Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla

Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla

This song is about a boatman who sails frequently between the two remote isles of Inis Ge off the West Coast of Ireland in County Mayo to Galway, and is besotted with a fair maiden. He wishes his love and ‘little treasure’ (a stóirín) her to elope with him. Sadhbh Ní Bhruinealla,  (reduced from Iníon Uí – “daughter of descendant of”).

Perhaps a clue as to what finally happens is in the following verse.

Nuair a théimse ‘un an chomhra ag comhaireamh an airgid
Bíonn an iníon is an bhean is iad caillte le gean orm.

When I go to the chest to count the money,
the daughter and her mother are overcome with fondness for me.

However, we dont know if our heroine Sadhbh ever actually elopes with the man !

The name Sadhbh is a girl’s name of Irish origin meaning “sweet, goodness”. Sadhbh was the name of several real and legendary Irish princesses, including the daughters of Conn of the Hundred Battles, of Queen Medb of Connacht, and of King Brian Boru. It’s also written Sabha. One of the most authentic Irish names for girls, it is also unfortunately one of the most difficult to export.

This is a sean-nós song meaning ancient or old Irish to be sung in the traditional way which is unaccompanied by musical instruments.

…It’s about a little girl, in fact. In the words of the song, you’d think the girl was a grown-up girl, you know, but she was beautiful – like Peigín Leitir Móir. And everybody was supposed to be looking out for this girl, whoever passed by – she was so beautiful that everybody was looking out for her. Even the fishermen, when they were going to their boats, they used to dip their sails when they were passing her house.

The islands of Inis Gé or ‘Inishkea’ (North and South) are part of County Mayo, off the West Coast of Ireland, and are now uninhabited. The name means ‘Goose Islands’. This article says there is evidence of habitation from at least 5,000 years ago, pure white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, it was home to fishermen and pirates, and escaped the ravishes of the potato blight on the mainland due to the prevailing winds largely keeping the blight away from Inis Gé !

Sadhbh is a popular Irish girls name but is pronounced as S – eye – v. But in the song it is pronounced as ‘how’. This is because in Connmara, Sadhbh is pronounced as Sow. The name changes from Sadhbh to ‘ a Shadhbh’ in all but the very first line, as this is the common way that the Irish people address familiar friends and family and ‘Sh’ is caused by the Irish language mutation (lenition) of the start of words.  Finally, the S becomes silent with the lenition.

Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla is an old sean-nós song attributed to Labhrás Mac Con Raoi from Mace Head, Co. Mayo, a boatman who ranged the coasts of Mayo and Galway. He is said to have composed it between 1815 and 1821, and the woman in the song is said to have been from Inishkea, Co. Mayo. It is often called “Sadhbh Ní Mhuinghile.” Below are the Irish lyrics and English translation for Liam Ó Maonlaí’s version. This is a classic sean-nós song and is better sung unaccompanied or with simple drone backing.
Ní iarrfainn bó spré le Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Ach Baile Inis Gé is cead éalú ar choinníní
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
A chuisle is a stóirín, éalaigh is imigh liom
I would ask no dowry for Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
but the village of Inis Gé and a permit to hunt rabbits.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
My heart’s beloved, elope and leave with me.
Máistir báid mhóir mé  a’ gabháil ród na Gaillimhe,
D’fhliuchfainn naoi bhfód is ní thóigfinn aon fharraige.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Tabhair dom do lámhín, éalaigh is imigh liom.
I’m the master of a húicéir on the way to Galway,
I’d wet nine sods of turf but would not take any water in.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Give me your wee hand,  elope and leave with me.
Máistir báid mhóir go deo ní ghlacfad,
Nuair a fhaigheann siad an chóir ‘sé is dóichí nach bhfanann siad.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Tabhair dom do lámhín, éalaigh is imigh liom.
The master of a hooker I’d never accept,
when the wind is favourable they are not inclined to stay.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Give me your wee hand,  elope and leave with me.
Níl falach i gcabhail ar Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Ach seanchóitín donn gan cabhail gan muinchille.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Tabhair dom do lámhín, éalaigh is imigh liom.
Sadhbh is not wearing a stitch on her body,
except an old brown coat without bodice or sleeve.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Give me your wee hand,  elope and leave with me.
Fear maith i mbád mé togha fear iomraimh,
Fear sluaisid’ is láí ar dhá cheann an iomaire.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
A chuisle is a stóirín, éalaigh is imigh liom!
I’m a good boatman, a fine oarsman,
skillful with shovel or loy on either end of the ridge.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
My heart’s beloved, elope and leave with me.
Ní iarrfainn de spré le Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla
ach Baile Inis Gé is cead éalú ar choinníní.

Refrain – to add at the end of each verse.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
A chuisle is a stóirín, éalaigh is imigh liom.
I would ask no dowry for Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
but the village of Inis Gé and a permit to steal up on rabbits.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
My heart’s beloved, elope and leave with me.
Fear maith i mbád mé togha fear iomraimh
Fear sluaisid’ is láí ar dhá cheann an iomaire.
I’m a good boatman, a fine oarsman,
skillful with shovel or loy on either end of the ridge.
Máistir báid mhóir mé a’ gabháil ród na Gaillimhe
D’fhliuchfainn naoi bhfód is ní thóigfinn aon fharraige.
I’m the master of a large sail boat (hooker) on the way to Galway,
I’d wet nine sods of turf but would not take any water in.
Máistir báid mhóir go deo ní ghlacfad,
Nuair a fhaigheann siad an chóir ‘sé is dóichí nach bhfanann siad.
The master of a hooker I’d never accept,
when the wind is favourable they are not inclined to stay.
Mhionnóinn naoi n-uaire ar leabhar mór an Bhairéadaigh
Nach scarfainn go deo le Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla.
I’d swear nine times on Barrett’s book
that I’d never part with Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla.
Níl falach i gcabhail ar Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Ach seanchóitín donn gan cabhail gan muinchille.
Sadhbh is not wearing a stitch on her body,
except an old brown coat without bodice or sleeve.
Nuair a théimse ‘un an chomhra ag comhaireamh an airgid
Bíonn an iníon is an bhean is iad caillte le gean orm.
When I go to the chest to count the money,
the daughter and her mother are overcome with fondness for me.
Nuair a thiocfas lá breá ‘gus an ghaoth ón bhfarraige
Tabharfaidh mé Sadhbh liom go céibh na Gaillimhe.
When a fine day comes and the wind is from the sea,
I’ll take Sadhbh with me to the pier in Galway.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
A chuisle is a stóirín, ba rí-mhaith dhuit mise agat!
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
my heart’s beloved, you would do right well to have me!

