Irish accents, dontcha love ’em?
In this case I’m talking about Irish language (Gaeilge) orthography, specifically the Irish language equivalent of the acute accent, the fada or síneadh fada.
A letter in the Financial Times newspaper points out how the presence or absence of the a fada results in different words. Brendan Cahill corrects the newspaper for its omission of the fadas on their spelling of “Áras an Uachtaráin”, the formal address of the President of Ireland.
Brendan Cahill is quite right, of course, about how the fada can change the meaning of a word otherwise spelled the same way in Irish. “Sean” for example means “old”, whereas “Seán” means the name “John”).
In this case however, I think that given the context, “Aras an Uachtarain” is unlikely to cause any real confusion for readers.
This is not always the case, however.
A missing fada from the Irish word “Mná” on a toilet door in Ireland once confused the late, great actor, polyglot, and polymath Peter Ustinov. He assumed it was a misspelling of “Man” in the plural.
“Mná” in Irish means “Women”.