Cad as duit?
Dublin Street Names in Irish

I have done a long striall elsewhere on the recurring abomination of street naming in Irish in the Capital City. That was essentially a long list with commentary, based on my observations while walking round the city, and presented in no particular order - a long unstructured gripe.

Besides complaining about them, there are some interesting trends and problems involved in street naming in Irish and I thought an abbreviated presentation might be of interest.

You need to bear in mind that Dublin has lived its life through English for the past 300+ years. It has been a Norse city, a British provincial town and a national capital. In more "recent" times the national capital applied particularly from 1775 [Grattan's Parliament] to 1800 [Act of Union] and then from 1922 [Independence] to date. Also the major growth of the capital occurred from the late eighteenth century onwards by which time virtually all of the capital was living its life through English.

The net effect of all this is that virtually all the streets were originally named in English and did not have any Irish equivalent name. This had to be "invented" after independence and was applied in a global manner irrespective of the derivation of the original English name. The fact that every street had to have an Irish name bestowed on it devalued the currency somewhat and also led to difficulties, particularly in cases where streets were named after persons with English titles.

Not enough letters
Up to the 1960s/1970s the Irish language names would have been in Gaelic script. This presented a number of problems.

In the first place the Gaelic alphabet had only 18 letters but with the capacity to mimick virtually all the missing ones. There was no J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y, or Z. The K wasn't missed as C always had the value K. That left half of C missing but the soft C could be mimicked by S. Q wasn't really a problem either as a C followed by a slender vowell got you more or less there. The V was covered by an aspirated B and W could draw on U at a pinch. X could be covered by CS, Y by an accented Í, which really only left Z.

Nevertheless, the results could look pretty funny, as in the two examples shown for Wellington St. and Belvedere Place illustrate.

The Romans are coming
A further problem relating to the Gaelic script arose with some combinations of letters. The example of Dartmouth Square is an interesting one here. The final TH sound was originally shown by a TH in Gaelic script. This would have been read as Dartmouth by the viewer, as it was clearly not an aspirated T (in which case it would have been silent). It was obviously something else, so it was taken to be a TH sound in English. However, when some overenthusiastic Gaeilgeoir decided that the TH in Gaelic script looked anomalous and converted it into an aspirated T, the game was blown and the Square was now "Dartmou" with a silent T at the end. If they ever need to renew this sign, now that Irish is written in Roman script, the problem will remain, because unlike in the Gaelic script where the TH looked as though it should be sounded, the final TH in Irish in Roman script would, strictly speaking, have the value of an aspirated T. However, should this happen, the fact that the population is English speaking will guarantee a correct oral rendering in Irish, and, if all came to all, the name could be rendered in the same typeface as the English version in order to reinforce the point.

And, finally, an ingenious attempt to get around the absence of the Y in Fontenoy by turning the name into an adjective. But the slip still shows, the final C should have been aspirated. Still full marks for trying.

It's no use
Language evolves through usage and the meanings of many words are often arbitrarily assigned from a range of similar meanings. These can also change over time. My own favourite example is the term mobile phone. In my day that would have been a public phone, coinbox and A and B buttons and all, on a trolley, with a mile of wire, and which was wheeled to your bedside in a hospital to permit you to take a call from your bank manager. But that device is now extinct and we have a pocket wireless version. So the term mobile phone now simply conjures up this and this alone. And this has evolved through usage.

The problem with Irish is that there is not enough usage and different terms remain for the same object or concept. Add to this the fact that the streetnames were not there in Irish in the first place and you can get quite different Irish versions of the same English streetname, and in the same estate.

In the first Maywood, the May has been taken to be a contraction of Mary the Mother of God, Muire. In the second, it has been taken as the month of May. And the location is no guide because the estate is on what were Guinness/Iveagh lands, St. Anne's estate in Raheny. Now if it had been the "mother of the mother of God" we'd be on clearer ground. Or even Arthur!

Lords and Ladies
As many of the Dublin streets were named after the Lords and Earls etc. associated with them, you would think the namers could leave the name in its original form, but no. There has to be a purer Irish version of everything, even the English.

Clare St. in the centre of Dublin is named after Lord Clare. Do you think they could leave that alone. Not a bit of it. The street that was named after John fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and prosecutor of Wolfe Tone, now sounds like a derivative of the Church Hierarchy. Sráid Clare, not on your nanny.

Equally, they couldn't leave Anglesea St. alone. We had to get the Irish version of the Isle of Anglesea. It's a good thing it wasn't Lord Caernarvon, or we would have had Sráid AnChaisleáinSanIonadOsComhairOileánMhóna. Llanfair PG eat your heart out.

When I saw Geraldine St. I immediately thought of a woman and was expecting Sráid Ghearóidín or some such. I was reassured to see the choice falling on the Geraldines, Muintir Mhic Ghearailt, though the grammar could have done with some tidying up. However I was subsequently disillusioned when I checked out Seamas Ó Brógáin's site, as I always do, to find that this probably had more to do with the builder's daughter than the Fitzgerald line.

A different place altogether
Sometimes the Irish and English names are quite different reflecting the names of different adjacent areas, or the Irish being a translation of an earlier and more colloquial version of a street subsequently named after an English (language) personality. Frederick Lane is one such. The Irish translates as corn or barley fields and the area had been known as The Barley Fields.

Molesworth St. comes from a family name but the Irish version refers to Leinster House, which it fronts, and which was the residence of the Duke of Leinster, but is now the seat of the Irish parliament.

Unfortunately, there are two versions of the Irish, the second of which is complete rubbish. Even street namers are not above producing the odd typo.

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