Chapter 1
Sounds: Letter Groups and Phonetics in Irish

This chapter focuses entirely on pronunciation in Irish. Without paying attention to the application of letters and letter groups just yet, a few mechanical features will also be introduced, but only as they relate to pronunciation. This chapter will therefore serve as a reference for the rest of Fealsún, since it will introduce concepts that will be encountered repeatedly throughout the course of the book.


This chapter deals with fundamental phonetic units-vowels being the most challenging-as well as basic structural components related to possible letter combinations (letter groups) and their pronunciations. Familiarization with the sounds of Irish is therefore the primary goal of the following discussion. This will be put to the test at the end of this chapter, where the reader can evaluate (and improve where necessary) their reading ability based on the rules learned.

2.1  The Basic Tools

The Irish alphabet, represented as it is here (see Table 2.1), will probably appear rather curious at first glance, as it probably should! However, all letters are simply listed in native Irish alphabet (in other words, a-z, minus the non-native letters j, k, q, w, x, y, z that only appear in words borrowed from other languages). (Letters with special functions in Irish are annotated by superscript in the alphabet of Table .)

If the alphabet looks somewhat complex at first, don't be intimidated; all concepts will be carefully explained as the chapter progresses.The nature of the alphabet dominates the structure of Irish and can be explained by dividing the alphabet into its functional letter types, as laid out below.

Table 2.1: Irish alphabet grouped into derivative functional groups. The normal alphabet is comprised of the letters a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, and v. Superscripts denote letters with special functions, which are described at the bottom of the table.

5 5 l3
5 r
5 5 5 5
1 Normal vowels; see Table 2.2 for accented and non-accented variations and Table 2.3 for allowed vowel doubles and triples.
2 Lenition (h)-active consonants (see Table 2.6).
3 Vowel-active consonants (see Table 2.7).
4 The letter "v" is a recent addition to Irish, used in words recently imported from  other languages.
    It cannot be lenited or eclipsed.
    Letters that do not appear in Irish (except some direct borrowings from other languages).
f  Letters that take part in eclipsis are not annotated, due to the large volume,
    but are listed as follows: Letters that make eclipses are b, bh, d, g, m, n, t,
    but are listed as follows: Letters that make eclipses are b, bh, d, g, m, n, t,
    and h (see Table ). Letters that can be eclipsed are b, c, d, f, g, p, t, a, e,
    i, o, and u (see Table ).

2.2  Letter Groups

The basic tools of written language are the letters that can be invariably separated into vowels and consonants. Derivative to normal individual letter sounds, whether vowels or consonants, are letter groups. Not all languages contain letter groups, 16 but these are centrally significant to Irish. Several types of letter groups will be encountered in this chapter. "A summary of letter groups in Irish," below, will briefly introduce each type before they are explained in greater detail over the remainder of Chapter 1.

A Summary of Letter Groups in Irish

The simplest letter grouping is the combinations of two or three vowels, such as ua, ai, or iui, respectively, referred to in Fealsún as doubles and triples (or vowel doubles / vowel triples), and and explained graphically in Figure  and listed in Table.

Distinct from vowel doubles and triples, another group of letters that are composed of both consonants and vowels behave like vowel elongators. These will be referred to as "extended vowel sounds." Letter groups that extend vowel sounds (in other words, extend what I have termed their "vowel-icity") are listed in Table .

Consonant sounds can also be modulated or altered by inserting the consonant h after the first letter of a word (see Table ), a phenomenon called lenition. A second mechanism called an eclipis prefixes a letter at the start of a word. Both of these mechanical features are important modifiers of speech that are listed together, below, as "Special Function Consonants" (SFCs).

Very central to grammar and pronunciation is the nature of an adjacent vowel. In terms of pronunciation, certain consonants will sound like separate letters, depending on whether the adjacent vowel is broad or slender (as laid out in Table ). Consonants whose pronunciation is entirely dependent on whether the vowel next to them is slender or broad will be referred to as "Vowel-Active Consonants" (VACs).

Finally, certain consonants when adjacent to each other cause a pronounced (unwritten) vowel between them (see Table ). Because they are spoken, and never written, they are known as "epinthetic vowels."

Again, this terminology is less challenging than it might sound. Many of these concepts have been created or modified for the purpose of this text, in an effort to break down everything into its most basic parts. The remainder of the chapter will discuss these letter groups in greater detail.

