British, Irish, loyalist, nationalist, Northern Irish… who am I?!

I am British.



I am not a loyalist.



I see myself as British, and as Northern Irish, but not as Irish. In my time spent travelling, people have often found this hard to understand, but you have to bear in mind that I grew up in a British country. We may share the same island as the South, but we’re not the same country. We have a different government, different customs, different accents, different school systems, different sports. We use British pounds, not euros; miles per hour, not kilometres; stones, not kilograms. I don’t speak a word of Irish. I grew up watching British TV, while the reception on the two Irish channels we could get was fuzzy and blurry at best. I’ve been across the border no more than about half a dozen times throughout the 31 years of my life. I have a British passport. The Irish flag is the flag of another country to me.



I love Ireland. I’ve recently spent a few fantastic weekends in Dublin, and although I felt very much like a foreign tourist, I could see myself living there. It’s a vibrant, modern, multicultural, exciting city in a beautiful, friendly country. But it’s not my country. It’s not my home.

When I see the green, white, and orange of the Irish flag, I see a foreign flag. Despite my lifelong hatred of politics and hardcore nationalism, I have to confess that I do recognise the red, white, and blue of the Union Jack as the flag of my country. It’s how I was brought up.

I am British.

But I am not a loyalist.

Now, I’ve written about the Twelfth before, so I’m not going to go into the history again – you can read my beginner’s version here if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about!

Once again, I find myself back in Norn Iron during the marching season, and I think my take on it has changed slightly. Perhaps being out of the country for a stretch of a few years is letting me approach it from a different perspective, I don’t know – but I’m definitely not as bitter as I once was.

I feel that I have a better understanding now of why loyalists do what they do, and why they hold on to the centuries-old tradition of the Twelfth. In Northern Ireland, we don’t have a strong national identity – not like the English, and not like the Irish. We’re caught in between. For the loyalists – those loyal to the crown and determined to remain part of the UK – there’s a fervent, almost desperate need to hold on to what the murals call “our wee country”. The fear that Ireland will one day be united is always there.

Last weekend, a couple of my friends visited Norn Iron, and we did some touristy things in Belfast, including a fascinating taxi tour around the Peace Wall and the areas on either side – the Shankill, and the Falls. In this country, those words are synonymous with “Protestant/loyalist” and “Catholic/nationalist”, respectively. They were the scene of horrific fighting, bombings, and destruction throughout The Troubles, and even today they are divided by the so-called Peace Wall. This is an actual, very high, graffiti-covered wall not dissimilar to the Berlin Wall, running between the two areas to keep residents safe from each other.

peace wall

Our tour guide, a friendly, entertaining Belfast man, took us from one side to the other to walk around, take pictures, and sign the Peace Wall. At each stop, he climbed into the back of the cab with us and gave us background information, showed us old photos and newspaper clippings, and told us countless stories to help us understand both sides. It was incredibly interesting to me, having grown up during The Troubles but been largely unaffected by them as a resident of a smaller, more rural town.

Picture from Wikipedia

Picture from Wikipedia

What shocked me the most, however, was the difference between the loyalist and nationalist areas.

The Shankill Road was no surprise to me. In fact, in some ways it’s a lot like the area where I was raised. Union Jacks flying, red, white, and blue streamers, loyalist murals, and the familiar annual sight of the Eleventh Night bonfire (more on that in another post!) being built. Also, in addition to the loyalist elements, it’s simply not particularly attractive. Walls are covered in graffiti, several houses are boarded up and abandoned, many gardens are overgrown with weeds, and patches of wasteland are strewn with litter and broken glass. It’s not the sort of place you’d like to be wandering around after dark. The overload of flags and murals lend a feeling of aggression, bitterness, and tension to the area, even today.


shankhill mural

What took me completely by surprise was setting foot on the Falls Road for the first time. Note that there was once a time (and not all that long ago) when, as a Protestant raised in a loyalist area, I would not have been able to do this without risking my life. Times have changed, and so has the Falls. To my amazement, it looked like any other pleasant, well-kept, tidy area. The houses and gardens were well-maintained. Flower boxes lined the windows with bright splashes of colour. The streets were clean and free from graffiti. There were no flags flying, and only the famous Bobby Sands mural gave away the fact that we were actually in what was once the scene of terrible sectarian fighting. And yet, even that mural is non-aggressive – it’s more artistic, and a genuine tribute to the sacrifice the man made in the face of the brutality of the British army.

falls mural

In all honestly, I was completely expecting to see a reverse Shankill on the Falls – just as run-down, just as patriotic, but with flags and streamers of green, white, and orange instead of red, white, and blue, and IRA gunmen murals instead of UDA. It was not at all as I expected.

Our guide noted my amazement at the sheer contrast between the two areas. It’s a reflection of people’s identity, he explained. The nationalists know who they are, and they’re secure in their identity. They don’t need to shout about it or decorate the place to make sure everyone knows. But the loyalists – they don’t feel as safe. They’re fighting to hold on to their identity, because they’re not as certain of it.

And that’s when another little piece of the Great Norn Irish Puzzle fell into place for me.

For the real loyalists – and I mean the largely peaceful, non-bigoted people who feel a strong love for and attachment to their heritage, history, and culture, as opposed to the brainless hooligans who burn Irish flags and shout sectarian slurs – the Twelfth is not a crowing display designed to intimidate. It’s not. Yes, it all too often turns out that way thanks to the attitude, behaviour, and ill-informed opinions of the aforementioned bigots, but that’s not what it’s about for most loyalists. With the population balance between the formerly vast majority of Protestants and the Catholic minority not far from swinging in the other direction, they’re clinging on to their flags and their marches to make it clear that they have an identity, and that they don’t want to be swallowed up by Ireland and dropped by Britain. The parades, the flags, the banners, the marches – it’s part of their culture, part of their heritage, and part of their effort to hold on to their identity. If they were to stop, it would be like… well, surrendering.


Personally, I think they should. I believe that they should leave it in the past, and accept that they can be British without constantly making a song and dance about it. But then, I also think the English should do the same, and that’s not going to stop them waving their flags at every Royal anniversary. People long to be part of a nation; they want to belong, and to be proud of their nationality.

It’s just that, in a small country of divided loyalties, patriotism is not so straightforward as love of and pride in one’s nation: more often, it comes across as gloating or antagonistic. While the English, the Scots, and the Welsh can wave their national flags with pride and be united as a nation, the Northern Irish cannot, because it’s divisive. Whichever flag you wave, whichever colours you identify with, you’re not celebrating your identity as Northern Irish. You’re celebrating being either Irish or British. You’re not uniting your fellow citizens to celebrate your country – you’re alienating about half of them. You’re either a loyalist, or a nationalist.

The nationalists have apparently stepped down and left their flag-waving days behind them, which was a huge surprise for me to realise. I would love to see the loyalists do the same… but for the first time in my life, I now actually understand why they don’t.

They have too much to lose.

It’s an arrogant asshole’s world.

That is the lesson I’m learning as I make my way through life.

Who gets what they want? Who receives preferential treatment? Who is given the most consideration and the best customer service? Who gets the biggest promotions and the most recognition?

Is it the quiet, unassuming, polite, friendly person who causes no trouble and waits patiently for fair treatment? Pffft. No, it’s the arrogant asshole. ALWAYS the arrogant asshole.

Yesterday, I fired off an angry email to a company I’ve been working for. I’ve spent a significant amount of time and effort on their projects, despite the job description turning out to be not exactly what it said on the tin. I’ve worked hard, given them high quality articles for a typically measly fee, and been finished well ahead of deadlines. This is how I roll, and you know what, YOU KNOW WHAT?! I’m seriously considering stopping it. All of it. The politeness, the working hard, the effort, the meek “pleeeeeeeeeease hire me to write for you, I swear I’m good – if you’ll only give me a chance!” begging letters, the acceptance of payments that are too low and too late: all of it. Why bother? Do a half assed job like everybody else, stop worrying about whether it’s good enough, stop caring about whether people like me, and just generally be an arrogant asshole.

Anyway, the point is that I was sick of being jerked around by buyers in general (this just happened to be the latest one), and decided last night that expressing my anger would, at this point, be more gratifying than receiving payment. Within a few hours of my rant, I got a lengthy letter of apology for how I’ve been treated, praising my work, and asking me to keep writing for them. It was accompanied by payment and a 50% bonus.

I know I should be happy, but while I’m obviously pleased at being acknowledged as a human being rather than some kind of writing robot, and appreciative of the efforts to  make it up to me and keep me on board, this is something that has been failing to sit right with me for quite some time now. Am I the only one who finds it really depressing that being an honest, hardworking, friendly, considerate, eager-to-please person gets you walked over and treated like you’re worth nothing (in all areas of life), but being in a bad mood, losing your temper and going off on arrogant rants gets you the treatment you think is better deserved by being nice?

