Introduction - Glossary of Words in the Counties of Antrim and Down

Author: William Hugh Patterson, MRIA

Date: 1880

Source: A Glossary of Words and Phrases used in Antrim and Down (London: Trübner & Co., for the English Dialect Society)

Comments: In the introduction to his Glossary of Words and Phrases used in Antrim and Down, William Hugh Patterson provided an historical account of the Scottish settlement of east Ulster from 1607. From these origins he observed that the words and phrases of the local population ‘will be found in the main to be of Scottish origin, and many of them have already found a place in Jamieson’s dictionary’. He acknowledged difficulty in spelling many words ‘because I only had them as sounded’. William Hugh Patterson (1835-1918) was the son of a famous naturalist, Robert Patterson, whose book on Birds frequenting Belfast Lough was also published in 1880. Many of the local names for birds in the glossary were sourced from his father. As he was also a collector of phrases and proverbs, Patterson’s glossary remains a unique record of Ulster-Scots in the 19th century.

Doc. ref. no.: USLS/TB/Hist/1800-1899/006-intro

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In the earlier part of the reign of Elizabeth the Irish language was generally spoken by the people in the North-east of Ireland, the exceptions being in some few centres of English occupation, such as Carrickfergus, Belfast, the shores of Strangford Lough, the neighbourhood of Ardglass, and that of Carlingford.

During Elizabeth’s reign considerable numbers of English, and of Lowland Scots, came over and settled in the thinly-populated territories of Antrim and Down; their leaders got grants of lands, and the native inhabitants moved away to less accessible districts of the country, or, to some extent, took service with the new-comers. This influx of English and Scotch settlers marks the introduction of English as a generally-spoken language into Antrim and Down. In the succeeding reign the number of English-speaking settlers was largely augmented, for as the forests were cut down the space available for colonization increased, and after the flight of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell in 1607, many Scotch settlers came into the district, along with Welsh and English. Still later, after the quelling of the rebellion of 1641, by the Parliamentary armies the number of English-speaking settlers was further increased, and for a considerable time afterwards a slow and gradual immigration went on, chiefly of Scots.

Richard Dobbs, Esq., writes thus in May, 1683, while speaking of the traffic between Scotland and the North of Ireland: — “Only people (with all their goods upon their backs) land here from Scotland. Take in from Glenarrn [sic] to Donaghadee and the ports between: [i.e. Belfast Lough, and a short distance to the north and south of it] there are more than 1000 of this sort that land every summer without returning.” Centuries before this time, large numbers of Scots had passed over into the county of Antrim, but they were Gaelic-speaking Highlanders; they spread themselves over the district known as the ‘Glens of Antrim,’ and kept up for a long time a close connection with their mother country, passing to and fro continually, and causing great trouble to the English rulers in Ireland. Their descendants, having amalgamated with the native Irish, still occupy the Glens, and Gaelic is spoken among them to this day.

The spread of these turbulent Scots in Ulster is thus noticed by Mr. Hill in his Macdonnells of Antrim: — “In the year 1533 the council in Dublin forwarded this gloomy announcement on the subject ot the council in London. ‘The Scottes also inhabithe now buyselly a greate parte of Ulster which is the kingis inheritance; and it is greatly to be feared, oonless that in short tyme they be dryven from the same, that they bringinge in more nombre daily, woll by lyttle and lyttle soe far encroche in accquyring and wynning the possessions there, with the aide of the kingis disobeysant Irishe rebelles, who doo nowe ayde them therein, after siche manner, that at lengthe they will put and expel the king from his hole seignory there.’”

