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Dublin: 10°C Friday 16 April 2021

The Irish For... All the most important Christmas words (including Fairytale of New York as Gaeilge)

Hó hó hó! Darach Ó Séaghdha has a selection box of Irish words for Christmas.

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

This the latest dispatch from our columnist Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of the award-winning and bestselling Motherfoclóir. Every week, Darach will be regaling (re-Gaeling?) us with insights on what the Irish language says about Ireland, our society, our past and our present. Enjoy. 


Christmas is right around the corner and I’m certain as you read this article, you are in a state of total relaxation by now. All of your shopping has been done, and the little jobs to prepare the Big Dinner have been planned and delegated to the smallest detail.

Your mind is clear, rested, and ready to receive new Irish words and of course, I have a selection box full of them.

Bualadh Bos: Just as the screenplay of The Godfather doesn’t include the word mafia, the word Christmas is a surprise omission from the lyrics of Jingle Bells.

The sentiment “jingle all the way” sounds nice but is meaningless, and therefore a hellish chore for a translator. Consequentially, the Irish version of jingle bells keeps the syllable count and jettisons the lyrical content completely. 

Bualadh bos, bualadh bos,
Buailimis go léir,
Tá Daidí na Nollaig ag teacht anocht
Anuas an simléar.

This translates as:

Clap hands, clap hands,
Clap hands, everybody,
Santa is coming tonight,
Down the chimney.

Síscéal: This is the Irish for a fairytale which makes perfect sense (sí + scéal is fairy + tale).

The Pogue’s classic “Fairytale of New York” has been in the news lately as the value of a certain lyric was debated, particularly in the context of the unavoidability of Christmas music.

These concerns were shared by Kirsty McColl, who altered the line in live performances before her death. Similarly, when the song was translated into Irish a few years ago, the muscular candour of the song was honoured fully while the homophobic slur was removed:

A Sclíteach, a Chonúis,
‘Chacsmuitín an donais

You scumbag, you worthless slob,
You skidmark of badness

Gé: A goose!

Turkeys are a relatively recent arrival to Ireland, where the goose was the bird traditionally cooked on the 25th. One of my favourite seanfhocail is a remark on groupthink. ‘Nuair a chacann gé, cacann siad go léir’  – when one goose shits, they all do!

Mac Léinn: It’s tempting to think that the origin of the surname McClane comes from the Irish for student, but there’s far more evidence to support the view that it comes from Mac Giolla Eoin, son of the servant of (Saint) John.

This could make John McClane – Eoin Mac Giola Eoin in Irish.

A festive favourite, Die Hard was recently added to the National Film Registry of the US Library of Congress.

If you’re watching Die Hard this year with someone you want to impress or bore, tell them that Gruber is quoting the Greek historian Plutarch, when he says: “Alexander wept when he had no more worlds to conquer”.

Now if you really want to impress or bore them, be sure to add that Gruber is actually misquoting Plutarch, who when hearing of other worlds wept because he had not yet conquered one.

‘Home Alone’ is a sentence fragment and does not translate directly into Irish without a reflexive pronoun. For example – fágtha sa bhaile leis féin, would mean he was home alone’.

Film critics have written at some length on the similarities between Home Alone and Die Hard; among other things, both films include people standing on broken glass in their bare feet.

The Irish for barefoot is cosnochta; this can also be used as an adjective to describe unbuttered bread or tea without milk or sugar.

Deoladh: Why was this word left until the end? It’s no accident – deoladh can either mean a bounty or a small snack or morsel.

While everyone loves a big tub of sweets, there’s always a dud in there that nobody wants.

The divisive ingredient in a bounty is the coconut – in Irish, this is cnó cócó, part of a select club of words in Irish that feature a fada on every vowel.

Darach’s new book, ‘Craic Baby: Dispatches From A Rising Language’ is published by Head of Zeus and available in bookshops now.

 He runs @theirishfor Twitter account and the @motherfocloir podcast.

About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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