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My central character Moss Reid is a PI, a private eye, a private investigator. Sometimes he’s called a private detective, though he has grown to dislike the “detective” term. Tough – it goes with the territory, like all the other rude names he’s called.

So he’s a character in a detective novel, he’s an Irish PI. In my books he can speak Irish but doesn’t much, just the occasional focal or phrase here and there.

The cover of Biddy Jenkinson's "An tAthair Pádraig Ó Duinnín", including an Irish dictionary definition of a detectiveAnd here’s a question: would he know what the Irish is for “detective”? Probably – even with his rusty Irish.

He may have it on good authority from, say, Gabriel Rosenstock (who’s not only a poet and journalist but a translator too) that it could be one of several words.

For example, Erich Kästner’s 1929 novel Emil und die Detektive has been translated twice into Irish. In one version the detective is bleachtaire; in the other he’s a lorgaire.

If I reach for my Dinneen – actually the English-Irish dictionary on my shelf is an ancient De Bhaldraithe – I also find the adjective braiteach and noun bleachtaire.

Hence a detective novel is úrscéal bleachtaireachta. Moss Reid runs a one-man gníomhaireacht bhleachtaireachta (detective agency).

And bleachtaire seems to be the term in officialdom. If you scan through the Garda ranks in Irish you’ll probably come across a DS (detective sergeant) as an bleachtaire-sháirsint, a DI (detective inspector) as an bleachtaire-chigire, and a detective superintendent as an bleachtaire-cheannfort.

Biddy Jenkinson

In Biddy Jenkinson’s 2008 collection of short stories An tAthair Pádraig Ó Duinnín – Bleachtaire (Fr Patrick Dinneen – Detective) she re-imagines Dinneen the legendary dictionary compiler as Father Pádraig Ó Duinnín the detective priest, who also happens to be a mate of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. The Baker Street duo come to seek his help, fearing that Professor Moriarty is about to kidnap the Queen of England.

An epigraph to the stories defines bleachtaire as “a milker, a dairyman, a milk-dealer; a wheeler; a detective (rec.)”.

Holmes (or Searlach de Hoilm here) calls himself not an bleachtaire but an lorgaire, which according to the dictionary is “a tracker or sleuth, a follower, a pursuer, a searcher; an author who follows in the track of, adopts the statements of another; an investigator”.

I guess Biddy Jenkinson is having a lot of fun with us.

More on an úrscéal bleachtaireachta (the detective novel) or an scéal lorgaireachta (detective story) anon.

dinneen - definition

“Lorgaire” in my Dinneen Foclóir