€ 19.99

Book Details

Published by Royal Irish Academy

October 2019


Number of pages: 320

ISBN: 9781911479185


An Post Irish Book Awards - Ireland, 2019 - Shortlisted


PDF icon Advance Information

Shortlisted for 'best Irish-published book of the year’ at the An Post Irish Book Awards 2019. 

Did you know that Cú Chulainn was conceived with a thirst-quenching drink? That 'cluas', the modern Irish word for 'ear', also means the handle of a cup? That the Old Irish word for 'ring' may have inspired Tolkien's 'nazg'? How and why does the word for noble (saor) come to mean cheap? Why does a word that once meant law (cáin) now mean tax? And why are turkeys in Irish French birds? From murder to beekeeping and everything between, discover how the Irish ate, drank, dressed, loved and lied.

This book tells a history of Ireland by looking at the development of 100 medieval Irish words drawn from the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language. Words tell stories and encapsulate histories and this book captures aspects of Ireland’s changing history by examining the changing meaning of 100 key words. The book is aimed at a general readership and no prior knowledge of the Irish language is required to delve into the fascinating insights it provides. The book is divided into themes, including writing and literature; food and feasting; technology and science; mind and body. Readers can explore words relating to particular concepts, dipping in and out where they please.

Resources for schools: This book is created in collaboration with Queen's University and Cambridge University who have written resources for schools. You can access these resources at the Department of Anglo-Saxon in Cambridge.

This book is also available on JSTOR. For more information, institutions can visit Books at JSTOR or contact

You can buy the e-book here.

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'A fascinating read... Three leading Celtic Studies scholars, Sharon Arbuthnot, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh and Gregory Toner have combined to produce a word hoard that through an English-language commentary on 100 Irish-language words deftly takes in the many faceted history of life on the island of Ireland. They are assisted in this task by the impish, illustrative bravura of Joseph McLaren'. Michael Cronin, The Irish Times, 02/12/2019. Read the full review here.

About the authors

Sharon Arbuthnot

Sharon Arbuthnot is a Senior Researcher at Queen’s University Belfast and an expert on lexicography and medieval glossaries. She has published widely on medieval Irish language and literature and her research includes an edition of ‘The Fitness of Names’ (Cóir Anmann) relating the stories of how many early Irish heroes got their names.

Máire Ní Mhaonaigh

Máire Ní Mhaonaigh is Professor of Celtic and Medieval Studies at the University of Cambridge. She has written extensively on medieval Irish literature and history and on Ireland’s place in the wider world. Her books include Brian Boru: Ireland’s Greatest King?, as well as a co-authored volume on Norse-Irish relationships, Norse Gaelic Contacts in a Viking World.

Gregory Toner

Gregory Toner is Professor of Irish at Queen’s University Belfast. His many publications range across Irish language, literature and place-names, including two volumes in the Place-names of Northern Ireland series, and an edition of the medieval Irish text ‘Da Coca’s Hostel’ (Bruiden Da Choca). He has a particular interest in digital scholarship in Celtic Studies and is the leader of the electronic Dictionary of the Irish language projec:

Joe McLaren (illustrator)

Joe McLaren is a freelance illustrator and graduate of the University of Brighton. He has taught Foundation Illustration at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London. Among his recent clients are Penguin, Faber, Random House, Orion, Folio, Oxford University Press, Vintage, The Times, The Guardian and The Financial Times.