2.3  Vowels

Table  lists the unaccented and accented vowels a, e, i, o, and u in terms of their nearest English and Spanish equivalent pronunciation. The only alphabet characters that can diverge from the standard English a-z alphabet are vowels, specifically when they take an accent. All normal vowels can take an acute accent (a, e, i, o, uá, é, í, ó, ú), 17 which changes their pronunciation.

Before even introducing vowel groups, we already have ten distinct vowels. The accented normal vowels will be familiar, especially to speakers of Spanish or Italian: accented vowels in Irish make similar sounds to a, e, i, o, u in these languages.

Table 2.2: Vowel sounds 1: normal (single character) vowels

"Half "Whole English Spanish Example
tone" tone" pronun- equiv-  
vowel vowel ciation alent  
  ah none abair (say)
  eh none te (hot)
  ih none tit (fall)
  oh none cor (bend/knot)
  uh none cumas (ability)
aw a cáin (tax/criticize)
ay e téigh (go)
ee i imní (worry)
ouh o tionól (assembly)
uh u múnla (mold)

More alien (especially to speakers of Spanish or Italian, conversely) are the unaccented vowels, which are difficult to really appreciate on their own because they are analogous to musical half tones; it is clearer how they sound when part of a word. Another way of explaining this difference is to think of forming your mouth to make these sounds-a half way open mouth would correspond to an unaccented vowel and a more expressive fully open mouth would correspond to an accented vowel. Unaccented vowels, then, can be likened to half notes on a piano (half vowels), while accented vowels are like whole notes or "whole-vowels." Listen to the sound file that pertains to normal vowels in Table  2.2.

Slender and Broad Vowels: Pronunciation

The vowels a, e, i, o, u (even when accented, as á, é, í, ó, ú), are very importantly sub-categorized into two groups: "slender" and "broad" vowels, which again, is a classification that is independent of whether they are accented or not. This categorization is not to be confused with "half" and "whole tone" vowels in the table above. E and i represent the "slender" vowels while a, o, u represent the "broad" vowels. 18 This should be kept in mind, as slender/broad relations will resurface in discussions of broadening/slendering and vowel-active (dependent) consonants.

Table 2.3: Vowels: broad and slender

Broad Slender Example
vowels vowels  
a, á   scadán (herring)
  e, é ceist , cé? (question, who?)
  i, í imní (worry)
o, ó   tor , tóir (shrub, search)
u, ú   cur , úr (planting, fresh)

For now, their significance lies in their effect on certain consonants, which shall be referred to as vowel-active consonants. As Table  illustrates, the pronunciation of the consonant (if it is vowel-active) will depend on the slender/broad nature of the adjacent vowel. You will not find a "vowel-active consonant" with a slender and a broad vowel both adjacent. Slender/broad functional duality will appear again at a later stage. For now, it is sufficient to illustrate its specific relevance to pronunciation because vowel-active consonants are described in detail in the Consonants section of this chapter.

Vowel Doubles/Triples

Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1: A graphical representation of vowel doubles and their possible pronunciations. Triples are fewer in number but have similar pronunciation possibilities to doubles, with the exception of diphthongs.

The combination of two vowels or three vowels will be called vowel doubles and vowel triples, respectively. There is a need to subcategorize doubles and triples into three distinct types because there are three pronunciation possibilities when vowels appear in groups. The categorization of doubles and triples is explained in Figure  2.1 and a list of doubles and triples are laid out in Figure  2.1.

The first possible combination of two vowels is a diphthong (triples do not make diphthongs in Irish). By definition, a diphthong is a vowel double (such as ae in tae) that makes a completely different sound from its constituent units (a and e in this case), but makes this sound in a single syllable.The only remaining doubles (as laid out in Figure  2.1) are "retention" and "non-retention" doubles, so named because they either retain or don't retain the individual unit-vowel sounds. In other words, the combination of two vowels that make the same sound as if the two vowels were pronounced individually is a "retention." If the combination makes a completely new sound, but still retains two syllables, the double is called a non-retention.

This classification is useful at an early stage of learning because these sounds can be absorbed a lot more quickly than as individual units because they assume regularity when classified in these "lexical blocks." A brief reading of any Irish text will illustrate the importance of doubles and triples-they appear as often in most sentences as solitary vowels.

By recognizing these vowel groups as units from the earliest moments of learning Irish, sounds such as ea and ai will become less ambiguous and clearly differentiable.

Table 2.4: Vowel groups: (i) all possible combinations of allowed and disallowed vowel doubles with pronunciation (ii) allowed triple vowel groups. Translations appear in parentheses ().

Combination Allowed? Retention? Diphthong? Example
aa ×      
ae       tae (tea)
ai       ait (odd)
ao   × × aol (lime)
au ×      
ea       eas (waterfall)
ee ×      
ei   e only   eite (wing)
eo       Maigh Eo
        (a place name)
eu ×      
ia   × × iarratas
ie ×      
ii ×      
io       iolar (eagle)
iu     × inniu (today)
oa ×      
oe ×      
oi   ×   soir (east)
oo ×      
ou ×      
ua   × × stuama
ue ×      
ui   i only   uilinn (elbow)
uo ×      
uu ×      
uai     × uaigneach
aoi   ×   faoi (under)
iui   ×   fuinniúil (energetic)

Extended Vowel Sounds Using Mixed-Letter Groups

Vowel elongators, containing both vowels and consonants, are distinct from vowel groups (see Table ). On comparing speech to text, they appear at first glance to be non-pronounced parts of words. They have even been omitted, in some cases, from words like nuacht (news) and Ó Murchú (surname), words which are more archaically (though still correctly) spelled nuaidheacht and Ó Murchadha. These letter groups behave as vowels and vowel extenders, as can be seen by comparing the older and newer spellings of these two examples with how they sound. Many words that are not archaic, however, still employ these vowel groups/extenders. Dearadh (design) and dhiúltaigh (conjugated, analytic form of "denied") are cases in point. The vowel extender can act as an extended vowel (aoo in the case of -dha) and the special group can make an English equivalent of "y" (-gh-, aighneas for example).

These groups are the only sound groups that are not always regular in pronunciation. However, they are quite limited in number and several encounters with each will be instructive in predicting their pronunciations.

Along with vowel extenders, groups that create elongated vowel sounds are listed in Table . The dash on the group indicates whether the group appears at the beginning, end or within the word. For example -th or -th- indicate the th group can appear at the beginning or the middle of a word.

Table 2.5: Vowel sounds 2: letter groups that create elongated or extended vowel sounds

Letter group Nearest EES Example
-agh, -aigh soft g § cúlstagh
-gh- soft g/y aighneas
-gh consonant Classified under Consonants
    (see Table )
-aidh -idh ee ar aghaidh
    (ahead, forward)
-adh ah-aw mí-ádh
    (bad luck)
-eadh eah deireadh
    (end, finish)
-dha ooah Donnchadhaf
fh- Halted vowel Ó Confhaola
(like consonant fh-)   (surname)
-th -th- hy ith (eat),
(Slender)   aithne (know [recognize])
    (thiar west, back)
-th -th- h cathair (city)
(Broad)   mothú (feeling)
f -dha sounds very subtle and many truncate
the spelling to Donncha, deleting -adh
§ The word ending -agh is nearly non-existent in Irish;
The word ending -aigh is very common, on the other hand.

2.4   Consonants

Anyone can "tune into" sounds they have been specifically conditioned to hear through experience; therefore, perception will be specific to the types of languages that an individual is receptive to (in other words the language s/he speaks). Fortunately, we can train ourselves to hear, or more specifically, decode, what initially sound like single cadences into their constituent discrete sounds. Listening to the e-companion with the associated text at hand as a reference, the discrete sound blocks can be discerned. Most audio tools do not spend any time concentrating on discrete sounds, as is done in Fealsún.

Irish is often identified by non-speakers first for its guttural qualities, something that seems surprising in light of its vowel density or "vowel-icity," as I also refer to it here. Many of the sounds projected by Irish speakers are "missed" by non-speakers. Although vowels are more subtle and numerous, consonants are also not without their initial complications. And although they are relatively simple to distinguish in speech, individual letters are prone to multiple sound possibilities. Once a learner is aware of this fact, these consonant sounds are very easy to discern and identify.

Harsh consonants are therefore often associated with Irish, along with its different pronunciation to that of other European languages. Nevertheless, most can be replicated by picking certain sounds from other languages, as follows:

With the exception of the group of five normal vowels from the familiar 26-letter a-z alpahabet, as well as the seven non-native consonants j, k, q, w, x, y, and z, there are only fourteen letters left. However, interaction with other vowels and consonants increases the number of actual consonant sounds significantly.

