Some Irish words with Norse Origins

Viking warriors

The year 795 AD  saw a new force arrive on the Irish political scene, the Vikings. These seaborne warriors were to have a significant impact on Irish life. Their attacks on religious centres and propensity for warfare are well documented, as is their contribution to the development of urban centres and new trade routes.  However, something which is sometimes over-looked is their input, albeit small, to the Irish language.

Unsurprisingly, considering the Viking’s seafaring roots, the majority of these words are associated with nautical activities. They include the Irish words for a boat (bád), as well as various parts of the sailing vessel, such as the anchor (ancaire), rudder (stiúir) and sail (scod). Fishing terms of Norse origin are also found, including the Irish words for fish such as cod ( trosc) and ling (langa) as well as for a fishing-line (dorú/dorgha).

Facilitated by their naval expertise, the Vikings also excelled in trade. This is reflected in the Irish word for a market (margadh), which is borrowed from Old Norse (markadr). Similarly the Irish word for a penny (pinginn) is derived from the Norse word penninger. This latter example is not surprising, as the first person to mint coins in Ireland was the Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin, Sitric Silkbeard.

A number of additional words are listed below.

 Some Irish words of Old Norse Origin (after Greene, 1973)

Irish                            English                      Old Norse

ancaire                                anchor                                  akkeri

bád                                        boat                                       bátr

scod                                       sheet/sail                            skaut

stiúir                                      rudder                                  stýri

tochta                                   thwart                                  popta

dorú (dorgha)                   fishing-line                          dorga

langa                                    ling (fish)                             langa

trosc                                      cod (fish)                             porskr

margadh                             market                                 markadhr

pinginn                                 penny                                   penninger

cnaipe                                   button                                  knappr

bróg                                       shoe                                      brók

pónair                                   beans                                    baunir

garrdha                                Enclosed plot/yard        gardhr


Greene, D. 1973 ‘The influence of Scandinavian on Irish’ in Bo Almqvist & David Greene (eds.) Proceedings of the Seventh Viking Congress, Dundalgan Press, Dundalk, pp. 75-82

The image used is by Becherel and licensed under Creative Commons

22 thoughts on “Some Irish words with Norse Origins

  1. And see also:

    From the Viking word-hoard – A dictionary of Scandinavian words in the languages of Britain and Ireland

    A Supplement to the Dictionary of Scandinavian Words in the Languages of Britain and Ireland

    both by Diarmaid Ó Muirithe,

    and both available from Four Courts Press –

    1. Thanks for sharing Nevin. There are a good few place names alright, and like Skerries mainly coastal. Wexford, Arklow, Waterford, Smerwick, Satlee islands Lambey island, to name a few.

        1. So this “Oster” is not related to the Germanic “Ost” for east ? Oysterhaven is east of Kinsale, but mostly south of everywhere else.

  2. What about table? (“bord” in both languages)
    Is that a Norse thing or a common ancestor of both languages?

    1. the similar word in english is board as in room and board meaning you were given a meal at the table

  3. It was interesting to see bád referenced there. I always thought “long” (Irish for ship) might have a connection to “long boats”.

  4. There are many more Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic words of Norse origin (amd plenty not related to maritime activities) but David Greene in 1978 attenuated this view about bád, stating that it is impossible to tell if it is from Norse bátr or Old English bāt (boat). And, IIRC, there is a strong chance that ‘long’ is from Lat. Navis Longa.

    1. Cony in Shakespeare, Konijn in Modern Dutch.
      Ezel in Modern Dutch, Osyel in Russian.
      Both are, I would think, from a common ancestor, though if memory serves me correctly the rabbit was introduced to Ireland by the Normans.

  5. Is it known if any/many Gaelic words made it into the Norse language? Many slaves were taken from Ireland and Scotland back to Scandinavia, as well as hundreds of years of trade and intermarriage, so there was plenty of opportunity for crossover.

  6. ‘long’ and Welsh ‘llong’ come from the Latin _navis longa_, ‘long ship’ = ‘warship’.

  7. my surname is of viking origin but is derived from gealic ,if you know any one named McGuigan the name was originally an anglicized gealic name Mag Uiginn which means son of viking.

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