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In Praise Of An Hobad – But Why The Awful Gaelicisations?

The J.R.R. Tolkien fansite,, carries some news on the release of An Hobad, the Irish language version of Tolkien’s children’s classic the Hobbit. Very interesting it is, including details on some of the issues around finding a suitable word to translate the term Elf as Tolkien employs it.

“Part of the evening was taken up by media interviews with the extraordinary people involved in the translation. Professor Nicholas Williams (who previously translated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) explained that a particular difficulty in the translation was the absence in Irish mythology of an exact equivalent of Tolkien’s Elves. The search for a suitable word resulted in a years-long delay while Professor Williams and the publisher, Michael Everson (himself a formidable linguist, typesetter and font designer) sought to find common ground on the matter. In the end, a new word was created, Ealbh, based on a borrowing into Scottish Gaelic from Norse – a solution Tolkien might well have approved of!”

Maybe Tolkien would approve of it but I certainly don’t. What a terrible decision. And an awful Gaelicisation. Yes, I know it’s based upon an original Scottish word ealbhar, so has genuine Gaelic roots, but that word in turn is a borrowing from Old Norse álfr “elf”; and in Scottish the original borrowing now means “a good for nothing”. I should also point out that ealbh is an alternative spelling of the existing Irish word ealbha which means “a drove or herd of cattle”. Is that a suitable root for the Eldar of Middle-earth? And one that Tolkien the philologist would approve of?

As for the claim that there is no exact equivalent of Tolkien’s Elves in Irish mythology, stuff an’ nonsense. Tolkien’s Elves are straight out of Irish mythology, via the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Aos Sí.

There are many Irish terms for the Otherworld Folk which would have been entirely suitable for the Elves of Middle-earth and all derived from the base word Sí “Otherworld”. I have listed most of them here. Yes, some might say it is “culturally” incorrect (and perhaps confusing) to apply the same word for the supernatural race of Irish, Scottish and Manx myth to J.R.R. Tolkien’s imaginative creations. But since that imaginary race is so heavily based on its Irish counterpart, and since context would clearly indicate which race is being discussed, I see no harm in it.

In any case there are plenty of now fairly obscure Irish Otherworld terms that could have been used: and with far more gravitas and authenticity. Ealbh is right up there with rampaí as an indicator of our lack of confidence in our own language and culture. One only has to look at other non-English versions of The Hobbit to see the ready use of culturally-specific translations without the need for awful bastardisations. Elf would have been rendered far better in Irish as Sióg or Síogaí than the mongrelised Elabh. Or if they were felt too modern or too loaded with other connotations then one could have used Síodhaí, Síodhbróg or even Sídheog (all meaning an inhabitant of the Otherworld or an Otherworld domain).

Of course one could point to the translation of the term Hobbit itself: Hobad. Why? It is perfectly clear that the Halfling Hobbits of Tolkien’s Middle-earth have a close role-model in the Little People of Irish Folklore, the Lucharacháin or Leipreacháin. Yes, that’s right: Leprechauns. However the more literary term Lucharachán for Hobbit would surely have been more suitable, and more indicative to an Irish-speaking reader, than the utterly meaningless Hobad.

I wish the translators of An Hobad every success. They have done wonderful work and so far I have heard nothing but praise for the job they have done (a job, in fact, apparently superior to many other translations made of Tolkien’s first published work of Middle-earth legendarium). I will certainly be purchasing it and I recommend others do the same.

I’m just hoping that Ealbh dies the linguistic death it so richly deserves. But I doubt it.

UPDATE: Two videos on the release of An Hobad, one from Grafton Media and the other from Club Leabhar via Gaelchultúr (focusing mainly on the translation Eachtraí Eilíse i dTír na nIontas or “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by the same translator of The Hobbit).

UPDATE: Michael Everson, the publisher of An Hobad, has been generous enough to contribute several comments below vigorously defending the use of the word Ealbh for “Elf” in the translation, and the reasons for doing so.

34 comments on “In Praise Of An Hobad – But Why The Awful Gaelicisations?

  1. The price of the book is scandalous – €39.95. I have no objection to the translations you find so objectionable just that this work seems to be for academics and collectors rather than readers.


    • From what I’ve read (and been told) the majority of sales are expected from “print on demand” editions meaning there is limited stock available at any one time, which I suppose contributes towards the high price. No bulk, no savings.

      Have you seen the prices for academic works on early Irish history, literature, mythology or folklore? Ouch… If the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies is publicly funded why are its publications priced so high and out of reach of the ordinary Seán or Síle Citizen?


    • michaeleverson932

      Regarding the price of the book: Colour, hardback books have their costs and one has to build into that the bookshops’ discount, and that’s that. The publisher would like to ask ”igaeilge” how far he expects his euro to go. You can’t even get dinner for two with wine in a medium-scale restaurant for forty quid. Scandalous?

      Believe me, no one is making a fortune out of publishing in Irish. A paperback edition is planned for March 2013. You’re welcome.