‘Bád Mór’ – a Galway hooker; a large boat for transporting cargo including the turf, which was used for fuel – (presumably scarce on the islands), from the mainland to the islands, and then limestone, wood, and livestock, wood, potatoes, fish etc. on the way back; through the seas of Galway Bay to Galway: “a’ gabháil ród na Gaillimhe”, as referred to in the song; the largest in its class; to own one was to mean you had status in the community “is Máistir báid mhóir mé “; the roads in Connemara were only few and only fit for donkey and mule carts in those days, so these boats were relied on for transportation of all kinds of cargoe along the coast and to the islands; they slept and cooked in the hold of these boats under the deck, with access through a hatch which acted as a chimney; the line in the song probably means, while some of my sods of turf may get wet (only nine, a tiny amount – ‘D’fhliuchfainn naoi bhfód’), the boat is of a sound construction, seaworthy, and watertight to seawater, meaning its a really great boat that he has (ní thóigfinn aon fharraige) ! so perhaps he is boasting of how good his boat is to Sadhbh, and that he is an important person higher in status than others like tradesmen and fishermen, and presumably wealthy; he has a chest of money right? (Nuair a théimse ‘un an chomhra ag comhaireamh an airgid).

Saint Patricks Day 17 March 2019. Erin grá mo chroi. Ireland Love of My Heart. ‘When Saint Patrick’s Day has come, my thoughts will carry me home’. Is the famous seashore in the song truly ‘Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York City’ ?

Erin grá mo chroí – Ireland Love of my Heart

Just in time for St Patricks Day, here is some information on a beautiful, sad, lament on the leaving of Ireland of an emigrant to New York City, for a new and hopefully, better life, to escape the ravishes of poverty and starvation in Ireland. But our protagonist longs for home, to return to the ‘land Saint Patrick blessed’. This is a truly sad and evocative song full of sadness, replaying the desperate plight of the people of Ireland, Erin in poetry. Lets reasonably assume our emigrant is a young lady sent by her family to New York to join relatives and friends already there, never to return home again to Ireland. Truly, it brings tears to my eyes when I hear this song introduced to me by my friend Edina from Hungary just nearly two years ago.

‘On the day that I did part, sure it broke my mother’s heart’. ‘Will I ever see my dear folks anymore ?’

It is likely that the poor child is sent to America by her family in common with so many others for a better life, emigration was encouraged and a family felt the best they could do for their children was to send them to America, perhaps to join family already there, who had made a success of their lives. Family in America would have to send the money to Ireland such as with the Adergoole 14 when the cost of sailing across the Atlantic from Ireland was about 700 pounds in today’s money for steerage class, which was about three year’s wages.

Irish traditional emigrant lament song: origin unknown: likely 19th century Ireland placing it as related to emigration to America following the Great Famine of Ireland.

Erin gra mo chroi means Ireland love of my heart and is a lament for emigrants from Ireland for their own native land. ­

I definitely cant find anything on the provenance of this song on a quick search – and just about given up for now – so will just include some really interesting information instead including the famous sea shore in the song – or a very plausible candidate ! This was relatively easy to pinpoint as the Irish settlers in New York have large communities at only two urban beaches in the city.

Irish emigration to New York City

Irish Americans first came to America in colonial years (pre-1776), with immigration rising in the 1820s due to poor living conditions in Ireland. But the largest wave of Irish immigration came after the Great Famine in 1845.

Ellis Island, in the Upper New York Bay, was the United States’ busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954.

‘For to gaze upon the scenes of New York’.

There could be two possible urban sea-shores both with large Irish emigrant communities. I chose Rockaway Beach, Queens,_Queens

Rockaway Beach was once known as the “Irish Riviera” because of the large Irish American population in the area.[20] The community itself has a total population of more than 13,000 people, making it the third most populated neighborhood on the peninsula.[21] As of the 2000 United States Census, 25.4% of residents in ZIP code 11693 identified themselves as having Irish ancestry, making the Rockaway Beach area the 2nd most Irish region in the whole country—right after BostonMassachusetts‘s South Shore, which has roughly 38–40% of its citizens claiming Irish, or mostly Irish, ancestry.[22]

While the Manhattan skyline is visible in the distance, the beaches of Rockaway Beach seem a world away.

Erin grá mo chroí

Ohh Erin grá mo chrói, you’re the dear old land to me
You’re the fairest that my eyes did e’er behold
You’re the land Saint Patrick blessed
You’re the bright star of the west
You’re that dear little isle so far away

At the setting of the sun, when my long day’s work was done
I rambled down the seashore for a walk
And I being all alone I sat down upon a stone
For to gaze upon the scenes of New York

Oh Erin grá mo chrói, you’re the dear old land to me
You’re the fairest that my eyes have ever seen
And if ever I go home, it’s from you I never will roam
You’re my own native land so far away

With the turf fire burning bright on a cold dark winter’s night
And the snow flakes falling gently to the ground
When Saint Patrick’s Day has come, my thoughts will carry me home
To that dear little isle so far away.