2.5 Special Consonants

For now, vowel-dependent consonants and consonants with special mechanical functions within Irish grammar will be generically referred to as ÒSpecial Consonants.Ó Each of these will be introduced by category below. Full appreciation of their meaning will be gleaned once grammar is explored later on in this text.

Slender/Broad Vowel-Activation of Consonants

The pronunciation of letters c, d, f, g, l, n, s, and t, is determined by whether the adjacent vowel is slender (e, i) or broad (a, o, u), as shown in Table.

Table 2.6: Slender/broad vowel-active consonants

  Closest English pronunciation of consonant plus vowel
  Pronunciation of Pronunciation of
VAC VAC + i, e        VAC + a, o, u
c ky k
d dz dh
g gy g
l ly l
n ny n
s sh s
t tz th
  Example of Example of
VAC VAC + i, e VAC + a, o, u
c cearc (hen)
cófra (wardrobe)
d diúilicín (mussel)
dúch (ink)
g geabhróg (tern)
Garda (policeman)
l leacht (liquid)
lúb (bend)
n neantóg (nettle)
s seasamh (standing)
sár (extremely good)
t teas (heat)
tar (come)

Table  shows the vowel-active consonants, along with the remaining inactive consonants (consonants not modulated by vowels). The advantage of the vowel-active consonant pronunciation rule is that it is absolute and without exception. Looking at the letter s in Table , an observant newcomer might ask, "If s followed by o makes the sound you might replicate in English by so, how can you make the sound sho?" The answer is straightforward: the broad/slender rule always prevails in determining the consonant sound, so a slender vowel must be inserted between s and o in order to modify the consonant sound. Real examples are:

Notice how the first two syllables of both words are pronounced identically except for the sh sound in Sionainne.

The permutations and combinations of letters created by groups and dual pronunciations allow for many more sounds than the simple alphabet might initially suggest, with only 14 fundamental consonants. Notwithstanding the vast array of sounds, only one or two consonant sounds may prove difficult at first.

Table 2.7: Consonants

  Nearest equivalent pronunciation
  in the languages of:
Vowel group English Spanish§
b ball burro
cf Slender/broad vowel-active consonant, see Table  2.6
df Slender/broad vowel-active consonant, see Table  2.6
f family fortuna
gf Slender/broad vowel-active consonant, see Table  2.6
h haughty \natural See English example
lf Slender/broad vowel-active consonant, see Table  2.6
m many mañana
nf Slender/broad vowel-active consonant, see Table  2.6
p party para
s f Slender/broad vowel-active consonant, see Table  2.6
t f Slender/broad vowel-active consonant, see Table  2.6
vf vinegar ventana §
f Vowel-Active Consonants have two pronunciations, depending
on whether the adjacent vowel is slender (e,i) or broad (a, o, u).
This rule is rigid and applied to VACs without exception-ever!
f The letter v is a recent addition to accommodate words
borrowed from other languages such as vóta (vote)
This sound is made already by the consonant group bh.
§ Latin American Spanish pronunciation is more "regular," so "v"
makes a "v" sound, as in English rather than an Iberian
pronunciation of "b" for "v" in Spain.
\natural Pronunciation of "h" is complicated in Spanish.


An example of the consonant d, with slender and narrow pronunciations, is given below; notice how different the de, di sound is from the da, do, du sound.

In the next list, notice how "t" and "s" are still affected by broadening / slendering, despite the fact that they are a consonant away from the modulating vowels:

Listening to the pronunciation of the two words above, it becomes apparent that the same VAC rule applies between the t and the vowel that follows a letter later (Trealamh, Trácht).A comprehensive list of Vowel-Active Consonants and corresponding dual pronunciation is laid out in Table  2.6. The consonants that are not vowel-dependent (vowel-activated) are straightforward and intuitively pronounced, as shown in Table 2.7.

2.6  Special Function Consonants (SFCs)

Special Function Consonants are thus named because they are attached to words to make the flow of speech more free-flowing. In the Introduction, it was pointed out that in English, it is incorrect to say "a apple;" instead we say "an apple." "A apple" is difficult to pronounce because the follow-on in vowels stunt speech. This is essentially what SFCs do in Irish. The devices they use are lenition and .

Special Function Consonants (SFCs) have direct functionalities within grammar; they are used to indicate certain tenses, to indicate conjugation number (by specifying the 1st to 6th person within a noun), or to indicate possession, all by inserting a SFC into a noun. They normally behave as simple consonants, except when they are specifically added to words as SFCs, and can therefore be readily differentiated from when they just appear in words and as normal consonants. And so, although they have mechanical functions central to grammar, it is worth bearing in mind that they primarily behave as speech modifiers.


The letter h has a unique place among all letters in that it is used in lenition. 21 Lenition makes the spoken language sound more breathy to a passive observer because it reduces the number of "closed mouth" sounds that need to be made. Lenited consonants (lenition active consonant + h) are shown in Table . The letters that take lenition are b, c, d, f, g, m, p, s, and t.

A simple example, exactly mirroring the "a apple" and "an apple" analogy in English is subjecting possession to a noun such as adhmad (wood):

The h insertion to adhmad removes the run-on of vowels. In other cases, there is a need to make speech less stunted:

An extreme case of lenition is where the sentence contains multiple lenitions. Listen to the sound clip for the un-lenited and then the lenited sentence below. It should be apparent how extremely lenition affects the sentence-flow.

Where posession or the genitive tense 22 are conveyed, placing h after the first consonant, dramatically alters its sound, as the pronunciation of gortuithe and a ghortuithe, below, clearly illustrate.

Table 2.8: Lenition-active (h-modulated) consonants

Consonant Consonant Possible English \natural Example
  + lenition pronunciations equivalent  
b1,f bh bhe-, bhi- v bheartaigh
b2,f bh bha-, bho-, bhu- w do bhóthar
cf ch che-, chi- khy (soft) cheartaigh
  ch cha-, cho- chu- kh (hard) chuaigh
df dh dhe-, dhi- y dhéarfainn
  dh dha-, dho-, dhu- gh (hard) dhá
 f  fh fh a/h a fháinne
gf gh ghe- ghi- ghy (soft) a ghearr
  gh gha- gho-, ghu- gh (less soft) a ghortaigh
m1,f mh mhe-, mhi- v a mhéar
m2,f mh mha-, mho-, mhu- w a mháthair
p ph ph f a phóca
sf sh she-, shi- hy sheol
  sh sha-, sho-, shu- ha-, ho-, hu- shonraigh
tf th tha-, tho-, thu- h thairg
t§ th the-, thi- § hy thiar
1,2 mh and bh are nearly the same letter group, since mh/bh+slender vowel
makes a "v" sound (1) and mh/bh+broad vowel makes a "w" sound (2)
f Indicates slender/broad vowel-active consonants-this condition applies
even if lenited, see Table  2.6; bh/mh pronunciations are included here,
because m and b only become vowel-active with a proceeding h
f Although a VAC, "t" only makes one sound when lenited
§ the- and thi- must be followed by a second vowel to make "hy" sound
\natural Pronunciation and translation of examples:
bheartaigh (proposed), do bhóthar (your road)
cheartaigh (corrected), chuaigh (went)
dhéarfainn (I would not say), dhá ([the cardinal number] two)
a fháinne (his ring), ghearr (cut, [in past tense])
a ghortaigh (hurt) a mhéar (his finger)
a mháthair (his mother), a phóca (his pocket)
sheol (sailed), shonraigh (detailed)
thairig (offered), thiar (west / back)


Eclipsis 23 has a similar function to lenition in that it has a mechanical function in grammar (conjugation order, tense, possession), but has more varied aural effects to lenition: it makes the speech sound more nasal, and breaks up run-on-vowels. Letters that are are used to eclipse other letters are b, bh, d, g, m, n, t, and h. Letters that can be eclipsed are b, c, d, f, g, p, t, a, e, i, o, and u. The entire range of are listed in Table .

Table 2.9: Eclipsis: a comprehensive list of all possible . Pronunciations for this section are to be found on the online e-companion.

Consonant eclipsed   Example English
b mb   a mbéil
their mouths
c gc   a gcroíthe
their hearts
d nd   go ndearna
that was done (by)
f bhf   ar an bhfuinneog
on the window
g ng   a ngortuithe
their wounds
p bp   i bpáirt
in conjunction
t dt   a dteach
their house
Vowel n-eclipsed   Example English
a n-a   ár n-athair
our father
e n-e   na n-éan
(of) the birds
i n-i   ár n-intinn
our minds
o n-o   ár n-ospidéal
our hospital
u n-u   na n-uaireanta
(of) the times
Vowel t-eclipsed   Example English
  vowel or s      
a t-a tA an t-am
the time
e n-e tE an t-eolas
the information
i t-i tI an t-imreoir
the player
o t-o tO an t-ollamh
the professor
u t-u tU an t-úll
the apple
s ts tS An tSín
(the country) China
Vowel h-eclipsed   Example English
a ha hA na hainmhithe
the animals
e he hE muintir na hÉireann
people of Ireland
i hi hI stair na hÍsiltíre
history of the Neterlands
o ho hO mná na hOllainne
women of Holland
u hu hU na huaisle
the nobles

The "wounds" example below illustrates a case where an is used to differentiate singular from plural.

