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Kevin Myers: Language busybodies trying to impose Irish upon us by diktat

From last Friday, all new housing developments in Dublin, by law, must be named solely in Irish. Dublin City Council, which in a decade of persistent and triumphant philistinism has undone so much of the history of the city, is now reaching its triumphant apogee: we can now pretend the capital is Irish-speaking by naming places in Irish.

This will change nothing, any more than awarding swimming badges to concrete blocks turns them into butterfly champions, but it does give the appearance of Baile Atha Cliath being Gaeilge agus Saor, Saor agus Gaeilge: and are appearances not the essence of modern Ireland?

Eight years ago, the city council abolished the name Dublin Corporation. This had been the legal name of the governing body of the capital city since 1601, but it had been the informal name of the city government since the Middle Ages. At the same time, ancient terms like 'alderman' and 'town clerk', were removed from the lexicon of the city council.

No doubt to the city councillors, keen to have a bright, shining and modern image, these terms seemed old-fashioned and backward. A comparable but perverse form of modernism was probably responsible for deciding all estates shall henceforth have not an Irish name -- such as Donnybrook or Rathmines or Kilmainham -- but a name actually in the Irish language.

Admittedly, we are likely to have new housing estates in Dublin around the same time as Leitrim puts Carrick-on-Shannon into earth orbit. But nonetheless, the vote satisfied a Currently Prevailing Piety: and the absolute tyranny of CPPs is almost a defining feature of the Irish State (priest-hunting being the latest CPP).

The linguistic history of Dublin is simple. Since the day that it received its royal charter from Henry II, its administrative language has never been Irish, nor has the language of the majority of its citizens. Yes, its two names are from the Irish, just as Londinium was the Roman name for England's capital today. But the origin of a place name doesn't mean that the people who inhabit it speak the tongue from which it derives. Do the inhabitants of Dublin's Rialto speak Venetian?

However, the issue of place names strikes deep into the sensibilities of the language busybodies, who after nearly 90 years of being unable to make the Irish people speak Irish, invariably impose their will by administrative diktat instead.

The Gaeltacht, as a place where only Irish is spoken, is just about dead. That being the case, it then became mandatory for all signs and place names in Gaeltacht areas to be in Irish only, including hazard-warning signs, a failure to understand which could result in death. Serve you right for not speaking Irish.

And we are now all familiar with the melancholy fiasco of Dingle and Daingean, which plumbed a nomenclatural depth we had not seen in a very long time. But that there was even a precedent for the Dingle farce tells us that this language dogma gene is widespread in our governing classes.

In 1942, the government censor told newspapers that use of the place name Kells was forbidden since it was calculated to undermine the national will to resist any invader. (No, I'm not joking). The name Ceanannus Mor should be used at all times. A playful column in The Irish Times then wondered if henceforth the volume of gospels in Trinity College should be known as 'The Book of Ceanannus Mor'. The censor killed the column.

A comparable fear of foreign invaders was presumably in the minds of councillors on Friday. But their resulting ordinance means that if someone wishes to name a housing development after a modern triumph, this can only be done in Irish. So what is the Irish for Rugby Grand Slam Gardens?

And if at some distant day, developers want to name an estate after Mary McAleese, will they have to use a name which she does not go by, Maire Mac Giolla Iosa, in order to conform with this profoundly silly law?

Naturally, Conradh na Gaeilge has welcomed the move (all language bodies historically have welcomed compulsion of any kind, including, historically, the mandatory destruction of entire academic careers for failing Irish). Conradh's Sean O Adhmaill declared: "I am sure that this initiative will increase the use of the national language in this our capital city." No it won't. Navan and Galway both have Irish language place name policies. But in both places -- even Galway, where Irish is still a vernacular -- Mandarin and Polish are probably more commonly used than "the national language".

No one wants to revisit the cultural horrors of Tuscany Downs or Westminster Brae. But it's not necessary to make Irish language names compulsory for estates where none of the inhabitants ever use Irish, merely to prevent a rash of Napoli Dales and Surrey Alps.

But that is not the point. The real underlying purpose is to make yet another genuflection towards the enduring white elephant of language restoration: for has not a legalistic veneration of the language been one of the primary default modes of Irish independence, no matter how worthless and unproductive such veneration has always been?


Irish Independent