Drop the Taoiseach

Four of a kind, in title at least!
Four of a kind, in title at least!

What do these four men have in common? Apart from the obvious taste for outlandish costumes to make themselves look really important? They all were the strong man in their respective countries at roughly the same time. And they all shared a title. Well, not exactly, but their official titles express the same sentiment.

The funny part? Only one of these titles is still in use … and nobody seems to notice how out of place it sounds. Because if asked for a translation, usually a second meaning is given. Which may be outdated, but not as loaded.

From left to right in this rogues’ gallery we have:

  • Benito Mussolini – dictator of Italy under the title of Duce, the leader.
  • Francisco Franco – dictator of Spain under the title of Caudillo, the leader.
  • Adolf Hitler – dictator of Germany under the title of Führer, the leader.
  • Eamon de Valera – autocratic ruler of Ireland under the title of Taoiseach … also the leader.

True, when you ask about the title of Taoiseach today, you’ll be invariably given either the English transcription from the law, which is “head of the Government or Prime Minister” … or the direct translation from the Irish, which than is given as “chieftain” or “chief”.

Which is all fine and good, but Taoiseach has two meanings. Either the old-fashioned and out-dated “chieftain”. Or the simple “leader”. As in Duce, Caudillo, Führer.

Context: the title of Taoiseach was adopted by the Irish Constitution of 1937. And it was, not to make too fine a point, the brainchild of Eamon de Valera. Now “Dev” might have been a very backward-looking person who wanted to create an Ireland according to some hazy pre-Victorian, medieval, “Celtic” model, so the title of “chieftain” would fit right in. But the “Long Fellow” was also quite the little, self-important busybody who always harboured notions of peeing with the big dogs, despite not having a leg to stand on, let alone raise up at the lamppost. Is it too far a flight of fancy to assume that de Valera consciously chose a local variation of the same theme, making himself the Irish Führer?

Well, we’ll never know, I guess – and while most titles are old fashioned (… a Prime Minister is, literally, the “first servant”, a Kanzler is the official copyist of laws …), they have not been discredited. Whereas the “leader” has been … and seems to be still en vogue mainly in Ireland and North Korea.

So, maybe time to drop the Taoiseach?

To be quite frank … I think we’ll sooner see the ghost of de Valera prancing around Glasnevin in red socks, singing “God save the Queen!” Because nobody actually would believe that the hallowed title of Taoiseach would put Enda Kenny in the same seat as Kim Jong-un. And because “it has always been this way”. And because it is Irish. As in “Irish language”. God forbid we should use an imported title …

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