Friday 29 July 2011

24 - 'Well, ye may not be wrong, but I know that I'm right!'

Burning vehicles in a riot in Belfast
September 10, 2010

Well, we've covered a lot of different topics on this show - but we've carefully skirted 'roun' The Troubles.  This is an area where people can be very quick to take sides - what we call here a 'flashpoint area' - and emotions can quickly get involved.  However, this seems to me a great place to maybe explain things to those who don't live in Ireland.  In fact, even to some of those who do!

Whenwe were publishing a magazine called, 'Bread', during the later stages of the Troubles, I used to drive down to Dublin with a few boxes of magazines - just so they would be posted out with an Irish stamp, and not a UK one.  That's called 'being sensitive' to other people's point of view!  While I was down in Dublin, I'd spend a bit a' time with our editorial team there, maybe go to a few events, probably travel further south or west and generally keep my ears open for new stories and news items.

Over and over people in the south of Ireland would ask me what the Troubles were about.  'What ar yez fightin' about up there, anyway?  Can yez not live together in p'ace?'  Most southerners had never travelled across the border to 'the nort'', as they called it.  Nowadays it's nothin' out a' the ordinary to see car registrations from Dublin, Galway and Cork in Belfast and all over Northern Ireland, but back then - 20 years ago - a southern registration was a very rare thing 'up north'.  If people on the same island weren't sure what the Troubles were about, then it'd be pretty difficult for anybody further afield to get an accurate picture!

This was further complicated by the fact that not only was there disagreement between Protestant and Roman Catholic - or, more accurately, between Unionist and Nationalist/Republican - but there were also strong differences between Nationalists and between Unionists.  Political parties and paramilitary groups mushroomed, and it would be extremely difficult for anyone from outside Northern Ireland to really understand the different points of view.

Add to this the fact that a lot of our politics at that time - and even since - was motivated by fear and that those fears were often outdated.  For instance, way back when Ireland was partitioned - around 1921 - nearly one million Protestants were strongly opposed and feared to be part of a state dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.  That was understandable back then, but seventy years later - in the new Ireland that became the 'Celtic Tiger' of the nineties - the Catholic Church was being sidelined more and more and now has very little influence.  But Protestants and Unionists in the north still believed in the outdated scenario.

One of the reasons we started the Christian magazine, 'Bread', was this almost total lack of communication between north and south.  Aimed at both sides of the 'religious/political divide', we were aware that there were many new evangelical groups and churches in the Republic of Ireland, but almost no-one in Northern Ireland knew of their existence.  In fact, even in the south many were not really aware of what was happening maybe 50/100 miles away.  The magazine bridged this communication gap.

Eventually, we were able to make some people 'up north' aware that the south of Ireland was quite a different place from what they had imagined.  In fact, from 1992-97, several thousand people gathered together - from all parts of Ireland and from all shades of Christianity, Roman Catholic and evangelical - to a 'Spring Harvest-type event at a holiday camp in Co. Meath.  Here, some Ulster Protestants found out for the first time what they had previously only been reading about in the magazine.

This was only a small beginning, ye understand - it had little effect on the majority of the population up here.  But, there were small groups meeting across the divide who eventually had an influence on some paramilitary leaders - leading step by step to the peace agreement we have largely working today.

As one of my songs puts it, 
 "Well, you may not be wrong, 
but I know that I'm right; 
And if you'd just give in, 
there'd be no need to fight.  
While we're living in darkness, 
we're claiming there's light 
all around.

I call you a Fenian, 
ye call me a Prod;
It must sound obscene 
in the ears of our God,
For we'll both end up buried 
beneath the same sod 
in the ground."

Perception has a lot to do with our troubled situation.  All the might of the British Army and all of the terrorist actions of the Provisional IRA, INLA and other groups, did absolutely nothing to change anyone's perspective - in fact, it only served to reinforce intransigent attitudes.  This has been viewed around the world as a conflict between Catholic and Protestant, but probably more Catholics were killed/injured by their fellow Catholics - and Protestants by fellow Protestants, than otherwise.

