cad a bhí agat? Tú héin is do dhá ghabhairín ag ithe prátaí as an chorcán!'

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Known Irish speakers from Kilkenny in the 20th century

Update 8/1/2022: Margaret Cody recording

The Irish language survived in the mouths of some people in Co. Kilkenny until the 20th century. Who exactly the last speaker was and when he/she died is not something I'm able to answer. Different people may argue over who does and doesn't count as 'the last speaker' and personally I'm not interested in getting into that. I think personally that debating over who counts as a speaker of a language in an environment where it is dying is not particularly productive and takes away from discussing other interesting things.

This post lists all the known speakers of Ossory Irish or native Irish speakers from Kilkenny that I have any information about. I will be updating this post with more information in time. The speakers are listed alphabetically by their first name.

I will give as much information as I am able. Since this is a lot of work I'd just ask that if this information is used elsewhere that you credit me for it.

I have tried to be organised with my place names and list the area somebody is from as well as the townland and any additional information provided by sources. I will give whichever original Gaelic name and anglicisation that are on as well as any other alternatives that I see in my sources.

Native speakers of Irish in County Kilkenny survived without a doubt into the 20th century. Although they numbered very few. In 'Travels in Ireland in the Year 1822', Thomas Reid writes of a fair day in Kilkenny city that "conversation appears to be carried on principally in the Irish language" and that Irish was "invariably used whenever they have to express emotion or passion"

The census 1851 shows a large, rural Irish speaking population centred in the southern half of the county. It is clear also that up until roughly the Famine, this population confined itself mostly to Irish using English rarely between themselves. There were 21,000 Irish speakers counted in this census making up 15% of the total population with 104 individuals given as being monolingual. Although this is high (higher than the number of native Irish speakers in any county today apart from Galway), this figure is generally accepted to be an underestimate. In 1891, the number had dropped to 4,000 making up 5% of the population with none of them being monolingual.

As this crowd of last remaining speakers was entirely elderly, the language soon plummeted to its death in the county. From the information roughly outlined above and in other sources (which there will soon be a post about), I would say that while English has been creeping in for centuries, the Irish began its final decline in the 19th century. In its strongholds, Irish likely started its final decline around the 1820s or earlier until the very final native speakers were born around the 1850s with it continuing to be a community language until around the 1870s. Varying reports suggest that older people speaking Irish amongst themselves were last to be heard in the 1900s-1920s. This is just my estimate based on the material presented but I am not qualified to make judgements like this nor have I done enough research on language death to say things like this confidently.

Here are the speakers:

Margaret Cody, Mrs Cody (née Breathnach)
Area: Mulach na Cilla/Mullinakill. Townland: Cúil na hÁithe/Coolnahau (Coolnahaw).

She was 78 years of age in 1933 when an audio recording was made of her by Canon William Carrigan so she was presumably born sometime around 1855. The following is written in Séamus Moylan's 'The Language of Kilkenny' p. 387. The quotes are from Eoin O'Kelly's 1969 book 'A History of County Kilkenny'.

"Along these hills also died the last remnants of native spoken Irish," writes O'Kelly (1968:108) about Tullaher, and again (Ibid. 165, under Coolnahau): "Irish survived as a spoken language among some of the older generation in this hill area until this century and Canon Carrigan interviewed old native speakers ... in Coolroebeg, Mullinakill, Listerlin, Brownstown, Weatherstown, Kilbraghan and Ballyverneen as late as 1920. A dictaphone recording of the Ossory dialect was taken in 1933 from the late Mrs. Cody (nee [sic] Breathnach) of this townland.... She was then 78 years of age and Irish was the language of her home in Mullinakill until she was 20 years old. She had a limited knowledge but retained the 's' sound of this dialect...." A short prayer-stanza taken from this informant is reproduced by Ó Ceallaigh (1964:7) in illustration of the distinctive palatal r sound in local Irish (cf. Ch. II, parr. 2.30-2.32).

