“Mr. Innes, in his Essay on the Antiquities of Scotland and Ireland, delivers it as his opinion, that the Beth Louis Nion, or alphabet of the Irish, was nothing but an invention of the Irish Seanachies, who, since they received the use of Letters, put the Latin alphabet into a new arbitrary order, and assigned to each letter a name of some Tree; and that this was not a genuine alphabet of the Irish in ancient times, or peculiar to them; but was a bare inversion of the Latin alphabet.
“Colonel Vallancey, (in his Irish Grammar,) gives three different alphabets of the Irish language, which vary from each other in name, order, and number; the first consists of twenty-five letters, the second of twenty-six, and the last of seventeen. As for the Irish letters being different in power from those of other nations, it must be observed, that the powers of letters differ in every language, and the mode of pronouncing the same letters is various in different countries: the Irish characters are said to be of Asiatic original — granted. — But they appear to have been transmitted to the inhabitants of that country from those who had adopted the Roman letters.
“It is singular, but it is no less true, that the Norman characters were generally used in England from the coming of William the First, and that the Saxon characters were intirely disused in the very beginning of the twelfth century; but the Irish and Scots preserved the ancient forms of their characters till the end of the sixteenth century.” — Astle.
The most ancient grammar of the Irish language now extant, is the Uraiceact na Neigeas, or Primer of the Bards, written by Forchern some few years before our vulgar aera, transcribed and illustrated by Ceannfaolidh na foghlama, or Kinfaolidh the learned, an author of the seventh century. The alphabet, according to this author, was originally named bobel, loth, &c. from the names of certain masters who assisted in composing the Japhetan language soon after the confusion of tongues.
As the Grecians gave the name of alphabet to the table of their letters from the two initial letters, Alpha, Beta; and the Latins called their table Abcdarium from their three first letters, A, B, C. So the Irish gave the name of Bobel, Loth, to their ancient elements, from the two first letters B, L; and to their more modern alphabet, that of Bethluisnon, from B, L, N, which proves that N did formerly possess the third place; whereas in the present alphabet it takes up the fifth. The last and most modern name of the Irish alphabet, in conformity to the Abcdarium of the Romans, is Abgiter.
It is remarkable in all the Irish alphabets, (except the modern one, the order of which is copied from the Roman, and introduced since Christianity,) that the vowels follow each other; an instance not known in any other language, yet the labials, dentals and Unguals, are intermixed without order.
Of these letters, the five last are diphthongs. Q, Ng, Z, are reckoned superfluous consonants, and are thrown out of the modern alphabet, so that the remaining letters are only 17, which compose the abgitur or alphabet now in use, and are placed in order as the Latin abcdarium.
The ancient grammarians called the alphabet Faoidh, or Faodh, i. e. a voice, a sound or language; because such letters are expressive of the voice and language. The moderns, to support their hypothesis, have corrupted this word to Feadh, a wood; and from hence have denominated the letters after certain trees, three of which they are at a loss to expound. According to Neuman, the Hebrew letters do each separately signify the idea either of motion, space, or matter; hence each Hebrew word is at once a name, and a definition of the subject, and all objects in the natural and moral world must be known as soon as their names are known, and their separate letters considered. The proper names of men being borrowed from such ideas as Adam, i. e. red earth, it is more rational to suppose our learned ancestors named their letters according to Forchern, from men, rather than from trees. — A Grammar of the Iberno-Celtic, or Irish Language. By Major Charles Vallancey. 4to. Dublin, 1773.
In addition to the above eighteen letters, the ancients used the following in their alphabet: —
and coll, the hazel-tree, of which were made hurdles for crossing brooks and rivers (the letter x).
[Irish-English Guide to the Irish Language. By Thaddaeus Connellan, 12mo. Lond. 1824.]
The vowels are five in number, a, o, u, e, i, whereof the three first, a, o, u, are broad, and the two last, e, i, are narrow.
In words of two or more syllables, regard must be had to the correspondence of the vowels, for when the last vowel of the former syllable is a broad vowel, the first vowel of the following syllable must be broad also; and when in some latter syllable the vowel is small, the last of the immediately preceding must be small also. Example, du-ne, a man, is false orthography, because the last syllable ending in a small vowel, the first must end in a small one also, as dui-ne.
No vowel is ever to be doubled as ee, oo, &c. in the same syllable.
The diphthongs, or union of two vowels, are thirteen.
| ao as y or|
i in bird
|æ or ae||gaeth||io||cior|
The tripthongs are five
Vallancey, by omitting the letter R, reduces the modern alphabet to seventeen letters; Connellan, by admitting this letter, increases it to eighteen.
Pica. — Thorowgood and Besley; this was cut by Fry from drawings made by, and under the superintendence of Mr. Thaddeeus Connellan.
Small Pica. — Thorowgood and Besley; this was also cut by Fry from drawings by Mr. Connellan, and under the same circumstances as the Pica. V. and J. Figgins; this was copied from the engravings in Vallancey's Irish Grammar. I have given the modern alphabet in this character.
Long Primer. Thorowgood and Besley; this was cut for Bagster's edition of the New Testament in Irish, printed for the British and Foreign Bible Society.