Irish is one of the three Goidelic languages, the others being Scottish Gaelic and Manx. This Goidelic branch together with the Brythonic branch (Welsh, Cornish and Breton) form the Celtic language family. These are spoken in parts of the Ireland, Britain and France.
Some common features of the Celtic languages which strike learners as odd are:
'mutations': sounds change, often at the beginning of words, as part of the grammar, e.g. cat 'cat', but mo chat 'my cat'
the verb is usually at the beginning of the sentence
prepositional pronouns that are conjugated, e.g. agam 'at me', agat 'at you', etc.
There are three major dialects in Irish, named for the three provinces in the north (Ulster, major cities Derry and Belfast), west (Connacht, major city Galway) and south (Munster, major cities Cork, Limerick, Waterford) of the island. The eastern province, (Leinster, major cities Dublin, Kilkenny), no longer has its own distinct dialect. The Caighdeán Oifigiúl (kaigh-DAWN iffig-OOL, official standard) has been in place since the mid-20th century after spelling was 'regularised' (to an extent). This is the official Irish that appears in phrasebooks and in Government publications. It is largely the same as the Munster dialect, with a very few exceptions. There are great differences in pronunciation between the dialects, with Munster differing the most from the other two. For example 'tá go maith', 'yes indeed' is pronunced 'TAY guh MAIGH' in Ulster but 'TAW guh MAH' in Connacht and Munster. There are also differences in the phrases used in everyday speech. In the phrasebook below, the Munster phrase has been used except where indicated. The conjugation of verbs, too, differs from dialect to dialect. Munster uses a contracted form in the past and present first person and in the third person of all three tenses. For example 'tá mé' ('TAW MAY', I am) is 'táim' ('TAW'm') in Munster, and 'bhí mé' (VEE MAY, I was) is 'bhíos' (VEE-us) in Munster.
These are the pronunciations of the vowels when stressed (stress with word-initial). Unstressed short vowels (not marked with an accent) are generally pronounced like an 'uh' sound.
like 'o' in "cod"
like 'aw' in "flaw"
like 'e' in "peg"
like 'ay' in "hay"
like 'i' in "tin"
like 'ee' in "heel"
like 'u' in "bud"
like 'o' in "home"
like 'u' in "bud"
like 'oo' in "cool"
vowel combinations/diphthongs in Irish (e.g. 'Gaeilge, 'seachtain) are slightly rounded and pronounced in the back of the mouth without using the lips at all. (e.g. 'Gaeilge' should not, strictly speaking, be pronounced with a w after the g.) Thus, correct pronunciation can be obtained only from imitating spoken Irish, but the pronunciation guide given here is an adequate enough approximation in that by using it, you will be perfectly understood by any Irish speaker.
Consonant combinations with h are sometimes written with a dot (séimhiú, shay-VOO) on the letter instead of the h and are sometimes silent. All consonants have two versions called caol (narrow, palatalized) and leathan (wide, velarized) (except for h, which is neither palatalized or velarized); this is indicated in writing by adjacent vowels.
As a rule, if the nearest vowel is a, o, or u, the consonant is broad. If the nearest vowel is e or i, it is slender.
like W sound when broad; like a V sound when slender
like kid when broad; like the ty in Hungarian when slender (does not occur in English)
as in Scottish 'loch' when broad; as in German ich when slender
like dog but sometimes slightly softer, like the Icelandic ð or th in them, often like the English 'j' when followed by an 'e' or 'i'
voiced h sound when broad, y when slender; sometimes vague gh sound (Munster dialect especially), always silent after long vowels
silent (except in Ulster, where it's said like an h)
like go when broad; like the gy in Hungarian when slender (does not occur in English, with the closest approximation probably being the d in the French dure)
same as bh but slightly softer
like sing when broad and word initial (follow with a broad g otherwise); like onion when slender and word initial (follow with a slender g otherwise)
like phone or whom
rolled or flapped
like soon when broad; like sheen when slender
like th in 'the', or occasionally like t in 'tin', depending on its placement in the word; sometimes pronounced as the English 'ch' in China when slender
Diphthongs are generally irregular and can be learned only by experience. For example, 'ai' in "Corcaigh" (the city and county of Cork) is pronounced like the 'i' in "dig" but the 'ai' in "faic" (nothing) is pronounced like the 'a' in "hack", and the 'ai' in "haigh!" (hi!, transliteration of a loan-word) is pronounced like the 'i' in "high".
There are differences in the phrases used in everyday speech in the different provinces. In the phrasebook below, the Munster phrase has been used except where indicated. The conjugation of verbs, too, differs from dialect to dialect. Munster uses a contracted form in the past and present first person and in the third person of all three tenses. For example 'tá mé' ('TAW MAY', I am) is 'táim' ('TAW'm') in Munster, and 'bhí mé' (VEE MAY, I was) is 'bhíos' (VEE-us) in Munster.
Dia dhuit (DEE-a GHWIT) [Shortened form of, 'Go mbeannaí Dia dhuit', literal meaning is, 'May God bless you']
the response to this greeting is
Dia is Muire dhuit (DEE-a iSS MWIRR-a Gwit) [literally (May) God and (The Virgin) Mary bless you]
How are you?
Conas atá tú? (CUNN-us a-TAW too?)
Táim go maith (TAW'm guh MAH)
What is your name?
Cad is ainm duit? (COD iss ANNim ditch?)
My name is ______ .
______ is ainm dom (_____ iss annim dum)
Nice to meet you.
Deas bualadh leat. (JAHSS BOO-loo lyaht)
Le do thoil (singular), Le bhur dtoil (plural). (LE do HULL, LE wur DULL)
Thank you/you (pl.).
Go raibh maith agat/agaibh. (GUH ROH MAH ug-ut/ug-iv)
You're welcome (in response to 'thank you'.
Go ndéanaí mhaith duit/daoibh (singular/plural). ("Goh nyae-nee wah ditch/dee-iv") or : Tá fáilte romhat/romhaibh. (TAW FOIL-chyeh ROWt/ ROW-iv)
'Sea (SHAA; note that there is no real translation for yes and no in Irish - the words here literally mean 'it is'. People usually use the question verb again in their replies, in the positive or negative, in the same tense, voice and person as the question was asked.)
Ní hea (Nee haa; literally, 'it is not'. See note for 'Yes'.)
Gabh mo leithscéal. (Goh mah lesh-kyale)
Tá brón orm. (TAW BROHN urr-im)
I can't speak Irish [well].
Níl Gaeilge [mhaith] agam. (neel GWAYL-geh [wah] ug-um)
Do you speak English?
An bhfuil Béarla agat? (ahn will BAYR-la ug-ut?)
Is there someone here who speaks English?
An bhfuil Béarla ag éinne anseo? (ahn will BAYR-la egg AYN-ya on-SHUH?)
Fóir dom! (Fore dum!)
Bí curamach (BEE KOOR-mukh!)
Maidin maith. (mah-jin mah)
Tráthnóna maith. (Trah-no-nuh my)
Oíche mhaith. (EE-hah wah)
I don't understand.
Ní thuigim. (NEE HIGG-im)
Where is the toilet?
Cá bhfuil an leithreas? (CAW will ahn LEH-HER-as?)
Where are you from? (singular)
Cá as duit? (CAW oss ditch?) OR Cé as thú? ("K ahss hoo?")
Cá bhfuil tú ag tógail mé? (kaw will too ag TOWG-awl may)
Am I under arrest?
An bhfuil mé gafa? (on will may GOFF-ah)
I am an American/Australian/British/Canadian citizen.
Is saoránach Meiriceánach/Astrálach/Briotanach/Ceanadach mé. (iss sayr-AWN-ock merry-KAWN-ock/ass-TRAWL-ock/BRIT-annock/KYANNY-dock may)
I want to talk to the American/Australian/British/Canadian embassy/consulate.
Ba mhaith liom labhairt leis an ambasáid/consalacht Meiriceánach/Astrálach/Briotanach/Ceanadach. (bah wawh lum LOWR-t lesh on OM-bass-oyj/CUN-sill-ockt merry-KAWN-ock/ass-TRAWL-ock/BRIT-annock/KYANNY-dock)
I want to talk to a lawyer.
Ba mhaith liom labhairt le dlíodóir. (bah wawh lum LOWR-t leh DLEE-dor)
Can I just pay a fine now?
An féidir liom íocaíocht cáin amháin anois? (on FAY-jer lum EEK-ee-ockt koyn ah-WAWN ah-NISH)
This is a usable phrasebook. It explains pronunciation and the bare essentials of travel communication. An adventurous person could use it to get by, but please plunge forward and help it grow!