Speak Irish: Tenalach
by Bob Carney
The Relationship One Has With The Land, The Air, The Water,
A Deep Connection That Makes You One With Nature
As little as forty years ago, the English spoken in rural Ireland had enough Irish words mixed in with it, that it sometimes sounded like another language entirely. As Ireland becomes more “global” and less rural, many of these words are being lost, even as a language revival takes place.
The language used to describe landscape, farming and nature could also be very localized and not readily understood ten or twenty miles removed. The danger in losing this very descriptive vocabulary is that it can narrow our ability to “see” what it represents.
In Robert Macfarlane’s book, “Landmarks,” he relates the story of a proposed wind-farm on The Brindled Moor on an island off the coast of Scotland. It would have become the largest wind-farm in Europe, with two-hundred and thirty-four wind turbines. Each one would be anchored into 700cu. meters of concrete or approximately 2300 cu. ft..
To transport the power off the island, 210 pylons and overhead wire would be required, 104 miles of roads would be built for service access, and nine electrical sub-stations would be needed. Five new rock quarries would be opened and four concrete batching plants would be established. Around 5 million cubic meters of rock and 2.5 million cubic meters of peat would be evacuated and displaced.
The engineering company, AMEC, along with British Energy, by their own accounts in their application, determined that the effect on the landscape, resources and character would be major, and long term. Eighty percent of the poulation of the island opposed the project and a long debate over the future of the moor ensued. It centered over the perceived value and nature of the moor.
Re-enchant The Moor
Those for the development dismissed the island’s interior as a bog or wasteland. Those against established a “home ground” approach, using the language of the region to document and describe the beauty and life they knew intimately. They were able to re-enchant the moor with their detailed accounts.
One booklet in particular by Anne Campbell entitled, “A-mach an Gleann,” (translates from Scots-Gaelic to “A Known Wilderness”) was able to accurately portray the moor as a wild place, yet demonstrate it’s long term connection with human culture. Other islanders did similar things, gathering folk songs, stories and poetry. They were able to bring awareness to the importance of conservation in the moor and after three and a half years and almost twelve-thousand letters of objection, the Scottish Executive ruled against the proposal.
We’ve talked before of incorporating Irish words and phrases into our English conversations. Here is some “new-old” vocabulary used to describe various aspects of rural and natural life. Irish place names are also very descriptive, and I’ve included a few examples.
bacbram – very heavy rain – lit. boisterous behavior
bánóg – a patch of level grass, often used for dancing
brais – sudden heavy shower
bóithrin – country lane – lit. cow path – English boreen
bogach – somewhere between solid and liquid, soft, origin of the english word, bog
clochán – stepping stones
congár – a short cut
cróinin – the first run of a small autumn salmon
cloigeann – head or skull, promontories streching out into the ocean like giant skulls
copóg – a dock
cluain – meadow
caonach – moss
collop – conveys a piece of land by it’s grazing ability rather than it’s dimensions
cupánach – a piglet taken from a sow and reared on cow’s milk which is drunk from a cup rather than a bottle
draighneán bán – quickthorn
dulán – two handfuls of oats
eanach – a narrow path through a marsh
fraoch – heather
fuairceas – a cloth placed under the fire crane to help lift a hot pot
sceach geal – hawthorn
turlach – land-lake, floods from underground during heavy rain
ard – height
Ard Mhacha – Macha’s height -Armagh
Cluain Ard – high meadow – Cloonard
baile – town
Baile an Aird – Stormanstown
Baile Átha Cliath – town of the hurdled ford – Dublin (dublin loosely translates to black pool)
dair – oak
Béal Átha Darach – Beldaragh
Cill Dara – oak church- Kildare
dún – fort
Dún na nGall – fortress of the foriegners – Donegal
gort – field
Fiogart – Figart
madra – dog
Móin an Mhadra Rua – turf of the red dog – Monavadaroe
Binn an Iolar – a reference to eagles soaring above- Beenaniller Head in Kerry
And finally my favorite
Muiceanach idir Dhá Sháile – pig-marsh between two saltwaters – Muckanaghederdauhaulia Co. Galway
Irish Place Names and Their Meanings
For more on Irish place names and their meanings go to loganim.ie.
If you wish to read more “home ground” nature works, I’ve enjoyed these books:
“Landmarks” by Robert Macfarlane – includes a great deal of vocabulary, some Irish but mostly Scots-Gaelic
“The Wild Places”by Robert Macfarlane – wild places through out Ireland and the British Isles
“Connemara” by Tim Robinson – nature writing at it’s best
“The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd
“Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Anne Dillard
“The Wilderness World of John Muir” ed. by Edwin Wayteale
“Home Ground” ed. by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney – a collection of vocabulary to describe the American landscape, so we don’t lose these words here in our home
Slán go Fóill!
*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday@PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dog orginizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hound Morrighán and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at email@example.com.