Dingle: Our Town - Our Name - Our Heritage



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Irish town fights for naming rights
The Boston Globe  (Dingle in the News)

Residents fear change will hurt tourism

DINGLE, Ireland -- What's in an Irish name? In this picturesque harbor town in County Kerry, plenty.
Last year, the Irish government changed the town's name to An Daingean , which means fortress in the Irish language. The government said it was enforcing the Official Languages Act of 2002, which requires the use of Irish-language names for some 2,300 places in the Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking regions, mostly in the west of the country.

But Dingle's lifeblood is tourism, and many residents worry that changing the name will cause undue confusion among the foreign tourists who fill the 52 pubs and countless shops that line the quaint, narrow streets.

Beyond economic concerns, Dingle is full of strongly opinionated characters -- and many of the 1,800 residents resent that the name change was imposed by Dublin bureaucrats who never consulted them. They say unilaterally changing the name that the town has been known by for more than seven centuries is insulting.

Earlier this month, 1,005 of the town's 1,222 eligible voters said they wanted to change the town's name to a bilingual hybrid: Dingle Daingean Uí Chúis , the Irish part of which means Fortress of Hussey , referring to a famous Flemish family that settled in the area in the 13th century. National government officials are furious, saying it is a legal impossibility to change the name back.

Interviews with residents in the weeks and months leading up to the plebiscite revealed a fierce independence that government officials apparently either dismissed or failed to take into account.

As they say around here, you can tell a Kerryman, but you can't tell him much.

No one would question the Gaelic bona fides of Maidhe Dainín Ó Sé . Ó Sé, whose English name is Mike O'Shea , is 64. He is a well-known traditional musician and has written 15 books in the Irish language, including one about the 10 years he spent in Chicago in the 1960s, working at a Sears distribution center and taking part in civil rights marches.

Despite his scholarly appreciation of the Irish language, Ó Sé rejects the idea of abolishing the name Dingle. To him, it is a matter of history and principle: Dingle has been Dingle for seven centuries, and the language, he says, cannot be mandated by government and must flow from the people.

"Laws won't keep the Irish language alive. It has to come from the heart," he said, between sets at O'Flaherty's pub, where he regularly displays his virtuosity on the button accordion. "The British couldn't use laws to kill the language. We can't use laws to keep it alive."

The pub's proprietor, Fergus O'Flaherty , is, like most people in Dingle, a fluent Irish speaker, but he opposed abolishing the name Dingle and chaired the committee that sought a local mandate to create the bilingual name.

"Under the local government acts, you can't change a town's name unless more than 50 percent of the residents vote to do so," said O'Flaherty, who is also known as Fergus O Flaithbheartaigh . "But the government in Dublin just rode roughshod over that and changed the name with no consultation with the people."

Some residents support the change. Toots Fitzgerald, who was a great Gaelic football player in his youth, declared simply: "This is the Gaeltacht. In the Gaeltacht, the names of places should be in the Irish, not in the English."

Dingle took off as a tourist destination after director David Lean filmed his lush epic "Ryan's Daughter" in the town in 1969. The locals got on famously with the film's allegedly lush star, the late Robert Mitchum , who closed more than one of the myriad pubs during the filming. The town's singular mix of artisan studios, quirky locals, atmospheric pubs surrounded by rolling hills and a shimmering harbor made Dingle a fixture in every tourist guide for the last 30 years.

Today, about half of the town's residents are employed in tourism, and during the summer tourists outnumber residents 6 to 1. Still, many residents insist that they are as upset about the process as they are about the prospects of tourists getting lost while looking for Dingle and seeing only signs for An Daingean.

Joe O'Toole , a Dingle native and member of Ireland's Senate, said that if they had tried to change the name of a town in County Dublin, where a third of the country's population and most of its political and economic power resides, "there would be a war."

Eamon O Cuiv , the government minister who oversaw implementation of the law that removed English names from Gaeltacht areas, insists that the recent plebiscite has no legal standing. O Cuiv is the grandson of Eamon de Valera, the dominant Irish political figure of the 20th century who not only made the teaching of Irish compulsory in schools, but also the mastery of it mandatory for those seeking public sector jobs, even though few of Ireland's 4 million people outside the Gaeltacht use it regularly. About 85,000 people live in Gaeltacht areas in the counties of Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Cork, Waterford, and Meath.

O Cuiv represents an Irish-speaking area in Galway, but many Dingle residents are quick to point out he is Dublin-born and educated, and lump him with the Dublin establishment.

Dingle's residents vow to fight on, and even the few who side with the national government's imposition of An Daingean say the politicians in Dublin better watch their backs.

"Dubliners have a tendency to underestimate Kerrymen," Toots Fitzgerald said, nodding at O'Flaherty to start another pint. "I wouldn't."
Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff

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