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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 27 September 2020

The Irish For... You'll find some of the most beautiful autumnal words as Gaeilge

Darach Ó Séaghdha brings us all the wonderful Irish words for things like the harvest moon, conkers, and the rustling sound made by trees.

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

OCTOBER HAS ARRIVED with a leafy flourish and has brought with it all the promises of late autumn - bangers, toffee apples, pumpkins spice lattes, Libra birthdays and an extra hour in bed for those without small children. Well, that last one can be enjoyed for this year at least; an t-am nua (daylight savings time), literally “the new time”, is going to be the old time as it joins Dry Good Friday in 2018’s bosca bruscar.

With all this hurlamaboc, you’ll probably need some apt Irish vocabulary to get you through to Hallowe’en in one piece. So here are some warm, cinnamony words to wrap yourself up in… the spookier ones will follow in a week or two.

Fómhar: This is the Irish word for autumn; September is Meán Fomhair (middle autumn) and October is Deireadh Fomhair (end of Autumn). You knew these ones already, of course, but you mightn’t know the expression chomh líonta le frog fómhair – as full as an autumn frog (one who is about to hibernate, that is). If you’re wondering why Irish doesn’t have a more bespoke word for frog, the 1864 foclóir has a theory – “an animal not found in Ireland before the reign of William III of England, whose Dutch troops first introduced it amongst us”.

Gealach na gCoinleach: This is the harvest moon Coinleach means stubble; rather than implying that the moon has a 5 o’clock shadow, the stubble referred to is the recently-shorn farmland seen at harvest time. 

Sméirín: This is a small, cuddly mammal with black fur. It comes from the sméar, the Irish for a blackberry. This fruit is synonymous with autumn in Ireland; the herald of winter was púca na sméar (the blackberry goblin) who’d mark the end of the season by peeing on the blackberry crop.

Cnó Capaill: This means a conker and translates literally as a horse nut. A game of conkers is the delightfully alliterative cluiche cnónna capaill.

Fáinleog: Swallows migrate south when autumn comes (or ought to, as readers of The Little Prince will remember), and this is reflected in their Irish name, which literally means little wanderer. In a classic incidence of a fada making all the difference, the verb fan means to stay and fán means to wander.

Dearglach: There’s no English word for the red glow in the evening skies around autumn, but Irish has this lovely one. This phenomenon is slightly different from the layered sky-colours of the gloaming, which is amhdhorchacht (raw/uncooked darkness) in Irish.

Clagarnach: Another one without a direct equivalent in English, this means the sound of raindrops against a roof or window when you are inside. If you’re outside, spútrach can mean rain splashing in puddles or ground that has been temporarily turned to mud by rainfall.

Seadbhraon: These are small raindrops that are carried horizontally by the wind (as opposed to falling mirthlessly straight down).

Seordán: This is a rustling sound, such as is made by leafy branches swaying in the breeze.

Seoithín na gaoithe sna crainn: this means the whispering of the wind in the trees.

About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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