In the 1560s, Queen Elizabeth I began to see the value in becoming familiar with the Irish language.  The Queen was already well versed in the French, Italian, Latin and Greek languages.  There can be little doubt that her interest in the Irish language was brought on by her desire to control and Anglicise rebellious Ireland.  Elizabeth had already provided funds to produce an Irish typeface to facilitate the publication of an Irish language Bible, an indication that she saw this as an opportunity to spread Protestant Christianity in Ireland through the medium of Ireland's the native language.

Christopher Nugent, 9th Baron of Delvin, an Anglo-Irish nobleman, was the author of the Irish Primer seen in the facsimile images above and below.  It is not an extensive volume at just 18 pages, but is of great significance as one of the earliest works, if not the earliest, to explain the language to non-Irish speakers, and to have Irish phrases translated into English and Latin.

An artist's depiction of Queen Elizabeth I's meeting with Shane "The Proud" O'Neill in 1567

The Primer was discovered in the 1860s, or thereabouts, in a cupboard in Cambridge's Madingley Hall, a private residence from the time of its construction in 1543 until 1860. The booklet would have been used by Elizabeth from the 1560s through the 1590s to prepare for her face-to-face negotiations with rebellious Irish noblemen such as the O'Neills and the O'Rourkes.

You can click on a facsimile of every page of the Primer, and read more about it on this site. Click on "Collections," then on "Farmleigh House," then on "Irish Primer."  The alphabet and glossary can be found on f8 - f10.  It's fascinating to see the phrases, the comparison of the alphabets, and the pronunciation guides supplied by Nugent to Elizabeth.


Views: 7284

Tags: Britain, Gaeilge, History of Ireland, Irish Language, Preservation

Comment by Kelly O'Rourke on June 4, 2014 at 4:14am

So interesting!  Look at the script for Maire (Mary)!  I wonder how often anyone had a reason to say "God save the Queen" as Gaeilge, haha!

Comment by Mary Collins Dolan on June 7, 2014 at 3:55am


Comment by C. Michael Harrington on June 7, 2014 at 8:50am

Outstanding post, but I have to wonder if the queen found the guide book useful in conversation. It's pretty bare bones.

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on June 7, 2014 at 9:43am

I'd say it got her through the pleasantries and small talk at the beginning of a conversation with Irish nobles like O'Rourke, O'Neill, etc.  Not much beyond that, I'd imagine ... unless she had other more extensive volumes to consult in her library.

Comment by James J. O'Malley on February 27, 2017 at 4:13pm

It's recorded that Grania ni Malia, ( aka) Grace O'Malley,  the Pirate Queen met Queen Elizabeth I in 1588 after sailing from the west coast of Ireland, up the Thames river, to London and conversed in Latin.


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