Fermanagh Gold Introduction
 
PHONETICS

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 English.

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 line.

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 a cat
á with fada law
e che (rry)
é with fada may
i shin
í with fada mean
o done/lot
ó with fada more
u bus
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 more.

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 Lyons