Current Affairs Politics The Irish Language - An Ghaeilge

North Korea Meets North Ireland

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland – The Last Remnant Of The British Colony In Ireland

Defenders and apologists for the British colonial state in the north-east of Ireland claim that the artificial entity is now a Western-style democracy, regardless of its gerrymandered and totalitarian past. That may be so but the democratic culture found in “Northern Ireland” frequently reminds one more of North Korea than it does of the European Union or United States. From the BBC:

“A judge has thrown out a legal bid to overturn a council block on putting bilingual signs on a Belfast street.

He dismissed all grounds of challenge to the denial of street signs in English and Irish at Ballymurphy Drive.

He rejected claims it was unreasonable to have a policy requiring a two-thirds majority of households to declare in favour of a second street name.

He said it was particularly important in Northern Ireland to have convincing evidence in favour of change.

“In those circumstances it cannot be unreasonable to require clear and convincing evidence on the part of those who occupy the street that they want an additional street name plate in another language apart from English.”

Lawyers for Ballymurphy Drive resident Eileen Reid said the refusal was unlawful and in breach of an obligation to promote Irish.

Out of 92 eligible residents on the street canvassed by Belfast City Council, 52 confirmed they wanted Irish signs, with only one opposed.

But because the other 39 did not respond to the survey the two-thirds requirement was not met.

The judge said he was not concerned with the merits of whether there should be an Irish sign at Ballymurphy Drive.

He was only examining whether the council’s process was lawful, he said.

Rejecting all other arguments in the judicial review challenge, he described the contention that non-voters should not have been taken into account as “fundamentally flawed”.

He added: “Those who did not return their surveys can have been in no doubt as to the consequences of their inaction.””

So 57% of eligible voters took part in a ballot that returned a 98% Yes vote in favour of bilingual street signs. However because 43% of eligible voters failed to take part in the plebiscite the result is considered invalid. This despite the fact that those who failed to vote or who voted No only formed 44% of the total electorate while those who voted Yes formed 56%. That is not democracy or anything close to it. It is the same old British and Unionist electoral sleight-of-hand that has characterized Britain’s claimed authority in Ireland for the past century and more. Though this time with an added touch of judicial mind-reading thrown in for good measure.

Peace process? Yeah right, sing me another hallelujah chorus from that increasingly tattered hymn-sheet. As has been cynically remarked before, what’s the real difference between civil rights for Irish Nationalists and civil rights for Irish-speakers? About two tonnes of Semtex…

Meanwhile Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí offers this summation in the Irish Times:

“You know it has been a pretty grim year for the Irish language when it fell to Gregory Campbell to provide the light relief.

Reviews of the MP’s “curry my yoghurt, can coca coalyer” routine were mixed, with many failing to acknowledge the comic genius involved in parodying both the Irish language and the stereotype of the humourless DUP man in one yoghurt-based gag.

Down South on Lá Mór na Gaeilge, thousands of Irish speakers were “dearg le fearg” as they marched in support of the first ever Coimisinéir Teanga’s decision to resign in protest at Government failures to support the language.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny responded by appointing a self-professed non-Irish speaker as Minister of State for the Gaeltacht.

The new minister, Joe McHugh, began his tenure by inviting the people of Ireland to go “on a journey” with him as he tried to learn the language.

As someone who is essentially learning a language at the behest of his boss, it would be churlish to begrudge Mr McHugh the simple pleasures that are enjoyed by learners of languages the world over.

…but we should also spare a thought for those who have already been on this journey and are, therefore, excluded from sharing in his excitement.

Take, for example, the people of the Gaeltacht who were once considered so important that they merited a senior Irish-speaking Minister all of their own.

Then again the leaders of the 1916 Rising were once held to be so important that they were routinely included in any narrative of the 1916 Rising.

There was also much dismay at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s admission that Google Translate had been used to provide the Irish language text for

The 1916 video did, however, get one thing right.

