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Irish 101: A Guide to Irish Name Pronunciation

  • The Irish language is wild.
    The Irish language is wild.

Author Name

Kate Harvey

Author Program

Ireland: Social Sciences

Program Semester and Year

Spring 2019

Student Major

Psychology & French

Coming to Ireland I was familiar with some of the more well-known Irish celebrity names (Saoirse Ronan, Sinéad O’Connor, Domhnall Gleeson, etc.), but I could not have anticipated the bizarre spelling and pronunciation of household names in Irish. Before visiting Ireland, here is a brief guide to pronouncing some common Irish names and sounds. First, here are a few names of people I have met while in Ireland, I encourage you to attempt your own pronunciation first: Aisling, Aoibheann, Aoife, Caoimhe, Dearbhla, Grainne, Mairead, Roisin, Ruairi, Siobhan, Tadgh.

Any guesses? The list goes on, but these are just a few of the people I have had to name, often in a workplace, with no clue how to pronounce.

It would be helpful first to review some Irish sounds that can fool you when spelled using english letters. However, this is not as simple as it seems because a consonant pronounced differently depending on whether it has the letters “a,” “o,” or “u” next to it (considered a “broad” consonant) or the letters “i” or “e” next to it (called “slender” consonants). For example, The letter “s” is pronounced “s” (broad) in the beginning of the name Saoirse, but pronounced “sh” (slender) at the end: “Sur-sha.” There is also no letter “h” in Irish, but it is often added to the spelling of Irish names and words to show where an accent would have originally been placed, functioning as an operation to a combination of a letter with an “h.”

“Bh” broad = “w”

“Bh” slender = “v”

“Mh” broad & slender = “v”

I’m not sure why both “bh” slender and “mh” make a “v” sound… but they do

Vowel sounds in Irish include more combined letters to make one simple sound. Adding an “i” after a combination of two other vowels elongates the sound.

“Ai” = “ah” (as in mat)

“Ao” = “e” (as in tree)

“Io” = “ih” (as in mist)

“Ua” = “u” (as in truant)

Lastly, if the word has the letter “r,” you can basically forget this entire pronunciation guide and just guess. So, let’s go through each name from the above list and put these tools to good use!

Aisling = Ash-ling

Aoibheann = Eve-een

Aoife = Ee-fa

Caoimhe = Kee-va

Dearbhla = Derv-la

Grainne = Graw-nya

Mairead = Mur-aid

Roisin = Ro-sheen

Ruairi = Ruh-ree

Siobhan = Shiv-awn

Lastly, this final name will never make sense to me.

Tadgh = ty-gh (as in “tiger” without the “r”)