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April 19, 2005

English on street signs

KILKENNY -- In County Kilkenny and throughout nearly all of the sunny southeast of Ireland, street signs remain in English. Not so throughout the Irish-speaking corners of the country and for most of those writing . The Wall Street Journal spotted this development and wrote about it.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Anyone who has driven the roads in the West of Ireland has likely known the feeling. You're driving along, looking for Galway, when suddenly you enter a gaeltacht, Irish-speaking region of the countryside, and the signs change. Galway has become Gaillimh; Limerick is now Cathair Luimnigh -- and you, you're lost.

If you're lucky, there may be some bilingual signs even in the gaeltachtai to help you out. If not, you follow your nose and hope the signs change back to English, which they inevitably do. But a law passed last year, which took effect in March, aims to strike all the remaining English from signs in designated Irish-speaking parts of the Emerald Isle, as well as requiring the use of Irish place-names on official maps.

Like many things in Ireland, language is a contentious issue and, as so frequently, it is an issue tied up with Irish misgivings about six centuries of sometimes-ruthless domination by the English. There are, by most counts, no more than 60,000 native Irish speakers in Ireland. And though its study has been compulsory since independence in 1922, most Irish never learn more than a smattering of it, despite the huge sums the state spends every year supporting the language's use. Politicians honor its use more in the breach than the observance, conducting most parliamentary debates in English while preaching the virtues of Irish to the masses.

Requiring the use of Irish place-names, meanwhile, is being sold as a way of making life easier by unifying around one name. We'll try to remember that next time we're lost in County Kerry.

Wall Street Journal -- "Lost in translation"

April 19, 2005 in Travel | Permalink


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» Lost in Translation from Jonathan Brazil's Weblog
Just poached this snippet from Bernie G's blog. A bit of humour on how Irish only road signs will confuse the hell out of anyone in Gaeltacht areas. All because of a new law passed last year. source: Bernie Goldbach... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 19, 2005 2:04:44 PM

» Washington Post Lies from An t-Imeall
[Blogged In Irish] Summary: The Washington Post's misinformed editorial on Irish language roadsigns requires a subscription to view online, but I'm grateful to Bernie Goldbach for reproducing it on his blog - and giving me the opportunity to reply. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 23, 2005 1:03:55 PM


Bernie, if this was true it would be a good story, and worthy of a blogger’s scorn. But it's not true. In fact it is misinformed nonsense, and being in the Washington Post doesn't make it true.

The facts are:
- The language used on road signs does not (and will not) change depending on where you are in the country.
- All road signs pointing towards non-Gaeltacht destinations display the official names of the destinations in both Irish and English, regardless of whether the sign itself is sited in a Gaeltacht or otherwise. This will not change. There is no official sign anywhere in Ireland which points to 'Gaillimh' without mentioning 'Galway'. And while we're on the subject, the official translation of 'Limerick' is 'Luimneach' - not 'Cathair Luimní' which means 'Limerick City'. The WP's disingenuous suggestion to the contrary seeks to emphasise the obfuscation. ("Dammit, we can't use that - Gimmee a translation which sounds nothing like Limerick!)
- All road signs pointing towards Gaeltacht destinations, will henceforth only list the Irish name, as the English name of Gaeltacht places no longer has any official status. Again, this applies uniformly wherever the sign is situated. A sign pointing to An Spidéal will look the same whether it’s in Galway or Indreabhán.
- Currently, the signs in Gaeltacht areas are in Irish, while the roadmaps are in English – this change will resolve this anomaly.

Elements in the mainstream media have distorted this story to suit a monoglot agenda. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the blogosphere to redress the balance, and show the superiority of an aggregation of bloggers over traditional media?

The real story which the MSM is missing here is the fact that: after years of undoubted decline and “lip-service”, the Irish language has a renewed strength and confidence. The advent of Irish-language Radio and TV, along with the economic success which has put an end to emigration, has helped to turn the tide. Against this background – at long last - official measures are being taken to guarantee the rights of Irish speakers.

This is only one aspect of the story. Others include the issue of planning in Gaeltacht areas. Commuters in Galway, and holiday-home builders in more remote Gaeltachtaí are swamping the traditional communities and pricing them out of their own housing market. This has wider implications for rural Ireland in general – but the specific language issue in the Gaeltacht is an extra cause for concern. Gaeltacht people can no longer afford to live in the Gaeltacht.

Some claim that maintaining Irish as a living language isn’t an absolute necessity, but I would argue that it is at least as important as the conservation of other aspects of our heritage, be they cultural, architectural or natural. If that is so, then what is it worth to us?

Further reading: http://www.gaelport.com/index.php?page=news&news_id=25 (An article in Magill magazine by Pól Ó Muirí, Irish language editor of the Irish Times, reproduced on Gaelport.com)

Posted by: Imeallach | Apr 23, 2005 12:43:09 PM

The Irish language is dying and wil be within 50 years.I was brought up in the Gaeltacht(b.1963) and due to emigration and associating the language with the peasants it was/is
still looked down upon by non-Irish speakers.Compulsion also helped to kill the language.I/My siblings still speak the language amongst other speakers but it came natural to us as our parents/ancestors main tongue.

Posted by: michael walsh | Jul 5, 2005 8:51:56 PM