Dingle: Our Town - Our Name - Our Heritage



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Cleansing our place names
The Irish Independent  (The Dingle Letters)
Wednesday March 1st 2006

I refer to your recent editorial on the Irish language and subsequent correspondence. I give some thoughts below on Irish placenames.

Dingle/Daingean readers may have an interest.

Whether we want to accept it or not, we have a varied ancestry in this country - Pre-Celtic, Celtic, Scottish, Viking/Norse, Welsh, English and more besides.

To suppose that the Celts were our only true ancestors is erroneous. To put Celtic/Gaelic/Irish placenames on every location is to try to deny that other races shaped our society - at its most basic, it is a form of ethnic cleansing.

Our government promotes a pluralist society and the rights of minorities.

However they suppress the placenames of our minority cultures and decree that every town and street has to be given an "Irish" name.

I say that if the English built new towns and streets and gave them English names, then let us accept these names as part of our heritage; why impose Irish names?

If the Vikings named Carlingford (Cairlinn Fforgd), then accept it as part of our Viking heritage (I am quite happy with the current shortened version).

It is the norm for placenames to be shortened and changed over the centuries.

London and Paris are shortened versions of the originals.

I am quite sure that when the country was been mapped, that the placenames were written down as they were spoken at the time.

In all probability, Drogheda was the way Droichead Atha was pronounced at the time.

The Irish have a panache for shortening phases - Blah'Cliath in place of Baile Atha Cliath.

Generally, the allocation of "Irish" placenames takes three forms:

1. The shortened version of the name is extended to the full Irish original.

For example, Drogheda becomes Droichead Atha.

2. The "foreign" name is directly translated into the Irish. For example, Newbridge becomes Droichead Nua.

3. The "foreign" name is replaced with an Irish name (usually by searching around the locality until a place with an "Irish" name was found). For example, Midletown (from the English " Middletown ") becomes Mainistir Na Corran. In Dublin , Nassau Street becomes Sraid Thobar Phadraig.

Let us imagine what would happen if the Italian government followed Irish policy and decreed that all Italian towns should have Roman names. Consider Napoli ( Naples ). Firstly, this is a shortened version of the original name - so expand it to the full version. This will turn out to be the Greek name "Neo Polis" ( New City ).

The Italians would be more sensible and would keep the name and continue to sing about their beloved Napoli .

It would be a huge asset to this country if each town would accept a single name having due regard to its origin - be it Celtic, English, Viking, Norman, or another.

There would be only one name on every signpost and the benefit to the tourist and traveller would be immense.

Your comments and enquiries are always welcome.
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