The Rambler 11/10/2002
WHEN one is outside the country, the sound of a familiar Ulster accent is always welcome. If it is the Ulster Scot variety I always think of Ballycastle or Comber.
Years ago, on my first visit to London, I headed for Gloucester Road terminal to get the bus to Heathrow on my return trip. I hadn't ever done that trip before so I was early, first on to an empty bus in fact. Sitting on the edge of my seat, anxiously waiting, I was particularly thrilled to hear Ulster voices coming abroad "How're Sammy" was unmistakably Belfast, I was on the right bus. The Ulster Scots Agency which came into prominence when the 1998 Agreement was signed, claims that some 100,000 people in North Down, County Antrim, parts of Derry and East Donegal, speak the Ulster Scots language.
A map included in the 1996 Ulster Dictionary omits South and South East County Antrim, which confirms my experience. I have a hobby of interviewing and recording the reminiscences of locals and I can confirm that they do not speak like the natives of Bushmills or Killinchy.
Actually, the language spoken in rural areas around Lough Neagh's banks by uneducated, or ill-educated, folk in the twenties when country people had no access to the media, was parochial in every sense of the term, quite unique.
Good English was largely unknown by the illiterate classes. Anyone who spoke it was regarded as foreign or uppity, and shunned.
I recall one lass who had been reared in poverty by foster parents. She got work as a servant with a cross-channel family and when she returned home as a mature woman, speaking good English, with a South East London accent, she was the talk of the parish. Because she was different! What was the dialect of S W County Antrim? I would love to know. A fair bit of it was slang, but mostly it was common English terms pronounced, or mispronounced, in a rough uncouth manner.
For example: door was 'dure', potato was 'pooter', grab was 'glam', heap was 'bing', mud was 'glar', knock (on door) was 'chap'. A brother (John) was 'the John fellow', old lady was 'aul doll', squat was 'hunker down', etc, etc.
I have found that many of the terms with which I was familiar in boyhood and during the war, in Tyrone, are included in the 1996 dictionary already mentioned.
Doctor Macafee, who edited it, is a Scot and she gave it a significant Scots flavour. I met her at the Ulster Folk Museum when she was compiling it and we happily swapped words and phrases.
I will now rehearse verbatim how a local might have described an experience.
I had jest got-on-me, and cum down aff the laft. I was on my hunkers on the hearth clanin' the greeschia out of the grate an' I never heard the wee cuddy. She had followed me down in her bare feet.
She slipped in behind me, got me by the schowlders, and give me a right shug-a-shoo. She nearly cowped into the grate.
Jest then there was a chap on the dure. I knowed it was the postman and I made a spallder to open it.
When I got it opened, there was a bing of envelopes on the dure step - tillage papers and that kind of nonsense.
The postman was back in his wee red van, an' he birled roun' on the street, and was away down the loanen, gain' like a bat outa hell.
At the bend at the grazen gap, he nearly slid into the sheugh. Hell mend him if he had! They havin' a minit to bid ye the time of day. Alfie Grant always had time, but these fellas in the wee vans havin a mint.