Firstly, the Irish language has been using Latin script since the 6th century. Before that time, Irish was written in Ogham script, an ancient Celtic writing system comprising of a series of strokes.
The Irish Alphabet uses primarily 23 letters:
a á b c d e é f g h i í l m n o ó p r s t u ú
You will notice that 18 of these are found in the English Alphabet. Irish uses pretty much the same punctuation marks as in English such as full tops, commas and hyphens.
You will notice also that there are 5 unique letters in the Irish Alphabet; á, é, í, ó and ú. They are known as fada vowels. Fada, meaning long, indicates how the sound of the letter is pronounced for a little longer than their regular vowel equivalent. It is important to note that fada vowels are distinct from their equivalent regular vowels, for example: Fear and Féar, Fear means man while Féar means grass. The other Latin letters j, k, q, w, x and z are used less frequently and primarily for scientific terms and loan words, for example: vacsaínigh means vaccinate, x-gha means x-ray and júdó means judo.
When typing Irish into a computer the fada vowels can pose a problem because the QWERTY keyboard does not offer a fada vowel button. However, there are various options to input fada vowels. Let’s explore those options.
1. In Software programs when inputing text, there is usually an option within the menu to input ‘special characters’ or ‘glyphs’. In the Open Office Writer word processing program, you’ll find this feature on the menu bar at the top INSERT>Special Character…
2. Within the Windows Operating System there is a little program called ‘Character Map’. You can find this from the Windows Start button via All programs>Accessories>System Tools.
3. Each keyboard input has a special code known as ASCII code. That code is a unique identifier to each character input. You can bypass the character input and enter the ASCII code directly via the ‘Alt’ button located next to the spacebar.
With thanks to Brandon Wright who wrote on our Facebook page a while back some hints on how to do this. The fada vowel ASCII codes are:
**Alt + 0225 = á
**Alt + 0233 = é
**Alt + 0237 = í
**Alt + 0243 = ó
**Alt + 0250 = ú
**Alt + 0193 = Á
**Alt + 0201 = É
**Alt + 0205 = Í
**Alt + 0211 = Ó
**Alt + 0218 = Ú
4. Probably the most convenient method without opening new programs or remembering strange codes is that to add the ‘Irish’ keyboard system to your current system. Each computer has a default keyboard entry system e.g. if you bought your computer in the UK, you’ll have a English (UK) Keyboard system which differs slightly to the English (US) system. The main difference is the location of the @ symbol and the double quotation mark (“). Even if the keyboard is the standard QWERTY system. Each country usually has a slight difference in terms of default money system (usually combined with the 3 or 4 key at the top). The language bar looks like the image below and you can dock it to your task bar for convenience.
To add the Irish Keyboard:
1. Go to Control Panel.
2. Click Regional and Language Options.
3. Click Change Keyboards…
4. Click Add
5. Under the General tab, scroll to Irish and click the + to open your options
6. Tick the box next to Irish
7. Under Language Bar tab, select where you would like to see the language bar either ‘Dock in the taskbar’ or ‘floating on desktop’.
8. You can then select between your default language settings or when practicing Irish you can select it and to use the fada vowels:
CTRL+ALT+e= é for lower case fada vowels.
CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+e = É for upper case fada vowels.
I hope this helps with dealing with written Irish on your computer. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch.Ádh mór!