So, what has changed?  Well, quite a lot, actually - though we've still a long way to go.  I doubt if anyone in Northern Ireland could ever have predicted that diehard Unionist, Iain Paisley, and diehard Republican, Martin McGuiness, would end up not only working well together in government, but even laughing and joking together.  To most people here that was just a miracle, but then should we be surprised at that, after all the millions of prayers prayed for peace in Northern Ireland?

Like I said already, we haven't arrived yet, and I'm sure we'll have plenty more ups and downs politically, but there's definitely a new sense of purpose, hope and a lot of good will to make things work, here.  Let's hope it continues, eh?

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23 - 'Listooder, 'fort of the tanner''

Listooder Fort - fort of the tanner - Co. Down
August 12, 2010

Well, I've just had another hectic sorta week.  My daughter, Kelly, just got married to Padraic - so she's now Kelly Fitzpatrick.  The weddin' went great, actually - the preparations, the ceremony, photographs, the reception - but bein' the 'father of the bride' ye can't really relax properly until ye've got yer speech over ye.  

I didn't write out a whole big long shpiel - I did make a few notes on a wee bit a' paper, though!  It felt a wee bit like doin' this show, actually - except yer getting instant feedback from a captive audience.  Someone even said that I should have gone on for longer - but ye know what they say, 'Always leave 'em wantin' more!'  Anyway, judgin' by the response at the time - and the comments afterwards - most people seemed to enjoy it.

Anyway, I've just been doin' my accounts for this year - not my favourite job, I can tell ya!  Once I hand them over I can get back to workin' at my cottage-building project.  I think I mentioned this before - it's in the heart of Co. Down, near the village of Crossgar, in a wee hamlet known as Listooder, which means 'fort of the tanner.'  That's because there's a hill just behind us to the west, with an ancient Celtic fort on the top - Listooder Fort.  Our stone building is at the crossroads, and there are green hills in every direction around us - but Listooder Hill is the tallest and if you walk up to the top of it to the fort, you can see for miles in every direction.

Hundreds of years ago, when the fort would have been someone's house, there would have been a wooden stockade around the inside, probably with thatched wooden buildings inside it.  This was surrounded by a moat of water, with a single entrance and another earth bank around the outside - probably with more wooden fencing around it.  Cattle would have been brought inside at any sign of danger.  You can still see the earth embankments and most of the moat is still there, though a bit silted up nowadays.  It's known as a 'motte and bailey' structure.

Down below it is the Ballynahinch River, which used to power seven different mills built along the river.  The corn mill and flax mill just below the hill are now completely gone - with only the millpond and it's outlet still to be seen.  But just a little bit downstream Rademon Cornmill is still standing, a five storey stone structure, though it's no longer in use as a mill.  It once had a weir and an eel fishery and was pretty much the hub of the area, where local farmers would bring their corn to be milled.

The hamlet of Listooder used to be known as the 'Cock Corner', named after the building next to ours, which used to be a shop and pub, known as The Cock.  Less than a mile away was another small pub, which was known as The Hen, but it is now completely gone.  The shop and pub next door was still in operation less than a hundred years ago - I have an old photograph of the shopkeeper standing outside the shop window, wearing a hat and waistcoat, and with a Manitoba maize bag for an apron!  The shop sold things like farm tools, brushes, Babbitt's biscuits (from New York) and so forth - a bit of everything, probably!

Our place in Listooder is a stone building built about 150 years ago and it was once a shop as well - though it now looks more like a garage!  The last man who ran the shop, strangely enough, was a bachelor called John McCullough and he used to sleep in a tiny room at the back of the shop. The building has also been used as a temporary Mission Hall, a forge and a farm workshop and store - so there's a bit a' history there.  It's built mostly on solid rock, which is why I've spent so long rock-breaking and removing it from the site - 235 tonnes, so far!

