Friday, December 26, 2014

Tyrone Dialectal Words Originating In The Irish Language

My father, Michael, was born in Co. Tyrone in 1941 and died in Dublin, which had been his home for many years, in 2006. He was an enthusiastic amateur scholar of the Irish language and having learned it in secondary school and beyond became a fluent speaker. This essay was written by him sometime in the 1990s. I am unsure whether it was ever published in any of the publications he occasionally submitted his work to. It is also unclear to me that I have the whole manuscript as it seems there might be more of a preamble. However, as presented it should still make sense to the reader. Apologies if there are any typos as my dad's handwriting could sometimes be a tad indecipherable. I haven't included the meaning of the Irish words from which the English dialectal words are derived but in most instances they're the same or similar. There were several thousand native speakers of the language in the county according to the 1911 Census. Some of these would ahve been born and bred in Tyrone while others were migrants from the Donegal Gaeltachtaí. As the century progressed the number of native Tyrone speakers dwindled. Nowadays the Irish language in the county has undergone a renaissance with many students being educated through it and many adults taking up lessons.

Many words used by local people in everyday speech are not to be found in the standard English dictionaries. These words have their origin on the one hand in the native Irish language, and on the other hand in the language of the settlers who came from Scotland and England in Plantation times. The words which I have listed below are some of the last local remnants of a tongue which was spoken here for probably two thousand years and which finally did out only in the present [20th] century. The list is not the result of any exhaustive survey but has been randomly compiled by me over a long number of years from the speech of my parents and of other residents of the locality, some still living, many now dead. I suspect that many such words have escaped my notice, while others which I have listed may now have disappeared. A few of the words are earthy and rarely heard in polite speech, but let the gentle reader not be ashamed of them, for they have a long pedigree. Close variants of them are to be found in Latin and Greek, in languages across Europe, and even in far-off India where they were brought in ancient times by our common Indo-European ancestors.

[Each English dialectal word is followed by the Irish word is is supposed to have derived from in brackets, followed by the meaning of the English dialectal word.]

Amadan (amadán), a fool.

Baakan (bacán), a timber roof-beam.

Bockan barra (bocán beara), a toadstool or mushroom.

Bardrucks (pardóg or bardóg) wickerwork creels slung across a donkey's back and used mainly for carrying turf.

Bing (beinn, binn), a large pile of potatoes etc.

Blether (bladar), nonsensical, boring talk.

Bothy (both), a small run-down house or shed, also found in Scots dialect.

Bresh (breis), a bout of illness.

Broughan (brachán) porridge.

Bruteen (brúitín) mashed potatoes with butter, the Irish version of poundies.

Brock (broc), a badger, also in Scots.

Budyin (boidín) a penis, sometimes used as a term of abuse

Brose (broghais), a fat, unwieldy person.

Brew (bruach), the edge of a river or turf-bank.

Bussock (basóg), a blow with the open hand.

Cack (cac), human excrement.

Calderer (cealdrach), a foolish person.

Capper (ceapaire), a slice of bread and jam.

Car (cár), a grimace, a cross face.

Clabber (clabar), mud or muck.

Crag (crag), a handful.

Craw (cró), outhouse for pigs, etc.

Crig (Criog), a rap, a blow.

Diddy (dide), a woman's breast.

Deelog (daolog), any kind of beetle or cockroach.

Drig (driog), a small drop, the final drop of milk from a cow.

Dreedar (dríodar) sediment in the bottom of a bucket of water.

Dull (dol), a wire loop used as a rabbit snare.

Guggy (gogaí) a childish name for an egg.

Gub (gob), the mouth.

Gorreen (goirín), a pimple or boil.

Gammy (gámaí), a fool, a stupid person.

Glar (glár) green scum on a well or stagnant pool.

Gowpen (gabhpán), the full of two hands held together.

Gra (grá) love, liking "I have no gra for that fellow".

Gulpen (guilpín) an ignorant lout.

Greeshey (gríosach), hot embers.

Jore (deor), a small drop of any liquid.

Keeney (caoineadh), wailing or howling, often said of a dog.

Kesh (ceis), heather, rushes, etc. placed so as to allow passage over a boggy place.

Kippen (cipín), a small stick.

Kitthog, kitter (ciotach), left-handed.

Lafter (lachtar), a brood of chicks or young turkeys

Looder (liúdar), a heavy, hard blow.

Loughryman (luchramán), a leprechuan, an elf.

Lug (log), the ear.

Lubber (liobar), a hanging lip, or a person with such.

Markin (mairtín), an old sock with the sole missing.

Miskin (meascán),a lump of home-churned butter.

Mullan (mullán), a small, round hill.

Malken (mulcán), a soggy mass, e.g. overboiled potatoes.

Pittick (piteog), a small, effeminate man.

Poreen (póirín), a small potato.

Puth, puss (pus), a sour face.

Scobe (scuab), a shallow bite from an apple or vegetable.

Scregh (scréach), a shriek, a screech.

Shall-fasky (seal foscaidh), a rough shelter, a calf-shed.

Shebeen (síbín), an illegal tavern.

Sheebowing (siabadh), drifting snow.

Sheeg (sidheog, síog), an elongated 'hip-roofed' haystack.

Slig (sliog), an old cutaway boot.

Sowans (Samhain) Oaten gruel formerly eaten from Hallowe'en onwards through the winter.

Spag (spag), a big foot.

Spiddick (spideog), abusive term for a small person.

Spink (spinnc), a steep, rocky slope.

Splank (splanc), a spark from the fire.

Tubashtey (tubaiste), an accident, a disaster.


  1. Pleased to see clabber there: My mother's comment in 1950s Glasgow on pretentious people was to call them: Lord Muck fae Glabber Castle. Great word, and I can see the origin of much of her vocabulary in this list.