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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
The Irish for Irish is the first language of the constitution. Here's some legal terminology as Gaeilge
Bannaí means bail and is not to be confused with banaí which means a womaniser, writes Darach Ó Séaghdha.

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.

IF YOU’VE EVER been summoned for jury duty, you may have been surprised by the list of professions who are entitled to an automatic exemption from this service – sea captains and nuns get a pass, but shift workers who could miss out on paid work must plead their case.

Although there is a screening process, there are no qualifications or minimum levels of knowledge of a field required to be a juror, such as fluency.

This became a point of contention in the case of Ó Maicín V Ireland.

In this case, which I discussed on a recent Motherfocloir episode, a first-language Irish speaker was charged with the assault of another first-language Irish speaker, the alleged assault had taken place in the Gaeltacht.

Ó Maicín’s request – that part of his right to a trial in Irish included an Irish-speaking jury – led him to the Supreme Court, where it was ultimately rejected on the grounds that a test of Irish-speaking competency would compromise the randomness of the jury.

Having said that Irish is the first language of the Republic of Ireland in accordance with Article 8 of the constitution. So it follows that there is plenty of legal terminology as Gaeilge to consider.

Glactar : 

There are a number of places in the constitution where things are recognised as having a certain status, and the Irish language text generally uses the word admhaigh for those entries.

However, in Article 8.2 when the recognition of English is referred to, glactar leis is used.

While the legal weight is the same, glactar (which is closer to ‘tolerate’) is generally regarded as a less enthusiastic level of acceptance than adhmaigh (which is closer to ‘proclaim’).

This is interpreted by some scholars as an act of bilingual shade-throwing.

An Chúírt Uachtarach: The Supreme Court.

The word uachtarach might look familiar to you from the title of the president; in both cases, the highest office is being referred to.

Cream is called uachtar because it sits above the rest of the milk.

On the opposite end of the scale is level – bunreacht literally means basic or foundation law.

Bannaí: Bail and is not to be confused with banaí which means a womaniser.

Amhras Réasúnach: 

The phrase ‘gan amhras’ means ‘without a doubt’.

Sometimes there is a doubt, though, and it can be enough to acquit someone- amhras réasúnach means reasonable doubt.

The classic movie 12 Angry Men hinges on this idea as one juror after another, questions the assumptions they have made. However, as this classic piece of spoilsport journalism argues, the defendant was almost certainly guilty.


Sounding misleadingly like the Irish for bumblebee (bumbóg), this is actually someone who serves writs/summonses for a living.

This job was once known in English as a bum-bailiff. Fumbally Lane in Dublin 8 was identified as Bumbailiff’s Lane in the 18th century.

Promhadh: The Irish word for probation can also mean a test or a proof.

Edwin Torres, the New York State Supreme Court judge (and author of the crime novel Carlito’s Way) once advised a defendant during sentencing that their parole officer had not been born yet.

Pianbhreith: This is a sentence (in the legal rather than grammatical sense) and, appropriately enough is a portmanteau of pian (pain) and breith (judgement).

In Brendan Brehan’s play The Hostage/An Giall, a character remarks: “I was court-martialed in my absence and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence”.

Darach’s 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.

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