Oh Erin grá mo chrói, you’re the dear old land to me
You’re the fairest that my eyes have ever seen
You’re the land Saint Patrick blessed
You’re the bright star of the west
You’re that dear little isle so far away

On the day that I did part, well it broke my mother’s heart
Will I never see my dear ones anymore?
Not until my bones are laid in the cold and silent grave
In my own native land so far away

Oh Erin grá mo chrói, you’re the dear old land to me
You’re the fairest that my eyes have ever seen
And if ever I go home, it’s from you I never will roam
You’re my own native land so far away
You’re my own native land so far away

Historical context if the song is related to emigration to America after the Great Famine of Ireland

The Great Irish Famine in Songs Erick Falc’her-Poyroux, « The Great Irish Famine in Songs », Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique [Online], XIX-2 | 2014, Online since 01 May 2015, connection on 30 September 2016. URL : http:// ; DOI : 10.4000/rfcb.277

‘Those in power write the history, those who suffer write the songs’ Frank Harte (1933-2005), sleeve notes for 1798: the First Year of Liberty’

‘However biased a view the opening quote by Irish traditional singer and collector Frank Harte may represent, an analysis of folk songs about the Great Irish Famine deserves careful study, as one will find in them views that are often told from palpable and vivid experience, and traces of Irish history often described as dry statistics, rather than the human tragedy it really was. It is generally considered that very few songs from the famine era have survived: it is indeed a testimony to the power and importance of traditional music and songs, and remarkably so in Ireland, that illiterate people on the threshold of exile or death could find the strength to express their misfortunes in such a poetic and elaborate form’

The sufferings of Ireland between 1845 and 1850 could however hardly be overestimated, and the effects can still be felt in everyday life after more than 150 years: with well over 8 million inhabitants on the island in 1841 and a little under 6.5 million today, Ireland is the only place in Europe whose population has decreased since the 1840s. By comparison, the population of England (c. 13.6 million in 1841) has almost quadrupled, to c. 53 million today.46

A musical context

‘Ireland has had an exceptional musical reputation for centuries, and a refined instrument, the harp, has served as its national symbol since at least the thirteenth century. Even in the poorer classes, music was an important part of Irish everyday life, as evidenced by the accounts left to us by numerous witnesses, mostly from the eighteenth century onwards: All the poor people, both men and women, learn to dance, and are exceedingly fond of the amusement. A ragged lad, without shoes or stockings, has been seen in a mud barn, leading up a girl in the same trim for a minuet: the love of dancing and musick are almost universal amongst them.’

‘The second and most popular type of folk singing today in Ireland, however, is a genre called ‘ballad singing’: it is a slightly later development which was extremely popular all over Europe and appeared in urban Ireland during the 17th century, probably under the influence of Scottish settlers, mostly in the northern part of the island. It is generally sung in English and tells a story on the classic themes of love, money, drinking, emigration, but also on more political themes: The ballad as it exists is not a ballad save when it is in oral circulation […]. Defined in the simplest terms, the ballad is a folk-song that tells a story. […] What we have come to call a ballad is always a narrative, is always sung to a rounded melody and is always learned from the lips of others rather than by reading.’

Songs in the Irish Language

‘A traditional song, often being the work of an anonymous or forgotten author, can naturally be regarded as the representative expression of a community; and, being still sung by subsequent generations, will have successfully passed the test of time. Its continuous handling down from generation to generation ensures that the feeling is an enduring one.’

Thread from

In reverse chronological order:

  1. Tom Lenihan learned the song from a ‘semi-itinerant street singer-ballad seller Billy Nevin from Kilrush some time in the early 1930s – he heard him singing it while selling ballads at the local street cattle market.
    Not sure how old Bully was, but everyone here (in Miltown Malbay) refers to him being ‘old’ – he was tragically killed in a road accident circa 1935, which would but his date of birth somewhere in the early half on the 19th century (1860/70)
    The practice of ballad sellers was to write out for, or recite the songs they sold to a printer who produced them to order.
    If Nevin followed this practice, and if Tom’s version is the sole traditional source it is highly probable that the song came from oral tradition rather than from another printed source
  2. Checked Wright’s ‘Irish Emigrant Songs and Ballads’ – surprisingly the song isn’t included.
    Re-listening to our recording, I’m convinced that it’s a pre-famine song, though ITMA should be able to confirm or deny this.
  3. Most of the songs of this type came in the latter half of the 19th century and I am cfairly certain this is the case here


as sung by Joe Heaney

Ive included this as the thread seems to think it could shed light on the origins of the song but it cannot. I also could not find a video for this.

Vaughn Williams Memorial Library

This has no information on the origins of the song.

‘Bittersweet and Strange’, ‘Tale as old as Time’, ‘Song as old as Rhyme’, ‘Certain as the Sun, rising in the East’ – the evolution, demise and revival of the modern day Irish language

Is Mise Stephen. Cad é mar atá sibh ? An bhfuil sibh go maith ? An-mhaith !
Táimid ag foghlaim
faoi stair teanga na hÉireann ! (Hi. I’m Stephen. How are you. Are you good ? Lets learn about the history of the Irish language).

Just thought I’d get that in there – thanks to the incredible for starting me on my new life long journey to learn my third language, the beautiful language of Éireann, and especially to Gabrielle and Siobhann of, without whom I could not have possibly put together the opening line in Irish after just two weeks of learning the language (I didnt just copy and paste it – well ok I admit the last bit I did from Google translate but I do really know by heart the first part of it up to ‘sibh’ !).

