Sunday 11 August 2019


Over the bridge I go. The meadowsweet and cow parsley at the side of the road stay the same, yet the lines on the road turn white, the signs turn black and white and kilometres turn to miles per hour.

Back in the UK again.

Back where I came from, but am I, or (if you’ll excuse a little Plastic Paddyism from this Englishman) amn’t I?

Already I feel inexplicably ill at ease, just as I always do when I’m in Northern Ireland.

The other side of the invisible border, I stop in Belcoo for a bite to eat, and manage to make an arse of myself.

Before I’ve had the chance to spend a minute contemplating the history of these 6 counties, or dwell for a moment on my confused personal gumbo, that feels some of me comes from here, some from down there, there comes the quandary of language.

I’m fairly tuned in to the Republic’s accents. I can tell a Cork from a Kerry, which can prove exceptionally helpful if you’ve no private medical insurance, and I know my Dub and Donegal.

The Northern Irish accent is the default Irish accent in England. There was yer man in Corrie, and more often than not when I was a kid, if someone was Irish they were from Ulster.

Well, that’s what the English say, but even that’s not right. Their Ulster is just six of the nine counties of Ireland’s northern province.

After growing up amongst Ulster accents, you might think I’d have a pretty good grasp of it, but apparently not. I’ve only been across the border for 30 minutes, yet already failed quite handsomely.

My first accent-induced blooper came before I’d even left the house. 

I was on the phone, setting up the time and place to meet the man in Enniskillen. I was just about to say goodbye when he suddenly proclaimed the name of a Middle-Eastern terrorist:

“Al Tuckshya!”


“Al Tuckshya!”

Should I respond in kind? Should I ‘Al Tuckshya’ him back, sort of like “As-Salaam-Alaikum - Wa-Alaikum-Salaam” or “Shalom aleichem - aleichem Shalom” as we say it?

But this bloke was neither Muslim nor Jew, so what was he on about?

Then my brain showed tiny signs of life.
I understood.

“Oh good god man! I’m so sorry! My accent, your accent, dunno, sorry. Yes, thanks, text me if anything comes up. Cheers!”

With that encounter fresh in my memory, you’d be forgiven for hoping I might’ve been a little bit prepared to deal with the razor sharp consonants and italicised vowels of County Fermanagh.

After a BLT and a coke, I head to the counter to pay, patting myself on the back that I’ve remembered to bring Sterling.

Turns out it didn't matter: all the prices are in both currencies.

“That’ll be eighteen, thanks.” says the young lass behind the bar.

I take a step back.

“Sorry? How much?”

“Eighteen, thanks!” she repeats politely.

“Eighteen quid for a toasted sarny and a coke?”

“No! Eight ten!”

“Oh sorry about that. I can be really thick sometimes.”

So far so not very good at all. Haven’t even made it to my destination and I already screwed up twice.

Climbing into Joey SX I drive off, remembering how, on my first visit to Northern Ireland in 1993, I encountered The Troubles before I’d even arrived in Belfast.

I’d stopped at some traffic lights outside the city, when a blue saloon screeched to a halt, level with my van.

If Frank Gallagher from Shameless had a brother, it’d be this fella.

Winding down his window, he leant half his body out of his car, yelling and screaming at me, with some highly unattractive adjectives, to go back to where I fuckin’ came from.

Despite being a stickler for language, I managed to resist a strong temptation to wind down my window and, using my plummiest Public School accent, explain:

“Look here old chap. As it happens you couldn’t have made many more erroneous assumptions if you’d tried. You see, I’m an Englishman, proudly born and bred, and although my fine transit van is indeed adorned with the registration plates of the Irish Republic, it was purchased in London, from British Telecom, who I think you’ll find are quite British. Now, if I correctly caught your drift, you’re advising me to go back to where I came from. Well, I’m here already. Now be a good sort and drop the abusive accusations, old salt. I’m one of you, dear heart.”

Instead, ever eager to avoid unnecessary confrontation, I sat staring straight ahead, gripping the steering wheel, paralysed by fear.

That was before peace came, and later in Enniskillen I wander out for a gently nostalgic whiskey ramble.

Seems only proper order to drink a Bushmills up here, and it’s delicious, as is the next one.

Then I switch to Scotch and sip a Famous Grouse for my Dad, and then another, because I miss him.

Paying homage to my adopted home country, I finish off with a Redbreast 12.

Bloody lovely.

Wandering the late evening Enniskillen streets, I see that Arlene Foster’s imposing constituency office is next door to a psychic healer.

A bit of DUP and then you need some Reiki.

If only more people had voted Conservative in the last General Election (yes, I did actually write those words!) there’d be no need to heed the DUP.

The EU border could have run down the Irish Sea, and we’d all be No Deal free.

One day maybe I’ll feel relaxed in Northern Ireland.

Until then, lost in the mystery of where I feel from when up there, I’ll be the anti-Morrissey, with my English blood and Irish heart ... who still watches The Ashes...

©Charlie Adley

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