County Fermanagh dialect: Josie reflects on the nature of food and local farming during her childhood



This recording is an example of a County Fermanagh dialect.

Rural Irish dialect

Josie is clearly a speaker of traditional dialect. She uses a number of items of vocabulary that are common in several rural dialects of English across the UK, but that appear old-fashioned or poetic in more mainstream varieties, such as mind for ‘remember’, aye for ‘yes’ and country for ‘area, district’. Forbye, meaning ‘besides’ or ‘apart from’, is also common in dialect speech in Scotland and North East England.

Elizabethan English

She also uses the non-standard grammatical construction for to with an infinitive in the statements the milk was lovely for to keep for to make bread and he’d have eight or nine neighbours over for to play football, where in contemporary Standard English only the word to precedes the infinitive. She also has a tendency to omit the initial vowel in phrases where it precedes a form of the verb ‘to be’: both these features show echoes of Elizabethan English. Listen to the way she says the statements it wouldn’t go bad or rotten and it was a help that way all right and you will realise why Shakespearean texts are peppered with spellings such as ‘tis and ‘twas. Josie also uses a number of archaic pronunciations of individual words, such as old, eating, potatoes and anything.

The stereotypical Northern Irish pronunciation of the words car and garden with a <y> sound after the initial consonant is nowadays perhaps no longer as widespread among younger speakers in urban areas, but certainly still present in the speech of older speakers, particularly in rural areas. Listen to the way Josie pronounces the words cattle, chemicals, carry, can’t, kick and getting. Indeed many of the vowel sounds Josie uses are similar to other broad Northern Irish accents.

North and south: shared features

She does, however, have some features in common with speakers south of the border – a reflection of the close proximity of this part of County Fermanagh to County Cavan. Listen firstly to the way Josie pronounces the initial consonant in the words three and thirty-five. She does so with the articulation we associate with speakers from the Republic of Ireland – a sound closer to a <y> sound, but produced with the tongue in contact with the front top teeth rather than with the roof of the mouth. Her use of the discourse marker, sure, to open a statement of opinion or firmly held belief – sure, there’s more chemicals put into things to for, for, force it on too much and sure, before we got the water I carried from the river down there – is characteristic of many speakers in the Republic of Ireland. Finally, listen to the vowel sound she uses for words in the following set:

  1. much, lovely, nothing, but, does, drunk, some, just, come, encouraged, under, rubber, money, young, bushes, country

This has much more in common with popular speech in Dublin (and indeed in northern England) than it does with speech in Belfast.

This subtle combination of features from various historical and geographical sources illustrates fascinating aspects of language change and language variation. Firstly, we can see how dialect speech retains conservative features long after the prestige ‘standard’ language has moved on. Secondly, the mixture of features shared with different parts of the country demonstrates perfectly that there are no absolute accent boundaries, rather that sounds change gradually as one moves from place to place.

About the speaker

Josie Mohan (b. 1934/03/24; female, housewife)



Owen: What about the farming life: that, has that changed a lot, too? I mean, that was what you grew up in, isn't it, you know?

Josie: Yeah. Och, there's, is, is, is, there's not much farming round here. It's all cattle, mostly.

Owen: Aye, and has that, that, that, that, that's been a tough enough life, hasn't it, in recent times?

Josie: In recent times, that's right.

Owen: Aye, not easy.

Josie: No. I remember when we lived on the island our old man used to start lovely potatoes. You, you'd the nicest potatoes in the county – lovely – and lovely, lovely vegetables. And quite good ground, not, uh, no manure sewed on it, like, what, like nowadays, you know.

Owen: Do you know a lot of

Josie: There was no, uh, the food was real good. And one didn't think that at that time till now, till you know, till you see what you're eating now.

Owen: peop, peop, peop, people've said that to me, you know, they said, uhm

Josie: Oh, sure the Lord! We had

Owen: food just doesn't taste as good.

Josie: Nothing tastes any good; there's neither taste nor smell of anything. There's not indeed.

Owen: Is that because the way it's, it's grown now, d'you think, or?

Josie: It is. Sure, there's more chemicals put into things to for, for, force it on too much.

Owen: Aye, people are talking about this genetically modified food.

Josie: Aye, well, even before that a-sort-of-thing. Sure, the milk there that you buy: I mind long ago when you'd milk, when it went sour, you could drink it. If, if you liked it; some wouldn't like it, but, uh, you, the milk was lovely for to keep for to make bread – lovely bread. And nowadays, uh, uh, uh, the milk doesn't go sour at all; it rots. That's what it does.

Owen: When you were a

Josie: And

Owen: Sorry, go on!

Josie: And, and, and, and, and the potatoes I mind long ago: a potato when it'd be boiled'd keep for three or four days and it wouldn't be, it wouldn't go bad or rotten, but now, uh, uh, uh, the second day, mine tend to be left over there for a day or two and you can then, then, they'd be forgot about. And the stink of them!

Owen: When you were a girl

Josie: That's right.

