Blogger Aims To Set the Record Straight On Dublin Irish

Ciarán Dunbar

 “Irish was never spoken in Dublin,” is an opinion often heard but one blogger is on a mission to set that straight.

 The researcher behind the ‘Dublin Gaelic’ blog wishes to remain anonymous but he did speak to me on the record as to why he set up his site.

DG: “There is little to tell. I am interested in Gaelic dialects and languages more generally, and I am particularly interested in the relationships between the dozens of dialects that were until relatively recently the primary forms of speech for the ordinary people of Ireland, Mann and half of Scotland.

“I have been interested in this subject for decades now. Perhaps the most surprising thing about me is that I am not a Dub.

CD: Why did you set up the blog? What do you hope to achieve?

DG: “I set up the blog after being inspired to do so by reading your own blogs (e.g.ources language blogs could be. Rathlin Gaelic, Gaeltacht na Spéiríní), which made me realise how effective res

“I found the blogs, I think, after reading your own ‘Cnuasach Focal as Oirialla’ book, which I still think is one of the best overviews of an Irish dialect area, produced to a very high linguistic standard.

“I realised the blank areas on our map of the Irish language might not be so blank after all, but that it was more a case of making the history of that blank area – and the specialist resources I had accumulated over the years – more widely known, and easily digestible to the widest possible audience.

“I was also encouraged by friends and associates who said that I should share the knowledge I had.

“My aim with the blog is merely to give people access to information. I had originally planned to write an academic journal article on what could be ascertained of Dublin Irish as a case study of a ‘lost’ dialect.

“If the blog gets people more interested in the history of the Irish language in its lical forms, I consider that an achievement too.

CD: Have you got much response?

“Very much so. I have received a lot of encouraging messages via the blog – I didn’t think anyone would read it!

“I have received a great deal of interesting information too.

“There is one correspondent in particular who is a real specialist in this field, and it been a privilege to discuss ‘lost’ dialects with him.

CD: Many people don’t see what Irish has to do with Dublin – what do you say to that?

“There is not much I can say. The evidence for the Irish language in Dublin, both historically and now, speaks for itself.

CD: What would you say to people who say Irish has never been spoken in the capital?

DG: “Again, there is not much I can say to them. If your antipathy toward Irish is such that you wish to falsify history, then all you are out after is a futile argument.

“I have zero interest in arguing about the Irish of Dublin. The historical evidence is clear. Life is too short.

“If you are the sort of person who is genuinely angered by the historical extent of the dialect of a language that is now in dire straits, there is nothing I can do to help you.

 CD: How is it possible to tell what kind of Irish was spoken in and around the city?

DG: “Sources, sources, sources. Occasionally we find a line or two of one of the Irish dialects spoken in Co. Dublin, although these are very few.

“Secondly, a significant amount of local Irish remains in the older English of Dublin.

“Thirdly, texts written in Irish in Dublin typically betray a great deal of how Irish was pronounced locally, due to spelling mistakes.

“Fourthly, placenames reveal a certain amount of data. Lastly, by comparing what we find in Dublin with the Irish of surrounding areas we can arrive at a clearer picture of the local Gaelic.

“It is important to emphasise that it is unlikely that there was a single ‘Dublin dialect’.

“The Irish of the north of the county would have been more like the dialects of Meath closest to it, and the Irish of the south of the county would probably have been more like the dialects of Wicklow.

“There would have been other subdialects too, and possibly sociolects – fisherfolk in Fingal, for example, may have spoken differently to people in the Dublin Mountains.

“There may have been an urban dialect and various rural dialects too. And of course there was Fingallian which was not a Celtic language at all.”

You can check out the blog here –



Guid News In Tha Hamely Tongue

The New Testament has been published in Ulster Scots.
“Richt at tha stairt, ye haed tha Wurd. Tha Wurd wus thair alang wi God, an tha Wurd wus God”

That’s a sample from Tha Fower Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in Ulster-Scots.

