eDIL - Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language

The electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) is a digital dictionary of medieval Irish. It is based on the ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY’S Dictionary of the Irish Language based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials (1913-1976) which covers the period c.700-c.1700. The current site contains revisions to c.4000 entries and further corrections and additions will be added in the coming years.

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APA is a loanword which was used in a number of late medieval Irish texts to mean ‘ape’. In the fourteenth-century Irish account of the travels of Marco Polo, however, the word appears as NAPA. The initial n- probably arose from uses of the word with the definite article (i.e. IN APA ‘the ape’), when scribes were uncertain about how words were to be divided. This phenomenon occurs elsewhere; in grammatical terms, the accruing initial letter is known as a ‘prosthetic n’.

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CÚLÁN was used in medieval Ireland to describe a way in which men wore their hair. A statute of 1297 banned Anglo-Normans from adopting the style, which seems to have been long at the back and partially shaved elsewhere. Given that it was sufficiently distinctive to form part of the name of Niall Cúlánach Ua Néill, who died in 1291, it has been argued that this style was not common amongst Irishmen, but associated in particular with outlaws.

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SMIRAMMAIR, literally ‘marrow-tub’, is defined in the Dictionary as ‘a bath of marrow from crushed bones used in the treatment of wounded warriors’. Although the SMIRAMMAIR features only in narrative tales, medical texts in Irish and other languages place some emphasis on the dangers attendant upon injuries which allow marrow to escape and on the role of marrow in strengthening bones. Such medical concepts may explain why marrow is presented as having particularly powerful healing properties in medieval Irish literature.

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CÍRMAIRE was an early word for a comb-maker. There are signs that comb-makers were not held in very high regard in medieval Ireland. In the Life of St Colmán, for example, the saint proclaims that only shoe-makers and comb-makers will descend from anyone who turns against him. That said, in describing how the CÍRMAIRE acquired materials for this craft, an 8th-century legal text has an intriguing suggestion of supernatural powers. According this source, the CÍRMAIRE is to be found ‘chanting on a dunghill so that what there is below of horns and bones comes up’ (Celtica xxi 231)! Image: deer-antler comb, Co. Fermanagh (7th/8th-cent.)

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