Dál Cais or Dál gCais?

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2014), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed your special issue on Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf (HI 22.2, March/April 2014). However, I am puzzled by the reference to the descendants of Cormac Cas as Dál Cais. As a proud member of that tribe I always knew it as Dál gCais, the reason being that Dál is one of the very few neuter nouns in the Irish language and these nouns eclipse the following word, hence Dál gCais. Can I have been wrong all these years?—Yours etc.,

BRIAN P. Ó CINNEIDE
Durban
South Africa

Yes, Mr Ó Cinneide is right in terms of modern Irish but wrong in terms of Old Irish. Dál does take nasalisation, which, in modern Irish, is marked on the ‘C’, so you get ‘gC’. In Old Irish, however, they hadn’t adopted that convention, mainly because in Latin you would never get a ‘gC’ turning up as two letters together and so they didn’t bother. Thus you would write Dál Cais but pronounce it Dál Gáis. What the Welsh do when faced with the same problem is to take away the original initial letter in these circumstances altogether, so instead of Caerdydd (Cardiff) or gCaerdydd, they’d say Gaerdydd (in certain specific contexts where nasalisation or eclipsis is required). So if Mr Ó Cinneide comes to one of my lectures, he’ll hear me saying Dál Gáis all over the place, but because I studied Old Irish (but did my schooling outside Ireland and thus rarely use Modern Irish) I write Dál Cais. Incidentally, at the international conference Clontarf 1014–2014 in Trinity College, Dublin, on 11–12 April 2014 I delivered a paper on the DNA of the Uí Chenneidig specifically!

CATHY SWIFT

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