Tuesday, July 31, 2012

'Renaming Éire': The Ordnance Survey 1824-46

Imagine, if you will, a colonizing power coming into your country and renaming your cities and towns, so that the names of places you've known all your life are suddenly changed, and changed into a language which is not your own. Imagine if 'New York City' was changed to 'Cathair Nua-Eabhrac' {1}. Between 1824 and 1846, in essence, this is what occurred in Ireland.

Although the 'translation' of Irish into English began with the invasions of the Anglo-Saxons in the 12th and 13th centuries, the British Empire imposed the rule of English in earnest with the Ordnance Survey of 1824-46. Under the command of Thomas Colby of the Royal Engineers, an army of soldiers and surveyors set about mapping the country, ensuring a more accurate valuation for the purpose of taxation, and in the process renaming place names on the island of Ireland.

Despite the fact that Celtic scholars were consulted, and Irish civilians who were deemed 'competent' in the Irish language were employed by the British, in an attempt to have the anglicized version of Irish names more accurately reflect the original Irish, the translation was often a dismal failure. The accuracy of the physical mapping has been praised as a boon to cartographers; however, many viewed the ordnance survey as yet another move to literally wipe Irish language and culture off the map.

In an 1844 article which appeared in the newspaper The Nation, Thomas Davis, the leader of the group Young Ireland, offered his opinion of the work of the Ordnance survey saying,

‘Whenever those maps are re-engraved, the Irish words, will, we trust, be spelled in an Irish and civilised orthography, and not barbarously, as at present.’

In 1892 Douglas Hyde, one of the co-founders of the Gaelic League in 1893 and the first President of Ireland (1938 - 1945), delivered his famous lecture, ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland,’ in which he expressed his contempt for the work of the Ordnance survey.

Hyde stated:

'On the whole, our place names have been treated with about the same respect as if they were the names of a savage tribe which had never before been reduced to writing, and with about the same intelligence and contempt as vulgar English squatters treat the topographical nomenclature of the Red Indians. .... I hope and trust a native Irish Government will be induced to provide for the restoration of our place-names on something like a rational basis'.

The Gaelic League produced what was intended to be the definitive work on Irish place names. Although that volume also had its flaws, it became the standard.

With the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, Ireland now had a native government whose policy was to promote the use of Irish in public life. In 1937, Bunreacht na hÉireann (The Constitution of Ireland) came into force, conferring special status to the Irish language. As stated in Article 8 [1], 'The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.' English is 'recognized' as a second official language.

Today when you travel in Ireland you will notice that, although English does appear on road and street signs, Irish always appears above it. On Irish license plates, with the exception of the English 'IRL' for Ireland, place names always appear in Irish. For example the name of Waterford appears as Port Láirge, and Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath.

Baile Átha Cliath is Dublin

On Irish documents for birth, marriage and death, such as this birth certificate below, the Irish language once again appears above the English.

Those of us who speak English are often relieved to see our own language on signs when we travel to lands in which English is not the first language, but we should not forget what these 'translations' in Ireland meant to many of those who suffered under the hand of British rule.


Notes and further reading:

{1} Cathair Nua-Eabhrac is an Irish translation for New York City.

Gavan Duffy, Charles et al. The Revival of Irish Literature: Addresses by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Dr. George Sigerson, and Dr. Douglas Hyde. Project Gutenberg Ebook, 2010.
Mac Giolla Easpaig, Dónall. Placenames Policy and its Implementation, Placenames Database of Ireland
Brian Friel's Play 'Translations' offers an interesting perspective on Cultural Imperialism, the Ordnance Survey, and Anglicization of Irish in 19th century Ireland.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who's that...? Wednesday

Here is an entire group of 'Who's That?' to contemplate. I know a couple of the people in the photograph, and could guess at a couple of others, but I'm really wondering about the mysterious lady in the sunglasses.

In addition to the mystery players, there are a few things in this photograph which are worth remarking upon. (Click on the image to view a larger version). First of all, I have never before seen such an incredibly crowded beach, so that makes me wonder if they were there for a special event. The crowd seems endless. Second, the area in which they are sitting looks uncomfortably rocky. Also, I wonder about the rope which is extended behind them, and the very official looking fellow in the white uniform. I'm not sure where this is, but it reminds me of the beach near Bray Head, in County Wicklow. Any guesses?

