Saturday, 30 May 2015

An introduction to Irish......blarney

Adare, Co. Limerick
If I’d been back home to Ireland in the last 3 years this post would have been so much longer, as there are so many sayings I’ve forgotten from lack of use – there really is no point in saying something that absolutely nobody around you understands. 

I never heard my Mum (or my Dad for that matter) use any kind of bad language in her life – for her the word ‘damn’ was a swear word.  Which made it all the more unlikely to hear  the following phrase out of her mouth whenever we complained about one ailment after another:

‘You’re never without an arse or an elbow’

When you hear the same phrase over and over since you were very young you don’t question it – my Dad always entered the house after being away with ‘God Bless’  and we would reply ‘And you too’ and I had grown up thinking that was how everyone greeted each other.  It wasn’t until I realised that other people don’t use these phrases that I started to question them and when I asked my Mum what did her phrase, above, mean and where it came from she looked a bit sheepish and then, half embarrassedly said she hadn’t a clue.  I had never heard anyone else use it but discovered in my research that in actual fact it is a fairly well-known Irish phrase, so it’s ok Mum….you weren’t quite as dotty as we thought!   Not quite…..

Another of her favourite phrases was one my sister said she only ever heard my Mum use and that is a ‘noodie nawdie’, as in  ‘she’s a right noodie nawdie’ – she’s a right oddball.  However, again, it is a well- known Irish phrase originating in the Irish language.

Lord save us and guard us!  Said when surprised at something…usually not a good surprise.

What an a ‘amadán’ (pronounced ‘aumadawn’) meaning what a fool.

C’mere will you ask yer man for the yoke there  - when you can’t remember the name of the man or the thing you want.

I was shopping in Cork the other day – ‘the other day’ could range anywhere from yesterday to 10 years ago.

Back the road….in the total opposite direction to ‘up’ or ‘in the road’, and woe betide those who would confuse the two.

When a child has hurt themselves they are often told  ‘Shur it’ll be grand before you’re married’  as if this is any kind of reassurance to a small child.

I stepped out of the house and there it was……. gone! 
She’s weak for herself meaning she absolutely loves herself
Saw ya across the street the other day but by the time I caught up with ya….. ye were gone!

A LOT of conversations start up, especially among the more mature of years, with ‘Do you know who’s dead now?  You do know him, ah you do, you DO…you’d know him to see!’

Whenever you meet up with someone whose name you have forgotten it’s no problem:  ‘Tis  yourself!’  Or  ‘Is it yourself then?’ said with great enthusiasm should gloss over any awkwardness.

More power to your elbow.  Meaning good job done, or well done

About a lazy person – if there was work in the bed he’d sleep on the floor

Ah there ya are!  Are ya back?  Erm….no…I’m just a figment of your vivid imagination!

Hold on a sec….I’ll be back in a minute

There was aytin an drinkin in it!  Meaning there was a lot of it.

Irish phone call:

How’s things now?/How’s the form?  You’re well? Ah sure nothing strange. Isn’t the weather brutal? Yeah,  I know yeah . Right. Sure go on so. Bye… bye….. bye…. bye bye bye bye bye bye

Alternative ending:   ” Good luck, good luck, good luck….. go on wha? Ok.  Go on. Bye bye bye…..…..bye”

View from my brother's garden
My brother had a Dutch neighbour who was putting in a new door in his house.  My brother, making conversation as he was passing asked him ‘how’s the door turning out?’  meaning how’s the work going so far, at which the neighbour looked at him in puzzlement and then said ‘From the inside!’

If ever stuck at a bus stop with a stranger the conversation  (and conversation there will be as there seems to be an unwritten rule never to be silent when you  can have a good ole chinwag (chat), and strangers are only friends you haven’t made yet )will usually consist of the weather, politics or religion.  You might be forgiven for thinking that, in Ireland it’s either raining or….it’s raining, but that is not so:

Sure it’s great drying weather.
“There’s great heat off that sun.”
When it’s raining lightly – it’s a soft day.
When it’s warm – it’s close         
All weather is "fierce." It can be fierce wet, fierce cold, fierce mild, fierce dry, fierce windy, fierce drizzly, fierce warm, fierce frosty, fierce breezy, fierce damp, fierce humid, fierce dead. Fierce everything, basically.

And when it does rain it can be spitting, pouring, bucketing down or lashing.

Many an Irish child has been sent off to get ‘the messages’  (the shopping), which their mammy would then put in ‘the press’ (cupboard)when they returned home.

In the past on a Saturday night all across Ireland Mammys would put towels into the hot-press (airing cupboard where the hot water boiler was stored) to warm them up for the weekly baths in preparation for Mass (Catholic Church service) on Sunday morning.

” She’s there every Sunday chewing the altar rails”  a rather fervent mass goer.

The dead arose and appeared to many (someone not seen for ages)  or as my Dad would say when I’d get up after a long lie-in…..’so there IS life after death then!’

There are no end of expressions describing those considered not to be ‘the full shilling’, or….’all there’ :

If he had another bitta wit, he’d be a half wit
If he had two brain cells he’d be twice as dangerous
Shur he’d be only half as smart as someone twice as smart as him – another one of my Dad’s favourite expressions.

She woke up like a bag of cats…..she woke up cranky    
Cmere  a while I want ya….said very fast to someone from whom you need something

Lovely stretch in the evenings. Referring to the summer evenings
The nights are really drawing in. referring to the winter coming
View from Garnish Island
Don’t come running to me if you break your leg!

Shut your mouth and eat your dinner!

Ah will ya relax will ya – shur  pressure’s only good for tyres!!

On dropping food on the floor – ‘don’t worry – its’ clean dirt’

I’ll do it now in a minute!

He’d rob the eye out of your head if you weren’t careful/ he’d rob the eye out of your head and come back for your eyelashes.

Very small meal – sure it wouldn’t fill the holes in your teeth

Sure it’s only down the road…..anywhere from half a kilometre to 10 kilometres!
To someone who answers the phone – ah so you’re at home then are ya!

If yeh die with a face like that no-one will wash yeh

I like your hair……did you knit it yourself?

He couldn’t lie straight in bed (a bad liar)

Look at yer wan, who does she think she is…the Queen of Sheeba?

Who does she think she is?  Lady Muck?

Yer man and yer wan usually refers to a man or a woman whose name you don’t know or escapes you at that moment in time.

Will you stop gawking!  Stop Staring!

When feeling nervous about something ‘I’m rattlin’

Were ya scarla?  Were you scarlet?  Were you embarrassed?

I was morta (mortified) Extremely embarrassed. And everyone in Cork is often either ‘scarla’ or morta’.

I’m in and out like a fiddlers elbow  - very busy

On the phone to let someone know you’re on the way   ‘shur I’m halfway there’ ……….and they haven’t even left the house yet. (A phrase both Ireland and Algeria have in common)

Stop the lights!  Said in surprise usually to something not very complimentary

Short hands, long pockets to describe someone who’s miserly

Your eyes are like two burnt holes in a blanket (a look brought on when you’ve had too many late nights)

That fella wouldn’t back away from the table too quick/ that fell wouldn’t back away from the table without a fight  said about someone with a good appetite.

So ……what’s the story?  Any news?

How’s the form?  How are you?

How’s the craic (pronounced ‘crack’ but with absolutely no connection whatsoever to any illegal substance!)? How are things?

He made an absolute hames (it rhymes with ‘James’) of it….a mess of it

He/She came with one arm as long as the other – didn’t bring anything to the house when they came visiting.

He/she would give an aspirin a headache

‘Ah go away!!’  or  ‘Go way outta that!’  Said in surprise at something.  When my eldest was about 6 years old she asked me why ‘Granny’ didn’t like me, and when I asked her where she got that idea, she replied ‘Because she keeps telling you to ‘go away’!

She’s got a face like a slapped arse/wet week-   someone who looks miserable

She’d bring a tear to a glass eye – someone who can move you to tears

It’s’ banjaxed’ meaning it’s broken or irreparable. 

The Jacks – the toilet

I haven’t seen her in donkey’s years….a very long time

Put the heart crossways – to give someone a fright
Macroom, Co. Cork

The guards – Garda Síochána …the Police

Ossified – drunk out of your mind

Will you stop acting the maggot?  You’re a right toe-rag!  Usually said to children when they’re messing around and being annoying

Taytos – ALL crisps, whatever brand, are called Taytos going back to when Taytos were the only crisps to be bought in Ireland.

A culchie – someone who comes from the countryside

Topper – a pencil sharpener

A sliced pan – a sliced loaf of bread

Hair like rats tails – lanky and greasy and uncombed

Between the jigs and the reels  – as in ‘between the jigs and the reels he never got there in the end’ meaning ‘between one thing and another’.

If you’re in Cork you can’t help notice that they put ‘like’ in every sentence, and if the sentence is a long one it can appear more than once: I was down the Mardyke like and I heard yar man was selling this yoke like and I thought to myself like that would look great in the sitting (living) room like.

Boy (pronounced ‘bye) is another popular ending to many a question or statement in Cork as in Are you alright there now boy? Sure that’s grand boy!  Which brings me to a Cork joke:

An Arab and a Cork man were travelling through the desert , when the Arab said I think I’ll build a city here’ to which the Cork man answered ‘Do Boy!’

Stand back and let the dog see the rabbit – another of my Dad’s old favourites, when he was about to tackle a difficult job.

He’s a right plámáser (pronounced ‘plawmawser’)/ Stop your plámásingplámás meaning to flatter or suck up.

So now….if you visit Ireland for the first time you’ll be able to talk about the weather as good as the next wan,  and you’ll  know when you’re being insulted up to the eyeballs….maybe…..because often it’s done with such charm it might go right past you!

And finally, although this has nothing whatsoever to do with Irish sayings I still think it’s amusing enough to share.  Of all the things I’ve learnt in Irish in school, the only verb that I can still successfully conjugate in the language, much to the great delight of my children,  is ‘to see’ in the present tense:

To See – Feic (pronounced ‘Feck’)

1 sg     feicim
2 sg.    feiceann tú
3 sg.    feiceann sé/ sí
1 pl.    feicimid
2 pl.    feiceann sibh
3 pl.    feiceann siad

Can’t think why this has always stayed with me…..along with the Irish word for….word…..’focal’ (pronounced ‘fokkal’).
West Cork


  1. lol ...and I thought I know them all after mixing with the Irish girls around me.....boy was I fave has to be 'If there was work on the bed.....'

    1. Ah but how many of them are CORK girls!!!!!

  2. wow evelyn thats was a great crack ... i havent laughed like that in ages lol

    you forgot blaggarding (messing)

    some of those i have never heard but i think it depends on which part of ireland you come form

  3. So glad you enjoyed it! And yes! You're so right! How many times were we told, as children,to stop blackgarding (pronounced blaggarding)!

  4. I also forgot to mention that while the rest of the world has idtiots...Ireland has....eejits!