Everyone knows the standard months of the year in Irish, as taught by schools everywhere: Eanáir (January), Feabhra (February), Márta (March), Aibreán (April), Bealtaine (May), Meitheamh (June), Iúil (July), Lúnasa (August), Meán Fómhair (September), Deireadh Fómhair (October), Samhain/Mí na Samhna (November) and Mí na Nollag (December).


However, what most people don’t know, is that these weren’t always the months used among native speakers (and even in some cases, they still aren’t used, despite schooling). A quote from the Cork Irish blog reveals such:

Note: Eanair is an obsolete word restored in the ICS and now popularized in the Gaeltacht too. The traditional colloquial word for January was an chéad mhí den bhliain; LASID gives it as an mí déanach de gheímhreadh.

Cork Irish

This is confirmed by Dr. Brian Ó Curnáin in his The Irish of Iorras Aithneach (IIA):

Eanáir…- this is a rare or learned word…

Ó Curnáin, Irish of Iorras Aithneach vol. 1, pg 78

All this leads into the names of the months as actually used in Connemara. First, I’ll start off by quoting An Béal Beo, written by Tomás Ó Máille, first published in 1937. (I originally only had access to the modern edition; I’ve since acquired the original, and will copy it here, with notes on modern spelling from the new one)

Seo iad na míannta: *Eanáir, nó mí Dheiridh an Gheimhridh, *Feabhra, nó Mí na bhFuighillighe (Faoillí), an Márta, an t-Aibreán, an Bhealtaine, Meitheamh, nó mí Mheadhoin an tSamhraidh, Iúil, nó Mí Dheiridh an tSamhraidh, Lughnas (Lughnasadh), Mí Mheadhoin an Fhoghmhair, Mí Dheiridh an Fhoghmair, Samhain, Mí na Nodlag

An Béal Beo, T. Ó Máille (1937), pg. 27

What is interesting to see here is the asterisk by Eanáir and by Feabhra. As Ó Máille states in his introduction:

Uair ar bith a bhíos orm aon fhocal seirgthe nach bhfuil anois le cloisteáil a chur síos leis an gcuid eile a mhíniú, cuirim réaltóg roimhe, sin, nó bhíonn sé go soiléir ráidhte gur focal den tsórt sin atá ann.

An Béal Beo, T. Ó Máille (1937) pg. iii

So, indeed, it does appear that even in Connemara Eanáir and Feabhra weren’t words that were originally heard quite commonly, and were likely imports from the Gaelic Revival. Why they brought in borrowings from Classical Irish, instead of keeping the traditional Irish terms (same with Iúil and Meitheamh), I don’t know; I personally think those forms are actually much neater — Mí Dheiridh an Gheimhridh, Mí na bhFaoillí, Mí Mheán an Shamhraidh, Mí Dheiridh an Shamhraidh. I might start using them myself, and see how I get along with it.

It was already mentioned in IIA that Eanáir was considered a rare or loan word; in fact, the main word for January is, well, January, a borrowing from English. I have a hunch this might come from the fact that Eanáir wasn’t the most common word, but due to school influence, it eventually drove out Mí Dheireadh an Gheimhridh, though it was replaced with an English borrowing instead of a word pulled from older sources that would be uncommon among the speakers of the Gaeltacht.

For February, IIA gives both Feabhra and Faoilí; March it lists Márta, but also mentions a by-name, Máirtín Gágach as ‘it causes cracked skin’; for April, only Aibreán is listed; Bealtaine is listed for ‘May’, while both Jún and Mí Mheán an tSamhraidh are listed for ‘June’ (no meitheamh, which is interesting). Iúl is mentioned for ‘July’, but it only shows up in the section on ‘Borrowings from Modern Irish’, i.e. those words which were borrowed from post-revival classical Irish (Feabhra is also mentioned in this section). For August, Lúnas and Lúghnasa(dh) are both mentioned, and examples of the loan word August can be found. September appears as a loan word, but is not included in the Indexes, so it’s likely not in the corpus (oddly enough). Acteóbar is a form of ‘October’; November doesn’t appear in the text, nor does December.

Lastly, we have some quotes from the Irish Language Forum, given by the native speaker from Ceantar na nOileáin, now living in Carraroe, Bríd Mhór:

We actually do tend to say some of the months in English.

January, Feabhra, Márta, June, July,…

Bríd Mhór

This isn’t surprising, and isn’t a new feature as attested by Ó Curnáin. I have also seen January used in a book by a great speaker, born in the early 20th century, Máire Phatch Mhór.

The ILF thread linked above is worth checking out for more information on the months as well, including how they’re said traditionally in parts of Donegal. Likewise, I can also find some more interesting information and words for them as pertains to Munster Irish, though I’m sure the Cork Irish dictionary can help a lot in that regard too. Otherwise, it’s interesting to see that the terms taught in school aren’t what are actually used among the native speakers.