It’s the first translation of the Four Gospels into tha Hamely Tongue.

It is the work of several groups of Ulster-Scots volunteers from Antrim and Down

They have been working since 2006 under the direction of professional Bible translators, Philip and Heather Saunders

 The book has been published by Ullans Press. 

Irish Language Issues Never Far From The Surface

Today sees more controversy with regards to Newry, Mourne and Down Councils Irish language policy.

An issue since the 1940s it is unlikely to ever go away.

The area itself is no stronghold for the language and progress for the Irish language movement has been stop start in the district.

But recent years have seen real advances in the language’s fortunes with big growth in Irish medium education in the area.

Next week a meeting will be held in Crossmaglen to form a new community structure in South Armagh.

The fact that people are based in Newry’s Gaeláras is also making a marked difference.

But one area that no progress has been made on in terms of the language is the unionist community’s attitude to it as today’s issue shows.

Irish Language “Intimidation of Protestant Staff”






Adams Adresses Sinn Féin Gaels in Newry

According to the organisers 65 people attended Sinn Féin’s Slógadh or Irish language conference in Newry on Saturday.

It was held in Gaeláras Mhic Ardghail in the city.

The Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams opened the conference.

Many Sinn Fein leadership figures were in attendance, including Culture Minister Carán Ní Chuilín and the Education Minister John O’Dowd.

Conamara Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and parry Chair Declan Kearney also attended.

Here are some of the contributions.

 Gerry Adams

Trevor Ó Clochartaigh

Linda Ervine

Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh, Conradh na Gaeilge.

An tOllamh Malachy Ó Néill, Ulster University

SDLP : McNulty Backs Alasdair

With just over 4 hours to go before the new SDLP leader is elected it is worth looking at the local situation in Newry and Mourne.

I think it is very interesting indeed, in his recent interview in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’, Alasdair McDonnell outed assembly hopeful Justin McNulty as one of his supporters.

I understand Justin McNulty is seeking the nomination and after his admirable performance in the Westminster election he is sure to get it – that’s despite disappearing from the political radar since then.

The other hopeful is Peter Byrne from Crossmaglen – he is remaining tight lipped – but he hasn’t ruled it out either.

The problem for Byrne is that he is completely unknown.

The problem for the SDLP is that they are both South Armagh men – what about Armagh City?

Could, should, Sharon Haughey be given her chance? – Could she more effectively target Sinn Féin’s Megan Fearon -whose press releases are increasing lately?

Would she be more able to debate the Sinn Féin MLAs in open fora?

Outgoing MLA Dominic Bradley is keeping his views to himself, at least from the media.

I am unsure as to the views of Karen McKevitt and Sean Rogers in South Down but I do know Deputy Council Chair Gillian Fitzpatrick “backs Alasdair”.

Dominc Bradley Calls It A Day

The SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh has told Q Radio he won’t be standing in the next assembly election.

Doiminc Ó BrollacháinBest known for his work on the Irish language, education and autism Dominic Bradlwey has been an MLA since 2003.

The former school teacher has twice stood unsuccessfully in Westminster elections.

Former GAA star Justin McNulty is being mentioned by party sources as a possible replacement.

Speaking exclusively to Q Radio he says it’s time to pass on the baton.

And staying with the SDLP, the party is to run 3 candidates in South Down in the next assembly election.

Sinead Bradley was selected to run at a selection convention last night alongside Seán Rogers and Colin McGrath.

Sinead Bradley is the daughter of former SDLP MLA PJ Bradley.

‘Translations’ : A great play, but was it true?

The great Irish dramatist Brian Friel was buried in Donegal yesterday. He wrote many great plays, amongst which was ‘Translations’, a work which has greatly informed our understanding of Ireland and her culture, but is it true?

