It never ceases to amaze me how many times people will ask about a surname
which they spell a particular way and who will insist on always and ever
seeking out that spelling and that spelling only. If I look through the
records in the general Registrar's Office I can see a name being spelled one
way in one part of the country over a period of time and I can also see that
same surname 'disappear' from an area to be replaced by another name - which
I may take to be the same surname but the searcher will not.
Most people who do not live in this country will not be able to distinguish
the various accents in the country from one another - whereas those of us
who live here can tell in many instances where any of us come from when we
begin to speak. Personally - I can't tell the difference (much) between an
American from the East coast or the West coast..I do recognise that some
accents are stonger than others - but to be able to state that any person
come from this state or that would be impossible for me. If I look at many
states - they're probably as big as Ireland and if I then tell myself how
different our accents are from one end of this little country to the other -
surely the same differences will be found in other parts of the world in
places of the same size as Ireland?
Most searchers have a sound of an Irish brogue in their heads, added to by
various films on Ireland they have seen with perhaps Maureen O'Hara or other
Irish in them. However, we do not speak with those brogues today.
I speak Galway Irish, I find Donegal Irish very difficult to understand -
primarily because of the accent and the same for Kerry Irish.
All that is today. Think back, think to when people may or may not have
spoken much English, regardless of what most think, the common misconception is that most the Irish spoke only Irish, that your ancestors
so long as they were Catholic, spoke no English. This is wrong and the
statistics which remain from the various censuses tell a different story.
English was spoken to some degree or another in each county, the people may
not have been able to read or write, but they knew how to speak the
language, maybe only to understand what was said to them, but they did have
Think then of these people arriving at various ports in other countries, the
person who received them into that country, wrote the information down. They
could not speak Irish, they spoke their own form of English. All they could
do was write the name down as they heard it, the phonetical sound of it.
Look at any ships passenger list and you will see the same names turning up,
spelled differently. Go through the official Irish Birth, Marriage and
Death records and you will see surnames being written in one form or
another, and you can actually see the various spelling being associated with
districts. If we could say that the same person was responsible over all
those years for taking the information from the informant and writing it
down, then we could say that this was just the way that person spelled that
name. We can't we don't know for certain, but, what we can assume is that
the way this name was spelled back then is associated with the accent of the
area, the way the people pronounced it.
The same can be said of Parish records in those other countries. The name
will have been written phonetically. There are those which are very common
and which would not have changed, and the fact that there would have been so
many Irish passing through any one place it is possible that these recorders
soon became familiar with the names and learned how to script them with one
general spelling. Take a Priest from Ireland, he will have been familiar
with many names, he would always write the name as he knew how to spell it
from home, even this may have been a phonetic error on the original.
Never, ever discount anyone with a similar sounding surname from any record
you find. Take the information, just add it to your notes and some day you
just might find information which ties that person in somewhere in your
There are 18 letters in the Irish alphabet: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, I, l, m,
n, o, p, r, s, t, u. We also 'borrow' the letters j, q, v, w, x, and z in
what are known as loan words.
We have the basic vowels: a, e, i, o, and u. These may either be short or
long, and the difference in the length of a vowel, when one type is
exchanged for the other in a word can change the meaning of that word.
The following gives some indication of how the vowels are pronounced.
Remember that your accent differs again to ours and what you have when you
say these words are an approximation, the sound may be somewhat different
when spoken by an Irish person.
Vowel: English word which contains this vowel as sounded
á with fada law
e che (rry)
é with fada may
í with fada mean
ó with fada more
ú with fada cool
The vowels combine with each other in a number of ways, for example i and u
combining with ia and ua, which sound like eea and ooa.
In the middle of words the combinations a(id)h, o(id)h, eidh and eigh also
consist of two vowel sounds pronounced like the english eye or my.
Also, (e)amh is pronounced like 'ow' in the english cow and how; for some
dialects (e)abh, obh, omh, odh, ogh are also pronounced in this way as 'ow';
while in others they are pronounced like a long o sound as in the English
The combinations umh and ubh are pronounced like a long oo sound as in the
English word cool.
The combination ao does not represent two sounds. In Ulster and Connaught
Irish it is usually pronounced ee; in Munster Irish it sounds like the vowel
in the English may; aoi is usually pronounced ee
Published here with
full permission of Jane