Gaelic and/or Uncial Fonts

Johnston's Half-Uncials
A modernized Half-Uncial, from Edward Johnston’s “Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering,” 1906.

Month after month, the number one search term that brings visitors to this site is “gaelic font.” They end up on TypeOff. because of Pater Noster (pictured further down in this article). I don’t know what people are looking for when they type “gaelic font” into Google. Are they looking for fonts to set a Gaelic language, Irish for instance? Are they looking for Uncial fonts? Or for fonts that just look “Irish”? In any event, I’ve writen this article to help them along their search.


According to font standards,all basic PostScript, TrueType, and OpenType fonts should be able to set Gaelic (Irish). However, this seems to be only part true. Gaelic requires acute accented vowels in a character set: Áá Éé Íí Óó Úú. These glyphs are part of standard western fonts. But the dotted consonants are not.

More Half-Uncials
Half-Uncial writing exercise, Spring 2005.

Uncial fonts are a different story. While the Irish language may traditionally be set with Irish typefaces, not all Uncials are Irish. Uncial hands were a style of writing used during the late Roman Empire, from ca. 200 to ca. 800. Since the Roman Empire was so broad, Uncial hands differ according to region. There were even Greek Uncials, for instance.

When Christianity came to Ireland, so did Latin and Uncial scripts. The sub-style of Uncial that seems to have taken hold in Ireland is known as Half-Uncial (it had a rather unique G). Half-Uncial later evolved into the “Insular” hands used in Ireland and the British Isles.

Scribes in the western part of continental Europe seem to have stopped writing book text with Uncial-related styles after Charlemagne’s writing reforms, ca. 800. However, Uncial has remained popular for headlines, titles, certificates, and display usage ever since.

As Ireland was neither part of the Roman Empire nor Charlemagne’s kingdom, the Uncial tradition seems to have never really stopped. Also, the years between ca. 400 and ca. 800 A.D. may represent some golden age for the Irish, although I must admit that my Irish history is a bit shaky. In any event, Uncial-looking typefaces are still widely used in Ireland, especially when dealing with the Irish language.

Uncial typefaces and Irish typefaces do not necessarily overlap! The first Irish typefaces seem to have been cut during the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth I. Gaelic (Irish) typefaces descend from this era, while also retaining inspiration from the dawn of Ireland’s Christian period. Uncial typefaces on the other hand, are (mostly) intended for display settings, and may or may not have anything to do with Ireland or Irish typesetting requirements. The digital font market does not offer that many Uncial fonts at all, and most of these fonts did not have the Irish language in mind when they were designed.

Pater Noster
This is Pater Noster, a design for a typeface I first posted on TypeOff. in 2004. Although it isn’t a completed, released font, it has been used on a few occasions.

Below are a few of the real commercial Uncial fonts I know and can recommend. These are all from Linotype. I should stress again that these are Uncials; they are not necessarily suitable for Irish, or any other Gaelic language. But that is really up to typesetters, designers, and clients in the end.

American Uncial
The image above shows a digital version of American Uncial – the URW digitization, I believe. American Uncial was originally designed by Victor Hammer in 1943 and cast for him by the Dearborn Type Foundry a few years later. Victor Hammer was an Austrian typographer who dedicated his career to designing Uncial typefaces, which he also used to set books with at his own private presses. His first published typeface, Hammerschrift, was released by the Klingspor foundry in Offenbach, Germany, in 1923.

The digital version of American Uncial is probably the most ubiquitous Uncial typeface in the world, including Ireland. Unfortunately, its forms are not quite Irish; its i is dotted, and the shape of the dot runs the risk of looking like an accented i, which it is not. American Uncial is unicase; the upper and lowercase letters are the same style and size.

Neue Hammer Unziale 1
In 1953, American Uncial was re-released by Klingspor founry. It was renamed Neue Hammer Unziale. Like the original metal type version of American Uncial, Neue Hammer Unziale has both upper and lowercase letters. The uppercase letters are more Roman, while the lowercase is more Uncial. Unfortunately for American Uncial’s brand legacy, its digital incarnation appear as unicase fonts.

In fact, most of the letters in the digital versions of American Uncial aren’t even the original design’s lowercase, but a set of special drop cap letters from Klingspor’s Neue Hammer Unziale. This is particularly crass, as the drop caps were intended to stand on their own at the beginnings of paragraphs, and not be formed into words or lines of text. Really, no one should ever use the digital version of American Uncial for anything. Neue Hammer Unziale is a superior alternative that encapsulates Hammer’s original design better.

