Red in Irish, ‘dearg’ and ‘rua’


When I started this project I wanted a theme that would help structure my exploration into Irish words so I chose colour. Red has always been my favorite so it was an easy one to start with. I decided i'd research red things and words and phrases including the Irish word for red. Simple right. Except there's two words for red in Irish, ‘dearg’ and ‘rua’. I'm not sure i'd ever stopped to think about why there were two words for red when learning Irish in school, somethings were ‘dearg’ and some were ‘rua’, but I guess my vocabulary wasn’t big enough to notice what separated them. Instead I just knew off by heart which one was which.

Doing this project has shown me the clear distinction between the reds, not to mention the other colours but more on that later. This is the best way for me to separate the two:

'Dearg' covers intense red. Items that would be 'dearg' would be a red fire engine or a red pen. It covers the physical red reactions, to go red in the face or have rosy cheeks. And it also means something is intense.

'Clóicín Dearg' / Red Riding Hood or more literal, Little Red Cloak, describes that deep red we know from the fairy tale, while the red in 't-ádh dearg' / very lucky, emphasizes the intensity of luck. Similarly 'deargbhréag' / a bare faced lie, emphasis the intensity of the lie.

'Rua' covers a copper or russet red. A fox's coat is 'rua' and natural red hair is 'rua'. In the phrase 'níl pingin rua agam!' / I'm broke, the ‘rua’ here describes the coppery red of a penny, literally I don’t have a red penny.

You can see some of my red illustrations in the gallery below:

Catherine Geaney