We have a well at the back which has been cut down about 20 feet into the rock and normally has about 14 feet depth of water in it.  I don't think we'll be stuck for water, anyway!  Mostly what I've been doing so far - apart from digging and rock breaking - is re-building the stone boundary wall at the back, which is hundreds of years old, building around the well shaft at the back and some new walls at the front.  I've also taken the old farm gate at the side, chopped it into two thirds and one third and re-made it as two gates, which are a copy of the original gate in a photograph from a hundred years ago.

The building itself is pretty much the same as when we bought it - except for the ground level being lowered all around it.  We can't do any work on it until we have planning approval for Change of Use, to become a dwelling.  We should have that fairly soon, meanwhile there is still plenty of work to be done around the building - which is certainly helping to keep me fit and healthy.  When you've been working away at a computer for days, it's very therapeutic to go down there and work with yer hands for a bit.  Not to mention the peace and quiet of the countryside - especially in the evenings.

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22 - 'Cuchulain, the 'Hound of Ulster''

Emain Magha Celtic fort, near Armagh City
August 02, 2010

Well, ye're always very patient with me bletherin' on about life in Norn Iron.  Actually, I'm just back from a great week at the John Hewitt International Summer School, in the city of Armagh.  John Hewitt was another writer and poet from Northern Ireland, along with others - like Louis MacNiece, Sam Hanna Bell and W.R. Rodgers; Brian Moore, who moved to Toronto, Canada; and Seamus Heaney, of course.  There's been a wealth of writing and poetic talent from this wee province of Ulster.

Anyway, durin' the week we had various readings and discussions with poets, such as the well-known, Michael Longley; from writers and journalists.  We also had music, from people such as well-known author - and also mandolin player - Louis De Berniernes, accompanied by Ilone Antonius-Jones on flute & keyboards.  Also, we had the Heartstring Sessions with guitarist, Arti McGlyn; fiddler, Nollaig Casey; her sister, Maire Ni Chathasaigh on harp & whistle; and flat-pickin' guitarist, Chris Newman.

County Armagh, by the way, is a small county, just to the west of County Down, south of Lough Neagh, with Tyrone and Fermanagh to the west and the border and Monaghan to the south.  Armagh is famous for its apples - and ye'll see apple orchards all around Armagh City.  The city is also the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, where both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Archbishops sit.  Remember the old Spinners song, 'If ye want a cathedral, we've got one to spare, in me Liverpool 'ome.'    Well, like Liverpool, Armagh can boast not one, but two, cathedrals!

And just outside the city is the Navan Fort, the site of Emain Magha, the ancient capital of the province of Ulster and the centre around which were focussed the Red Branch cycle of epic stories/legends.  Stories of Conhobor, king of Ulster and, of course, Cuchullain, the famous hero of Ulster, although he actually came from County Louth, to the south.  Now from Cuchullain you get the name, McCullough - meaning, son of Cuchullain.  So, I suppose it's appropriate that we're listening to one of my own tunes at the moment?  I only play one now and then!  This is called, 'Ar tir seo aguinne (Our Land)'.

Well, back to Cuchullain, the hero.  He was originally named, Setanta, and he was sent to Emain Magha to train as a warrior for Ulster.  This trainin' included a whole lot a' games a' hurlin'.  If yez've ever watched a hurley match, ye'll know that it can be quite similar to a war!  Anyway, Setanta had been invited to the house of Cullen, the smith, for a feast, with the rest of the Ulster court.  But he wanted to finish the hurlin' match, so he arrived late at Cullen's house.  The gate of thorn bushes was already pulled across the entrance and Cullen's fierce hound had been let loose to guard the place.