Neue Hammer Unziale 2

The digital fonts for Neue Hammer Unziale are available in two versions. Neue Hammer Unziale 2 is basically those dreaded initial letters shrunken down to lowercase size, combined with the capitals from Neue Hammer Unziale 1. Linotype’s OpenType version of Neue Hammer Unziale has the letters from Neue Hammer Unziale 1 on by default, with the #2 letters available as alternates within the font file. Neue Hammer Unziale 2’s lettercase letters should never be used to set running text.

Eirinn Gaelic
Eirinn Gaelic has a lot going for it. The i is dotless, the g is insular in form, and the r and s are both long and round. Eirinn Gaelic is part of the two-member Eirinn family, designed by Norbert Reiners in 1994.

Frances Uncial
Frances Uncial has a strange character set, with lots of alternates and ligatures. The letter style looks sketched, or hand drawn (not written) with a pen. In fact, the feeling comes directly from its letters having been first executed as lino-cuts, which were then scanned in. This roughness is also something I employed when I began Pater Noster, but I eliminated the rough finish from that, while Frances Uncial keeps it. Michael Gills designed Frances Uncial in 1995.

Linotype Irish Text
The upper and lowercase letters of Linotype Irish Text share the same height, but many of the forms are different. The letters here are very narrow, almost like Textura, although not in style.

ITC Korigan Light
ITC Korigan is an Uncial family; this is rather rare. The family contains two weights, light and bold. The type was designed by Thierry Puyfoulhoux of France, who wanted to create an alternative to American Uncial.

ITC Korigan Bold
ITC Korgian is certainly Uncial, but a perhaps more accurate description would be just “Uncial-inspired.” Many of the forms have been modernized, and many of the capitals are more Roman in appearance. Nevertheless, its cleverness is welcome, and its design feels much more modern than Hammer’s work.


Omnia

Omnia is a unicase typeface, but unicase-ness is more caps-like than lowercase—just look at the G form above. Part of Linotype’s Type Before Gutenberg collection, Omnia was designed by Karlgeorg Hoefer in 1990.

 
Show me more!
Want to look at more Uncial fonts? Click here for part two of this topic! Also, you might enjoy looking at pictures of this typeface specimen from 1939.

 
Eirinn, Linotype Irish Text, Neue Hammer Unziale, and Omnia are trademarks of Linotype GmbH and may be registered in certain jurisdictions.

30 Comments

  1. Hey there. I was hoping you could help me put ‘Ashley’ into the traditional Gaelic font ?
    Thanks.

    M

  2. You mean that you want to know if Ashley is Gaelic?

    Which of the Ashley fonts are you looking at? This one? That doesn’t look like an Uncial to me, but maybe you can send me a link to the face you are thinking about.

  3. I was researching the different logos and brands associated with Purdue University and came across an article published that stated “the words “Purdue University” are set in the typeface Uncial”. I am just curious how this “font” would have been created and why it would be used. Also, how would you go about using that font? Example: what if I wanted to write a paper in “Uncial”?

  4. Hi Russell,

    I’m not sure I follow you exactly. Which Purdue U. logo do you mean? The logo on the University’s website (http://www.purdue.edu/) isn’t set in any sort of unicial font at all. There is just one unicial font called just “uncial” that I know of… it is a version of the American Uncial you can see on the page above, and it is sold via the website fonts.com.

    Do you have an image of the logo that you are looking at? Or is it just a text reference in an article. If so, maybe it is talking about a much older logo.

    If that font is the American Uncial “Unicial”, then you would use it just like any other font you have, i.e., you could buy it and download it and install it with the otehr fonts on your computer, then you would type with it in Microsoft Word, etc. It might look a bit weird to write a whole paper with a font looking like that, though!

    Does this answer your questions?

  5. Lauren White 3 March 2008 at 03:16

    Hey i was wondering if you could put this prayer into the gaelic language? That would be awesome! Thanks.

    Hail Mary, full of grace.
    Our Lord is with thee.
    Blessed art thou among women,
    and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
    Jesus.
    Holy Mary, Mother of God,
    pray for us sinners,
    now and at the hour of our death.
    Amen.

  6. Dan Reynolds 3 March 2008 at 03:22

    Hi Lauren,

    I don’t speak Gaelic. But if you put in “Hail Mary” and “Gaelic” into Google, you get this – http://rickmk.com/rmk/Pray/iri-hai.html – which looks spot one to me.

