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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BROTHAD is defined in the Dictionary as ‘a small division of time; vaguely, a short space of time, a moment’. In the Middle Ages, though, a ‘moment’ was actually considered to be around 90 seconds, there being 40 moments in a solar hour, which varied according to the season. Some of the examples we have of BROTHAD suggest that this Irish word was similarly understood. For example, one text specifies that there were 990 ‘BRATA’ in a day: tri xxit brata ar .ix. c.aib hi llaithiu (Ériu xxi 131).

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DRÚTH, when used in early Irish narrative literature, refers to a professional entertainer, perhaps some kind of jester or buffoon. There are references in legal texts, however, which suggest that the word could be used also of someone suffering from mental illness. One Early Modern glossary claims that DRÚITH have a lump on their foreheads called the CORR CRECHDA. No further details are given but scholars have wondered whether this may reflect the tradition of the ‘Mark of Cain’ or may derive from medieval belief in an actual ‘stone of folly’, commonly thought to be located in the head. Attempts to extract this ‘stone’ are depicted in a number of art works, including a fifteenth-century painting by Hieronymus Bosch (below).

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CRÓ is still used today to refer to an enclosure for animals; in Modern Irish a dog-kennel is CRÓ MADRA and a rabbit-hutch CRÓ COINNÍN. This is the earliest attested meaning of the word, though the animals in question in medieval references are generally farmyard creatures – early Irish farmers kept their sheep in a pen (CRÓ CAORACH) and their pigs in a sty (CRÓ MUICE). A line of poetry in Early Modern Irish also preserves for us a lovely phrase for something which is in the wrong place: ‘arc a ccró chomhoidheach’ (a pig in the neighbour's sty)!

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CÁSC ‘Easter’ is sometimes used in the plural in early Irish texts. This is probably because the celebration was marked by two events: CÁSC MÓR, ‘great Easter’ or Easter Sunday, and MINCHÁSC, ‘little Easter’ or the Sunday following Easter Sunday. According to the Annals of Ulster, the TECH CÁSCA or ‘Easter house’ used by the king of Tara and his followers collapsed on Easter Sunday 1124. The reference may be to a building connected to a church which was set aside for the king during the Easter period.

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