Belfast Telegraph

Use of Irish language in messages to foreign leaders questioned by diplomat

A top diplomat urged the Government to abandon the use of Irish on messages to foreign leaders and heads of state.

In State papers only released this year but dating back to January 12 1977 an unsigned letter from the ambassador in Australia gave the impression the bilingual notes looked sporadic, amateurish and odd.

One of the biggest gripes was the practice of adding a handwritten fada, or accent as it was described in the letter, as typewriters in Dublin had no key to mark the inflection.

The letter, which was among files from the Department of Foreign Affairs, reads: "Apart from the total impossibility of any of the recipients being able to read it - and if they did realising that the Irish text is an obvious and somewhat laboured translation of the original English text - it always, I feel, looks odd that we have to add the accents in ink since our typewriters do not have accents; it hardly looks as if we use the Irish language very much!"

While the typed document is not signed, Florrie (Florence) O'Riordan was Ireland's top diplomat in the Antipodes at the time.

It went on: "What, I wonder, is the practice of non-English speaking countries in sending messages to our head of state?

"Many of course have languages which are widely known; do the others insist on Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese etc.

"I appreciate the pietas involved but I feel there are elements which might have drawn on aor (sic) from our Irish-speaking forbears."

The complaint was sparked after messages were sent in late December 1976 from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin to the Queen's representative in Australia, Governor General Sir John Robert Kerr, and the prime minister of New Zealand Robert Muldoon.

The ambassador warned the one to the PM was incorrectly addressed to His Excellency.

"The Prime Minister is not, of course, the head of state; His Excellency is reserved for the Governor-General," the ambassador said.

"I took the liberty of correcting this and the occurrence of Your Excellency in the text."


From Belfast Telegraph