From a profile in today’s Irish Times on Lynn Boylan, formerly Lynn Ní Bhaoighealláin , the Sinn Féin candidate in BÁC for the European Parliament:
“Who is Lynn Boylan/Ni Bhaoighealláin? She is the mystery woman who, in the short course of this European election campaign, has rocketed so far up the opinion polls that she seems a dead cert to take a seat for Sinn Féin in Dublin.
But who is she? Where did she come from? What has she done to emerge from political obscurity a couple of months ago to become the bookie’s favourite? Her electoral track record yields no clues. Boylan, or Lynn Ní Bhaoighealláin as she was known, contested the 2007 general election for Sinn Féin in Kerry South and in 2009, she ran in the local elections in Killarney.
Sometime after that, she reverted to Lynn Boylan. This is a move Fianna Fáil’s Eamon O’Cuiv might appreciate. In the last general election, Crafty Cuiv dropped the “O” from his name and shot up the ballot paper listings to the top spot. But Sinn Féin, as Lynn told us yesterday while out canvassing in her native Tallaght, is not like other parties. “I’m Boylan. When I moved to Kerry I changed it – for no reason in particular, other than I have an aspiration to be fluent in the language. I suppose I liked the idea of using the language in any way I can… But nobody would recognise my Irish name here.”
Which is a fairly piss-poor excuse. I suspect the more honest reason for “dumbing down” her name is the belief by party handlers that the Irish original would put off some English-speaking voters who prefer a crude Anglicisation to the real thing. Given that Ní Bhaoighealláin has a greater “recognition factor” than plain Boylan I’d question the decision but that is not the real issue here. Either Sinn Féin supports the Irish language or it does not. That includes taking the harder road if necessary not the path of least resistance (which contemporary SF now has a tendency to follow). If the optics are everything in modern politics the party which claims to be the most committed to Irish rights preferring to field a candidate with an Anglophone-friendly name tells its own tale to the general public.
Living with an Irish name and surname in Ireland is no easy thing as anyone who has both can tell you. One rapidly comes to terms with casual misspellings, mispronunciations, teasing, jibes, insults and at times downright hostility. I’m pretty sure it has effected the outcome of more than one job application or interview (indeed I was asked in one discussion what my “real” name was and whether I would consider “using” it). Having an Irish language name brings with it more baggage than a 707, and none of it your own. That is why Sinn Féin (and others) putting forward candidates and spokespersons with Irish names is so important. It is another chink in the psychological armour of those media guardians of popular culture in Ireland who regard Irish-speakers as domestic foreigners. As aliens-within.
In many ways I am more favourable to Sinn Féin than any other political party on our island nation but its flexibility in the pursuit of power makes me appreciate some of the criticisms of its detractors. It’s not the message that counts, too often it’s the votes. One has to wonder: if SF are like that in opposition what would they be like in government? Of course we know the answer to that question from the record of the dysfunctional, power-sharing regional administration in the north-east. I may give my first preferences to SF in the coming days but it is not necessarily with any great enthusiasm.