From guest blogger, Rodney Edwards …
There is something very special about the way in which people speak in Northern Ireland; the native tongue and dialect is part of our rich, diverse heritage and a part of who we are.
There are so many curious words, phrases and sayings: a quare gunk; that’s cat; footer; one more clane shirt will do him; the nights are fairly drawing in; whisht and so many more. They are mostly used within rural communities.
In my book, Sure, Why Would Ye Not? I take an offbeat look at our very many words and phrases through the conversation of two oul’ fellas, Bob and Charlie, as they put the world to rights. Venture into any part of Northern Ireland and you will likely see two oul’ fellas chatting away, in fields, outside shops, at funerals. One will be wearing a flat cap, the other a pair of wellies.
The book is a collection of funny conversations between the two oul’ boys who spend their days hashin’ about everything. And when they are not avoiding their wives by footerin’ on the farm they are giving out about the price of things or their children, or “childer” as they call them.
As a journalist at the Impartial Reporter newspaper in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, I live and work in a rural community. I have visited every town and village in Fermanagh over the years and the neighbouring countries in the Republic, including Monaghan and Leitrim.
Every place is different: the people are different, the accents are different, the words and phrases that they use are different. And there are so many local characters. I am lucky, in that respect, because I have met most of them. Irvinestown hotelier Joe Mahon is a good example of a local character. He has been behind some of my more off-beat stories over the years, including Ireland’s first wolf whistling contest; a turkey parade; a singing contest for dogs; a hole-digging contest and more. There is certainly a little bit of Mahon in Bob and Charlie.
There are many other characters too, like the old man who used to tie his trousers with bailer twine and walk across fields instead of footpaths. And another who once refused to go to the dentist when he had a toothache and instead got his friend to pull his bad tooth out with a bit of string, in his kitchen. When he was later asked about this, he replied: “Sure, what would I be going to the dentist for?” Some of these people and stories inspired me to write this book.
The idea for the book stemmed from my Fermanagh Spake column in the Impartial Reporter, which has been going for over two years. In the column I choose a different word each week and include some dialogue between Bob and Charlie. It has gone down extremely well. I am a news reporter and cover some pretty serious issues each week but instead of commenting on whatever story I have spent days working on, readers often stop me in the street to discuss the latest “spake”. I remember once a painter was working in town and I walked past him, and he shouted: “Here, don’t get yourself into an Ogeous Handlin’ the day”. Ogeous Handlin’ was the spake that particular week.
So, people read it, they like it, they talk about and it makes them smile, which is a wonderful compliment. With journalism you are dealing with different emotions all of the time, from elation to devastation. I believe that it is extremely important to give readers a reason to smile.
When you read the book you soon realise that these words and phrases are very much a part of life here. For example, I was talking to someone recently who said that he was half thinking about going to a rugby match. Half thinking! He wasn’t even giving it his full attention. My mother often asks me for the right time, presumably in case I give her the wrong time! I am quick to poke fun at all of this but I say these things, too. And so do many others.
While a lot of the words are used in Fermanagh, I know that they are also heard elsewhere. This is not a Fermanagh-based book. It is a snapshot of rural life across the country which is why I think it will appeal to readers wherever they live in Northern Ireland, or indeed, expats living elsewhere.
The big thing here is that we continually discuss the weather. We talk about it teeming out of the heavens, or say that it’s a fierce day for the silage, or that it has been trying to snow all day. There are 11 chapters in the book and one of those focuses solely on the weather. I think people will feel a connection with all of the themes. They may even feel nostalgic.
I was asked on BBC Radio Ulster why I value this sort of language, and my response was that I think it’s very important to cherish people like Bob and Charlie in our communities. The book, I hope, is a reflection of that and a look at rural life and how we speak. These words are used even today and right now as you read this there are old men giving out about the price of silage, the Government, the weather. I think my book will remind people of growing up, of family life and of Irish country ways. But most of all, I think, I hope, that it will make people laugh out loud and remind them that there is no place like home.