  2. I find your reaction a bit over the top. The Hobbit is an internationally recognised word the world over, like Coca-Cola or Fiat or Harry Potter or whatever. No-one in their right mind would expect those to be totally reinvented in Irish, so why with the Hobbit? Irish-ising foreign words is fine, so coke can become cóc, hobbit hobad etc as other languages do, but warping a world-famous name out of all possible recognition? And a hobbit is a hobbit, NOT a leprechaun, whatever the basis for the idea. And as for the elves, they are not from the Otherworld or the Sidhe or wherever, and I for one would see a lot of harm in equating those two races of ‘beings’ when they are unrelated. What Tolkien used as the basis for his creations is irrelevant. What he created, however, is. Middle-Earth is not Ireland, hence the need for neutral, non-Irish translations. You claim that other cultures have culturally-specific translations, could you give a few examples? And as for rampaí as a sign of ‘our lack of confidence in our own language and culture’, are you saying Irish shouldn’t dare adapt foreign words at all?


    • Ho-hum, I seem to have annoyed quite a few people with this one! 😉

      Yes, everything you say is true but in this particular case why reinvent the wheel? If a perfectly acceptable equivalent exists in the Irish language for Tolkien’s part-invented word Hobbit why use instead a Gaelicised version? You are correct, of course, that the term Hobbit is the more familiar one and certainly Tolkien himself preferred its retention in any translation. From his “Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings”:

      “Hobbit. Do not translate, since the name is supposed no longer to have had a recognized meaning in the Shire, and not to have been derived from the Common Speech (= English, or the language of translation).”

      So I suppose, strictly speaking, if one was to adhere to his wishes then Hobad is a perfectly acceptable adaptation of Hobbit. It’s just that, personally, I find it superfluous for the reasons I gave above. I would have thought that a more culturally specific Irish term would have greater merit but I have no problem conceding that one.

      On the other hand Elves as Eilbh is just not right at all. It’s simply too awkward looking (and sounding) for my tastes and looses certain cultural overtones that the use of a pre-existing Irish word would have conveyed. From J.R.R. Tolkien again:

      “Elven-smiths. Translate. The archaic adjectival or composition form elven used in The Lord of the Rings should on no account be equated with the debased English word elfin, which has entirely wrong associations. Use either the word for elf in the language of translation, or a first element in a
      compound, or divide into elvish + smiths, using an equivalent in the language of translation for the correct adjective elvish.”

      So Tolkien indicates that he believed that the word Elf should be translated, using an equivalent word in the language of the translator. And as I stated in the post there are plenty of those in Irish, both current or latterly more obscure.

      Some more on Elves from the Guide:

      “With regard to German: I would suggest with diffidence that Elf, elfen are perhaps to be avoided as equivalents of elf, elven. Elf is, I believe, borrowed from English, and may retain some of the associations of a kind that I should particularly desire not to be present (if possible): for example those of Drayton or of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (in the translation of which, I believe, Elf was first used in German). That is, the pretty, fanciful reduction of ‘elf’ to a butterfly-like creature inhabiting flowers.”

      Could the same not be said for Irish and the borrowing of Elf as Ealbh?

      “I wonder whether the word Alp (or better still the form Alb, still given in modern dictionaries as a variant, which is historically the more normal form) could not be used. It is the true cognate of English elf; and if it has senses nearer to English oaf, referring to puckish and malicious sprites, or to idiots regarded as ‘changelings’, that is true also of English elf. I find these debased rustic associations less damaging than the ‘pretty’ literary fancies. The Elves of the ‘mythology’ of The Lord of the Rings are not actually equatable with the folklore traditions about ‘fairies’, and as I have said (III 415) I should prefer the oldest available form of the name to be used, and left to acquire its own associations for readers of my tale. In Scandinavian languages alf is available.”

      So if modern Sióg or Síogaí are unacceptable for the reasons outlined above then older spellings or alternatives do exist that could have been employed instead while staying true to the spirit of Tolkien’s wishes. Given the long debate over the correct translation of Elf by the authors of An Hobad I’m not saying anything new here. And it should certainly not be taken as a criticism of the translation as a whole which I am genuinely happy to see and look forward to reading (and by all accounts it is indeed something special).

      But if the author/translators can spend many years debating the correctness of the translation or adaptation of the word Elf into Irish surely one can debate it also, and query their final conclusion? If I came across as being churlish about An Hobad that was certainly not my intention (and I don’t really wish Ealbh to suffer a linguistic death). But I’m sorry, there is simply no need for the word Ealbh when perfectly suitable ones already exist or can be readily adapted from the Irish language.

      There are several examples of culturally specific words being used for Elf in various translations, some appropriate some not so (for instance the Hebrew Bneyi Lilith which is a poor equivalent, replaced by Elefs – via Yiddish – in an alternative translation since Hebrew mythology lacks an equivalent of Elves). What I’m saying is that if an equivalent word exists use it to root the story in the language of translation: and I believe Tolkien, given his restrictions, would agree.

