A sense of direction

 

A chara, – The up, down, over and back, in, out and round-about responses to my letter of March 4th only serve to prove my point as to how far we have moved away from the Gaelic sense of direction.

Another basic of traditional Gaelic sense of direction is that which gives rise to the use of the word “back” in Connaught to refer to going in a westerly direction.

Where in Munster the Irish word siar would be translated as “west”, in Connaught it is usually translated as “back”. The word “back” is also used in the phrase “the back of the hill” to refer to the west side of a hill.

The word “back” in this sense has a very long history. It would seem that the ancient Gael, when thinking of the four cardinal points, considered the east to be to the front.

You can find the correlation of east with front in the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language.

This leaves the west to the back, the south to the right hand, ó dheas or deiseal, and the north to the left, ó thuaidh or tuathal.

Residents of the north will already not be thanking me for drawing attention in my previous letter to the identification of the north with lower, íochtar, in the Irish language.

The further identification of north with the word tuathal may add further disgruntlement, in that it means more than north.

You will find various meanings in Dinneen, “a turn to the left, north or wrong direction”.

Worse still, the Dictionary of the Irish Language tells us that in mediaeval Irish, not only did túaid mean “northern” and “left”, it also had the connotation of “perverse, wicked, evil”. – Is mise,

An tAthair SEÁN Ó COINN,

Gort Leitreach,

Maothail,

Co Liatroma.