Go dté mar atá tú? How to make sense of Ulster Irish

When written, ‘northern Irish’ Irish varies little but when spoken it’s a different matter

The form of Irish spoken in Ulster these days is essentially Donegal Irish, nuanced by the local, predominantly Belfast accent.

In written form, there is not that much difference between it and the Irish of other Gaeltacht areas such as Connemara and west Kerry. But, bear in mind, a competent Irish reader can understand most of Scots Gallic in written form.

It’s a different proposition when Ulster Irish is spoken, becoming as understandable to some ears as Swahili.

That said, there are differences between Ulster Irish and the rest. Take the different forms for the simple phrase, “How are you?”


In Munster they use “conas” (“Conas atá tú?”).

In Connacht they say “cén chaoi”(“Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?”).

In Donegal, they say “go dté” (Go dté mar atá tú?).

Another big difference is found in the tuiseal tabharthach (dative case). When people say, for example, “on the road” in other areas, they say: “ar an mbóthar”. In Ulster, the urú is ditched in favour of the séimhiú (aspiration). They say “ar an bhóthar” instead.

There are some words that are unique to the northern dialect.

They tend to use the unusual “tchí” instead of “feiceann” for “look”. They say “druid an doras” instead of “dún an doras” for “close the door”. Instead of saying “scioptha” they say “gasta” for “fast”. Instead of saying “chomh maith” for “also”, the say “fosta”.

And when something is good it’s not “togha” or “go híontach” but “ar dóigh”.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times