Derry principal pens new book

Pictured at the launch of 'Mar a Dearfa,' at back from left; Dr Malachy O'Neill, and Neil Comer, University of Ulster. at front, Professor Donall O'Baoill, and Sean MacCionnaith, author. (1111MM05)
Pictured at the launch of 'Mar a Dearfa,' at back from left; Dr Malachy O'Neill, and Neil Comer, University of Ulster. at front, Professor Donall O'Baoill, and Sean MacCionnaith, author. (1111MM05)

A Derry gaelscoil principal has written a new book aimed at helping learners of Irish to get to grips with the most commonly used phrases of the language.

‘Mar a Dearfa’ by Sean MacCionnaith is a 300 reference dictionary of phrases, cliches, and idioms in easy-to-find lists, making them easier to identify for learners.

Professor Donall O'Baoill, Sean MacCionnaith, and Fr Roland Colhoun. (1111MM06)

Professor Donall O'Baoill, Sean MacCionnaith, and Fr Roland Colhoun. (1111MM06)

Mr McCionnaith is the principal of Bunscoil Cholmcille and has already published several Irish language books. His latest work was launched at Magee recently by the recently retired professor of Celtic Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast, Donall O’Baoill.

The Derry principal’s first book, a biography of Newry writer, Sean Mac Con Iomaire, was published in 1988 and shone a light on the works of the little-known author.

“He was a writer who died young and never got to see his work enjoy critical success. He was a doctor but died at the age of 26 from TB. He had written a long novel before he died but it was not published until 1939, three years after his death.

“As a consequence of the book, Newry Council put a blue plaque up outside his house,” he said.

In 2003 Mr McCionnaith published the first Irish language thesaurus, ‘Focail i bhFócas.’ “It was a bi-lingual production which could be used in four ways. The words were colour coded to make it easier to use. One colour was for mid level student, another for A-level students, and the third was above that. It contained automyns as well as synonyms and ran to 500 pages,” he explained.

The author also said the idea of his latest book came out of the thesaurus project.

“One thing that evolved from working on that was it highlighted the difficulty learners face when looking up words. Learners are, more often than not, looking for phrases rather than words.

“That can create a difficulty, particularly when you do not have the command of the target language and you could end up translating something too literally and losing the meaning.

Commonly used phrases

“That is why I called it ‘Mar Dearfa,’ or ‘as you might say,’ which is a phrase many people put at the end of a sentence if they are not sure if they are saying it in the best way. The book includes commonly used phrases, idioms, and phrases,” he said.

Mr MacCionnaith gave an example of how the book works. “If you were trying to look up the phrase ‘in this day and age’ in a dictionary you could run into problems. Do you look under ‘in,’ ‘day,’ or ‘age.?’

“ In my book you can look under all three. If you can target a significant word in the phrase then you’ll be likely to find it. It allows users to dispense with three quarters of an hour of looking through a dictionary for a phrase,” he said.

The principal said he was motivated to write the book by his experiences in education. “I am a teacher first of all and all of these problems are either things that have happened to me or things that I have seen,” he said. The book also contains a list of Irish language gravestone inscriptions. “When my father died we wanted to put up a bilingual headstone but we could not find a list. I only knew the standard ones.

“I tramped around the graveyards of Connemara and Donegal and collected all the old inscriptions and brought them all together,” he said.

‘Mar a Dearfa’ is published by Coisceam and available in bookshops and online.