Volume 7, Number 3

March 2010

Download pdf

Table of Contents


Contact Information

Review of David Barnwell, Pádraig Ó Domhnalláin and
Carmen Rodríguez Alonso’s
Diccionario Irlandés-Español / Foclóir Gaeilge-Spáinnise


By Thomas Ihde [1]

Dublin: Coiscéim, 2009
322 pages, ISBN 1-901176-48-7, €15


The introduction of an Irish-Spanish dictionary to the language tools available to linguists is unquestionably a positive sign. While a wide variety of English-Irish/Irish-English dictionaries exist, bilingual Irish dictionaries in other languages are still much needed. In fact, a search of available books at one online bookshop revealed 32 volumes with the word “foclóir” (dictionary) in the title and all but one were Irish-only dictionaries or Irish/English-English/Irish bilingual dictionaries [2]. That one volume was the text being considered here. Other Irish bilingual dictionaries published in the past sixty years mentioned in David Barnwell’s Irish language introduction (French, Breton, and Russian) are either only available from small bookshops or are out of print.

The bilingual dictionary in the volume under consideration numbers 322 pages. The book measures about 22cm by 15cm with 368 pages including introductions. This paperback volume is printed on high quality durable paper. Headwords appear in bold and pages are divided into two columns. The abbreviations for parts of speech and so on make use of Spanish and are listed on page 43. Following the headword and abbreviations, the Spanish language equivalent(s) are listed. In some cases a sample phrase or sentence is given in Irish followed by a Spanish translation.  For example, we find

bris vt vi romper; cambiar moneda, briseadh as a phost é fué despedido de su puesto, bhris an gasúr an fhuinneog el niño rompió la ventana, bhris mo charr síos ar an bhfána mi coche se averió en la colina

Abbreviations indicate the gender and case of nouns as in the following example:

Náisiún m1 nación, na Náisiúin Aontaithe las Naciones Unidas

Plural and genitive forms of nouns are not given. Nor is there a guide to regular verb conjugations. As a result, the dictionary will be helpful to many readers trying to decode texts, but those seeking to write in Irish will need to rely on additional resources.

A number of target populations will identify Diccionario Irlandés-Español / Foclóir Gaeilge-Spáinnise as an excellent resource and one that is most helpful. Immediately coming to mind are students studying Spanish at Irish language secondary schools throughout Ireland, especially taking into consideration that the volume was published by Coiscéim in Dublin. However, this cohort of students, though finding such a resource helpful, would be undoubtedly small. Foreign language studies have not been mandatory in Ireland because most children study Irish and English, one being their home language and the other their second language. The most commonly studied “third” or “foreign” language in Ireland has traditionally been and continues to be French. However the number of students studying German has been notable as well. Less than 4 of every 100 students who sat Leaving Certificate examinations in foreign languages in 2005 chose Spanish [3]. As a result, with both the fact that “foreign” language study is not mandatory in Ireland and that only a small percentage of students who do study foreign languages take Spanish, it clearly must be the case that this extensive work was intended for a population other than Irish secondary students, Irish university students, or linguists in general.  

Once one gets past the above-mentioned Irish language introduction (pp. vii-x), it becomes clear that this dictionary was in fact created for Spanish speakers learning Irish. Whereas the Irish language introduction extends four pages, the Spanish language introduction numbers fifteen pages with seventeen additional pages of appendices with Spanish language headings. Among other items in the appendices are a list of cognates (xix), Irish prepositional pronouns (xxviii), Irish comparative and superlative forms (xxix), Irish irregular verbs (xxx-xxxi), a bilingual list of proverbs (xxxv-xxxix), and placenames (xl-xlii).

The volume was begun by co-author Pádraig Ó Domhnalláin with his students as he taught Irish in Madrid. Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann (ITÉ - Linguistics Institute of Ireland) was involved in the project from the early stages when Ó Domhnalláin was awarded a European Union LINGUA grant to develop a bilingual lexicon. At the time, David Barnwell was affiliated with ITÉ and accepted the challenge of moving forward with the project. Co-author Carmen Rodríguez Alonso started out learning Irish with Pádraig Ó Domhnalláin in Madrid and moved to Ireland where she studied Irish. She now teaches Irish and Spanish there. She joined David Barnwell on the ITÉ project and with the closing of ITÉ both Barnwell and Rodríguez Alonso continued working on the project at Barnwell’s new place of employment, the Department of Spanish at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. The English subtitle to this dictionary is clearly only for marketing purposes. As one would expect in an Irish-Spanish dictionary, there is little English in the volume beyond that subtitle.