Ok so I missed my call in life to be an investigative journalist ! In this article I attempt to explain the plight of the Irish language. It should make for an interesting read, and draws on some excellent literature – fiction and non-fiction – I have read recently and an allegory from the fairy tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’ ! The sources are diverse, from a historical novel by a pagan author, to a study by a university in Iceland, to a Drew University lecture, to a 260 year old Irish-English dictionary !

You will have to forgive my indulgence as I became totally absorbed in a book by Diana L Paxson on Queen Boudica so in the first part of this article I go a bit off track to say the least – but actually the story it tells explains why Latin became the dominant influence on the English language as the Romans defeated Boudica changing the course of history forever, which ultimately leads to – seventeen centuries later – Queen Elizabeth the First coming to the throne of England, and with her foreign policies on Ireland starts to unfold the reasons for the demise of the Irish language. It also explains why the Mórrigan is my adopted Goddess.

AD60 – Queen Boudica /bdɪˈsiːə/ , the Mórrigan – shape shifting Celtic War Goddess, and the infamous ‘Final Battle’ of Watling Street

Lets head back to AD60 and Brittania is under the Roman yoke, but the Roman arms did not reach Ireland – and this is a critical piece of the jigsaw – and explains why modern day Irish is the best preserved of the remaining contemporary Celtic languages and free of any Latin influence.

Queen Boudica is the famous Celtic warrior queen. The name derives from the Proto-Celtic feminine adjective *boudīkā, “victorious”, that in turn is derived from the Celtic word *boudā, “victory” (cf. Irishbua (Classical Irish buadh), BuaidheachWelshbuddugoliaeth), and that the correct spelling of the name in Common Brittonic(the British Celtic language) is Boudica, pronounced Celtic pronunciation: [bɒʊˈdiːkaː] [1].

So the story goes, Queen Boudica as a child was first possessed by the Mórrigan, while as a strong-willed and defiant Celtic princess she was sent to the isle of Mona to learn the ways of the Druids [2]. The Mórrigan is the great Celtic War Goddess, phantom Queen and Shapeshifter of Irish mythology. Boudica becomes the leader of the Iceni tribe the Trinovantes and leads an uprising against the Romans. She is said to have been flogged by the Romans who raped her two daughters – and rape of the enemy was very much a part of the subjugation of the enemy during those times practised by the Romans.
Mórrigan unleashes her deadly and awesome power when she possesses Boudica again and slaughters her Roman captives and her children’s rapists when she escapes her bonds (1). This utter, devastating, humiliation at the hands of the Roman invader caused Boudica to commence the revolt against the Roman invader. Her military genious is attributed in the novel by Paxson to be due to the possession of her mind by the Mórrigan.

When the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was annihalating the Druids on Mona, Boudica led the Iceni, the Trinovantes, and others in revolt against the invader, successful at first, but in the infamous ‘Final Battle’ of Watling Street (somewhere in the Midlands off the old Roman road from London to Wales), the Romans under Paulinus massacred the Celtic army. They were a brutal and awesome destructive power, unassailable, with a wedge formation and flanking cavalry, the Roman fighting military machine decimated the Celtic army cutting them to pieces with no mercy and slaughtering their women and children who had come to watch at the back of the battle field thinking the defeat of the Romans was a certainty, but were trapped by their wagon train set up for enjoying the show. Boudica escaped and commits suicide at Avalon, but one of her two daughters, who had become a warrior, fell on that fateful day.

Ok so you’re probably wondering why I included all of that stuff about Boudica. Well its because I read an awesome book about her of course ! which was an obsession of mine for a while, before I moved onto the next one ! She was a Celt and a heroin for the Celtic people and she spoke gaelic or gaeilige which is what this post is all about right ? Later, there were more invasions by the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and the Normans in 1066 with this latter being the last time there was a successful one. So the last time England was defeated on its own soil was nearly 1,000 years ago.

Lets fast forward in time to the 16th century and the reign of Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland. Now England has emerged as a global, imperialist power, whose influence on global affairs is arguably without rival. Ireland has by now been a colony of England since around 1200. In 1494 the English crown officially claimed Ireland as part of England. So this was the case when Queen Elizabeth I started her reign in 1533 during which Ireland for the first time in history falls 100% under the rule of England.

Now lets have an interlude !

Interlude: the allegory for Ireland of the fairy tale ‘Beauty’ and the ‘Beast’

So something strange happened when I was working on an earlier version of this as Youtube just started playing completely at random this song which is one of my favourites – sung by Celine Dion and Paebo Bryson. So I started to look for something allegorical – hidden meaning in poetry – and thought well if there is a ‘beauty’ it would be the isle of Erin, Eriú – the Emerald Isle in poetry. But is there a ‘beast’ ? And the only one I could think of was ‘Queen Elizabeth the First’ who I hold no time for various reasons I wont go into. Anyway, I thought we could have a nice interlude and just enjoy this song from a fairy tale !

Interlude continued: ‘Bittersweet and Strange’- ‘Proof’ that Iberno-celtic was spoken in England before English

This is really interesting. I found this really old Irish-English dictionary [3] on Google dated 1768, and its author says that the Irish were in England before the English more or less, and the proof is in the form of ‘living evidence’, I think he said. He says that heaps of place names, mountains, rivers, towns etc all over Britain have as their root an Iberno-Celtic word. I just include the two most fascinating cases which are how London and the Thames are derived. I include in the Appendix some of his text which is really cool old English, very stilted but a pleasure to read as is so different to modern English, and remember this blog is all about languages right ? I found a really interesting example of his case in point and that is how the names for London and the Thames could be derived from Iberno-Celtic.

