|Copyright (c) 2011 by Gerald A. John Kelly - All Rights Reserved - No Reproduction Without Written Permission of the Author
|Specializing in Seanchas - the Ancient Genealogy, History, and Brehon Law of Gaelic Ireland
|Seanchas - Much More Than a Genealogy
Tábhacht na Gaeilge i dTaighde Ginealais
The Importance of Irish in Genealogical Research
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Did you lose something?
Does it really annoy you when you lose something? Say, a huge part of your family's history? If so, consider this
for a moment.
Also known as Gaeilge or Irish Gaelic, the Irish Language is the living warehouse of over 2,500 years of Irish and
Celtic oral history, oral genealogy, law, myth, religion, poetic art, song, epic tales, saga, and science. Do you
want to know how your ancestors lived and thought? Their entire, unique, world-view? As characterized by the
Celtic scholar Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson, the Irish Language is your “window on the Iron Age.”
The Written Record
"Archaic Irish" was first written in the form of short genealogies on Ogham stones about the 3rd or 4th Century
after Christ. The earliest surviving manuscript containing writing in Irish may be the 7th century Cathach of St.
Columba. Irish history and genealogy were written on a contemporary basis by the 7th century and some have
recently been proven by DNA analysis to be accurate as far back as approximately 350 A.D. (Here I reference
the recent research by Trinity College Dublin of the DNA of the Connachta, including the Uí Néill.) In other
words, the Irish Language is the direct written link to all the elements of native Irish learning and culture during
the Early Christian, Medieval, Renaissance, and Early Modern periods. Using English language records in
Ireland to go back 200 years in your family's history is a wonderful accomplishment. But imagine going back as
much as 1650 years in your family's history using Irish Language records.
The Broken Link
If this were an article dealing with Pierre le Deuxieme, Henri le Dauphin, or other nobility of France, you would be
confused, if not appalled, if I were to spell their names as Pea-Air Lih Doozy-Am and Harry The Porpoise. Yet
this kind of nonsense is exactly what happened to Irish surnames and genealogies in the 19th century. Besides
making our ancestors sound like aliens or mob hitmen, absurdities like this obviously break the link to the past,
insult our intelligence, and leave us guessing about who we're actually talking about. If you’ve read O’Hart's
Pedigrees and tried to cross-reference them to any of the Annals, you know what I mean.
Today, without research or knowledge of Irish, who would guess that the obviously English name Cannon is, in
south Connacht, actually a cover-name for Ó Canáin ('Grandson of Little Wolf Cub')? Or that “Ward” is actually
a partial phonetic for Mac an Bháird (‘Son of the Praise-Poet’), the name of three distinguished literary families?
Or that the obviously English name of “Clark” is a cover-name for Ó Cléirigh, the respected sloinne of hereditary
In fact, from our ancestors' point of view, all the anglicized Irish surnames we use today are either poor
translations, misspelled, or at best, rough phonetic attempts at the real thing.
Re-Forging the Link
Happily, the days of re-writing the entire Irish language phonetically in English in order to satisfy a foreign
imperium are over. The great Irish seanchadh (historian / jurist / genealogist) Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh is not
"Dudley Forbes." The great Irish historians Seathrún Céitinn and Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh are not "Geoffrey
Keating" and "Peregrine O'Clery."
Even the Irish government has finally begun to re-claim the ancient placenames of Ireland, thereby undoing the
damage to history, culture, and common sense inflicted by the Ordinance Surveys of the 1830s and 1840s which
re-wrote the entire map of Ireland in gibberish. The ancient 'Fortress of Ó Cúis' is again recognized on Irish
maps as Daingean Uí Chúis. It always deserved better than a silly name like "Dingle."
In other words, the Irish Language is again restoring people and place, reference and context, to those who are
researching the history, law, and genealogy of Ireland.
How to get in on it
If you don't already know Irish, don't be discouraged. You can learn. Certainly, Irish phonetics are radically
different from English phonetics, but so are the phonetics of Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese,
Arabic, Hindi, and every other language. Excellent self-teaching tools, such as Rosetta Stone, are now available
for all these languages, including Irish. You can even learn the Irish Language over the internet, no matter
where you are in the world.
Does it really annoy you when you lose something? Then get it back. Learn Irish.