Setanta had to fight with the hound and eventually killed it - which didn' go down too well with Cullen, its owner.  But Setanta, bein' an honourable sorta fella, offered to take the hound's place, until it's pups would be old enough to take over the guard duties.  As a result, he began to be called, 'CuCullen' - the hound of Cullen.  Later, this got changed slightly to 'CuChullainn', meaning the hound of Ulster, when he guarded the approaches to Ulster against the combined armies of Connaught and the other three provinces of Ireland.

Ye see, a whole big row got started between Ulster and Connaught, in the west of Ireland.  It started innocently enough with some men from Queen Mebh, of Connaught, coming up to Ulster for the loan of their champion bull, the Dunn.  But the drink did its work and a bit of drunken rivalry and boasting started up a war before long - does this mebbe sound familiar?  

Anyway, the men of Ulster came under a curse and were unable to defend the province.  CuChullainn was the only warrior of Ulster who was not affected by the curse so, as the armies of Ireland approached Ulster, each mornin' he would stand on the northern bank of every river ford on the way and issue a challenge to single combat to the armies.  They would send out a champion to fight him and the progress would be halted for the day.  Needless to say, Cuchullain won each of these combats, although he had to take on a couple of warriors who were personal friends and ended up killing them.

He managed to hold off the advance long enough so that the men of Ulster were recovered and able to take part in the main battle.  He was eventually killed himself in the battle, but I think he earned the name 'The Hound of Ulster', don't you?  The whole epic story is known as the Tain, or 'Tain bo Cooley', after the Cooley Peninsula, in Co. Louth, just south of the present day Ulster border.

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21 - 'Dry yer eyes, son - sure it'll harden ye!'

Milennium Stone (Mourne granite), Delamont Park, Co. Down
July 01, 2010

One thing very particular to the way we talk in Ulster is our habit of understatin' things a lot.  Everything tends to be played down.  During all the years of 'The Troubles' here, the often repeated phrase was, 'Business as usual.'   Every time a bomb went off and smashed all the shop windows in a street, the next thing you'd see after the all-clear would be shop assistants sweepin' up the broken glass, vans arriving with plywood to cover the windows and, of course, the 'Business as usual'  signs poppin' up all over the new plywood.  I think the word for Ulster people would 'a' been, 'undaunted?'
I remember walking through some very quiet, empty streets in the city centre one night on my way to catch the train home from Belfast.  I could hear a lot of sirens in the distance, so I knew something was up, but at that time that was fairly common - and the bomb, or whatever, might be a good few streets away.  Suddenly an angry policeman appeared out of a shop doorway in front of me and said, 'Ye just walked past the [so and so] bomb!'  'Well, it's a bit late tellin' me now,' I replied - thinking to meself, 'Why was he hiding in a doorway, instead of shouting a warning to me, BEFORE I walked past it?'  The next street I crossed was being filled up with foam which they used to dissipate the blast, and I heard the controlled explosion go off before my train arrived to take me home!  

That was probably the closest I've been to a bomb, but there were many times when one went off a few hundred yards away.  Most people got a bit blase - as long as it wasn't too close.  But it's very much in the Ulster nature to make light of anything serious, or dramatic.  If a child falls and hurts himself slightly, the father would be as likely to say, 'Dry yer eyes, son, sure it'll harden ye!'   And quite often the child will stop cryin'.  It's not that we are hard, or unfeeling, we just tend to play down our emotional reactions.  Of course, all this bottlin' up of our emotions may come out in other ways - the amount of tranquilisers prescribed and consumed during The Troubles was apparently something quite amazin'.

When I was still single I was workin' on me own one Saturday - using the circular saw to cut a slot in a piece of mahogany as a new surround for a special blade .  I accidentally caught the back edge of the slot on the blade and the saw pulled my finger through the blade - leaving a gaping wound with the remains of my fingernail hanging into it.  Yeah, nasty, I know!  There was no-one else around and I couldn't even find a band-aid to put on it so, like Jack an' Jill, I wrapped a piece of brown paper around the finger and got in my car to drive 2 miles to where my Dad, who's an electrician, was working on wiring a friend's bungalow.

