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A Sign Of The Times – An Ireland Of Equals

An Irish sign for an Irish Ireland? One day, perhaps.
An Irish sign for an Irish Ireland? One day, perhaps.

There’s news that the National Roads Authority is to consider (and only consider, mind you) a proposal backed by Leo Varadkar, the Minister of Transport, that public road signs in Ireland are to treat the Irish and English languages equally. At the moment all road signs throughout the country are supposedly bilingual in accordance with the Official Languages Act of 2003. However in practice this piece of equality legislation is frequently nullified by various opt-out clauses particularly in the areas of public signage. Furthermore even where bilingual signs do exist the Irish text is often indicated to be of a lesser status through the use of italics, smaller fonts and placements that are too high or too low for reading. This is something that I examined at length back in 2011 when I outlined the discriminatory and confusing nature of Ireland’s English-dominated traffic signs (though as I pointed out then the logical and cost effective solution was and is to restore the Irish language names of the places mentioned on such signs by dropping the 90% anglicised names of Irish originals).

Hopefully the new designs, from a project commissioned by Conradh na Gaeilge, the civil rights group for Irish-speakers, will remedy this anomalous state of affairs by presenting the text of both languages equally, primarily through the use of colour-coding and fonts. As well as taking inspiration from planners and designers at home these new signs will also follow international best practice as seen in numerous bilingual and multilingual nations across Europe. If given the go-ahead (and the NRA has a very poor record of treating Irish-speaking citizens and communities with respect) a number of trials will be rolled out.

Unsurprisingly the reaction from the language extremists within the Anglophone majority has been vociferous to the point of hysterical.

“Why confuse the issue and make driving that little bit more dangerous, just to pander to the usual language fascists? Can we not get over this ridiculous hold that a dead language has on us?”

“…we are squandering money on irrelevant and possibly dangerous “initiatives” just to pander to some largely irrelevant minority.”


“How do crackpot minorities get so many ‘green lights’ for things we can’t afford?”

“It’s just the fanatic Gaelgeoirs persisting in denying that Irish is for all intents and purposes a defunct language.”

“This is the kind of arrant nonsense we have tolerated for years in appeasing the Irish Language Taliban.”

“These new signs, if this idiotic suggestion is adopted, will mean most drivers will be distracted by the irrelevant information which the Irish Language fanatics demand is given “parity of esteem”…”

“Put them into Polish. Or Nigerian”

“…if anything should be done at all then it should be the removal of the Irish from road signs outside of the Geltach areas”

“It’s a joke of a pot pourri makey uppy language”

“Yet again we have the Irish language fascists forcing the ordinary people to experience a language they do not speak! My family is more than 6 generations Irish, at least … and I am as Irish as anyone – I DO NOT WANT TP SPEAK IRISH.”

“Irish is not the language of Ireland. It has not been so for over a century. We should all be extremely grateful this is the case. We could easily have remained the Albania of Western Europe if we were saddled with it.”

Same old, same old then. I wonder will the English-speaking supremacists who make living in Ireland as an Irish-speaker such a joy resort to the old solution of vandalism, paintbrush or gun in hand? At least Leo Varadkar sees the importance of equality for Ireland’s bilingual citizens, something perhaps not unrelated to his leadership ambitions within the currently governing Fine Gael party.

(With thanks to An Lorcánach)

32 comments on “A Sign Of The Times – An Ireland Of Equals

  1. Perhaps Ireland is finally entering the 21st century?

    List of European Union nations where official bilingualism or multilingualism is legislated for in public and/or private services:

    Austria, one official language, German. Croatian, Hungarian and Slovenian official regional languages.

    Belgium, three official languages: Dutch, French and German.

    Croatia, one official language, Croatian. Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Ruthenian, Serbian and Slovakian official regional languages.

    Czech Republic, one official language, Czech. Polish official regional language.

    Cyprus, two official languages, Greek and Turkish.

    Denmark, one official language. German and Faroese official regional languages.

    Estonia, one official language, Estonian. Russian official community language.

    Finland, two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Sami official regional language.

    Germany, one official language, German. Low Saxon, Frisian, Romany, Danish and Sorbian official regional languages.

    Italy, one official language, Italian. German, French, Slovene, Ladin, Sardu, Friuli, Occitan official regional languages.

    Luxembourg, three official languages, Luxembourgish, French and German.

    Malta, two official languages, Maltese and English.

    The Netherlands, two official languages, Dutch and Frisian. Low Saxon and Limburgish official regional languages.

    Portugal, one official language, Portuguese. Mirandese official regional language.

    Poland, one official language. German and Kashubian official regional languages.

    Romania, one official language, Romanian. Hungarian and seven other languages official regional languages.

    Slovenia, one official language, Solvene. Italian and Hungarian official regional languages.

    Slovakia, one official language, Slovak. Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian official regional languages.

    Spain, one official language, Spanish. Basque, Galician, Valencian, Catalan and Aranese official regional languages.

    Sweden, one official language, Swedish. Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani and Sami official regional languages.

    Switzerland, four official languages, German, French, Italian and Romansh.

    United Kingdom, two official regional languages, Welsh and Scottish.


  2. As for Germany, you forgot Sorbian, the official regional language of Lusatia and the Spree woodlands – a Western Slav language.


  3. I’m an immigrant from Latvia currently living and working in Ireland.
    When we got independence from Russia/USSR we simply painted over all Russian language signs, and passed a law that all new signs should be in Latvian only.
    Like that:

    Not only all Latvians speak Latvian – absolute majority of Russians speak it too.
    Hell, even most of those Russians who campaigned against independence and tried to make Russian an official language are fluent Latvian speakers.

    And we got independence less than 25 years ago.

    Why can’t you do the same here in Ireland?

    I would not mind in the slightest if all the signs were in Irish only.
    People who say that Irish signs would confuse tourists are idiots – I actually like them, because they are one of the few things that remind me that I’m in Ireland not in some kind of Little Britain.


    • Very good points, Jānis. I actually posted someone saying something similar before, a letter from an immigrant girl to Ireland who simply couldn’t understand why the Irish disdain their own language and culture. She was mystified by it and why the Irish wanted to be so “British”. I’ve had people from Poland, Germany, Italy and Spain make similar points to me. They can’t understand why Irish people claim Ireland being Irish-speaking would be any different from their non-English speaking homelands.

      As one person said to me the truth is that it is about English and an extreme Anglophone minority who believe it should be the only language in Ireland for complex post-colonial reasons.

      I struggle to explain why we are so different, so colonised in our mentality as a people, a nation.


      • Extreme minority?
        I am software developer working in Dublin.
        All non-immigrants at my workplace speak only English.
        Every single label or sign is in English.
        All documentation, source code, etc are in English and English only.
        Our website is available in 20 languages and Irish is not one of them.

        I arrived here about 6 months ago and I haven’t heard anyone speaking Irish (only on the radio),
        That looks like an absolute majority to me.

        Before I arrived here I thought that Irish is more popular..
        I knew that English is dominant.
        But still expected to hear Irish from time to time – but no – I hear Latvian more frequently than Irish.


        • an lorcánach

          Speaking Irish in public isn’t considered ‘the done thing’ by most people over the age of 25 who were ‘educated’ in mainly Catholic-run state schools unfortunately, Jānis — independent thought and civic republicanism were not encouraged in free-schools — a herd mentality among the wider conformist Irish society means ‘ambition’ and ‘patriotism’ are considered with envy and suspicion respectively!


          • Are you saying that people are afraid or ashamed to speak Irish in public?
            Despite the fact that you can hear many foreign languages everywhere in Dublin.
            At my workplace immigrants speak their own languages all the time.


            • Jānis, sorry for the confusion, when I said “extreme minority” I was referring to the minority of English-speakers in Ireland who are so pathologically hostile to Irish-speakers. In my experience the majority of English-speakers are simply indifferent or are supportive. Monolingual English-speakers are of course the vast majority of the country’s population. There is also up to 10% of the population who are functionally bilingual (fluent in Irish and English) who form the Irish-speaking minority (the claim that Irish-speakers form 1%-3% of the population is based on popular Anglophone mythology and a deliberate misreading of the statistics. There is also a monolingual Irish-speaking population, though that is in the dozens or low hundreds and all of pre-school age. I do not think any adult monolingual speakers are now alive).

              I work in a major company in Ireland where our largest department has a 60%+ non-Irish workforce. Overall the number of non-Irish staff is 30-40%. Because a significant minority of staff are Polish nationals all HR policies are produced in Polish alongside English since the company commits itself to producing documents in the native languages of its workforce where they reach a certain percentage. When some members of staff asked for an Irish language version they were laughed at and the request dismissed out of hand.

              Around three or four years ago a manager in the company tackled me on speaking Irish in a very argumentative and in your face manner and “advised” me that if I wanted to speak the language I should go live in a rural Irish-speaking area and not live or work in Dublin. Two years ago when talking by internal company email in Irish with another staff member I was instructed to use English only by another manager (though with a “please”). Ironically the company bans members of staff using any language but English in the work-place and staff-members can- and are – reported for speaking in Polish, Lithuanian, etc. So far no one has reported me for speaking Irish though it would make an interesting court case.

              As to why we are a culturally dysfunctional nation, perhaps this might give part of the answer.


  4. an lorcánach

    giorraíonn beirt bóthar 😉 —


    • an lorcánach

      On the button, Jānis! – I’m sure a behavioural psychologist, a social anthropologist and historian could sell any book explaining this if it were published internationally (most Irish are insecure and crave validation from foreigners) — to be honest, there are ten years’ at least of recession ahead and nothing has really been learned from the property bubble (or 2001’s tech bubble) and judging from a poll this week (reliable or not) that 70 percent of Irish are satisfied to remain in the euro, fear and the inability to embrace change as a natural part of life has a lot to with it (a carry-over from familial trauma through generations)


      • 70 percent of Irish are satisfied to remain in the euro
        Is that a bad thing?


        • an lorcánach

          In November 2001 I was too busy obsessing about an oracle programmer in a previous job (which she and I left but for different reasons!) when instead I wasn’t engaging at all in the almost non-debate that was the January 2002 euro introduction – and the death of what had been called euphemisticly “the Irish pound” — perhaps some Latvians may come to regret same after January next as many Irish nationalists are doing, and instead of trade treaties with the EU, they are subsumed into the greater european federalised union @


        • Personally speaking I am in two minds about the euro currency. I see both the benefits and non-benefits of membership/use. There is an argument in Ireland that if we had followed the Norwegian example of retaining our own currency we would have been better off financially in the economic downturn and been spared the imposition of the Troika, etc. I am not convinced either way.


          • an lorcánach

            Nothing declares to the world more that a country is an independent nation-state than having their own currency – I’d have believed that was what national self-determination was all about: nothing angers up the blood more than the bogeyman attributed to the IMF than Quinn/ Hayes talking about “regaining our sovereignty” in January when there’s the Fiscal Treaty, Lisbon Treaty, Monetary Union and European Commission oversight with us for evermore @


      • an lorcánach

        “Impact of Great Famine on mental health examined at Science Week”


        • Ok that was strange. I was just commenting on the Gorta Mór elsewhere, discussing it with those who take a more charitable view of British intentions.

          Sinéad O’Connor (yes, I know) wrote something very similar years ago in the lyrics of her song “Famine” and was widely satirised for it by the “genocide-deniers” of the media:

          “OK, I want to talk about Ireland
          Specifically I want to talk about the “famine”
          About the fact that there never really was one
          There was no “famine”
          See Irish people were only ALLOWED to eat potatoes
          All of the other food
          Meat fish vegetables
          Were slipped out of the country under armed guard
          To England while the Irish people starved
          And then on the middle of all this
          They gave us money not to teach our children Irish
          And so we lost our history
          And this is what I think is still hurting me

          See we’re like a child that’s been battered
          Has to drive itself out of it’s head because it’s frightened
          Still feels all the painful feelings
          But they lose contact with the memory

          And this leads to massive self-destruction
          All desperate attempts at running
          And in it’s worst form
          Becomes actual killing

          And if there ever is gonna be healing
          There has to be remembering
          And then grieving
          So that there then can be forgiving
          There has to be knowledge and understanding

          An American army regulation
          Says you mustn’t kill more than 10% of a nation
          ‘Cos to do so causes permanent “psychological damage”
          It’s not permanent but they didn’t know that
          Anyway during the supposed “famine”
          We lost a lot more than 10% of a nation
          Through deaths on land or on ships of emigration
          But what finally broke us was not starvation
          BUT IT’S USE IN THE CONTROLLING OF OUR EDUCATION Schools go on about “Black 47”
          On and on about “The terrible “famine””
          But what they don’t say is in truth
          There really never was one

          So let’s take a look shall we
          The highest statistics of child abuse in the EEC
          And we say we’re a Christian country
          But we’ve lost contact with our history
          See we used to worship God as a mother
          We’re sufferin from POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
          Look at all our old men in the pubs
          Look at all our young people on drugs
          We used to worship God as a mother
          Now look at what we’re doing to each other
          We’ve even made killers of ourselves
          The most child-like trusting people in the Universe
          And this is what’s wrong with us
          Our history books THE PARENT FIGURES lied to us

          I see the Irish As a race like a child
          That got itself bashed in the face
          And if there ever is gonna be healing
          There has to be remembering And then grieving
          So that there then can be FORGIVING
          There has to be KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING”


          • an lorcánach

            Shocking stuff, Sionnach – I read Thomas Keneally’s ‘The Great Shame’ fifteen years ago but hadn’t heard outcome of legal conference in the U.S. after listening to interview about it a year ago — – bit grating though listening to former editor of Irish Press (and virulent Gaelophobe) Tim Pat Coogan! @


