A sense of place

A chara, – If Micheál Martin, as quoted by a letter writer (March 2nd), spoke of Sinn Féin "coming down here", he had got his traditional directions upside down. In the Irish language, and traditionally throughout the country, the northern part of any territory is called "íochtar", the lower part. Dinneen and Ó Dónaill both have "íochtar na hÉireann" for "the north of Ireland". In common parlance, at least in my younger days, you went "down" to the north. The south was always "up", even when it seemed counterintuitive.

In Lanesborough, Co Longford, for example, where I served as curate throughout the 1970s, boats going south towards Athlone always were said to be going “up the lake”, up Lough Ree. Even today, as a parish priest in Co Leitrim, when my car could freewheel its way southward from the top of Bohey townland into the village of Drumlish, Co Longford, people would speak of me as going “up the Bohey road”. All over the country we have townlands which are divided into “upper” and “lower”, and almost invariably “upper” refers to the south of the townland, and “lower” to the north.

Another traditional direction which has of late become reversed in much conversation is going “in” to an island. Connemara folk speak always of going “isteach go hÁrainn”, and indeed the people of Lanesborough, for their part, always went “in to Inchenagh”, an island in Lough Ree. You never went “out” to an island.

We have become conditioned by looking at maps. I recommend we get back to the Gaelic way of thinking of directions: “in” to our beautiful islands, and “up” in the direction of the sun, to the sunnier parts, “uachtar na tíre”. – Is mise,

An tAthair SEÁN Ó COINN,


Co Liatroma.