Some time back Éamon Ó Cuív, a minister in the Fianna Fáil government, made a dramatic
impact on the Irish landscape with only the stroke of a pen. He decided
to do away with the insane idea that places should have two (or more)
names. Thus Gweedore will now only be known officially as Gaoth
Dobhair, Downings as na Dúnaibh and Carroroe as an Cheathrú Rua.
OK, OK, I know, it's just Gaeltacht areas, but the idea is
still a good one. And why should he stop there? Why not foster this
bold move and get our place names back on an even keel.
Should we not just drop those extra versions which the British
sappers so conveniently burdened us with during the nineteenth century?
(It need not be said but this ordnance survey was provided for the
better 'governance' of us savages, a sort of 'I name it I take it'
We all know that the correct Irish versions mean something;
Belfast is the mouth of the River Fearsaid (Béal Feirste), the name
Shankill has nothing to do with murder but rather refers to an old
church. Even Castlereagh means the dark castle (an Caisleán Riabhach).
For a lot of the names we do not have much to change to say
them correctly. If anyone remembers any of Eric Waugh's reports for the
BBC then they are getting close to how pronounce the name of this city,
for example. Most local people know how to pronounce the place names in
their local area.
At least it couldn't be any worse than the so-called English
language attempts at producing what the original was. Just try
convincing someone from England that Lavey, Taughmonagh or Kircubbin
are really English and they will laugh at you.
The truth of the matter is that our place names are real,
honest to goodness Irish words and we just can't get away from that no
matter how much 'those who know best' may try to jiggle them about.
Don't let anyone tell that the 'English' language version is correct.
It is not. In this crazy mixed-up world white is black and black is
Throughout the world no other country has tried to hoodwink
itself on this question. Just look at how proud the Welsh are of their
place names the next time you visit Caerdydd.
Indeed, when Dr Bruce Griffiths introduced his Welsh
dictionary he said that he threw in a few place names which happened to
be on the other side of the English-Welsh border. The reason he gave
was that these places should never have been lost to England and he was
giving them their correct versions for the time when they would be
That is the sort of attitude we need here and less talk of all
the tourists we will lose. We want tourists who appreciate our culture,
not those who will destroy the place.
So fair play to Éamon for getting the ball rolling, but let's see his plans rolled out through the rest of the country!