I'm a bit embarrassed that my study of the Irish language has become stagnant in the past couple years, though I am proficient enough to read Irish signs. The language system I use is Bitesize Irish Gaelic – Irish language lessons in easy, ‘bitesize' bits.
The following article was gracious written by Eoin Ó'Conchúir. Eoin is a native Irish Gaelic speaker, and runs Bitesize Irish Gaelic from Luimneach/Limerick, Ireland with his wife Säsa. Before you take a tour of Ireland, take a tour of the online Irish Gaelic lessons. Then you'll really be able to impress the locals!
Those Wonderful Irish Signs… What Do They Mean?
One of the first things you might notice when starting to travel around Ireland is the road signs. You're much more likely to see Irish Gaelic on road signs than hearing it spoken.
Just about any road sign pointing you to a town or city will have the name of the place in two languages: the top bit in italics is Irish Gaelic, the bottom bit in capital letters is in English.
Generally, place names in Ireland were originally in Irish Gaelic, but then adapted into English. For example Gaillimh is Galway, Corcaigh is Cork, and Luimneach is Limerick.
There are certain words you'll see a lot on road signs. I'll give you the meaning for some:
Meaning of “Bally”
You'll see place names with this word everywhere! “Bally” comes from Baile na which means “place of”. For example, you might see a sign for Ballycastle/Baile an Chaisil. It's easy to tell what this one means: the town of the castle.
Meaning of “Kil”
This is a religious one. In Irish Gaelic, “cill” means a (small) church. On a road sign, above Kildare you'll see written Cill Dara, which means “the church of Dara”.
Meaning of “Lis”
As you're driving along the countryside, keep an eye out for ring forts. There are some large ring forts you can visit in Ireland, others are literally circles of stone and trees in the middle of a field, and most are very old.
The Irish Gaelic word for a ring fort is lios. So if you see Lismore/Lios MÃ³r, this means “big ring fort”. Also in Co. Kerry, there's Listowel/Lios Tuathail which means “Tuathal's ring fort”.
Travel Tip in the Gaeltacht
Many tourist towns, such as Dingle/An Daingean, are found within the Gaeltacht. Places found within the Gaeltacht are only referred to by their Irish Gaelic name on road signs. Be careful about this when checking your map!
Would you learn a bit of Irish before your Ireland vacation?