2 Apr 2020

Cataloguing older Irish language material: some brief notes on the Cló Gaelach.

Guest post by Patricia Moloney, Librarian, Cataloguer of Dónal Ó Súilleabháin Library University of Limerick

Following a transcription query on library twitter last week, these brief notes on the Cló Gaelach/Gaelic typeface may be of interest to cataloguers with limited previous exposure to the Irish language.

Almost all texts published in the Irish language up to the mid-20th century, were printed using the Cló Gaelach, a family of Gaelic typefaces (also known as Irish type and Irish character). The Cló Gaelach is modelled on an angular form of calligraphy (the insular minuscule script) based on the Latin alphabet, which developed in the Irish medieval monastic scriptoria. (For more on the history of Irish scribal tradition see The Irish Hand by Timothy O’Neill). Traditionally the letters j, k, q, v, w, x, y and z were not used in the Irish language, but in later centuries they began to appear in loanwords e.g. júdó (Judo); x-gha (x-ray); zú (zoo).

Irish Type Design
The subject matter of the first Irish language books to appear in print was religious. By royal order, the first fount of Irish type (known as Queen Elizabeth’s Irish type) was cast in London before 1571 and was sent to Dublin where immediately an Irish printing press was set up in order to facilitate the production of religious texts. Regarding printing terminology, in traditional printing where metal moveable type is used, the term ‘fount’ (later ‘font’) refers to the physical metal letters which were created/cast in the form of a design of typeface. Stylistic variants create a typeface family, in this instance, the Cló Gaelach or Gaelic typeface/Irish type.

The circulation of Irish language translations of the New Testament on the part of the Reformed Church in Ireland, which were printed using this Queen Elizabeth’s Irish type, (a hybrid fount of Irish and Roman letters), dismayed the Irish Franciscans in Louvain. In response, the monastic college arranged for the design of what later came to be regarded as the first authentic Irish typeface, (Louvain Irish type), and this was used for the printing of the catechism of Friar Bonventura O’Hussey (Giolla Brighde Ó hEódhasa), in 1611.  Later typeface designs which form part of the Gaelic typeface family include: Parker Irish type (1787); Petrie A (1835); B (1850); C (1856) and more recently, Colum Cille (1936) which was designed by Colm O’Lochlainn of Three Candles Press. (For more on the history of Irish typefaces see Irish Type Design by Dermot McGuinne).

Síneadh fada
In addition to the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, the Cló Gaelach/Gaelic typeface must include all five vowels with the síneadh fada (a “long sign” which lengthens the sound of a vowel).  To put an acute accent/síneadh fada on a vowel, (rather than inserting a special character from the symbols menu which is time-consuming), for a quick method in Windows, hold down the Alt Gr key, then press the key for the vowel to produce á, é, í, ó or ú.  Again, in Windows, for capital letters, hold down the Alt Gr and the Shift key together, and then press the key for the vowel to produce Á, É, Í Ó or Ú.

On the Apple Mac, holding down the option key at the same time as the key for e and pressing the key for the vowel that needs the accent/fada will produce á, é, í, ó or ú.  For capitals, hold down the option key, the key for e, the Shift key and the vowel that needs the accent/fada added to produce Á, É, Í Ó or Ú. It should be emphasised that the inclusion of the síneadh fada is very important for meaning e.g. the word fear = man, but féar = grass.

The Gaelic typeface includes a set of consonants with a dot above (known as a ponc séimhithe "dot of lenition", séimhiú "lenition" or buailte "struck"). Since the establishment of An Caighdeán Oifigiúil/the Official Standard of modern Irish in the mid-20th century, and the adoption of the roman typeface for printing in the Irish language, the letter h is inserted after the relevant consonant to indicate lenition instead of the overdot. Special codes exist which permit display of the overdot séimhiú but for the purposes of cataloguing, the letters Ḃḃ Ċċ Ḋḋ Ḟḟ Ġġ Ṁṁ Ṗṗ Ṡṡ Ṫṫ may be transcribed as Bhbh Chch Dhdh Fhfh Ghgh Mhmh Phph Shsh Thth.

Image: Wikipedia
Tironian symbol ⁊
The Tironian symbol ⟨⁊⟩, which signifies the word et in Latin; ocus/agus in Irish, (‘and’ in English), is a remnant of a shorthand system, the notae Tironianae or Tironian notes, believed to have been developed by Marcus Tullius Tiro (died c. 4 BC).  Tiro was the confidential secretary, literary adviser, and former slave of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC), the Roman philosopher, lawyer, statesman who was renowned for his prose style. Tiro was freed by Cicero in 53 BC and following the philosopher’s death, Tiro published some of the Cicero’s speeches and letters, in addition to writing a biography. Medieval monastic scribes used many abbreviations, including Tironian notes. The Tironian symbol ⁊ survived in use in Latin and Irish language manuscripts to represent et and ocus/agus respectively and eventually became an essential element of the Gaelic typeface. The Tironian symbol ⁊ may be transcribed as ‘agus’ for the purposes of cataloguing.

Early logo of the Irish Department of Posts and Telegraphs/ An Roinn Puist agus Telegrafa,  Image: Wikipedia
Image by Richard Mcall from Pixabay
Adding scholarly notes – identification of stylistic variants etc.
Clóliosta, Printing in the Irish language, 1571–1871: An attempt at narrative bibliography, by Richard Sharpe and Mícheál Hoyne (soon to be published by the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies), is  a catalogue of printing in Irish from the beginning until 1871 which aims to document “the title and imprint of every item entered, a concise material description, identification of the Irish type used where relevant, the printer and place of printing, and references to appropriate bibliographical repertories”(dias.ie/cloliosta).

On  5 March 2019, Professor Richard Sharpe (Professor of Diplomatic at the University of Oxford), delivered the keynote address to  the Library Association of Ireland Cataloguing and Metadata Group Annual General Meeting during which he presented an overview of the Clóliosta catalogue project and where he requested the assistance of cataloguers and librarians in order to alert the editors to the existence of little-known or obscure copies and editions.

Professor Richard Sharpe addressing the LAICMG AGM in the National Library of Ireland, 5th March 2019. Photo: Yvette Campbell
Copies of the draft Clóliosta were made available to curators in libraries with relevant Irish holdings and the latest draft is now available as a PDF for download from the website of the DIAS here. The level of detail provided in the Clóliosta renders it an invaluable resource to cataloguers of Irish language publications who wish to add scholarly notes to records, including identification of typefaces and printing houses, and to those researchers interested in the book history and the history of print culture in the Irish language.

The sad news last week of the untimely death of Professor Richard Sharpe, renowned scholar, bibliographer, and supporter of libraries, came as a great shock to many in the library world. 

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Further reading
  • O'Neill, Timothy, The Irish hand : scribes and their manuscripts from the earliest times, Cork University Press in association with the Keough Naughton Notre Dame Centre, Dublin, 2014 (new edition). 
  • McGuinne, Dermot, Irish Type Design:  A History of Printing Types in the Irish Character, Irish Academic Press, 1992
  • Hoyne, Mícheál; Sharpe, Richard, (eds.), Clóliosta , https://www.dias.ie/celt/celt-publications-2/cloliosta/ [Accessed 31 March, 2020].
Patricia Moloney is a librarian in the Glucksman Library, University of Limerick, where she is cataloguer of the Dónal Ó Súilleabháin Collection in the Special Collections and Archives Department. She is the current Secretary of the Library Association of Ireland Cataloguing and Metadata Group.


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