Irish Pronunciation


Well-Known Member
Jun 30, 2011
Hi team,

I have a couple of quick questions to ask:

Firstly, I'm looking for either a quick go to rule for Irish pronunciation, specifically people and place names rather than general language (if that makes a difference at all). Or falling that, as I'm sure there are dozens of rules, as there are with any other language, I'm hoping that someone can point me in the direction of a good online site that has correct pronunciation.

My aim with this is to learn enough about the rules and words that I can attempt to make a few names of my own in the same style that don't seem out of place with the legit ones.

Secondly, and apologies if this comes across as very ignorant, I love the names and sounds that they make, but as someone who only knows a small handful of correct pronunciations (sile, saorse, siobhan etc... Heh, all female names beginning with S...) I find it quite difficult to get to grips with characters that have Irish names, simply because Im always stumbling over how to say them in my head.

As I said I love the names and they fit perfectly into my next WIP which I'm world-building/planning for at the moment. So does anyone find it a problem or worry that the name might be difficult, And do publishers/agents?

A couple of questions - what part of Ireland? The South uses Irish Gaelic, the North is closer to Scots Gaelic (so, Carrick instead of Carraig, that sort of thing.) so far, no publisher or agent has tripped over any of my Irish stuff (not that I use a lot of Irish names but in Waters I have Oisin's Grave and what not...)

I can't give you a guide to pronouncition - but I'm sure google could find somewhere - and it's really hard to explain how Siobhan just reads as Chevonne to me (phonetically) because it just is. I can suggest you get a beta familiar with stories set in Ireland. (I can't commit to a full length piece but would be happy to crit a smaller section, if it helps.)

Also, it's very, very hard writing Irish (or any distinct accent) if you don't know it well. Find a few actors with the right accent and listen to them. And maybe read some plays - something like Friel's Translations might be good as it's about anglicising the names. Synge's Playboy of the Western World also catches the accent well.
The South uses Irish Gaelic
Official pronunciation is Munster style. There are at least two other styles. N.I. and Donegal isn't Scots Gaelic, though closer. It's Ulster Irish Gaelic. Scots Gaelic can be just about followed by a Munster Gaelic Speaker, very much harder than Ulster Gaelic, which is just different pronunciation, it's a later form of Q Gaelic. Munster Irish might be the oldest surviving Q Gaelic. Irish spelling was "reformed" in 1948. Sometimes names or places use the pre-1948 spelling (pronunciation is the same!). So Conchobhar/ Conchubhar becomes Connor (same pronunciation, approximately). This because for nearly 1000 years the written spelling hardly changed, but common pronunciation did change, with many letters becoming silent.

Manx, Welsh, Breton and Cornish are in the P Gaelic families and nearly incomprehensible to Irish speakers, even apart from spelling. Welsh uses archaic spelling and Manx uses modern transliterated English!
Manx Island = Ellen
Irish Island = Inis
English spelling of Irish Inis is "Inish"

Carrick instead of Carraig is simply English (it means rock), Lots of places in the "South" have Carrick in the name. Ulster Irish spells it Carraig. There is little difference in the pronunciation of Carrick (English anywhere in Ireland ) or Carraig (Gaelic, anywhere in Ireland) versus location. The difference between Carraig and Carrick is slight.

Isle of Man in Irish is Inis Manannán

Differences Ulster and Munster Irish:
Mostly it's the vowels and how a fada affects a vowel. Certain consonants in old Irish (Gaelic) took a dot on top or not (AFAIK b d g m p t), in modern spelling an h is added bh dh, gh, mh, ph, th. The dh and mh catch out none Gaelic speakers, dh approx a "v" or "oow" (dubh = black) depending on region, but bh might sound similar, its more "vahw". and mh approx a "w" or "v" depending on region (Niamh, samhain).
So these consonants change a lot in pronunciation depending on region or sometimes if a common name. So Ciarán is pronounced very differently in Ulster and Munster but Naimh ought to be different.

