It is more apt to refer to ‘Ulster Gaelic’ than to Irish in eastern Ulster

Scottish Gaelic being taught by Ray Giffen in Belfast in 2011. It is phonetically more in common with eastern Ulster dialect than the Munster one, according to Thomas P O'Brien. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Scottish Gaelic being taught by Ray Giffen in Belfast in 2011. It is phonetically more in common with eastern Ulster dialect than the Munster one, according to Thomas P O'Brien. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

When I was at school in Munster, I was taught ‘Gaeilge’ and during these classes, I learned of the several different dialects of this language spoken on this island, the commonly known dialects being of Ulster, Connamara and Munster.

I have tried to converse with Ulster speakers of Gaeilge but to no avail as the accentuation is very different.

However, I’ve also realised in attempting to converse with Scottish speakers, that Scottish Gaelic is phonetically more in common with the Eastern Ulster dialect than the Munster dialect.

This make senses as there is ample historical evidence to suggest it was the language of kingdoms spanning the North channel in times past.

It is more appropriate to refer to the historical language of Eastern Ulster as ‘Ulster Gaelic’ rather than Irish. Referring to it as Gaelic more appropriately reflects the heritage of the North-East. There are also phonetic and linguistic distinctions between East Ulster Gaelic and the Donegal dialect.

It matters that those who are interested in these languages study the dialect of the language unique to their part of these islands for there is a linguistic connection between their ancient tongue and their local dialect of English that they speak.

This means that the ‘regional’ Gaelic language should more easily be learned. For the North-East, the study of Scottish Gaelic is arguably better suited to do the job than the language codified by the Irish state in the 20th century as the Irish state language is mainly based on Munster Gaeilge. Ulster Gaelic died out as a dialect but could be brought back as a living language were people willing to engage with it and would be best suited to enthusiasts in the North-East.

And while Munster and Ulster speakers of our ancient tongue may struggle to understand each other, we can always fall back on English to discuss the similarities and differences!

Thomas P. O’Brien, Coalisland, Co Tyrone