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Road signs and Irish Language

  • 30-09-2021 3:23pm
    Registered Users Posts: 347 ✭✭Barney224

    I know this was raised a few years ago, but I assumed there are still no plans to update our signage! The layout of the Irish language versions of towns/cities is terrible and extremely hard to read. Below is an example I put together quickly. I think it's so much clearer, using the same fonts and different colours.

    The original (below) is a complete mess in my opinion.



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  • Registered Users Posts: 5,805 ✭✭✭DoctorEdgeWild

    There's an argument to say that something like a road sign / instruction / direction is more important to be understood, than to be a political/social football. In my opinion, the most important thing about signage is that it is understood.

    I won't be taking on the Irish language promoters though, not a fight I have in me.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,181 ✭✭✭KrisW1001

    Yes, it does matter. There appears to be no legal requirement to put place-names in English on our road-signs, which is why Gaeltacht areas have successfully lobbied to have the Anglicised names removed from their signage. You’ll also note that where a place is named only “in English”, it’s still normally drawn using the “Irish-language name” typeface (see the signs around the Cork South Ring for “Wilton”, not “WILTON” ).

    @barney 20v - I can see you’re using the Scottish bilingual road-signs as a model, but I can’t honestly call it an improvement. On current signage, yellow is reserved for route-numbers, which is the most important piece of information on a sign if you’re navigating long-distance. I always thought this distinction should have been preserved on motorway signage too, but the UK motorway signage on which ours was based was designed for maximum contrast, and so use of colour was ruled out. (The original UK motorway signage was planned to be black, but the designers convinced the Department of Transport that a deep blue would be just as effective, and “less funereal”)

    Using colour for place-names dilutes the advantage of colour-coding; worse, if you use the yellow for Irish, you emphasise the name that (like it or not) people don’t understand.

    Regarding the change to mixed-case lettering, there’s a longstanding argument about whether it’s better to use all-caps or mixed case on road-signs. Legibility testing shows that Mixed-case is generally a better approach for any kind of text, but there’s considerable evidence that when it comes to the specific case of place-names, rather than general words, that all-caps makes it easier to distinguish between similar names.

    Countries that modernised their signage later than the 1960s have tended to go with all-caps for some or all destination names; those who did it earlier use mixed-case everywhere.

  • Registered Users Posts: 5,885 ✭✭✭Damien360

    no problem with multilingual signs and I tend to wonder how the English/Irish name was derived from either language. But I have issues with warning signs only in Irish. It doesn’t help the majority of the population. It is probably only a thing in the Gaeltacht.

    An example I came across some years back was approaching Galway on the headford road coming from castlebar direction. There was a very long (a lot of writing) sign all in Irish. It was only when I reached a small bridge with a very sharp turn on top of it with a big dip on its far side that I realised why the sign was there at all. Lucky nobody else was approaching from the other side.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,181 ✭✭✭KrisW1001

    With my typographer’s hat on, I really wish they’d fix that uppercase A glyph in the Irish script. The N and M are marginal, and I suppose have some sort of basis in the old Irish alphabet, but the capital-A in old Irish was always triangular, never rounded.

    I also don’t see the point of the oblique/italic text for Irish. It makes the signs less legible. There are a few very old signs that use the current design, but the Irish text in upright, which I think looks better. Here’s one that I can remember, but there are others:,-8.4870811,3a,15.7y,34.34h,83.23t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1spp_wZ1tERw5NxvZrrqI2aA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    (The sign is tilted, not the text!)

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  • Here's a Scottish example:

    Here's one from Wales:

    Both give equal prominence to two languages, but they use slight variations of colour scheme. Either would be better than our mess of pottage.

    Here's a redesign suggestion found on Wikipedia. IMO, this is also better than our current approach as far as fonts and languages go (although I'm not sure where the junction number on either version comes from}.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,195 ✭✭✭Furze99

    Yep, it's called the tail wagging the dog, massively. Also called self delusion on a grand scale.

    Official languages Act (thanks to Eamon O'Cuiv) states Irish comes first and equal prominence on public signage.

    The sort of Act that should have seen a full referendum to enable it to be brought in. Given it's far reaching effects.

  • Registered Users Posts: 15,150 ✭✭✭✭whisky_galore

    Hence getting lost in Gaeltacht areas pre smartphone because I didnt have a clue what the irish meant (shades of one of the Healy Raes saying they didn't need more road signs because the locals knew where to go) and the whole Dingle name farce but that's what you get when stubborn people use a language like a cudgel. Not everyone got an A1 in Irish in school. The bilingual country notion is an utter pipe dream, try and engage people in work or on the street and you'll see that very quickly.

    The different colour is great so one can ignore the name that you dont understand.

  • Registered Users Posts: 25,469 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus

    Ireland is not unique in having bilingual road signage; several European countries do, including Scotland, Wales, Greece, Bulgaria, parts of Spain (the Basque country, Catalonia) and several of the Balkan countries. And there are more countries that have bilingual signage in border areas or tourist areas. Non-European countries with bilingual signage in at least some places include Canada and New Zealand.