Click on image to view larger version.

Monday, July 23, 2012

'Toward a brilliant dream': an immigration story

Mam and Dad's Irish passports.
In 1956, the year in which my father, my mother, and my brother emigrated from Ireland, my father was the first to leave Ireland. When my dad emigrated he did so with the sole purpose of providing a better life for his family.

Ireland was experiencing tough economic times, and with job losses all over the country, many men were forced to go to England to look for work. Just like many of the over 40,000 Irish who immigrated to Canada between 1951 and 1960, my father and mother believed Canada was a brilliant dream holding the possibility of unlimited success.

Dad left Dublin Ireland on 10 April; he was 27 years old. He did not know if he would ever again see the land of his birth, or set eyes on the brothers and sisters he loved, but he was going toward the new world filled with hopes and dreams, and a little fire in his belly. His boss at the company for which he had worked in Dublin told Dad he was a fool for leaving a good posting and immigrating to Canada. However, less than a month after Dad emigrated, the company closed down, and many men were left without employment.

My mother and my brother followed Dad to Canada in October of that year. First they flew to Liverpool, with Mam's father and two of her siblings, so Mam could say goodbye to her beloved brother Patrick. In Liverpool on 31 October they boarded the ship that would take Mam and my brother to Dad, and to their new life in Canada. Mam would never again see her father.

Throughout her life my mother spoke only occasionally about their immigration to Canada, my father spoke about it even less, and my brother was too young to recall anything of their journey. Clearly it had been a very difficult time for my mother and my father. Although the 'brilliant dream' of Canada held great promise, there were aspects about the entire process which were very upsetting.

The Irish were lucky in that they were a part of that group of countries from which immigrants were deemed 'preferable'. Still, with the changes in Canadian immigration law, the directives were just ambiguous enough to ensure anyone could be refused.

To begin with there were rigorous medical and dental examinations to ensure that the prospective immigrant was in the best possible state of health. As a bright and vigorous young woman, my mother found the whole process humiliating. 'It was', she said, 'as though they were trying their best to find something wrong with me, so they could reject me. Even my teeth had to be perfect. Not a single cavity allowed.'

'Immigrant - Landed', the visa stamp
in Mom's passport.
Once they arrived in Canada, any feelings of doubt or discomfort were quickly quashed by Mam's happiness at being reunited with Dad. My brother, at nearly two years of age, had not seen his father for months, and was a little shy at first, but soon delighted to once again be drawn up into Daddy's arms.

From the very beginning, right after they disembarked from the ship, there were odd little things to which Mam had to adjust, the sight of tea bags, for a start. After my mother and brother were 'processed' through immigration, Mam and Dad sat down in a nearby restaurant to have tea together before boarding the train which would take them 'home'.

Mam found it odd that the tea was served in paper cups, but that oddity was quickly surpassed by the sight of a mouse floating in her tea. With tears in her eyes she begged my father to throw it away. Trying his best not to laugh at her, Dad quickly took the 'mouse' out of the cup to reveal that it was in fact a tea bag. Given that she was raised in a country in which her tea had always been loose leaves brewed in a tea pot, poured through a strainer, and served in a china cup, Mam's first cup of tea in Canada was a bit of a shock. This little episode was a bright spot about which they always laughed.

Although light hearted moments such as these dot the landscape of my mother's memories of emigrating from Ireland, there were also unpleasant memories of their early times in Canada.

Dad's Canadian Immigration
Identification Card
When Dad first arrived he stayed with the man who had 'sponsored' his immigration. An immigrant had to have a sponsor in order to immigrate into Canada. It was the duty of the sponsor to ensure the immigrant had a place to live, and had gainful employment. You could not simply arrive and go on a job hunt. If Dad had any illusions about Canada, his sponsor quickly disabused him of those notions, and gave him a true idea of what he might be up against as an Irish immigrant. Although Dad was among the 'preferred' immigrants because of his skills and his country of origin, some ordinary citizens were not so receptive to new immigrants, believing they were taking jobs away from Canadian men.

Once he was settled into his new job, Dad went in search of housing for his family. The task was not without its challenges. In some cases as soon as they heard his Irish accent the door was slammed in his face. When finally he entered into a lease agreement with a landlord, Dad was surprised at being sternly warned that the house must be kept clean. 'How else would you keep a house, other than clean?', he wondered.

My mother was also surprised to discover people were much less welcoming than she imagined they would be. Mam found it very strange that the fact of her Irish origin created odd expectations in the minds of some people. She recalled a neighbour who said she was surprised to discover how clean and well kept Mam and Dad's home was, given the stereotype of the dirty Irish. Another found it odd that Mam and Dad had no alcohol in the house, given the stereotype of the drunken Irish.

In this strange land where people behaved oddly, Mam dearly missed the warmth of her family and her friends. Once, she told me that she spent the first two years of their time in Canada crying, and longing to move back home to Ireland. Dad very much missed his friends and family too, but they both recognized Canada as a place in which he would have steady reliable employment, and a future of bright possibility for their little family.

In his working life in Canada my father encountered men who clearly had a disdain for the Irish. In the first establishment for which he worked his boss called him by the nickname 'Paddy', instead of his proper forename Michael. Some of his co-workers quickly followed suit, and if he protested they would just laugh at him. Eventually he developed a thicker emotional skin, so to speak, in order to just get through the day. As time passed and his employers saw the good quality of his work, he began to rise in their esteem. For the most part the name calling stopped, but there were still a few who engaged in it.

Throughout my father's working life this sort of name calling was something he often encountered. In the last company for which Dad worked, the son of the owner used to call him 'Muldoon'. I recall myself as a seventeen year old going to meet my father at his work one day, and angrily calling out to this man saying, 'Sir, my father's name is Michael or Mr. Geraghty, not Muldoon, and you will please address him as such'. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I thought I would be in trouble, but the man just smiled, apologized, and said I was a good kid for standing up for my dad. Dad told me not to worry about it, to just ignore the name calling, but I truly believe he found it hurtful. I think it chipped away at him over time, and made him a more negative person.

A few months before she died, I talked to my mother about their emigration from Ireland. She said that despite her initial uncertainty, she had absolutely no regrets about the choice they made to come to Canada. Mam reminded me about the fact that she felt so very proud to be a Canadian. She talked about the year she and my dad and brother became citizens. Mam said she had been in Canada for so long that she now felt more Canadian than Irish. I'll admit I was little skeptical, still am I suppose. My parents found success in Canada, good jobs, the full ownership of their own home, and money to travel the world, but I have always wondered if there wasn't still a place in their hearts with an emptiness, a longing for home that no amount of success could ever fill.

As I think back to those cool winter evenings on which my father sat alone in our darkened living room, softly crooning songs of home, I wonder if the brilliant dream of Canada had lost a little of its glow along the way, but my father knew he could never again go home.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Memoriam Cards: Remembering those who have gone before us

'In Memoriam' cards, memorial cards, memory cards, mortuary cards: All of these names have been used as descriptors for the small cards produced within a few days, or even a few weeks, after the death of a loved one. They are usually given to members of the family and to friends of the departed. These cards have been a part of Irish mourning practice for well over one hundred years.

When I was a child, my mother's prayer missal was filled with these little cards, and she would offer prayers in memory of the family member named on the card. The cards sometimes include an image of the loved one, although over time some of the photographs have gone missing on the ones my mother had. On the front of the card, and often on the back as well, images of religious figures may be featured.

All of the cards include invocations for prayers on behalf of the deceased. Some mention indulgences and quarantines, in numbers ranging from 100 to 300 days, and in some cases, a period of years. A quarantine is the term used to describe an indulgence period of forty days. These indulgences and quarantines are exhortations to God, which the holder of the card must make, for the forgiveness of sins the loved one may have committed on earth. Committed prayer is intended to ensure the release of his/her soul from Purgatory. The holder of the card is to pray for the deceased each day for the prescribed number of days/years in order to ensure eternal rest for the loved one.

In terms of family history and genealogy, the cards are interesting because they offer confirmation of the date of death, the age of the individual, and may include other details such as their last known address.

In Memoriam Card for my paternal great-grandmother, Mary Dunne Magee.
Outside cover of Mary Dunne Magee's card.