      No, of course Irish should adapt words. It’s done all the time. But crude bastardisations? Rampaí for Ramps? That is pure laziness, a civil servant’s lack of care or respect for the Irish language or Irish-speaking citizens.

      I don’t see Ealbh/Eilbh in that light. They are the work of two committed and highly respected translators. I simply disagree with them.

      Hope that suffices? And thank you for taking the time to Comment 🙂


      • michaeleverson932

        I would use eilf, eilfeanna for Santa’s elves, but ealbh, eilbh for the Eldar. I think that’s what Tolkien was talking about when he was discussing German Elf and Elb and Alp.


    • michaeleverson932

      An Sionnach Fionn is wrong on a number of counts. First, Tolkien says “do not translate ‘hobbit'” but he does not say “do not assimilate to your language”. Broad and slender rules prevent “hobbit” as a word-form in Irish. You’re stuck with “hoibit” or “hobait” and no double b’s either. Nicholas chose “hobad” pl “hobaid” because it was the best fit to Irish phonology and morphology. A first-declension masculine plural gives the word “age”, which is a consideration in the mythological construct. Failing this, what would you have? Hoibit, pl hoibití? Hobait, pl hobaiteanna?

      And Leprechauns? No, thank you. We’d have been laughing-stocks. Never mind the disrespect that would have shown to Tolkien.

      Regarding the Elves, well in the first place, it’s simply false to facts to suggest that Tolkien’s elves had anything whatsoever to do with Irish mythology. Tolkien’s Elves are as Norse as Norse can be. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Tolkien modelled his Eldar after the Tuatha Dé Danann or anything similar. Nor are Tolkien’s Elves inhabitants of an “Otherworld”. They are creations of Eru, just as Men are. They inhabit Middle-earth just as Men do. Ealbh pl eilbh is a first-declension masculine noun, which befits them as the First Speakers of Middle-earth.

      It’s true as Nicholas says that he and I were of different minds about this issue. The editor, Alan Titley, said of Nicholas’ suggestion (that the term síogaí pl síogaithe be used): “I have to agree, I do not think síogaithe would do at all. It smacks too much of fairyland in the worst sense of that peterpannish way, and I do not think that Tolkien would have approved. I like ealbh as a regular first declension noun myself, and of course, remind myself that it can be pronounced as -ealv anyway, both historically and around the south. But I don’t have any great problem with ealf either.”

      I also do not believe that Tolkien would have approved, and in fact I am certain that he would have been delighted that álfur had been borrowed into Scottish Gaelic and that we took our term from that. (Note that álfur was borrowed into English as well, and became our “oaf”, the same meaning that Scottish Gaelic “ealbhar” had. Does this matter? No. I’m just as happy seeing echoes of “ealaín” ‘art’ and “eala” ‘swan’ in “ealbh” as anything else. Similarities with cattle-words, well, homonyms are homonyms, but I stand with Titley when he says that síogaithe is “far too unTolkienish, I would say, and too much reminiscent of thousands of bad folktales! Wouldn’t go for it.”

      Sure there’s no pleasing everyone. Nicholas probably still prefers síogaithe. Tolkien’s creatures are álfar, however, not síogaithe, and knowing Tolkien’s linguistics as I do, I am confident he would have preferred Ealbh to other terms on offer. I believe, therefore, though you may not, that in choosing this word we paid the highest respect both to Tolkien and to the Irish language.


      • Hi Michael and thank you for taking the time to comment.

        As I stated in my own comment above, I can see the rationale (going by Tolkien’s own advice to translators) in using a Gaelicised or assimilated word for Hobbit. In this case Hobad. It certainly matches his wishes. My own personal preference for a more culturally-specific word is simply my own preference. Quite possibly wrongly, and admittedly not in line with Tolkien’s guide. Indeed it could well have “alienated” readers already familiar with the English version of The Hobbit. As for Leprechauns I would have gone for Lucharachán rather than the more familiar (and debased) Leipreachán if any word was to be used. I don’t necessarily agree that it would have been disrespectful to Tolkien’s work, since the imagery of the Hobbits is partly derived from the literary and folkloric “Little People” tradition of north-western Europe, including Ireland. Of course it is debatable where that derives from, mythological beings indigenous to Ireland or from Scandinavian and Classical sources.

        While the Leipreachán of modern Irish Folklore are certainly more derivative of English, Continental and Victorian fairylore the original Luchorpáin / Abhaic have far more complex origins. I examine that here.

        I’m afraid that I strongly disagree that Tolkien’s Elves are simply Norse and nothing but Norse. Yes, the Germano-Scandinavian origins and aspects are clear. But so are the Irish and Celtic influences. There are obvious Tuatha Dé Danann and Aos Sí aspects to the Eldar, both in their imagery and in some of their histories (especially in the Silmarillion, as well as the earlier Book of Lost Tales, etc). I examined Tolkien’s complex relationship with Ireland here, and there are several links to studies in this area.