The dedicated worker being taken for granted. The polite customer being ignored in favour of the rude one. The guy who holds the door open for someone and then gets stuck being the door holder for everyone. The girl who gets treated like crap by a guy and doesn’t call him out on it because she thinks she must have done something to deserve it. And why, why, WHY is it always me who has to step off the pavement to avoid colliding with the person or people coming the other way?! What would happen if I snapped and said “ENOUGH! NO MORE!” and refused to be the one to move, kept my head down and barreled on? I’m pretty sure we would all crash into each other, and I’d be the one to get hurt, and inevitably it would all somehow, inexplicably, be entirely my fault and no one else’s.

I am a nice person, goddammit. I’m patient. I speak kindly to customer service people on the phone, even when they’re completely useless and I’ve been on hold for about a month. I never send back food at restaurants, and I don’t cause scenes. I work hard, and I do a good job without having to be hounded to finish it. I wait for the next lift rather than push and fight to get on to the crowded one. I’m friendly and polite. I don’t fight. I give up my seat on the bus for someone who needs it more. I go along with what the majority wants to do because I like everyone to be happy. I bite my tongue when people are rude to me, and I let clients take forever to pay their bills because I don’t want to go on and on and on at them.

One guy I’ve been working for lately hasn’t even had enough respect for me to learn my name. I know it’s just a mistake, and it’s a trivial, inconsequential matter, but really. Nothing is more insulting to me than someone who thinks so little of me that they can’t even be bothered to call me by the right name, especially when it’s right there at the top of every message we exchange.

I’m sick of being talked down to, ignored, picked on, criticised, walked over, and cast aside when there’s no further use for me. The only way I’ve found to make all of this stop is to become someone I don’t like. React to the hurtful comments instead of taking them on the chin. Snap instead of keeping quiet. Push and shove instead of waiting patiently. Complain instead of being polite. Be selfish and demanding instead of meek and friendly.

Either you’re the arrogant asshole, or you’re the victim of one.

That’s the life lesson I’m learning, and it may have benefitted my bank balance this morning, but it’s depressed the hell out of me.

A Quare Feed: a rough guide to Northern Irish cuisine.

People have often asked me to describe the cuisine of my native country, and I have just as often failed to do so.

Being all at once kinda British and kinda Irish and kinda European, with a lot of Chinese immigrants thrown in for good measure, Northern Ireland has developed a mish-mash of food preferences that could possibly described as Northern Irish cuisine. When I was Couchsurfing, one of the suggested ways of “paying back” the kindness of hosts was to cook them a meal from one’s home country. I was stuck… what could I serve them? A bag of Tayto cheese & onion and a burger with chips and curry sauce?

So, I’ve had a bit of a think about it, and noted the foods that “taste like home” now I’m back, and observed the eating habits of the natives, and come up with this probably-not-comprehensive guide to food in Northern Ireland. (I’ve also been trying – through a manic fitness regime and healthy eating – to lose the weight I (re)gained due to a life of sloth and vodka in Korea, so this post is basically a product of pure hunger.)

taytoTayto cheese & onion: Probably the most Norn Irish of all Norn Irish foods, these crisps actually have “The Taste of Home” as their advertising slogan. They are made in Tayto Castle (no, really – and you can go there for a tour!) by Mr. Tayto, who is a large, friendly potato with a big smile. He is a familiar character to anyone from Norn Iron, to the extent where giant posters of him adorn the arrivals hall of Belfast International Airport, with the words “Welcome Home!”. Tayto also make many other flavours of crisps and snacks, but nothing will ever surpass Tayto cheese & onion. They have a unique, strong taste, they’re extremely more-ish, and you can’t kiss anyone for 24 hours after eating them.

The Pastie Supper: A pastie, unique to Northern Ireland, is a mixture of minced pork, onions, and probably other things, made into the shape of a burger. It’s then dipped into batter mix and deep fried. When you eat a pastie, your face ends up all shiny with grease, and the paper it was wrapped in is pretty much translucent. I last had a pastie in 1995, which was coincidentally the same year that I first realised how many calories were in one.

pastie supper

As for the “supper” part, that means “with chips” (thick-cut fries) in Norn Irish. Like “meal” or “set” in other parts of the world. Fish suppers are also popular, as are sausage suppers. And battered sausage suppers. The pastie can instead be served in a bap (burger bun-shaped roll), making it – duh – a pastie bap.

