In search of Irish roots

Since the result of the referendum in June was for Britain to leave the European Union, aireland growing number of British people have been checking their Irish roots to see (only half-jokingly) if they have sufficient Irish ancestry to qualify for an Irish passport, move to Ireland, and thus remain part of the EU. (For US readers, Ireland is Eire, or the southern part of Ireland, which became an independent country about 100 years ago, joined the EU in its own right, and is still a member. Northern Ireland is still part of the UK, so will leave Europe, along with the rest of Britain, in due course).

As well as a genuine Irish relative, an understanding of Irish culture and the Celtic language might help! Failing that, a bit knowledge of Irish vocabulary could be useful. Here are a few Irish words that are in regular use in English. Some are obviously Irish in origin, largely still refer to matters Irish, and need no explanation:

  • shamrockShamrock
  • Leprechaun
  • Whiskey
  • Shebeen
  • Lough
  • Craic
  • Bog

You may be surprised that some words in common usage in English are actually Irish in origin:

  • Brogue – both the shoe, and the (Irish) accent – presumably an allusion to the type of shoe the speaker was wearing!
  • Clock – apparently this was first a reference to the bell an Irish missionary might be carrying.
  • Galore – as in the film / book Whisky Galore. Yes, I know the story and author are is Scottish, but you get the picture!
  • Slogan – this was originally a battle cry, though a modern advertising slogan is not much different.
  • Smithereens – small fragments.

There are also words that you may not know are Irish in origin. Especially as their meaning in modern English is subtly different from the original one:

  • Gob – originally beaky nose
  • Slob –originally mud
  • Brat –originally cloak
  • Tory – originally an outlaw (well, maybe not quite so subtle!)

And one last phrase, that is new to me too. It evokes the often sad history of Ireland and the struggles and famines in the past. Literally meaning ‘poor old woman’ Shan Van Vocht was a literary name for Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. More recently Ireland has been better known for its ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy – and the craic, of course.





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