The Irish diminutive suffix -een

January 16, 2019

In A Brilliant Void, a new anthology of vintage Irish science fiction edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018), I saw some examples of a grammatical feature I’ve been meaning to write about: the Irish English suffix –een. Anglicised from Irish –ín /iːn/, it normally signifies littleness or endearment but can also disparage or serve other functions.

Look up –ín in Ó Dónaill’s Irish-English dictionary and you’ll find such diverse examples as an t-éinín bíogach ‘the chirpy little bird’, an choisín chomair ‘the neat little foot’, an bheainín ghleoite ‘the charming little woman’, an méirín púca ‘the foxglove’, and an paidrín páirteach ‘the family rosary’.

The –ín suffix is so productive in Irish, and Irish so influences the traditional dialects of English in Ireland, that it’s no surprise –een became established in vernacular Irish English, especially in the west. You probably know it if you’re at all familiar with Irish speech or culture; even if not, you may recognise some of the examples below.

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Acushla machree, pulse of my heart

October 23, 2013

Browsing Daniel O’Keeffe’s First Book of Irish Ballads yesterday (Mercier Press, 1955), I came upon this verse in ‘Song from the Backwoods’ by T. D. Sullivan:

And well we know in the cool grey eyes,
When the hard day’s work is o’er,
How soft and sweet are the words that greet
The friends who meet once more;
With ‘Mary machree!’ and ‘My Pat! ’tis he!’
And ‘My own heart night and day!’
Ah, fond old Ireland! dear old Ireland!
Ireland, boys, hurra!

One word might give general/non-Irish readers pause. Machree /mə’kriː/, /mə’xriː/ is an anglicisation of mo chroí, Irish for “my heart”, also spelt mochree and other ways (Scottish Gaelic has mo chridhe). Sometimes vocative a replaces mo: achree or a-chree, from Irish a chroí.

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What do you wonder at, asthore?

October 15, 2011

Dusk, a pearl-grey river, o’er
Hill and vale puts out the day—
What do you wonder at, asthore,
What’s away in yonder grey?

Dark the eyes that linger long—
Dream-fed heart, awake, come in,
Warm the hearth and gay the song:
Love with tender words would win.

Fades the eve in dreamy fire,
But the heart of night is lit:
Ancient beauty, old desire,
By the cabin doorway flit.

from Twilight by the Cabin by George William Russell, aka Æ.

You might have wondered at the word asthore. It’s an Irish English term of endearment, an anglicised form of the Irish a stór /ə’st̪oːr/, meaning ‘my dear’ or ‘my darling’ – literally ‘treasure’, with the Irish vocative particle a.

I love the sound and appearance of a stór. Google Books has examples of it in literary use, but asthore appears to be the more common form. I’ve also come across m’asthore, a mixed-tongue contraction of mo stór, ‘my treasure’.

What do you wonder at, a stór?

And did you notice how the verses above look like a face in profile, with a strong nose, a weak chin, and the broad brim of a hat?