A couple of weeks ago we had a family gathering for my grandmother’s birthday. When my cousin from Dublin arrived, my uncle greeted her by saying, “Christ Olivia you’re as fat as a fool.” My cousin looked at him, not knowing whether to hit him or to break down in tears. My cousin’s not fat at all, and my uncle wasn’t trying to insult her about her appearance. “Fat as a fool” is actually a compliment at home. It means someone looks healthy or vibrant. But my cousin, being from Dublin and not from the countryside, wasn’t to know, hence the awkward silence that followed.
This anecdote got me thinking: Ireland is a tiny country which covers a mere 70,280 sq km, yet the range of different accents and colloquial tongue that we find across the country is astonishing. Whether it’s the different dialects of Gaelic or the different accents in English, Ireland is full of the ‘wink and elbow language of delight,’ as Patrick Kavanagh aptly described it.
When you’ve been born, bred, and buttered in Cavan, moving to Maynooth is a life changing experience. Cavan is renowned for two things, men who are tight with their money, and a thick “bogger” accent. I quickly discovered that, instead of greeting each other with a “well?” or “much of it out?”, people down the country use this crazy, “hello,” word. I’d never heard of it before, but it seems to be all the rage down here.
I’ve also discovered that half the people I come across in college have a problem pronouncing words which start with “th.” They say “tree” when they mean “three” or “tanks” is apparently “thanks.” This has me in stitches because, being from the “counthry”, I have the opposite problem. We can’t pronounce any word with a “t” in it without throwing in an “h” for good measure, like in “butther,” “wather,” and even “counthry.”
After stumbling along for three years in NUI Maynooth trying desperately to adapt to this new breed of specimen I’ve encountered – best described as “cultured” folk that grew up in towns with more than one shop, an abundance of playstations, and a language seemingly far from the English I was reared on – there is no better feeling than when I come across one of my own… another person lost in a world of ‘’likes” and “whatevers.” But I can’t help feel that this kind of experience will be gone soon. Just like the diminishment of the Irish language, Ireland’s vast array of different accents and “twangs” are slowing dying out. Americanisation, globalisation, call it what you will, has given birth to a distinguished “Mid-Atlantic” Irish accent which is infecting our cities and countryside alike (I like to call it the language of “The Hills”). It’s a real shame that the sayings and slights of tongue which have survived the plantations, the famine, and which have been passed down through generations, are slowly being killed off by the likes of Hannah Montana, Friends, and other global influences.
Although we are privileged to be living in one of the most affluent and integrated societies in the world, its pains me to see the death of the colloquial languages that have been the cornerstone of Irishness. Whether it’s the incomprehensible Donegal man or the warm accent of the man from Kerry, surely we must strive to keep our identities intact.
A guest post written by Mark Farelly, 3rd year Geography student.