Cá bhfuil mé?

Published in Issue 3 (May/Jun 2005), Letters, News, Volume 13

The least you could expect from a city council is that it would get its own address right, but not so Dublin City Council. For the last twenty years the Irish-language version of the street signs outside the Civic Offices have read Cé na Coille (the Forest Quay), rather than Cé an Adhmaid (the Wood Quay). And with the publication of Dublin Streetnames/Sráidainmneacha Bhaile Átha Cliath in October 2004 the name of the quay is to change again, to An Ché Adhmaid. The purpose of this reference book is to standardise the Irish-language forms of the capital’s street names, and standardise is the operative word, as it introduces more English into our street signage than ever before and seeks to obliterate placenames of historic and cultural importance. So bad is the book that it has an error rate of over 20 per cent and even includes names that do not exist. Where are Árd Ró Street and Árd Ró Place?

Placenames are a rich testament to the evolution of the city. They commemorate great men and women, battles, industries, occupations and a myriad of other reasons for bestowing a title on a thoroughfare. Successive waves of colonisers, Viking, Norman, English and Huguenot, have all left the names of their soldiers, saints, scientists and scholars on our streets as a mark of esteem and an attempt to establish an eternal memorial to the revered deceased. Other names have evolved through association with a building or geographic feature, and others as a place of pilgrimage. One such place of pilgrimage was St Patrick’s Well, which lies just within the Nassau Street gate of Trinity College. The well is still active and is said to be responsible for the occasional flooding of the basements of the bookshops at the end of Dawson Street. The Irish version, Sráid Thobar Phádraig (St Patrick’s Well Street), is to be obliterated and will become Sráid Nassau (Nassau Street).
Another saint connected with the diocese of Dublin, St Kevin, is also to be removed from his ancient location in Camden Street. Port Caoimhín will cease to exist and will become Sráid Camden. The loss to local history of these names is immeasurable, and I’m sure that the descendants of Lord Camden would like to see the ancient name of the street preserved along with that of the former viceroy.
Twenty-five years ago I first approached the then Dublin Corporation about the renaming of Lána an Chrocaire (the hangman’s lane), just off Church Street. The name had evolved over time to become Hammond Lane. They had replaced Lána an Chrocaire with Lána Mac Amáin, a personal surname, totally obscuring the medieval origins of the original name. Eventually, just before Christmas last, they replaced the original name and they also propose to name Hammond Street, off Blackpitts, as Sráid an Chrocaire, despite the fact that this street has no connection whatsoever with the hangman.
The problem in dealing with the City Council in relation to the naming of streets is that no named person seems to be responsible. Letters to the city manager, John Fitzgerald, pass down the line and replies eventually emanate from Corporate Services. Corporate Services make the nebulous claim that they work closely with the Placenames Commission (Coimisiún na Logainmneacha) and the Irish-speaking organisations in the city. The City Council does have a heritage officer, but it is not clear what area of our heritage he is responsible for. This total negation of responsibility has led to the ridiculous situation where some streets have two, or even three, versions of their Irish name along with the English one.
When I enquired as to why Armstrong Street (Sráid Thréanlamhaigh) was to become Sráid Armstrong, I was informed by letter that the street was named after Neil Armstrong, the astronaut! The fact that it was completed in 1895 by the Artisan Dwelling Company and named after one of its directors was a historic irrelevancy. Likewise Slane Road in Crumlin. The roads in Crumlin are named after the dioceses of Ireland and some, like Downpatrick, Saul and Slane, because of their connection with St Patrick. In fact, if you look at a map of Crumlin you will see that it was planned in the shape of a Celtic cross. Slane Road (Bothar Sláine) is named after the hill on which St Patrick lit the Paschal flame. This is now to be renamed Bóthar Bhaile Shláine (the road of the town of Slane), despite the fact that the town of Slane did not exist for hundreds of years after St Patrick ascended the hill and thus removes the historic context for which the road was originally named. Another road to fall victim to renaming in Crumlin is Stannaway Road (or Stanaway). At present named Bóthar na Stainge, for the Styne, or stone, which stood here from medieval times to divide the waters of the River Poddle between the city and the monastery of St Thomas in Thomas Street, it is now to be renamed Bóthar Bhóthar na gCloch (the road of the road of the stone). The mind boggles!
This inconsistency also applies to the patriot dead. Thomas Davis has his name spelt variously as Dáibhisigh, Dávais, Dáibhis and Dáibhios, and poor old Wolfe Tone can be found as Bhulf, Bholf, Ulf and Olf and whatever other versions exist on commemorative plaques and statues around the country.
Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuiv has stated that placenames ‘tell us so much about ourselves, our heritage and our culture’, and to that end he has authorised the use of Irish-only versions of placenames on maps and signage in Gaeltacht areas from 28 March 2005. This is happening while the streets of Dublin are being systematically sanitised of their heritage and culture.
The Placenames Commission, which has been doing an excellent job in rural areas since its formation in 1946, has displayed very little interest in urban names, and I am surprised that it has been credited for its contribution to Dublin Streetnames, considering the damage it does to the city’s rich heritage. The only request that I would make of the City Council is that it consigns Dublin Streetnames to the recycling bin and prevents further embarrassment to itself and those associated with this publication. The threat to our street names is serious, and if old names are allowed to disappear a gross act of cultural vandalism will have been perpetrated on the citizens of Dublin—the textual version of the Wood Quay débâcle. Would it be too much to ask the City Council to start again with a committee that recognises and appreciates the rich store of tradition and heritage that lies in our placenames?

Patrick Garry is a teacher in Liberties College, Dublin.

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