        To name just two:

        The Noldor and the Tuatha de Danaan: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Irish influences

        “Mad” Elves and “elusive beauty”: some Celtic strands of Tolkien’s mythology

        What is Valinor and Tol Eressëa but a quasi-Otherworld? The relationship of the Eldar to Valinor, and their withdrawal from Middle-earth to the Undying Lands before the Atani/Men, matches that of the Tuatha Dé to the Sí and their withdrawal from Ireland into the Síthe before the Clann Mhíle / Men (c.f. Tír na mBeo “Land of the (Ever-) Living” with the Undying Lands, or Tol Eressëa with Eamhain Abhlach).

        Sióg / Síogaí mean “Fairy” because we have given that as the English translation. Wrongly, I may say! 😉 They should be translated as “Otherworld being” and that is a failure of Irish translators and Ó Dónaill’s “Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla”. Eilf or some such should be used for “Elf, fairy” while Sióg / Síogaí should be given a new, more culturally accurate translation.

        But that is an old drum I have been banging for the last decade, so apologies if An Hobad got dragged into that.

        I would have suggested Síodhaí (pl. Síodhaithe) derived from Síodhaidhe “Otherworld being, person, inhabitant” if Sióg / Síogaí was unacceptable. But I am no expert. My interest in Tolkien and Irish Mythology comes from many years of amateur study.

        I hope no offence was taken by the points or argument I made in the post. Simply a personal point of view and I hope that my respect for yourself and Nicholos Williams is clear throughout. Though I think I will never be reconciled to Ealbh! 😉

        Thanks again for the Comment. Much appreciated and best of luck with the publication.

        Any chance of the LotR being translated? 😀


        • michaeleverson932

          Irish mythological creatures are simply not a part of Middle-earth. To bring the resonances of Irish mythology into Tolkien’s legendarium would have been a grave mistake. The Aos Sí and the Tuatha Dé Danann are not the Eldar. The Eldar are modelled after the Ljósálfar if anything. Because of that the philological luck of having álfur borrowed into Gaelic as ealbhar was compelling. It is definitely what Tolkien would have chosen.

          In any case, even if Síogaí can be translated as “Otherword being”, that still doesn’t fit, because the Eldar and Men and Hobbits and Dwarves live in Middle-earth, which is THIS world, a long long time ago. And the same goes with Síodhaí. As stated in An Hobad: “In this story both álfr and ælf have been blended to give Irish ealbh, because words like clutharachán and síogaí and sióg and so on all refer to very different kinds of creatures, who are not part of the story of Middle-earth.”

          Quasi-Otherworlds don’t count. That’s a different universe, and it would not have been better had that universe been mixed in with Eä. See

          To have rendered Hobbit by any Irish word beginning with L- would have been a literary disaster. I can see the reviews now: “Hobbits turned into Leprechauns by Irish Publisher”.

          HarperCollins told me that the Tolkiens are delighted with my edition. I can tell you that there is some chance of the Lord of the Rings appearing in Irish, but it will take quite a long time indeed.


          • I’m afraid we must agree to disagree on this one. In my view (and that of a number of others, notably Marjorie Burns and Dimitra Fimi) Tolkien’s Elves are far closer in imagery and form to the Otherworld community of Irish (Celtic) tradition than their Icelandic (Scandinavian) equivalents (though of course they ultimately all share a common Indo-European origin: in the Celtic and Germanic cases especially so, as the late HE Davidson outlined in her various studies).

            I would point out that the same arguments you make against the word Sióg / Síogaí can also be made against the word Elf. The Elves of Germanic tradition are not the Elves of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Yet he chose that word to represent them: Elves (álfr / ælf) for Eldar. If it is unsuitable to use the term for Irish mythological beings in a translation of Tolkien’s legendarium into Irish was it not unsuitable to use the word for Germanic mythological beings in the first place? By using Síog / Síogaí / Síodhaí in an Irish translation one is simply following Tolkien’s own practice in his supposed English translation/transliteration of ancient matter.

            However that is an argument in the round 😉

            I suppose my own concern is how poorly Ireland’s literary, mythological and folkloric traditions have been served by Irish-English translators, especially in dictionaries and such like. Maybe I’m tilting at the wrong windmill in the case of An Hobad? 🙂

            Glad to hear that you’ve got such positive feedback on the publication. Hopefully Tiarna na bhFáinní will see the light of day sometime in the (not too distant) future.


            • michaeleverson932

              The Eldar are the Children of Ilúvatar, as we all know. Since the Eldar are the Children of Ilúvatar, it would be wrong to call them by the name used by the People of the Goddess Danu. She is not Ilúvatar.

              A lot of “critics” like to wonder at whether Tolkien’s heroic romance is Catholic or Indo-European or whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s fiction, and it’s Tolkien’s fiction. And remember, the conceit is that he is translating Sindarin and Quenya into English.

              If Tolkien had wanted to call the Eldar Shee or Tylwyth Teg or Brownies he could have done so. But he felt a kinship to the Germanic languages and chose Álfur and Ælf. The greatest tribute that I could do to his linguistic tastes and sensibility is to suggest using a Gaelic loanword from that same source. That I have done, and I stand behind it, and if ever The Lord of the Rings appears in Irish that’s the word we’ll use. It’s the right word for the job, and Síogaí or Síodhaí really isn’t.