When I got out of the car I first asked him how he was gettin' on - and he showed me what work he'd been doing.  Then he asked me what brought me there and I told him I'd cut my finger, so he asked me to show him.  'Ye'll have to go to hospital wi' that', was his response.  'Aye, a know,' I replied, 'Mebbe you'd run me in?'  He drove me the other 2 miles to the hospital and by the time we got there and I'd given a few details I was beginning to pass out with the shock.

Another time I called up to visit a young friend whom I'd just learned was dying from Hodgkins Disease and had to have oxygen regularly.  Apparently, everyone who came to visit him got upset and embarrassed by just how ill he looked.  They knew he didn't have long left to live and were at a complete loss as to what to say to him.  

Now his dad worked a bit at cars, so when I was shown up to his room, and spotted the oxygen cylinders by the bed, he immediately caught my meaning when I asked him, 'Are ye doin' a bit a weldin', then?'  He responded with a laugh and we got into a very animated, serious, but cheerful enough conversation for nearly half an hour - until his mum came up to see what on earth could be keepin' me so long with him.  She was surprised to see him happily chatting away with me.  He died only a week, or so, later - but I was glad I'd had that conversation with him, instead of puttin' on a long face like everybody else and wonderin' what on earth to say to someone who was dyin'.

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Thursday 28 July 2011

20 - 'Of Narnia, 'Jack' and other worlds'

Digory & the Wardrobe sculpture, east Belfast
June 09, 2010

We talk about all kinds of things on this show, but we haven't mentioned much about the heritage of Irish literature. Ireland was often referred to in the past as 'the land of saints and scholars' - a place of learning and literature. Did you know that kings and nobles from England, Scotland and many other lands in Europe used to send their sons to Ireland so they would get the best education available at the time?

These educational centres were based around some of the great monasteries of Ireland - Clonmacnoise and Durrow, in Co. Offaly; Clonard, in Co. Meath; and Movilla and Bangor, in Co. Down - founded way back in the 500s. In turn, these Christian centres of learning influenced other countries in Europe, like France, Austria, Italy and England - and some of the greatest universities, for instance Oxford and Cambridge, came into being as a result.

Ireland is famous for many great writers - James Joyce, J.M. Synge, George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde - to name but a few. But one of the best loved Irish writers of all time came from right here in east Belfast. He was christened Clive Staples Lewis, but from the age of four on - just after his dog 'Jacksie' was run over and killed - he insisted his family call him 'Jack'.

C.S. Lewis is probably best known for the extremely popular Chronicles of Narnia series of children's books, which have already resulted in two successful movies, with another coming out later this year. But Jack Lewis didn't just write stories for children. He also wrote a whole wealth of Christian literature, like 'Mere Christianity', 'The Problem of Pain' and 'Surprised by Joy'. He wrote The Screwtape Letters and the sequel, Screwtape Proposes a Toast - a brilliant series of letters written from a senior demon to his nephew, Wormwood, giving him him advice on how to tempt his target, an Englishman. A dramatic production of 'Screwtape', starring Max McLean is currently touring theatres in the USA.

Lewis created a great space trilogy as well, 'Out of the Silent Planet', 'Perelandra' and 'That Hideous Strength'. If you want to read a great science fiction book, ye couldn't bate, 'Out of the Silent Planet'!

One of my claims to fame is that, with a partner, I used to run an internet cafe, in Holywood, just east of Belfast. It was called 'Jack's' - after CS Lewis, obviously - and we used to own the internet domain, ''. That was the title of one of his books, but Lewis certainly did create other worlds for us to inhabit. All of our computers had planet names like Perelandra, Malacandra and Viritrilbia.

As a child, when he lived in a large rambling house in Belfast, called 'Little Lea' (complete with a huge wardrobe), he'd already created imaginary creatures and scenarios - forerunners of Narnia. He liked to go off cycling in nearby Co. Down. Even when he lived in England - as a student, then professor at Oxford and, later, Cambridge - he loved to travel back to Ireland for holidays. One of his favourite places was Annagassan - a wee village by the sea in Co. Louth.

