The English word, seaweed, does not do justice to Ireland’s richest, replenishable, sustainable resource which we have in abundance around our coasts. It certainly is not a weed.
On the other hand, many Irish language words capture the essence of their subject matter in a richer, more descriptive fashion than English.
This is especially true with Feamainn, the Irish for seaweed, which reflects the important role seaweed extracts play in combatting stress in all life forms.
According to the seminal Dineen’s Irish-English Dictionary(Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla), published in 1904, the first part of the Irish word for seaweed, ‘feam’ translates as sea tail or sea rod.
This understanding of ‘feam’ is backed up the reference in O’Donail’s 1977 Irish-English dictionary where ‘feam’ is described as; a tail, stalk, stem or rod.
The meaning of the second part of the world ‘ainn’ is up for debate and is shrouded in mystery. It may refer to abhainn, a natural flowing watercourse, not necessarily freshwater. This is just one possible interpretation but does seem like a natural one.
The adjectival form, feamnaigh, means covered with seaweed, and in the West Kerry Gaeltacht it is referenced to describe something covered by anything that occurs naturally in the water.
So feamainn probably means flowing sea-rod or flowing sea-tail while the word feamainn is explained by O’Donail as meaning clustered, in the same way that seaweed is when it is attached to the rocks.
Use of the word
Around Ceann Trá (Ventry), three miles west of Dingle, the saying; ‘bíodh an fheamainnaige’ means let let him have his seaweed, another way of saying let him go the devil. The same is said in the Connemara Gaeltacht
In his must-read article in the Irish Times from January 2019, Manchán Magan, wrote about the thorny disagreements that broke out over seaweed rights among rival families along the Atlantic seaboard. There were constant tensions between neighbours over possible encroachments and so it is possible that feamainn became a curse word to fling at your foe. In Connemara, the worst enmity between families is referred to as “spite feamainne”.
Manchán writes: “This interpretation is borne out by the proverb: “Tá mise ceart, bíodh an fheamainn ag an bhfear eile” (“I’m okay, let the guy have the seaweed”). The antagonism over turf-gathering in summer saw its equal and opposite with the practice of seaweed-gathering in winter.
Seaweed contains bioactives, naturally occurring compounds that reduce stress in plants, animals and humans. By extracting them from seaweed, BioAtlantis products strengthen natural defence systems and enhance the innate immunity of animals and humans and mitigate against the impact of climate change.