              Rí na nEalbh [ˈrʲiː nə ˈnalᵊv]. Say it over and over. Get used to it. It’s beautiful. It’s got rich resonances of Vikings and Gaels. It’s Elvish. Tolkien would’ve loved it.

              There’ll be other places to celebrate Irish folklore and mythology, But Middle-earth isn’t that place.


              • Seán Ó Diolún

                While I agree with this, and I like the translations, I’m not sure we could say “Tolkien would’ve loved it” considering he publicly hated the Ghaeilge! But yeah, great job on the translations. I once read some of Tolkien’s notes to potential translators and I feel like you’ve really done his ideals justice. Well, as much justice as could be done in ár dteanga ghránna!

                I would hate reading the word leprechaun throughout the book. Leprechaun has really horrible, tacky, Americanised connotations.

                And “Rí na nEalbh”… Absolutely gorgeous.


              • I (slightly) disagree, Seán, but thanks for the Comment, and Michael for being so generous of his time to Comment as well.

                I do believe I may have to tackle the issue of the Aos Si and English translations of Irish, Scots and Manx mythological tales myself some day 😉


              • Seán Ó Diolún

                Right, I just think Tolkien would have been aware of leprechauns. And considering the fact that he called his elves “elves” and his dwarves “dwarves”, if he wanted them to be leprechauns I feel like he would have called um leprechauns and not hobbits. More likely, he would have called them Tomtes, a similar creature to leprechauns but from Scandinavian folk-lore. The fact that he didn’t even call them Tomtes should tell us that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the connotations involved in giving them such a name and should really deter translators from calling them leprechauns or tomtes. If any translation were chosen that wasn’t just a transliteration of “hobbit”, then I think I’d like it to be one that builds on the fictitious Old English etymology of “holbytla”, “hole-builder”.


              • Well in relation to the matter of a transliteration of Hobbit, the Hobbits also had a Common Tongue form of their name, Halfling. Irish Lucharachán literally means “little body”, which itself is not a bad equivalent of Halfling.

                I certainly wouldn’t have suggested using Leipreachán “Leprechaun”, since its debasement through Irish-American associations, etc.

                My main point was in relation to the Elves, and a preference for a Sí- derived word and terms rather than the neologism or adaptation of Ealbh (despite its Scottish roots).

                Maybe some good will come from it if Aos Sí and related words are dropped from children’s stories when used of fairies, goblins, elves and such like and retained only for their proper context. However I do find it just a bit sad that yet another loan word is taken into our language. But that is just me. A personal feeling, no doubt.

                I fear, I suppose, further destruction to our native traditions by inference but that is an aside.

                Thanks for the Comment.


  3. Regarding the price of the book: Colour, hardback books have their costs and one has to build into that the bookshops’ discount, and that’s that. The publisher would like to ask “igaeilge” how far he expects his euro to go. You can’t even get dinner for two with wine in a medium-scale restaurant for forty quid. Scandalous?

    Believe me, no one is making a fortune out of publishing in Irish. A paperback edition is planned for March 2013. You’re welcome.


  4. Ceart gu leòr ma tha, a Chàirdean chòir / Ceart go leor, a Cháirde,
    má tá Gearmáinis ag duine éigin i bhur measc, tá aiste spéisiúil scríofa agus foillsithe agam faoin ábhar seo (agus tá achomaireacht le fáil as Béarla air i dtús an téacs):
    Axel Koehler, ‘Seumas Bàn MacMhuirich – James MacPherson (1736-96): Gäle und Urvater der heroischen und der unheimlichen Fantasy’ i: Inklings-Jahrbuch für Literatur und Ästhetik’, Bd. 30 (2012): The Inheritance of the Inklings / Zeitgenössische Fantasy und Phantastik, S. 199-227. Do Mhícheál Everson cóir, molfainn go h-áirithe duilleóga 207-09, agus d. 211 freisin.
    Is é ‘Elb, Elbe’ a chleachtann muid ar ‘Elven (f agus b)’ sa Ghearmáinis.