At Oxford, where he lectured for many years, he was part of a regular discussion circle of writers and others, known as the 'Inklings'. They met every week at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford and the members included fellow authors, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield, and, of course, the well-known JRR Tolkien, who wrote 'Lord of the Rings'.

When, eventually, he married American Jewish divorcee, Joy Gresham, they came back to the Crawfordsburn Inn in Co. Down for their honeymoon. The 1993 film, 'Shadowlands', told the story of their developing friendship - at first by correspondence, then romance, marriage and, finally, Joy's tragic early death from cancer. Jack only survived Joy by 3 years, dying on the very same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated!

CS Lewis carried on that combination of scholarship, Christian faith and story-telling that typified those early Irish monks. Today he is commemorated by a Lewis Square in east Belfast, with a statue nearby, featuring Digory, from The Magician's Nephew, opening the famous wardrobe from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In Bangor, Co. Down, there is also a plaque on a park bench facing the sea, quoting Lewis' description of perfection, 'Heaven is Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of Co. Down'. What more can I say?

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19 - 'Warrior Maid - a big hole in the sea ..'

Warrior Maid, on her mooring in Groomsport Harbour, Co. Down
May 24, 2010

Well, last week I talked a bit about Dublin, and the way people talk down there - and at least some of you seemed to enjoy that. I like to vary things as much as possible, y'know, not be too predictable. I've been thinkin' for some time of tellin' yez a wee bit more about my boat, Warrior Maid - the name being a translation of 'Kelly', my eldest daughter's name.

Warrior Maid began life as a ship's lifeboat, maybe 60 years, or more, ago. She was built in Birkenhead - or 'Birkin 'ead - near Liverpool, and when the ship was decommissioned, the lifeboats were sold off. These were 28 ft, clinker-built, wooden boats, built to carry 53 passengers in an emergency. 'Clinker-built' means the planks overlap. One of these was bought by a man called Ewan McCullough - same surname as myself - who lived up in Carnlough, a wee harbour halfway up the Co. Antrim coast. This man obviously knew what he was doing, for he made a great job of converting her into a sailing motor cruiser.

When my wife, Gerry, and I first bought this boat, people naturally asked me what sort of a boat it was, to which I usually replied, 'A rotten one!' The boat had been sitting up on the hard, at a wee private marina in Donaghadee, for several years - and the rainwater hadn't been too kind to it. All the plywood decks were completely rotten, as were the sides, the roof leaked and the cockpit sole (the floor) was pretty dodgy, too. In fact, the second time I climbed aboard and stepped down into the wheelhouse, my foot went straight through the floor and I skinned the whole shin of my leg!

Needless to say, we didn't pay out a fortune for this ship, but we spent a fair bit over the next 3 or 4 years, on fixing her up.

I spent three and a half years: replacing 6 planks in the hull, repairing rotten ribs, making new decks and fibre-glassing them, new cockpit floor, repairing the cabin roof, new wheelhouse roof and supports, new rudder. Happily, another boat owner, Alan, was engaged on a similar project to myself, and we both encouraged and commiserated with each other - especially as we watched other boat owners sailing out of the marina. 'One of these days ...' we told ourselves.

Finally, in November 2001, I booked the crane to lift me in. Unfortunately, I had to officiate at the funeral of a suicide earlier that day - so the whole event was over before I was really able to take it in. We were in the water, and drinking a glass or two of sparkling wine to mark the occasion, before it really sank in.

That following summer we travelled around 300 Nautical miles - up and down the coast of Northern Ireland and as far as Carlingford, in Co. Louth, which is just across the border. The second year we ventured a bit further afield, sailing up the Clyde Estuary in Scotland, around the Kyles of Bute and across to Tarbert and Campbelltown, on the Mull of Kyntyre.

