Research:Irish Gaelic type

The history of typography, printing and reading are all linked; what else can you find out about this history that you find interesting? Perhaps you are interested in typefaces a particular era, form of typography or particular area of reading. It might be a wide subject such as the history of the alphabet, or something very specific such as the use of typography in Film Noir, comics or American crime novels.

Undertake some secondary research to find out more, taking notes along the way and collecting examples for your visual diary.

I have had to change the title of this page already as I am learning the difference between Uncial and Celtic. According to Wikipedia most Gaelic typefaces are not Uncials but Insular(1).

Insular script was a medieval script system invented in Ireland(2)

I am interested in Gaelic typefaces. I really like the old gaelic letters which have been replaced by modern ones now.

However there seems to be confusion about this fact in the literature as I read in the following paper:

There are a number of substyles of Gaelic fonts: uncial or half-uncial or majuscule (rounded) and minuscule (angular) are the main ones.(3)

Definition of the adjective Uncial: designating, written in, or pertaining to a form of majuscule writing having a curved or roundedshape and used chiefly in Greek and Latin manuscripts from about the 3rd to the 9thcentury a.d.(4)

My first step was to send the following message to the Print Museum in Dublin to try to get some clarity from the experts:


I would be very grateful if you could recommend some research sources for a study I am undertaking of the Irish language topography. I am a student at the Open College of the Arts studying for a BA(Hons) in Photography but as part of my course I have taken a module on Graphic design.

I visited your museum in the Summer and very much enjoyed it. I was fascinated by the gaelic type. Since I am old enough to have used the old Irish script in School I would be interested to do some research on it.

Irish is a Celtic language as are Scots Gaelic, Welsh and Manx.  It seems to have come to Ireland about 2,500 years ago although the exact time is a little hazy. There were, apparently other languages spoken in Ireland before its arrival. Old Irish was first written in the Roman alphabet before the beginning of the 7th century which makes Irish the oldest written vernacular language north of the Alps.   …… many manuscripts … survive from the Middle Irish era.(5)

From the middle of the 12th Century Middle Irish evolved into Modern Irish.

The first Gaelic typeface was designed in 1571. It was to print a catechism commissioned by Elizabeth I. This typeface was used in printing until the middle of the 20th century.(5). I believe it was stopped because of the cost of making typewriters specially for the Irish market. When only letterpress printing was used it made little difference as letters had to be cast anyway so whether it was English or Gaelic type mattered little.

If we stay with the uncial theory, Gaelic script is a particular way of writing the Latin script. The letters lean from top left to bottom right. There are 18 letters in the Gaelic alphabet(6):


This is how I learned to write in Gaelic. Then there is a set of lenited letters, meaning the ‘b’ is pronounced ‘v’ e.g bi me is pronounced ‘vi may’


These dots on these consonants are called “Builte” in gaelic.

In addition most vowels have acute accents.

I have downloaded a couple of ‘gaelic’ fonts from FreeFont to see how they compare with my memory of writing gaelic script.

Here is a poem I learned as a child written how I would have learned it. I have used the font I downloaded “Kells” to give the translation. Some of the letters remain the same for example the “d” but others have changed totally like the “s”.

I hope to visit the Print Museum again when next in Dublin and look at the book they recommended.


1.Wikipedia. 2017. Gaelic type – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 January 2017].

2.Wikipedia. 2017. Insular script – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 14 January 2017].

3.Gaelic fonts for MS Word – basic information and what’s available[ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 January 2017]. 2017. Uncial | Define Uncial at [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 January 2017].

5. Background on the Irish Language « Údarás na Gaeltachta. 2017. Background on the Irish Language « Údarás na Gaeltachta. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 February 2017].

6.Irish uncial alphabet. 2017. Irish uncial alphabet. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 January 2017].