The 1st Ordnance Survey and the ‘Translations’ Debate

Translations75 Much of the contemporary understanding and more importantly misunderstanding of the 1st Ordnance Survey of Ireland (1824-1846) comes not from academic examination of it but rather from a fictional play, ‘Translations’ by Brian Friel, first performed in the Guildhall in Derry in 1980.

The play made a considerable impact beyond that of its literary value and this has greatly influenced contemporary perceptions of the Ordnance Survey.

This makes the play significant in any study of Irish place-names and their political context regardless of its historical inaccuracies.

The impact of Translations is acknowledged by J.H. Andrews, who states that ‘Translations has done more than anything else to make the cartography of Celtic names a fashionable subject,’ (Andrews 1992, 18).

Indeed he confers on it greater influence than his own ‘A Paper Landscape’, influencing the views of even ‘cartographic scholars … editors of learned journals and … staff members of the Ordnance Survey (Andrews 2001, vi (i) – vi (j)).

He has formally engaged with Translations on no less than four occasions[1] and whilst it seems that Andrews appreciated the play on a literary level, maintaining that ‘[i]t is undoubtedly the most beautiful and moving account of the Ordnance Survey ever written,’ and acknowledging Friel as a ‘great writer’ (Andrews 1993, 93) he objects to ‘how historically bad’ it is (Andrews 1992, 18), objecting forcefully to the title of the play itself, ‘Translations’ which he has described as an ‘untruth’ (Andrews 1992, 19).

The anglicised forms of Irish language place-names should properly be described as transliterations.

For example, Friel’s fictional Ballybeg is a transliteration of the Irish Baile Beag, whereas a translation would be ‘Little Town’.

It seems clear that Andrews was not offended by Translations as a literary work but by the fact that ‘serious scholars’ took the play ‘as a record of historical truth or at any rate historical probability’ (Andrews 1993, 93) :

“I found Friel’s inventions effective not just dramatically but in expressing a legitimate attitude to modern Irish history as a whole. That the same inventions were unbelievable if taken literally seemed less important, especially as no commentator was likely to be misled by them … In this last opinion I was soon proved to be totally wrong. Many people do accept Brian Friel’s account of the Ordnance Survey as historically plausible.”

Andrews has acknowledged however that the ‘real subject of the play is the relation between authority and alienation’ and not the ‘history of the Ordnance Survey’ (Andrews 1983, 121).

I would venture to promote the view that perhaps Translations is best understood as a dramatisation of anglicisation and the anglicisation of Irish place-names in its totality, over hundreds of years, rather than as a drama set strictly in the period of the Ordnance Survey.

In his own defence Friel has relied on the simple fact that he was writing fiction rather fact :

“Writing a historical play may bestow certain advantages but it also imposes particular responsibilities. The apparent advantages are the established historical facts or at least the received historical ideas in which the work is rooted and which gives it its apparent familiarity and accessibility. The concomitant responsibility is to acknowledge those facts or ideas but not to defer to them. Drama is first a fiction, with the authority of fiction. You don’t go to Macbeth for history.”(Friel 183, 124)

For Kevin Barry ‘[t]he collision between [A Paper Landscape and Translations] epitomises a larger aggression between
fiction and history’ and he describes them as ‘complementary texts’ (Barry 1983, 183).Friel_Language

The literary value of Translations is beyond the remit of this essay. However I would venture to promote the view that perhaps Translations is best understood as a dramatisation of anglicisation and the anglicisation of Irish place-names in its totality, over hundreds of years, rather than as a drama set strictly in the period of the Ordnance Survey.

According to the geographer Catherine Nash …

… Translations is not simply a representation of a simple historical geography of placename change but a complex intervention into the discourses of place and naming in Ireland (Nash, 466)

Andrews is quite correct that Translations is unfortunately the dominant influence on contemporary perceptions of the Ordnance Survey, its treatment of place-names and the political background to that treatment.

Nevertheless, Translations is a work of fiction and should be treated as such, regardless of the ability or otherwise of the theatre going public to discern that fiction from historical fact.

