In James Joyce’s Ulysses,Mr.Deasy asks Stephen Dedalus what an Englishman’s proudest boast is. Stephen replies:“That on his empire..the sun never sets”. The saying came to mind on a recent trip to Australia as I came across a brand new development of some 250 houses in a relatively remote area.
The phrase ‘the sun never sets’ is familiar to many. Early reference was in relation to the 16th Century Spanish Empire that had extended well beyond its own borders and included vast tracts of Europe,North Africa,the Philippines and the Americas. Francis Bacon wrote :‘‘both the East and the West Indies being met in the crown of Spain, it is come to pass, that, as one saith in a brave kind of expression, the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shines upon one part or other of them which, to say truly, is a beam of glory”. In the 19th Century it was the British Empire on which the sun never set.
Fast forward to more recent times, we now speak of globalization, emigration, diaspora.These concepts have largely replaced the might of empire,of conquest and supremacy. We Irish have down the centuries, spread out across the globe with tens of millions now claiming Irish descent.We have become people of influence in far-flung places and communities. Historically, invaders and conquerors applied their own placenames to their new lands – for example New York, Norfolk Island, San Francisco. Nor is there anything new about places being named from areas where immigrants settled, whether they arrived there involuntarily or otherwise. New York State has an Ulster County,Pennsylvania has a Dublin and Limerick is to be found in about 10 different locations in the USA.
In Western Australia the school attended by my grandchildren is at the edge of bushland, on the outskirts of a small village nestled under the Perth Hills, about 45 kilometers north of Perth City. Here kangaroos roam in the evenings,emus wander about and parrots make their noisy presence felt. Part of the bushland near to the schoolgate has now been cleared to make way for a housing estate. Not just any housing estate,but a housing estate whose roads and streets are named after villages I know well in my native Donegal, Ireland, some 10,000 miles away! Where snakes emus, cockatoos, scorpions, ants and a huge diversity of species roamed and foraged in a rich scrubland of eucalyptus, acacia, and tussocked grasslands, there now will be Donegal Entrance,Ballybofey Loop,Fintown Street,Killybegs Street,Doochary Street,Letterkenny Road, Ardara Road,Bundoran Street,Lifford Street,and Narin Loop! (Narin I presume began life as the correctly spelled ‘Nairn’)
While I do wonder that indigenous and local names might be more appropriate, I can’t help but also wonder if the residents will ever know the origins of their street names and the beautiful places they represent. Will they ever know that Fintown sits on the shores of the dark waters of Lough Finn; that the beach on Narin is one of Ireland’s most beautiful; that Killybegs is famous for its fishing fleet; that Donegal refers to an entire county in the north-west of Ireland,as well as a town,and that the town has a castle; that Ballybofey sits on the banks of the River Finn; that Doochary is derived from the Irish language and means ‘the black weir’ and that here Irish is the spoken language; that Ardara has one of the most amazing views in the world at Glengesh Pass; that Bundoran is spectacularly situated on Donegal Bay on the world famous Wild Atlantic Way; that Lifford is the county town and dates from the 16th century; that Letterkenny is County Donegal’s largest town and is perched on a series of hills and has one of Ireland’s largest Celtic Crosses? Probably not! And in all probability too the new local pronunciation will make the street names unrecognizable to anyone from Donegal.
I am assuming that the developer has a connection with Donegal or at least with Ireland. He has ensured that the names of these Donegal beauty spots will become part of the lives of over 200 families,and perhaps even some from those very places, some 10,000 miles away.
Is this a ‘beam of glory’ for Donegal people? Should we be proud that our global reach is such that we now influence naming of places,without having had to conquer,or intimidate,or arrive as convicts. Instead we are just settling in and settling down in places where we have actually chosen to live? Before long perhaps, the sun will never set on Donegal placenames!