Expediency Is No Substitute For Commitment

Sinn Féin candidate Lynn Ní Bhaoighealláin, now Boylan…

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.

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15 comments

  1. It seems a fairly obvious atempt to get her name higher on the ballot paper. Its a bit cynical but thats about as far as it goes. I can only assume it was here personal choice, the question is, given that choice on here part, for what ever reason, should the party require her and other candidates to use the Irish version of their name? I would hope not.

    1. Not sure about that. Talking to a few people the alternative motivation put forward was the desire to negate an “awkward” Irish surname that a few voters would be uncomfortable with (pronouncing, etc.). In one way a fair enough point, in another it is giving in to anglocentrism.

      I certainly wouldn’t favour “forced” Irish names. That would be a retrograde thing. Her choice as you say, I just question the motivations around it and the (perhaps) false assumptions on the part of the local SF campaign team.

  2. phoenix, Vol32No10.pdf

    “Embarrassingly, for an Irish language
    enthusiast, SF decided to translate her
    name from Ní Bhaoighealláin to the
    English version, Boylan, shortly after her
    selection, even though her professional
    name, on her qualifi cations and passport,
    is in the Irish language form. That this puts
    her at number one on the ballot paper
    (as opposed to seventh, originally) had
    nothing at all, at all to do with this decision,
    insists SF.”

    cóip seolta chughat @

    1. I sure it didn’t 😉 Well maybe there were multiple reasons. None are particularly worthy of her or Sinn Féin. I remain a voter in search of a party. SF is merely my temporary mooring 🙂

  3. Go raibh maith agat for sharing your thoughts. As an American I know little about the details of Irish politics but have always been interested in learning more. I’m learning Irish and have struggled with whether or not to use the Irish spelling of my name, even for things like my blog. Despite my ignorance, I do tend to agree that it’s still a sign of the effects of imperialism to have to spell your name differently in your own country just to more easily be understood. Resisting that seems the commendable thing, from the perspective of restoring identity and culture and claiming what has always been your own. I in no way wish to say anything that might sound presumptuous as I have only lived my experiences, but as for my opinion, and everyone tends to have one of those regardless, it is what I’ve said.

    1. All opinions are welcome here. Sure if I only talked about what I actually know by experience I’d have a lot less to say! 😉

      I think your point is absolutely right. Names have meaning and import. They can tell us more than just who someone is. And choosing not to use a certain name is indicative of something. In this case, as you say, the effects of imperialism (the cultural legacy of a colonised people). Someone pointed out to me that it is like Hispanic-Americans giving their children non-Hispanic, recognisably WASPish names in order for them to find greater social acceptability. Ramón Estévez became Martin Sheen because he thought it was a more employable stage-name.

      Sad really.

          1. done same – forgotten takes few minutes to fill in two sheets – heard if you ‘x’ one box only, the ballot could be spoiled/disputed @

  4. The Times article is lamentable also in its reference to “Crafty Cuiv dropped the “O” from his name and shot up the ballot paper listings to the top spot.” In fact the correct surname is Cuív and had they bothered to investigate the matter further they would have noted that he was named “Cuív, Éamon Ó” on the ballot as Seosamh Ó Cuaig was listed as “Cuaig, Seosamh Ó” on the last local election.

    The prefix “Ó” (and “Mac” or “Nic”) indicates a relationship and also his gender. His daughter (if he has one) would also be Cuív, Ní rather than Ní Chuív.

    When I was in school the school attendance book was arranged in this way. I was listed “Riain, Eoin Ó” rather than “Ó Riain, Eoin.” Girls with same surname were registered “Riain, Máire, Ní”. This ensures people with the same surnames are listed together when listed alphabetically. It also deals with people who still use the older forms of prefix like “Ua.”

    This lesson appears to have been lost in modern usage leading to confusion and silly uninformed statements like that you quote from in the Times.

    The other question of whether to use the more correct Irish for one’s surname is I think an individual decision in each case. I do however think it is confusing (to say the least) to use both (though there are historic cases where both have been used like for instance PH Pearse!).
    Me? I made the decision as soon as I came to my majority and have used it exclusively whether writing in English, Irish, German or French. (I only have comments made about it in Ireland however – the English French and Germans accept my name as it is!)

    1. Fascinating stuff, Eoin, I was completely unaware of those rules. It makes sense when you see it explained like that. Oh for a bit of Hibernocentrism in our culture, just every now and again 😉

      My experience of having an Irish name/surname matches yours. In my career I’ve never once had a Polish, German, French, Czech or even an American question it. Irish people though…

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