Classical Gaelic/Resources

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Unfortunately there is no textbook or comprehensive grammar of Classical Gaelic (the standard language used in bardic poetry between the 13th and 17th centuries by poets of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland), but there are several resources that can help you dive into that period of the language, especially if you are already familiar with either Modern Irish or Scottish Gaelic.

Online resources

  • Lé A website dedicated to Classical Gaelic and Early Modern Irish, it contains:
  • a very imperfect grammar section (there are some mistakes there, and a lot of important things are missing) but the inflection tables can be useful,
  • texts section with passages from Classical / EMI texts with good explanations of the grammar used,
  • vocabulary section with a list of words and explanations cited from various other sources,
  • and an interactive palaeography section teaching you how to read late medieval and early modern manuscripts.


Editions of grammatical tracts

  • Bardic Syntactical Tracts, Lambert McKenna, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1944 – edition of a few tracts on syntax and grammar with very extensive notes about the examples used in the tracts and the rules outlined there, it also has appendices explaining some points of grammar (relative clauses, use of noun cases, etc.).
  • The Art of Bardic Poetry: A New Edition of Irish Grammatical Tracts I, Eoin Mac Cárthaigh, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 2014 – edition of one of the best-preserved bardic grammatical tracts outlining the basic rules of the bardic language, accompanied with English translation of the whole text and extensive notes about the rules outlined there, cross-referenced with other tracts and information about how they were actually applied in the poems.

Pieces of grammar in editions of early modern texts

Grammar sections in editions of Early Modern Irish texts:

  • Seathrún Céitinn (Geoffrey Keating) – late 16th, early 17th century Munster author who used an archizing language in prose, keeping some features of the classical standard:
  • Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire (Florence Conry) – late 16th, early 17th century writer from Connacht, taught in bardic tradition, his prose shows many archaic features of the bardic standard:
  • T. F. O’Rahilly’s grammar introduction and notes on grammar in Desiderius, otherwise called Sgáthán an chrábhaidh – translation of a religious text from Spain, the introduction gives a quick overview of grammatical forms used while the notes explain some details of early modern syntax – mentioning earlier bardic usage and later, 15th and 16th century, Irish (sometimes also Scottish) developments.

Early modern grammars of Irish

Two grammars of Irish were written in 18th century, they neither describe exactly the vernacular speech of the 18th century nor the Classical Gaelic standard, but kind of a high literary register of Irish of the time which keeps some features of the 13th century bardic standard and thus can be useful to understand older texts:

  • The Elements of the Irish Language: Grammatically Explained in English, Hugh Mac Curtin (Aodh ‘Buidhe’ Mac Cruitín), 1728 – the earliest Irish grammar printed in English, can be quite difficult to read because the Irish is printed using a Gaelic script type with some selected scribal abbreviations.
  • A Grammar of the Iberno-Celtic or Irish Language, Charles Vallancey, 1782 (2nd ed.) (1st ed. 1773) – generally similar to Mac Curtin’s book, but fully printed using Roman type without scribal abbreviations.

Historical linguistics

  • Stair na Gaeilge: in ómós do P[h]ádraig Ó Fiannachta, Coláiste Phádraig, Maigh Nuad, 1994, an Irish language book about the history of Goidelic languages – chapter 4, An Nua-Ghaeilge Chlasaiceach (pp. 335–445) by Damian McManus is dedicated to Classical Gaelic and Early Modern Irish.
  • The Linguistic Training of the Mediaeval Irish Poet, Brian Ó Cuív, Dublin Institute For Advanced Studies, 1973 – a lecture outlining the general type of linguistic training which a student of a bardic school received, showing some features of the bardic standard and how it differed from the spoken language over the centuries when it was used.

Editions of bardic poetry

  • Mícheál Hoyne (2018), Fuidheall Áir: Bardic poems on the Meic Dhiarmada of Magh Luirg, c. 1377 – c. 1637, Dublin Institute For Advanced Studies
  • Lambert McKenna (1939), Aithdioghluim Dána: a miscellany of Irish bardic poetry, historical and religious, including the historical poems of the duanaire in the Yellow Book of Lecan, vol. 1 (introduction and text) and 2 (translation, notes, vocabulary), Dublin
  • Bardic Poetry Database – a searchable online collection of bardic poetry