Word of the Week


DAMÁN ALLAID (Modern Irish DAMHÁN ALLA) seems to translate literally as ‘wild little ox’ – which is very odd as this refers to a spider. In a 17th-century source, and still sometimes today, the first word is given as DUBHÁN ‘little black thing’, which is similar in pronunciation to DAMHÁN and makes a lot more sense! Despite Middle-Irish references to insects called CERNDUBÁN and SPECDUBÁN, however, there do not seem to be any early uses of this word to refer to a spider, and the form DAMÁN ALLAID is attested from the early 9th century onwards…

View Entry »


CITH and FRAS both mean ‘shower’ and were often used in medieval Ireland to refer to the falling of rain or snow. In the early 17th century, however, Tadhg Ó Cianáin used both in his attempt to find appropriate words for what seems to be the first description in Irish of fireworks. Of a display which he witnessed in Rome, Tadhg says: gur choimhlinatar meid airighthi don aer etaruas uassan gcaislen do na cethoibh ┐do na frossoibh teinntidhe ro leicset ‘they filled a portion of the atmosphere over the castle with the showers and fiery flames they sent forth’ (Fl. Earls 188). Happy New Year/Athbhliain Faoi Shéan 's Faoi Mhaise/Bliadhna Mhath Ùr to all our followers!

View Entry »


ÍSSUCÁN is sometimes translated as ‘Jesukin’. It is a diminutive form of the name ÍSSU ‘Jesus’ and serves as a term of affection, just like MACCUCÁN, which comes from MACC ‘boy’ and means roughly ‘little lad’, and CÚCUCÁN, which was a pet name given to the Ulster warrior CÚ CHULAINN!

View Entry »


RÉ clearly denotes the moon when a late medieval astronomical text refers to ‘eclipsis an ré’ (an eclipse of the moon). But the word may be used for other heavenly bodies also, for the term SECHTARRÉ is used of the seven stars known as Ursa Major or the Great Bear. So far, the Irish name has been found in only two sources, including In Cath Catharda, an adaptation of Lucan’s account of the Roman civil war, which states that people who lived south of Mount Olympus did not feel the northerly wind and did not see the Great Bear (CCath. 3813).

View Entry »


MUIRCHRECH seems to have been used in early Irish to indicate a certain distance out to sea. The word appears in references to how people who had committed crimes and children born of incest were placed in small boats a MUIRCHRECH out to sea and provided only with enough food for one night and a weapon to defend themselves. Should the prevailing wind and tide bring them to shore, they were accepted back into the community, living afterwards as individuals of low status. A MUIRCHRECH is often defined as the distance from which a white shield could be seen from the shore.

View Entry »