A User’s Guide to Northern Ireland Slang for St Patrick’s Day!

If I was to say to you ‘spy thon latchy cove down the far Duke’ * would you have any idea what I was talking about?

How about ‘scran the pure heap, sham’ or ‘I’m going for a scobe with my blade’?

Welcome to the world of Northern Ireland slang. Or to be really specific, Ballymena slang! In Northern Ireland we have some amazing words and phrases that are immediatly recognisable depending on where you live. Belfast slang is different from country slang and certain words are unintelligable if you go a few miles down the road.

I live in Ballymena, which is thirteen miles from where I work in Bellaghy but I have said things that have left my work colleagues looking at me blankly. Similarly, when I was told to ‘clod’ something over to someone in the office, I had no idea they wanted me to throw it!

This is a place where a dander is a walk, a boat is a kiss, gutties are running shoes, a poke is an icecream and where going out for a wee run means taking a drive in your car. Generally round the north coast. On a Sunday.

In Seamus Heaney HomePlace, we have an installation called the ‘Word Hoard’ a floating mobile of colloquial words like hoke and glar that appealed to Heaney’s love of language and how language is deeply rooted in a place.
So, for St Patrick’s Day, here is my word hoard – a collection of my favourite Northern Irish phrases and sayings….and of course, their translations!

Craic – fun or banter, ‘what’s the craic?’ ‘That was great craic altogether’ ‘ sure the craic’s ninety’

Sham – a person or friend, ‘Alright sham?’

See also: mucker, bailer, doner, cove or yer man. Everyone in Northern Ireland is yer man. And it is assumed that you know him

Plastered – drunk, ‘Yer man was so plastered last night, the head’ll be hanging off him this morning’

See also: hammered, paraletic, wrote off, pished, rat-arsed, banjaxed, steaming, half-cut, bloottered.

Catch yourself on – be sensible

See also: Wind yer neck in, wise the bap, your head’s cut, away an’ shite, yer head’s a marley, yer head’s full of wee sweetie mice.

Thran – intentionally stubborn, ‘He’s so thran he wouldn’t go even if he wanted to’

Keep her lit – to keep going ‘keep her lit now, that’s great, we’re suckin’ diesel now’

See also: keep her between the hedges

Scran the heap – eat everything, ‘I am pure starving. I could scran the heap’

There is a pizza restaurant in Ballymena which has a pizza with all the toppings on it. It’s 18″ and is called, you guessed it, The Scran the Heap!

Fernenst – alongside, ‘yer man’s field is fernenst the road’

Go for a scobe – taking a drive around the town to see who you can see ‘I’ve the lend of the car, let’s go for a scobe round the circuit’

Eejit – an idiot ‘yer man’s a wile eejit’

See also: melter, head the ball

Neither use nor ornament – useless, ‘I’m so hungover, I’m neither use nor ornament to anyone’

Feel wick – to be embarrassed ‘Did you see what she did? Feel wick for her’

See also: take a reddner, scundered

Dead on – alright or ok. Very often used sarcastically, ‘aye right mate, dead on’. 

Cowp – to fall over ‘I cowped over that wall and hit my head a quare gunk’

Footer – to tinker with ‘Is yer Da still footerin’ with that engine?’

Gulder – to shout ‘My ma was ragin’ and was gulderin’ at me’

Clarried – covered in, ‘I cowped in the ditch and now I’m clarried in muck’

See also: clabbered

Hoke (or hoak) – to rummage or look for ‘have a hoke in your bag and see if you have a tissue’

One of the main things to remember in Northern Ireland is that everything, regardless of size, is ‘wee’, sarcasm is used a lot and it takes us a while to say goodbye on the phone.

Do any of these phrases take your fancy? What about your own word hoards? I’d love to hear the words or phrases particular to your area!

* ‘Spy thon latchy cove down the far duke’ translates to ‘Do you see that tall man at the end of the road?’. Yes, really.

