Restoring our Gaelic placenames
BY GERRY McGEOUGH
There's a beautiful bay near the tip of Mizen Head in West
Cork called Barley Cove. Signposts in the area give its Gaelic
version as Baigh Na Heornan, and for me this illustrates
perfectly the absurdity of the official so-called bilingual
approach to placenames in the 26 Counties.
I don't know
who churns out these signs, but if the bureaucrats involved had
bothered to consult with Irish language and cultural enthusiasts
in the area, they wouldn't have made the mistake of assuming that
the `Barley' concerned was the English version of an agricultural
crop, which they then translated accordingly. What we have here
is actually a bizarre double corruption of the Gaelic placenames
Cobh Barr Liath - The Bay of the Grey Headland.
The official approach to placenames in the 26 Counties has
little or nothing to do with bilingualism. If we had `The Fort of
the Foreigners' and `Two Lake Valley' alongside `Dún na
nGall' and `Gleann dá Locha' now that would be bilingual;
but the current `Donegal' and `Glendalough' are merely gibberish.
These are English phonetic renditions of the original Irish and
might just as easily have ended up as `Tonnycal' and
`Glendilock', depending on the disposition of the English
military surveyor of the time.
To put it in another perspective, `der Kaffen' and `Majau'
might be good German renditions of `An Cabhán' and `Maigh
Eo', but linguistically they are just as meaningless as Cavan and
Mayo, and equally insulting to the original Gaelic.
At the last Ard Fheis, the Trinity College Sinn Féin
cumann forwarded a motion to the effect that a future Sinn
Féin government would commit itself to a root and branch
Gaelicisation of all placenames in the country and, by extension,
the dumping of all foreign renditions. In other words, why bother
with Mallow and Enniskillen when we can just as easily say and
use Maigh Ealla and Inis Caitlín? Apart from the
satisfaction of undoing the English colonial legacy, the
implementation of this policy would ensure a deep, long-term
effect on the psyche of this nation. Not only could we inculcate
a sense of national pride in the overt reclaiming of our
territorial culture, but we would also create a general climate
favourable to the overall promotion of Gaelic culture in all its
It was interesting to note that some of the West Brit press
tried to ridicule our motion, and for me this was very
encouraging. These are the people who are continuously trying to
undermine and eradicate Irish-Ireland and all manifestations of
republicanism and nationalism, and they know a threat when they
Again, though, our greatest obstacle is indifference, and many
people might be inclined to ask if such a project were feasible.
Happily, we can point to tangible examples. In the 1920s, it was
the norm to speak of Kingstown and Queenstown and places like
Queen's County. Yet within a generation, people were comfortable
with the original Gaelic of Dún Laoghaire, Cobh and Laois.
Who in their right mind would send a letter to Queen's County
nowadays and expect it to get there? Had the powers that were
simply Gaelicised every placename in the country at the time,
they would now roll off our tongues effortlessly.
Still, it's never too late and this is yet another area where
Sinn Féin can set the train in motion.