The s is always sh. So Eilis is more like Ailish, or Eilish as vowels vary with region.
A C is always K sound, or sometimes a Q sound (there is no Q in Irish). In Welsh the "Q" sounding C became a "P" sound, so Mac became Map (for son) and then they dropped the leading P to have Ap for "son" of.

There are many specialist web sites for Irish pronunciation, especially names
. My daughter is native fluent in Munster Irish and unaware of northern variations. My son went to a different school where they explained regional variations.

Siobhan just reads as Chevonne to me
Yvonne rhymes with Siobhan and to me is "Shevaawn" S is ALWAYS Sh everywhere
Sionna = Shanna, root on Shannon.

Older Irish names can be really simple, such as Silé = Sheila or Donall = Donal, Maeve, Deirdre etc. Others of similar age are not used and so the pronunciation of some are totally lost as modern or even 18th C pronunciation rules may not apply!
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Oisin, or Ossian in the glens
I must research how Oisin (or probably Oisín) became Ossian in English. I know the place well, and we always called it Ossian's
Some Anglicisations are fairly accurate transliterations and some are bonkers.
Some place names are simple translations:
Droichead Nua = Newbridge
Droichead Abhann Uí gCearnaigh, meaning "Bridge of the River of O'Kearney is Sixmilebridge in English.

In my Celtic fantasy stuff I use a mix of current Irish names, strangely spelled or odd variants of common Irish names (as you'd do for regular fantasy), archaic Irish names and names that are entirely made up but look feasibly gaelic.
Place names are mix of simply sounding nice, English translations and Irish style, like you would find in Ireland today.
There are standard roots to build Irish / Celtic style names for places. Some listed (brackets is English version), some I'm not sure of Irish spelling
Ard = High
Droichead = bridge
Carriag (Carrick) = Rock
Cnoc (Knock) = hill
Sidhe (Shee) = mound (or later means fairy)
Beag (Beg) = Better?
Beal (Bel) = Mouth, or estury/end of a river. Very common town prefix on the coast.
(Glen) = Valley
Cill (Kill) = Church
na = of (in the middle of placenames, sometimes only an n)
Or = Gold (i.e. Cnoc na Or = Knockanora = hill of gold in Kerry)
Linn = Pool
Loch (Lough) = lake (there is another Irish word, léic, but I've not seen it in place names)
Sliabh (Slieve) = Mountain
Ráth (Rath) = Fort (usually mote and bailey)? Very common prefix
(Bawn) = a very small castle / fortified farm
Dal = place usually prefixed to a name
Dún (Dun, or even Don) = larger fort, very common prefix
Áth = ford
Doire (Derry) = Oak wood, or just wood, very common prefix
púca (Pooka) = "fairy", there are very many kinds of these with different names*, quite unrelated and often the 2nd part of place name as in "of fairy". Hill, Pool, crossroads, road
slí = way
cúltrá = strand (as in beach)
Trá, Tráigh, (Tra) = beach, strand, also at mouth of a river, i.e. Tralee, Strand of the River Lee (a different one to the one in Cork)
Mór (More) = big. i.e. Tramore = Big Beach! Usually a suffix
dubh (dub) = Black. ie, Dublin = Blackpool, though Dublin is Anglicised Gaelic it's Baile Atha Cliath' which translates literally as 'town of the hurdle ford' in Irish!
Baile (Bally) = Town (Pronouced Bal-yeh in Irish, not Bally, short yeh sound, not yew or you)

Some places are using the name of Goddesses (Boyne, Bann, Shannon, all the big rivers), or gods, or of famous Iron Age Celts or the Tuatha De (Bronze Age Celts) heroes/gods, such as Tallanstown (Irish: Baile an Tallúnaigh.

If ye hadn't been so Ballymena with the Ballymoney we coulda had a Ballycastle for a Ballyhome.

So Derrylin perhaps Oak wood pool, or pool in the oak wood

[* Norse has elves and dwarves which are similar, Tolkien's Elves are based in part on Irish fairies of the Sidhe/Tuath de Danann / Fair Folk sort of conception, not any of the numerous other kinds).]
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Thanks for the replies.