Owen: When you were a girl, what, what kind of stuff would your mother've made for you? What, what would've been the

Josie: Well, used to make porridge; made porridge and then you had a cow and you had, uh, cow's milk. You drunk plenty of milk, too. And, uh, porridge and, and rice I remember; plenty of rice; then we had some potatoes and vegetables, which was good. And one, uh, didn't appreciate them that time, for, for, forbye the old things we're buying now.

Owen: Life for women's changed, too, you know, the, the, we've got all the gadgets in the home now, but at one time, you know, wash day and things would've been a big day of the week, wouldn't they? And women would be scrubbing away, you know.

Josie: Yeah. Oh, uh, that, that, that was hard work, cause the water had to be all carried. Sure, before we got the water I carried from the river down there

Owen: You must have strong arms!

Josie: and it, aye, and you'd be queer and thin, now I'm big and fat and soft.

Owen: [inaudible] 1

Josie: Well, i, i, i, it was the, uh, same on the island here with the, we, we had about the same journey to carry it. And there was two orchards where we lived. The same, uh, uh, uh, not just as big as that one there; that was an orchard, too, but the apple trees is all about gone to two or three as you can see there. That was, that was full of apple trees that were set about, uh, about eighty years ago or ninety years, eighty or ninety years ago there was a man come round and uh, uh, uh encouraged the people to set orchards. So we, we had two up in Bleanish that time and there was one here. And there was lovely apples and you, you'd be, I mind wading through that orchard, well, thirty-five years ago and there, there'd be piles of, uh, apples lying under the tree and they'd be rubbing round your ankles, you'd be walking through them – lovely big apples – and there was nothing as nice I remember long ago in Bleanish as uh, uh, as getting two or three or four apples and put them in front of the hearth fire and, and, and, and the beautiful wholesome smell and money, money wouldn't buy it today.

Owen: In the war year

Josie: It was lovely!

Owen: Aye, aye. In the war years, you know, in somewhere like Belfast, you know, there, there wa, there was so much rationing and things like that; it didn't affect the country in the same way, cause you were growing your own food, really, isn't it?

Josie: Aye, well, s, some was and some, some wasn't, but it, it was a good help.

Owen: Aye.

Josie: It was a good help.

Owen: And people were enc, were actually paid to, sort of, grow more, weren't they? And

Josie: They was right enough.

Owen: some of the farmers, aye.

Josie: That's right.

Owen: Aye. Aye.

Josie: That, aye, it was a help that way all right.

Owen: Aye. I suppose this scene here, though, you know, that we see in front of us, that, that can't have changed at all, can it? It must look exactly almost as it did when you were a child.

Josie: Oh, i, it is. Well, uh, our old man, when he was young, uh, I went and you, uh, wait now, uh, our old man, when he was young, he lived here on this end of the island. Ah, you can't see the house here in the bushes there; you can't see it at the minute, with the bushes. But he went to Drumlone School out there; that's, uh, about three mile away, walk that time. Course there was no road hardly that time for a, a mile out the way of that, but, uh, what was I going to say? Och, I went off my chat.

Owen: I was, was saying that that, that, that view must've looked pr

Josie: Oh aye. Well, uh, that time the country was full of young people. Sure, there was only one for every three that time. And that time he could go out to the, to the top of that hedge there along that, that, that's known as a water-meadow. And he used to go out to that hedge and blow the whistle or give the ball a kick and he'd have, he'd have eight or nine neighbours over for to play football. Now you'd, you, you, you could, you could whistle for, for two years and you wouldn't get one. Aye.

Owen: It's sad that, isn't it?

Josie: Aye, he would, he could go to the top of that out there and blow the whistle and, see, the boys'd be about somewhere and they'd hear him and then they'd know “Th, th, that's the football; we'll go now."



[1] [inaudible] indicates a passage or phrase where the speaker’s exact words are unclear.

County Fermanagh dialect: Josie reflects on the nature of food and local farming during her childhood
Sound recording
Usage terms
Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Grammatical variation across the UK

Article by:
Jonnie Robinson
Regional voices: English across the UK, Your Voices: contemporary accents of the UK

Do you say ‘I haven’t’, ‘I’ve not’, ‘I havnae’, or ‘I ain’t’? Discover how grammar varies between speakers and from place to place and explore attitudes to grammatical variation.

Phonological variation across the UK

Article by:
Jonnie Robinson
Regional voices: English across the UK, Your Voices: contemporary accents of the UK

Do you pronounce words like ‘bath’, ‘grass’ and ‘dance’, with a short vowel, as in cat, or with a long vowel, like the sound you make when a doctor examines your throat? Discover the origins of this important distinction in British accents and explore how differences in pronunciation can reveal our local and regional identities.

Regional voices: An introduction to language variation across the UK

Article by:
Jonnie Robinson
Regional voices: English across the UK, Your Voices: contemporary accents of the UK

If you travel across the UK you experience changing landscapes, architecture and customs, but also variation in the voices you hear. Discover the difference between an accent and a dialect, and explore attitudes to language variation across the country.

Related collection items