    SFAIK the only countries that use different coloured letters to distinguish different languages are Greece and Scotland. (The road sign that Barney suggests in post 5 is essentially the Scottish standard design). Ireland distinguishes between the two languages by putting one in all-upper case and the other in sentence case. One or two countries use different typefaces (or of course different alphabets, if the different languages involved employ different alphabets). Most countries do not distinguish between them at all. 

    It’s long-established that text printed in upper case IS HARDER TO READ, ESPECIALLY AT SPEED. So if you need to contrast the different languages this may not be the best way to do it. But most countries seem to think that you don’t need to contrast the different languages at all.

    The road sign that Barney suggests in post 5 is essentially the Scottish standard design.  A corresponding sign in Wales would be similar except that both languages would be in white, and the distinctive yellow colour would be reserved for the road number, which arguably is better, since some travellers - particularly those following audible instructions from a satnav system - will be primarily interested in the road number.

  • Registered Users Posts: 312 ✭✭d15ude

    Get rid of the Irish language on road signs.

    It's unnecessary and confusing.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 15,150 ✭✭✭✭whisky_galore

    Oh come on, there's no similarity between the situation in Italy and here. Everyone in Italy speaks Italian as a living, working language but you knew that.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 11,543 Mod ✭✭✭✭Cookiemunster

    Italy isn't a bilingual country, so they don't need bilingual road signage. Ireland is (supposedly) bilingual and the dominant language is English, not Irish. Therefore all road signs, including those in the Gaeltacht should be bilingual.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,181 ✭✭✭KrisW1001

    @Aontachtoir Agree with that, but I think they had a head start from building on such a good existing base. It’s still funny that they ended up with two different approaches in Scotland and Wales, but this is because the changes to the signage manuals had to be local: highways are one of the devolved powers, so Scottish and Welsh practice can diverge from English (even Northern Ireland has its own version of the traffic design manual).

    As I said, I liked the Scottish approach on white-backed signs, but I think using yellow for destinations on the green-backed signs takes away from the use that colour to highlight the route number, especially as the UK design doesn’t make the route-number bigger than the destinations text (our signs do). If you apply that everywhere, you’re effectively training English-speakers to ignore whatever is written in yellow. (For example, on the pictured signboard with “Uachdar Thìre”, the text lines are yellow, white, yellow, white, yello-- oh, that’s the road number, not another destination).

    On the original point of the signage being “ugly”, I do think a lot of that is down to the occasionally very poor execution of designs by roadbuilders. There are rules that must be followed, and the software that’s used for these automates them. But once you’re within those rules, spacings can be adjusted to make the sign look better without compromising legibility. On some road projects, you can see that the person doing the signage had no eye for it at all, and was just committing whatever the sign-plotting software spat out. That’s a real shame given the cost of these things, but signs are usually something of an afterthought on big projects, as there’s no “engineering” in a signboard design.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 11,543 Mod ✭✭✭✭Cookiemunster

    I don't need a history lesson, thank you very much. It's not contempt for the Irish language to point to the reality that we all speak English and while only a tiny minority speak Irish. We're immersed in an English speaking world, so that, for good or bad, is not gong to change in the future. And if you actually read my post properly (it's not that long a post) you'd have seen that I said ALL road signage should be bilingual INCLUDING signage in the Gaeltacht.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,181 ✭✭✭KrisW1001

    The basic point is being missed here. Road signs show the official names of places. If you don’t like it that some place populated by people who mostly speak Irish doesn’t have an official Anglicised name, well that’s just something you have to live with.

    And as most of the names that were dropped in 2004 were just transliterations*, it’s not like you have to learn a new name, so much as spell it properly. Irish people really can’t feign ignorance of how Irish names are spelled and pronounced: if you can say “Saoirse” or “Donnachadh”, you can manage to figure out what “Heilbhic”, “Lios Pól” or “Baile an Fheirtéaraigh” are. Foreign tourists are already expecting names to be unfamiliar (and the “English” versions of those names use such old rules that they’re of little help to them anyway), so who exactly are we supposed to be helping here?

    In the Western part of the country, most of the “English” place names in this country are some soldier’s attempt at transcribing what a local person said to them (the original Ordnance Survey of Ireland was carried out by the Army). If I say to you, in English, “This town is called Luleå”, and you spell it “Loolah”, that doesn’t make that the “English” name of the place - it just means you didn’t care how it was supposed to be spelled, and wrote down whatever looked right. But that’s basically what happened.

    But there are places outside of Gaeltachts with only one official name, often from Irish - so what do we do with those? Should we bring back “Dún Laoighaire KINGSTOWN” as that was the official, English-language name, in the interest of being a bilingual country, or should we do something equally stupid like adding more cod-transliteration like “Dún Laoighaire DUNLEARY”, or how about making up something nobody would recognise, like “LEARYSFORT”?

    (* But yes, Dingle was a mistake - because that was a name that was used widely. It has been fixed since, though )

  • Posts: 3,801 ✭✭✭[Deleted User]

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  • Posts: 0 Amira Purring Oaf

    In the South Tyrol region of Northern Italy road signs are generally in German and Italian, the exception is the Dolomite valleys, where road signs are in 3 languages, German, Italian and Ladin.

    Doesn't seem to upset the tourists too much as the area has a huge skiing industry in the winter and full of bikers and walkers in the summer.