Clannad (Not the Anime) Abú!

I received the new Clannad CD today, and the word that keeps running through my head is “wow!”

Wow. Just wow.

I received the new Clannad CD set, Turas 1980, today, and the only word I can think of (the word that’s been running through my head since the first notes of the first track) is “wow!”

It’s exciting enough when a group of Clannad’s stature and longevity (almost 50 musical years!) releases a new album, but when it’s an album as good as this one, you want to shout it from the rooftops!

(I’m afraid of heights, though, so I figured I’d just blog about it instead)

Beyond all expectations

I do have to say that, when I first heard about this CD, after the initial excitement, I was a little disappointed. This is a release of songs and tunes Clannad performed on stage in Bremen, Germany in 1980, and live albums typically aren’t my thing. They rarely live up to expectations, and these are almost 40 year old recordings…I mean, seriously?

Seriously? Seriously! Go deimhin! These tracks are GOOD! Not just Clannad good (which is pretty damned amazing by any standard), but “where has this been all my life” good. So often a live show recording is poorly miked, overcome by background noise, unbalanced…you know how it is.

This collection, however, is about as perfect as it gets. It has all the freshness of a live performance with the richness and quality of a studio recording.

The old made new

If you think you’ve heard everything Clannad has to offer, think again. Several  of these songs/tunes are ones that Clannad hasn’t released on CD before, but even those that have been released on other albums  are fresh and new here because of the difference in harmonies and instrumentation. I’ve been driving around belting out Cuach Mo Londubh Buí with a big grin on my face, as if I’d never heard/sung it before!

That’s another thing I’m in love with about this album. There are  A LOT of songs in the mix — most of them in Irish. Many Irish trad CDs are more balanced toward instrumental tunes, but this one is balanced more toward singing, which pleases me, and more toward Irish than English, which pleases me greatly!

Those of you who have followed my blogs over the years know that I’m a huge advocate of learning by singing, and this is a great album to sing along with. Most of the songs are standards in the Irish trad repertoire, so if you’re a music lover who is also learning Irish, you’ll eventually hear these elsewhere, and it will be nice for you to have some familiarity with them.

Details, details

They say the devil is in the details. Well, there’s plenty of attention to detail here.

One of the reasons I’m not normally a fan of live albums is that there tends to be a lot of talking at the beginning of each track. Typically there’s no option to just listen to the song without going through the between-track patter first.

I listen to music while I’m driving to and from work. My time is limited. It can be annoying to have to listen to the same introduction over and over again just to hear the song I want.

The funny thing is, I’d never really thought about this until now. What they did here is so simple it took me a while to realize what it was, yet so effective that it completely changed the experience of listening to a live album for me. It’s a small detail, but an important one:

Instead of putting the patter at the beginning of a track, they put it at the end of the preceding track.

So, for example, the first track is Turas Ó Carolan and the second is An Cruiscín Lán. They put the spoken introduction to An Cruiscín Lán at the END of the Turas Ó Carolan track. So if I want to listen to it, I can, but if I just want to skip to the beginning of An Cruiscín Lán, I can do that.

Simple, right? Simple, but brilliant! I don’t know why this isn’t universal, but it totally should be! Let’s be honest here…while a bit of talking between songs in a concert is useful and expected, it’s not what most of us buy albums for.

Just one minor quibble

I do have one little issue with this album, and it’s one that I have with a lot of Irish collections. There’s no lyric sheet.

I’m not quite sure why this is. Perhaps the musicians think that people are unlikely to want to or be able to read the Irish lyrics, or perhaps it saves some money in production. I don’t know.

News flash, lads…the Irish learners among your listeners would madly, passionately LOVE the lyrics (and the non-Irish-learners would at least get a kick out of thinking “How do you make THIS sound like THAT?”).

Given that many people these days are more likely to download the music than to buy a CD set, even an official on-line site with the lyrics would suffice. There are lyrics out there from various sites, but they’re not always accurately transcribed.

And you know the old saying: There are two versions of every story, and 12 versions of every song!

A must-have

Minor quibble aside, this album is a must-have. If like Irish music, and/or you’re learning Irish, this album belongs in your collection.

About that anime

Maybe this won’t be a surprise to you, but it was to me: Apparently there’s quite a well-known (and, by all accounts, quite good) manga and anime out there by the name of “Clannad.”

It seems that the artist co-opted the name under the mistaken impression that “Clannad” means “family” in Irish.

Mini Irish lesson here: It doesn’t. (If nothing else, for you tattoo seekers out there, this underscores the fact that good research is your friend).

The word clann in Irish (which is the origin of the English word “clan”) typically is used to refer to the children of a family, or to a group of siblings. This isn’t universal, however, and in parts of Donegal, you’ll hear clann used simply to mean “family.”

But that’s clann. Where did “Clannad” come from?

As it happens, when the group first got its start, they had to come up with a name on the fly, and they went with Clann as Dobhar: “Family from Dore.” “Clann a. d” eventually was shortened to “Clannad.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

If you wandered in here seeking information about the anime, however,  fáilte! (welcome!). Stick around! We love to share our language, and you’re welcome to join us! It’s a small world, and the Irish-speaking world is even smaller. Bígí linn! (Join us!).

Le meas,


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit


O Say, Can You Say…?

Irish pronunciation: You can learn it. You CAN crack the code. And I’m going to tell you how.

In the 14+ years I’ve been learning Irish, I’ve noticed that, among learners (including myself), there’s a particular pattern of what I call “freakoutage” — i.e., things that make you clutch your hair and moan “Oh no! I’ll never learn this!”

It’s a very particular pattern, and it goes like this:

  • Freaking out about pronunciation
  • Freaking out about dialects
  • Freaking out about the use of tá vs. is.
  • Freaking out about how to answer “yes/no” questions
  • Freaking out about Irish verbs in general
  • Freaking out about certain verb forms

And it’s not just beginners! Far from it! In fact, I was once part of a class of advanced learners — people who can chat fairly comfortably on a wide variety of topics — who froze in wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror when the teacher cheerfully suggested “Let’s practice the modh coinníollach!

(The modh coinníolach is the conditional verb form — would, could, should, etc. — and for some reason that I really don’t understand it strikes terror into the hearts of Irish learners everywhere).

At some point I hope to talk about each of these in this blog, but for right now, let’s start with the most basic.

The elephant in the room: pronunciation

Once you’ve cracked the code, it can be hard to believe that you ever struggled with Irish pronunciation.

For an absolute beginner, however, the first time you look at an Irish word and then hear it pronounced (and realize that nothing that came out of the speaker’s mouth sounded remotely as you’d assumed it would), the prospect of actually learning to speak the language can seem pretty overwhelming.

The truth is that Irish spelling and pronunciation are surprisingly regular, particularly when compared with English (the language that gives us “through,” “though,” and “tough,” to name just a few of English’s inconsistencies!).

You can learn it. You CAN crack the code. And I’m going to tell you how.

First, forget all you think you know

Usually the first thing I hear when I pronounce an Irish word for someone is “How can that possibly make those sounds?” 

People tend to assume that letters have more or less absolute values, and that, perhaps with a few exceptions, they should sound more or less in one language as they do in another.

Language learners learn fairly quickly that that’s not always the case. Some letters and letter combinations in Irish sound like their counterparts in English, but many do not. Sometimes the difference is subtle and sometimes it’s quite marked.

Irish words also often seem to have more letters than they could possibly need.  One reason for this is an Irish spelling convention that dictates that a vowel on one side of a consonant or consonant combination must be matched with a vowel of the same type on the other side.

This rule is referred to as caol le caol agus leathan le leathan (“slender with slender and broad with broad”).  The “slender” vowels are i and e, and the broad vowels are a, o, and u. Often, when you find three vowels together in Irish, one of them is there simply to satisfy this spelling rule.

Add this to the fact that consonants and consonant combinations often make very different sounds to their counterparts in English, and you can find just about everything you know about spelling turned upside down.

If you go in without the expectation that things will “sound like they’re spelled” (a phrase I’ve come to hate, as they DO sound like they’re spelled…if you speak Irish! English is not the arbiter of the alphabet!), you’ll have an easier time right from the start.

Next: Forget Phonetics

It is so very tempting, when you hear an Irish word, to write it out using English phonics, or to ask the teacher to do so for you. So it may come as a surprise to you when I say that this is one of the WORST things you can do if you truly want to learn to read Irish as written.

There are a lot of reasons why writing things out “phonetically” is a bad idea. Here are just a few of them:

  • The sounds of Irish cannot be accurately represented by English phonics.* Consider the word gaoth (wind) for example. When people attempt to write it with English phonics, it usually gets set down as “gwee.” The problem is, while there is a sound in there that sounds a little like an English “w,” it’s not precisely equivalent. You can hear it pronounced in the three major dialects here:

  • Phonetic renderings impose an extra step between your ear, your eye, your mind, and your mouth. When you use English phonics to describe Irish sounds, you’re not really learning to associate the sounds with the Irish spelling, which can make learning to read and pronounce Irish doubly difficult.
  • Phonetic renderings can quickly become a crutch. I’ve known several people who never have learned to pronounce Irish as written, even after years of study, because they haven’t been able wean themselves off their English phonetic renderings (and at least one guy who claims it’s “impossible” to learn how to pronounce Irish as written and is trying to promote a new, English-based Irish spelling system. How sad is that?).

* Someone here is bound to mention IPA. Yes, the International Phonetic Alphabet is capable of representing pretty much any sound. It also takes just about as much time to to learn as Irish phonics, and presents the same problem as using English phonetics when it comes to putting a barrier between you and the written language. Save the IPA for another day.

See it; hear it; say it

So how do you learn to pronounce written Irish? The answer is so simple you’re going to think I’m pulling your leg. So simple, and yet so vital:

  • You see the word or phrase
  • You listen to a recording of the word or phrase
  • You say the word or phrase

What you need to do is establish a link between the word as it appears, the word as it sounds, and the word as it’s said. There is absolutely no substitute for this kind of practice if you want to learn to read Irish as written.

Don’t sit there and think to yourself “How can this possibly be pronounced like that?” Just accept that it is and learn it. It really is just that simple, and you’ll be surprised at just how quickly it works.

Of course, there are details

They say the devil is in the details, and if you want this method to work well for you, you need to give that devil his due. If you go about this randomly, at best it will take much longer to learn and at worst you may find yourself so confused that you give up.

Here are a few words of advice:

  • If you don’t have a teacher, pick ONE self-teaching method that has both a written and an aural component and stick with that one until you’ve finished it. This is important advice for learning Irish in general, and especially important if you want to get a solid grasp on how to read it as written. Don’t worry about dialects at this point. You’re just trying to get the basics, without confusing yourself too much. Once you’ve got those down, you can adjust your pronunciation as needed. I list several good resources in my blog post “Beyond Duolingo.”
  • If you do have a teacher, ask him or her if you can make a recording of vocabulary words and phrases/sentences from the unit you’re working on.
  • For now, avoid YouTube “pronunciation” videos. Yes, all of them (unless, of course, they’re part of the self-teaching method you’re using or of the program your teacher is using). Some of them are good, some are “meh,” and some are outright horrible. You don’t want to confuse yourself, and you certainly don’t want to establish bad habits right from the start! Those videos can wait until you’re a little farther along.
  • Practice daily, or more frequently if possible. Spend at least a few minutes every day working with your recordings. Look at the word or phrase you’re learning while you play the recording and again while you try to emulate the recording. See it; hear it; say it. Some self-learning programs, such as “Enjoy Irish!,” even have apps available for your phone, so you can spend a few minutes practicing during your lunch break (or on the bus or train if you don’t mind people looking at you funny!).
  • Every so often, reverse the order: Look at the word or phrase first, try to say it, and then compare what you said to the recording. This will allow you to assess your progress. When you get to the point where you’re pronouncing things correctly most of the time, and it’s just a matter of refining pronunciation rather than trying to work out how all the letters sound, you’ll know you’ve cracked the code.