On the first leg of that journey, we ended up towing the other boat into the harbour in Portpatrick - even though they were about an hour ahead of us, originally. The seasoned sailors had managed to get a sheet of polythene wrapped around their prop, which completely stalled their engine.

Later in the trip, though, the favour was returned, when we had to get the 'resident engineer' aboard on the way down the Kilbrannan Sound towards Campbeltown. We'd broken the welding on a frame supporting a flexible coupling on our prop shaft, and the vibration was trying to tear the hull apart.

By the way, I managed to find an engineering firm in Campbelltown to do a temporary welding & drilling job on that frame and the owner, who'd picked me up and dropped me back to the boat, refused to take any money from me there and then. He said he'd send me a bill - and he only charged me 30 pounds anyway - so all those stories about Scotsmen being so stingy about money might not be totally accurate!

We also travelled down the Irish coast as far as Howth, just outside Dublin. Altogether, we did another 700 Nautical miles that season. Unfortunately, on the way back up from Dublin, we managed to blow up the engine - which has limited our sailing for the last few seasons. As any of you who happen to own one will know, a wooden boat is 'a big hole in the sea that you keep pouring money into!'

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18 - 'Janey Mac! Would ye ever stop?'

O'Connell Bridge & O'Connell Street, Dublin, with Dublin Spire beyond
February 23, 2010

Now, usually I talk a lot about how we say, or do, things here in Northern Ireland. I thought maybe I'd take a break from that and travel across the border to Ireland's main city, Dublin. Apart from being in a different country and a major city with well over a million people, Dublin has quite a different accent and even way of talkin'.

You'll probably notice things, if yer drivin' from Northern Ireland down to Dublin, (as we 'd say up here - Dublin people think everyone comes up to Dublin, despite the fact that it's mostly at sea level, and in the middle of the country from North to South!). The first thing is you'll NOT really see any border between UK and Ireland. Way back before EC membership there used to be customs posts and during the 'Troubles' there were British Army and Gardai checkpoints, but those have disappeared since most of us decided to live in peace with one another! Now, the only thing you'll see is a welcome sign for the county you're crossing into - eg. from Co. Down to Co. Louth, (then Co. Meath, then Co. Dublin).

When you drive in the USA you get used to seeing signs giving the population of a town in the last census. In the south of Ireland you'll see a sign giving the number of people who were killed on the roads last year in that county! I don't know if that says much about Irish drivers, or not, but it does give you pause for thought when you pass one. You might even drive more carefully for a while!

Dublin has two names - the first comes from the Irish words for Black Pool, 'Dubh Ling' in Irish, anglicised to Dublin. But if you visit there, you'll see another name, 'Baillie ath Cliath', on the buses and road signs - which means 'Place of the Wattles' in Irish. Both, obviously, refer to the River Liffey which divides the city into north and south side. Dublin is also a county of Ireland, but has recently been divided into three parts, Dublin City Council in the centre, with Co. Fingal to the north and Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown to the south - which means that the Republic of Ireland now has 28 counties, instead of 26!

Despite all the street signs in Irish (as well as in English), you'll find it difficult enough - outside of the Universities and folk gatherings - to find people who speak much Irish in Ireland's capital city. As I've mentioned before there is no Gaeltaeght (Irish-speaking area) in Dublin, though you will find a small one in west Belfast - though the others are in the west and south. People who originate from outside of Dublin are often referred to as 'culchies' - a word similar in meaning to the English, 'yokel'.

Dublin also has two accents - the main one is found all over the city and is very easily understood, resulting in the Spanish government sending students there every summer to improve their English! The other, 'real Dub' accent is found in inner city working class areas like The Liberties and Ballymun/Ballyfermot and is quite a thick accent - hard for visitors to grasp. Think of the band, The Dubliners, for example.