Searching in the 1911 census, I was able to find one Margaret Cody aged 56 living in Coolnahaw (Coolnahau nowadays) which matches perfectly with the information above. I have no doubt this is Mrs Cody since I find it very unlikely that another woman the same age with the same surname was also living in Coolnahaw/Coolnahau and just happened to be dodged by the census, especially since there were only 37 people living there between 10 households. Nothing is written in the column designated 'Irish Language'. No information was collected from this area in 1901.

I have contacted St. Kieran's College in Co. Kilkenny to see if they still have this recording made by Canon Carrigan and for to see if I would be able to I would be able to hear it if it is still usable. The college, as far as I know, has all of Carrigan's notes stored from his research in Ossory so if the recording does still exist it's likely to be with them.

Update 8/1/2022: I meant to update this several months ago, apologies! Unfortunately, it would seem the recording does not still exist as per this email:

Thank you for your email. You are correct the College has a good number of the notebooks upon which Canon Carrigan relied in writing his history of the Diocese of Ossory. These however are not indexed, but they are available to view from the College archive. 

Sadly however we don’t have any audio recordings relating to Canon Carrigan’s work and I am unable to direct you to such audio recordings as presumably if they are not stored with these notebooks, they were not retained. 

Matthew Byrne, Matty Byrne, Matthew Ó Broin, Maitiú Ó Broin. 
Townland: Tulach Bhrain/Tullowbrin (Tulach Uí Bhroin/ Tullowbran/Tullabrin)

An extract is also listed in 'Labhrann Laighnigh' under 'Baile an Phoill agus Tobar Eoin Bhaiste' (Ballyfoyle and Johnswell), two areas which are quite close to Tulach Bhrain/Tullowbrin. 

Died in 1942 aged 84 according to 'The Language of Kilkenny', presumably born sometime around 1858. I was able to find Matthew Byrne living as a farmer in 'Tullowbrin' in 1911 aged 55 with his son Gregory (22) and sister Mary (38). Matthew is given as speaking both Irish and English.

Micheál Builthéar, Micheál de Buitléir
Towland: Tobar Eoin/Johnswell (Tobar Eoin Bhaiste/Tiobar Eoin Basite).

Material that Séamus Ó Casaide collected from Micheál around the year 1910 is available in 'Labhrann Laighnigh'.

Pilib Cuisín
Townland: Gráig na Manach/Graiguenamanagh.

Pilib is mentioned as the source for some material in 'Labhrann Laighnigh' based on collections by Conchúr Ó Muimhneacháin and Eoghan Ó Ceallaigh.

Pádraig de Paor (see my blog post here for additional names)
Area: Baile Shéamac/Baile Shéamais/Jamestown. Townland: Gleann Mór/Glenmore.

Born in 1852 according to dú with his age as 85 with the stories written down in 1936. It is unclear when he died but he was alive in 1936 for a recording made by Séamus Ó Duilearga for the Irish Folklore Commission and lived to at least be 92 years of age as that is the age he is given in LASID Vol. I. De Paor is recorded in the 1911 census as 55 years of age which doesn't match the 1852 as a year of birth. Himself, his wife Margaret (56) and son Walter (23) are all given as being able to speak both Irish and English however his daughter Bridget (18) has nothing written in the column designated 'Irish Language'. 

De Paor was a farmer all his life and by the time he was visited by Ó Duilearga and Breatnach (for his thesis) he had retired and was living with his son and daughter-in-law. Breatnach writing in 'Iarsmaí de Ghaeilig Chontae Chill Choinnigh' in Éigse, gives the son's name as 'Uaitéar' whereas the census gives it as 'Walter'.

Breatnach in 'Iarsmaí de...' had this to say about Pádraig's language ability.

