Gaelic type

Gaelic type (sometimes called Irish character, Irish type, or Gaelic script) is a family of Insular script typefaces devised for printing Classical Gaelic. It was widely used from the 16th until the mid-18th century (Scotland) or the mid-20th century (Ireland) but is now rarely used. Sometimes, all Gaelic typefaces are called Celtic or uncial although most Gaelic types are not uncials. The "Anglo-Saxon" types of the 17th century are included in this category because both the Anglo-Saxon types and the Gaelic/Irish types derive from the insular manuscript hand.

Gaelic script
Time period
Parent systems
ISO 15924Latg, 216

The terms Gaelic type, Gaelic script and Irish character translate the Irish phrase cló Gaelach (pronounced [kl̪ˠoː ˈɡˠeːl̪ˠəx]). In Ireland, the term cló Gaelach' is used in opposition to the term cló Rómhánach, Roman type.

The Scottish Gaelic term is corra-litir (pronounced [kʰɔrˠə ˈliʰtʲɪɾʲ]). Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (c.1698–1770) was one of the last Scottish writers with the ability to write in this script,[1] but his main work, Ais-Eiridh na Sean Chánoin Albannaich, was published in the Roman script.


Besides the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, Gaelic typefaces must include all vowels with acute accents Áá Éé Íí Óó Úú as well as a set of consonants with dot above Ḃḃ Ċċ Ḋḋ Ḟḟ Ġġ Ṁṁ Ṗṗ Ṡṡ Ṫṫ, and the Tironian sign et , used for agus 'and' in Irish.

Gaelic typefaces also often include insular forms: ꞃ ꞅ of the letters r and s, and some of the typefaces contain a number of ligatures used in earlier Gaelic typography and deriving from the manuscript tradition. Lower-case i is drawn without a dot (though it is not the Turkish dotless ı), and the letters d f g t have insular shapes ꝺ ꝼ ᵹ ꞇ.

Many modern Gaelic typefaces include Gaelic letterforms for the letters j k q v w x y z, and typically provide support for at least the vowels of the other Celtic languages. They also distinguish between & and (as did traditional typography), though some modern fonts replace the ampersand with the Tironian note ostensibly because both mean 'and'.


The Irish uncial alphabet originated in medieval manuscripts as an "insular" variant of the Latin alphabet. The first Gaelic typeface was designed in 1571 for a catechism commissioned by Elizabeth I to help attempt to convert the Irish Catholic population to Anglicanism.


Typesetting in Gaelic script remained common in Ireland until the mid-20th century. Gaelic script is today used merely for decorative typesetting; for example, a number of traditional Irish newspapers still print their name in Gaelic script on the first page, and it is also popular for pub signs, greeting cards, and display advertising. Edward Lhuyd's grammar of the Cornish language used Gaelic-script consonants to indicate sounds like [ð] and [θ].

In 1996 Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) created a new corporate logo. The logo consists of a modern take on the Gaelic type face. The R's counter is large with a short tail, the T is roman script while the E is curved but does not have a counter like a lower case E, and the letters also have slight serifs to them. TG4's original logo, under the brand TnaG, also used a modernization of the font, the use of the curved T and a sans-serif A in the word na. Other Irish companies that have used Gaelic script in their logos including the GAA, Telecom Éireann and An Post. The Garda Síochána uses Gaelic Script on its official seal.

The GAA logo uses the script to incorporate both the English language GAA acronym and the Irish language CLG acronym (Irish: Cumann Lúthchleas Gael). The logo more strongly shows the more widely used acronym GAA but taking a closer look a C joins with an L and then to a G lying down.

In Unicode

Unicode treats the Gaelic script as a font variant of the Latin alphabet. A lowercase insular g (ᵹ) was added in version 4.1 as part of the Phonetic Extensions block because of its use in Irish linguistics as a phonetic character for [ɣ].

Unicode 5.1 (2008) added a capital G (Ᵹ) and both capital and lowercase letters D, F, R, S, T, besides "turned insular G", on the basis that Edward Lhuyd used these letters in his 1707 work Archaeologia Britannica as a scientific orthography for Cornish.

  • Ꝺ ꝺ Insular D (U+A779, U+A77A)
  • ◌ᷘ Combining Small Insular D (U+1DD8) (Used for Old Norse)[2]
  • Ꝼ ꝼ Insular F (U+A77B, U+A77C)
  • Ᵹ ᵹ Insular G (U+A77D, U+1D79)
  • Ꝿ ꝿ Turned insular G (U+A77E, U+A77F)
  • Ꞃ ꞃ Insular R (U+A782, U+A783)
  • Ꞅ ꞅ Insular S (U+A784, U+A785)
  • Ꞇ ꞇ Insular T (U+A786, U+A787)


In each figure above, the first sentence is a pangram and reads:
Chuaigh bé mhórshách le dlúthspád fíorfhinn trí hata mo dhea-phorcáin bhig,
Ċuaiġ bé ṁórṡáċ le dlúṫspád fíorḟinn trí hata mo ḋea-ṗorcáin ḃig,
meaning "A maiden of great appetite with an intensely white, dense spade went through my good little porker’s hat".
The second sentence (bottom line) reads:
Duibhlinn/Ceanannas an cló a úsáidtear anseo,
meaning "Duibhlinn/Ceannanas is the font used here".
The second sentence uses the short forms of the letters r and s; the first uses the long forms. See: Long s and R rotunda.

See also


  1. Quinnell, Teàrlach (8 July 2009). "Moladh air deagh bhàrd..." Naidheachdan (in Scottish Gaelic). BBC Alba. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  2. "N3027: Proposal to add medievalist characters to the UCS" (PDF). ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2. 30 January 2006.


  • Lynam, E. W. 1969. The Irish character in print: 1571–1923. New York: Barnes & Noble. First printed as Oxford University Press offprint 1924 in Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 4th Series, Vol. IV, No. 4, March 1924.)
  • McGuinne, Dermot. Irish type design: A history of printing types in the Irish character. Blackrock: Irish Academic Press. ISBN 0-7165-2463-5
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