Why write an Irish character into a story? Let me direct you to Chris O’Dowd in Bridesmaids, Sharon Horgan in Catastrophe, Andrew Scott in Fleabag or… anyone… in Derry Girls. I’m not saying that Irish characters are incredible (or am I?). But we are a definite option if you want to add colour, quirkiness or humour. Yup, I’m biased.
I’m also out of line. My brief, here, is not to persuade you to write Irish characters but to help those of you who are doing so. The first thing you’ll want to know is the absolute clangers to avoid, the expressions non-Irish people think we say but we never actually do. Let me give you a list:
- “May the road rise with you.” This is only ever said in the Irish language to wish you luck. We don’t say it in English.
- “Top of the morning to you.” Only used by leprechauns.
- “Begorrah!” Even worse: “Begorrah and begosh!” Only heard in old Hollywood movies of Ireland. And let’s keep it that way.
- “I speak Gaelic.” We call the Irish language “Irish” not Gaelic.
- “Eire.” Unless we are speaking in Irish, we call our country Ireland.
- “St. Paddy’s Day/St. Patty’s Day.” It’s either Paddy’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day.
- “Soft day, thank God.” This is not a complete mortaller (mortal sin). It is said, often sarcastically (e.g. if it is pouring rain). But, as it is one of those go-to phrases that non-Irish people use to sound Irish, it’s best avoided.
Our name for this kind of speak is Oirish. We do not react well. So, now that you know what to avoid, here are a few tips on how to make your dialogue more Irish:
- Use “fierce” instead of very e.g. “He’s fierce intelligent.”
- Turn a sentence into a question e.g. “Sure, where would you be?” This particular one means: “Could you be anywhere better than this?”
- For emphasis, add “altogether” after a noun at the end of a sentence e.g. “Isn’t he a fierce eejit, altogether?”
- Add “at all, at all,” to the end of a negative sentence e.g. “I’m not venturing out in that rain at all, at all.” Again, emphasis.
- Repeat short sentences connecting them with “so” e.g. “I am so I am.” “I did so I did.” Emphasis is strong with us.
- Make your verbs ongoing e.g. “What would you be wanting?” “I’m going to go.” “I’m going to have to do that again.” “Don’t be listening to him.”
- Precede a sentence with: “God.” “Jaysus.” “Sure.” “Ah, sure, look.” “Yera.” “Here.” e.g. “Here, give me that yoke (thing).”
- If you’re comfortable with expletives, choose Irish ones e.g. “Feck.” “Shite.” “Gobshite.”
- Use “me” instead of “my” e.g. “Aw, me head.”
- Use “ye” instead of you plural.
- Put “away” after an ongoing verb e.g. “I was chatting away with Mary.” We do this to emphasize that it was going on for a while.
- Use “after” in the past tense e.g. use “I’m after doing,” instead of “I have done.”
- Instead of, “I’ve just done that,” go for, “I’m only after doing that.”
- Some people put “do be” in front of a verb: “I do be eating.”
- Say “Come here,” or “Come here to me” or “Come here till I tell you,” or “C’mere I want ya,” before imparting information. It’s an instruction to lean in.
- Instead of “I’m not,” say “I amn’t.”
- Instead of “It is,” use “’Tis”.
- End a sentence with “all the same.” e.g. “Isn’t it grand weather, all the same?”
- End a sentence with “like” e.g. “You know, like.” In fact, you can liberally sprinkle your sentences with “like,” especially if you’re young.
- End a sentence with “boy” or “girl” if you’re trying to sound like you’re from Cork. You could also use “boyo” or less commonly “bucko” instead of “boy.”
- Add “now” to the end of sentence. “Here she is, now.” “Don’t be doing that, now.”
- Add “so” to the end of a sentence. “I will, so.”
- Replace “really” with: “only”, “right,” “bleeding,” or “dead” e.g. “He’s only gorgeous.” “He’s dead sexy.” “He’s a right eejit.” “Did you put the bleeding cat out?” You can drop the “g” in “bleeding” if you want to go all out.
- Ask, “You know what I mean?” after a statement you’ve made.
- “In fairness…” or “In all fairness…” is commonly used at the start – or end – of a sentence to argue the case for something.
- To argue the case for a person, you might say, “To give him his due….”
There are words that Irish people use when speaking English that are unique to us – wonderful words like bockety, craic and banjaxed. Some, like bockety (which means wobbly, rickety or unsteady) comes from the Irish language. In the case of bockety, it is derived from the Irish word “bacach” which means lame. You may be wondering what craic means. If, for example, we tell you that something was great craic (as we often do) we are not commenting on the quality of an illegal substance. We are simply saying that it was fun. Just to confuse you, craic also means news. “Any craic?” means “Any news?” Craic is big with us. Not to leave anything hanging, that third word I mentioned, banjaxed, means broken beyond repair – except when referring to person – in which case, they will usually recover from their hangover.
For many more “Irishisms” and tips, nab a copy of The Little Book of Irishisms: Know the Irish through our Words, written by, eh, me. It’s fierce good, altogether. No word of a lie.
(c) Aimee Alexander
Visit Aimee’s website on: https://www.aimeealexander.com/
Aimee’s author photograph is with her daughter, Aimee Concannon, who illustrated The Little Book of Irishisms.
About The Little Book of Irishisms: Know the Irish through our Words
If an Irish person said to you, “Gimmie that yoke,” would you think they were talking about an egg? If so, 99% of the time, you’d be wrong. How about banjaxed, bockety or craic? Any idea what they mean?
The Little Book of Irishisms is for anyone who wants to understand the Irish, not just how we speak English, but how we are as people, relaxed about some things, picky about others.
It’s also for those who’d like to sound Irish, even just for St. Patrick’s Day. An ambitious goal. But why not “give it a lash for the craic?”
In this little book, you’ll learn handy tricks to Irishify your sentences – and how to avoid those clangers that people think we say but never actually do, like the classic, “Top of the morning to you.”
You’ll even achieve the impossible and discover how to pronounce Irish names – like Clodagh, Tadhgh or Caoilfhinn. Call it a public service.
If you’re coming to Ireland and want to fit right in, this book’s for you. If you can’t make it to our little nation, here’s a way of visiting in spirit. “Go on, go on, go on. You will, you will, you will,” to quote the infamous Irish comedy, Father Ted.
The Little Book of Irishisms is the perfect gift for anyone who enjoys being part of the Irish community.
Order your copy online here.