This blog is a personal take on Listowel, Co. Kerry. I am writing for anyone anywhere with a Listowel connection but especially for sons and daughters of Listowel who find themselves far from home. Contact me at

Listowel Man in Japan

Photo; Chris Grayson in Glenbeigh

Language and how we use it

I have long been fascinated by local quirks of language and meaning. When I came to live in Kerry first I was amused to be asked if I would walk or “carry the car”. I never got used to wan instead of won for the figure 1.

Mattie Lennon wrote the following about his own Wicklow (Wickla) dialect.


By Mattie Lennon.                                                                                                                               

 “ Look what we’ve done to the old mother tongue,

it’s a crime they way we’ve misused it.”             

So the song says. But did we do it any damage?

John Dryden said that a thing well said will be wit in all languages. In my native west Wicklow the transposition of vowels seemed to be almost as popular a pastime as locking referees in car boots. And did it do any damage? (no…I’m not asking about the morality  depriving the GAA arbitrator of his liberty on a winter’s day in Rathnew, I’m referring to a bit of readjustment of the A, E, I, O and U’s ) 

In my part of the world the language of Synge survived into the final decades of the twentieth century and beyond. His inspiration for The Shadow of the Glen came from Donard in west Wicklow where his father was a  Protestant  minister. Only recently a neighbour with a somewhat defective ticker told me that he had been fitted with a “Peace-maker”. I know of a case where a lady with notions, in the days when meat was kept in a safe, asked an apprentice carpenters to make a “Mate-Seaf”.  A Mate Seaf. Nowadays I get all sorts of gazes when I disclose that it used to take a lot of courage, in Kylebeg, to say tea instead of “tay” and to refer to unpolluted H2O as anything other than “clane wather” meant you were getting above your station.  And you’d soon be reminded that it wasn’t long since you had holes in  your”brutches”. The”hins” were fed off the “led” of a pot and when it was necessary to communicate with absent relatives the “pin an’ ink” were taken down and that reviled member of the rodent species was called a”rot”. It would be said of the less-than-honest that he would “stale the crass ev an ass”. A welcome visitor would be invited to ” take a sate an’ give yerself a hate” and if you weren’t “plazed” by a frank comment you were said to be “aisy effinded” and you were sure to be “med game of”. That gurgling moving rivulet  much lauded in song and poem was a “strame” o’ wather and the single arch structure over it was a brudge”. 

Some people through hard work (or a windfall) would  progress from thatch to a more substantial roof on their dwelling and it would be called a ”Toiled roof.” Every County Council cottage had an outside “labatery”. A “dacent little girl” was an unmarried female, of any size, shape or age, who wouldn’t let a male in a mile of her.

Whatever about the Catechism definition of Grace in our part of the world it was “the juice o’ fat mate”. And of course if you were of an argumentative dispossession it would be said that you  “would rise a row about the kay o’ there”. (Songwriting , of course, was easier than elsewhere because floor rhymed with sure and bowl rhymed with howl) A snob might have ” a collar an’ tie on his nick an’ a watch on his wrust” but no male would go so far as to sport “gould” ring. Nobody would admit to having “flays” themselves (The’re fleas by the way)  but a person would  comment that a certain neighbour’s house was “walking wud thim”.

You could expect a”could day'” whin the win’ was from the aist”. Ewes”yaned”, you ploughed “lay” and you “Bilt” the”kittle” ( unless of course it “laked”. You “gother” the sheep, “muxed” the pig-feeding and you could”bate” the living daylights out of someone  “whin timpers ed be ruz”. But in such “is-ther-no one to-hould-me-coat” situations there was usually someone to make “pace”, a pacemaker.The piece of binder twine used to restrict the movements of the canine was a”lade”. Beyond was”beyant” and an old neighbour of mine went so far as to do a bit of consonant-juggling resulting in “belant”.The clothes were held on the line by “pigs” and a brave man (or maybe one who didn’thave the courage to run away) was described as a “hairo”. 

Surnames didn’t escape either. Lennon was Linnen, Fitzsimons became Fitzsummons, Geoghan was Googan  and Reid was made to rhyme with spade.

Looking back on it now I reckon that the hillbillies of the old black-and-white “Westerns”, with their “varmint” and “critters” would have fitted in perfectly in the Lacken of my youth. And I’m sure they would have adapted very quickly to describing the economy-conscious as “mane” and making stirabout from “yalla male”.  If you are not from my neck of the woods perhaps like D.H. Lawrence you will marvel: “That such trivial people should muse and thunder in such a lovely language”.

  As a trivial people we have descriptive terms that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else. Take for example an  individual who is considered highly intelligent by some. But may in some areas of their life, lack common sense.  We have a sort of a compromise term for them. We would describe them as a “cliver eeget.”   If  you were reared anywhere between Knockatillane and Shillealagh, like Thomas Babbington Macauley,  you will recognise “…..that dear language which I spake like thee”. 

From Listowel to Tokyo

Listowel man Willie Guiney proved that you can fulfil your dreams at any age.

Willie completed the Tokyo 6 star major marathon to fulfil a long held ambition.

Photos of Willie in Japan from his own Facebook page.

From Pres. 1988 Yearbook

A Poem

A Fact

The cock crows but the hen delivers the goods (Old proverb)



Honours and Fundraising


Big Maggie


  1. Liz Gillen

    Our UK brother in law had trouble with vocabulary and phrases like ‘pass him out’ (overtake), ‘hot press’ (airing cupboard) and waiting for ‘the call’ after leaving cert (primary teaching course place)!


    Years ago my parents took me on holiday as a young lad and the were lucky enough to use a cottage and car of one of her brothers in Ballyduff, Kerry. My dad was amused that he was told by the local garage that ‘There was a ‘lake in the the radiator’.
    It became a family story back in England.

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