Continuing my efforts to teach all our non-Irish readers out there how to sound Irish – after all, you want to understand what kind of culture you have landed yourself in.

Irish people resist the idea that we live in a class-based society. Egalitarianism is a shared value – perhaps based on our colonial past, in which rigid social stratification was imposed based on factors that were initially alien to us, such as British titles, private land ownership, what language you spoke (and with what accent) and how and where you could be educated. The outcome of those centuries of resentment is an insistence that we are each as good as the next person and we have developed subtle ways of reminding each other not to be putting on airs or doing anything that appears to convey the impression that we are somehow better than our neighbours.

Notions! It is applied in any situation where you feel someone needs taking down a peg or two or where they need reminding not to be thinking too well of themselves. During the Celtic Tiger houses became bigger and fancier and were often surrounded by walls and gates intended to indicate a step up in the world. The proper response, as you drove by, was an eye roll and a well-timed ‘notions!’ 

A sobering case of people who had serious notions – see this post

A recent Irish Times headline told us ‘A Garden Room is Not Just a Shed with Notions.’ A hilarious post in the Daily Edge listed ’13 things that Irish mammies know are complete notions’ – it will give you not just a sample of what we consider notions, but also the Irish mammies guide to how to deal with anyone who has them. 

‘Tis far from air fryers you were raised

One of the ways your elders made sure you knew where you came from was to use the phrase Tis far from X you were reared. For those who think that they, along with the country, have grown in incredible sophistication since the Ould Days, it’s a reminder not to be getting too uppity. For X substitute, for example, soya lattes, air fryers, hair straighteners, quinoa, skinny jeans, holidays in Antarctica.

Put in an offer on this place? Ah sure, don’t be losing the run of yourself

It’s also important not to lose the run of yourself. In other words, don’t get carried away with your own importance or get to thinking you’re more  refined than the rest of us. You might do this by asking if they have a wine menu in a country pub, or by spending more than €20 on a handbag, or by musing about investing in bitcoin, or – horrors – by inviting us to a gender reveal party. 

Sssshhh – don’t tell anyone but I think we lost the run of ourselves with this gourmet meal at the Restaurant Chestnut

Your only excuse for losing the run of yourself can be that you had a sudden rush of blood to the head. Do not, under any circumstances, try to compensate with faux-humility. We will see right through you and accuse you of doing the béal bocht, or the poor mouth

Even a public toilet can have notions – this one’s in Gougane Barra

So – think you’re ready for a visit? We’re dying to meet you – just remember not to lose the run of yourself.

You’re Grand

Tis a grand horse

‘Tis a grand horse

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.

You're Grand

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.

At the bar

Isn’t it a grand ould bar?

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.

Ah sure, feck it. I'll start the diet again tomorrow.

Ah sure, feck it, I’ll start the diet again tomorrow

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.

'Tis far from induction hobs you were reared

‘Tis far from induction hobs you were reared

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.

Put in an offer on this place? Ah now, don't be losing the run of yourself

Put in an offer on this place? Ah now, don’t be losing the run of yourself

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.)

Ah sure aren't they only gorgeous?

Ah sure aren’t they only gorgeous?

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?

Come here to me now...hoooo might Your People be?

Come here to me now…hoooo might your people be?

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.)

My People

My People

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.

Yes, Sir, we do call that a salad

Yes, Sir, we do call that a salad

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.

Only in Ireland? Chips with pizza

Only in Ireland? Chips with pizza

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:

West Cork Speak: Lessons 1 and 2

West Cork Speak: Lessons 3 and 4

West Cork Speak: Lessons 5 to 7

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 3 and 4

How are ye?

How are ye?

You all did very well, Dear Readers, with learning to speak like a true West Cork denizen. I was especially proud of all the grands and likes you appended to your emails and comments. So, now, I think it’s time for the next couple of lessons.

I wish I could really capture for you the true cadence of the language here – the colourful vocabulary, the way stories are infused with a humorous acknowledgement of the foibles of the teller and the audience, the up-and-down rhythm of the speech, the expressiveness of all communication. But at least I can teach you some of the basics, so you will feel at home when you get here.

Would you be after some scallops?

Would you be after some scallops?

Lesson 3: Using the Conditional Tense

Today’s first lesson deals with the importance of mastering the conditional tense – in other words, using the word ‘would’ and all its variations, where the rest of the world would use the simple present or past tense. This has the effect of softening a statement in quite a delightful way, but it can also be confusing if you’re not used to it.

At a recent class I took, the instructor presented her credentials by saying, “I would have qualified in 1996.” Now, if someone outside West Cork had said that, you would have been waiting for the rest of the sentence…”Except that I failed the exam,” perhaps. But she was simply saying, in the West Cork way, “I qualified in 1996.” It’s just a bit more roundabout, a bit more diffident, a bit less assertive, than baldly stating a fact. Here’s how I normally say something, followed by how it is said in West Cork:

I got married in 2004. 

I would have been married in 2004.

I don’t like jazz.

I wouldn’t be a huge fan of that kind of thing myself, now.

Hi, I’m Finola.

’Tis lovely to meet you. I would be Finola.

I’m always exhausted after yoga.

Sure, ’tis tiring, like, but you would feel great after it, wouldn’t you?

That guy is a crook.

He wouldn’t be the saintliest of fellas, like, but he would have had a hard time of it as a young lad.

I asked him to bring the umbrella.

I asked him would he bring the umbrella.

This will take some practice: set yourself the task of turning one declarative sentence a day into a conditional statement. You would want to spend a fair bit of time on it, like.

And where would you be from, now?

And where would you be from, now?

Lesson 4: Pronouns

Pronouns! Most of them are the same as English elsewhere, but with two important differences.

You/Ye. If you look up the word ye in a dictionary it will tell you the word is archaic, and died out in general usage several hundred years ago. Not in West Cork! It is in common usage, here and elsewhere in Ireland, as the plural of you. So, if you meet a group of people and are addressing them collectively, you say “How are ye?” I must say, this make eminent sense. How often do we have to qualify you by saying “I mean you, plural?” Or, “I mean both of you?”

Herself would have raised the ducks.

Herself would have raised the ducks.

Now so, are ye ready for the last biteen (we’ll deal with that word another day) of the lesson? On we go, so, to reflexive pronouns – those are the ones with self at the end of them. They are used in Ireland in a variety of ways. Himself and herself are sometimes used to denote a husband or wife, but also can have a slight suggestion of amusement or mockery.

Himself would be holding forth about politics the whole evening.

I’d like to stay a while longer, but herself has the tea on the table at six sharp.

Is it yourself? It is indeed.

It will be time for a quiz soon, so ye should study what we’ve learned so far and I’ll think about a suitable test, and maybe some prizes. Wouldn’t that be grand? Himself thinks so, too.

Is it yourself, Sean?

Is it yourself, Sean?