Gaelic Script

A chara, - This refers to the letter from Proinnsias Breathnach (July 24th) which was in response to Kevin Myers's preference…

A chara, - This refers to the letter from Proinnsias Breathnach (July 24th) which was in response to Kevin Myers's preference (An Irishman's Diary) for the Clo Gaelach.

In the 1950s there was considerable reluctance in some quarters to accept that Irish was still Irish if written in the "English" alphabet. This reluctance was in part irrational and no doubt it had some basis in Anglophobia. That the French, among others, managed to write their language in the "English" alphabet and that their language remained as Gallic as ever was clearly mysterious! There was a slightly more sane argument that the realisation of lenition (seimhiu) as an "h" rather than the use of the "buailte" lengthened the words.

The argument in favour of the "English" alphabet - that nearly every office in the country had an English typewriter and only a minority had Irish ones and that once the use of the "English" alphabet to write Irish was accepted every office would have the equipment to write in both languages on the one machine - could not be contradicted with conviction. It needed only that the alphabet in question be given its more correct name, the Roman (or Latin) alphabet. Those proposing its use also pointed out that in Old Irish "h" and not the "litir buailte" was used. In fact in Old Irish ch th and ph are used but lenition of f and s is shown by the buailte method and lenition is not shown in the case of g d b and m. And the h is often written above not after the letter in the Middle Ages and in this case it is normally very small. The reason why s and f were buailte is that under lenition they have little or no sound and in Latin the punctum delens (deleting point) was sued to erase mistakes.

As the first Irish printing type was supplied by Elizabeth I to spread the Anglican faith, the Gaelic typeface was stated to be an Elizabethan invention and this is the argument levelled against it by Proinnsias Breathnach Uasal when he calls it a quaint Elizabethan type face. There is no evidence that it was used by the Elizabethans ever except for the printing of books in Irish. Several centuries earlier, however, the Old English or Anglo-Saxon language had been written in the variant of the Roman alphabet used in Lindisfarne which had been learnt in Iona and which is essentially the Irish alphabet used at the beginning of this century. Dr Johnson in his dictionary called it the Anglo-Saxon alphabet, if I remembered correctly.


Surely the time has come when the choice to use one or other of these forms of the Roman alphabet should no longer cause friction among Irish people. With typewriters now being outmoded and a very beautiful Irish type available for computers the free choice to use either should be left to the individual. - Is mise, Deasmhamhain Mac Gearailt,

Baile Atha Cliath 6.