MIDDAY UPDATE: This was, of course, an April Fool.
A misgender campaign group is to seek legal advice in a bid to change the historic name of Armagh to ‘Ard-Da’ in the “interests of balance, fairness and inclusion”.
The group is writing to both ABC Council and senior Stormont civil servants as they aim to gain support for their proposals.
And a challenge is to be made through legal channels this morning, with campaigners intent on seeking an injunction against the continued and “enforced use” of the name ‘Armagh’.
They insist they are not trying to do away with the recognised title of the ecclesiastical capital, but feel that people should be able to use any form of the city’s name with which they feel comfortable.
Armagh is named after the goddess Mhacha. Its name derives from Ard Mhacha, which translates as ‘Mhacha’s Height’. It later became ‘Ardmagh’ and then evolved to the ‘Armagh’ of today’s parlance.
Campaigners, however, feel that the name of Ard-Da could be adopted instead of, or in addition to, Armagh.
It would be a derivative of Daire, the local chieftain and a son of Finnchadh. It was he who granted the land to St Patrick on which to found the County of Armagh, the saint appointing 12 men to construct the Town of Armagh – which included the Church of Ireland Cathedral – in the 5th Century AD.
Today, Daire’s role in the formation of ‘Armagh’ as we know it is marked simply in the name of a local housing development, Daires Willows.
But campaigners believe that the chieftain should be celebrated in a greater capacity and his name would tick all the proverbial boxes in abbreviated form by giving an alternative choice of a city name which is not single gender specific.
Dr Jess Wyndan, a spokesperson for ‘We Need Change Now’, told Armagh I that, having had initial discussions with some local political representatives, some can see merits in the thinking and believe there is grounds for moving the campaign forward.
Said Dr Wyndan: “Gender and misgender is nothing new. For the past 30-plus years it has largely been accepted that terms of address such as chairman or chairwoman, spokesman or spokeswoman, are outdated and inappropriate, with chairperson or spokesperson the proper form of address.
“Even in the existing Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough, we don’t have a Lady Mayor. We have a Lord Mayor, even when a person who identifies as female wears the chair of office.
“This is not about telling people who they are or what they should be. It’s about affording people the opportunity to choose, in this instance, not just how they wish to be addressed, but where they wish to live.”
With the legal challenge going in today, Saturday (April 1), it is the start of what could be a lengthy and drawn out process.
But if successful – and campaigners are convinced they certainly can win this case – residents will legally be able to choose where they wish to live.
As such, they will be able to have any correspondence addressed to their home in Armagh or Ard-da – the latter hyphenated version favoured so as not to be confused with the Longford town Ardagh, which translates as ‘High Field’.
Residents will also be able to demand – as per their legal right – to have all official documentation containing their address amended, from passport to driving licence, medical certificates and records to tax and financial listings.
A successful legal challenge would also force ABC Council to change its official crest to reflect the dual name option, with Ard-Da to be given equal prominence in all appearances and uses.
All road signs would have to be amended too, and stationery – such as letterheads, rates notifications, planning notices – indeed, any correspondence bearing the name Armagh – would have to be updated to include both versions of the legally-accepted name.
Having lodged their official papers today, the lobby group intends to launch a local fundraising campaign to help cover the costs of what could be a costly legal action.
And they have already been exploring ways in which they might attract popular support while swelling their coffers.
Dr Wyndan explained: “What we are doing is, to us, a very serious issue, of course it is, but that does not mean that we can’t have some fun with what we are doing.
“We have been in touch with some students from the local college art department and they have been creating a range of designs and logos for T-shirts, sweaters, baseball caps, handbags – and non-gender them-bags – which we hope to sell at key events around the county throughout the rest of this year and beyond. Armagh Show at Gosford, the Demonstration Field on the 12th of July, the Hewitt International Summer School – taking our message to a wider audience – we would like to be there spreading the word, winning support and selling our new merchandise.
“We know Northern Ireland folk are renowned for their sense of humour so we thought we could have a bit of fun with it and in no way mean any offence.
“Depending on your preferences, you might want to choose from our Tiochfaidh Ar-Ma or Tiochfaidh Ar-Da T-shirts.
“Or if you don’t agree with ‘them’uns’, perhaps a baseball cap with a choice of motif proclaiming No Surrend-Her – or No Surrend-Him or No Surrend-Them – might be more your thing.
“The fundraising is very much tongue-in-cheek but it’s a means to a very serious end about choice.
“Schoolkids have for years been quite happily to use gender and pronouns as a means of insult. We need to educate.
“How many are guilty of roaring, ‘Yer Da sells Avon’, across the playground? So what if they do! If they want to sell Avon then that’s up to them. That’s what this is all about. Choice.
“It’s everyone’s right to choose and now it’s Armagh’s – dare I say Ard-Da’s – time to stand up and be counted.”