In the next case, a different type is employed to indicate an article:

The sentence above, "Tá a charr ar bharr an aird thar bhruach na habhann," you may have noticed, contains three lenitions: charr, bharr and bhruach. However, habhann is an . Another example from An Eoraip (Europe) is Teangacha na hEorpa (Europe's languages).

2.7  Mechanics of Grammar

Two mechanical features introduced earlier, lenition and , only affect certain other letters at the beginning of words to indicate possession and certain tenses, affecting oral pronunciation mostly. It is important to know which letters these are, so as to know when and how to apply eclipses and lenitions.

Latent Vowels in Consonant Groups

Certain consonant groups or clusters induce the usage of a neutral vowel in order to break up the consonant group. These vowels are more specifically known as epenthetic vowels. A word like dearg (red) is pronounced as if there was a neutral vowel between the "r" and the "g," so in the case of dearg, the pronunciation would be dearag.

Rg, along with certain other adjacent consonants cause the speaker to pronounce the letters as if they were separated by a vowel because they do not produce Irish-language sounds when pronouncd as run-on consonants. This extra unwritten "a" in dearg (really a neutral or half tone vowel) is the epinthetic vowel. All other consonant groups (clusters) that behave as such are listed in Table . 24

Table 2.10: Consonant clusters that generate epinthetic vowels

  Group Example Meaning Pronunciationf
l lb Albain
Scotland Alabain
  lm Colm
name Colom
  lg seilg
hunt(ing) seilig
n nb leanb
infantile leanabaí
  nbh leanbh
infant leanabh
  nm meanma
morale meanama
  nch Manchain
placename Manachain
r rb borb
abrupt borab
  rbh searbh
biter/sour searabh
  rm gairm
profession gairim
  rch dorcha
dark doracha
  rg dearg
red dearag
  rp hEorpa
Europe's Todhchaí na hEorapa
    Todhchaí na future  
f Technically, the epenthetic vowel is neutral; the spelling in column 5 is simply a guide

2.8  The Letter R

The letter r deserves a classification of its own, but not because of any intrinsic functionality of grammar. Its correct pronunciation proves most difficult to English first-language speakers (remember that Irish is not a first language to most Irish people, who have this problem too). The Irish r (especially the slender r) has no place in the English vocabulary, but, with some practice, the r sound can be picked up with relative ease. It is similar to the Romance Ã’rÓ (for example, eres in Spanish), when adjacent to a broad vowel, but without real comparison otherwise. For pronouncing rs that follow vowel groups and doubles, the ending vowel letter alone decides the pronunciation of the r, as laid out in Table . Next to a slender vowel, it is pronounced as a "slender r."

Table 2.11: R-pronunciation guide

Pronunciation of vowel + r
r after vowel f Pronunciation Example
i slender r cuir (put) FM
ef broad r aerach (gay) FM
a, o, u broad r cúr (foam) FM
f The pronunciation determinant for all other doubles/triples
preceding the letter "r" is the last vowel in the group; so, aoi
will make a slender "r" since the last letter in the aoi group is "i"
f ë" is outside the broad/slender duality here.
Pronunciation of r + vowel
r before vowel Pronunciation Example
a, e, i, o, u broad r ramhar (fat)
    réalt (star)
    ríméad (delight)
    rón (seal)
    rún (secret)
Pronunciation of consonant + r + vowel
Consonant + r Pronunciation Example
before vowel    
e, i slender r Creachmhaoil § (placename)
    críonna (wise)
a, o, u broad r crann (tree)
    bróg (shoe)
    drúcht (dew)
§ In this classification, the "e" dictates that "r" is slender

The letter r's pronunciation can be determined by a leading or following vowel. There are two exceptions:

"R" is probably the most important letter in Irish. It is pronounced the same in all dialects; the difference between its correct pronunciation or not can mean the difference between passing off as a fluent speaker or a novice in conversation.