Dingle: Our Town - Our Name - Our Heritage



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Dingle Renamed, Irish Say, Lacks Its Jingle
The New York Times  (Dingle in the News)
Everyone knows that it's a long way to Tipperary. But how far is An Daingean?

Six months ago, the picturesque harbor town called Dingle, in a remote corner of southwest Ireland, became officially known by a Gaelic version of its name -- pronounced awn-DANG-in. An Daingean, which means The Fortress, will eventually replace Dingle, which means Valley, on road signs and in government paperwork.

The change has been heralded by champions of Gaelic, the ancient tongue known for its bulky strings of unpronounced letters, which is spoken fluently by a small minority of Irish people. More than 2,300 places in the dwindling areas where Irish, as it is called here, is still in daily use are now referred to only by Gaelic names.

But Dingle is in County Kerry, and its people pride themselves on their independence. The residents resent a decision that they say was imposed on them by Dublin, hundreds of miles away.

''It was thrown upon us with the stroke of a pen,'' said Fergus O Flaithbheartaigh while working at his popular pub in the town. His name is often seen in its Anglicized form, O'Flaherty, and the Gaelic version -- seven letters longer -- is pronounced much the same way.

Liam O'Neill, a painter who grew up outside Dingle, did not learn to speak English until he was 14. Commenting on the name change, he invoked the hated history of the British imposition of English on Ireland: ''It was like the way Cromwell did it. People have taken to the trenches about it now.''

But perhaps most of all, the people of Dingle fear that the move will further befuddle tourists confused by the country's famed bilingual -- or missing -- road signs.

Ever since Dingle was used as the setting of the film ''Ryan's Daughter,'' it has relied on tourism like no other place in Ireland. About half of its 1,500 residents work in the sector, and during summer visitors outnumber locals by six to one. And most tourists asked recently were disappointed to learn that they were in An Daingean rather than Dingle.

''One of the reasons people come here is because the language isn't a barrier,'' said Shawn Foldesy, 29, who works for a payroll company in Dallas and was traveling through Ireland with friends. She said the town's whimsical-sounding name ''probably had more of an effect on our coming here than we think.''

''Dingle is something that captures the imagination,'' said Michael Finn, 75, on vacation from Williamsburg, Va. His wife, Antoinette, added, ''It just gives me a feeling of lightness.''

Local business owners say that they have worked for decades to build up that impression of a place that mixes quirkiness with tradition in a beautiful natural setting, efforts that will be damaged by the switch to An Daingean, which does not have quite the same ring as Dingle…

The debate here is part of a national argument over how to protect Ireland's native language.

Ireland's 2002 census found that 43 percent of the population speaks Gaelic, but officials admit that that figure is exaggerated because it includes schoolchildren, who study the language as a mandatory subject, and because adults with little fluency may have marked themselves down as speaking the language.

Officials in the government department that oversees Irish-speaking areas point out that business names will not be affected, only road signs. The government minister behind the move, Eamon O Cuiv, said recently that locals could call the town whatever they wanted -- Dingle, or Beverly Hills, or, he suggested pointedly, Fungi. That is the name of a dolphin that has been returning to the harbor year after year and has a nearly cult following.

Linguists have their own problems with the change. ''It is a bit dangerous to begin tampering with something that's so well known,'' said Terry Dolan, a professor at University College Dublin who recently published a dictionary of Hiberno-English. ''It's manipulating the language from the top down.''

For the record, Mr. O Flaithbheartaigh said that the national government chose the wrong name for the town, which is also known as Daingean Ui Chuis, or Fortress of the Husseys (named after a clan, not after loose women).

But at least some Dingle residents are taking the change in stride.

''We're enjoying the notoriety,'' said Rev. Padraig O Fiannachta, 78, a Roman Catholic priest and Gaelic scholar who grew up here and whose eyes twinkled as he insisted that he would still use the familiar name while singing his favorite ballad, ''The Dingle Puck Goat.''
Brian Lavery

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