A Word From Japan, the occasional blog of an Irishman who was formerly resident in the Land of the Rising Sun, highlights the manner in which the indigenous language of the island of Ireland is used, abused and most of all, simply ignored.

Más fiú é a dhéanamh, is fiú é a dhéanamh i gceart

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Here’s the road sign of the street where I live now:

South Dublin, a bastardised Irish language road sign: “Ascaill Bhaile Shealin” instead of the correct version “Ascaill Bhaile Sheáin” (or “Ascaill Bhaile Eoin”)
South Dublin, a bastardised Irish language road sign: “Ascaill Bhaile Shealin” instead of the correct version “Ascaill Bhaile Sheáin” (or “Ascaill Bhaile Eoin”)

The Irish version has an error: it says “Ascaill Bhaile Shealin” instead of “Ascaill Bhaile Sheáin” (or even better, “Ascaill Bhaile Eoin”).

Here’s the street sign of the road where I grew up:

South Dublin, a bastardised Irish language road sign: “Bóthar Bhaile Bhrice” instead of the correct version “Bóthar Bhaile Bhríde”
South Dublin, a bastardised Irish language road sign: “Bóthar Bhaile Bhrice” instead of the correct version “Bóthar Bhaile Bhríde”

This one says “Bóthar Bhaile Bhrice” instead of “Bóthar Bhaile Bhríde”.

This kind of mistake, which is extremely common in this area, suggests to me that the people commissioning the signs just don’t care whether they are right or wrong.

These are not “typos” or slips; it’s obvious that the people actually making the signs don’t know any Irish, and are just blindly (and incompetently) copying a meaningless string of letters.

(Though that in itself is hardly an excuse; if it was your job to copy down three words in an unfamiliar language, if that was how you earned your living, would you not double-check to make sure you got it right?)

But the customer, in this case Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county council, clearly doesn’t see the need for any quality control. They just order the signs, and then whatever random words come back, put them on permanent public display.

“Bóther Dúnta” instead of “Bóthar Dúnta”; “Deislú Droichid” instead of “Deisiú Droichid”.

Bastardised Irish language public road signs in Dublin: “Bóther Dúnta” instead of the correct version “Bóthar Dúnta”, and “Deislú Droichid” instead of “Deisiú Droichid”
Bastardised Irish language public road signs in Dublin: “Bóther Dúnta” instead of the correct version “Bóthar Dúnta”, and “Deislú Droichid” instead of “Deisiú Droichid”

This kind of haphazard approach makes a mockery of the policy of official bilingualism. If even the people tasked with maintaining a token presence of the Irish language on street signs can’t be bothered to get it right, is it worth continuing at all?

To me, it is. I love to be reminded of the poetry and history embodied in the local Irish place names as I go about my daily life; Cill Iníon Léinín, Gleann na gCaorach, Baile na Manach alongside Killiney, Glenageary and Monkstown.

But I wish the local authorities would make the small extra effort to get it right. Déan é i gceart nó ná déan é!

10 comments on “Second-Class Irish

  1. The English Market in Cork City had a sign put up outside it once by the council which read “An Margadh Béarla”. Shows you the ineptitude of these gombeens. A friend once booked her driving test as Gaeilge and when the instructor showed up on the day he said “Conas atá tú? I don’t have much Irish so we will have t sit this in English”.

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  2. Pádraig Ó Déin

    Same problems out west here. You will often get mis-spellings. For example, the other day I was travelling to ferbane in Offaly. The sign on the way in said An Fear Bán which I took to mean ” The White Man”, which I thought to be strange. I asked a local about the peculiar name and it came from. Then he told me that it was an incorrect spelling. It was meant to say An Féar Bán, “The White Grass”.

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  3. Aistritheoir Gaeilge

    Seol gearán ríomhphoist chuig Máirín Mac Góráin ag corp@dlrcoco.ie. Is í an tOifigeach Forbartha Gaeilge sa Chomhairle Contae ansin. Is maith an seans go gceartófar iad má chuireann tú ar an eolas í.

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  4. We get the same problem here in Wales. Not so much with place names (though, it does happen). It’s actually created a new Welsh word – ‘sgymraeg’ (sgym pronounced as ‘scum’ in English):

    http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/10554997.Council_blunder_puts_wrong_Welsh_on_Newport_roadsign/?action=complain&cid=11834384

    And the infamous (and funny were it not so sad):

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7702913.stm

    ond slightly different note, interesting to see the linguistic relationship between Welsh and Irish:

    Fear = gwr (man) in Welsh
    Féar = gwair (grass)

    is Bán a mutated or masculine form of the Irish word for white (fionn?).

    White is ‘gwyn’ in Welsh (also a popular boys name, with ‘Gwen’, the feminine for white also a popular name for girls and the root of several other names).

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    • Irish bán “white, pale, pure” is derived from Proto-Celtic *bānos “white”. This also gives Welsh can “bleached, white”.

      Irish fionn “white, fair (blonde)” is derived from Proto-Celt *windos / *vindos. This also gives Welsh gwyn.

      And some English nationalist-academics claim there were no such thing as the Celtic peoples? Really? 😉

      I’ve heard the Welsh stories. As always the Celtic nations share so much in common – good and bad.

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  5. In fairness to Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council, they’re making quite the effort to replace bad Irish. I’ve sent them a few emails and the signs have been fixed in days. Also, they’re the only local authority that I know of that has made the decision to make Irish as visible as the English on their streetname signs (see the Johnstown Ave picture for the new style). They’ve also started a policy of doing bilingual/monolingual (in Irish only where everyone knows the Irish, scoil, mar shampla.) road markings, something which I’ve never seen outside of the Gaeltacht.

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