Practice makes perfect

It may be a cliché, but it’s true nevertheless. If you work like this a little each day, pronunciation of written Irish will come to you more quickly than you may have dreamed possible when you first began.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, get a good learning method (if you don’t have one already) and start practicing!

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh!

Happy Learning!


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit


Oíche Shamhna, or Halloween, Old Irish Style

This is the time of year when an ancient Irish celebration turns our world black and orange.

This post originally appeared on my Tumblr blog in October, 2016.

‘Tis the season! This is the time of year when an ancient Irish celebration turns our world black and orange and fills our streets with little (and sometimes not so little) ghosts, goblins, and superheroes.

Happy New Year!

In ancient Ireland, Oíche Shamna, or “Samhain Eve” (“Samhain,” pronounced “SOW-un” — first syllable rhymes with “cow” — is the name of the Old Irish new year celebration, which begins on the eve of November 1, and is thus also the Irish name for the month of November) was a time when the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead was believed to grow thin.

People believed that the dead, both good and bad, could walk among the living on that night. They prepared offerings of food and drink to welcome their beloved dead, as well as to appease spirits who might mean to do them ill.

People also believed that the fairy folk were better able to “cross over” on such a night. Fairies in Irish mythology are not elegant elves or glittery pixies. They are supernatural creatures that are, at best, mischievous, and, at worst, truly terrifying.

For this reason, treats would also be left out to propitiate any visiting fairies in the hope that they would leave the household alone. This eventually evolved into young people dressing up as such creatures (or as deceased ancestors) and going from house to house collecting goodies.

Sound familiar?

A Tradition that Spans Cultures

My recent travels took me to México, where I had the opportunity to view examples of Mexican art, both ancient and modern, with the guidance of local experts. It was quite an eye-opening experience!

I was struck by the similarities between the carvings in the ruins at Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas and some of the carvings on ancient Irish artifacts – particularly the use of the spiral and the “tree of life.”

The real eye-opener, however, was our visit to an art gallery in San José del Cabo that featured artwork based on the upcoming Méxican holiday Dia de los Muertos – The Day of the Dead.

Seeing a familiar holiday in a new light

Of course I was already familiar with Dia de los Muertos. I live in a place where it is widely celebrated. I’d never really given any thought, though, to how similar it is to the ancient Irish observance of Oíche Shamhna, whichover the span of centuries, eventually morphed into our modern Halloween.

The concept of honoring ancestors with their favorite foods and music; the sense of the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead growing thin, allowing the dead to visit the living; the acceptance of mortality as part of the cycle of life rather than something to be dreaded and shunned…all are significant aspects of both celebrations.

Even though I’ve celebrated Halloween all my life (and have known about its Irish roots since high school), and have lived among people who observe Dia de los Muertos for much of my adult life, just how closely the two celebrations are related never really clicked for me until that day in San José del Cabo.

Fascinating, isn’t it? Two completely different pre-Christian cultures, on two continents, evolving what is, essentially, the same celebration.

It gets even more fascinating when you look a little deeper and realize that similar celebrations have evolved on virtually every continent. Really makes you wonder if there might be something to it, doesn’t it?

In any case, I knew that I had to write something about Halloween and its Irish connections when I got home. The problem was (and is) that my travels have left me very short of time, and I wasn’t sure I could give the topic the justice it deserves.

Then I realized that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

From the Archives

When I worked as a blog writer for Bitesize Irish in 2012 and 2013, I wrote extensively about Halloween, so I dug through my archives and found three posts that I think my followers will find interesting:

Oíche Shamhna (Halloween) Part 1 Happy New Year!: This post describes how the ancient Irish celebration evolved into the holiday we celebrate today.

Halloween Old Irish Style How the ancient Irish observed Oíche Shamhna, with suggestions incorporating some of these traditions into your own Halloween celebration.

Irish Language Phrases for Oíche Shamhna Irish words and phrases appropriate to the season, with phonetic pronunciation.

I hope you enjoy these posts. Please feel free to share the links, but please DON’T copy large blocks of text from them without the approval of the owners of Bitesize Irish.*

Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh go léir! (Happy Halloween to you all!)


* Full Disclosure and a Plug

Or maybe it’s a plug and full disclosure. In any case, if you’re looking for an on-line program for learning Irish, Bitesize Irish is one I highly recommend (And not just because I used to work there.That’s the disclosure part. Don’t worry…I left on good terms, and still pop in from time to time in a supporting capacity)

The program is designed as a series of very short, “bite-sized” lessons, each of which can be completed relatively quickly. Lessons are categorized as “Grammar,” “Vocabulary,” and “Conversation,” and feature audio recorded by a native speaker.

Pricing is on a sliding scale depending on how much of the program you want to access. It’s a month-to-month set-up, so you can always leave (or upgrade!)

Bitesize offers extensive support, and additional resources, including frequent podcasts and a private Facebook group.

Anyway, if you’re looking for an affordable way to get started learning Irish, give it a look!

Slán go fóill, and Happy Trick or Treating!


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit


Beyond Duolingo

You see it everywhere. It’s mentioned on virtually every Irish language discussion forum or Facebook page, and shows up in the “resources” hand-outs at almost every immersion weekend. It seems that everyone these days is in love with Duolingo

This is an expansion on, and update of, a post I originally wrote for the Facebook page “IRISH FOR BEGINNERS” in April of 2016, and which I published on the original “Geeky Gaeilgeoir” blog on Tumblr in July of 2016. The original can still be found in the “files” section of the “IRISH FOR BEGINNERS” page.

Books for WordPress Blog

You see it everywhere. It’s mentioned on virtually every Irish language discussion forum or Facebook page, and shows up in the “resources” hand-outs at almost every immersion weekend. It seems that everyone these days is in love with Duolingo. (

It comes as a surprise to some, therefore, that I’m not a huge Duolingo fan – at least not when it comes to learning Irish.

What’s the problem with Duolingo?

Let me start by saying that I don’t “dislike” Duolingo. In fact, I think it may work just fine for languages that have a wide pool of native and fluent speakers from which to draw, as well as a significant body of good written and spoken examples on line. – French, for example, or Spanish.

I even think that, at a certain level, it can be useful for Irish learners. I simply don’t consider it a good choice for beginners. Here’s why:

1) I’ve encountered many mistakes originating from Duolingo both in grammar and in pronunciation (mostly via people who have posted questions about these on the The Irish Language Forum or on Facebook pages). Yes, most of these mistakes eventually get corrected, but not before some beginners have picked them up and internalized them.

UPDATE: Duolingo now has a native Connacht speaker doing the recordings, which should mitigate the pronunciation issues somewhat.

2) I’ve seen beginners there arguing points of grammar and pronunciation with experienced and even native speakers, with their supporters rallying around them, even if they’re wrong. Do you really want to be learning from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, but who insist on their own way? Language learning by consensus is an iffy proposition to begin with, and when it becomes a popularity contest, accuracy flies out the window.

3) I believe that, when you’re a beginner, you should focus on the language as it’s actually spoken (a lot of those Duolingo sentences are pretty bizarre!). If you want basics to become automatic, you need to be practicing things people actually say, not the equivalent of “my hovercraft is full of eels.” Yes, I know that bizarre phrases are part of Duolingo’s teaching methodology – I just don’t happen to agree with that methodology.

4) Recently, errors pointed out to the administrators by experienced speakers have gone uncorrected and the communication apparently ignored. This is a really serious problem for any language program.

Unlike many other languages, Irish has a fairly small pool of native or fluent speakers, and relatively few of those are likely to be hanging out on Duolingo (There are some there. I know because I know them. But do you?). In addition, much of the Irish on the web (both written and spoken) is pretty poor. This makes it more difficult for programs that are dependent on input from knowledgeable individuals to provide a solid learning experience.

