Thursday 21 March 2019

Billy Keane: 'You'd want to be a right lúbán not to enjoy the English language as it's spoken in all corners of our island'

Keane's Kingdom

We speak a number of different versions of the English language in this country. Stock photo: PA
We speak a number of different versions of the English language in this country. Stock photo: PA
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

We speak a number of different versions of the English language in this country. Our linguistic log started in Cork city. We travelled from there to west Limerick and ended in John B's, when Derry came to Kerry.

I was walking along the quays of Cork this week when I noticed a window full of second-hand books. The window was almost like an extra room for the small shop and the books were arranged in tiered rows like the stands in a football ground.

The books on the bottom tiers had to be retrieved by means of a callipers on the end of a pole, of the type used by litter pickers to save their backs. The polite and patient shopkeeper climbed up on a stool inside the shop. She manoeuvred the pincer dexterously and retrieved the book.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

Just then this older man came in to the bookshop. He gave the name of his book in his fine, real and traditional Cork accent.

"Please Miss," he said, ever so politely, "can you get me "Maaaawrdur is Easy."

The bookseller was originally from somewhere in Eastern Europe. Her English was flawless, better than mine, but I'm sure she never heard the word maaaawrdur before.

The name of the book had to be repeated several times over but the erudite bookseller still couldn't find the book 'Maaaawrdur is Easy'.

I knew what maaaawrdur meant. I spent three of the happiest years studying in UCC.

I am back in Cork once a week to do a slot on 'The Today Show' on RTÉ One, which is aired on Friday afternoons and repeated over the weekend. Work was never such fun and I have fallen in love with Cork city all over again. I knew well what maaaaawrdurr meant but I was enjoying the listening in so much, I kept my knowledge to myself.

I'm sure I must have told you the story of the wasp here before but it's a long time since I did. Revision is essential maintenance.

Cork has its own word for wasp. The word is wazzie.

The little boy is out playing in the garden, and he gets stung.

"Mammy, mammy," cries the little boy, "I'm after being stung be something."

Mammy replies, "Woz 'e a wazzie, woz 'e?"

I made great friends with the Cork lads in UCC. The expression of encouragement "doubt ya boy" meaning 'I wouldn't doubt you' was used a lot in the UCC football team when I was playing. My alma mater won the Sigerson Cup this week. Billy Morgan and Dr Con Murphy mentored us back when I was playing and these famous football men guided UCC to another big win.

One of the lads might come out of a particularly tough exam and he would say, "That was maaaawrdur, Keano." Yes, I was Keano as a boy, even before Roy.

I did eventually intervene in the book shop on the quay, and I hope the old boy enjoyed 'Murder is Easy' by Agatha Christie.

I hope there is never a homogenisation of Cork speak. Abbeyfeale in west Limerick is only a bridge away from north Kerry. We speak much the same language. But the west Limerick dialect has more of the Irish in it. More than half of the population of west Limerick spoke Irish in the 1850s.

Séamus Ó Coileáin from Athea lectures in NUIG and he came up with many examples of the infusions and seasonings at a lecture to celebrate the Tionol festival in the town. Thanks to Dónal Ó Murchú of the best trad band Four Men and a Dog for sending on the list.

Glaise is a stream. A tricky corner forward would make a lúbán out of his opponent.

Ráiméis "is the name we give to a wrong account of anything" or nonsense. Balbh is when someone has a speech problem, as in "he was balbh with the drink".

I use these words all the time without ever thinking where they came from. It seemed to me everyone knew what it was I was talking about but that's not the case. Pusheen is kitten and banbh is a piglet in our speak.

Everyone around here knows the meaning of the words but people from outside the confines of north Kerry and west Limerick weren't sure of the meaning.

I spoke to a young woman the other day who described the man who broke the wing mirror of her car as a bit of a mee-aah, which comes from the Irish word mí-ádh.

The richness is kept on by the younger crowd and isn't it very handy to own your own words when you don't want people to know what you are talking about? Talking funny can be fun too.

And we had some fun on Sunday night last when the Derry twins and one of their husbands visited our pub.

The Derry girls were 60-year-old twins who didn't look 60 between them and they were wild good looking. Wild is used a lot in their part of the world instead of the very boring 'very'.

The Derry girls hailed from Seamus Heaney country. There was a cadence and a nuance in their every word, which was as much Scottish in terms of intonation and flavouring as it was Irish. There were lots of yons, wees and wilds.

It's no wonder Heaney had the ear for the poetry. Alice and Marie had us crying with the laughter. Martin was the prompter. They referred to each other as "our Martin", or "our Marie", or "our Alice", as if they were all the one, and they were.

The Derry girls went to a removal some time ago. The twins had a quick peep in to the coffin, "to take stock of the corpse".

I interrupted the Derry girls before they rightly got going, in case I forgot to tell my story later on.

I told our new friends about the time I was sorrying for your troubles here at home. The deceased was laid out in the coffin beside us.

My co-mourner had a good look at the dead man. He nearly fell into the coffin.

"Billy," he said, "he looks very bad."

"He's dead, Dinny," I replied.

The Derry deceased looked his very best. One twin said to the other, "Hi, he looks wild well. He looks just like himself."

And her sister replied, "Why? Who else would he look like?"

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss