Gaelic type (sometimes called Irish character, Irish type, or Gaelic script) is a family of insular typefaces devised for printing Irish. It was widely used from the 16th until the mid-20th centuries but is today rarely used. Sometimes all Gaelic typefaces are called Celtic or uncial, though most Gaelic types are not uncials. The “Anglo-Saxon” types of the 17th century are included in this category because both the Anglo-Saxon types and the Gaelic/Irish types derive from the Insular manuscript hand.
The terms Gaelic type, Gaelic script, and Irish character translate the Irish phrase cló Gaelach (pronounced [kɫ̪oː ˈɡˠeːɫ̪əx]). In Ireland the term cló Gaelach is used in opposition to the term cló Rómhánach ‘Roman type’.
Overview of some Gaelic typefaces
Besides the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, Gaelic typefaces must include all vowels with acute accents (Áá Éé Íí Óó Úú) as well as a set of consonants with dot above (Ḃḃ Ċċ Ḋḋ Ḟḟ Ġġ Ṁṁ Ṗṗ Ṡṡ Ṫṫ), and the Tironian sign et “⁊”, used for agus ‘and’ in Irish. Gaelic typefaces also often include insular forms of the letters s and r, and some of them contain a number of ligatures used in earlier Gaelic typography and deriving from the manuscript tradition. Lower-case i is drawn without a dot (though it is not the Turkish dotless ı), and the letters d, f, g, and t have insular shapes. Many modern Gaelic typefaces include Gaelic letterforms for the letters j, k, q, v, w, x, y, and z, and typically provide support for at least the vowels of the other Celtic languages. They also distinguish between & and ⁊ (as did traditional typography), though some modern fonts replace the ampersand with the Tironian note ostensibly because both mean ‘and’.
The Irish uncial alphabet originated in medieval manuscripts as an “insular” variant of the Latin alphabet. The first Gaelic typeface was designed in 1571 for a catechism commissioned by Elizabeth I to help convert the Irish Roman Catholic population to Anglicanism.
The word "Corcaigh" in the Gaelic-script font of the same name.
Typesetting in Gaelic script remained common in Ireland until the mid-20th century. Gaelic script is today used merely for decorative typesetting; for example, a number of traditional Irish newspapers still print their name in Gaelic script on the first page, and it is also popular for pub signs, greeting cards, and display advertising. Edward Lhuyd’s grammar of the Cornish language used Gaelic-script consonants to indicate sounds like [ð] and [θ].
Gaelic script in Unicode
Unicode treats the Gaelic script as a font variant of the Latin alphabet. A lowercase insular g (ᵹ) was added in version 4.1 as part of the Phonetic Extensions block because of its use in Irish linguistics as a phonetic character for [ɣ]. Unicode 5.1 (2008) further added a capital G (Ᵹ) and both capital and lowercase letters D, F, R, S, T, besides “turned insular G”, on the basis that Edward Lhuyd used these letters in his 1707 work Archaeologia Britannica as a scientific orthography for Cornish.
Duibhlinn (digital font 1993, based on Monotype Series 24 A, 1906)
Ceanannas (digital font 1993, based on drawings of Book of Kells lettering by Arthur Baker.)
Chuaigh bé mhórshách le dlúthspád fíorfhinn trí hata mo dhea-phorcáin bhig,
Ċuaiġ bé ṁórṡáċ le dlúṫspád fíorḟinn trí hata mo ḋea-ṗorcáin ḃig,
meaning “A greatly satisfied woman went with a truly white dense spade through the hat of my good little well-fattened pig”.
The second sentence (bottom line) reads:
Duibhlinn/Ceanannas an cló a úsáidtear anseo,
meaning “Duibhlinn/Ceannanas is the font used here”.
The second sentence uses the short forms of the letters r and s; the first uses the long forms.
Gaelic script used on an information plaque outside City Hall, near Dublin Castle.
Gaelic script on the gates of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.
Gaelic script on a gravestone in County Kerry.
Gaelic script on an Irish national monument.
Published - December 2013
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