Once you have sufficient Irish under your belt, you may find Duolingo to be a fun place to reinforce what you’ve learned, but I only recommend it AFTER you have enough Irish to spot a lot of the mistakes (and preferably if you have somewhere to go to get questions answered by people you know to be knowledgeable. The aforementioned  The Irish Language Forum is a good place to go for that kind of support)..

So what’s a poor beginner to do?

Every time I mention my aversion to beginners using crowd-sourced sites such as Duolingo, someone inevitably asks me if I can recommend something better (often multiple times in the same thread because the topic keeps coming up, and people rarely read preceding posts). Of course, what they usually mean is “can you recommend something better that’s also free.”

As a matter of fact, I can.

Rather than keep reinventing the wheel, I’m going to put my recommendations here, where I and others can link to them, and where I can update them as needed.

So, without further ado, here is…

GG’s Guide to Really Good (And Totally Free) Irish Learning Programs!


FutureLearn  offers four-week courses designed by professional educators from Dublin City University. They are professionally presented, with audio for every Irish word and an introduction to different facets of Irish culture. There are multiple levels of participation, with the free level allowing you to access the course you choose for its duration plus 14 days.

FutureLearn Irish Language Courses

The Philo-Celtic Society

This venerable organization offers free on-line classes from beginner to intermediate, as well as workshops for advanced learners. For classes beyond the introductory level they do require you to purchase some books, such as Progress in Irish, but these are books you’re going to want anyway as you progress.

Free On-line Classes from the Philo-Celtic Society

Now You’re Talking/Irish on Your Own*

This comprehensive self-teaching course, which included a book and audio tapes, as well as a weekly BBC television program designed to reinforce the lessons, was originally published in the mid ‘90s.

It is now out of print, alas. Until fairly recently, copies of the book were still available from An Siopa Gaeilge in Donegal, but they’ve sold out of them now as well.

The really great news, though, is that has the entire course – text, audio, and TV programs – on their website, and it’s completely free of charge!

The site is nicely laid out, with text, audio, and video all grouped together by lesson.

This is the course I recommend most frequently for beginners. It’s well-designed for adult learners, and very accessible. The pronunciation is mainly Ulster, but other dialects are also represented. All the recordings are by native speakers.

You really can’t go wrong with this one, even if you ultimately want to switch to a different dialect (most adult learners start with a mixture of dialects, and may or may not choose to specialize later on). Here’s the link:

Now You’re Talking/Irish on Your Own

This course was originally published as “Now You’re Talking” in Ireland, and as “Irish on Your Own” in the U.S.

Buntús Cainte

“Buntús Cainte” is another highly respected self-teaching method. Lessons based on “Buntús Cainte,” including audio, are available for free on-line at Memrise or in an Ulster version via Raidió Fáilte.:

Buntús Cainte at Memrise

Buntús Cainte via Raidió Fáilte

For the Memrise version, simply click on “Start Learning Now” to begin the course. You’ll be prompted to log in using Facebook. Pronunciation is based on the Connacht dialect, but the grammar is based on the official standard.

For Ultach, click on the first “Cúpla Focal” podcast (The introduction starts in Irish, and then is repeated in English), and then work your way through the podcasts as you learn.

While these lessons are intended to be a supplement to the books, they can also be used on their own. If you’d like to own the books, however, they have recently been re-issued, both individually and as a set, complete with the accompanying CDs: Buntús Cainte Books and CDs

Other Helpful Free Resources


This is a free, searchable, on-line compilation of some of the most respected Irish-English dictionaries in the world, and pronunciation is provided for most of the words (but not for inflected forms).

It also includes a grammar database, which is very useful as you get into more complicated sentences.

It will also show you examples of usage, which is extremely valuable when you start composing your own sentences!

Forvo (

Forvo is a pronunciation database.

I offer this link with a slight caution. If you use it, I strongly recommend only choosing recordings that feature native speakers or very careful/advanced learners. Remember…just because a person is from Ireland does not mean that he or she has good Irish! If in doubt, ask! ( The original Irish-pronunciation synthesizer! It’s generally pretty good (it features recordings by native speakers from all three major dialects). It does do better with single words or simple phrases than it does with whole sentences, however.

Free Listening Resources

Even as an absolute beginner, it’s extremely valuable to listen to naturally spoken Irish (as opposed to the slowed down, extremely clear diction of learning audio) as often as possible.

You may not understand much more than “agus” at first, but listening like this trains your ear so that, as you begin speaking, you’ll develop a natural cadence (it’s also fun, and a break from working though workbooks).

Here are my favorite listening resources, both completely free of charge:

TG4 (

Irish language television! Click on “Player” (or Seinnteoir in the Irish interface) and you can choose from a huge archive of programs of all types (dramas, documentaries, game shows, etc.).

Typically all of the programs are subtitled, except for the news and children’s programming. You can also  choose your subtitles on some of TG4’s on-line programming. The default is English, but you can click on “cc” at the bottom of the screen to switch to Irish subtitles (if they have them available) or to no subtitles.

As of this writing Irish subtitles aren’t available on all programs, but I expect that this will change if the new options are popular. This is a wonderful boon to learners, as you can start by watching shows with the English subtitles and, once your Irish is a little stronger, watch the shows with the Irish subtitles (then watch them with the English subtitles to check your understanding).

Later on you can do the same with no subtitles, checking your understanding against the Irish or English version. So far this is only available on-line, so if you’re watching TG4 in Ireland, you won’t’ be able to change the subtitles on your television (yet!). Also, if you’re running Explorer 8 or Windows ‘95 (or older) you will need to update to a newer platform.

Raidió na Gaeltachta (

Irish language radio! There are several other radio stations that have mostly Irish content, and they’re all enjoyable and worth listening to, but I particularly like this one because so much of it is native speech.

Turn it on and listen as you go about your work. As with TG4, you won’t understand much at first, but your brain will be picking up the unique cadence, structure, and sounds of the language.

Willing to Spend a LITTLE Money?

If you’re willing and able to open your pocket just a little bit, here are a couple of really good self-teaching programs that won’t cost you much money, and that will pay off huge dividends in terms of starting your language learning on the right foot.

Enjoy Irish!

“Enjoy Irish!” is a self-teaching program developed by Oideas GaelIt consists of a very user-friendly book accompanied by full audio on CD and can be had for just €15.(about $17 as of this writing) plus shipping. This book focuses on the Ulster dialect, but most of the information can be transferred to other dialects.

Enjoy Irish! at An Siopa Gaeilge

Progress In Irish

This little book is a must-have for any serious Irish learner. While it can be used as a self-teaching course, it’s best for reinforcing and reviewing the basics.

Progress In Irish at An Siopa Gaeilge

One Last Word (Well, Almost)

As I said at the start of this post, I don’t dislike Duolingo. It has its place, and may be very useful for learners of more widely spoken languages, especially if your goal is simply being able to communicate in those languages.

I just can’t recommend it, though, for beginning learners of endangered minority languages such as Irish, where the goal isn’t simply to communicate (Let’s face it: No one NEEDS Irish in order to communicate. I hate to say it, but it’s true), but to preserve an important part of Ireland’s culture and history (tír gan teanga tír gan anam – a land without a language is a land without a soul).

When you’re beginning is when it’s most important that you establish a good foundation. It will pay off as you progress in the language and find you don’t have bad habits to unlearn (that’s the voice of experience talking!)

Tús maith leath na hoibre (A good start is half the work)

Slán go fóill,


Wait, There’s More! PS: Mini Irish Lesson for the Day:

A common mistake among beginners is to use the word “saor” to describe something that is free of charge. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. “Saor” means “free” as in “free from bondage.” When used to describe a product, the usual meaning is “cheap.”

If you want to say that something doesn’t cost money, you have to use the term “saor in aisce”: literally “free of cost/obligation.”

In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit