Sean Keane: The changing language and dialects in Kilkenny

Brian Keyes

Reporter:

Brian Keyes

 Sheep droppings, or as they say in Kilkenny, saffrons

Sheep droppings, or as they say in Kilkenny, saffrons

As a blow-in, I have always been fascinated by the language of Kilkenny people; the different dialects, verbal nuances and sayings in the various parts of the county.
I think there have been noticeable changes in the Kilkenny brogue over the last 28 years and many Kilkenny people now have a mid-Atlantic accent.
Kilkenny is famous for its flat accent and pronouncing words like butter as buh-re and battery as bah-ery.
And the marked differences between the south and north of the county in how people speak has narrowed as more and more Cats, speak in a nondescript accent with a touch of the D4s.
For example people in Kilmacow speak differently than people from Clogh. In Kilmacow, when I used to visit the pubs there the old lads would ask for a large bokle (bottle of Guinness) in an accent very, very similar to the Waterford accent but just a little flatter and more musical but that too is now, I think, fading fast from conversation.
When I came first to the city, I used to bump into the late Dick Lynch quite a bit. He was a true Cat and a wonderful storyteller.
His wife Lulu was from my home town of Listowel and we had great times.
He would start most conversations with the words ‘Listen you sir’. And somewhere in every chat he said the words, ‘t’was a gallery’.
And another great Kilkenny word that seems to have gone out of circulation, is skivered.
Normally associated with hurling when one team gives the opposing team a good beating, skivering, seems a much better word than beating but you hear it used less and less.
There are of course the classic Kilkennyisms.
‘Well’ - This is used instead of hello or how are you.
However my own personal favourite is ‘fair’. For example he’s a ‘fair’ hurler or It was a ‘fair’ bad day.
I have heard it used in this contest no where else.
Another beauty is ‘Ructions’.
There is a man from Graignamanagh and he is known as ‘Ructions’ and nothing else. The word is used in the context of trouble brewing and the person who says ‘ructions’ is expecting there will be trouble as a result of some incident or happening.
Other Kilkenny words:
‘filum’ = film; ‘Stephenson's Day’ = St Stephen's Day; ‘Wet The Tay’ - Put three teabags in the teapot; ‘I axed him’ = I asked him; ‘Castlecowmer’ = Castlecomer.
The problem with dialects, slang words or words which have a particular meaning in Kilkenny is that they are dying out.
They are being replaced by generic slang words picked up from television and in particular from US tv.
For some reason, the US sitcoms and dramas seem to resonate more with young people through out Ireland rather than British programmes.
Which brings me to the Kilkenny accent and dialects in foreign parts. I was amazed to hear an interview from Newfoundland, Canada with an 8o-year-old woman some years ago. Her accent was as clear flat Kilkenny as you could get.
Even though she was third generation Kilkenny, she never lost the brogue.
The Language of Kilkenny, by Seamus Moylan should be compulsive reading for every Kilkenny person.
It is full of curious words and sayings and it goes into their origin and meaning.
For example in Callan, a rustic is a type of baker’s loaf made by master bakers, Keogh's. In Graiguenamanagh, saffron means “sheep droppings, used in a cure for measles and whooping cough.”