Canon Hume, in an interesting paper on the Irish Dialects of the English Language, reprinted from the Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, thus speaks of the tide of immigration from Great Britain into the north of Ireland: — “About the year 1607, when much of Ulster required to be planted or resettled, immigration, instead of being, as previously, a mere rivulet — or largely dependent on the condition of the regiments serving in the country — became a flood, and strangers settled not by tens, but by thousands. A large number of these were from the apple districts of Warwickshire, Worcester, and Gloucester; several were from Chester, through which the adventurers passed to take shipping at the mouth of the Dee; a few were from the adjoining county of Lancaster; and some from London. The great English settlement commenced on the two sides of Belfast Lough. It included the town of Belfast, which was at first English, but, like Londonderry, became Scotticised, owing to the preponderance of North Britons in the rural districts on both sides. Pressing on by Lisburn and to the east bank of Lough Neagh, the English settlers cover eleven parishes in Antrim alone, all of which preserve to this hour their English characteristics; and crossing still further, over Down to Armagh, they stopped only at the base of the Pomeroy mountains in Tyrone. Thus, from the tides of the channel to beyond the centre of Ulster, there was an unbroken line of English settlers, as distinct from Scotch; and the district which they inhabit is still that of the apple, the elm, and the sycamore — of large farms and two-storied slated houses. The Scotch settlers entered at the two points which lie opposite to their own country — namely, at the Giant’s Causeway, which is opposed to the Mull of Cantyre on one side, and at Donaghadee which is opposed to the Mull of Galloway on the other. Two centuries and a half ago Ireland was to them what Canada, Australia, and the United States have been to the redundant population of our own times.” In another paper Canon Hume particularizes still further the lines of Scottish immigration: — “The Scotch entered Down by Bangor and Donaghadee, and pushed inland by Comber, Saintfield, and Ballynahinch, to Dromara and Dromore; while in Antrim they proceeded by Islandmagee, Ballyclare, Antrim, and Ballymena, surrounding the highlands and reaching the sea again by Bushmills and the Causeway. In 1633 and 1634 the emigrants from Scotland by way of Ayrshire, walked in companies of a hundred or more from Aberdeen or Inverness-shires, and were about 500 per annum, mostly males, and many of them discontented farm-servants.”

Canon Hume thus describes how the native inhabitants of the forfeited lands met this tide of immigration: — “The Irish or natives, broken and conquered, reduced also in number by war, famine, and disease, occupied when possible strong positions. They still regarded as specially their own the land which was least accessible, or least desirable, and fled to the hills and morasses. It is curious to see how popular language has embodied these facts in such expressions as ‘Mountainy people,’ ‘Back of the hill folk,’ ‘Bog-trotters,’ etc. There they still remain, though many of the humbler classes have found permanent homes in the towns.” In Down, the extensive Baronies of Mourne and Lecale, and the Lordship of Newry, changed the lords of the soil, but retained the population. As bearing upon the dialect of the district it is interesting to enquire as to the numbers and the proportions in which these various nationalities of English, Scotch, and Irish now occupy the district.

A valuable series of articles from the pen of the Rev. Canon Hume on these subjects was published in the Ulster Journal of Archæology. The following papers were some of those which appeared:—

Origin and Characteristics of the People of Down and Antrim, in nine chapters, Ulster Journal, i. 9; i. 120; i. 246. Topographical Map, Physical Map, and Speed’s Map of 1610.

Ethnology of the Two Counties, iv. 154. Ethnological Map.

The Elements of Population, Illustrated by the Statistics of Religious Belief, in six chapters, vii. 116. Ecclesiastical Map, constructed from the Creed Census of 1834.

Surnames in the County of Antrim, in five sections, v. 323. Unique Coloured Map.

Surnames in the County of Down, in five sections, vi. 77. Unique Coloured Map.

The Irish Dialect of the English Language, vi. 47.

A Dialogue in the Ulster Dialect, vi. 40.

The county electoral rolls afford a convenient way of ascertaining the leading names, and hence, pretty closely, the nationalities of the inhabitants. With this view the roll of the Co. of Antrim has been examined by the Rev. Edmund McClure, A.M., and the results made known in a paper read before the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club in January, 1874. The title of the paper is, ‘The Surnames of the Inhabitants of the Co. of Antrim and their Indications.’ The following extract sums up one branch of the subject:—

“In the 1357 names of the Roll I find that 565 are Lowland Scotch, 18 of which are Norman names. There are 234 Highland names. There are in all 181 Irish names, and 16 Anglo-Norman of the time of the Conquest. The English names amount to 251, the Welsh to seven, the Huguenots to six. The remaining names, about 100, are those of a few foreigners, and those which I have left as undetermined. This shows simply the relative position of the names on the roll. The number of Lowland Scotch I find represented by the 565 names amounts to 5682, or about 55.80 per cent. of the entire Roll. Of Scotch of foreign origin there is a per-centage of 1.48.

“The Scottish Celts represented by the 234 names exhibit a proportion of 23.68 per cent. of the Roll. The number of Irish names (181) represents only 824 of a native population, or about 8.09 per cent. Here the results, from an examination of the Electoral Roll, seem to vary from those obtained from other sources. To represent the proportion of the native Irish in the county we should have to add 3 per cent., or even a little more, to this per-centage of 8.09. For I find that the native population, as a rule, are much poorer than their neighbours, so that a far less proportion of them have the qualifications of county voters, that is, holdings valued at £12 per annum.

“By private enquiry in the districts in which the native population is large I find this to be the case, and that many of their names do not figure on the Roll at all. I think, however, that the per-centage over the entire county is not over 12 per cent. The English represented by the 251 names amount to 783. Those of long settlement in the county — i.e. who came centuries before the Plantation — number 40 in addition. The Welsh names represent 28. All these taken together make 851, or show a per-centage of 8.35 of the entire Roll. Foreigners, Huguenots, and Germans are represented by 21 people on the list. The undetermined names represent 243 on the list, or about 2.38 per cent. of the Roll. The native population is descended in the main from well-known Irish tribes who dwelt in this part of the country before the wars of Essex (Queen Elizabeth’s time).”

The words and phrases in the accompanying Glossary will be found in the main to be of Scottish origin, and many of them have already found a place in Jamieson’s dictionary, and in the various glossaries already printed by the English Dialect Society. The forms of the words may vary somewhat, because they naturally underwent changes consequent upon the lapse of time since their introduction to an alien soil. In many cases it was a difficulty how to spell the words, because I only had them as sounded, and the difficulty was increased when I frequently found that the same word was pronounced in two or more ways by different persons, either natives of different districts, or persons whose mode of speaking had been influenced by different surroundings or by more or less of education. In some districts in the east of the two counties the people still talk a Scotch dialect, but with a modified Scotch accent; the old people talk more ‘broadly’ than the young. Owing to the spread of well-managed schools the Scotch accent and the dialect words are passing away. Some of the words in the accompanying Glossary are now obsolete, and doubtless in a few years a much greater number will have become so. I have not attempted to collect the proverbs that are in use here, but so far as I know they are much the same as those used in other parts of these countries. There are in use many phrases of comparison, of which the following are examples:—

‘As big as I don’t know what,’ a vague comparison.

‘As black as Toal’s cloak.’

‘As black as Toby.’

‘As blunt as a beetle’ (i.e. a wooden pounder)

‘As broad as a griddle.’

‘As busy as a nailor.’

‘As clean as a new pin.’

‘As close as a wilk’ (i.e. a periwinkle): applied to a very reticent person.

‘As coarse as bean-straw.’

‘As coarse as praity-oaten.’

‘As common as dish water,’ very common: applied to a person of very low extraction.

‘As common as potatoes.’

‘As could as charity.’

‘As crooked as a ram’s horn.’

‘As crooked as the hind leg of a dog.’

‘As cross as two sticks.’

‘As dry as a bone.’

‘As easy as kiss.’

‘As frush as a bennel’ (the withered stalk of fennel).

‘As frush (brittle) as a pipe stapple’ (stem).

‘As grave as a mustard pot.’

‘As great (intimate) as inkle weavers.’

‘As hungry as a grew’ (greyhound).

‘As ill to herd as a stockin’ full o’ fleas,’ very difficult to mind.

‘As many times as I’ve fingers and toes,’ a comparison for having done something often.

‘As mean as get out.’

‘As plain as a pike-staff,’ quite evident.

‘As sick as a dog,’ sick in the stomach.

‘As stiff as a proker’ (poker), very stiff: applied to a person.

‘As sure as a gun.’

‘As sure as the hearth money.’

‘As tall as a May-pole.’

‘As thick as bog butter.’ Wooden vessels filled with butter, the manufacture of long ago, are occasionally dug out of the peat-bogs; the butter has been converted into a hard, waxy substance.

‘As thick as three in a bed,’ much crowded.

‘As thin as a lat’ (lath).

