My very first lesson in how to speak like you’re from West Cork featured the many ways in which we use the word grand. (Skip to the end to see links to previous posts on West Cork Speak.) It seems, though, that I really didn’t do it justice, as it turns out that You’re Grand is, in fact, a phrase that sums up an entire philosophy and way of life. To understand this better, I highly recommend the comedian Tara Flynn’s book You’re Grand: The Irishwoman’s Secret Guide to Life.
Tara tells us:
…no matter how bad things get, sooner or later everything will be Grand. Even when it won’t. In fact, especially then. Simply asserting that “You’re Grand” puts you in a state of mind that instantly makes you feel better…
She goes through the variations: Grand Out, Grand Altogether, Grahnd, That’s Grand, and Graaaand, so that you can use each one with confidence, and offers a lesson in connecting with your Inner Grandness.
As you know, as a returned Irish person who spent 40 years in Canada before deciding to live in West Cork, I take very seriously my duty towards any of who you are planning to visit Ireland, to prepare you for the culture you will encounter here. First and foremost, it’s a culture of TALK, of relating to others and making them feel welcomed, helped and listened to. So what follows are the top ten essential instructions from Tara and from me that will help you understand what it is to be an Irish woman and how, at the end of the day, you’ll be Grand.
1. If you agree with something or you’re willing to at least put up with it, the proper phrase is Grand Job.
2. A most useful expression is Ah sure, feck it. You’ve just embarked on a strict diet and your friend invites you to tea and produces fresh scones. Ah sure, feck it, you might as well have one.
3. ‘Tis far from X you were reared. This will indicate to your listener that you, along with the country, has grown in incredible sophistication since the Ould Days (see 7 below). For X substitute, for example, cappuccinos, fancy cheeses, hair straighteners, salad, cell phones, avocados, skinny jeans, holidays in Thailand.
4. Try not to lose the run of yourself. In other words, don’t get carried away. You might do this by asking if they have a wine menu in a country pub, or by spending more than €10 on a handbag, or by having too many drinks and leading the singing at a session.
5. Use the word the instead of my in front of nouns. You will go to get the hair done. You’ll just drop in to see the Mammy. Tara paints this picture of bus travel: The Irish women who make the best use of the bus are the little old ladies with the free travel. They put on the good dress and the good coat and meet their friends down the back of the bus and go on an outing. (Tara also has a great piece of advice on transportation: Don’t hitchhike, it’s too dangerous. You will inevitably be picked up by a chatty driver who will take you an hour out of your way in case you miss out on a single detail of their life story.)
6. Weddings are a fixture of Irish life (along with First Communions, which is the other time in your life when you get to wear a bridal outfit). If it’s yourself that’s getting married, Tara has one important piece of wisdom to impart: Invite EVERYONE…It’s not your day, it’s theirs.
7. Add the word OLD (pronounced ould) before nouns. Time to get th’ould hair done. Enough of your ould blather, now. Would you be after singin’ me an ould song?
8. Learn how to interrogate strangers to get the maximum information out of them. We’re interested, not nosy and we need to establish who your people are. Funeral teas may consist almost entirely of establishing the genealogy of the deceased to the most distant of connections so we can be categorical about who is encompassed by his people. If you’re a visitor, looking for your roots, expect an inquisition. We’d be failing in our duty to our neighbours if we couldn’t recount your life history to them in graphic detail, followed by an hour of enjoyable speculation on who your people might have been. (Interestingly, in West Cork, this will result in the exact knowledge of who your relatives are to many removes, but also, and equally importantly, who you are NOT related to, despite any similarity of name or location. Time after time we have inquired of somebody with an unusual last name whether they are related to someone else of the same name, only to be told that there is no relationship that can be established. There is, however, one huge exception to this. It seems that everyone of the last name of Collins is related to Michael Collins.)
9. If someone you know has bought a new car (or a house or an extra-nice new suit) the proper greeting is well wear.
10. But most of all, learn how to make a grand cup of tea. There are few things that a grand cup of tea and a little sit down won’t make better.
I’ve only just skimmed the surface of Tara’s book for you. I laughed until the tears ran down my cheeks. I will leave you with an excerpt from her disquisition on salads.
For the longest time Irish women NEVER had salad at home. You wouldn’t even think of it. You got salads in hotels, usually at funerals: already in the throes of grief, you’d be given salad. On that grim funereal plate would invariably be:
- one hard-boiled egg
- some sad ham
- beetroot out of a jar
- one really, really limp leaf of lettuce.
Just the one – you wouldn’t insult people by giving them too much lettuce to deal with at such a sad time.
This “salad” is the main reason why Irish vegetarians still sometimes have to explain to relatives that ham isn’t a vegetable.
Irish women do eat more salad these days. But we make sure to have it with chips. For balance.
Go buy the book, then curl up with a grand cupán tae, and plan your trip.
To read more about how to speak like the Irish, see these posts: