Learning the Irish Language


The purpose of this tutorial is to teach an individual the Irish language. This tutorial will be part one of a much larger tutorial. In this tutorial, we will go through a brief history of the Irish. After which we will discuss the phonetic of the language and some basic phrase to get a person started in the Irish Language. The Irish language have been on a slow decline ever since Ireland became under English rule in the seventeenth century and is only spoken by about 50,000 people. It was on the verge of dying off as a spoken language, but recently, there has been a revival in its usage which just might save it from oblivion. Hopefully, this tutorial can do a small part in keeping the language alive.

History of the Irish Language

The Irish language is part of the Celtic language family. The Celtic language family is divided into two branches: the Gaelic branch which includes Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Manx (extinct), and the other branch which includes Welsh, Breton and Cornish (extinct). Irish language was the main spoken language of Ireland until the late seventeenth century when Ireland became under English rule and started to get displaced by English. Irish started to go on a steady decline until Ireland became independent in the 1922. The new government of Ireland tried to revive the language but it only manage to just slow the decline in most parts of Ireland. However, the western and southern part of the country had a strong community and kept the language alive. These areas are known as Gaeltacht and the people from these areas speak Irish on a daily language. Recently, there is a renewed interested in saving the language. There are many internet sites that are dedicated to the Irish language, along with radio and TV show that use the language. It seems the decline has been stopped and hopefully, we will start to see an uptick in the language usage and the language will be saved from extinction.


Even through there have been some spelling reforms in the Irish Language, the phonetics are still relativity complicated and reminds one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a novice of the language. The best way to learn the phonetics is to listen to a native speaker as I can only give an approximation to the sound in written terms. A good website that one can learn the phonetics from a native speaker is http://learn101.org/irish.php There are only 18 letters in the Irish alphabet: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, and u

Long Vowels

Á – is pronounced like “aw” in draw
É – is pronounced like the French “e” .  The closest sound in English is like “ay” in day
Í – is pronounced like “ee” in feet
Ó – is pronounced like the French “au”.  The closest sound in English is like “o” in note
Ú – is pronounced like “oo” in pool

Short Vowels

A – is pronounced like “a” in cat
E – is pronounced like “e” in get
I – is pronounced like “I” in hit
O – is pronounced like “oo” in book but with mouth more open.
U – is pronounced like “oo” in look

Vowel Combination

Ia – is pronounced like the long í followed by a
Ua – is pronounced like the long ú followed by a
Iai – is pronounced like the long í followed by e
Uai – is pronounced like the long ú followed by e
Ao - is pronounced like the long í in the north and like the long é on the south.
Aoi – is pronounced like the long í
Ei – is pronounced like “e” in get
Ea – is pronounced like “a” in hat
Ai – is pronounced like “o” in hot
Ui – is pronounced like “I” in hit
Oi – is pronounced like “o” in hot
Io – is pronounced like “I” in lit
Eo – is pronounced like “o” in note
Iú – is pronounced like long ú

Vowel Sounds before ll, nn, rr, m, rd

Short vowels that are before ll, nn, rr, m, rd are pronounced like the long version of the vowel. For example,

  1. im (pronounced like eem) – Butter
  2. fill (pronounced like feel) - Return
  3. tinn (pronounced like teen) – Sore

Unwritten Vowels

The letter combination rm, rb, rbh, rg, lm, lb, lbh, lg, nm, nb, nbh, ng has an “a” sound between the consonants. For example,

  1. gorm (pronounced like goram) – blue
  2. bolg (pronounced like bolag) – stomach
  3. borb (pronounced like borab) – rude

Between slender consonants the “I” sound is added between the consonants.

  1. aimn (pronounced like anim) – name
  2. airgead (pronounced like arigad) – money

Vowel sound of “eye” and “ow”

The following letter combination is pronounced like “eye”: agh, egh, igh, ugh, adh, edh, idh, odh, and udh.

  1. staighre (pronounced like steyere) – stairs
  2. fadhb (pronounced like feyeb) – problem

The following letter combination is pronounced like “ow”: abh, obh, and ogh

  1. abhainn (pronounced like owan) – river
  2. foghlaim (pronounced like fowlam) - learn


