Tuath - Exploring the deeper meaning of a simple word.

The Word Túath is an ancient Irish term that most consider to mean tribe or people. As with almost everything in the Irish language though, there are deeper layers to explore and consider in order to really get an understanding of any Irish word.

The most commonly recognised occurrence of this word is of course in Túatha Dé Danann of the People of Danu, and for many folk here is where their linguistic exploration ends. As mentioned there is so much more to unearth once we do a little digging.

Of course if you're going to do some linguistic archeology into the Irish language, your best resource would have to be eDIL - Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language

The electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) is a digital dictionary of medieval Irish. It is based on the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials (1913-1976) which covers the period c.700-c.1700 but incorporates corrections and additions to thousands of entries.

Though this site may look intimidating (and trust me I still wrangle with it at times), once you have any word in old or middle Irish you can perform a 'headword only' search and you will find not just a singular translation, but a whole list of possible alternative meanings and uses. From noun to adjective and more you can chase the green text definitions for its various meanings, but you will also find excerpts showing its use and even more awesomely, citing the old source texts for that excerpt. If words is your thing, then like me, you may find a great deal of information available to you, but back to our word of today, Túath.

Túath most commonly means 'people' but it can also mean 'country, or territory' defining a location or a place. What is great about this is that a Túáth was also recognised in the old Irish Laws as `territory, petty kingdom, the political and jurisdictional unit of ancient Ireland'. So already we have gone beyond just a people and into people of a particular place.

One of the more fascinating meanings to me is the following description; 'the state as opposed to the church; the laity; lay property, secular buildings'.

This more than anything highlights for me that this word did not mean a specific upper class of powerful section of society. It was not used for the ruling class at all. I was a word for the lay person and any locations that recognised as property of those people, the community mill for example. Any place that could be deemed secular, or not linked to any church. Any place that was of practical function to the people an áit túathi.

In exploring this word I believe that Túath is a collection of people recognised by law just for who they are, not what they believe.
To me, Túath is everybody.

(check out more  on this @ eDIL - Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language)



1 comment

  • Thanks for posting this. Being of Irish descent I am interested in learning about my ancestral heritage.

    Garry Bryant

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