It has been a bugbear for generations of Irish language students – but its absence from officialdom has also rightly driven many Irish speakers crazy.
ust ask any Seán, Bríd, Séamus or Máiréad trying to do business using the given version of their name.
The presence or absence of the fada, or accent, can also dramatically alter not just the word’s sound – it can also utterly change its meaning with strange results.
The Fianna Fáil politician who dismissed the issue as “pedantry” learned to his public cost, finding his party’s title could sound like “failure”.
Now the “fada” – or “síneadh fada” to give its longer title – is to get legal protection with an obligation on public bodies to put it into their IT systems and on to all computer keyboards.
The move is among a series of Irish language measures in a new draft law unveiled by Junior Gaeltacht Minister Jack Chambers.
An intriguing book by Rossa Ó Snodaigh and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, published in 2012 and entitled Our Fada, lists 1,000 words, or homographs, where the addition or absence of a fada alone causes alarming alterations in meaning.
Examples cited include “craic”, meaning fun, enjoyment or banter, and “cráic” which means buttock or anus. Another is this country’s Irish title, “Éire”, which deprived of its fada becomes “eire,” meaning burden.
The latest draft of the Official Languages Bill unveiled by Mr Chambers includes a stipulation that 20pc of new recruits to the public service must be proficient in Irish by 2030.
Mr Chambers has confirmed that 32 amendments, including opposition amendments, have been accepted for the draft law.
This generally imposes obligations on State bodies to uphold the use and status of the Irish language.
Other key amendments in the legislation include a requirement that 20pc of all advertising by public bodies be in Irish and a minimum of 5pc of this must be in Irish-language media.
The draft law will also require any commercial operator providing public services under contract to a public body to make provision for the use of the Irish language in delivering those services.
The legislation will also replace the Placenames Commission with a statutory Placenames Committee.
This will advise the minister on making place names orders which can cause controversy.
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