What Do the Irish Call Grandfathers?

Names Can Be Tongue-Twisters for the Non-Irish

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Few non-Irish have adopted Irish grandparent names. David De Lossy | Photodisc | Getty Images

The Irish word for grandfather is seanathair, literally meaning "old father." Children would not be likely to address a grandfather by this term. They would use instead daideó (approximate pronounciation DADJ-yoh) or móraí (approximate pronounciation MO ree). 

Other Irish terms for grandfathers include Athair mór (AH her MORE), roughly meaning "great father," and Athair Críonna (AH her KREE un na), roughly meaning "wise father."

Irish names for grandparents have not been widely adopted by non-Irish, as some other grandparent names have been. This is probably due to the complexity of the spelling and pronunciation. In fact, most Irish children are English-speaking and call their grandfathers English names, such as Grandpa, Granddad or Pop. Some opt for Granda, which has a bit of Irish flavor but is easy to say. 

The formal term for a great-grandfther is sin-seanáthair. The Irish word for granddaughter is gariníon (gar in EE in). Grandson is garmhac (gar aWOK).

Interesting Facts About the Irish Language

Although Irish is an official language of Ireland and of the European Union, only a minority of the Irish speak it today, primarily due to years of British rule in which use of the language was repressed. There are areas in Ireland, known as the Gaeltacht, in which the language is used for everyday speech. Moreover, the Irish language is currently experiencing something of a revival.

Although the use of Irish in rural areas, where it used to be common, is in decline, it is on the rise among well-educated urban professionals. The teaching of Irish has been mandated in public schools for many years, but now schools are appearing in which primary instruction is in Irish. 

In 2007 Irish travel writer Manchán Magan set off to test the often-quoted statistic that a quarter of Irish people speak Irish.

Read Magan's account of his experiment, which also became a documentary series on Irish television, called No Béarla.

Irish Family Culture

Irish men have the reputation of being fun-loving and easy-going, although they also have a fiery component to their character. Although loving, they are often not demonstrative. Although the Irish are widely regarded as having an aversion to authority, that does not extended to authority within the family, especially paternal and grandfatherly authority, which is expected to be respected. 

The Irish value independence. Rather than living with family, elderly Irish prefer living on their own. Although ties with extended family are valued, many Irish, especially men, dislike turning to family members for assistance. 

Modern Irish fathers and grandfathers are adjusting to changing times, a recent poll about the Irish family has revealed. Grandparents, including grandfathers, are the most popular child care providers in Ireland, stepping in 42% of the time. 

Learn More

Learn about Irish names for grandmother.

Go to the list of ethnic names for grandfathers or to a comprehensive list of grandfather names, or go to a page where you can hear the pronunciation of seanáthair.