Which Irish Dialect Should I Learn?

When it comes to learning a new language, you’ll want to get started as soon as possible. This is especially true for a dialect such as Irish, which has a reputation for being difficult to learn.

In Ireland, there are three main dialects, which roughly correspond with Munster (Cuige Mumhan), Connacht (Cuige Chonnacht) and Ulster (Cuige Uladh). While they may sound similar at first, their differences become apparent in stress, intonation and word choice.

West/Southwest dialects

There’s a unique Irish dialect for each of the island’s 32 counties. That’s quite a lot for one moderately-sized country, and it’s no surprise that many local dialects were left isolated, as short-distance exchanges between people were limited.

Despite this, there are some common characteristics across the West/Southwest accents. For example, the “ou” in about sounds like a “oa” to American ears, and diphthongs in words like goat and face are often pronounced as monophthongs (IPA t and d).

In contrast to most other Irish dialects, this group is noticeably less rhotic than the rest of the language. In addition, it tends to have an overall higher sentence pitch, and it’s also a bit melodic.

North/Central dialects

Irish is one of the oldest vernacular languages in Western Europe, originating in the 4th century AD. It is spoken in three major dialects: Munster, Connacht and Ulster.

In the north and central part of Ireland, there are several varieties, which differ from each other in phonology, grammar and vocabulary. They are divided into the Connacht Gaeltacht, Mid-Connacht/Joyce Country, Achill and Erris dialects.

During the 19th century, linguistic studies focused mainly on traditional grammar and the development of sounds from Proto-Indo-European through Old Irish to modern Irish. However, in the late 20th century a number of publications on the phonology of Irish have emerged. Phonological analyses are primarily descriptive. These include Finck (1899), Quiggin (1906) and Pedersen (1909). More recent phonological analyses have been published by Lucas (1979) for Rosguill, County Donegal; Hughes (1986) for Tangaveane and Commeen, near Glenties in County Donegal; O Curnain (1996) for Iorras Aithneach in Connemara; and O Se (2000) for the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry.

East/Northeast dialects

There are many different dialects in the Irish language and each one is unique to its area. In the Republic of Ireland, there are three main dialects: Munster Irish, Connacht Irish and Ulster Irish.

In Northern Ireland, there is also a Gaeltacht which are regions where Irish is still spoken as a first language. This is a much smaller population than in the rest of Ireland and they tend to be rural areas where people still live their lives in their own languages.

East Ulster Irish is very similar to the other dialects of the language but there are a few differences. The most obvious is that the sound ee is often used to replace vowels such as ai, oo and u.

It is also common for people to say she, her or hers instead of it and its. Moreover, it is common for the sound ch to be softened to an s or sh as in shapel (chapel). These are not all the differences between East Ulster and other dialects of the language.

East/Central dialects

The East/Central dialects are mainly spoken in the Northern regions of Ireland. These accents often have a lot of influence from Scottish English, particularly in pronunciation.

These dialects are primarily spoken in the Province of Ulster, as well as a few “border” areas within the province. They share many features with Scottish Irish and Scots Gaelic, and some of them are also influenced by Scottish slang.

One noticeable feature of this dialect is that the diphthong in words like mouth (IPA m@und) and mound is pronounced centrally, as opposed to the more monophthongized pronunciation found elsewhere. This can cause words like “about” to sound a bit like “maith” or “moyth” for American and British speakers of Irish.

There are also a number of unique vocabulary items that are only found in East/Central Irish. These include coinfheasgar – “good evening”, arsuigh – “tell”, corruighe – “angry”, prainn – “hurry”, go seadh – “yet” and mart – “cow”. The negative particle cha(n) is almost ousted in these accents, as it is in Munster/Connacht and southern Donegal Irish, though it is still used in some parts of Northern Ireland, including Rosguill and Tory Island.