I'm originally from the isle of man, (Ellen Vannin, Manx for Ilse of Man, remains perhaps the prettiest pair of words ive encontered) and have spent the last 15 years in Wales, so I've got a decent ear for Manx pronunciation and can do Welsh easily enough. I'm hoping to incorporate those languages into my world and have a kind of fully Celtic/Gaelic mix...but that might not work.

Ray, both of those posts are very helpful, thanks a lot. I can take some of those words and break them down, hopefully at least to make a start on the setting of my world. And you've set me a few hard rules which is brilliant :)

Jo, thanks as well. I haven't got anything written at the moment, but when. Do, I might take you up on the offer :) As for your questions, you've stumped me. Showing my ignorance even more I hadn't even thought about regional dialects etc. but 'carriag' is the sort of stuff I'm after. Interestingly enough this thread has taught me I had that pronounced correctly in my head, though meaning escaped me :p
I'm not sure yet how deep I wanted to go in the prose, as in speaking wth the accents or if I was keeping it as surface language, but I shall check out those pieces as recommendations. Thanks.

And I have a cousin (second cousin? Once/twice/thrice removed cousin? Yet more rules I need to learn) called Oisin, so I knew that one as well. I guess I knew a bit more than I thought, but im always reminded of Big Brother several years back (when I had the misfortune to get dragged into watching some) when they had a contestant called Kiva on it... Until I saw her name was spelled something along the lines of Coimhe, and I became fascinated!
Ellen Vannin
Yes, it's nicer than Inis Manannán, which is exactly the Irish.
Manx and Welsh, while spelled completely and utterly differently are very much closer to each other (I believe) than either is to Irish Gaelic. (The Q and P Gaelic split, some say the origin of advice to mind your Ps &Qs!)
You could have different regions using the different spellings and forms.
Look at maps for place names and so called "baby name" sites for Welsh and Irish names to mangle. (I'd rather give a baby an Adults name :) ).

Mostly it's the vowels and how a fada affects a vowel
A fada (síneadh fada), for those confused is the accent that looks like an acute accent. It usually lengthens the sound, but different in Munster and Ulster Irish. In this respect it's similar to Latin Apex, and probably borrowed from Latin.
(use the Alt Gr key on a UK keyboard layout)
The other Irish accent is gone since 1948, the dot above certain consonants to indicate V/W/F form rather than b d p form, now an h is suffixed. Only some English words work like this pone vs phone.
Traditional Irish typography, where the dot denotes lenition, and is called a ponc séimhithe or buailte "dot of lenition": ḃ ċ ḋ ḟ ġ ṁ ṗ ṡ ṫ. Alternatively, lenition may be represented by a following letter h, thus: bh ch dh fh gh mh ph sh th. In Old Irish orthography, the dot was used only for ḟ ṡ, while the following h was used for ch ph th; lenition of other letters was not indicated. Later the two systems spread to the entire set of lenitable consonants and competed with each other. Eventually the standard practice was to use the dot when writing in Gaelic script and the following h when writing in antiqua. Thus ċ and ch represent the same phonetic element in Modern Irish.
c.f. Naimh , the mh is the same. "e" at end is often an "a" sound though less often ah sound. C in Irish is always hard K at start of a word and usually hard except when it's not exactly (i.e. Cnoc = Knock), but never as in ceiling.

Irish, Arabic, Hebrew, Hittite and Sanskrit are related. Hebrew even takes dots on same letters as get a following h in Irish (but dot has reverse effect). Irish has very many words from Latin (gold, silver etc, Or and Argent).
Vav in Hebrew looks a little like "7" and is used for &, in Irish a "7" like shape, with top hanging down like vav is also used instead of & (ampersand).

Whiskey might be oldest English from Gaelic. (Whisky if not Irish produced, USA usage varies)
Distilled alcohol was known in Latin as aqua vitae ("water of life"). This was translated as Irish: uisce beatha or Scottish Gaelic: uisge beatha "water of life" (usually pronounced Uska Va and Uska Vo). A type of man's dress shoe might Brogues, which is really just Gaelic for shoe.

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