Ulster Irish (Irish: Canúint Uladh, Ulster Scots: Ulstèr Airish, also called Northern Irish) is the variety of Irish spoken in the province of Ulster. It "occupies a central position in the Gaelic world made up of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man". Ulster Irish thus has more in common with Scottish Gaelic and Manx. Within Ulster there have historically been two main sub-dialects: West Ulster and East Ulster. The Western dialect is spoken in County Donegal and once was in parts of neighbouring counties, hence the name Donegal Irish. The Eastern dialect was spoken in most of the rest of Ulster and northern parts of counties Louth and Meath.
Ulster Irish was the main language spoken in Ulster from the earliest recorded times even before Ireland became a jurisdiction in the 1300s. Since the Plantation, Ulster Irish was steadily replaced by English. The Eastern dialect died out in the 20th century, but the Western lives on in the Gaeltacht region of County Donegal. In 1808, County Down natives William Neilson and Patrick Lynch (Pádraig Ó Loingsigh) published a detailed study on Ulster Irish. Both Neilson and his father were Ulster-speaking Presbyterian ministers. When the recommendations of the first Comisiún na Gaeltachta were drawn up in 1926, there were regions qualifying for Gaeltacht recognition in the Sperrins and the northern Glens of Antrim and Rathlin Island. The report also makes note of small pockets of Irish speakers in northwest County Cavan, southeast County Monaghan, and the far south of County Armagh. However, these small pockets vanished early in the 20th century while Ulster Irish in the Sperrins survived until the 1950s and in the Glens of Antrim until the 1970s. The last native speaker of Rathlin Irish died in 1985.
The Ulster dialect contains many words not used in other dialects—of which the main ones are Connacht Irish and Munster Irish—or used otherwise only in northeast Connacht. The standard form of Irish is An Caighdeán Oifigiúil. In other cases, a semantic shift has resulted in quite different meanings attaching to the same word in Ulster Irish and in other dialects. Some of these words include:
Words generally associated with the now dead East Ulster Irish include:
In other cases, a semantic shift has resulted in quite different meanings attaching to the same word in Ulster Irish and in other dialects. Some of these words include:
The phonemic inventory of Ulster Irish (based on the dialect of Gweedore) is as shown in the following chart (see International Phonetic Alphabet for an explanation of the symbols). Symbols appearing in the upper half of each row are velarized (traditionally called "broad" consonants) while those in the bottom half are palatalized ("slender"). The consonants /h, n, l/ are neither broad nor slender.
The vowels of Ulster Irish are as shown on the following chart. These positions are only approximate, as vowels are strongly influenced by the palatalization and velarization of surrounding consonants.
Some characteristics of the phonology of Ulster Irish that distinguish it from the other dialects are:
Differences between the Western and Eastern sub-dialects of Ulster include the following:
Ulster Irish has the same two initial mutations, lenition and eclipsis, as the other two dialects and the standard language, and mostly uses them the same way. There is, however, one exception: in Ulster, a dative singular noun after the definite article is lenited (e.g. ar an chrann "on the tree") (as is the case in Scottish and Manx), whereas in Connacht and Munster, it is eclipsed (ar an gcrann), except in the case of den, don and insan, where lenition occurs in literary language. Both possibilities are allowed for in the standard language.
Irish verbs are characterized by having a mixture of analytic forms (where information about person is provided by a pronoun) and synthetic forms (where information about number is provided in an ending on the verb) in their conjugation. In Ulster and North Connacht the analytic forms are used in a variety of forms where the standard language has synthetic forms, e.g. molann muid "we praise" (standard molaimid, muid being a back formation from the verbal ending -mid and not found in the Munster dialect, which retains sinn as the first person plural pronoun as do Scottish Gaelic and Manx) or mholfadh siad "they would praise" (standard mholfaidís). The synthetic forms, including those no longer emphasised in the standard language, may be used in short answers to questions.
The 2nd conjugation future stem suffix in Ulster is -óch- (pronounced [ah]) rather than -ó-, e.g. beannóchaidh mé [bʲan̪ˠahə mʲə] "I will bless" (standard beannóidh mé [bʲanoːj mʲeː]).
Some irregular verbs have different forms in Ulster from those in the standard language. For example:
In Ulster the negative particle cha (before a vowel chan, in past tenses char - Scottish Gaelic/Manx chan, cha do) is sometimes used where other dialects use ní and níor. The form is more common in the north of the Donegal Gaeltacht. Cha cannot be followed by the future tense: where it has a future meaning, it is followed by the habitual present. It triggers a "mixed mutation": /t/ and /d/ are eclipsed, while other consonants are lenited. In some dialects however (Gweedore), cha eclipses all consonants, except b- in the forms of the verb "to be", and sometimes f-:
In the Past Tense, some irregular verbs are lenited/eclipsed in the Interrogative/Negative that differ from the standard, due to the various particles that may be preferred:
The Ulster dialect uses the present tense of the subjunctive mood in certain cases where other dialects prefer to use the future indicative:Suigh síos anseo aige mo thaobh, a Shéimí, go dtugaidh (dtabhairidh, dtabhraidh) mé comhairle duit agus go n-insidh mé mo scéal duit.
The verbal noun can be used in subordinate clauses with a subject different from that of the main clause:
Notable Ulster Irish writers include Micí Mac Gabhann, Seosamh Mac Grianna, Peadar Toner Mac Fhionnlaoich, Cosslett Ó Cuinn, Niall Ó Dónaill, Séamus Ó Grianna, Brian Ó Nualláin, Colette Ní Ghallchóir and Cathal Ó Searcaigh.
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- Gura Slán le m’Óige. Oifig an tSoláthair, Baile Átha Cliath 1974 (úrscéal) Na Rosa
- Pádraic Ó Conaire agus Aistí Eile. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1986 (aistí) Na Rosa
- Dá mBíodh Ruball ar an Éan. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1992 (úrscéal gan chríochnú) Na Rosa
- Mo Bhealach Féin. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1997 (dírbheathaisnéis) Na Rosa
- An Dara Mám. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 1991 (gearrscéalta) Lár Thír Chonaill
- An Tríú Mám. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 1992 (aistí) Lár Thír Chonaill
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- Amhráin Hiúdaí Fheidhlimí agus Laoithe Fiannaíochta as Rann na Feirste. Pádraig Ó Baoighill a chuir in eagar, Mánus Ó Baoill a chóirigh an ceol. Preas Uladh, Muineachán 2001
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- …Imleabhar 2. Cumann Staire agus Seanchais Ghaoth Dobhair i gcomhar le Comharchumann Forbartha Gh. D. Gaoth Dobhair 1996 (béaloideas) Gaoth Dobhair
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- Cúl le Muir agus scéalta eile. Oifig an tSoláthair, Baile Átha Cliath 1961 (gearrscéalta) Na Rosa
- Na Blianta Corracha. Scríbhinní Mháire 2. Eagarthóir: Nollaig Mac Congáil. Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath 2003 (altanna) Na Rosa
- Nuair a Bhí Mé Óg. Cló Mercier, Baile Átha Cliath agus Corcaigh 1986 (dírbheathaisnéis) Na Rosa
- An Sean-Teach. Oifig an tSoláthair, Baile Átha Cliath 1968 (úrscéal) Na Rosa
- Tairngreacht Mhiseoige. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1995 (úrscéal) Na Rosa
- Laochas - Scéalta as an tSeanlitríocht. An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1945/1984/1996 (miotaseolaíocht) Na Rosa