> There is a little information about pre-Celtic languages in Britain:-
> (1) A book called `Beulra' or `Glossary' written by Cormac mac
> Cuilennáin (king and bishop of Cashel (capital of the kingdom of
> Munster in Ireland)), who died in 908 AD (not 1908), says that an old
> native language called Ivernian had recently died out. He lists 2
> Ivernian words: `fern' = "anything good" and `ond' = "stone".
Fern has a perfectly good PIE etymology - from PIE *wer- "raised/high", via
a suffixed form *wer-no- (Pokorny IEW, 1151-2, uer- ). Pokorny would also
relate Ond to Indic adri "stone" and Persian adris (Pokorny, IEW, 778,
> He calls Ivernian `the Iron-speech' "because it is dense and difficult",
> the real reason is that by his time Irish `Iwern-' = "Ivernian" and
> `isern-' = "iron" had fallen together as `iarn'. He says that `clach'
> [Irish for "stone"] has 3 names ... [including] `onn' from the
> Iron-speech". The modern source that quoted the above guessed that the
> `Iver-' < I.E. `pi-wer-' = "fat" = "fertile land", but I suspect that
> that may be a coincidence with an old non-I.E. native name.
There is no evidence whatsoever that there were any pre-Celtic languages
alive in Ireland during the historical period - and the Celtic (ultimately
PIE) etymology for *Iueriu "Ireland" is widely accepted and makes perfect
sense, thus there is no need to assume that it is pre-Celtic or pre-PIE.
Since *Iueriu is an acceptable Celtic word (and has cognates in Welsh
Iwerydd/Iwerddon), we should expect that the language of the Iuerni (Old
Irish Erainn) was Celtic - which is proved by the onomastic evidence found
in Iuernian territory.
I think that Cormac either referring to the death of a peculiar southern
dialect of Irish, or perhaps the death of the archaic way of speaking (ie,
with the old Celtic case system and grammatical suffixes). Irish underwent
massive changes between the 4th-6th centuries AD, with Archaic Irish giving
way to Old Irish (which does not have the old grammatical suffixes, etc).
Archaic Irish traits still lingered on longer in written Ogam Irish than in
spoken Irish, however, so learned men in the later Dark Ages might still
have known a bit about the ancient language if they could read Ogams.
- Chris Gwinn