My journey with the Irish language

Learning Irish in Inis Oírr – Part Two

One thing I love about learning Gaeilge (Irish) is that it is impossible to learn the language without also learning about the history and culture of Eíre (Ireland). And going to FEICIM in Inis Oírr to learn Gaeilge was no different.

I’d wake up and go down stairs of the BnB where I was staying to a freshly made bricfeasta (breaky) and some Gaeilge. Since it was first thing in the morning and before coffee, my brain worked slowly so it took me a while to understand… and even longer to respond as Gaeilge (in Irish). But I persevered and deeply appreciated the bean an tí (woman of the house) for her patience and generosity with the language.

After breakfast, I’d walk up the hilly road, surrounded by a matrix of ancient ballaí cloiche (stone walls) and tiny green fields, towards scoil na teanga, FEICIM (the language school, FEICIM). I’d pass horse and buggies, bicycle riders and other people walking. Cars were rare on the Island and time moved differently from the rest of the world. Everyone was friendly and even the little children spoke Gaeilge. I don’t think there is any more endearing than hearing a toddler say – “seo é mo hata, a dhaidí,” (here is my hat, daddy) and “slán” (bye) with a big smile and a wave.

When I got to mo rang (my class), we were taught as Béarla (in English) at first, and then slowly as Gaeilge (in Irish). We were shown common questions to ask as Gaeilge and encouraged to used Irish rather than English. For the first week we focused on that central little word (pronounced “be”) in all three tenses (tá, bhí agus beidh). It’s amazing how complex one little verb can be. And then by a haon a chlog (one o’clock), it was time for afternoon activities.

So on that drizzly Wednesday afternoon, we set out to walk up to Caisleán Uí Bhriain (O’Brien’s Castle) that stands proud on top of the hill, overlooking two of the four the villages on the island. Our tour guide was a very hospitable native woman who spoke about history and culture, as Gaeilge, as we wondered over the hills. The castle was built in the 14th century and owned by the O’Brien clan from Contae an Chláir (County Clare). But since the islands were in a pivotal strategic position in Cuan na Gaillimhe (Galway bay) in the medieval ages and before, it was fought over and seized by several families. First was the O’Flaherty clan of Connemara in the 16th century and then the Cromwellian forces in the 17th century both occupied that castle. Across the bay, on Aillte an Mhothair (the Cliffs of Moher), stood O’Brien’s Tower, built much later in the 19th century. But unlike the battle ready fortress on the small island, the tower was said to have been built to impress the women that Sir Cornellius O’Brien courted.

Like most Irish castles, Caisleán Uí Bhriain was build upon a pre-existing stone age fort, Dún Formna. This fort is said to have been built in the early centuries AD (100 to 400 AD) and currently, only one rounded stone wall of the ancient fort can be seen. This would have been home to early Chieftains long before the O’Brain clan. Other ancient dúnta (the plural of dún, or forts) on the Aran Islands include Dún Aengus and Dún Eoghanacht which are both on Inis Mór, the largest island, and are excavated unlike Dún Formna.

So besides learning the Irish language, you will also be shown just how rich these islands are in layer upon layer of history over thousands of years. In my next blog, I will focus on Inis Oírr’s temples and an ancient cairn.

Here’s my phrase of the month …


“Is fearr bothán biamhar ná caisleán gortach”

(A cabin with plenty of food is better than a hungry castle)


Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin
(Bye for now and take care)


Go raibh maith agat FEICIM (thank you FEICIM) – the Irish language school on Inis Oírr 



  • Gaeilge – Gale-ig-a
  • Inis Oírr – Inish eer
  • bean an tí – baun on chee
  • ballaí cloiche – bull-ee click-ha (a throaty ‘h’)
  • scoil na teanga – scoy-il na ch-anga
  • seo é mo hata, a dhaidí – sho a mu hat-a, a yaj-i (a throaty ‘y’)
  • slán – slawn
  • a haon a chlog – a hay-on a h-log (a throaty ‘h’)
  • tá, bhí agus beidh – taw, vee agus bay
  • Caisleán Uí Bhriain – caw-slawn e Vri-an
  • Contae an Chláir – con-tay on H-law (a throaty ‘H’)
  • Cuan na Gaillimhe – qu-an na Gwal-iv-a 
  • Aillte an Mhothair – Al-cha an Woh-id (a throaty ‘h’ and that r is slender)
  • Dún Formna – doon Furr-mna
  • Dúnta – doon-ta
  • Dún Aengus – doon Ung-us
  • Dún Eoghanacht – doon Oy-a-nacht (a throaty ‘cht’)
  • Is fearr bothán biamhar ná caisleán gortach – Is farr bo-hawn bia-war naw caw-shlawn gur-tach (a throaty ‘ch’)
  • Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féinSlawn gu foh-il ugus tug-ug-e a-da queev hain
  • Go raibh maith agat FEICIM – Gu rev mah ugut Fec-im (a throaty ‘h’)

(Note. Pronunciations are based on my Australian ears)




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