I came across an article in a recent edition of Folklore/Bealoideas about a man by the name of Packy Jim McGrath from Lettercran on the Donegal/Tyrone border near Aghyaran/Castlederg. The author, Ray Cashman is an American folklorist. He met up with Packy Jim many years ago just by chance when travelling around this part of Ireland. He is enthralled by his gift for storytelling, his colourful language, his memory and his imagination. Packy Jim has all the qualities of a good story teller. So fascinated was the American by his subject that he has written and published a book entitled ‘Packy Jim’.
I am also interested in local folklore but in this instance I am fascinated with the way the spoken language is used. One example is Packy Jim’s use of the word ‘till’ for ‘to’. Packy Jim is always going down ‘till’ Castlederg rather than going ‘to’ Castlederg as we more sophisticated citizens of Fermanagh would say. I suppose it reveals the closeness of the people to the Irish language in that part of Ireland. In Irish it would probably be ‘ag dul go dti Caislean na Deirge’ . ‘Go dtí’ also means till/until. This is only speculation on my part. Another Tyrone man I have noticed who uses this way of speaking is the irrepressible MLA from Carrickmore, Barry McElduff. I have heard him on BBC Radio Uladh a number of times saying things like: ‘I am going till Stormount today’ or ‘I am not going till take lectures from Stephen Nolan.”
Now I am not finding fault or trying to be politically correct. Far be it from a Fermanagh man to question a Tyrone man’s way of speaking. Indeed, I am half Tyrone myself since my grandparents came from Drumquin or Drumqueen -as some call it. I too have picked up some of the local dialect like the saying: ”It’s a wild day.”
Language is an interesting study and the connection of the spoken English with the spoken Irish is a very interesting subject for discussion.
Another example of a word that is often used especially in Derry/Doire is ‘Mucker’. I was thinking about it one day and it occurred to me that it might derive from the Irish ‘Mo chara’, once again showing the close relationship between English as spoken here and the native Irish language.
This is all by way of saying we are not that far removed from our native Irish language that we could not revive and speak it fluently in daily conversation -with a little encouragement. ‘Is fearr Gaeilge briste na Bearla cliste’, as my Irish teacher used to say. That’s my new year resolution.