For the last decade and more I’ve worked for a company in Ireland that is a major subsidiary of an international corporation with several different facilities in the country employing large multinational workforces. Through my role in that company I’ve worked with or met literally hundreds of people from Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Nigeria, Somalia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Singapore, China and many other nations. During all that time and all those people my Irish name and surname has never been an issue, has never been an obstacle, has never been seen as anything unusual. Even native English-speakers from outside of Ireland, be they British or American, simply accepted it as just another name amongst dozens or hundreds they may have encountered in non-English languages during their careers.
The only people who have ever made an issue of my name during my working life, or more particularly the combination of a forename and surname in the Irish language, have been Irish people. Again and again I have been challenged by Irish people for having an Irish name. Again and again Irish people have stumbled over its use, casually mispronounced or misspelled it, ridiculed it, disparaged it, tried to force assumed English “translations” of it on me or otherwise expressed that “attitude” that all Irish-speakers in Ireland would recognise. Not everyone, by no means, and not the majority. But certainly enough to make it noticeable, enough to make it at times a source of anxiety, frustration or anger.
But have I responded in kind? Have I tried to restore the surnames of colleagues from Ireland to their original Irish form or Irishify peoples’ names? Have I mispronounced or misspelled anglicised Irish names or non-Irish names? Of course not. Like most citizens of Ireland with a combination of forename and surname in the indigenous language of Ireland more often than not I have simply let the petty insults and hurts pass by. It is strange how quickly one can become inured to such things, how quickly one learns to live with casual discrimination when it has been a feature of all of one’s adult life. So in an international company where pained efforts are made to correctly spell and pronounce non-English names, where a recognition and respect for multiculturalism is written into the HR rules, I have become over the years an occasional target for a militant anglophone few.
However I have always known that my experiences are the experiences of many, many others in Ireland and that they reflect something greater and wider in Irish society Marcus Ó Buachalla, sports journalist and member of the PR firm Pembroke Communications, has a lengthy article on The Score examining the discriminatory practice still favoured by some Irish news and current affairs media of anglicising Irish names and surnames. In effect inventing or assigning English language names for men, women and children with Irish language names:
“IT WAS EARLIER yesterday morning and the text read loud and clear. “Irish Times tar éis ainmneacha Choláiste Eoin a aistriú go béarla…”
The text was from my brother and like me he is a former pupil of Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan, the Irish language secondary school.
The text went on some more but the gist of it being that a colleague of his, and parent of one of the current pupils in Coláiste Eoin, had spotted that the write up in the sports supplement which should have referred to her son, his team-mates and his school referred to another team altogether.
The school name was right. The opposition was right. The final score was right; a two-point win for Kilkenny CBS. Yet this was not the Coláiste Eoin team that had left Stillorgan for an away game in Clonad.
Instead of Dara Ó Gallchobhair, it read Dara Gallagher. Colm O’Neill I presume must have referred to Colm Ó Néill. I could go on but I think you can probably see where I am going. One to 15 all had very different names to the official team list as provided to the matchday referee and to media.
It brought me back. In 1998 as a student in Coláiste Eoin, the school was asked to provide our names in English ahead of an All-Ireland colleges semi-final. We refused to do so. This was our starting 15. These are our names.The repercussions were not significant but rather than being a nice memento to keep, the matchday programme of that day is but a token of the win over Coláiste Chríost Rí. No team photo. No introduction from local journalists like Niall Scully or Kevin Nolan outlining our journey to date. We were ignored apart from the team sheet but that was enough for us. Twenty eight names agus gach ceann as gaeilge.
I felt so strongly about this back then that I wrote to The Irish Times and my letter was duly printed. Would you ask for an English translation of Francois Mitterand I asked? Or Nelson Mandela? Clearly some would back then and still would to this day.
I feel as strongly about this issue today as I did in 1998 and my emotions are the same but at least in 1998 we had the chance to take a stand. These lads did not. Your name and surname is more than just a title. It can often mean something. It can be a name handed down through the generations, a tip of the hat towards a lost friend, sibling or parent.
This isn’t about being an Irish language speaker nor am I on another gaeilgeoir rant. It is however absolutely 100% about standing up to an attitude that seeks to embarrass Irish language speakers into turning their back on the language.”
In the words of M. John Harrison:
““Identity is not negotiable. An identity you have achieved by agreement is always a prison.”
- Move Over Belfast – Welcome To Béal Feirste (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Angloban Ignorance Posing As Informed Commentary (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The Erosion Of Irish-Language Journalism (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Sláintegate – The Irish Independent Newspaper And A Mysterious Report (ansionnachfionn.com)
- There’s No Irish In Ireland! (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Foclóir, The New Online English-Irish Dictionary (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The End Of Gaelscéal? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Why The Past Is A Guide To The Future (ansionnachfionn.com)