Mourne View

Author: Tom Porter

Date: 1994

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 2 Spring 1994

The isolation of the Mourne district of South Down is reflected in some of the dialect words used in the area. Many of these words are not known outside the district, indeed some are confined to small areas within the region.

A recent survey of surnames shows that most names are of Scottish origin and many of the dialect words appear to have been introduced by settlers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Words which appear to have Scandinavian origins may well have come by the Scottish route.

Sea and Shore

The common seal, numerous along the coast, is known as a ‘silk’ (selk) and a small island in the area bears that name. The small inedible variety of crab is a ‘partin’ while the edible variety is a ‘crubin’. (The word may be both singular and plural.) The hook used to catch crabs is known as a ‘crubin cleek’. The inblown bladder wrack which farmers once collected for use as a fertiliser was locally known as ‘box’ and the coarse fronded variety, considered to be particularly good for growing turnips and mangolds, was ‘cam tails’. Anything cast up on the shore after a storm was ‘spoil’.

The species of whale which indicates the presence of a shoal of fish is known to the fishermen as the ‘hog’ or ‘herring hog’ and the dog-fish, once considered as a kind of maritime vermin, is a ‘gabbock’. The coal-fish is locally known as a ‘blockan’ and the pollack as ‘lythe’. The young pollack is a ‘baahiv’ and the grey gurnard is a ‘knowd’.

On the Land

When two or more farmers co-operate in a venture (eg ‘take’ (rent) land in conacre and share expense and labour), they are said to ‘work mean’. To ‘brerd’ is to repair ‘ditches’ with brushwood. (‘Ditch’ is used to refer to any type of field boundary with the exception of the wire fence.) A tract of fenced mountain land is known as a ‘plan’ and a sheep-fold, normally enclosed by a stone ditch is a ‘bucht’, as it is over much of Scotland.

A triangular-shaped field or tract of land is a ‘jib’ and short drills in an irregularly shaped field are ‘points’. Fields on low-lying land close to a river are often referred to as ‘holms’ and poor quality land is known as ‘beatens’ or ‘grabbach’. The clamps in which potatoes were once stored were ‘pits’ and these were normally ‘happed’ with ‘sprit’ (sedge grass) and soil. Wrack or farmyard manure is ‘skailed’ over the ground or in the ‘alleys’ of drills and a potato which has lain in the ground from a previous crop and has taken root is a ‘ground-keeper’. Potatoes which are considered too small for table use are ‘chats’. ‘Come in’ and ‘hould off’ as instructions to a horse indicate to turn left and right respectively. On the farm a length of rope was usually referred to as a ‘tether’, irrespective of its use. An armful of straw is a ‘wunnell’, a small stack is a ‘shig’ and a rectangular stack is a ‘havel’. The manually operated machine to separate chaff from grain was generally known as a ‘birler’ from the spinning action of the fan. The fetter used to restrain animals, particularly sheep, is a ‘langle’ (fore and rear leg) or ‘spancle’ (fore legs) and the material used to mark sheep for identification purposes is ‘keel’.

Call Signs

Various terms are used to call domestic animals at feeding times:

Hens — chooky; turkeys — pe; pigs — tory; cows — chey; ducks — wheety; chicks — birdie; calves — sook

(To be continued)

Tom Porter



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