What’s in a name?

There’s a report in The Irish Examiner today headed “President Higgins praises Pope Benedict’s ‘steadfast interest’ in Northern Ireland”. That’s news to me, to be honest. I hadn’t realised the late Pope was interested in us at all, let alone steadfastly. But I see no reason why Michael D would lie. (Yes, Virginia, granted Michael D was a mite economical with the truth when he avowed he’d be a one-term president. But this is different.)

Michael D himself, I expect, has been a northern star of steadfastness in his interest in the North. I don’t remember him talking about ‘up there’ much, but I’m sure he has. Wasn’t there a thing where he rapped the DUP’s knuckles and insisted his title was ‘President of Ireland’, not ‘President of the Republic of Ireland’?

Which brings us to the interesting, and for me a little irritating matter of what the South calls itself. Shortly after partition and for a long time it was ‘The Free State’ or ‘The Irish Free State’. Then it was Éire, which Professor John A Murphy once told me sharply was the name of the state. Éire, of course, is the Irish word for Ireland. Then it became the Republic of Ireland, but  for several decades now  the twenty-six counties refers to itself and is known as ‘Ireland’.

What is there to be irritated about in that? Well, nothing really in one sense. There is absolutely no doubt that the twenty-six counties are Irish counties, so I suppose you’re geographically accurate when you refer to them as Ireland. But in doing so you ignore a fair-sized elephant that’s relieving itself in the north-eastern corner of our island – the six counties, the North, North-East Ireland.

Because if the southern state is Ireland, that leaves the north a sort of disowned orphan, sitting on the doorstep with the door firmly shut.  Granted, it does match nicely with the thinking of a disappointingly large number of people in the South who see those of us north of the border as, well, not really Irish. Or if Irish, a kind of flawed version of Irishness, an Irishness with a rough and dangerous gene which, thank God, those south of the border do not have. That partially explains the indignation of some in the southern populace when Martin McGuinness came from ‘up there’ and presumed to put himself forward as a candidate for the Irish presidency. Mary McAleese met similar hostility and suspicion, being described by Eoghan Harris as ‘a ticking time-bomb’.

So here’s my New Year resolution, which I’d urge all Irish people to use. When referring to the Six Counties, use the letters NEI. It’s a bit like NI, except more geographically accurate, and stops the northern-most point of the island being in the South. And the South, for its part, could refer to itself as RoI.

No, Virginia, not the ‘Republic of Ireland’. I’d confidently say that none of the 1916 leaders would consider the southern state a true republic. No, and again in the interests of accuracy, RoI would be used as shorthand for   the ‘Rest of Ireland’.  If nothing else, it brings the  North-East corner back into existence.

3 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Goff Martin December 31, 2022 at 4:57 pm #

    RoI , I like it. My question is even if the north constitutionally becomes part of the “republic“, how do we make it a true republic? Britishness has been so infused in Irish culture that I’m not sure the Irishness and it’s true form can ever be re-attained. Everything from teatime to the way parliament is set up to what side of the road do you drive on it’s all British. Of course the extent of Britishness and Ireland goes much deeper than my weak examples above. So I can I pose the question, how do you make the republic a true republic and how do you cleanse Ireland it’s deep-seated Britishness ?

  2. Jude Collins December 31, 2022 at 5:14 pm #

    Interesting comments, Goff. I suppose we can say that we have a strong Irish culture, although such eyesores as the Late Late Show do their best to fillet it. The Irish language and its positive development is another way in which we could make ourselves distinct – Tir gan teanga, atc. And switching to driving on the right side rather than the left side would be a a simple enough thing to do, and would encourage Ireland to get its vehicles through the EU, not Britain. As long as some bright spark didn’t decide to phase in driving on the right side by starting with container lorries and over a period of a year moving on to buses and cars.:)

  3. Christopher K. McNally December 31, 2022 at 6:12 pm #

    I agree generally with your comments. For the past couple of decades it has been my personal practice to deny the upper case letter privilege to that region of the island that remains subject to the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom and so I always refer to “northern Ireland.” It’s my passive aggressive method of disputing the existence of a separate and distinct legal entity and I encourage all supervisors and managers of style manuals to adopt the same.