Curry chips and battered sausage

Curry chips and battered sausage

Curry chips: This is Chinese-Norn Irish fusion at its best. A Chinese takeaway, to me, is (and always will be) the following: beef curry with rice, deep fried onion rings, prawn crackers, chips, and mushrooms in gravy. Relatively few of these things, as you may have observed, are actually Chinese, but this is the meal I grew up seeing as a special treat. It is friggin’ delicious, horrendously bad for your health, and incomplete without any one of the components. For a snack, though, the curry chip is a Norn Iron classic. A polystyrene carton or foil container full of thick, hot, fluffy chips, with a few ladlefuls of Chinese curry sauce dolloped over them. Variations include the ‘Chip, Pea, Onion, Curry Sauce’, and the ‘half and half with curry sauce’ (that’s half chips, half rice).

There are Chinese restaurants and takeaways on just about every street in the country. Even the most remote village will have one. 95% of them are called the Golden something or the Happy something. We love our “Chinese” food, so we do.

The Ulster Fry: Every region of the British Isles has its own version of the fry(-up), usually eaten for breakfast, but served all day in many pubs and cafes. The Ulster one generally includes: sausages, bacon, fadge (potato bread, see below), soda (not a drink, see below), black pudding, white pudding, tomato, egg, and sometimes mushrooms, baked beans, and vegetable roll (which has very little to do with vegetables).


Ulster Fry in pan, including sausages, bacon, egg, soda farl, potato bread, white pudding, and black pudding.

I’m aware that some of these items will be unfamiliar to my non-Norn Irish readers, so…

  • Fadge/potato bread: Not actually bread. You wouldn’t go and buy a loaf of potato bread, for example. It’s a delicious, stodgy substance made by mixing flour and mashed potatoes into a dough, rolling it out, cutting it into ‘farls’, and frying them. It really is gorgeous stuff. I got mad cravings for it when I was in Korea, and was delighted to discover how simple it is to make.
  • Soda: If you say ‘soda’ to a Norn Irish person, they will instantly think of the floury, chewy, heavy bread that is best served fried. As well as being an Ulster Fry ingredient, the soda farl can also be turned into a fried breakfast on the go – sliced open and stuffed with sausages, bacon, and egg.
  • Black and white puddings: Fairly similar in taste, and both served in small, round slices, these are tasty oatmealy thingies – the black one is made using pork blood, and the white one using fat and suet.
  • Vegetable roll: Thick round slices of beef sausage meat mixed with chopped vegetables (leek and onion, I believe). This stuff is addictive, and so – as with most foods I love – I can’t let myself eat it because then I won’t stop.

Absolutely nothing about the Ulster Fry is remotely healthy, except maybe… no, nothing. It’s a heart attack on a plate. I used to have one every Saturday morning at my granny’s house, when I was a skinny wee girl who could eat whatever she wanted with no consequences. Once I hit my teens, the weekly Fry had to become a thing of the past, and now I have one maybe once or twice a year. And it’s grilled now, not fried… but still double your entire daily calorie allowance, I’ll wager.

Spaghetti bolognese: I quite possibly assumed this was a local dish when I was a child. Spag Bol is one of the most popular meals in the country, and nearly everyone (including me) has their own preferred recipe. My mum gave me a list of simple recipes when I first left home to go to uni, and I developed my Spag Bol recipe from hers. I could eat it every night of the week without getting sick of it.

vedaVeda: This is the first food on my list that I don’t particularly like, but it’s definitely a Norn Iron staple. It’s a very soft, brownish-coloured, malty loaf, found in most kitchens across the land. It’s usually eaten as a snack, in thick slices with butter and either jam or cheese. I’ve never liked it, probably because it’s on the sweet side and I don’t have much of a sweet tooth – but many people I know eat it regularly.

Champ: Yes, more potatoes! Champ (mashed potatoes made creamy with milk and butter, with chopped scallions mixed through) can be served in various ways, often with sausages or bacon. In my family, it was always served as a meal on its own. A big pile of champ and a glass of milk each, and a butter dish in the middle of the table. What you do is create a hole in the centre of your champ, and then put a lump of butter in the hole. Around the edge of the champ, you carefully pour some of the milk from your glass, so that it looks like a moat around a glorious potatoey castle protecting the golden butter treasure within. You eat it by taking a spoonful of champ, dipping it in the butter, and scooping up a little of the milk. The combination of the hot, creamy potatoes, the tangy scallions, the melting butter, and the ice-cold milk is out of this world. And you can practically hear your left ventricle slamming shut, too.