How “London” derives from an Irish word possibly ?


‘Long’ = ship

Díon = place of safety, strong town, a covered or walled town


Long-dion changed by the Romans to Londinium


Long-díon (Iberno-celtic) changes to Londinium (Latin) changes to London (English)

How the ‘Thames’ derives from an Irish word possibly ?


Támh = still, quiet, gentle, smooth




Caesar calls it ‘Isis’ – the latin for water latinises ‘Isc’ (uisce)

The Romans call it ThamiSis

say it quickly it changes to Thames so….


Támh-isc (Iberno-celtic) changes to ThamiSis (Latin) changes to Thames (English) !

This part also is very interesting and taken from the Preface:

“your language, says he to the Irish nation, is better situated for being preserved, than any other language to this day spoken throughout Europe’.

‘His reason without doubt for this assertion, was because languages are best preserved in Islands and in mo-untain countries, being the most difficult of access for strangers; and especially because the Roman arms never reached Ireland, which received no Colonies but from the Celtic countries’.

‘Tale as old as Time’, ‘Song as old as Rhyme’- The demise of the Irish Language over one half of a millenium

Now we’ve finished our really interesting interlude and back onto the serious stuff about what has happened to the Irish language. Most of this is taken from the sources quoted so what is provided is not something I’ve made up. Lets remember though and be positive about this. History is history and we cant change it. What we can change is the present and the future. It is fantastic that there is a rejuvenation of the Irish language both in Ireland and globally, and I am very pleased and proud to be a part of it.

So lets start recounting what has happened to the Irish language in recent centuries according to learned observers who know way more than I ever will. I present this as a series of dot points below. This period of demise spans nearly one half of a millenium – 500 years.

A chronology of the demise of the Irish language since the 16th century with insights into the causes

General observation

“Although the Irish are proud of their heritage, they lost their traditional Celtic language, also known as Gaelic (author note: should be Gaelige), in the 18th century. Only 1 to 3 % of the Irish population speaks Irish on a daily basis, especially in areas in the west of Ireland, called Gaeltacht. This is a result of English colonization and poverty in Ireland.”[4]

The remaining text is all paraphrased from reference [5]

16th Century

The Tudor conquest of Ireland of Queen Elizabeth the first of England marks the first real push to impose English as the language of the country.

Queen Elizabeth I viewed Ireland as a weak chink in her armour against her continental enemies, particularly Spain; Ireland’s rich pasture-lands were a potential goldmine, and its religious allegiance to the old faith, was a potential rallying point for rebellion against her.

The reformation with its consequent religious division among the Celtic nations lead to the decline of religious texts, poetry and prose in Irish; the language of the manuscript tradition, of saints and scholars thus lost its importance and standing within society as English gained linguistic ground among the landed classes.

Irish had become a literary language with a long tradition of writing that was sustained for hundreds of years by schools found in Ireland and Scotland.

16th and 17th Centuries

Wars, revolts and rebellions, marked the process of colonisation during the sixteenth and seventeenth century with Irish resistance to the English and Scottish presence at its greatest.

18th Century

Peace emerged from the conflict, and as a result economic and political prosperity developed.

Landowners changed their religion and accepted the advantages of the English language in order to save their estates and lead a peaceful life.

However, while Irish remained strong among the people, it was in areas where it was economically advantageous that English was embraced, and gradually the country became bilingual.

It was this opening of trade to international markets that hastened the transition from Irish to English in daily life.

19th Century

By 1800, Irish had ceased to be the language habitually spoken in the home. The pressures of six hundred years of foreign occupation by England, had almost killed the Irish language.

By the start of the nineteenth century, English had replaced Irish as the language of education. This made proficiency in Irish difficult for those to whom it would have been a second language.

To add to the above, the Catholic Church promoted the Catholic religion, rather than the Irish language, as the central badge of Irish identity, and this may also have contributed to the erosion of the language.

Four million people reportedly spoke the language on the eve of the ‘Great Famine’ which lasted between 1845 and 1849.

By 1800, the Anglicisation of the nation was advancing, with the gentry speaking English as a first language, or in much of the country no Irish at all.

Irishmen who fled the penal laws were accepted in other nations as people of great culture. The spread of the Irish language through the émigré’s, chaplains, felons and scholars around the world indicated the value and usage of the language at home at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

With 4 million Irish speakers in 1841, the numbers of people able to speak Irish as their first language fell to 680,000 by 1891. These stark figures illustrate well the shocking decline in the Irish language in a short period. As it struggled to survive, the embrace of the English language offered an alternative existence to the ravages of famine.

Rates of emigration accelerated during the famine decade with many families being assisted by the British government as well as landlords, to take the coffin ships to North America. Assisted emigration amounted to 10% of all ‘post famine emigrants’ and ‘was often eagerly sought. Unlike other European nationalities, Irish emigrants had a low return rate of 8% between 1870 and 1921.

By 1890, 39% of those born in Ireland were living outside it. Even though they were Irish speakers, many emigrants were also English speaking or familiar with the English language. Literacy rates were high with a reading ability of 47% in 1841 which reached 88% by 1911. As this increased the chance of employability, most emigration was to the English speaking world.

Twentieth Century

The population of Ireland fell dramatically in the post-famine period from 8 million people in 1846 to just under 4 million in 1911.

The population attempted to recover from the consequences of the devastation of the Great famine by making emigration a way of life, and the embrace of English a necessity in order to escape the ravages of poverty and starvation.

Following the Easter Rising of 1916, the nationalist cause used English as their language of negotiation with the British Government.

The twenty first century – ‘Certain as the Sun, rising in the East’: the revival of the Irish Language

‘Erin gra mo croí ‘ – ‘Ireland, love of my heart’.