            • I’m afraid I have to plead to ignorance on Coogan’s attitudes to Irish. I have heard him discuss the language a couple of times in interviews (albeit as a tangent) but heard nothing untoward. I suspect I’m going to learn something bad now… 😉


              • an lorcánach

                “I developed a hatred of the Irish language” – TPC – – not sure anything in Ray Burke’s ‘Decline and Fall of the “Irish Press”‘ (Currach Press, 2005) – will get back to you after talking to by Daid (not a fan of TPC!) @


  5. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 50 years. I find personally as someone who is putting a considerable amount of time into learning Irish that the road signs and place name along with other things being shown in Irish is actually really useful, despite not having a huge amount of people in Dublin that I can speak Irish with on a daily basis. What is very clear to me is that when a language is disregarded and constantly belittled it always shows a deeper hatred for what it represents. Just a little off topic thing- recently in the papers I saw the Romani/Romanes language which I can speak at a medium level being refereed to as “Romani dialect” which is actually ridiculous because the Romani language is a complete language totally distinct from any other and is allot older than even the English language. I


    • Jack, I absolutely agree. Seeing signs in Irish or bilingually are a great help when learning the Irish language because it helps you to think in Irish. It is also a form of visual reassurance, a sign of equality, a sign that by speaking the language you are not any lesser to your monolingual English-speaking peers. I also love the way that Irish language signs and names convey more than their mongrel English translations or Anglicisations. Drogheda conveys nothing, just the name of a town. Droichead Átha on the other hands conveys its true meaning and history, the “bridge of the ford”. 90% of Irish placenames are the same. You don’t just see Irish language names of places, you read them.


      • This is something I have been thinking about recently- the madness of some of the anglicized names- many of them are really crazy when you think about the fact that the English versions are essentially nonsense. I mean what does Finglas mean? Fionnghlas has a meaning though and so it is with many of the names and although I am not exactly sure as to the method that was used to change them, the more Irish I learn, the more I look at some of these names and conclude that they were simply created to try to make ‘nice English’ versions of a ‘barbaric tongue’. It’s even worse when people complain about the original names being shown and Irish people actually seeing it as some sort of fascism.


        • Totally agree, Jack. Why should we not use Sord instead of Swords, Mullach Íde instead of Malahide? Honestly to say that the Irish names would confuse English and non-English speakers is utter and complete crap. Have you ever seen a British or American try and pronounce Tallaght? They sure as hell don’t drop the -ght.

          Drop the anglicisations, use the originals. That is the way to avoid confusion.


  6. Pádraig Ó Déin

    I’m at college in NUI Galway now, and it’s great in regards to the Irish language. We have Áras na Gaeilge where only Irish is spoken. There is also a Bia Léinn there where you can practice speaking Irish. Raidió na Gaeltachta is always on and sometimes people go there to practice playing traditonal music, kinda like an informal session. I’ve had great conversations in Irish with a good few people. Even with an Englishman learning Irish, who says it’s ridiculous that the Irish don’t speak Irish! I’ve found that the more I listen to native speakers and use it on a daily basis the better I get at speaking and understanding Gaeilge.

    But my friends in college hate it when I speak Irish or when I go to the Áras, simply because they don’t like it, I was having a conversation with another person with great Irish and we were told to stop by a person who one would label as a D4.


    • Someone told you to stop speaking Irish even though you were not speaking to him at all?
      No one does that to me when I’m speaking with my friends in Latvian.
      And if someone did that I would tell him to f**k off and mind his own business.


      • I’ve had similar experiences, Jānis, not to mention the “looks” you get when speaking Irish. There is someone that I work with intermittently who used to be quite friendly with me until the person realised that my full name was in Irish and their comment was “I didn’t know you were into that?”. Since then things have been decidedly cold and apparently several comments have been made behind my back. I won’t say it is the norm but it is not the first time this has happened to me.


      • Pádraig Ó Déin

        I tell you the story, friend. I had just come from a society meeting with two other friends when I encoutered an acquaintence of mine. We didn’t know each other much and so we got talking. I discovered she spoke Irish and we proceed to have the rest of the conversation through Gaeilge. As we were having the conversation this D4 acquaintence came over to the group. When she heard us speaking Irish she told us to stop and speak English, even though we weren’t talking to her.

        I find it suprising that the same people I know who are passionate about feminism, equal rights, etc. (this girl is) have a great disdain towards Irish.


        • an lorcánach

          A second insult, Pádraig, would be when it happens again to someone else – and we don’t hear about the person being laughed at if an official complaint were made to the ‘equality authority’ @


    • Oh I have had that latter experience, as in “Do you have to talk that shite around me?”


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