Sausage rolls and wee buns: Bakeries are very important in Northern Ireland. I can easily resist the cakes, donuts, and sticky “wee buns” (cupcakes) due to my afore-mentioned lack of a sweet tooth, but they seem to be a great weakness for the majority of my fellow citizens. There are wee buns at any social event or gathering, and you’ll be practically force-fed them with your cuppa tay when you visit your great aunt. I may not share the nation’s adoration of  sweet baked goods, but when it comes to savoury baked goods… oh, curse this healthy eating malarkey! Sausage rolls are one of my major downfalls in this world, honestly. I’ve had to ban them from my life, because otherwise they tend to take over and shrink all my clothes. Spiced, hot sausage meat wrapped in light, flaky pastry… definitely one of my top ten foods in the whole world, I’m telling you.

I have got to abandon this post now, because I’m absolutely starving and I now want to cry at the thought of all the  sausage rolls and curries and crisps that are in shops and restaurants all around this very country at this very moment, waiting to be eaten.

I’m off to have a rice cracker, so.

Abduction: it’s OK when it’s tradition.

I was walking home from Tesco the other night when I heard a wile commotion, as they say around these parts.

Turning down my music, I looked around to see about half a dozen cars driving in a line, blaring their horns wildly as they proceeded to do a lap of the car park. The first car was pulling a trailer containing two decidedly unhappy looking creatures only vaguely recognisable as human beings underneath their coating of flour, eggs, ketchup, and other random gunk. Their kidnappers, on the other hand, were grinning gleefully and cheering like lunatics out of their nice, clean car windows.

I stood and watched them until they completed their tour of the car park (during which most shoppers paused, looked, and either smiled or gave a cheer).

Just your average evening in Ballymena.

It occurred to me that this may not be normal in other areas of the world, as I haven’t actually seen it done anywhere else but here. A bit of Google-based research today has introduced me to a Scottish custom called “blackening of the bride”, which seems similar, so I imagine it’s a tradition stemming from our Scottish heritage.

Honestly, it never really struck me as odd, when I was growing up. You’d hear the horns blaring in the street, and Mum would say “Oh – somebody must be getting married!”, and that was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the gloop-covered couple that would then go past, trussed up like sad chickens in a trailer, with a load of cars honking their horns. I don’t think I ever stopped and went “Hang on… what?!” until I saw it for the first time since my return from living abroad for several years.

Anyway, although I’ve never taken part in this cultural oddity, I’ve seen it many, many times. This is what happens.

Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall in love, get engaged, how lovely. The wedding is planned, the date is set, the hen and stag (bachelor) parties take place.

And then, shortly before the big day, their friends kidnap them, tie them up, pelt them with eggs, tip bags of flour over their heads, take turns at pouring buckets and basins of disgusting concoctions on them (anything from sour milk to expired food products to manure), then put them into a trailer hitched to a car and parade them around the town while blaring their horns constantly and cheering out of the windows.

manure and wood shavings



They used to then tie them to a lamppost and leave them stranded there, although I haven’t seen an unfortunate, shivering, gunk-covered couple tied up and abandoned in recent years, so maybe they’ve stopped that part of the ritual.

Click the link below for a video of my friend’s sister and her soon-to-be-husband “gettin’ done” last night.

Wedding bliss

I suppose it’s only when you step out of the world you grew up in and then return to it after a few years that you stop and actually question this type of behaviour. I can find no explanation for it online, and anyone I ask looks baffled and eventually answers my “but WHY?!” with “I don’t know, actually.”. I’ve just interviewed my parents about the matter, and you could see them thinking about it and realising that it is in fact extremely weird.

“They did it to me,” said Dad, “threw stuff over me and left me tied to a lamppost.”

He doesn’t know why.

Mum somehow escaped this ordeal but knows someone who was a mechanic who was the best car best jump starter you’ve ever seen. Had grease and oil poured over him, which wouldn’t wash out and subsequently ruined all his wedding photos.

She doesn’t know why.

There doesn’t even seem to be a name for it, other than “gettin’ done”.

It’s yet another reason against ever getting married, in any case.


Pictures courtesy of my friend Norma, whose sister’s “doin'” it is.

Video courtesy of David McLean Photography

Now yer suckin’ diesel, boys! (More Ballymena-isms)

Back by popular demand (see previous post for part one), here’s some more vocabulary for you to learn, should you for whatever reason be planning a visit to Ballymena.