‘Certain as the sun, rising in the East’ it is that the Irish language will be kept alive by those who love to speak this ancient and beautiful language. The native language of all of Ireland.

Ba mhaith liomsa ag foghlaim Gaelige, mar is teanga draíochta í, nach ea ?

Slán go fóill !


  2. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Ravens of Avalon
    By DIANA L. PAXSON. 2008
  3. Focalóir Gaoidhilge-Sax-Bhéarla, Irish-English dictionary by Edward Lhuyd (1768)
  4. The influence of the Irish language on Irish English An analysis of lexical items and language contact – University of Iceland School of Humanities. Department of English. B.A. Essay. Julia Gansterer. Kt.: 200987–4039. Supervisor: Þórhallur Eyþórsson. September 2016.
  5. The Decline of the Irish Language in the Nineteenth Century. Mar 08, 2015. During Seachtain na Gaeilge Ian Kennedy reflects of the decline of the Irish Language in the Nineteenth Century. This lecture was delivered as part of the Drew University Transatlantic Connections Conference 2 on Friday 16th January 2015 in the Atlantic Apartotel, Bundoran.

Appendix – Focalor. Gaoidhilge-Sax-Bhéarla. Edward Lhuyd.Paris. 1768.


“The tedious task and difficult task of compiling and correctly printing the Irish Dictionary now offered to the Public, hath been un-dertaken by its Editor with a view not only to preserve for the natives of Ireland, but also to recommend to the notice of those of other Countries, a language which is asserted by very Learned Fo-reigners to be the most ancient, and best preserved Dialect of the old Celtic tounge of the Gauls and Celtiberians; and, at the same time, the most useful for Investigating and Clearing up the aniqui-ties of the Celtic nations in General : two points which it is humbly hoped the Learned Reader will find pretty well confirmed, if not clearly verified in this Dictionary ; and which it is natural to expect may engage the Litterati of our Neighbouring Countries to this ancient Dialect of the Celtic tongue. a third consideration re-garding this language, and which is grounded on a fact that is solidly proved by Mr. Edward Lluyd, a learned and judicious antiquary, viz. that the Guidhelians or old Irish, had been the primitive Inhabitants of Great Britain before the ancestors of the Welsh arrived in that Island, and that the Celtic dialect of those Guidhelians, was then the universal language of the whole British Isle, this consideration, I say, which regards an important fact of antiquity, whole proofs shall hereafter be produced, will I am confident, appear interesting enough in the eyes of Learned foreigners, especially those of Britain, to excite their curiosity and attention towards the Iberno-Celtic Dialect, and engage them to verify by their own application, the use it may be of for Illustrating the antiquities of the greater British Isle. “

[wow that is the longest sentence I have ever read!]

“A fourth circumstance which must naturally incite the Litterati of different nations to a consideration of the Irish language, as explained in this Dictionary, is the very close and striking affinity it bears, in an abundant variety of words, not only with the old British in its different dialects the Welsh, and Armoric, besides the old Spanish or Cantabrian language preserved in Navarre, Biscaye, and Basque; but also with the Greek and Latin; and more specifically with the Latter, as appears throughout the course of this work, wherein every near affinity is remarked as it occurs, whatever language it regards. Short specimens of the affinity of the Irish with the Latin and Greek, shall be laid down in this Preface and the plain fact of this abundant affinity of the Iberno-Celtic Dialect with the Latin in such words of the same signification as no language could want, should I presume be esteemed a strong proof that the Lingua-prisca of the Aborigines of Italy, from which the Latin of the twelve tables, and afterwards the Roman language were derived, could be nothing else than a Dialect of the primitive Celtic, the first universal language of all Europe: but a Dialect indeed, which in process of time received some mixture of the Greek, especially the Aeolic, from the Colonies or rather Adventurers which anciently came to Italy from …….”


  • ‘Incitement for Learned Foreigners to take particular note of the Irish language’ …..
  • proof for the above statements – ‘we should first make appear that our assertions concerning these motives are grounded either on good reasons or respectable authorities’……
  • that the Irish language is the ‘best preserved Dialect of the old Celtic of the Gauls and Celtiberians’ and ‘the most useful for Illustrating the anitquities of the Celtic nations in general’.
  • refer to the ‘honorable testimony of the great Leibnitz, as it stands in the title-page of this work, and to several Remarks of the like nature made by the Learned and Candid Mr. Edward Lhuyd, not only in the Preface’………………’candidly acknowledges that the roots of the Latin are better and more abundantly preserved in the Irish than in the Welsh, which is the only Celtic Dialect that can pretend to vie with the Iberno-Celtic with regard to purity or perfection; and adds the following words “your language, says he to the Irish nation, is better situated for being preserved, than any other language to this day spoken throughout Europe’.
  • ‘His reason without doubt for this assertion, was because languages are best preserved in Islands and in mo-untain countries, being the most difficult of access for strangers; and especially because the Roman arms never reached Ireland, which received no Colonies but from the Celtic countries’.


“A ‘demographic certainty’ catholics will form the majority of the population in Northern Ireland but not for another generation

Purely out of interest, as I have done this kind of thing before in my professional work, I decided to do a projection of when exactly the catholics will be in the majority in Northern Ireland in terms of outnumbering anyone who does not affiliate as catholic as recorded in the census, and the answer came out at around 2038 (projection done on 12 February 2019).

So this is a generation away which was certainly a huge surprise to me, as most posts and blogs I’ve read seem to think it will happen in a few years time. Not so. Not by a long shot.

At the 2011 census, 45% were catholic and 48% protestant (6).

