This is a photograph of Coombe Hospital, taken yesterday. You’ll notice two big signs – one on the building itself, and one to the left of the gate.
This is the sign on the wall:
And this is the sign beside the gate:
And what you then notice is that the genitive case of the Irish word for “university” is spelled correctly on one sign, and incorrectly on the other. For “ollscoile” to have been spelled incorrectly on both would have been bad. But for whoever is in the charge of these signs to have two different versions up and either not notice or, worse again, not care that those signs are not the same is symbolic of the way we do things in this country. Badly.
Irish is hard language to spell, for different reasons. It’s a broken language, that wasn’t able to develop its own written tradition due the invader’s attempts to stamp it out. And Irish would be hard to spell anyway, because it’s an inflected language. The spelling of words changes according to what a particular word is doing in a sentence.
However. The existence of the language is one of the strongest reasons for their being an Ireland independent of the United Kingdom in the first place, and the place of Irish as the first language of the state has never been seriously questioned.
In the light of this, for so glaring an error to exist so prominently in so historic a location says a lot about the state, its values, and how its governed. And none of it says is good.
Signage costs money. The wording on those signs should the same – how did they end up getting spelled differently? How did the signmaker not notice? How did the buyer not notice? And most of all, how is it that not one of all the employees going in and out of the place every single day never thought: hold on, those signs don’t match up. One of them must be wrong. Let’s do something about it.
The most likely thing, of course, is that someone has noticed, and the issue went up the line until it met that most important person in any branch of Irish government, Fear an Oighir. Fear an Oighir, or The Ice Man, isn’t the man who gets things done. He’s the very opposite, actually.
Fear an Oighir is that fellow at the end of the line in an escalating problem. He’s the man who can look at a problem, sniff, and decide that nobody around here needs to bother his or her arse with this old shite. Fear an Oighir then opens a special drawer in his desk that is in fact a space-time portal to a cold and bottomless pit, and into the vasty deep goes the issue, never to be seen or bothered about again.
This is what you see on the other side of the street, as you look across from the gate of Coombe Hospital:
A wasteland, in anyone’s language. Prime retail area in a less-than-worthless condition in a city with big problems to do with rent, housing and homelessness. But reader, Ireland is a state that can’t even spell a sign correctly – what chance have we of tacking urban renewal, or climate change, or the end of post-Cold War order?
We yak on about how much the language means to us. What do those signs tell any schoolchild who notices on his or her way to school in the morning? It tells him or her that they’ll never, ever learn how to spell Irish words correctly, but worse again, it tells him or her that it doesn’t really matter, because the whole thing is only a cod anyway. It’s just for show. Nobody’s meant to take it seriously.
Twenty-first Century Ireland faces huge problems requiring profound political skill, vision and no small amount of selfless patriotism on the part of the public in general. But we’re either too lazy or too stupid or too uncaring or too much of some other damn thing to even manage to put up a sign without humiliating ourselves and any aspirations we ever entertained, in harder times than these, for Ireland to finally take her place among the nations of the Earth.