"Béarla a labhras leis an bPaorach i dtosach, ach ba ghairid an mhoill gur thuigeas ná raibh aon leisce air chun dul ar an nGaeilig liom. Agus is aige a bhí sí go lán-nádúrtha. Ní nach iontach, d'uireasa taithí agus de dhruim díchuimhne, ní raibh a chuid Gaeilge saor ar fad ó mhiontuaiplisí deilbhíochta agus comhréire. Ach le hais leis an gcumas a bhí ar an dteangain aige agus a éascaíocht a tháinig sí leis, ní miste neamhshuim a dhéanamh dá leithéidí (rud a dhineas féin agus na téacsaí laistíos á gcóiriú agam). Bhí breis is leathbhliain roimhe sin caite agam ag fiosrú agus ag cur tuairisce seanchainteoirí dúchais Gaeilge ar fuaid an chontae, ach dob é an duine seo an t-éinne amháin dár bhuail liom go raibh an teanga aige go lánéifeachtach ina meán conbharsáide. Níor bhraitheas aon easnamh ná lagar cumais sa tslí sin air ach amháin nuair a thugadh sé faoi ghiota filíochta a aithris gur róbhaol do mearathal agus díchuimhne á bhaint dá threoir. Ach is féidir an méid sin a chur i leith na haoise. Má b'é an cainteoir donn deireanach é a thug Gaeilig Cho. Chill Choinnigh leis ó dhúchas — agus is dóichí gurbh é — níor mhídhiongbhálta an tOisín tar éis na bhFian é Pádraig Paor. Solas na bhFlaitheas is radharc na Tríonóide go raibh aige i gCathair na Glóire (mar a déarfadh sé féin)."

Séamus Moylan in 'The Language of Kilkenny' p. 387 wrote that de Paor was "evidently from the same place as Ó Broin [Matthew Byrne]" but he was not.

Risteard Ó Súilleabháin
Townland: Baile Hugúin/Hugginstown.

Mentioned in 'Labhrann Laighnigh' as a farmer Baile Hugúin who provided material that Fionán Mac Coluim collected for the Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann/National Folklore Commission. This same material is reproduced in the book.

Séamus Breathnach/James Walsh. 
Area: Sliabh Rua/Slieveroe. Townland: Cill Mhuire/Kilmurry.

Alive in the Summer of 1938 where Risteard Breatnach took down a corrupted song from him available in Éigse Vol. 1, part IV p. 276, presumably for his thesis (the Kilkenny thesis which I still am not able to access). Possibly the same person as W.

Tomás 'ac Óda.
Area: Coill Fhearna/Kilfarney. Townland: Baile an Phoill/Ballyfoyle.

Material that Séamus Ó Casaide collected from Tomás around the year 1910 is available in 'Labhrann Laighnigh'.

Townland: Possibly Tullowbrin.

W is mentioned in Heinrich Wagner's LASID Vol. II under the information for Kilkenny which originally comes from R. Breatnach's thesis. W is not listed as an informant in LASID Vol. I but Matthew Byrne and Pádraig de Paor are. W is also said to be from the same place as Byrne and where there are differences in grammar or pronunciation, W and Byrne usually have the same where de Paor has something different. I would assume that W is the same person as Séamus Breathnach/James Walsh since W=Walsh and also because Breatnach visited him as a. James Walsh is listed in two sources (Language of Kilkenny p. 387, Éigse Vol. 1, part IV p. 273) as being from Sliabh Rua which contradicts Wagner's statement in LASID.

I don't doubt that there were other speakers that I have missed, I'd be quite sure of it. I know for a fact that some of the people who Seosamh Laoide, an tAthair Micheál Mac Craith, Risteárd Ó Séaghda and others met and gathered information from were unfortunately not mentioned in the works they wrote in newspapers or journals. And with that, it is also likely that plenty of known Irish speakers were mentioned in obituaries from the time but I have no way of checking.

That was significantly longer than I expected but I hope you've enjoyed or got some use out of this. I know I haven't put up anything recently but I plan on writing a few things soon.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

De Paor Audio

I have received the audio from UCD of Pádraig de Paor recorded by Séamus Ó Duilearga in January, 1936. The audio is 12 minutes in total. The quality isn't great but it is probably typical of recordings from the time.

