Brian Friel would be amused…

Posted on November 16, 2009


So I’m in Galway at the moment, in close proximity to the Connemara region which in some ways terrifies me because it alerts me to the fact that I really can’t even begin to struggle by, using my native tongue, no less say hold a decent conversation. In fact, some of the people were speaking English to me today and I still didn’t really understand but that’s probably more of a dialect issue than a language one.


Anyway, my point of this blog is this. Spiddal is spelt “Spiddal” in Galway. Or it is spelt “An Spideal” which is the Gaeilge translation of the place name. Presumably. So tell why, when I typed both of these names into my SAT-NAV, that one of them tried to send me to Meath and the other didn’t translate and sent me back to try again?


On contacting my mother back in Wexford to ask for the name of a place somewhere near Spiddal, and hopefully one that the SAT-NAV might recognise, I discovered that the SAT-NAV recognised “Spiddle”. Worrying enough that the good people at Nuvi couldn’t be bothered to spell place-names right, but even more worrying is the fact that I got that spelling from a map. An almost 30 year old map, but a map nonetheless.


And in fact, on that note, it is only lately that our local councils have gone mad renaming places and fixing signs. My local area is one of a few examples – “Murrintown” and “Murntown”. The latter is actually correct according to maps yet the first one is the one that has been taken into day to day use.


I suppose the question I’m trying to ask here is, who’s wrong? The map, the SAT-NAV or the local people for rewriting their place names and assimilating them into every day use? If the SAT-NAV uses the map names, it’s not wrong. But then, are the people who live in and make a place, a place, wrong either? Am I wrong for spelling Murrintown this way because a couple of stuffy councilors decide to put up a sign to solidify their authority on the matter?


This is the very argument of Brian Friel’s Translations, a wonderful play about naming and renaming. In the 21st century, thankfully, we have moved on from being incapable of finding our way just because a couple of letters have changed in a name.


However, when we are truly lost and turn to a SAT-NAV, it is to discover fully the extent of trouble, a couple of misplaced letters can give us.