Language guerrillas prove costly for auctioneers


"Lucht Guerrilla na Gaeilge," they call them, and in the last few months they have been responsible for a new and insidious campaign in parts of Connemara. For years State and local authority signs in English have been targets for certain Irish-language campaigners. However, private signs in English are now regarded as fair game.

Some say it is an open secret as to who is responsible. Others say no one group or person can be identified.

In any case, one Galway auctioneer has bowed to the pressure to advertise properties for sale as Gaeilge. "It was simple economics," Mr Shane Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Auctioneers told The Irish Times. "I didn't want to have to keep paying for replacements when signs were completely obliterated."

Mr Fitzgerald's notice on a half-acre site with a ruined cottage in Ballynahown has yielded a sale after 2 1/2 months, but he does not think that this is a result of his initiative. "My client, whose parents are native speakers, was not the least bit impressed by the campaign. In fact, many of the local people in the area affected are both annoyed and embarrassed by it all."

Mr Matt O'Sullivan, a Clifden auctioneer who does a lot of business in Connemara, has had several bad experiences. "I've been considering using Irish. I wouldn't rule it out," he said.

However, Mr Brian Forde, of Barna Estates, is adamant that his firm will not bow to such pressure. "I'm fighting it all the way," Mr Forde said, while confirming that one of his customers did stick a small "Diolta" strip up on a sign after a property was sold. "One of my signs, on private property, was defaced three times. Recently a local authority notice on a busy road beyond Barna warning of a school ahead was attacked."

Mr Forde discussed the issue with a private detective, but as most of the vandalising seems to take place at night, it was felt that security cameras would not be feasible. "I have a client in Rossaveal who is a native speaker and who has to take his sign in every night. He is an elderly man. It is not fair that he should be forced to take such action on his own property."

As the auctioneers point out, many potential buyers are from other parts of Europe, which may be another dimension of the campaign. "We can reuse signs in English, but it is not so easy with Irish. Each one can cost £60 to erect," Mr Fitzgerald said.

Mr Forde says he loves the Irish language, and recognises the right of a population of 25,000 in the Connemara Gaeltacht to self-expression. "But this is not being done on behalf of the people of the Connemara Gaeltacht. It is a small minority, forcing its views on the majority and trespassing. It sticks in my craw."