Irish Roots

August 9th, 2010

John Grenham

The anglicisation of Gaelic Irish surnames was bitterly resented in the 17th and 18th centuries, and was one of the many injustices that helped to fuel the Gaelic Revival at the turn of the 20th century. It was inevitable, and right, that the resumption of the original surnames became central to the recovery of Gaelic Irish identity. The impulse to reclaim the names was widespread, and certainly not confined to an educated elite. Take Brien/Bryan/O’Brien. In the Valuation of 1847-64, only 44% of households are recorded with the “O’” prefix. By 1890, 56% of birth registrations were for O’Brien, and in the 1901 census, 64% of individuals listed are O’Briens. Over the course of 50-odd years, the numbers using the old prefix increased by almost half.

With such depth of popular feeling, it is not surprising that one of the first acts of the Free State Dáil was a motion in March 1922 requiring the use of the Irish versions of names on all birth, death and marriage certificates. Although never implemented, the decree’s blithe presumption that all surnames in Ireland must have an Irish version became a cornerstone of official Irish language policy for the next 60 years. Many absurdities resulted: in my own family, each of four generations has had a different Irish surname. Mid-20th-century electoral lists (some Dublin city lists are at dublinheritage.ie) provide reams of egregious offenders, with seimhiús and fadas floating around like incense at benediction. Nowhere was official Ireland’s disrespect for the Irish language clearer than here, in its treatment of surnames, where the application of a pious coat of pidgin Irish took the place of any independent thought or recognition of difference.

The oppressed often become oppressors after liberation. Independent Ireland did not reverse the injustice of the anglicisation of surnames. We mirrored and repeated it.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

Current column

2014

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
6
3
3
7
5
2
7
4
13
10
10
14
12
9
14
11
20
17
17
21
19
16
21
18
27
24
24
28
26
23
28
25
 
 
31
 
 
30


2013

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
7
4
4
1
6
3
1
5
2
7
4
2
14
11
11
8
13
10
8
12
9
14
11
9
21
18
18
15
20
17
15
19
16
21
18
16
28
25
25
22
27
 
22
26
23
28
25
23
 
 
 
29
 
 
29
 
30

 
30


2012

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2
6
5
2
7
4
2
6
3
1
5
3
9
13
12
9
14
11
9
13
10
8
12
10
16
20
19
16
21
18
16
20
17
15
19
17
23
27
26
23
28
25
23
27
24
22
26
24
30
 
 
30
 
 
30
 
 
29
 
31


2011

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
3
7
7
4
2
6
4
1
5
3
7
5
10
14
14
11
9
13
11
8
12
10
14
12
17
21
21
18
16
20
18
15
19
17
21
19
24
28
28
25
23
27
25
22
26
24
28
26
31
 
 
 
30
 
 
29
 
31
 
 


2010

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
4
1
1
5
3
7
5
2
6
4
1
6
11
8
8
12
10
14
12
9
13
11
8
13
18
15
15
19
17
21
19
16
20
18
15
20
25
22
22
26
25
28
26
23
27
25
22
27
 
 
 
 
31
 
 
30
 
 
29
 


2009

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
6
2
2
6
4
1
6
3
7
5
2
7
13
9
9
13
11
8
13
10
14
12
9
14
20
16
16
20
18
15
20
17
21
19
16
21
27
23
23
27
25
22
27
24
28
26
23
28
 
 
 
 
 
29
 
31
 
 
30