Update 31/3/2021:
I have recently come across the use of the word gionbhar in a pre-standardized work by an author from Ros Muc (Mise, by Colm Ó Gaora, the 1943 first edition) and it led me to do a deeper search. I then came across a little pamphlet on the RIA Corpus titled Na Míosa, which lists the following for months of the year:

January: Ianuar (m.): Gionbhar: Enar, gen. Enair. [Old Irish form of Ianuar]: Eunar would be the analogous modern form of this: cf. Spanish, Enero. Deireadh-an-Gheimhridh, Tosach-na-bliadhna.

February: Feabhra (m.): Faoilidh, Faoillidh, f.: iomulc, m., corruptly, Oimealc, m. f. Mí-fhéile-Bríghde, Taide-an-earraigh: Tosach-an-earraigh: Tosach-an-earraigh.

March: Márt, m. (gen. Márta); Meadhón an Earraigh.

April: Abrán, m. Abraon, Abraoil (cf. Welsh Ebrill), Apríl, Deireadh-an-Earraigh : Mí-na-gCuach.

May: Bealtaine, f. Céideamh, m. (gen. Céidimh):Céideamhain, f. (gen. Céideamhna); Tosach-an-tsamhraidh: Mái.

June: Meitheamh, m. (gen. Meithimh); Meitheamhain, f.g. eamhna, Iun, Mí-Iuin; Meadhón-an-tsamhraidh.

July: Iul, m. (gen. Iuil); Mhí-bhuidhe: Buidhmhí: Deireadh-an-tSamhraidh.

August: Lughnas, f. (gen. Lughnasa); Tróghán [O.I.,Tróghán, prob. the lean or scarce month — the monthbefore the crops came in]; Tosach-an-fhoghmhair: Taide-an-fhoghmhair: August.

September: Meadhón-an-fhoghmair: Seacht-mhí.

October: Deireadh-an-fhoghmhair: Ocht-mhí, Oicht-mhí.

November: Samhain, f. (gen. Samhna); Gamhain, f. (gen. Gamhna) [Gamhain I believe to be the true old name of the month — meaning “Little-winter” or “Winter-weather”. Samhain I look upon as an error and a corruption, but too long established to be changed]. Tosach-an-gheimhridh: Naoi-mhí.

December: Mí-Nodlach: Deichmhí, Meadhón-an-gheimh-ridh, Deireadh-na-bliadhna. [These half translations,Seachtmhí, Ochtmhí, Naoimhí, Deichmhí, I don’t approve of;they don’t seem to have any good authority, spoken orwritten, in their favour.]

It’s interesting to note that this pamphlet was written by Thomas Flannery/Tomas O Flannaoile (accents missing in the RIA title) and compiled by Eoin Mac Néill for Conradh na Gaeilge in 1897, so it’s likely that the main names, which don’t seem to reflect what was necessarily said, were where they had been brought back into use. Given how well traveled Ó Gaora was, it’s possible that he used it for this reason as well, as opposed to a loan.

Another interesting piece is what Flannery has to say about the origins of samhain as well, instead considering gamain to be the older form. Looking in eDIL does seem to give attestations to gamain and geamhthos for ‘November’, showing there could be some plausibility to this being an older form, but sam(h)ain is much more frequent in the dictionary, and even noimper and Nouimber both occur more frequently.

This is quite likely wrong, despite the eDIL attestation of gamain. According to a thread I posted on Twitter, and it seems to be a ‘pure etymological speculation of whoever medieval scholar was adding this.’ In fact, the development of samhain as a month name is quite old. The Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic (Matasović 2009) has samhain stemming from Proto-Celtic *samoni- ‘assembly, (feast of the) first month of the year’, citing a cognate in Gaulish, samon-, which is reconstructed as *samonos/samonios/samonis. However, Matasović cites Delamarre as implying the original meaning would be ‘assembly of the living and the dead’. So it’s quite likely that Flannery’s attestation is wrong, and gamain was likely never really used in Irish.


Update 25/05/2022


I have stumbled across what seems to be some more names for the months. These come from the book Leabhar Mhaidh Dháith, edited by Máirtín Verling. They were collected from Maidhc Dháith from An Rinn, in Waterford. They’re highly traditional (I also recommend the book for anyone interested in Ring Irish; it’s written quite dialectally). The months Maidhc had are as follows:


2. Mí na Féil Bríde

3. Mí na Márta

4. Mí Abráin

5. Mí na Bealthaine

6. Mí an Mheithimh

7. Mí na Féil Déaglán [Mí Iúil]

8. An Fómhar [Lúnasa]

9. M’ Fhéile’ Michíl [Meán Fómhair]

10. October agus November

11. Mí na Nollag


(pg 117-119)

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