Unlike American English there are two sounds for each consonant which are called slender and broad. This will be a little hard for the novice and is best learn by listening to a native speaker to be able to tell the difference between the two. It is important to be able to recognize the different sounds as sometimes the way the consonants are pronounced dictate which word is meant. For example, the Irish word lón (lunch) and leon (lion) are distinguished in sound by the pronunciation of the “l”. American speaker typical use broad consonant sounds, whereas Welsh speaker typical use only slender consonant sounds and the England speaker typical to use both. For an American speaker, the board sounds should be fairly familiar. To make the slender version the tongue is moved back further in the mouth. Try saying the “L” sound but with your tongue in the position one would put it when pronouncing the “ee” sound. Again, the best way for a person to learn this is to listen to a native speaker and eventually the person’s ear will be able to pick it up. A consonant is slender if the letter is followed or preceded by “I” or “e” whereas the consonant is board if the letter is followed or preceded by “a”, “o” or “u”. Most board consonants are pronounced like it is in English. There some exception which I will explain below. D, t, l, n – These consonants, when board, are pronounced with the tongue against the upper teeth. When they are slender the tongue is against the gums of the upper teeth. S – the board version is like how it is pronounced in English. The slender version is pronounced like the “sh” in ship. R – the board version is pronounced like “R” in English but more clearly. The slender version is like how the s and r are pronounced together in the word leisure. If the word begins with a “R” then the “R” is always pronounced in the board version. Ph – is pronounced like “ph” in the word phone Th – is pronounced like the “h” in house Ch – when board is pronounced like “ch” in the Scottish word loch. When slender it sounds like the beginning sound in huge. Bh, Mh – are pronounced like the “v” in vet. Gh, dh – when board sounds like the French “r”. When slender it is pronounced like the “y” in yellow Idh, igh – is pronounced like “i” in Kite in the northern part of the country. In the southern part of the country it is often pronounced like “ig” in pig

Letter Mutations

One of the unique features of Irish and the other Celtic languages is that some beginning consonants can mutate or change under certain condition. The preceding word often causes these mutations. For example, cóta (coat) becomes mo chóta (my coat). There are two types of mutation: Lenitions and Eclipsis. Note, not all consonants can be mutated. The list of consonants that can be mutated and how the pronunciation is affected is shown in the below table.

Consonants           Lenited Form           Eclipsed Form
P                    ph (pron. like f)      bp (pron. like b)
T                    th (pron. like h)      dt (pron. like d)
C                    ch (pron. like kh)     gc (pron. like g)
B                    bh (pron. like v)      mb (pron. like m)
D                    dh (pron. like gh)     nd (pron. like n)
G                    gh (pron. like gh)     ng (pron. like ng)
F                    fh (silent)            bhf (pron. like v)
M                    mh (pron. like v)      N/A
S                    sh (pron. like h)      N/A

Vocabulary List

Basic Phrases

  • Dia dhuit – hello (literally means “God be with you”)
  • Dia is Muire dhuit – hello (literally means “God and Mary be with you” used as a responds to dia dhuit)
  • Conus tá tú? – How are you?
  • Tá mé go maith – I am well
  • Tá mé go dona – I am bad
  • Cad is aimn duit? – What is your name?
  • Is mise Matthew – I am Matthew
  • Tá mé i mo chónaí i Meiriceá – I live in American
  • Le do thoil – please
  • Go raibh maith agat – thank you
  • Slán – bye
  • Tar isteach – come in
  • Conas tá sé amuigh? – How is it outside
  • Tá sé fuar inniu – It is cold today.
  • Tá sé te inniu – It is hot today.
  • Cad as tú? – Where are you from?
  • Tá fáilte romhat – You are welcome.

Practice Exercise:

Fill in the blanks in the conversation.
Dia dhuit.  ________________
Cad is aimn duit?___________________
Conus tá tú? _______________________
Cad as tú? _______________________
Conas tá sé amuigh? _________________
Slán. ________________________

Numbers 0 – 10

0 – náid
1 – aon
2 – dó
3 – trí
4 – ceathair
5 – cúig
6 – sé
7 – seacht
8 – ocht
9 – naoi
10 – deich


Grandfather – seanathair
Grandmother – seanmháthair
father - Athair
mother - Máthair
son - mac
daughter - Iníon
grandson - Garmhac
granddaughter - Gariníon
uncle - Uncail
aunt - Aintín
cousin - Col ceathar
nephews - nia
niece - neacht


Blue- gorm
Red –dearg
Black – dubh
Orange – oráiste
Yellow –bui
Brown –donn
Purple – corcra
White – bán
Gray – liath

Practice Exercise:

English			Irish
Five			________________
______________	gorm
______________	mac
Mother			________________’
______________	seacht
______________	dubh
Uncle			________________
Three			________________
______________	Aintín
One			_________________


This is the first tutorial of a much bigger one that I will be writing over the next couple of months. The goal of these tutorials is to show a person how to read and write Irish. This tutor will cover the phonetics and some basic phrases. Hopefully, this tutorial will do a small part in helping to preserve the Irish Language.


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