O'Brien: Irish-English Dictionary

Pdf O'Brien, J, Irish-English Dictionary 2nd ed., Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1832
Size: 174.5M bytesModified:  1 July 2011, 12:13

An Irish-English Dictionary by J.O'Brien was published in its 2nd edition in 1832. The Irish dialect used in the dictionary is written in Gaelic type, an insular typeface derived from written forms of Irish between the 16th and 20th centuries.

The Irish language originated with the first Celtic peoples who arrived in Ireland in a period predating recorded history.  'Primitive' Irish was written on stone monuments in an alphabet called Ogham between approximately the 4th and 10th centuries AD and is believed to be close in form to Common Celtic. Common Celtic is the ancester of the languages spoken by the various Celtic peoples.

Christian influence in Ireland from the 5th century onward led to what is called 'Old' Irish appearing in the margins of latin manuscripts. By the 10th century it evolved into 'Middle' Irish and 'Classical' Irish used between the 13th and 18th centuries. During these periods the Irish language was affected by the arrival of the Vikings, Norman and British settlers. Gaelic Ireland went into terminal decline due to a series of destructive wars and British plantations between the 16th and 17th centuries.

By the early 19th century when O'Brien compiled his dictionary, Irish Gaelic speakers were in decline as an Anglo-Protestant Ascendacy had made English the dominant language of education, politics and business. The Catholic Gaelic Irish already an excluded underclass were decimated by the Great Famine of the 1840s and the dominance of English throughout much of the world especially the United States meant Gaelic was increasingly seen as outmoded and redundant.

In the late 19th century saw a popular resurgence of Irish nationalism and by the 1920s Ireland had broken with the British Empire. Irish nationalists hoped to revive the language which was by then confined to pockets of the west of Ireland called Gaeltacht. Irish became the first official language of the state while Irish was made a compulsory subject in schools and it was hoped within a generation Ireland would become a predominantly Irish speaking country.

The form of Irish used in O'Brien's dictionary was superseded in the mid 20th century by an official standard or An Caighdeán Oifigiúil intended to make Irish more understandable to English speakers and to remove the confusion caused by regional pronounciations and spellings. The standard form is generally spoken by non-native speakers predominantly in Dublin and has become known as 'Dublin Irish.' Irish schoolchildren who holiday in Gaeltacht areas are taught what has become known as Gaelscoil Irish.

By the early 21st century it was estimated that only between 40,000 to 80,000 people could still speak Irish as their first language and many predicted it would soon die out entirely as a spoken language. However many continue to believe that Irish can become the predominant language in Ireland.

previousPrevious - Christian Brothers: Irish Grammar
Next - Irish Peoplenext