Irish Phrases Translated for Tattoos and Celtic Art

Updated on May 1, 2020
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The author is a QUB Political Science honours graduate, a political analyst and has written on a variety of related issues.

Irish Republican slogans and phrases in Gaelige have been popular for many years in Ireland, America and other parts of the world. Remarkably, they are even used by Northern Loyalists, who would usually be seen as the cultural antithesis of anything vaguely Irish. On UDA murals on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast, there is even the image of the mythical Irish hero Cuchulainn. Loyalists have taken to Cuchulainn primarily because Cú Chulainn was a hero of the ancient Irish province of Ulster. But of course, the mythical exploits of Cú Chulainn occurred many centuries before the partition of Ireland, the Plantation of Ulster or even the Reformation.

Loyalists are as much entitled to adopt mythical Irish heroes as any other section of the Irish people, but it is sadly indicative of the poverty of Loyalism that they feel the need to use such blatantly amateur revisionism to create an Ulster folk hero in the Partitionist sense. Another recent quirk of Ulster Loyalism manifested itself in the flags produced by Loyalist paramilitaries to welcome British regiments home on leave from their Imperialist campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. The flags had the phrase Faugh a Ballagh emblazoned on them. 'Faugh a Ballagh' is actually the Anglicised version of Fág an Bealach, meaning, 'Clear the Way'! Fág an Bealach was an ancient Irish war-cry, which was also popular with the Irish Brigades during the American Civil War, who were also known as the Fighting 69th or the Fighting Irish.

The Irish Brigade: Heroes of the American Civil War
The Irish Brigade: Heroes of the American Civil War

English to Irish Translation of Common Words

  • Freedom = Saoirse
  • Justice = Ceart
  • Peace = Síocháin
  • Helping Poor People = Ag cabhrú le daoine bochta
  • Easter Rising 1916 = Éirí Amach na Cásca 1916
  • Death = Bás
  • Love = Grá
  • America = Meiriceá
  • Family = Clann
  • Offspring = Teaghlach
  • Ancestor = Sinsear
  • Father = Athair
  • Mother = Máthair
  • Brother = Deartháir
  • Sister = Deirfiúr
  • Shop = Siopa
  • Whiskey = Uisce Beatha (Literally: water of Life)
  • Dublin = Baile Atha Cliatha
  • Ireland = Éire (or Éireann)
  • Priest = SagartChurch = Eaglais
  • Christmas = Nollaig
  • Unfortunately = Is baolach
  • Luckily = Ar amhraí an tsaoil
  • Takes one to know one = Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile
  • It can not be denied = Ní féidir a shéanadh
  • The truth is = Is é fírinne an scéil
  • Near and far = I gcian is i gcóngar
  • In the future = Sa todhchaí
  • The gift of the gab = Bua na cainte
  • Pleasant memories = Cuimhní taitneamhacha
  • Practice makes perfect = Cleachtadh a dhéanann máistreacht
  • The lesser of two evils = Rogha an dá dhíogha
  • Working = Ag obair
  • Fight = Troid
  • Belfast = Béal Feirste
  • I.R.A = Óglaigh na hÉireann
  • I.N.L.A = Arm Saoirse Náisiúnta na hÉireann
  • I.R.S.P = Pairtí Poblachtach Sóisalach na h-Éireann
  • Republic = Poblacht
  • Partition = Críochdheighilt
  • Apartheid = Cinedheighilt
  • Friend = Cara
  • My Friend = Mo Chara
  • National Executive = Ard Comhairle
  • Soldiers of Ireland = Fianna Eireann (Name used by IRA youth wing)
  • Starry Plough = An Camcheachta

Many of the words and phrases above as Gaeilge are increasingly popular in tattoos in both Ireland and the diaspora, often incorporated into Celtic designs or political ink work.

Popular Irish Slogans

Tiocfaidh ár lá, meaning 'Our Day will come' (pronounced 'chucky are la'), is perhaps the best known Irish Republican slogan as Gaeilge and it has become commonly used in places far away from Ireland. Tiocfaidh ár lá as a slogan is popular with revolutionaries who have links in solidarity with the struggle for Irish liberation, for instance, E.T.A. and the Basque peoples.

Beidh an lá linn, meaning literally 'Our day will be with us' (pronounced: bay are la lyn), is also a popular Republican slogan and is inscribed in many wall murals in Ireland.

Beir Bua, meaning 'Victory!' or: 'Onwards to Victory!' (pronounced: bear bew ah), has increasingly become popular as an Irish Republican slogan and several publications have taken it as their title or as a subtext. It is also popular as a username on Irish forums and a folk band are currently using it as their stage name.

Tóg go bog é, meaning "take it easy" (pronounced: 'ug bogue ay), is also a popular slogan with Irish Republicans, but is not overtly political as such.

Bi cúramach, meaning literally, 'Be carefull!' (pronounced: bee cure im ack), is equally popular as a parting phrase, but again, it is not overtly political.

The Gaelic Revival: Gaelic Words Used in English

With so many people visiting Ireland these days and Gaeltachts (Irish-speaking areas) being established even in cities, the aim of this article was to provide some basic translations of significant words from English into Irish. My intention is to add popular words and phrases to the list above, as requested by emails sent to me from readers. The small list of words at the beginning of this article have nearly all been requested by readers of my articles.

Many of us use Irish words without even knowing it, for instance, the type of footwear known as Brogues comes from the literal Irish translation for shoes, which is Bróg. The well-known phrase 'it's smashing', to describe something that is great or fabulous, allegedly derives from the Irish phrase for 'that's great' which as Gaeilge is: is maith sin! For those unfamiliar with Irish, it is pronounced phonetically as "iss moy shin" and when pronouncing it, one can see the English phrase's origins!

Some other basics to remember are that the little tic above some vowels is not called an accent like in the French language, it is called a fada. It is used to lengthen or soften vowel sounds; logically enough fada is also the Irish word for long! Another example of the fada is in the popular Irish forename Seán where the fada on the A lengthens the sound, making the pronunciation sound like 'shone'.

Many people visiting my articles are interested in their Irish heritage and have asked for translations for family names, tattoos etc. Feel free to ask translation questions in the comments section or contact me about translation via my profile.

© 2019 Liam A Ryan


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