I will soon be posting my attempts at linguistic notes of the audio but sharing the actual sound will not be possible until I know more about the correct protocol for reproduction of the National Folklore Collection's material.

For those interested, Sound Archive material is referenced as follows:

National Folklore Collection (henceforth NFC), sound archive reference, item number, informant, age, occupation, address. Collector, date.


NFC TM163/A/2; John Reilly (80), farmer, Ballydesmond, County Cork. Collector: Tom Munnelly, 16th June 1972.

So, the Pádraig (Paddy) de Paor recording is referenced as follows:

NFC CT0241_M0676a-M0676d; Paddy de Paor, Gleann Mór, Cill Chainnigh. Collector: Séamus Ó Duilearga, January 1936. 

The age is missing.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

How Fortis Consonants Affect Vowels

In this quick post I'll go over how each vowel combines with a fortis consonant to give a unique result. I'm not knowledgeable about this so I'd urge anybody to correct me if I'm wrong. 

In some parts of Ireland, there is a phonemic difference between fortis consonants (from Latin meaning 'strong') and lenis consonants (from Latin meaning 'soft'). This has historically applied to l, n and r although no such distinction is found in Munster these days and the distinction for r has fairly much died out as a meaningful distinction for most Irish speakers in Connacht and Ulster. 

This distinction presents itself in writing with fortis having double consonants and lenis having a single letter. The difference in speech is that fortis l and n have a dental quality being produced with the tongue on the teeth and r being strongly trilled whereas lenis l and n are alveolar with the tongue touching the ridge behind the teeth and r being softer. In Celticist transcription, the fortis consonants will take an upper-case letter and lenis have a lower-case one. For those that preserve it, the difference in sound can be found in the following examples

  • ballach v. bealach
  • gall v. geal
  • gleann v. glan
  • ceann v. cochan
  • thar v. carr
  • fear v. farraige
As I said, this distinction is not found in Munster dialects, a loose grouping which I would count Ossory Irish as being in. I reckon that the distinction had been lost in Kilkenny around 1750-1800 or possibly earlier. Going through manuscripts would reveal certain spellings which may tell when this happened. As a result of the loss of this distinction, a sound shift occurred so as to prevent words completely merging. So today for Munster dialects, a short vowel changes or breaks in stressed syllables when next to a fortis consonant.

As far as I understand, a historical fortis r does not cause any vowel change so I won't cover that. The historical fortis m, which is not currently represented in speech or writing, causes this change in vowel too. This change only applies to short vowels in stressed syllables. If there was already a diphthong or a long vowel, it does not change as far I am aware. I'll compare the spelling convention with the pronunciation.

<a> - Followed by a broad fortis consonant such as in the words anall, amceann, steall, et al. the vowel is /əu/. Breatnach phonemically had /əu/ but Wagner had both [əu] and [ɑu], showing that these were allophonic. Wagner's transcriptions were /əˈnɑul/, /ɑum/, /k´əun/ and /sd´ɑul/. An exception to this is ann which is pronounced /u:n/ as though it were spelled ún.

<ai> - As I wrote before, <ai> is pronounced /i:/ which is mostly before fortis consonants. Examples are caint (historically spelled cainnt in Irish), crainn and saill. These are /ki:n´t´/, /kri:ŋ´/ and /si:l´/. Wagner also sometimes has /ɑi/ here.

<o> - This is often pronounced /u:/. This is also to be heard in West Munster and 'Thomond' (present day Clare and Limerick). Examples are the words fionn, cionn, anonn and lionn which are /f´u:n/, /k´u:n/, /əˈnu:n/ and /l´u:n/.

<oi> - This becomes the diphthong /əi/. For example, coill and soillse which are /kəil´/ /səil´s´ə/. Wagner had both [əi] and [ɑi] which again are allophonic.

<i> - This short vowel becomes long /i:/. For example, tinn and linn which are /t´i:ŋ´/ and /l´i:ŋ´/.

Thanks for reading