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Early Irish (TSM)

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Early Irish component

Early Irish can be studied either in combination with one other subject as part of a two-subject moderatorship (TSM) programme or in the single honour Early and Modern Irish programme (TR022).

What is Early Irish?

Early Irish is the language in use in Ireland from the earliest period for which there are records up to the year 1200. The course covers the language and literature from the emergence of writing at the arrival of Christianity in Ireland to the production of the great saga manuscripts of the twelfth century.

Is this the right course for you?

If you are interested in acquiring a reading knowledge of Medieval Irish, in which the great saga literature of our manuscripts was written, this is the course for you.

Why study Early Irish at Trinity?

The Irish department at Trinity has a long history of excellence in the study of Early Irish and continues to engage in research at the highest level. The staff are recognised as experts in their respective fields and many former students are now teaching in Irish universities. You will enjoy small class sizes and a friendly atmosphere which past students have always said was a hallmark of the Trinity Irish Department experience. You may also avail of the option to study Medieval and Modern Welsh in Wales in your third year.

Trinity is home to the twelfth-century Book of Leinster, one of the most important manuscripts of Irish literature and learning to have survived from the Medieval period.

What will you study?

The Early Irish course, which is taught through the medium of English, covers the history of the Irish language from its first appearance on the Ogam inscriptions at the dawn of the Christian era in the fifth century, to the highly polished language of the sagas and law texts preserved in the medieval manuscript collections held in the libraries of Trinity, the Royal Irish Academy and the National Library, all within a five-minute walk of Trinity. You will investigate the Celtic and Indo-European origins of Irish. You will come to know the great characters of Early Irish literature, including the tragic Deirdre, the doomed Conaire, the irresistible but irritable Cú Chulainn, the hopelessly infatuated Muirchertach and many more. You will explore the Pagan and/or Christian character of the literature as well as topics such as kingship, the heroic biography and the sovereignty goddess.


In the first two years you will study the basics of Old Irish. At this stage you will read most literature in translation but you will be introduced to the original texts gradually and you will see how the language emerged and developed through the early Christian period.


In third and fourth year the horizons are expanded; your study of the history of the language will take you back to its Celtic origins and forward to the dawn of Modern Irish. At this stage you will be reading prose and poetry as well as law and history in the original language, and a special course in palaeography will teach you how to read the manuscripts themselves. Third year students may opt to spend a term in Aberystwyth learning Medieval and Modern Welsh.


Assessment is by exercises and essays submitted during the year as well as end-of-year examinations. In the final year you will also research and write a dissertation.


Some students of Early Irish pursue independent research in the subject with a view to teaching at third-level. Most follow a career in teaching or journalism, especially Irish-language related media. Library archiving, the public service, marketing, business, interpreting and translation all figure in the profiles of past students.

Further information

Student profiles: See: and select these courses


Tel: +353 1 896 1450


Specific Entry Requirements

Leaving CertificateHC3 Irish
Advanced GCE (A-Level)Grade C Irish
Other EU examination systemsSee

Student Profile

Christina Cleary

When I first embarked upon third level education I found the whole thing quite daunting, yet within a few weeks of lectures in Early Irish I was completely at ease. The staff are among the most learned academics in the field and are prepared to support and help each individual student to progress to their full potential. Among the many boons of being part of Roinn na Gaeilge is that the student is presented with multi-dimensional facilities, networks and access to the major works housed in Trinity's Manuscript Department, in the Royal Irish Academy and in the National Library.