“Thomas Andrews, Jr. was a British businessman and shipbuilder. He was managing director and head of the drafting department of the shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Ireland. As the naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner RMS Titanic, he was travelling on board that vessel during her maiden voyage when the ship hit an iceberg on 14 April 1912. He perished along with more than 1,500 others. His body was never recovered”.

He is alleged to have said regarding if she would sink after striking the iceberg: “I assure you she can! And she will. It is a mathematical certainty”.

How does this connect to projections of the Catholic and non-Catholic population of Northern Island ? Well I replied to a post – using the Titanic analogy – saying it was a ‘demographic certainty’ that Catholics would form the majority in Northern Ireland. So since, at the time I did the projections, I thought there was no information on when this will happen – the Office for National Statistics for example in the UK do not provide projections broken down by religious affiliation in Northern Ireland – I decided to do it myself.

I subsequently found an article in the Irish Independent (from February 2018) which says that the economist David McWilliams in a recent article calculated that ‘Catholics would become the absolute majority in Northern Ireland around 2036’ (3).

So two independent studies are more or less saying the same thing that the point at which catholics will form the majority will be around 2036-2038.

Projections 2017-2060 for the Catholic and non-Catholic populations of Northern Ireland – summary of methodology and assumptions

ONS Principal Projection 2016 for Northern Ireland 2018-2060 with modelled differential in Catholic and non-Catholic total period fertility rates (2017 TPFR total 1.91; Catholic 2.28; non Catholic 1.61), population prevalence of percent Catholic in 2017 based on sources recently quoted by the BBC; model includes cohort-effects modelled over the projection horizon; net external migration and cross border migration is negligible so dropped from the model; the curvature of the lines reflects these non-linear effects; model is a period-cohort component model; model is constrained so the sum of the Catholic and non-Catholic projections add to the principal ONS projection for each year in the series; age-specific effects are included in the cohort parameters; medium variant ONS series is used; projections should be used with caution; assumptions become less valid as the projection horizon approaches (2060); model can be changed to test sensitivity of all key parameters.

Key Results

The model (Figure 1) shows that catholics in Northern Ireland will exceed 50 percent of the population for the first time in 2038 (50%) with the proportion of the total population of Northern Ireland who affiliate with the Catholic religion rising to 55% by 2060. The Protestant population is not explicitly modelled and is subsumed in the residual ‘non-Catholic’ population group.

Figure 1 – Projected population of Northern Ireland who affiliate with the Catholic Religion compared with those who do not – constrained to ONS 2016 base principal projection series for Northern Ireland

Sources and references

1.ONS 2016. Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government Licence.

2. BBC 2018. ‘Catholic majority possible’ in NI by 2021’.

3. ‘Demographics might be shifting to a united Ireland – but divides still have to be bridged’. Andy Pollak. Irish Independent. 10 Feb 2018.

4. Department of Education.

5. 2016 Labour Force Survey.

6. 2011 census. Office for National Statistics ; National Records of Scotland ; Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (2016): 2011 Census aggregate data. UK Data Service (Edition: June 2016). DOI:

This information is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence [].

7. Religion and Fertility in Contemporary Northern Ireland.Patrick McGregor and Patricia McKeeEur J Popul. 2016; 32(4): 599–622.

8. Family size and religious denomination in Northern Ireland. Compton PA, Coward J, Wilson-Davis K. J Biosoc Sci. 1985 Apr;17(2):137-45.

9. Belfast Telegraph 2012. ‘Protestant-Catholic gap narrows as census results revealed’. .

The Maid of Cúil Mór – Maighdean an Chúil Mór – a beautiful and haunting, traditional, Irish song (origin unknown)

In airde

So this song is of the Maid of Cúil Mór. Culmore in Northern Ireland, is a small village near DerryNorthern Ireland. Is as Cúil Mór in aice leis Doire í, an mhaighdean. It is at the mouth of the River Foyle). It is Irish traditional with origin unknown and many variations. This variation is sung by Cara Dillon. Oh first, what’s it about ? So its about a fair maiden who sails from Cúil Mór to America. Meanwhile, a boy who is besotted with love for her from first sight, laments her leaving Ireland and sails to America to find her but never does. Or is it a lament for the plight of the Irish people in having to emigrate away from their home land to find a better life, or is it about a boat instead ?

Verse 1

Leavin’ sweet lovely Derry.

For fair London town.

There is no finer harbour.

All around can be found.

Where the youngsters each evenin’.

Go down to the shore.

And the joy bells are ringin’.

For the maid of Cúil Mór.

Verse 2

The first time I saw her.

She pass-ed me by.

And the next time I saw her.

She bade me good-bye.

But the last time I saw her.

It grieved my heart sore.

For she sailed down Lough Foyle and…

…away from Cúil Mór.

Verse 3

If I had the power.

The storms for to rise.

I would make the wind blow out.

I’d darken the skies.

I would make the wind blow high.

And the salt seas to roar.

To the day that my darlin’.

Sailed away from Cúil Mór.

Verse 4

To the back parts of America.

My love I’d go and see.

For its there I know no-one.

And no-one knows me.

But if I don’t find her.

I’ll return home no more.

Like a pilgrim I’ll wander.

For the maid of Cúil Mór.

Verse 5 (added by author)

Now the maid lies a-waitin’.

As the light starts to fade.

For she’s bound home to Erin.

To the land our Lord made.

But the next time I see her.

I will grieve never more.

For she’ll e’er be my true love.

She’s the Maid of Cúil Mór.

From the Redcastle sessions

Here’s another version by the Bothy Band which is also awesome. These are the only two versions I have found so far which do credit to this beautiful song. I also have the lyrics for this which I posted on site as people were looking for the lyrics in very old threads probably before Google and Youtube came along making searches easy.

