Monday, 3 April 2017


Twenty very odd years ago years ago I was ensconced in Pádraicíns bar in Furbo, relating a heinous anecdote to my good friends The Body and Blitz.

“Whereabouts was this in Cork? Was it West Cork or Cork City?” asked Blitz.

“Neither really!” I replied, “More north South Cork!”

This produced an unexpected and uproarious reaction from my two Irish friends, and once he had calmed down and stopped coughing and wheezing and going red in the face in a particularly scary way, Blitz turned to me and raising his glass, he clinked mine and toasted:

“To an honorary Irishman. You’re as good as, Charlie, and that’s saying something!”

Even if our aim as immigrants is to assimilate entirely, there’s no chance of any foreigner becoming so Irish that the Irish cannot tell you are foreign. This blow-in wouldn’t want that anyway. We must each be proud to be who we are, even though after a few too many Jamies in a Connemara pub, my accent can go worryingly local farmer.

After living and working in the USA and Australia, I’d already experienced how other nations evolved my native tongue, but as always Ireland offered a paradox. 

Somehow the Irish have taken English and adapted it into a form that feels simultaneously foreign, yet sometimes more comfortable and accessible than the original version.

Grunt by grunt, inflection by verbal twitch, blow-ins start to osmose the Irish way of speaking English.

First to suddenly pop out of my mouth one day was ‘Grand!’, quickly followed by ‘Mighty!’

Then there are the greetings. Despite ‘Howya!’ sounding so similar to the English ‘How are you?’, it necessitates a wholly different response. Back in England it would be perfectly acceptable to reply

“Bloody terrible actually. The dog bit me, I got burgled and then the bloody car broke down.”

But here in my adopted country, I quickly learned that nobody wants to hear anything but the most positive report imaginable.

The only acceptable response must be either ‘Grand!’, or ‘Mighty!’ or even, for the more advanced class, ‘Not a bother on me!’ spoken as one word.

It’s a tactic that’s tough on depressives, especially during excessively hard periods, when one’s voice doesn’t sound as convincing as it might. At those times, so as not to draw attention to your pathetic human neediness, it’s best to string all three responses together, and utter them at speed, thus:

“Mighty grand not a bother on me!”

Linguistic challenges aplenty face the blow-in to Ireland. Take the shopkeepers’ assertive ‘Now!’ fired across the counter.

Now what? Now who? Should I do something? Takes you by surprise at first, alongside the ‘So!’ and that much-beloved enigmatic Irish double whammy, ‘So now!’ and ‘Now so!’

Inevitably the next Brirish embraced by the mouth of the blow-in is the positively effervescent ‘Thanks a million!’ Such hyperbolic gratitude offered upon the purchase of a single postage stamp in England would sadly be seen as taking the piss, but here it offers a delightful alternative to the bland English ‘Ta very much!’

Unfortunately, over two decades I’ve absorbed so much Brirish, that when I sit in my mother’s London living room, my use of idiom raises the eyebrows of friends and family alike.

The ‘F’ word flies out of me, furiously and frequently, much to my mother’s displeasure. Clearly the Irish swear much more than the English, yet in return you’ve created a whole new world of English expression.

The wonderful ‘Why wouldn’t I?’ now tumbles out of my mouth alongside all variations of ‘yer one’, ‘yer man’ and the splendid ‘no finer man.’

Sometimes it can take me by surprise. Never thought I’d become a ‘day that’s in it’ person, but now that’s there, and the other day I was shocked to hear myself offer ‘lookit’ in public.

I had to take a moment. 
What next? The ultimate ‘I do be'?

Now in the latter stages of my Brirish Education, I play arpeggios of my adopted lingo. String together ‘C’mere to me!’, add a little ‘Now!’ and a smidge of ‘So!’ and all of a sudden I’m inviting Dalooney to ‘C’mere to me now, so!’ and it all feels right and good.

Securely bundled into middle age, there are a few Brirish-isms in my repertoire that would now be considered out of date. Long gone is the ‘Gas character!’ and even ‘Sound man!’ appears on the wane, wandering off into the Zeitgeist sunset with ‘Gas ticket’ and ‘Shtop da lights!’

The first time I really felt I’d assimilated was actually a non-verbal experience. From the moment I arrived in Galway, I noticed how people sometimes offered agreement by sucking a sharp intake of breath onto the roof of the mouth, loud enough to be heard, yet too soft to be spelled.

Thankfully far from that dreaded disapproving flared nostril sniff, so beloved of older local women, this hissy breath is most often used to offer some kind of guiltily agreed censure, such as when your friend offers:

“Oh he’s an awful man, so he is!” you respond with the inward hiss.

Gathering words and picking up accents are understandable (most of the time!) but this is a physical phenomenon, so I was shocked to find myself unthinkingly doing the sharp intake response

My time in Ireland has changed my breathing patterns. That’s a different level of assimilation altogether, so it is now.

Behave Adley. Be respectful.

Ah well, as they used to say, ye’ll have that in small towns and built up areas.

Charlie Adley

No comments: