eDIL - Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language

The electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) is a digital dictionary of medieval Irish. It is based on the ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY’S Dictionary of the Irish Language based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials (1913-1976) which covers the period c.700-c.1700. The current site contains revisions to c.4000 entries and further corrections and additions will be added in the coming years.

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Word of the Week[See More]


DERGNAT ‘a flea’ makes an unexpected appearance in the early Irish laws. The text in question tells us that a client is expected to rise three times as a sign of homage to his lord but that it is not right to ask the client to be a DERGNAT AIRECHTA ‘an assembly-flea’. This phrase seems to refer to someone who jumps up continually in an excessive show of respect.

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BOLAD is usually a pleasant smell. Examples from Old Irish tales show the word used to refer to apple-trees, honey and wine, and in the 14th/15th centuries it occurred in the plant-name BOLAD CNEISE CON CULAINN ‘the smell of Cú Chulainn’s skin’ (NLI G 11 182b2). This has been taken as a reference to Lady’s Bedstraw, so-named in English because the plant is said to have a scent like that of freshly cut hay. It would seem, then, the people of late medieval Ireland imagined that the Ulster hero produced a similar smell!

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GÁETH ‘wind’ (Modern Irish GAOTH) has appeared since Early Modern times in expressions indicating madness or frenzy. When, in the tale of the Battle of Ventry, for example, Oscar of the Fianna launches himself into battle on seeing his family oppressed by the king of France, the action is described as CO N-DEACHAIGH RE GAÍTH ┐ RE GEALTACHT ‘he went with the wind and with madness’. And the phrase MADRA GAÍTHE, used in medical and scientific texts to mean ‘a mad dog’, translates literally as ‘a dog of the wind’!

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BODAR (Modern Irish BODHAR) means ‘deaf’ but the word is used also to describe an indistinct or hollow sound and it is this latter sense which lies behind BODHRÁN, the name of a traditional Irish frame drum generally made of goatskin. The earliest mention of the BODHRÁN actually occurs in a medical text written in the 15th or 16th century, where it is claimed that one of the signs of tympanites (the swelling of the abdomen with air or gas) is that, on being struck, the belly makes a sound ‘mar bhodhrán’ (like a bodhrán)!

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