1. From sweet Londonderry, to the fair London Town
There is no other nicer harbour, anywhere to be found
Where the children each evenin’, is a-playin’ around the shore
And the joybells are ringin’, for the maid of Cúil Mór.

2. The first time that I met her, she passed me by
The next time that I met her, she bade me goodbye
But the last time that I met her, she grieved my heart sore.
For she sailed down Lough Foyle, and away from Cúil Mór.

3. If I had the power, the storm to rise
I would blow the wind higher, for to darken the skies
I would blow the wind higher, to make the salt seas to roar
On the day that my love sailed, away from Cúil Mór.

4. To the north of America, my love I’ll search for
For there I know no one, nor no one knows me
But should I not find her, I’ll return home no more
But like a pilgrim I will wander, for the maid of Cúil Mór.

5. [2 repeats]

Ok so I’m interested in this comment below the Youtube video which has me intrigued. Is it really about a ship or a real girl ?

It’s a song about a ship, the Maid of Coolmore,  sailing off to America, and it opens with what was, essentially, an announcement of the ship’s sailing. The ship is equated, poetically, to the girl in the song who is sailing away.  

My silly Oonagh blog post from this morning !

Here it is and I cant find who I sent it to – typical and my attention span is very low so I may be distracted to something else before I finish this sentence like making a coffee by the absolutely awesome Caffe Laffare based in Wellington New Zealand – link below. I discovered ‘L’affare Gusto Fair Trade Organic – Intense, dark & chocolatey’ and now it helps me navigate the course of each day as I make it on a stove top with an espresso machine, adding one spoon of brown sugar, and pure NZ cream to each cup – indulgent ay ? So where was I ? Oh yeah – the link to l’affare is

The post from this morning: now I remember it was about Oonagh the german pop star who sings in Elfish and featured in Celtic Woman’s Tír na nÓg song – so I knew I’d get to the subject of this web site eventutally which is largely about Celtic stuff – music mainly. So according to the blogger, Oonagh is also a Celtic Goddess which I didn’t know until this morning on reading her blog about Oonagh. So now I’ll have to check this Goddess out and see if she looks like Oonagh – but first Im having a 10 minute break for coffee. [PAUSED]

[RECOMMENCED 10 minutes later] So Oonagh is the goddess of power but I think my Goddess is better as the Morrigan is the Goddess of battle, strife, fertility, and fate, assists or hinders warriors in battle, and has the sybol of the raven. On a search for ‘Oonagh’ Celtic Goddess, I largely just found Oonagh the popstar the subject of the blog. I now have to find the link to that blog.

Found it !

That’s all for now ! Ka Kite Ano

Sorry I’ll post my comment on the Oonagh blog now.

Hey so OMG im just like you – I get an obsession and cant stop until its sated (is that the word) with my second to latest being the translation of Tir Na Nog with Oonagh into Irish gaelic, since I wanted to know what it meant and encountered countless posts asking the same. So I set myself the task of achieving this with the same approach I take to my work being solving seemingly intractable computer code problems – yes yesterday I did this but first got my daughter Emma who is about to start a musical theatre degree and is a bit like Oonagh actually (including of Italian roots) to sing an improvised song about the computer problem I had yesterday so that it would inspire me to solve it ! but Im going off track. Where was I, oh yeah so I translated the chorus of Tir Na Nog and you can find the explanation on Youtube and at Im also starting to become fascinated by Oonagh and so far liked every song Ive watched on Youtube – so its awesome you have provided those links. Oh I mentioned my second to last obsession was Tir n Nog but my latest is learning by heart the awesome Irish song about Grace O Malley: Oró ‘Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile- and Im making good progress leaning Sinead O’ Connor’s version which is a kind of anglicised gaelic (a native speaker of it – their pronunciation is almost impossible to imitate). It will be my first all gaelic song that Ive ever learnt but I have mastered also Tír na nÓg of course – my gaelic translation of it, Téir Abhaile Riú , and Siúil a Rúin. This really comes in handy when you find yourself in a pub in Galway City and ask if the random locals you’re having a pint with can speak gaelic. When they say no you proceed to recite the gaelic you know which is just from a song and about which you have no clue as to the meaning and impress them so much that they buy you a drink. This did happen to me – its true. Ok that’s enough random nonsense from me , for a Sunday morning. I live in Wellington New Zealand by the way but Im well travelled and that’s why I actually ended up here having been brought up in Liverpool, UK. Oh no I got my obsessions all wrong. My very latest is I was in a celtic  band in 1993 and 1994 and just starting to post songs on Youtube. I did one last night called the Destitution Road. You mentioned Oonagh was the name of a Celtic goddess – well in my video you find a picture of the Morrigan my favourite Celtic Goddess who I think was the goddess of war and said to possess Queen Boudica when she tried valiently but failed to route the Roman invaders of Brittania. Bye for now or ‘Ka Kite’ as we say in Te Reo Māori – the indigenous language of New Zealand.

My first comment

Hi so I’m clueless about what to put here so thought I’d start with an explanation of why I chose the Mórrígan for my icon, then a comment post I’ve just done and I’ll find the link to the author of the relevant page also.

So the Mórrígan. I read a book ‘The Ravens of Avalon’ by Diana L Paxson following on from having read the ‘Mists of Avalon’ by Marion-Zimmer Bradly. In the story that unfolds, the Mórrígan possesses Queen Boudica and is the reason for her military genius up to the final battle with the Romans – the Battle of Watling Street – where the Celtic Army were annihilated by the Romans. I thought this was really awesome actually – the posession, not the slaughter of men, women, and children by the Romans – but that is history and the course of history would have been very different if the Romans had not won that battle.