‘As true as truth has been this long time,’ of doubtful truth.

‘As yellow as a duck’s foot’ (applied to the complexion).

As well as the publications by Canon Hume already enumerated, I should mention one which gives many most characteristic examples of the Belfast dialect. It is an almanac for the years 1861, 1862, and 1863, published anonymously, but written entirely by the learned Canon, whose authority I have for making this statement. The full title of the work is Poor Rabbin’s Ollminick for the toun o’ Bilfawst, containing varrious different things ’at ivvery body ought t’ be acquentit with, wrote down, prentet, an’ put out, jist the way the people spakes, by Billy McCart of the County Down side that uset to be: but now of the Entherim road, toarst the Cave hill. Canon Hume has also collected the materials for a most comprehensive dictionary or glossary of Hibernicisms. It would be most desirable that this should be published. For a description of the scope and aim of this work I would refer to his pamphlet, Remarks on the Irish Dialect of the English Language. Liverpool: 1878.

In connection with our local dialect, I should also refer to a little work by Mr. David Patterson, The Provincialisms of Belfast pointed out and corrected. Belfast: 1860. In this work the writer calls attention to the various classes of words that are wrongly pronounced, and gives long lists of these words. He also gives a list of “words not to be met with in our ordinary English dictionaries.” In my Glossary I have got some words from Mr. D. Patterson’s lists, some from the Ollminick, and a few, principally obsolete, from local histories, such as Harris’s History of Down (1744), Dubourdieu’s Survey of Down (1802), and McSkimin’s History of Carrickfergus (1823). But most of the words and phrases have been collected orally either by myself or by friends in different country districts, who have kindly sent me in lists, and whom I would now thank for the help they have given.

Although not necessarily a part of this work, I have thought it well to add a word on the subject of the Irish language as still spoken in Antrim and Down. It has lately been said that there is no county in ireland in which some Irish is not still spoken, not revived Irish, but in continuity from the ancient inhabitants of the country. In 1802 the Rev. John Dubourdieu, in his Survey of Down, thus writes:

“The English language is so general that every person speaks it; but, notwithstanding, the Irish language is much used in the mountainous parts, which in this, as in most other countries, seem to have been the retreat of the ancient inhabitants.”

I have made enquiry this year (1880), and a correspondent sends me the following note from the mountainous district in the south of Down: — “There are a good many Irish-speaking people in the neighbourhood of Hilltown, but I think nearly all of them can speak English; when, however, they frequent fairs in the upper parts of the Co. Armagh, for instance at Newtownhamilton or Crossmaglen, they meet numbers of people who speak English very imperfectly, and with these people the Down men converse altogether in Irish.” In the Co. of Antrim the district known as ‘the Glens,’ in the N.E. of the county, with the adjacent-lying island of Rathlin, has remained to some extent an Irish or Gaelic-speaking district. In the course of some years, about 1850, Mr. Robert MacAdam, the accomplished editor of The Ulster Journal of Archæology, made a collection chiefly in Antrim of 500 Gaelic proverbs, which were printed, with English translations, in his Journal. These were picked up from the peasantry among their homes and at markets. A short note from the pen of Mr. MacAdam in Dr. J. A. H. Murray’s work on The Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland (London: 1873), is so much to the point that I must quote it:

“The people are evidently the same as those of Argyll, as indicated by their names, and for centuries a constant intercourse has been kept up between them. Even yet the Glensmen of Antrim go regularly to the Highland fairs, and communicate, without the slightest difficulty, with the Highlanders. Having myself conversed with both Glensmen and Arran men I can testify to the absolute identity of their speech.” Dr. Murray adds: “But there is not the slightest reason to deduce the Glensmen from Scotland; they are a relic of the ancient continuity of the population of Ulster and Western Scotland.”

I wrote this year to a friend whose home is in the Glens for information as to the present use of Gaelic there. He writes: — “I have ascertained from one of our medical men, who is long resident here, that in one of the principal glens there are about sixty persons who speak Irish, and who prefer its use to that of English, among themselves, but who all know and speak English. Some of the children also understand Irish, but will not speak it, or let you know that they understand you if you speak to them in it.”

W. H. Patterson

Strandtown, Belfast,

June, 1880.

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