Skip to main content

The production of the historical dictionary for the modern language is a stated policy aim of the Irish Government in respect of its strategy for Irish, and is part-funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

Foclóir Stairiúil na Gaeilge research staff play a full role in the broader Academy, presenting research at conferences and developing and delivering outreach activities both at project level and across the research base of the Academy as a whole. The project is overseen by an international Management Board, and avails of the assistance of expert Working Groups, in which editorial staff participate fully. Close links are maintained with other lexicographical projects, in Ireland and internationally, with collaboration on common challenges ongoing between the respective project teams.


The Historical Dictionary of Irish will be the most comprehensive and most authoritative dictionary of the development and use of Irish over the last 400 years. The aim is to produce a single dictionary which covers the period of the modern language, building on the Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language Based Mainly on Old and Middle Irish Materials (Compact Edition 1983, Repr. 1998, 2007) which covers the period up to c.1650.

The new historical dictionary will contain definitions and examples drawn from written and spoken sources of the Irish language, from dictionaries and dialect collections, from prose, poetry, manuscript editions, early periodicals and learned journals. The Dictionary will be based on historical principles, which means it will demonstrate uses both current and past of words and phrases, showing in its entries the development of the language, all based on evidence from the Historical Corpus


In addition to the overall aim of building a representative historical corpus for the Irish language, Dictionary project staff have been able to deliver sub-corpora which encompass a sets of texts or vocabulary linked by a theme such as author, genre or subject matter of interest to readers. This reflects the continued commitment of lexicographers in the Academy to continually update and publish our research work, building on the heritage established by the Deascán Foclóireachta series in the 1980s.

The Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge corpus was published in 2016; here articles can be viewed and read from some of the most notable writers and thinkers who pioneered Irish writing and journalism in the Revival period. This corpus was delivered with the assistance of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media as part of the programme of commemoration of the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

With the assistance of the Irish Research Council the dialect dictionary Hidden Words/Focail Fholaithe was delivered by the project in 2014. This sub-corpus affords a taste of a wealth of dialect language through the publication of collections made during the 20th century by Tomás de Bhaldraithe, Seosamh Ó Dálaigh and Séamas Ó Grianna, among others. ‘Focail Fholaithe’ is a demonstration of the importance of the Historical Dictionary’s role in preserving and interpreting these invaluable collections of language.

Current Work

In keeping with international best practice, a representative digital corpus of literary material will facilitate the assembly of the dictionary and will provide, in addition, an invaluable tool for research in linguistics and literary studies. To date, a draft digital corpus to the year 1926 has been published online, with in-built search tools, as have several discrete subcorpora.

Alongside the ongoing completion and refinement of the larger historical corpus, the upcoming phases of editorial work will consist of a number of critical strands, including: the assembly of a distinct corpus of oral material for the dictionary comprehensively representative of the dialects of Irish and tailored for lexicography; building on, and linking with the Academy’s existing Dictionary of the Irish Language, Based Mainly on Old and Middle Irish Materials (1976), and its digitised and revised version eDIL (2019), and other corpora of Middle and Early Modern Irish, both existing and under development, to ensure continuity of linguistic coverage into the modern period; developing and modifying the technical processing and web-based presentation of the project’s material, comprising the adoption of dictionary-writing software; the compilation of dictionary entries, deriving from the completed digital corpus.