Old Irish

Old Irish


Old Irish

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Old Irish is the name given to the oldest form of the Goidelic languages for which extensive written texts are extant. It was used from the 6th to the 10th centuries, by which time it had developed into Middle Irish.

Contemporary Old Irish scholarship is still greatly influenced by the works of a small number of scholars active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, among them Rudolf Thurneysen (1857–1940) and Osborn Bergin (1873–1950). Their books are viewed as required material for any enthusiast of Old Irish even today.


A still older form of Irish is known as Primitive Irish. Fragments of Primitive Irish, mainly personal names, are known from inscriptions on stone written in the Ogham alphabet. These inscriptions date from about the 4th to the 6th centuries. Primitive Irish is still very close to Common Celtic, the ancestor of all Celtic languages.

Old Irish is the ancestor of Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx (spoken on the Isle of Man). Broadly speaking, the grammar and sound systems of the modern languages are simpler than those of Old Irish.


Relatively little survives in the way of strictly contemporary sources. These are mainly represented by shorter or longer gloss on the margins or between the lines of religious Latin manuscripts, most of them preserved in monasteries in Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy, having been taken there by early Irish missionaries. Whereas in Ireland, many of the older manuscripts appear to have...
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