Tomhas na Teanga – January/February 2006


Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh!  Happy New Year!  This time of year sometimes gets a little dreary, and sometimes you need a little something to spice things up.  Last time, in the section as Gaeilge, I told you about podcasting in Irish (  These are like private radio shows that you can hear on the internet.   There are quite a few ‘blogs’ (web logs) now in Irish.  These are kind of like public diaries, or columns, on anything at all.  They can be fun to read.  To find them, you can see everything current at

A while back I wrote about the Philo-Celtic Society.  I am now presenting a podcast for the society, which you can hear at

If you are not quite so sure about your Irish, but have been learning, you may want to listen to the lessons from the book Progress In Irish.  These have been made available (for the first time ever) at  There are quite a few sound files available now over the internet.  To really make use of these, you need a fast internet connection.  But the blogs are all text, so anyone with a slow connection can still get a lot out of those.


There is a sign on our hall in Babylon NY which says “Irish Cultural Center,” and so it is.  But what exactly is “culture?”  To me, culture is all the unnecessary things that are absolutely essential to a good life.  How’s that?  Well, take the Irish language, for example.  It is quintessentially a part of our culture.  Is it necessary to keep us alive, to make a living, to do business?  No.  But it is one of the things that gives us who we are.  It is something that gives shape and meaning to our lives.  We are not machines.  We have souls to nourish, not just bodies.  So the next time someone asks you why you are learning the Irish language, tell them that you’re nourishing your soul!


As you know, nouns in the Irish language are either masculine or feminine.  But how do you know which?  Sometimes you just have to look it up.  But there are some that you can recognize right away.  First off, if the word clearly refers to a man, it is masculine, and if it clearly refers to a woman, it is feminine.  Oddly, cailín (colleen – a girl) is a masculine noun.  This is because it has the diminutive ending ‘ín,’ and words with that ending are masculine.  It is still referred to with feminine pronouns, though, since you clearly are talking about a feminine person.  Another odd exception is ‘stail,’ stallion, which is a feminine noun.  Most of the time, it is the word itself, not the thing which it refers to, that has gender.  It’s really just a way of classifying noun  behavior.


Why does it matter?  Because masculine nouns and feminine nouns are inflected differently.  An fear – the man.  An bhean (lenited) – the woman.  Teach an fhir – the man’s house (lenited in the genitive).  Teach na mná – the woman’s house (different article form and no lenition in the genitive – this is an irregular noun, so the form of the genitive is nothing like the original form).


So, how can we tell?  You can’t just turn them over…  Certain endings indicate gender:

Words ending –ín are usually masculine.  Meaisín (machine), piscín (kitten)…  This suffix can be added to any noun, if it makes sense, and is often added to names – Séamaisín (keeping the spelling rule of slender with slender broad with broad, Séamas gets an ‘i’ before the last ‘s,’ so we can add –ín) – Little James, Jimmy.  Seáinín (Johnny - same thing with the extra ‘i’), Brídín (Little Bridget), Seosaimhín (Josephine – hey, same diminutive ending!).  Female names stay feminine nouns, despite what I said before…


Words ending in -eog  or -óg (eo is generally pronounced like ó) are usually feminine:  fuinneog (window),  piseog (superstition),  piteog (uh, a feminine man), cuileog (a fly), ciaróg (a beetle).  Words ending in –íocht are feminine:  eolaíocht (science), filíocht (poetry)…  These are usually things which are done.  Words ending in –lann:  leabharlann (library), iarsmalann (museum), bialann (restaurant) are also feminine.  These are places full of something.


There are other clues, too.  After a while, you kind of know them instinctively.  If you know which ones are feminine, all the other ones are of course masculine.  There is a much more detailed list of endings at this web site:

And of course, you can always check the dictionary (!


Nouns also have certain patterns of inflection, which are called declensions.  There are 5 in Irish.  These patterns are useful to know, as a kind of short cut to knowing how to use a noun in all its forms.  But that’s a much bigger topic, so I’ll just leave it at that for now!


Léigh mé rud suimiúil ar an idirlíon le déanaí, faoin matamaitic.  Tá daoine ann a bhíonn ag lorg uimhreacha príomha (prime numbers) nua.  Léigh mé go bhfuarthas ceann nua ollmhór – le breis agus deich milliún figiúr ann.  Sin breis is deich milliún uimhreacha scríofa i ndiaidh a chéile.  Ceann nua Mersenne atá i gceist, más matamaiticeoir thú (murab ea, seo eolas, as Béarla, fúthu:  Ní matamaiticeoir mise, ach tá spéis agam san ábhar.  Ní bhíodh, nuair a bhí mé ar scoil.  Ach anois, agus mise níos aibí, agus gan aon riachtanas ann dom chun é a fhoghlaim, is maith liom é! 


Ar aon nós, bhí alt ann faoin bhfáth a bhíonn daoine ag lorg a leithéid de rud gan fónamh.  Is oiriúnach iad seo d’fhoghlaim na Gaeilge, freisin.  Bíonn siad ar thóir an ruda annaimh álainn.  Tagann buntáistí eile as an tóraíocht, nach mbaineann leis go díreach.  Bíonn bród ar an duine a fhaigheann ceann díobh, agus uaireanta clú.  Bíonn comhluadar ann idir na matamaiticeoirí.  Ach an rud is tábhachtaí dóibh, sin iontas an ruda.  Nach amhlaidh a bhíonn sé agus sinne ag foghlaim is ag cleachtadh na Gaeilge!


Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.