The challenge of reading Old Irish orthography can be briefly stated: all the letters representing consonants have multiple phonemic values. The pronunciation of a letter is determined mainly by its position in relation to other letters in the same word, and in the case of initial letters, by the influence of preceding words.
(Note that the lenited forms of “g, d, b, m” came to be written “gh, dh, bh, mh” in later Irish. Since these letter combinations were foreign to Latin, however, the writers of Old Irish apparently did not feel comfortable adopting them just yet. In any case, as native speakers of the language, they could usually automatically supply the lenited pronunciation from context.)
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