Legacy of the 1st Ordnance Survey

The fact that the anglicised place-name forms decided by the first Ordnance Survey remain the forms found used on signage, maps and official documentation in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland is testimony to its continuing legacy.

The first Ordnance Survey was the first attempt to seriously and systematically study all Irish townland names.

The Ordnance Survey Name-Books and Ordnance Survey Letters remain a very important resource for the study of Irish place-names and their etymology and ‘the Irish forms collected by O’Donovan and his colleagues constitute one of the most important sources of Irish-language placenames ever assembled’ (Mac Giolla Easpaig 2008, 167).

In many cases, the information gathered and recorded is first hand knowledge, being collected from Irish speakers and in areas where no Irish speaker can be found today.

[1] ‘Translations and a Paper Landscape: Between Fiction and History.’ The Crane Bag 7.2 (1983) pp. 118-124, “ ‘More suitable to the English tongue’ The cartography of Celtic Placenames’ ”, Ulster Local Studies XIV, (1992) no. 2, 7-21, ‘Notes for a future edition of Brian Friel’s Translations,’ The Irish Review,’ xiii (1993) and  ‘Irish place-names and the Ordnance Survey,’ Cartographica, xxxi, 3 (1994).

I have previously published this essay on ‘Slugger O’Toole’.

See also

Place-names and Politics : The 1st Ordnance Survey, Part 1

Place-names and Politics : The 1st Ordnance Survey, Part 2

Place-names and Politics : The 1st Ordnance Survey, Part 3


Andrews, J.H., A Paper Landscape : The Ordnance Survey in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1975) (2001& 2006).

Andrews, J.H. with Barry, Kevin, Brian Friel, and John Andrews, “Translations and a Paper Landscape: Between Fiction and History.” The Crane Bag 7.2 (1983) pp. 118-124.

Andrews, J.H., “More suitable to the English tongue’ The cartography of Celtic Placenames’, Ulster Local Studies XIV, (1992) no. 2, 7-21.

Andrews, J.H., ‘Notes for a future edition of Brian Friel’s Translations,’ The Irish Review,’ xiii (1993)

Andrews, JH., ‘Irish place-names and the Ordnance Survey,’ Cartographica, xxxi, 3 (1994)

de hÓir, E. (1972-3): ‘The Anglicisation of Irish place-names’, Onoma XVII, 192-204.

Doherty, G. M., The Irish Ordnance Survey : History, culture and memory (Dublin : Four Courts Press, 2006)

Dunne, J., ‘The Fenian Traditions of Sliabh-na-m-Ban’ in vol. I of the Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society (1849-51), pp. 333-62

Mac Aodha, B. ‘A review of A Paper Landscape’ in Anglo-Irish Studies, 1979 p. 107-108.

Mac Giolla Easpaig, D., ‘Placename Policy and its Implementation’ in A New View of the Irish Language, Editors: C. Nic Pháidín & S. Ó Cearnaigh (Cois Life 2008), lgh. 164-177.

McKay, P., ‘Scots Influence on Ulster Townland Names’ in Ainm X (2009), pp. 1-26.

Nash, C., ‘Irish placenames : post-colonial locations’ in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 24, No. 4 (1999), pp. 457-480

Ó Cadhla, S., Civilizing Ireland: Ordnance Survey 1824-1842: Ethnography, Cartography, Translation(Irish Academic Press Ltd, 2006)

Ó Maolfabhail (Art): An tSuirbhéireacht Ordanáis agus logainmneacha na hÉireann 1824 34  In PRIA 89 (1989) pp. 37-66.

Ó Maolfabhail (Art): The role of toponymy in the ordnance survey of Ireland, In ÉtC 29 (1992) pp. 319-325.

Polley, D., Ulster-Scots, Naming Places, unpublished M.litt. thesis, (TCD 2000).