Founder (verb); foundered (adjective): To make very cold. [“Would ye close the door, thon draft would  founder ye!” (“There’s rather a cold breeze coming in through that open door; please be so kind as to close it.”); “S’wile cowl out there, ah’m pure foundered!” (“It’s terribly chilly outside today, and I’m very cold as a result.”)]

Cowl: cold.

Yer man / yer woman: someone whose name you’ve temporarily forgotten or don’t know. [“I heard it from yer woman that works in the bakery”]

Wee man / wee doll: younger person whose name you’ve temporarily forgotten or don’t know.

Listen tay yer man/woman! or Look at yer man/woman!: said when someone (known or not) is saying something a bit hypocritcal or doing something silly.

Affronted: embarrassed. [“Ah couldnay mind his name, ah was weak affronted so ah was.” (“Unfortunately his name escaped my memory, which was rather embarrassing.”)]

Take a beamer; take a redner: to blush. [“Ah was affronted, ah took a pure beamer so ah did.”; “He took a weak redner!”]

Wee: Not just “small”, as you might think. “Wee” can be used multiple times in a single sentence for no reason whatsoever. [“Howl on a wee minute wee pet, ah’m just givin’ me supervisor a wee shout to get a wee price for that wee lettuce – do ye have a wee Clubcard there? I’ll just put your wee receipt in your wee bag here.” (“Hang on, just getting my supervisor to get a price for this lettuce – do you have a Clubcard? Your receipt’s in your bag.”)]

Lethal: brilliant, cool, excellent. [“Ah’m goin’ tay Spain for me holidays so ah am.” “Lethal!”]

Hai: said at the end of any sentence. [“S’cowl the night hai!” (“It’s cold tonight.”) This one is the bane of my existence, as people from all over Northern Ireland (and the South, for that matter) make fun of Ballymena people for “hai”. In the 90s there was a TV ad for a mall, and the guy at the end said “Fairhill – it’s a big shappin’ centre in Ballymena, hai!”. No matter where I go in the world, there is always at least one person who asks where I’m from and then gleefully quotes this line at me while I smile weakly and try to refrain from geein’ them a dig in the bake.]

Gee someone a dig in the bake: to punch someone. [“If ye don’t stop yer slabberin’ ah’ll gee ye a dig in the bake so ah will!”]

Slabber: (literally “drool”) (verb) To spread lies/slander, to stir up trouble with words. (noun) One who slabbers.

Boys/boys-oh!: used at the start or end of a mildly surprising statement. “Boys, there’s the sun!”, “Boys-oh, so it is hai!”

Boys-a-dear!: Dear me!

Crater: unfortunate and/or innocent being. [“This is my wee niece in her wee cot.” “Aww, wee crater!” or “Everything has gone wrong for me this week, I could cry!” “Ach, ye wee crater!”]

Dote: (verb) to become forgetful in old age, or to lavish affection on someone/something; (noun) cute little child or baby animal. [“Great aunt Sarah’s startin’ tay dote – she left the door lyin’ open all night.”; “Awwww, the wee dote!”]

Footer: to dither around without really achieving anything. [“Ah footered about wi’ thon new TV for a while but ah couldnay get it workin’.”]

Shoogle: to shake or move from side to side.

Blether: (verb) to talk incessantly about nothing of any interest, or to gossip.; (noun) a person who blethers. [“Would ye stop yer bletherin’? Boys, yer a while blether so ye are!” (“Kindly shut up, you really are quite a talker.”)]

Skelp: sharp slap, usually to a misbehaving child.

Skelpin’: very hot.

Blegher: to cough a lot. [“Ye’d think he was dyin’, tay listen tay his blegherin’!”]

Sammitch; piece: sandwich.

Tay: a hot beverage often taken with milk and sugar, or dinner. [“Will ye take a cup o’ tay?”; “WEANS! Come on in, yer tay’s on the table!”]

Skitter: a naughty child or pet. [“Look what thon wee skitter’s done now!”]

Buck eejit: exceptionally idiotic person. [“What did ye do thon for, ye buck eejit ye?!”]

It’s Baltic: The weather is cold.

Yegitten?: Are you being served?

Suckin’ diesel: doing very well, getting the hang of it. [“Now yer suckin’ diesel, boys!”]

Sicken ye!: said when someone experiences a mild misfortune, or when a joke backfires on them.

Feel rare!: said when someone says or does something that most people would find embarrassing.

Put on the beef: to gain weight

Brave: quite large [“Yer man’s put on the beef, he’s a brave size gettin’, so he is!” (“That man has gained a considerable amount of weight and is really quite hefty now.”)]

Wheen: a few. [“We’ve been there a wheena times so we have.” (“We’ve been there a few times.”‘)]

Brave wheen: a lot. [“Ah’m no feelin’ great, ah’d a brave wheena drinks last night so ah did.”]

Bladdered; banjaxed; steamin’; blootered; pole-axed; stocious; blitzed: drunk

Chip buttie: a hot sandwich of white bread and chips (fries), dripping with butter.



How tay pure spick Ballymena lick, shem

Over the past 5 years, I’ve written a lot about the linguistic difficulties of travelling. Those of you who don’t know me in person may not be aware that when I’m anywhere but in my own town I speak with an accent that I myself cultivated after many, many misunderstandings and blank looks accompanied by “What did you say?!”. Let’s just say that the Ballymena accent does not lend itself well to travelling.

I taught my students in an accent that bordered on American, since I was required to teach American English and American pronunciation. When with my friends, I eased off a little bit, but still mostly spoke in a neutral accent – to the extent that, when I encountered someone from closer to home than the States, they’d  often seem surprised. “You don’t have a typical Northern Irish accent” was the usual comment.

Now that I’m back home for a while, however, I’ve had to perform the same accent/slang/dialect alterations I worked so hard on before… but in reverse. I mean, obviously my neutral accent can be understood here in the motherland, but the natives really don’t like it. I’ve been laughed at, teased, imitated, and called pretentious, a poser, and a snob, thanks to the occasional English or American accented word slipping out in conversation. You’re from Ballymena: speak Ballymena! is the general consensus.

And so here I am, trying to drop my ‘g’s and find my glottal stops all over again.

However, what’s struck me most about “speaking Ballymena” is that it’s about so much more than the accent. I’d always described the dialect here as Ulster Scots, which would be how people mostly of my grandparents’ age speak. I don’t speak Ulster Scots (which is a dialect, but one which speakers constantly fight to have reclassified as a language), but I do understand it, and can talk easily with someone who is using it even though I’m responding with something that is more easily understandable as English with a lot of local slang. I probably could speak it if I wanted to, but it doesn’t come naturally.

Anyway, sorry, this was meant to be a short introduction to a list of vocabulary that might be of interest to… I dunno. Someone, mibbay [maybe]. I’ve been jotting down words and phrases as I hear them, because they now stand out to me, as an ESL teacher and friend to people of many nationalities. And so, without further ado, I give you the first (or perhaps only, depending on how I feel) Coffee Helps guide to how to speak Ballymena.

General Pronunciation Rules:

  • Drop the g on every ing. [doin’, goin’, thinkin’]
  • Lose your ‘t’s. [“bottle of water” = “baw-ul aw waw-ur”]
  • The “ay” sound [face, eight, Hayley] becomes “ee-ih” [fee-ihs, ee-iht, Hee-ihley]


  • Bou’ ye? [Hello, how are you?]
  • Awrigh? [Hello, how are you?]
  • Lo there. [Hello, how are you?]
  • Howzih goin’? [Hello, how are you?]
  • Smiserable, innit? [It’s quite a cloudy, wet day today, don’t you think?]
  • Thassa scorcher the day, innit? [The temperature has risen to just above freezing, did you notice?]
  • The nighs er quarely drawin’ in, aren’ they? [Have you noticed that, with the hour we lost due to Daylight Savings Time, it’s getting darker rather significantly earlier each night?] (said on autumn/winter evenings)

