The Curious Case of a Nationality Without a Name

 Originally published on Slugger O’Toole, 14 December 2012

Whilst working on Gaelscéal on Tuesday last I realized that I did not know the correct Irish term for ‘Northern Irish,’ so I quickly checked, the ‘National Terminology Database’ for Irish.

That was a fruitless journey for they had no such term, I requested they provide one.

The term was one I have strangely never needed in Irish and I have never thought about it to date.
On the day, we simply used the English term in single speech marks.

That night I heard two terms used on TG4, ‘Tuaisceart-Éireannaigh’, agus ‘Éireannaigh Thuaisceartacha’, both translating into English as  ‘Northern Irish’ but with a subtle difference in meaning in Irish which the English doesn’t capture.

One implies a mere geographical distinction, the other, perhaps, a clear political distinction.

A meaningless distinction for most but one could argue that constitutional  future of the Northern Ireland state rests on this distinction, whether the Northern Irish are ‘Tuaisceart-Éireannaigh’ or ‘Éireannaigh Thuaisceartacha’ at the end of the day.

Anyway, I received an email from on Thursday morning, recommending ‘Tuaisceartóir’ as the Irish for ‘Northern Irish’.

No trace of ‘Irishness’ survives in the term ‘Tuaisceartóir’, which would translate into English as ‘Northerner’.

But here’s the rub, the word ‘Tuaisceartach’ would also translate into English as ‘Northerner’, but that would be a mere geographical description.

‘Tuaisceartóir’ however, suggests a certain activity, a motion, a deliberate act.


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