In using as its soundtrack a toothsome pop song in Irish to add a little ‘native’ flavour to proceedings, the much maligned video captured perfectly the prevailing view of the language as pleasant background noise, an innocuous pursuit best left to the enthusiast.

A Millward Brown/ opinion poll published in October showed that a large majority of the population believe that the State should do more to support the Irish language.

Unfortunately, this particular strain of enthusiasm for Irish among the public is never regarded by policy makers as evidence of a possible mandate to radically change their approach to preserving the language.

Instead the State continues to relinquish its responsibility for ensuring that Irish survives as the language of the home and the community in those areas where it is still spoken by a majority.

…risible reforms proposed for the Civil Service fail even to guarantee public services in Irish to Irish-speaking communities.

Everywhere you look, the State is turning its back on its role in the safe-guarding of Irish for future generations, so much so that a few Irish speakers have called for a referendum on the language’s constitutional status.

Has it really come to this?

The broadcaster Dara Ó Cinnéide tells a story about a question he was asked a number of years ago in a shop located less than an hour’s drive from his home in the Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht.

The former Kerry footballer was conversing in Irish with a colleague when the shopkeeper interrupted them. “Tell me, are there many more of ye back there?” she asked.

There’s still a few, but they’d be forgiven if their enthusiasm is waning.”


A suggested template for bilingual Irish and English language signs in Ireland
A suggested template for bilingual Irish and English language signs in Ireland

However there is some good news from the Limerick Leader, albeit with a caveat:

“THE Irish language looks set to get parity on new road signs in Limerick following a motion by councillor Séighin Ó Ceallaigh.

The Sinn Fein city east councillor had a notice of motion passed at the last full meeting calling on the council to introduce a bye-law to have the Irish language and English language names spelt in the same font size on name plates, directional signs, and name plates. He wants to see a Gaelic-style font used in order to differentiate between Irish and English names.

It was unanimously passed by councillors…

“I am delighted that the Council has passed this motion and that we are taking a step in the right direction by promoting language equality. I was never happy with the state of signs in Limerick or throughout the State, where Irish was in a much smaller font, or not on the signs at all. From now on every permanent, non traffic sign erected throughout Limerick will have both languages in equal size,” he said.

Cllr Ó Ceallaigh feels having the Irish translation written in a Gaelic script style would be more appropriate than it being written in italics, as it is now.

“This style will really complement the Irish name, and remind us of our wonderful language, history and culture. It’s quite necessary I believe to have the Gaelic style, as it is our own native style of writing, which I use,” he said.

There will be no full-scale replacement of signage, with only new signs having the script.”

While I favour Gaelic typefaces myself and would be happy to see their full restoration I cannot help but wonder if their tokenistic use will do more harm than good? Councillor Ó Ceallaigh is absolutely correct that placing Irish language texts on public signs in smaller, italic fonts is reprehensible and indicates more than anything else that the language is somehow “foreign”, unlike the equivalent English or anglicised versions. However clear and legible modern Irish texts for road signs would seem to be more desirable in the short to medium term, with Irish language place-names given greater prominence than their would-be English replacements.

Of course the real aim should be the dropping of the bastardised anglicisations and makey-uppy English translations of original Irish names in the first place. However that is another day’s work.

6 comments on “North Korea Meets North Ireland

  1. ar an sliabh

    Just to be radical (like Janis), there really is no fathomable need for the “bastardised anglicisations and makey-uppy English translations of original Irish names” at all. There never has been. I think pretty much anyone can read that much Irish. Tourists need maps or a GPS anyway.

    • That’s true – I’ve been to France, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland – their road signs are in their national languages only.
      And I managed to find everything that I needed just fine – there’s no need for crude anglicisations at all.

  2. A Millward Brown/ opinion poll published in October showed that a large majority of the population believe that the State should do more to support the Irish language.
    There’s this saying:

    “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

    If the people don’t feel that the language is necessary to them, then the government’s “cargo cult” laws are not going to save it.

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