Despite our modern dependence on technology, writing letters remains one of the best ways to communicate in any language, and Irish is no exception. Whether you have an Irish-speaking pen pal or want to get in touch with a government agency in Ireland (who accept correspondence in both English and Irish), letter writing is a great skill to have and it’s important to have some phrases at your disposal.
Like in most languages, the vocabulary and phrases used for letter-writing in Irish will differ depending on who the letter is to, and the level of formality involved.
The phrase “A chara” is the most-used opening in Irish letters. This literally means “my friend” or “dear friend”, but it is a very common greeting, and can be used in both formal and informal circumstances.
If you don’t know the recipients name, “A chara” is used alone, and if you do know their name, you would use: “A (name), a chara,”
A is a vocative participle in Irish. This means that, when put in front of a name, it puts the name in the vocative case. In case you haven’t come across this before, let’s do a quick run-through. It may seem daunting and complicated at first but actually, the vocative case is one of the most simple grammar concepts in Irish.
Here are the basics of the vocative case:
If the name is not Irish, putting the name in the vocative case won’t make a difference. The vocative participle (in this case, A) will simply go in front of the name, i.e.:
However, if the name is Irish, it will change in the vocative case. If it is a woman’s name, a séimhiú (h) must be added after the first consonant. If it’s a man’s name, a séimhiú must be added and, if the final vowel in the name is broad (a, o, or u) an i will be added after it.
(Reminder: vowels, the letters n, l and r and the combinations sc, sm, sp, or st do not take séimhiús.)
There is more to learn about the vocative case, but this should be enough to get letters written in Irish.
If you can’t remember exactly how the vocative case works, or if you just want to avoid it, there is an easy way to write the opening of your letter without it. Simply remove the A altogether and put the name at the beginning - i.e. “Sean, a chara” - and then dive into the body of the letter. Much easier, right?
When writing a formal letter, there are a number of phrases that can be used as a greeting, such as:
Some other useful phrases for the start of a letter in Irish:
There are also many Irish terms of endearment, which can be useful, depending on who you are writing to.
Before you sign off your letter, you might like to add in a closing sentence or two. Irish people are known for long, drawn-out goodbyes in person and it would seem strange to dive right into the sign-off without a bridge sentence.
Below are some examples:
If the letter is to a friend or family member, sign off with one of the below friendly phrases:
(These last two might sound strange in English, but they more-or-less mean ‘best wishes’, and are common ways to end a letter or email in Irish.)
If you are writing to a partner or other family member, you might like to add a more personal goodbye. Below are some phrases that can be used for close friends or family members:
The most common sign-off for an email in Irish is “Is mise, le meas,” or simply “Le meas,” - This means “yours, respectfully” and is used in professional or impersonal correspondence (i.e. correspondence with someone you don’t know well)
If you are asking for something in an email - perhaps a colleague or a customer service agent - you could sign off with a ‘thank you’:
An email to a family member or friend could be ended with one of the following, more informal ways to say goodbye:
Before ending a formal letter in Irish, there are some useful phrases that you might like to use as a bridge.
This air of formality must also be extended to the closing remark. Below are a number of phrases that can be used:
When holidaying in a foreign country, you might plan to send a postcard to family or friends. It is always useful to have some postcard-specific phrases on hand for this purpose.
To tell someone you are on holiday in another country or city, say:Táim ar saoire i __ - I am on holidays in __
While by no means an exhaustive list, here are some examples of countries in Irish:
Follow this by adding some of the below phrases, telling the recipient about your trip, and when you plan to return home.
To write a simple ‘thank you’ in a card, say the following:
To thank someone for something specific, one of the following phrases can be used (N.B. all of the below use the singular form):
To say happy birthday to someone in Irish, the phrase “Lá breithe sona duit” is used. This can be shortened to the more simple “Breithlá sona”.
"Seanfhocail" (proverbs) are very important in Irish culture, and a birthday card is a great opportunity to use one. Some examples are listed below
Some useful phrases for an Irish wedding card are:
Here is an example of a simple letter or email to a friend in Irish. At the beginning of a letter, be sure to write the place and date at the top left.___________ Baile Átha Cliath 12ú Nollaig 2021 A Sheáin, a chara, Conas atá tú? Tá bórn orm nach scríobh mé le fada. Tá me an-gnóthach le obair faoi láthair. Caithfidh mé cur i láthair tábhactach a dhéanamh an tseachtain seo chugainn and tá mé an-neirbhíseach! Conas atá cúrsaí le d’obair? Tá an aimsir go dona i mBaile Átha Cliath. Tá sé ag cuir baistí agus an-fhuar. Tá suil agam go bhfuil sé níos fearr i nGaillimh! Caithfidh mé imeacht anois, scríobh ar ais chugam go luath. Is mise, do chara, Áine ___________ Translation: Dublin 12th December 2021 Dear Seán, How are you? I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. I’m really busy with work at the moment. I have to do an important presentation next week and I’m really nervous! How are things with your job? The weather is terrible in Dublin! It’s raining and really cold. I hope it’s better in Galway! I have to go now, write back soon! Yours, Áine ___________
While you will, of course, need some other phrases to fill out the body of your letter with hobbies, work/school, family, etc., this information should be enough to get started on letter writing in Irish.
Keep it handy for reference, and you are sure to impress Irish-speaking friends and family with your written communication skills. Good luck - Go n-éirí an bóthar leat! (literally “May the road rise to meet you”!)
Editor's note: You can use our free language tool to make your own vocabulary lists, and record your own phrases.