Tobar an tSaoil: A Self-Taught Irish Learner’s Attempt at Translation


clannad nadur

When I received Clannad’s CD “Nádúr” for my birthday this year, I was very excited. I popped that disc into my car’s CD player the first chance I got, and there it has remained since. I am in love with this album–one might go so far as to say “obsessed,” but that’s a little strong for my taste. At any rate, I’ve listened to it on repeat quite a lot recently whilst driving in my car.

No doubt I have since been spotted shamelessly rocking out to this music by unfortunate strangers on more than occasion. Be that as it may, I can’t stop. The songs are just so good!

One in particular caught my attention early on, and it’s still my favorite song on the album. That song is “Tobar an tSaoil.” Pronounced approximately “TOE-bur on TILL,” it means “The Well of Life.”

The driving rhythm is what connects with me the most. The percussion is just awesome. I mean, how could anyone listen to it without tapping their feet/fighting sudden urges to dance around like a crazy person? Oh, is that last part just me? Alright, fine. But there’s no denying the beat is catchy. As is the melody, which combined with Clannad’s signature harmony really is the icing on the cake. Add to that the text in Irish Gaelic. In my opinion, it is a very musical language that lends itself perfectly to singing. There’s just something about its rhythm and cadence and fluid pronunciation that begs to be sung.

Seeing as I am 1) very interested in languages in general and 2) something of a perfectionist in that I can’t STAND it when I can’t sing a song I really like because it’s in a foreign language, I’m that odd person who will go through the trouble of learning the words just to be able to sing along whenever I want.

You can imagine my utter dismay then when I sought the aid of all-knowing Google, and it brought no healing for my pain. I searched and searched and searched, and no one seemed to have the text or translation at all.

DOES NO ONE CARE ABOUT THIS SONG AS MUCH AS I DO??? Come on, people! Get with the program!! As for you, Google—I’m disappointed in you. You let me down, Google. You let me down.

crazy cage face

Me, after hours of fruitless internet searching and feeling my brain slowly melting out my ears.

*ahem* Pardon me. The point is, I couldn’t believe I couldn’t find the complete lyrics anywhere. In all that searching, I found only one mention of the text on a forum somewhere, in which someone listened to the song and kind of figured out parts of it. But apparently they were too busy to give it a thorough listening-to at the time, and thus far have not felt the need to complete what they started.

If there’s anything worse than no text at all, it’s having half the text and dying to know the rest. It’s like the song was mocking me. Teasing me with its elusive lyrics, dangling a few words here and there in front of my nose and laughing when I ran into a wall.

But I am not one to accept defeat. No, I do not give up so easily. Fortunately, Irish happens to be my favorite language, so I study it already as a sort of hobby. Thus equipped with an albeit limited knowledge of the language and a very useful Irish/English online dictionary (which includes handy grammar references as well), I set out to figure out the text and put myself out of my misery. You know the saying–when you want something done right [or, in my case, done at all], you have to do it yourself. And that’s what I did.

Given that I’m not even close to fluent in Irish, it was not an easy task. Plus, the language has its own difficulties because there are so many spelling/pronunciation variants of words due to verb conjugation, eclipsis, lenition, etc. That means words actually mutate their spelling (and, as a result, the pronunciation) depending on things like preceding words or tense. The same word may be spelled multiple ways in Irish, depending on how and where it’s used. Yikes.

study tired

This makes looking up Irish words very difficult for a beginner if you’re not familiar with the rules. You often have to do a kind of “backwards” search to try to figure out the original root of the word. Fortunately, the website that I use for an Irish dictionary does a lot of that work for you by listing suggestions of similar words and such. That helps, but it’s still a lot of work.

I’m thus rather proud of the amount of work I put into this project and the fact that I saw it through to the end. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. But it was worth it! Not only can I now sing along to my favorite song, which you may recall was the original reason for this mission in the first place, but I learned a lot of new words and really put my knowledge and skills to the test. My Irish is definitely improved because of the exercise, particularly in pronunciation and grammatical rules which I had to spend a lot of time studying. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to practice listening to Irish and understanding what was said. So, all in all, I’m rather glad I had to figure it out for myself.

Tara hill

HAIL THE CONQUEROR!!! I AM VICTORIOUS!!!

At least, I think I am. Like I said, I’m definitely a beginner at this and have a lot to learn. So it’s possible that I misheard some words and/or mistranslated. That’s my disclaimer before you read my translation. I’m not claiming to be an expert and readily admit there are likely to be errors found. 😉

In fact, if you’re reading this and you speak Irish, please feel free to give feedback in the comments. I welcome correction, and would be extremely grateful for help from those with more experience and knowledge than myself.

So, without further ado, allow me to present the fruit of my labors (I included a video of the song at the end for those who want to follow along):

Tobar an tSaoil (The Well of Life)

Taobh le taobh, thall ‘s abhus.

Side by side, here and there.

‘Nonn ‘s anall, thall ‘s abhus.

Over and back, here and there.

(repeat)

 

(Chorus)

Rachaimid siar go Tobar an tSaoil sa pháirc mhór,

We will go back to the Well of Life in the great field,

Le caint ‘s ciall ‘s aithne le fáil ansin.

Speech and sense and recognition are found there.

Rachaimid siar go Tobar an tSaoil, taobh le taobh,

We will go back to the Well of Life, side by side,

Leis an ghlúin dá bhíodh le haoibhneas an lae.

With the generation on whom was the happiness of day.

 

Ag éisteacht le na páistí ina rith, a chosa in airde,

Listening to the children run, their feet in the heights, (i.e. feet not touching the ground, light-footed)

Le fíon ina lámh, gáire agus greann.

With wine in their hands, laughter and mirth.

Dá bhfeiceadh bhí le rá acu nuair chuala trup san oíche!

If you saw what they had to say when they heard noise in the night!

Chumhdaigh mé le grá iad, ‘s bhí siad slán.

I protected them with love, and they were safe.

(chorus)

 

Anois tá an dream sin feasta ag tarraingt ar an eolas,

Now that group is henceforth drawing on the knowledge,

Ar bharr na mbéal tá na linn uilig ansin.

On the tip of the mouth the pool is all there.

Cuid lán dá amhras, ‘s cuid atá go fearraneach.

Some full of doubt, and some that are truthful.

Ba gan siad mo chiallú slán nach amach ansin.

Without them my safe interpretation would not be out there.

 (chorus)

 

Dtí muid anois go díchéille bhfuil an Earrach,

We come now in the folly that is the Spring,

Dá rothaí mór an tsaoil, le casadh leo go deo.

To its great wheels of life, turning with them forever.

Den dearmad an phléisiúr ag siúil, fan na gleanntáin.

Forget the pleasure of walking, stay in the glen.

Do bhuíchas ‘s do shláinte, go bhfuil tú beo!

Give thanks for your health, that you are alive!

 

Taobh le taobh, thall ‘s abhus.

Side by side, here and there.

‘Nonn ‘s anall, thall ‘s abhus.

Over and back, here and there.

(repeat)

(chorus)


I know this isn’t my “usual” kind of post, so thank you for putting up with my rambling today. I was just so excited I finished the translation, and so proud of my hard work, that I had to share it.

Slán go fóill! Bye for now!

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8 thoughts on “Tobar an tSaoil: A Self-Taught Irish Learner’s Attempt at Translation

  1. Beats fall on Capital Letters. Cheers!

    Taobh le Taobh, Thall ‘s aBhus. Tee-oov leh Tee-oov, Hall-us uh-Vuss
    ‘Nonn ‘s aNall, Thall ‘s aBhus. Non-us uh-Nall, Hall-us uh-Vuss
    [Repeat]

    [Chorus:]
    Rachaimid Siar go Tobar an Tsaoil sa Pháirc mhór, Rah-koh-midd Shee-ar go Toh-bur un Tee-ol sah Fay-ark vhor
    le Caint ‘s Ciall ‘s Aithne le Fáil anSin. leh Cah-int is Kee-all is An-yeh le Fay-il un-Sheen
    Rachaimid Siar go Tobar an Tsaoil, Taobh le Taobh, Rah-koh-midd Shee-ar go Toh-bur un Tee-ol, Tee-oov leh Tee-oov
    leis an Ghlúin dá Bhíodh le HaoiBhneas an Lae. ley-ish on Glah-un dah Vee-udh le Hee-Vniss un Ley

    ag Éisteacht Le na PáiStí ina Rith, a Chosa in Airde, uhg Eesh-tey-ukt Ley nuh Pwah-Shtee ee-nuh Reeh, ha Hhoh-suh un Eur-juh,
    le Fíon Ina Lámh, GáiRe agus Greann. leh Fee-eon Inn-uh Luhmv, Gahy-Reh uh-guss Greh-un
    dá Bhfeiceadh Bhí le Rá aCu nuair Chuala Trup san Oíche! da Veh-kudh Vee luh Rey uh-Koo noo-ar Koo-eh-luh Trroop sun Eeh-hheh
    Chumhdaigh Mé le Grá iAd, ‘s Bhí Siad Slán. Hhoo-vthee Mey leh Greh ee-Yehd, us Vee Shehd Slehn

    [Chorus]

    aNois tá an Dream sin FeasTa ag TarraingT ar an Eolas, uh-Nish tuh un Jrumm shen Feh-uhs-Tuh uhg Tah-rah-eng Char un Eoh-Less
    ar Bharr Na Mbéal tá na Linn uiLig anSin. arr Vwarr Nah Meh-ohl tah neh Leen ooh-Leeg un-Shin
    Cuid Lán dá Amhras, ‘s Cuid aTá go FearranEach. Kooh-edj Leh-un dah Ahoov-reh, suss Kooh-edj uh-Tah goh Fee-ree-uhn-Yak
    Ba gan Siad mo Chiallú Slán Nach aMach anSin. Bah gehn Shid moh Hhall-ooh Slehn Nokh eh-Mukhth un-Shin

    [Chorus]
    [Repeat]

    Dtí Muid anOis Go díChéille Bhfuil an EarRach, Djee Meh-uhd juhn-Eesh Goh jee-Keh-il-leh Vwill ehn Ehr-Ruhkh
    dá Rothaí Mór an Tsaoil, le Casadh Leo go Deo. dah Rah-hee Moh-ur uhn Tee-ol, leh Kass-oov Loh goh Djoh
    den Dearmad an Phléisiúr ag Siúil, Fan na GleannTáin. djen Djarr-Mohd uhn Fley-Sheh-uhr eg Shoo-ehl, Fahn nah Gleh-uhn-Dtahn
    do Bhuíchas ‘S do ShláinTe, go Bhfuil Tú Beo! doh Vwee-uh khess Sihs djo Hhleh-uhn-Cheh, goh Vwill Tyoo Byoh

    Taobh le Taobh, Thall ‘s aBhus. Tee-oov leh Tee-oov, Hall-us uh-Vuss
    ‘Nonn ‘s aNall, Thall ‘s aBhus. Non-us uh-Nall, Hall-us uh-Vuss
    [Repeat]
    [Repeat]
    [Repeat]

    [Chorus]
    [Repeat]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m working on phonetic lyrics of Moya’s pronunciations, and I’ll post them here when I’m done. Yes, I love the song as much as you do, and I’m planning on covering it, vocal-only, on my YouTube channel. 😉

    Thank you for your lyrics!

    Liked by 1 person

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