Both of the introductions are attributed to David Barnwell. The Irish language introduction briefly looks at ways that the Irish language and Spanish language have come in contact historically and in terms of publishing. Barnwell indicates that the volume contains over 19,000 headwords, making it a notable resource in terms of dictionaries available. The Spanish language introduction provides a history of the Irish language and also realistically documents the recent shrinking of native-speaking communities in relation to the population of the island as a whole. However, it must be noted that this description of the language and its current use does appear to be extremely Dublin- or urban-focused. While, as described, the language finds itself very much at the margins of Irish life, spending six months in Dublin and spending six months in Irish-speaking Connemara leave the traveller with two very different experiences of the language. Should a Spaniard be seeking to visit Ireland and learn Irish, they would be well advised to spend time in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking region). And since some Irish-speaking regions have greater use of the language than others, it is recommended that such language experiences be carefully planned to maximise exposure to the language. As in the popular film, “Yu Ming is ainm dom (My Name is Yu Ming)” [4] the Chinese immigrant (Daniel Wu) found very little Irish in Dublin and had to seek out a Gaeltacht experience in the west. Just as an American would not travel to Vancouver to study spoken French, one would not recommend that a Spaniard travel to Dublin to acquire a dialect of spoken Irish.

While introductions comprising forty-three pages in a dictionary may seem excessive, the lack of Irish language learning materials for Spanish-speakers makes this one of the few Spanish resources concerning Irish. It appears as if the authors had two goals in mind, a booklet regarding the history and workings of the language in Spanish and an Irish-Spanish dictionary. While Mícheál Ó Siadhail’s textbook  Learning Irish (1980) was translated into German [5] providing similar detailed information about the history and use of the language in the introduction, none of the popular Irish language learning textbooks have been translated into Spanish. As a result, this volume serves obviously as a solid bilingual dictionary, but also as the first widely accessible resource for any Spanish speaker interested in the Irish language. Interestingly, however, much of the material in the introduction appears targeted for readers with a background in linguistics. The introduction does not provide information about the history of learning Irish in Spain or Latin America. It is not clear if that audience is primarily linguists seeking to become exposed to a Celtic language or students interested in Irish music and literature. Whatever the case, Spanish speakers are most fortunate to have this excellent resource and we look forward to Volume II, the Spanish-Irish dictionary.   

Thomas Ihde


[1] Associate Professor of Irish, Lehman College, City University of New York (CUNY).

[2] www.litriocht.com

[3] Department of Education and Science, Language Education Policy Profile Country Report: Ireland (2005-2006), p. 23.

[4] O'Hara, Daniel(director), Yu Ming is ainm dom, Dough Productions (2003).

[5] Ó Siadhai, Mícheál. Lehrbuch der irischen Sprache (Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag GmbH, 2004).

Authors’ Reply

We thank Professor Ihde for his review of our dictionary.  We appreciate the welcome he extends to the volume, and are grateful for the many positive things he has to say about it.

Ihde draws attention to the fact that our Introduction in Irish is much shorter than its counterpart in Spanish. The reason for this is simple. Information about Spanish - its structure, history, dialectology etc. - is readily available to anyone who wishes to seek it. Information about Irish, on the other hand, is by no means so easily available to the Spanish speaker, and what there is, often on the internet, is at times not reliable. To cite the reviewer’s own phrase, this is “the first widely accessible resource for any Spanish speaker interested in the Irish language”. Perhaps related to this, Ihde wonders about the target audience for the dictionary; Irish speakers or Spanish speakers, linguists or “students interested in Irish music and literature”? We would like to think that all of these groups would find the dictionary of some value. Obviously a dictionary of Irish and another European language caters to a very limited market, but we find Ihde’s depiction of the current status of Spanish in the Irish educational system a little inexact, in that the situation of Spanish is definitely stronger than he depicts. Lots of people in Ireland, be they children or adults, are learning Spanish. 

We are not sure about what Ihde means in his comment that the dictionary is “Dublin- or urban-focused”. Is he criticising the dictionary for using standard Irish (An Caighdeán Oifigiúil)? If so, we can only say that this has been the practice of Irish dictionaries such as De Bhaldraithe or Ó Dónaill. Of course we would urge Spanish-speaking learners of Irish to spend time in what remains of our Gaeltachtaí, but we think they might do well to pack a copy of our dictionary with other learning materials. And we remind readers that there is a large reservoir of Irish speakers (and learners) outside the shrinking borders of the Gaeltachtaí, in Dublin and elsewhere, indeed outside of Ireland. Some Spanish-speaking learners of Irish will never visit Ireland - we would hope our dictionary would be of service to them too. As to the short film recommended by Ihde, Yu Ming is ainm dom, its humour, such as it is, revolves around the fact that Irish is not widely spoken in Ireland, hardly an epiphany for anyone who knows the country.

Once again, our thanks to Professor Ihde, and our best wishes for his efforts and the work undertaken at the CUNY Institute for Irish-American Studies on behalf of Irish language and culture.

David Barnwell and Carmen Rodríguez Alonso

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2010

Published: 02 March 2010
Edited: 24 September 2010

Ihde, Thomas 'Review of David Barnwell, Pádraig Ó Domhnalláin and Carmen Rodríguez Alonso’s "Diccionario Irlandés-Español / Foclóir Gaeilge-Spáinnise"' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 7:3 (March 2010), pp. 399-402. Available online  (www.irlandeses.org/imsla1003.htm), accessed .

The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

 Copyright Information