BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Kevin Connolly
"History is about to be made"
 real 56k

Monday, 11 December, 2000, 21:05 GMT
Historic overhaul for Newtown Sands
Newtown Sands
Newtown Sands: Locals vote to reinstate Gaelic name
As Ireland prepares to welcome President Bill Clinton on Tuesday, one small community in Kerry has other matters on its mind. The village of Moyvane is still officially known as Newtown Sands, the name it was given under British rule.

Almost 80 years after the British left, local people have been voting to change its name back to the Gaelic version. Ireland correspondent Kevin Connolly reports.

Deep in the wintry Kerry countryside, it is almost closing time in Kearney's bar and the air is thick with cigarette smoke and heavy with history.

The songs are of hometowns and heartbreak, of rack-renting and rebellion.

Tonight, though, the talk is of cutting a link with the past, rather than celebrating or re-living it.

We are in the village of Moyvane - except that on maps and on some official documents - it still bears the name of Newtown Sands, commemorating a family of English landlords who came to Ireland, it is said, with Oliver Cromwell.

Official documents still use the British name

A referendum has now been conducted to ask local people if they would like to erase the old name - and its colonial overtones - from the record forever.

Gabriel Fitzmaurice, a poet and teacher who has lived in the village all his life, says it is all about a desire to set the historical and geographical record straight, not about hating the English.

"Irish history is more complicated than the English can comprehend," he explained. "Newtown Sands, Moyvane, we are both, our history is hyphenated, but we would like to regularise the situation now."

Miles Kearney, who is over 90, is old enough to remember Ireland under British rule and is less diplomatic, as men of his age are perhaps entitled to be.

He says people always resented the old name, but before Ireland became independent were afraid to say so.

Irish history is more complicated than the English can comprehend

Gabriel Fitzmaurice
"It was unspoken, about Newtown Sands," he insists, "We were dominated by the British government. You had to keep quiet or you'd be locked up."

None of which quite answers the question of why it has taken so long for Moyvane to get around to tidying up the historical records.

Other towns and cities whose names symbolised British rule in Ireland rushed to change them soon after independence was established, so Queenstown and Kingstown became Cobh and Dun Laoghaire decades ago.

Moyvane has experimented with other names over the course of the century, briefly styling itself Newtown Clarke after one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916 and then Newtown DiIlon after a reforming politician.

But nothing else ever stuck and so it has remained through the years Moyvane with Newtown Sands as a kind of bureaucratic alter ego.

Colonial overtones to disappear from the record
When the votes are counted that will certainly changed, although Kerry County Council deputy returning officer Helen Burke seems slightly surprised to find herself involved in such an unusual exercise in democracy.

"It is extremely rare and in Kerry it hasn't happened in our lifetimes," she explains.

"In the region, the last one that would have taken place was in Cork when Kingwilliamstown changed their name to Ballydesmond in around 1936."

This is not perhaps, an enormous change in the long and troubled history that the English and the Irish share.... but it is a curious reminder of how, just occasionally, in Ireland you are left with the feeling that history is unfinished business.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories