Loughshore Lingo – A Survival Guide To The Language Around Lough Neagh

At last! The long awaited release by controversial Irish author, Antán Ó Dála an Rí is here, and Rebel Voice feels it’s a whopper.

In Loughshore Lingo, Ó Dála an Rí has provided a thorough look at the language and stories of the region bordering the western shores of Lough Neagh in his native Ireland.

With more than 900 entries, 21 local stories and 25,000+ words, this is the most detailed book ever written about one of the most fabled places in The Emerald Isle.

It’s not for the faint-hearted. At least in part. The author has clearly refused to censor the offensive language used in the locality. In an exclusive interview with Rebel Voice, Ó Dála an Rí shares his reasons for penning this book and adopting the forthright approach that he did.

RV: Hello, agus fáilte go Rebel Voice arís. So, you have a new book out about the language of your home area. It seems to be both educational and tongue-in-cheek. Can you tell readers why you decided to go down the route of writing a book of this nature?

AÓD: Aye, it’s simple really. Being from the lough shore area, I grew up hearing and using local expressions that I noticed were fast disappearing from everyday usage. The younger people in the locality today are copying those they hear on TV, in the movies and online, even in songs. I wanted to document our own linguistic heritage before it disappears entirely.

RV: How serious a problem do you think this, shall we call it Cultural Imperialism, really is?

AÓD: Cultural Imperialism is a good definition, for that’s exactly what it is. I’m not saying that commerce is hellbent on destroying local identities. It’s just that large corporations, such as movie studios, have enormous clout. They’re able to get inside the heads of many across the world. Ireland is no exception. Global promotion of a brand, or production, means that young people in particular are inundated, or overwhelmed, by outside influences, especially in speech patterns. It might seem trivial, but even today I hear children shouting OMG! or Whatever! or Shut up! They use upspeak as a standard. OK, language evolves, but I wouldn’t like to see our identity in Ireland eroded to the point whereby we become just another subtle and perhaps barely distinguishable flavour in a global homogenous culture.

RV: Damn, but you’re intense about this!

AÓD: (laughs) Aye, I can be at times. I’m always reminded of a little old lady, she’s mentioned in the book in the story Wisdom Of The Ages, who was a font for local yarns. As a child, I used to love the strange sayings she had. She had a line or retort for everyone and everything. People like that were celebrated throughout my youth and young adult years. But then TV became more important, movies more influential. Then the internet appeared and kicked the stuffing out of local parlance. That little lady died and no one thought to record her knowledge which was considerable. All gone and no way to get it back. The more I thought about it the sadder it seemed. Loughshore Lingo is an attempt to at least try to record the language that we used, and still use to an extent, in the region. It might also instil a sense of pride in our unique identity by highlighting the fun way that we use and abuse English, as well as retaining some of our native Gaelic. 

RV: Fair enough, I suppose. Did you originally intend for your book to be a sort of dictionary then, or was it always going to have local anecdotes?

AÓD: At the start, I just documented local words and phrases for the hell of it with some vague idea that I could use them later. But the list grew and grew over the years. Soon I realised that I could do something more substantial with the results. I was amazed that we had so many distinctive words and turns of phrase. But a list, no matter how you jazz it up, can be repetitive, so I wanted to break it up a little. That’s why I chose local stories, of which there are many, to add variety. The sections and few illustrations are also part of that process of reducing any monotony of alphabetical listings. Whether it works or not I don’t yet know.

RV: Are the stores based on real people and events?

AÓD: (smiles slightly as he hesitates) That’s a very good question and I’m not glad you asked me that. I will say that there are true stories in there, based upon what I witnessed or experienced, don’t ask, and there are some I heard about. But stories change from teller to teller. Wake houses are great places in Ireland to hear old yarns, but the tales do mutate or distort over time, so how close to the original some of them are is anyone’s guess. There’s a wealth of local anecdote on the shores of Lough Neagh, enough for a library of books. I just chose some for fillers between the listings. But I’ve noticed that even when listeners don’t necessarily believe a story, they still enjoy hearing it. How they view those in Loughshore Lingo will depend upon how they feel at the time of reading I suppose.

RV: Am I correct in thinking that you did the artwork yourself?

AÓD: Artwork? You’re telling me there’s artwork in that book? Jaysus. I knocked together a few illustrations but I don’t know if I’d describe them as artwork. I’m a fan of the work of Leo Baxendale from The Beano, not that it shows in my own cartoons. I tried to draw a few figures that would hold the attention of the browser. I’m not planning on a career at it though.

RV: Are they depictions of anyone real? Could one of them be you perhaps?

AÓD: Me? Fuck off! And I mean that in a kindly way. OK, maybe. But maybe not. I can’t say, exactly, as I might have to sue myself for taking the piss out of me. Spitting Image have little to worry about, I can tell you that.

RV: It been commented upon by many, including everyone in this building, that you included sexually offensive language in your book, as well as a range of other words and terms that could upset. Why did you go down this route?

AÓD: Well, I decided that if the book was to be true to local speech then the bad stuff had to go in along with the not-so-bad stuff. It’s not that everyone uses foul language there, although I did grow up thinking my name was “wee shite” as I was called it so much as a child, it’s more that strong language can give an insight into the people, their humour and thought processes. It also seems worse written down that it really is in use. Many people might feel uncomfortable about seeing a particular word until it’s pointed out that they use it themselves. Other words, such as “cuntyballs” are not really deemed all that offensive in reality. It’s a cheeky word but not one of the worst and is usually laughed at. Maybe that tells you something about us. We’re not, generally, a precious lot and don’t get too upset about non-specific insults and the like.

RV: Some of the stories have elements of nudity in them. A reader would be forgiven for thinking that the loughshores are a bit like The Last Days of Rome.

AÓD: (laughs) Aye, that could be true. I know some pensioners who would probably toss their car keys into a bowl. Only joking with that one. Don’t want to upset the oldies, they can be dangerous. We’ve an earthy approach to life in Ireland and nowhere is that more obvious than somewhere like the lough shore area. Maybe it’s a Gaelic thing. The Gaelic people were more sexually liberated and less easily offended. You only have to read The Tailor and Ansty to see that. That wanker Cromwell and his Puritans brought their pretentious attitudes to Ireland and fucking ruined us, in more ways than one. Excuse the language.

RV: No pun intended?

AÓD: Oh I intended it alright.

RV: So Cromwell brought all the prudishness to Ireland?

AÓD: No, not all, but a lot of it. The Gaelic chieftains were a saucy lot. That’s a historical term by the way. But Cromwellian ideals were false and hypocritical and imposed on the indigenous people at the point of a sword or pike. The Churches, Catholic, Anglican and later Presbyterian, then adopted a holier than thou attitude in contrast to native tendencies. Before you know it, women are wearing underwear again and wearing out the knees of their stockings praying.

RV: Ah…

AÓD: What? You look shocked. OK, maybe the knickers crack was over the top but you know what I mean. We went from the very liberal Brehon Laws where a woman could divorce a man for failing to bring her to orgasm, to a society where women were just chattel for men to barter and abuse. It was obviously regressive. I think Ireland is a more liberal nation at heart and the language, whether Gaelic or our version of English, reflects that, so why try to pretend otherwise. I didn’t write Loughshore Lingo to appease handwringing, tut-tutting ne’er-do-wells. I doubt that kind read much beyond the Bible and the Daily Mail anyway.

RV: OK, onto safer territory then. Two stories that caught my eye were those about local history. Without giving too much away, can you tell me a little about them.

AÓD: No problem. One was about a riot that took place on Good Friday 1725 in Derryclogagh Wood near Lough Neagh. It was documented by the colonial authorities at the time, and those records are publicly available. During Penal Times, the Catholic faith was banned in Ireland as you know. The local people in my area responded by holding a mass with thousands in attendance. It ended in a riot when the yeomanry rushed in to make arrests. It said a lot about the local population that they refused to comply with colonial edicts banning their faith. I think it was more to do with stubbornness than with an adherence to the Catholic faith. I suspect that Irish Catholics are really pagans with a Christian veneer. I mean that as a compliment to them. I wanted the Derryclogagh story to be known far and wide as it was a considerable event back in those days, but almost forgotten now. I learned about it from the South Derry Historical Society which is now sadly defunct.

RV: And the second story, about invasions and saints?

AÓD: The other short account is about the history of the area. It’s only a very brief summary but contains quite a lot of info. Trea is the main saint of the lough shores, her and Colman. They had a common ancestor who was once High King of Ireland, until he got his ass booted out. He then set himself up as king of our area. His descendants played a large part in shaping the region and he has quite a lot of Catholic saints in his bloodline. Again, it’s not widely known, but I felt it important to get it down on paper for public consumption. The bit about the Vikings raiding the area is documented in the old annals but not properly investigated. I’m hoping to excite some interest in historical research into this place for the benefit of future generations.

RV: Yes, I can see how the details might inspire some to delve deeper. Sometimes, though, when these local books come out, there’s a problem with the anecdotal stories and the people they’re about. It can cause friction, even feuds. You alluded to this in your story A Mystery Tattoo And The Author’s Arse, which is one of the more memorable titles to be encountered. Do you feel that your stories will have this effect, and do you have a weird tattoo on your backside?

AÓD: Christ but you really get in there with the questions. No, I can confirm that I do not have a tattoo on my arse and that story was not about me.

RV: (interrupts) So who was the story about then?

AÓD: (looks kind of furtive, but it might be shadow) It might not necessarily be about anyone. For questionable legal reasons I won’t say. You’re right though in that not everyone wants a story about themselves in a book, especially if it gets a laugh at what they think is their expense. But in Lingo I’ve tried to keep it light and non-offensive. There might be one or two who feel they recognise themselves or members of their families, but it’s hard to account for everyone’s sensitivities. If you wanted to avoid offending people, you’d never leave the house. I think that, sometimes, there are some people who want to be offended and will search long and hard for something that gives them an excuse to vent, usually about nothing. It’s becoming a more widespread trend these days and social media is the perfect platform for it. I’m not sure how healthy that is for our societies. I tend to take a more philosophical approach to the whole thing. By that I mean I prefer to ignore it and think about clouds instead. It helps.

RV: Do you know a Father Kelly? He gets a few dubious mentions in the book.

AÓD: No, I don’t, but I’ve known a few other members of the clergy like him. They’re a mixed bag in the Catholic church. I was raised Catholic so I’m intimately familiar with the structures and people to be found there. I was once an altar boy for God’s sake. Some priests are decent and, sadly, too many are not. The negative has been well documented but maybe not acted on enough. But there was a humorous side to some of the priests as well. I’m fairly irreverent towards churches and official structures in general, as I think most Irish are, so I don’t tend to be squeamish about poking fun at the clergy.

RV: Do you expect repercussions from this approach?

AÓD: Nah, I wouldn’t think so. The clergy have enough to be getting on with without complaining about a few comical references in a small book. I’d enjoy it though if a few Father Ted-like characters began a picket outside a bookstore that was selling Loughshore Lingo. You know the sort of thing. Placards with “Down with this sort of thing” and “Careful now” scribbled on them. That would be entertainment.

RV: In relation to some of the language included, I know a man who told me his grandmother read a copy of Lingo and nearly choked to death at some of the content. He said it was the only time he heard his cuddly old granny use the word “ringpiece.” How do you feel about corrupting the elderly of Ireland with this kind of vocabulary?

AÓD: (appears to give this some thought) Pretty good.

RV: OK… is Loughshore Lingo a good representation of the people of the shores of Lough Neagh? Or is it detrimental to public perception of an entire population group?

AÓD: I don’t think it’s an unfair portrayal. I’m proud of being from that region so wouldn’t have set out to denigrate the place. Most of my relatives live there, as do the people I grew up with. Loughshore Lingo really just gives an insight into the language and some events, which in turn should help outsiders to understand local mannerisms and approach to living. I think some people take life too seriously. That’s wasn’t always my experience growing up even through the war of that time. Humour, including dark humour, was a constant. It helped us through conflict and scarcity. Lough shore people are generous but tough. They are not overly quick to take offense, mostly, although there are always exceptions to the rule. They work hard, play hard and live their lives as best they can. They have strong words and sometimes opinions. So do lots of others. I won’t condemn my community for that. But I won’t pretend that we are somehow all sitting wearing feathery wings on clouds, playing the harp and eating marshmallows. We can, on occasion, be raw. I love it that we’re like that. There’s little pretension or snobbery where I come from and anyone who tries to be that way is soon put in their place.

RV: No saints there then?

AÓD: Only the women… usually. The men are more likely to be drinking Harp, wondering which clouds resemble female genitalia, and throwing chewed-up marshmallows at the TV licence man to see if they stick.

RV: Can you tell us if Loughshore Lingo is complete? Is there more to this story?

AÓD: My plans are to revise it in a few years. Already, I’ve about 50 words and phrases that I didn’t manage to get into the first edition. That number is sure to rise. I’d like to do a complete revision with new anecdotes and examples of usage. I reckon that perhaps one or two revisions over the coming years should eventually cover all the language. There could also be a number of books with nothing but anecdotes, but that’s a different project.

RV: With Covid-19, the world is a crazy place at the minute. Is this going to help or hinder your sales? How long before you buy a Ferrari with your earnings?

AÓD: Ha! I would rather buy a Lamborghini, tractor that is. The roads around here would rip the ass out of a fancy sports cars. I didn’t choose the best time to release a book, that’s true. But I felt I had to go for it. The Covid lockdown gave me time to typeset the book and write the stories. It was the silver lining on a very dark cloud. I wanted to get it done and dusted, even if it never sold a copy. I thought the lingual record more important than the profit. Saying that, it would be nice if it sold in vast quantities. I’m easy with it though, so I’ll see how it goes.

RV: Can you tell Rebel Voice followers where they might buy a copy of this literary masterpiece (coughs)?

AÓD: I most certainly can. Are you OK there? Would you like a drink of water? For those living in the lough shore area, it can be bought at Sheehy’s newsagents and bookstore, on Main Street in Cookstown. They’ve always been pretty good at supporting local authors and I’m grateful to them for that. For everyone else, it can be picked up on eBay.

RV: Thank you for that. So, before we finish, do you have any other literary plans that you would like to share with Rebel Voice fans? Or even non-literary plans?

AÓD: Hmm… I’ve always got plans. Whether they happen or not is another thing. I have enough material for about three books, including a novel that’s at first draught stage. If it’s published it’ll cause ructions, so I really should go ahead with it. Maybe I’ll work on it some more this coming year. Maybe I’ll grow tomatoes instead. I never know myself at times. I’m involved in some activism so that keeps me occupied, although the Covid crisis is hampering that. Still, I’m healthy, so I’ve a lot to be grateful for, and I’m relieved to finally get Loughshore Lingo out there for public consumption. At least the language is now documented for future generations.

RV: Antán Ó Dála an Rí, thank you for taking the time to speak with us, and good luck with your book.

AÓD: Thank you for the interview, and say hello for me to that gorgeous secretary you have, the one who looks like an Irish Jessica Alba and wears short skirts. She’s got lovely legs and I saw her eyeing me up when I came in.

RV: You mean my girlfriend?

AÓD: … is she? Ahh… well then… hmm… say hello in a platonic and not-so-horny manner from me and don’t feel threatened. She’s fierce attractive though.

RV: …

Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. This is a fine record of the speech of one part of Ireland. It’s thorough and honest and the sometimes-crude language reflects this honesty. It could have done with some additional graphic design to set it off better, but it’s still an enjoyable read. The anecdotes are good fun and speak well of the people there. The alphabetical listings are broken by segments such as the Very Drunk Section, The Nightclub Section and The Football Section. Loughshore Lingo will provide insight into the way of life in that area immediately adjacent to the western shores of Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the Celtic Isles. It should be a valuable reference work for bookshelves everywhere. Recommended.

(Antán Ó Dála an Rí is (was?) a content contributor for Rebel Voice)

Loughshore Lingo can be purchased via the following Ebay link:

http://ebay.us/Wej5Xw?cmpnId=5338273189

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