West Cork Speak: Lessons 5 to 7. And PRIZES!

Here comes himself at the head of the parade

Here comes himself at the head of the parade

Time for the next lesson in how to sound like you’re from West Cork! In Lessons 1 and 2 we covered like and grand, now and so – versatile words that will take you a long way in any conversation around here. Then in Lessons 3 and 4 we looked at how you would frame your sentences in the conditional tense, and how to use the pronouns ye, and himself, herself and yourself. I hope you have been practising, in preparation for your visit. You ARE coming, right? Good – well so, you would need to be moving along to the next important steps in your language development. And to help you see where you’re coming, I will illustrate these lessons with pictures of the St Patrick’s Day parade last Monday in Ballydehob.

Vintage tractors galore

Vintage tractors galore

Lesson 5: In Fairness

Nothing distinguishes the West Cork denizen like the phrase in fairness. Occasionally rendered as in fairness, like or even to be fair, it is tacked on to the end of sentences with total abandon, whether it matches with the sense of what’s been said or not. If you meet someone on your walk, don’t be surprised to hear him say “’Tis a grand evening, in fairness like.” It’s as if it’s important to give God His due – He’s sent us lots of storms lately and endless days of rain, but sure, He’s doing His best to make it up to us now, isn’t He?

Sometimes you are left wondering about what’s not being said. If you hear “She’s a terrific dancer, in fairness,” you might wonder if there’s another part to the sentence, that has been left out – “even though she can’t sing,” maybe. But no, it’s probably just been added for some kind of emphasis, or to round out the sentence in some way. So go ahead, just drop it in here and there, and you’ll be grand.

Going to the creamery

Going to the creamery

Lesson 6: Modifiers

Nobody in West Cork is very happy – no, we are happy out. And why wouldn’t we be, living in this beautiful place? We might also, if we have a lot to do, be busy out. If we badly need a pint, we might be thirsty out.

If using out as a modifier doesn’t trip off your tongue, try altogether instead. Or entirely.

We saw a good movie the other night. “It was great fun altogether.”

A recent story in The Examiner tells of a local hero, a student who found a toddler wandering late at night and made sure he was safe. Since the story is told mostly in dialogue, it’s an excellent example of Irish speech.

And the student, I think you will find yourself saying, “Wasn’t he a fine lad entirely?”

Don't they look happy out?

Don’t they look happy out?

Lesson 7: The diminutive

In Irish, the diminutive is formed by putting –ín (pronounced een) at the end of a word. We tell people that we live down a boreen (Irish word for road is a bothar, pronounced bo-her, and a bothairín is a small road). I’ve written about the children’s graveyards here: a cillín, pronounced killeen, actually means a small cill or church.

Some West Cork people routinely add -een to the end of a word to convey a sense of its size. Our landscaper asked if he should put the tools in our shedeen. Our neighbour, when I asked him about a certain piece of land said it was “nothing but a fieldeen.” You may well be asked by a waitress if you’d like a biteen more coffee.

Isn't that a grand careen?

Isn’t that a grand careen?

Now so – there you are! I think you might be ready to put all of that into practice.

Announcing our second ever COMPETITION (the first one was about place names). Your task, Dear Reader, is to construct a short conversation between two individuals. They are driving in opposite directions, but meeting on the boreen they roll down their windows to pass the time of day. The big topic of the moment is the St Patrick’s Day parade in the village and this, therefore, is the subject of their conversation. Reconstruct the chat, using what you’ve learned in the seven lessons so far, and your own imagination. An astute panel of judge will pick the winners and excellent prizes will be dispatched. Actually, prize-eens, in fairness. Good luck!

'Tis a lovely float, in fairness, like

‘Tis a lovely float, in fairness, like

West Cork Speak: Lessons 1 and 2

The scenic route

The scenic route

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.”

'Tis a grand road

‘Tis a grand road

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.

keep-calm-it-ll-be-grandHow are you? I’m grand. Better – I’m grand, thank God.

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.

I Can't Do It

I Can’t Do It

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.