  7. hey i was trying to get “brothers” in gaelic. Not only in a gaelic script but in the gaelic language. any pointers. i would really appreciate it, more than you know. thanks a lot

  8. Dan Reynolds 5 April 2008 at 23:21

    Hey Matt,

    Sorry, I don’t speak Gaelic, and I don’t know anyone who does.

    Maybe you can find an online translator via Google?

    Thanks,
    Dan

  9. hi Dan.

    I was doing some research into unicals forms and came across your site. I’m interested in unical forms as living in Wales people seem to use alot because of thier celtic traditions.

    Just wanted to complement you on Pater Noster, hope you completed as i really like it.

    cheers Jon

  10. Dan Reynolds 16 April 2008 at 16:24

    Thanks a lot, Jon! And good luck with your research. Welsh lettering is starting to look really interesting…

  11. Scots Gaelic – bràthair

    Irish – bhráthair

    There both pronnounced the same : )

    Br-air
    (th in Gaelic is pronounced like an h in English).

  12. Dan Reynolds 15 May 2008 at 09:40

    Thanks, Ashley ann

  13. Mac an tSaoir 19 May 2008 at 16:44

    Irish
    Sé do Bheatha, a Mhuire, atá lán de na ghrásta. Tá an Tiarna leat. Is beannuithe thú eadar na mná, agus is beannuithe toradh do bhronn, Íosa. A Naomh Mhuire, Mháthair Dé, guidh orainne, na peacaí, anois agus ar uair ár mbáis. Amén

    Scottish

    Fàilte dhut, a Mhoire, tha thu lán de na gràsan. Tha an Tighearna maille riut. Is beannaichte thu am measg na mnà agus is beannaichte toradh do bhronn, Iosa. A Naomh Mhoire, a Mhàthair Dhè, guidh air ar son-ne na peacaich a nis agus aig uair ar bàis. Amen

  14. Mac an tSaoir 20 May 2008 at 17:42

    I wonder if the demand for ‘Gaelic’ fonts comes from people copying and distributing family tombstone inscriptions in the script regularly used for Irish till the 1940s. The problem is that the ‘leniting’ h is represented in by a diacritical dot over consonants, rare in fonts. It is important for pronunciation and meaning: eg, a mhian (a veean) – ‘his will';/a mian (a meean) – ‘er will’ Incidentally, ‘bráthair’ in Irish Gaelic usually means a Brother in religion. The word for a blood brother is ‘deartháir’ , contracted from ‘dearbh-bhrathair ‘ (‘a genuine brother’) often pronounced ‘daraher’ or ‘drair’.

  15. Dan Reynolds 20 May 2008 at 18:31

    Thank you for the translation. I have no idea where the demand for ‘Gaelic’ fonts comes from, although I suspect that it has been around for a bit. Monotype cut a Gaelic typeface in the mid 1930s; I guess that this was for book-printing work.

  16. Can somebody please help me write the word “dawn” in original Gealic. I’ve found the translation, breacadh, but not how it is written.

    Thanks,

    Peter

  17. Hi Can you put the following family motto into Scottish Gaelic text.

    Virtutis gloria merces (Glory is the reward of valour)

    Thank you

  18. hi there, i was wondering if anyone could translate mine and my twin sisters names.
    samantha and chloe.
    thanks heaps :)

  19. Hi there,

    i am hoping to have ‘all my love’ confirmed translation. is it ‘uile mo gra’ ?! and i am looking for traditional irish gaelic lettering.

    thanks for any help

  20. […] bis hin zur Moderne nach. Der karolingische Beitrag um die Minuskeln, die Sonderformen der Halbunziale auf den britischen Inseln und in der frühchristlichen Literatur Irlands, die stilistische […]

  21. Hi Dan,

    You mention above the difficulties of finding digital typefaces which include the diacritical mark over the consonant. I suspect that this is tightly connected with the reform of the written language carried out by the Department of Education around the 1960s, where the ‘new script’ was introduced. This was basically a transition to Romanised lettering, with conventions for rendering most of the diacritical marks (only keeping the fada, due to it’s similarity to French accents already present in Roman fonts). For example, I still have a copy of my 1986 Foclóir Póca (Pocket Dictionary) from school, which is all typeset in Times, as far as I can tell, whereas my parents both learnt the language though texts in the old typefaces. See http://www.focloir.ie/lexi_g/ for a current example of Irish text in Roman fonts.

  22. Hi Dan,

    I’m not sure if this will be useful but just thought I’d throw in my two cents as I’ve just been reading ‘Irish Type Design’ by Dermot McGuinne (I think this is one of the most comprehensive accounts on the subject around) where he outlines the two styles of script that evolved from Uncial. As you say the uncial script is regularly confused with being from Ireland when in fact it was the Insular hand (half-uncial) that developed in both Ireland and Britain (and not uncial which came from Rome). This half-uncial later influenced the development of Carolingian miniscule. But in Ireland there was also another script that had developed with the half-uncial – the Irish Miniscule – this was a related script that developed concurrently with the Insular hand and continued to be used in Ireland for the writing of Gaelic/Gaeilge. In Ireland at this time religious texts written in Latin were usually written in Insular/half-uncial and Irish texts in the Irish miniscule (although there are some exceptions). This script was in actual fact the script that was peculiar to Ireland and was more cursive and pointy with a vertical emphasis in contrast with the rounder half-uncial shapes with which it developed. When creating printing types for Irish therefore, a decision had to be made to base the shapes on the Irish Miniscule or on the Half-uncial. Regularly the half-uncial was chosen and perhaps as this seems more closely related appearance-wise to the Uncial script, the Uncial script then became associated with Ireland.

  23. […] in Uncategorized A nice round up by Dan […]

  24. […] Rickshaw, Wonton, et al. Also available are cliché representations of Irish, Greek, Arab, Yiddish, African American, Tropical […]

  25. Hi I was hoping you could translate the following motto into scottish gaelic? It is:

    sure and steadfast

    I would be so appreciative if you could help!!

    Cheers,

    Lynda

  26. Hi
    hope this blog is still going.
    I was wondering as to the name American Unicial. It seems such a strange name to use since the Unicial is European and in particular Irish?

  27. Dear Walter,

    Uncial hands were written across Europe in late antiquity and during the early middle ages. Uncial itself isn’t particularly Irish – it was just used longer in Ireland. American Uncial was designed by Victor Hammer, who was Austrian. Hammer created several Uncial typefaces during his lifetime. The first was simply called Hammerschrift (Hammer Type), and was released by Klingspor in Germany during the early 1920s. Hammer was still living in Vienna at this time.

    After Nazi Germany took control of Austria, Hammer left Europe for America. American Uncial is the second uncial typeface that he designed in the US. It was first cast towards the end of the second World War. American Uncial may have been so named because, well, Hammer was in American by then. However, American Uncial was never widely sold as a lead typeface for hand setting.

    In the early 1950s, Klingspor was interested in the design, and they brought out an adapted version of the typeface under the name Neue Hammer Unziale (New Hammer Uncial). American Uncial only came out as a public typeface later, after Hammer died. It was available for photo and then digital composition, and perhaps for Letraset or another dry transfer method. Sadly, the digital font today called American Uncial is not actually the same typeface that Hammer designed in the 1940s. Rather, it is based on a series of initial letters that were intended to be used as drop caps at the start of paragraphs (paragraphs, for instance, which would have been set in the proper typefaces). However, Adobe and Linotype digitized Neue Hammer Unziale in the 1990s. This typeface is actually the “real” American Uncial.

    American Uncial today is used as shorthand for “all things Irish,” which is certainly not Hammer had intended. American Uncial’s forms are not Gaelic or Insular. Rather, they come out of Hammer’s own handwriting with the broad-nib pen. Hammer designed all of his typefaces primarily to use in his own book printing. He printed books in several languages – Latin, French, Italian, German, English … but not Irish. He printed rather many things during the last 20 years of his life in American Uncial.

  28. Awesome article- thank you. I own a tattoo shop and I’m part irish. I get so tired of people asking for ‘sell-tic’ crosses and such. How proud of your heritage are you if you can’t pronounce celtic?! I have been selling american uncial to the irish tattoo set but I didn’t know about its roman history- very interesting. I also enjoyed the more recent typographical history. I’ve set type before and the making of physical type in a foundry is so much more interesting than computer files.

    I think some of the other posters here are pretty funny- you have a lot of patience!
    Kevin

  29. Deasmhumhain 13 March 2013 at 21:51

    Actually the Gaelic script was used until 1960 or 1961 in schools. There are some good Gaelic Unicode fonts available & there is an excellent font for writing Irish using the ligatures used in 18th & 19th century manuscripts but unfortunately it is not a Unicode font. If you are interested feel free to text me & I will send you information about them.
    Deasmhumhain MacGearailt
    macgearailtdc@gmail.com

Comments are closed.