Visitors to Gaeltacht (Gaelic-speaking) areas on the west coast of Ireland may be in for a surprise, following a government directive on the public use of Irish language. The Placenames Order 2004 makes it a law that all Gaeltacht signposts and maps display place names only in the Irish language. Towns widely known by their Anglicized names will now be represented only in their original Irish form. And so the Co. Kerry town of Dingle, for example, will be known only as An Daingean from now on.
Fearing that the order will confuse tourists, local authorities in Co. Kerry have requested that Gaeltacht towns can also present the English form of each place name. Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Eamon ÓCúiv ruled out that possibility.
“The days of walking both sides of the street are over,” he said. “It’s a nonsense not having linguistic criterion attached to the Gaeltacht. If you are in the Gaeltacht, one would imagine the first brand you would sell is the Irish language,” he added, noting that some 24,000 students go to Kerry to learn Irish every summer.
However, not every politician in the county shared the Minister’s enthusiasm. Councilor Michael O’Shea from West Kerry said that tourists were “getting dizzy in the head” trying to match Anglicized names with Irish language names. “We must write to Minister ÓCúiv and tell him foreigners do not understand the Irish language,” suggested the councilor. “Perhaps a new sign should now be put up on the N86 (the road to An Daingean): `If you don’t understand Irish, don’t go beyond this point,'”
Councilor O’Shea’s position cut little ice with Minister ÓCúiv. “It is An Daingean, full stop,” he said, adding that the change should be no more difficult than historical changes of place names like Kingstown to Dún Laoghaire or Queenstown to Cobh. ♦