In Ireland, we tend to soften our speech quite a bit. Where other nationalities might bluntly say, 'Give me some help, please!', we would say something like, 'You wouldn't give us a wee hand, there, would ye?' In Dublin, they might say, 'Would you ever give us a hand, there?' Even swearing in polite Dublin circles is often toned down to, 'Janey, Mac!' - presumably an abbreviation for the Holy Family? I once asked a group of friends in Dublin, 'Well, who IS Janey Mac, anyway?'

While they don't tend to say 'wee' instead of little, like we do in the North, here - and in Scotland, Dubliners use words and phrases that are unfamiliar to us. Children are often told not to be 'bold', meaning naughty. You'll hear parents screaming, 'Come here, you bold child, ye'. They'll often punctuate your telling of an anecdote with, 'Stop!' - which means the exact opposite, more like, 'I don't believe you. Tell me more.' And at the end of your story they might comment, 'That's gas, that is!'

Dubliners love to give nicknames to statues and sculptures in the city. The Anna Livia Statue in O'Connell Street, (which features a lady in running water), is referred to as, 'The floozie in the jacuzzi.' The Inland Waterways headquarters, a rectangular building suspended over a canal basin in the city, is known as, 'The box on the docks'. But the new stainless steel Dublin Spire, also in O'Connell Street, has received many titles, including among others, 'The Spike', 'The Binge Syringe', 'The Stiletto in the Ghetto'' and 'The Rod to God'.

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17 - 'Aye, ye're funny, but yer face bates ye!'

Sunset in Delamont Park, near Killyleagh, Co. Down
February 20, 2010

There are some things we do a lot of in Northern Ireland - now, don't be gettin cheeky! I'm way ahead of you! No! One is we're always talkin' about the weather - that's because the weather here in Ireland is very unpredictable. It can be different every day, even several seasons in the one day!

Now, the other thing we do a lot of is slaggin' - we spend a lot a' time slaggin' one another off. Y'see, we can't stand the thought of anybody 'gettin' above themselves', so we feel we have to keep them in their place, so to speak. So we've managed ta gather up a right wheen a' expressions for this purpose - from a mild, 'Ye slabber, ye', which can actually be said with genuine affection and used as a friendly greeting - or it can just be used as a term of disgust.

Someone who is rude, or clumsy, might be referred to as, 'An ignorant gaunch'. Or he could be 'As awkward as a pig in a sheugh!' or even, 'As awkward as sin!' Whereas someone noisy, or vandalising, might be described as a 'hallion'.
'He would'n' give you daylight' or, 'She'd begrudge ye three ha'pence, so she wud', is a person who is tight with their money. Actually, the origin of the 'would'n' give you daylight' expression goes right back to Penal times, when the ruling (English) authorities taxed you on the size of the windows in your house - which would explain why the few remaining original Irish cottages have very small windows.

On the other hand, a person who is wasteful with their money and easily parted from it might be, 'Throwing it aroun' him like a man wi' no arms!' Or 'spendin' it like there's no tamorra!' Whereas, someone who stands there talkin' away while you're strugglin', might be asked, 'Ye could'n give us a bit ave a han' there, could ye, instead a' stan'in there wi' yer two arms the one length?'

Our humour is usually understated and often it's of the 'black' variety. I remember at the height of the Troubles, when, for a short time, Protestants were taking their political frustation out on the police force by burning their homes and, at the same time, there was a regular Ad on local TV encouraging us to burn more coal, whose slogan got adapted to, 'Join the RUC - and come home to a real fire.'
Again, at the height of the Troubles, I was working for a while as a lorry driver in Belfast (that's a truck driver in North America), for a factory which had a mixed workforce - Catholic and Protestant. Until my load was ready, I worked with the guys in the packing dept. and a regular dry comment on the morning's news would often be, 'See we got one a' yours last night!' This was just their way of trying to deal with an unacceptable situation.

On a lighter note, you'll often hear this sorta response from someone at the receiving end of some slaggin', 'Aye, yer funny, but yer face bates ye!'

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