    Uill, níl mé chomh líofa i nGaeilge na h-Éireann is a ba ghnáth domh a bheith i 1995-98, agus mar sin de…ma ghabhas sibh mo lethsgeul, leanaidh mi orm anns a’ Ghàidhlig, is mi fiach siubhlach ‘sa chànan seo (agus cha mhòr cho siubhlach is a tha mi ann an cànan mo mhuinntreach fhèin). Tha sibh ag ràdh nach robh Tolkien cho measail air a’ Ghàidhlig / a’ Ghaeilge, agus tha e cosail gu bheil sibh ceart. A dh’ aindeoin sin, ge tà, gheibhear dearbhadh gun robh e fiach measail air a’ Chuimris (= Breatnais ‘sa Ghaeilge / Cymraeg), is gu bheil co-dhiù a’ chànan air a bheil Siondàirin mar ainm stèidhte air a’ Chuimris.
    A dh‘ aindeoin sin, gheibhear fianuis an siud is an seo gun robh an Tolkienach fo bhuaidh seanchas nan Gàidheal air uairibh anns an t-seanchas ùr a chruthaich e. Agus a Mhìcheil choir, chan ann às a’ Lochlainnis a tha an t-ainm Fingon (anns an t-Silmarillion), a bheil? Is e cruth Beurla an ainm Ghàidhealaich Fionnghan a tha seo, innsidh mi dhuibh – tha muinntir MhicFhionnghain ann an Albainn (ann an Canada, is air feadh an t-saoghail) fhathast a’ dèanamh iomraidh air Clan Fingon ma tha iad a’ labhairt m’ an cinneadh fhèin ‘sa Bheurla…
    A dh‘ aindeoin sin, gheibhear fianuis an siud is an seo gun robh an Tolkienach fo bhuaidh seanchas nan Gàidheal air uairibh anns an t-seanchas ùr a chruthaich e. Agus a Mhìcheil choir, chan ann às a’ Lochlainnis a tha an t-ainm Fingon (anns an t-Silmarillion), a bheil? Is e cruth Beurla an ainm Ghàidhealaich Fionnghan a tha seo, innsidh mi dhuibh – tha muinntir MhicFhionnghain ann an Albainn (ann an Canada, is air feadh an t-saoghail) fhathast a’ dèanamh iomraidh air Clan Fingon ma tha iad a’ labhairt m’ an cinneadh fhèin ‘sa Bheurla…
    Co-dhiù, thathas ag ràdh nach robh Goethe cho measail air cànan nan Gàidheal, is e a’ cur sìos air a’ Ghaeilge an dèidh dhà èisteachd ri aifrionn anns a’ Ròimh a bha ga glèidheadh do luchd na Gaeilge. Agus a dh’ aindeoin sin, dh’ eadar-theangaich e mu 38 sreath à dreach Gàidhlig de Temora le Seumas Bàn MacMhuirich gu Gearmailtis (ged nach robh mòran Gàidhlig aige riamh), agus bha e soirbheachail gu leòr (Axel Koehler, Die Helden der Fianna: Goethe und Ossian, Schriftenreihe und Materialien, Bd. 108 (Wetzlar: Phantastische Bibliothek, 2011), S. 34-42; cf. Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh, ‘Goethe’s Translation from the Gaelic Ossian’ ann an: Howard Gaskill (f.-d.), The Reception of Ossian in Europe (Lunnainn: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), tdd. 156-85; John Hennig, ‘Goethes Schottlandkunde’ ann an: J. Hennig, Goethes Europakunde: Goethes Kenntnisse des nichtdeutschprachigen Europas (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1987): tdd. 72-73; ‘Goethes Irlandkunde’, ibid., td. 59). Nise, cha do dh’ ionnsaich Goethe a’ Ghàidhlig riamh mar a bu chòir, is cha robh e riamh siubhlach ‘sa chànan seo, agus is dòcha gun do chuir sin dragh air, is gur ann air sàilleabh sin a bha e a’ cur sìos ‘sa chànan. Agus dh’ fhaodadh e bhith gur ann air an aon adhbhar a chuir an Tolkieanach sìos air a’ Ghaeilge…
    Biodh sin mar a bhios e, chan eil mi a’ tuigsinn carson a tha Mìcheal a’ Chlò Ghàidhealaich còir cho dearbhte gur ann air seanchas nan Lochlannach a mhàin a tha Sìthichean no ‘Eilbh’ an t-Saoghail Mheadhonaich stèidhte, ged a tha sgolairean leithid Dhimitra Fimi no Annag Kinnieburgh air sònrachadh nach ann mar sin a tha ‘n gnothach, is nach eil e buileach cho simplidh sin?

    Is mise le meas,

    Acsail Òg


    • Ascail, forgive me but I thought I had replied to you and just seen that I did not. Apologies. Any chance you translate that comment for non-Gaelic speakers? I can follow most of it and there is lots of interesting stuff in it that others might well appreciate.


      • Dear Séamas, dear Michael Everson, dear non-Gaelic-speaking readers

        here’s the English version, if though a wee bit delayed, if the fray is still on: “If anyone among you has (knowledge of) German, I have written and published an interesting essay about this subject (and there is an abstract in English available in the beginning of the text): Axel Koehler, ‘Seumas Bàn MacMhuirich – James MacPherson (1736-96): Gäle und Urvater der heroischen und der unheimlichen Fantasy’ i: Inklings-Jahrbuch für Literatur und Ästhetik’, Bd. 30 (2012): The Inheritance of the Inklings / Zeitgenössische Fantasy und Phantastik, S. 199-227. For dear Michael Everson, I would especially recommend pp. 207-09, and p. 211 as well. In German, we use “Elb, Elbe” for ‘Elven’ (m and f).

        Well, I am no longer as fluent in Irish as I was in 1995-98, and therefore…if you excuse me, I shall proceed in Scottish Gaelic (in which I am almost as fluent as in the language of my own people). You say that Tolkien was not very appreciative of Gaelic, and it seems that this is the case. At the same time, though, there is evidence that he was very fond of Cymric (or Welsh, ‘Breatnais’ in Irish), and that anyway, the language named Sindarin is based on Welsh.
        And yet, there is evidence here and there that occasionally, Tolkien was influenced by Gaelic mythology in the mythology he created himself. And, dear Michael, the name ‘Fingon’ (in the Silmarilion) is not from Old Norse, is it? It is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic name ‘Fionghan’, I’m telling you – the MacKinnons in Scotland (and Canada, and around the world) still refer to Clan Fingon when they talk about their own kin in English…
        Anyway, they say Goethe was not so fond of Gaelic when he ranted against Irish after attending a mass in Rome held for Irish-speakers. And yet, despite that, he translated 38 lines of a Gaelic version of Temora by James MacPherson (known as Seumas Bàn MacMhuirich, “Fair-haired James, descendant of Muireach the Parson” among Scottish Gaels) into German without much of a previous knowledge, and did a fair enough job (Axel Koehler, Die Helden der Fianna: Goethe und Ossian, Schriftenreihe und Materialien, Bd. 108 (Wetzlar: Phantastische Bibliothek, 2011), S. 34-42; cf. Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh, ‘Goethe’s Translation from the Gaelic Ossian’ in: Howard Gaskill (f.-d.), The Reception of Ossian in Europe (Lunnainn: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), pp. 156-85; John Hennig, ‘Goethes Schottlandkunde’ in: J. Hennig, Goethes Europakunde: Goethes Kenntnisse des nichtdeutschprachigen Europas (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1987): pp. 72-73; ‘Goethes Irlandkunde’, ibid., p. 59). Now, Goethe never learned (Scottish) Gaelic properly, and never grew fluent in this language, and possibly that is why he dispraised it. And it may well be for the same reason that Tolkien resented Irish…
        Be that as it may, I still do not understand why dear Michael of the Gaelic fonts is so stubbornly firm in his argumentation that Tolkien’s Elves were borrowed from Norse tradition only, even though scholars like Annie Kinnieburgh and Dimitra Fimi point out that it was not thus, and that it is not that simple at all?

        End of translation. Kind regards,



        • Dála an scéil:
          According to Dwelly, among scholars of Scottish the equivalent of Dineen and still much in use as a timeless gem, ‘golum’ means “trifling flattery” in the dialect of the Isle of Arran (is e sin Eilean Àrainn ann an Linne Chluaidh, eadar Sìorrachd Adhair agus Cinn Tìre) – matches the wee creature Smeagol’s fawning behavior towards Frodo on the trail to Mordor, doesn’t it? (Dwelly, an 12mh eag., td. 516)

          On a lighter note, I would recommend this piece here reinterpreting LOTR as an allegory of a PhD project:…now that’s something Tolkien and Lewis might be laughing their heads off about over yonder!

          Beirigí bua,


  5. In Tolkien’s earliest writings, not published until after his death, he refers to “brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns, and what else are they not called, for their number is very great: yet must they not be confused with the Eldar, for they were born before the world and are older than its oldest, and are not of it, but laugh at it much, for had they not somewhat to do with its making, so that it is for the most part a play for them; but the Eldar are of the world and love it with a great and burning love, and are wistful in all their happiness for that reason.” These are neither Elves nor Hobbits, but the lesser spirits, the angelic beings Tolkien later called Maiar. Tú, the earliest version of Sauron, is called a fay in the very first reference to him. Clearly leprawn is a further anglicization of leprechaun, as fay is of French fée.


    • Yes indeed, the Book of Lost Tales makes reference to leprawns, not to mention more genuine stuff in the form of the Tuatha Dé Danann, etc.

      Hobbits are clearly derived from the diminutive peoples found in European fairy-lore tradition, albeit greatly expanded upon. I would argue that the “Celtic” tradition of such beings as found in Ireland and Scotland is the closest in form to Tolkien’s Hobbits (though of course the Gaelic versions are probably non-Celtic in origin, more likely late Classical and Anglo-Germanic imports or at least mainly so). However others may well disagree with that. As you can see above 🙂

      I’m not sure what Irish word if any one could use for the Maiar since they are derived more from Christian mythology than any non-Christian one. Within Tolkien’s universe they are almost unique. One can see the European mythological and folkloric origins for the Eldar, Dwarves, Hobbits etc. The Maiar to me seem mostly Biblical in tone, “angels” as it were.


  6. We won’t be using an Irish word for the Maiar, or for the Valar, because the names of those beings are not in English to be translated, but in Quenya which is not to be translated. Hobbits, I think, are Tolkien’s own creations, clearly, as he indicates very clearly that they are a variant of the stock of Eru’s race of Men. The creatures in European “fairy-lore” have no such pedigree.

    The Valar are equivalent to Catholic archangels and the Maiar to angels, since Melkor is pretty much equatable to Lucifer.

    I still take umbrage at the title of this blog post though. The Gaelicization of “Álfur” to “Ealbhar” was made by real live Gaels, living in Scotland. Compare Irish “Danar” ‘a Dane’. As for the phonology of “Ealbh, Eilbh” there was precedent in the language for all of it. These were good Gaelicizations, not bad ones.

    If the Goddess Danu had had any part of the story of Middle-earth, it might have made some sense to use names used by her people. Since she had no such part, it did not.


    • Hi Michael.

      On an Irish version of the name Maiar I was just wondering aloud. I agree that Maiar/Ainur require no translations since none are offered in the transliterated text as the LTR purports itself to be. The angelic equivalencies are obvious as acknowledged by Tolkien himself (more or less).

      Apologies if the title of the post offends, or still does so. The Gaelicization of “Álfur” to “Ealbhar” may indeed have been made by real live Gaels but the “Álfur” were not the Elves of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythology. They were beings of Scandinavian (and Anglo-Germanic) mythology. But that is back to where we were before 😉

      I presume then a translation is being made?

      On a personal note I will be interested in seeing if the word Ent is translated and if so what word is substituted for it (as you know the word is derived from Anglo-Saxon and Germanic roots). Treebeard will make for an interesting translation. Then there is Tom Bombadilm my favourite character. All very exciting!


    • What word is used for “Authorities” in the riddle-game chapter? That does refer to the Valar.


      • In the Prologue to the Fellowship of the Ring it says: “The Authorities, it is true, differ whether this last question was a mere ‘question’ and not a ‘riddle’ … but all agree that, after accepting it and trying to guess the answer, Gollum was bound by his promise” (FR, 21). But I don’t think this refers to the specific judgement of the Valar.


  7. michaeleverson932

    What can I say? It’s a 96,000-word novel. Beautifully translated into Irish, and with immense care taken with the maps and the runes and the illustrations. The title, the very title, of your post amounts to little more than a bad review, dismissing any of that for a whinge about a translation choice of a single word.

    Tolkien chose to use words from Norse mythology, Álfur, pl, Álfar to represent names from his own mythology, Elda, pl. Eldar. I am satisfied that it was a wiser decision to follow Tolkien in making use of Norse loanwords, Ealbh, pl Eilbh, to represent the same, than it would have been to use a word borrowed from another mythology entirely, particularly Síogaí, pl. Síogaithe bring far more baggage with them into a story in Irish. That baggage doesn’t belong to Middle-earth. And I believe Tolkien would have sided with me in this argument.

    On Halloween I will be launching Brenda Ennis’ new children’s book, The Secret of the Sleeveen, in Dublin. It’s got plenty of Irish mythology in it, in an appropriately Irish setting. I hope you will enjoy it and the fun it has with Ireland’s own traditions.


    • I don’t disagree. I have a copy myself and having seen several non-English editions of the Hobbit collected by a friend I can honestly say that An Hobad is a genuinely beautiful publication, true to both the spirit and form of the original (more so, in some ways). The reputation as the best realised translation of the original is well-deserved. If I could I would have a copy in every classroom and library in Ireland. However I stand by my criticism of some of the translations offered for some words for the reasons offered. Beyond that anyone who has ever contacted me about An Hobad has been advised to buy it. Indeed, if I may so, I have been quite evangelical about it and I know three people who have purchased it on my recommendation.

      On the issue of the Aos Sí perhaps I should just take matters into my own hands and produce my own Fantasy series? 😉

      I very much look forward to the new book by Brenda Ennis and if there is any help I can give in terms of publicity through An Sionnach Fionn I would be happy to do so by way of apologies for the headline of the post. Its a blog and some posts are of the moment, like an opinion piece in a newspaper or other traditional media. It could have perhaps been more diplomatically titled.


  8. Agus sibh ag plé an Hobaid, táim díreach tar éis é seo a léamh, mura bhfuil sé ródhéanach:


    • michaeleverson932

      Ráiméis, dar liomsa. “I’m not an experienced translator, and so there are undoubtedly many improvements that could be made to my translation, but in any case An Hobad is not in good Irish, and should be pulped. Why is it that any old crap will do when it comes to Irish?” The author’s axe to grind is that the Caighdeán is unsuitable, and Cork Irish is more or less the only real one. I haven’t bothered Nicholas with this to ask him whether any of the grammatical points the author makes are valid, but then Nicholas taught Irish for 30 years at UCD, and is one of the finest linguists I have ever met, so I rather doubt the complaints. Moreover, the author does not appear to have read more than a single page of the book.


      • I had no problems with reading/understanding the translation in a basic way, albeit from a my limited ability with Irish. My knowledge from a grammatical or literary point of view however would be near-zero in Irish. I don’t have the fluency to appreciate whether something is well-written in Irish or not, sad to say. Though I do get on better with poetry!

        It does sound like a bit of an axe-grinding exercise to be honest.


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