At last week’s meeting of the North Central Area Committee, council officials presented councillors with a proposal that two new apartment blocks in Santry Place be named East Court and West Court. 

Sinn Féin Councillor Micheál MacDonncha was confused at that. 

“In the development plan we agreed that in the future new developments would be named in Irish, with the primary as Gaeilge,” said MacDonncha, who chairs the Irish language subcommittee in Dublin City Council. 

“That doesn’t seem to have got into the system and we are still getting the names as Bearla as the primary name,” he said.

Charles Duggan, heritage officer with Dublin City Council, said that the new policy for naming is in effect. But it doesn’t apply to developments granted planning permission before the new development plan came in, he said. 

Proposals for names of new apartment complexes and housing estates as Gaeilge, then, may begin to trickle in soon.

Since 14 December 2022, Dublin City Council has had a policy that all new housing estates and apartment complexes that are granted planning permission after that date must be named as Gaeilge. 

The change is part of the new city development plan, says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council. Street signs in those newly named developments will be in Irish only, they said. 

MacDonncha says the new naming policy will help rebalance the city over time.

“The purpose of it is to redress the balance,” he says. “To have more Irish language names in Dublin because they are primarily in the English language at the moment.”

What’s the difference?

Before last December, the city policy was to translate the new name into Irish and to display both versions on bilingual signage. 

But no longer. “Internal and external street/road signage must be in both the Irish and English languages, or, for newly named developments, in Irish only,” says the City Development Plan 2022 to 2028

“All new street and development names shall reflect local historical, heritage or cultural associations,” it says. “Developers shall agree a scheme’s name, which shall be in the Irish language, with the planning authority, prior to commencement of development.”

Dublin City Council isn’t the first to do this, by a long shot. Many years ago, Galway City Council introduced an initiative to name all new residential developments in Irish.

It established a placenames committee, An Coiste Logainmneacha, in 1992 to advise developers on suitable names for new housing estates and apartment complexes. 

The committee comprises representatives from Gaillimh le Gaeilge and An Post, academics, cultural representatives, councillors and council officials, among others. 

Over the years the policy has made its mark on the city and it is common for people who live in Galway to have an address as Gaeilge. 

“The naming of new residential developments in the city reflects the locality, local heritage and landscape expressed in the Irish language,” says a spokesperson for Galway City Council.

The policy in Galway applies only to residential developments. “In the interests of community identity and legibility, naming of parks, community facilities and roads is also promoted, using a bilingual approach,” says the spokesperson. 

Dublin has likewise, so far, only applied the approach to residential developments, not to all placenames. 

For new developments that were granted planning permission after 14 December 2022, the Irish language name will be the official postal address and that is also how it will appear on Google Maps. 

MacDonncha says he isn’t worried that people will translate the names back into English because there is no evidence of that happening. For example, in Artane there is an estate Ard na Greine, he says, and no one ever calls it Sunny Heights.

The Galway City Council spokesperson also says that hasn’t happened. “As the naming of residential estates in Irish has been in place for such a long time it is well embedded, we haven’t seen issues of using an English translation,” says the spokesperson. 

Better than bilingual

That idea of translating placenames is problematic, says MacDonncha. It is better to just have one name in Irish, he says. 

So also says Darach Ó Séaghdha, an Irish language activist, podcaster and author, who welcomes the Irish-only naming. 

“I think it’s a good idea,” he says. “It will stop the bad translations happening.”

There are major issues, he says, with incorrect signage in Dublin. He points to a blog that highlights examples of inaccurate or nonsensical translations, indicating that the person translating the name doesn’t understand how the Irish language works. 

Among them are examples of multiple translations of one English placename, with every translation flawed or inaccurate. 

Naming places in Irish first provides an opportunity to look into the original name of the place instead of translating the English name. “It creates an opportunity for people to find the beauty in the language,” says Ó Séaghdha. 

It shows that the council is engaging seriously with the importance of placenames, he says. 

He would love to see some important streets in the city renamed too, he says, and he would suggest axing Westmoreland Street first. “Why do we have a street named after the Earl of Westmoreland?”

Placenames can also be used to reflect native species of flowers, he says, and those would all have names in Irish. 

So far the policy only applies to new developments that recently got planning permission, says MacDonncha. 

The council doesn’t plan to try to change existing names to Irish because that could cause confusion, he says, and it is a complex process, requiring a plebiscite of all residents.

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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