Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Townland Names

The News Letter had an interesting editorial on townland names recently, which shows how supportive even staunch Unionists can be.

In it, the fact that the vast majority of such names are of Gaelic origin is neatly skirted around. Instead, we are told that "A townland, or bally — in Ulster language — is a small division of land used in rural parts of the British Isles". "Bally" is of course the Irish baile, used in all provinces of the island. Moreover, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "townland" in Great Britain has very different meanings, in Anglo-Saxon England referring to the land forming a tĂșn or manor and in Scotland to the enclosed or infield land belonging to a ferm toun — hardly direct equivalents. Nevertheless, the Blether Region welcomes the interest shown and is consequently reluctant to criticise.

Where criticism is warranted, on the other hand, is the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure's decision to axe the Northern Ireland Place-Name Project at Queen's University, surely an example of the sort of initiative that can attract unembarrassed support from Unionists and play a diplomatic role for the Irish language as a whole.

The more cynical will conclude that it was for just that reason that it had to go.

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