Stories abound of hapless tourists convinced that the locals were speaking to them in Irish (which foreigners typically call Gaelic) and finding afterwards that in fact it was English. (For an amusing twist on this idea see the excellent short film: Yu Ming is Ainm Dom.)
The sing-song burr of English as she is spoke in West Cork can be impenetrable to non-natives. For those planning a visit, therefore, I thought I would do the world a favour and provide a primer on sounding like a native.
Lesson 1: Grand and Like
The first thing to know is that you put like at the end of every sentence, and the word grand somewhere within it. I’ll give you an example. You have hired a car and chosen a route marked on the map as scenic. You find yourself inching along a potholed track that clings perilously to a mountain side, with yawning cliffs beneath and a mountain with a cross on it above. You are sure you have gone astray and are on a long abandoned road to nowhere. You are about to turn back (but how? The road is barely wide enough for your car) when around a bend comes a tractor, bucketing and swaying, driven by a genial man in a cloth cap. Through some miraculous process that you can’t afterwards describe, he manages to find enough ground to pull over to let you pass. You roll down your window and ask him if the road is passable ahead. He looks puzzled, then realizes you are a tourist and assures you “’Tis a grand road, like.”
You are now in possession of a word, Grand, that is appropriate for all possible occasions and can be used in the most prodigal manner. Indeed, you can’t go wrong with it.
How is your husband? Himself? The back was playing up, but sure he’s grand now, thank God.
Oh, sorry – I can see I am in your way. Ah no, you’re grand.
I’ve just broken both arms and the bank is repossessing my house. Ah sure, it’ll be grand, like.
Lesson 2: Now and So
Together with Grand and Like, Now and So will get you through a surprising number of situations. Although they can be used interchangeably on occasion, they also have distinctive nuances. Now is the one that every waitress will say to you as she appears to take your order and as she delivers your food. It announces that she is here to look after things and you can relax. Its versatility doesn’t rest here – if delivered in a forthright or perky manner you can use it to indicate that you are ready for whatever the day holds as you head out the door, that you are settling down to a good conversation about your neighbours, that the kettle has just boiled, or that it’s your partners turn to hit the ball. If you say it with a slow or sad inflection – ah, now – you can use it to deflect an insult or express sympathy with one who suffers.
So contains a hint of expectancy – So, breakfast is served at 8; So, is it from Canada you are?; So, that will be twelve euros.
But the real trick is to use them together properly – Now so, or so now.
So now is a good one as you settle into a corner of the sofa for a chat: So now, Maureen, I hear Donal up the road was seen in Dunmanway last week with that American woman.
Now so can be used to wind up the conversation: Now so, I’d better be going or himself will be roaring for his dinner, like.
Now so, you’re all set for the first day of your holiday in West Cork. Yes, they drive on the left but just take your time, like, and it’ll be grand. And once you get into the rhythm of life here you’ll be ready for lesson 3 – how to manipulate every sentence into the conditional tense. Perhaps we will also touch on one of the truest Cork talents: how to insert multiple vowel sounds into the word no.
Meanwhile, if you want to get a true flavour of the accent, try viewing some of the Sminky Shorts by the talented Andrew James on YouTube. Be warned – the language is atrocious in some of them – back away NOW if this offends you. Otherwise, start with the Chicken Audition or the Nervous Horse.