Dingle Renamed, Irish Say, Lacks Its Jingle

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun Sep 4 17:52:38 UTC 2005

>>From the NYTimes, September 4, 2005

Dingle Renamed, Irish Say, Lacks Its Jingle

DINGLE, Ireland - 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.

"It absolutely is a brand," said Susan Callery, owner of the Green Lane
art gallery, where Mr. O'Neill wrapped a painting and recalled Cromwell.
"I've spent 15 years working on it." 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

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."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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