Common Words/Phrases

  • Aye: yes [Anawrun? Aye.: I’m going to the bar, would you care for another drink? Yes.]
  • Naw: no. [Whose roun’ izzih, yers? Naw.: Is it your turn to purchase the drinks? No.]
  • Pure: very [Ah’m pure scunnered, so ah am: I’m very displeased/bored/sick of this.]
  • Weak: very [Thon’s weak cool, shem!: That’s very cool, my friend.]
  • Wile: very [S’wile cowl the day, innih?: Today’s weather is very chilly, don’t you think?]
  • Clean: very [Me car’s clean boggin’ so it is.: My car is very dirty.]
  • Thon: that
  • Thonder: over there (also: yonder)
  • …so it is / so she is / so they are / so he does (etc.): Added to the end of practically every sentence, apparently for no reason other than a reluctance to stop talking. [Ah was pure knackered, so ah was: I was extremely tired.]
  • Wait til ah tell ye: I’m about to tell a story, so please look attentive. Generally said as one conversation topic peters out but the speaker doesn’t want to relinquish control of said conversation. [“…ye know lick?” “Aye.” “Aye.” “…well, ah-” “Here, wait til ah tell ye! Huv ye been in thon new place on Welton Street (Wellington Street) yet?”]
  • Class: cool, brilliant. [Thon’s class lick!: That’s brilliant.]
  • Shem: I don’t know what this means. I used to think it meant ‘friend’, but you can basically put shem at the end of any sentence and it will make sense. [Awright shem? : Hello, how are you? / Ah’m pure knackered, so ah am, shem.: I’m extremely tired.]
  • Lick: Ballymena pronunciation of “like”; used similarly to American version, but at the end of sentences rather than as a comma. [American version:- And I was like totally and he was like I dunno like whatever. Ballymena version:- And I said class lick, and he said he didn’t care lick.]
  • Truth: Lie [“Ah worked wi’ Liam Neeson lick.” “Truth!”: “I once worked alongside Ballymena’s only celebrity, Liam Neeson.” “I don’t believe you for a second.” (Also, “Aye right!“]


  • Ah: I [Ah woulda, buh ah couldnay be arsed: I would have, but I’m far too lazy]
  • Swell seen: It’s obvious [Swell seen he’s no fray roun here: It’s obvious he’s not from Ballymena]
  • Messages: everyday purchases such as milk, bread, dinner ingredients. [Ah’m away down the streeh tay get me messages.: I’m going to the local shops to purchase some basic essentials.]
  • Shap: shop
  • Beg: Plastic carrier used for carrying one’s purchases home from the shaps.
  • Haunbeg: Handbag (American: purse)
  • Gee (pronounced with a hard ‘g’): Give (past tense: geen) [Gee me wan!: Please give me one of those! / Ah geen him a piece aw my mind, so ah did.: I let him know what I thought, in no uncertain terms.]
  • Boke : vomit (verb, noun); disgusting (adjective) [The weans wur bokin’ thur ring up all night, so they wur (shem): The children were unfortunately rather ill last night and I didn’t get much sleep. / Huv ye tried thon new Indian? Pure boke so it is shem.: Have you yet had the misfortune of dining at the newly established Indian restaurant in town? The food is rather substandard, to be honest.]
  • Bin lid = gulpin
  • Gulpin = eejit
  • Eejit = gipe
  • Gipe = bloon
  • Bloon = arsewipe
  • Arsewipe = turnip
  • Turnip: idiot [Thon gipe/bin lid! / He’s a pure turnip, so he is. / She’s a weak eejit, so she is. / They’re wile arsewipes, so they are. / Thon’s a weak bloon. / Ye gulpin! It has just occurred to me how many words for idiot there are in Ballymena.]
  • Wheesht!: Shhhh!
  • Quare: quite impressive/big/good [Thon’s a quare day! The current weather is pleasing to me. Ye get a quare feed in there lick! That restaurant serves satisfyingly large portions. He’s a quare fella! He’s a very decent person.
  • Cheeky: rude (not in a playful way, usually prefaced by ‘weak’) [Seriously?! That’s weak cheeky!: Did she really say that? That’s extremely rude!]
  • Clout: rough slap around the head. [He was bein’ weak cheeky tay me, so ah geen im a quare clout.: He spoke rather disrespectfully to me, so I’m afraid I lost my composure slightly and resorted to physical violence.]
  • Reely: (1) Mental/crazy (2) Cool [He’s pure reely so he is.: He’s crazy, in a crazy-fun way that makes everyone want to cautiously be friends with him. Thon new place is pure reely!: That new drinking venue is very cool.]
  • Oul boy: father (or unknown middle-aged or elderly man)
  • Oul doll: mother (or unknown middle-aged or elderly woman)
  • Wean: child (pronounced ‘wee-un’)
  • Gurn: whine/complain (adults); cry (children) [Wid ye quit yer gurnin’ wid ye?: Please shut up.]
  • Scunnered: fed up (Ah’m pure scunnered this day lick so ah am, shem: I’m feeling somewhat despairing and stuck in a rut today.]
  • …an’ gettin’ on: and so on [Them weans huv me head done in, they spent all day gurnin’ and gettin’ on, so they did.: The kids were playing up today.]
  • Yam: the sound a cat makes. [Let thon cat in, she’s standin’ yammin’ an’ gettin’ on at the winda.: I think the cat wants to come in.]
  • Heatwave: warm enough to take your winter coat off.

I could go on for pages and pages, but I suppose I should get back to Actual Work…