Friday, 18 October 2013

Hiding in Full View

The BBC has an interesting article on Gaelic place-names in Lochaber, which now form the subject of a new booklet issued by Scottish Natural Heritage. It is of course only right that Gaelic be properly recognised as a natural resource, just as the natural landscape is acknowledged as "heritage". Indeed, for somewhere like Northern Ireland, which, fracking aside, has few other natural resources, it may be the greatest one.

Many of the names in the booklet had to be researched by Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba, as Gaelic is recessive in the area (in the 2001 Census, fewer than 20% of people there could speak the language). The result is the fixing and recording of a rich store of oral tradition of which the place-names themselves form only part.

But what of those Gaelic names hiding in full view, as it were? In the Irish Republic, bilingual signage means that the Irish version of a name, or alternative to it, is immediately known, although of course not everyone will have enough Irish to understand it. On the other hand, in Scotland, and particularly Northern Ireland, most Celtic place-names exist only in ill-fitting English garb and, where known at all, can be subject to poetic mistranslation ("Dear Green Place", anyone?). Moreover, there are many in both places who would prefer the present situation to obtain permanently, with the vast majority shut out from any more intimate connection with their birthplace and a very few passing round their knowledge in book form as if it were something vaguely embarrassing.

Which, for some people, I suppose it is.

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