In Memoriam Card, single piece, for my paternal grandmother Anne Magee Geraghty.
Flip side of card for Anne Magee Geraghty.

In Memoriam Card for Alice Fitzpatrick Ward, sister to my maternal great-grandfather.
Alice is the woman who helped my grandfather raise my mother and her siblings after the death of their mother.
Outside cover of Alice Fitzpatrick Ward's card.

In Memoriam Card for Teresa Fitzpatrick, again a single piece. Teresa was the sister of Alice (above)
and of my maternal great-grandfather Thomas Fitzpatrick.
Flip side of Teresa Fitzpatrick's card.

Click on images to view larger version.

Monday, July 9, 2012

'Cycling Apparitions' in the Castle Ruins: An Irish Story

Since it is summertime, and many of us are either suffering in the heat, or locked into air conditioned spaces for working and for living, I thought it might be time to once again share this light hearted story. It is a tale which my dad shared with me many years ago, a tale of an adventure in the wilds of Connemara. I hope it brings a smile to your face.

When my dad was a young man growing up in Ireland he was an avid cyclist, and spent every spare penny he had on the maintenance of his bicycles. When he was able to take a holiday from work he and his friends would cycle around the country. Together they navigated the entire Republic of Ireland. They were very well prepared, carrying with them sleeping bags, a primus stove for cooking, along with a neatly compact kit of cooking implements, some food, candles, and torches (a kind of flashlight) for night lighting.

Each day the travelling group would go as far as the wind and their legs would carry them. Overnight accommodations were arranged as they went. Their fellow countrymen were very helpful and very welcoming. Many nights they found themselves sleeping in the hayloft of an accommodating farm, in exchange for helping out a little the next day. After such nights they were usually greeted with a delicious breakfast of fresh eggs, sausages, bacon, batch bread (a delicious Irish bread), and coffee so strong "it would grow hair on your chest", as my dad used to say.

On a trip up into Connemara they found themselves arriving in a small village too late at night to make any sort of sleeping arrangements. They had cycled through the Twelve Bens, a mountain range which, while not exceptionally high, has roads so narrow and drops so steep that cycling through it is not for the faint of heart. The weather had closed in on them, and visibility was very poor; they had to stop for a while before completing their journey through the mountains, thus the very late arrival at the village.

The weather was still a little unstable when they arrived, and not wanting to get drenched by an overnight rain while sleeping under the stars, they decided to seek shelter inside castle ruins one of the party had spotted in a field on the edge of the village. They made their way through the field, gingerly stepping over 'cow pies', and trying to quiet the clatter of their bicycles so as not to unsettle the cows. My dad loved the darkness of the night; he said it seemed as though there were a billion stars in the sky.

They arrived to discover the ruins of the castle were in good enough shape that they would be well sheltered for the night. They pulled out their gear, lit candles, heated up the primus stove, and prepared a small meal over which they enjoyed animated conversation about their day's adventures. They used the torches and candles to poke around a bit inside the ruins before finally extinguishing them and settling in for the night.

My dad said he had never slept so soundly. They slept late into the morning and awakened fresh and ready to go into the village for a hearty meal before they once again set out on their bikes.

Along the road they met a shepherd moving a large flock of sheep down the road. He directed them to a small pub where they could get a meal, and told them to avoid the castle ruins on their tour because during the night he had noticed strange lights in the castle keep. He was worried that the angry ghost who used to haunt the place might be back. The cycling party said nothing and proceeded to the pub.

They arrived to find the place in an uproar with a couple of villagers excitedly talking about strange lights seen in the castle ruins the previous night, how the lights moved around so much, how they were glowing for a while and then suddenly gone. There was one "ole fella" (my dad's words) in particular who seemed to delight in regaling the group with stories about apparitions met and ghosts that had once haunted the ruins, and who wondered aloud what this reappearance might mean.

My father and his friends felt they should own up to the fact that it was them lighting up the ruins the previous night, and not an angry ghost; however, everyone seemed so excited about it that they just didn't have the heart to say anything. The 'cycling apparitions' happily shared a meal with the villagers at the pub and continued on their journey.


Note: *The ruins in the image I have included above are not in fact in Connemara; they are in Tipperary, but you get the picture.
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