The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

48 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Love this! I just finished reading The Spinning Heart, and one of the things I loved most about it was the language. He doesn’t hold back much for the sake of non-Irelanders! (Is that a word?)
    The only words we use a lot here, that I know of, is ‘plastered’ and ‘half-cut’. (There are a lot of words for being drunk!) But you might find it different in Newfoundland. Their words and phrases are the most fun to have a look at (or listen to).
    I was trying to think of some that I know of from around here (Nova Scotia), but it’s hard to know what’s normal and what’s not – since to me it all seems normal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Donal Ryan uses a lot of colloquialisms, but I think that’s why I love his writing so much. Maybe ‘plastered’ is a universal word? And yes, we have lots of words for being drunk and lots of ways of telling someone to be sensible 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Slightly worryingly, as a daughter of two N. Irish parents (Armagh both), but born and raised in Essex, I didn’t realise a few of these were N Irish specific!
    I still call my son’s little trainers his gutties!!
    Saying someone gives me the dry bokes is still my favourite 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      • “Wee” is definitely Scottish; although I hear English people using it too nowadays. My mum used to tell us to stop “footering” and get on with things. Plastered and paraletic are used here a lot, amongst many other words for drunk (naturally!) Weirdly, gutties were commonly used in Glasgow, but not up here, and the “bye bye bye bye bye bye…” thing is done up here in Oban but not in Glasgow! I think we’re all speaking more homogenously, possibly due to TV, which I think is a shame – we’re losing regional dialects and odd words.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Most proper Dublin slang is rather improper; it starts off innocently enough (“you’re an eejit”, “state of yer wan”, “I’m scarleh’ for your ma for havin’ ya”), then gets progressively more offensive (“gobshite” is still relatively innocuous; the gloriously horrible “geebag” is never used in polite company).

    If you’re ill you’re as sick as the plane to Lourdes.

    If someone’s a miser they wouldn’t give you the steam off their piss.

    An unattractive woman might be described as having a face like the back of a bus, or of being so ugly the tide wouldn’t take her out (there’s a wonderful variant of this in A Date for Mad Mary – “a sniper wouldn’t take you out”)

    An awful lot of Dublin expressions involve rhyming slang (“I’m Hank Marvin” for “I’m starving”; “Jo Maxi” for taxi) and an awful lot involve human anatomy – when you have sex, you “get yer hole” and when you refuse to do something, you say “I will in me hole” and if particularly vexed, “I will in me bleedin’ hole”. An attractive person is a ride, and if you go to bed with them, you get the ride. If all you do is French kiss, then you get the shift.

    Banjaxed: broken
    Work away: carry on with what you were doing
    Deadly: Brilliant (situation)
    Savage: Brilliant (work of art)
    Act the maggot: mess around
    Manky: filthy
    Minging: smelly
    Wagon: an overbearing, disagreeable woman

    Liked by 2 people

    • Love, love, love this!! You need to do a separate post. I have never heard of ‘sick as a plane to Lourdes’ but I now intend to use it all the time. ‘I will in me hole’ is my all time favourite. Plus you left out the wonderful ‘mot’ for girlfriend.

      Liked by 1 person

      • there are too many to choose from, many of which are very similar to what you use up in Norn Iron. we tend to use banjaxed for broken (never heard it for drunk). Plastered, fluthered, scuttered, pie-eyed, pissed as a newt and the mysterious pissed as a fart

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s funny, I haven’t heard ‘mot’ in years. ‘state of yer man’ and ‘state of yer wan’ are still very common. There’s an old one that you never hear anymore when someone’s bothering you: “I’ve enough thorns in my side without another little prick such as yourself”, and a chancer, of course, will have a hard neck, or, if your prefer, a neck like a jockey’s bollix.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been saying ‘eejit’ ever since I first watched Father Ted! We say ‘neither use nor ornament’ in Yorkshire too. 😊 My Nan used to say a person was ‘laid out like lamb and salad’ if they were sprawled on the sofa. She would also ask if the cat’s died if someone’s trousers were a bit short (i.e. wearing trousers at half mast). Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. These are great, Cathy! I’m an American who learned some Irish slang from “Father Ted” too, still one of my favorite shows! I also see/hear a lot of “grand” and “so” in Irish books/shows. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is awesome! I think my favorite is “yer head’s full of wee sweetie mice.” 🙂

    Where I come from in south Louisiana, a lot of our slang words come from either French or Cajun French. So for instance, we call most male people “ti boy” regardless of their age, even though “ti” is short for the French word for small. “Rougarouing” is being rowdy and causing trouble. And in place of “eejit,” we have “couyon.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As a Glaswegian I recognised a fair few of these – and some such as ‘giving me the dry bike’ and ‘eejit’ and ‘footerin’ have now passed into common parlance with my Essex-born family! As for ’51 Cards’, my grandad once had a bloke working for him who was known to everybody as ’52 minus!’

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Absolutely fascinating. Slang is particularly fascinating, I think, because it’s bound to the land and to people leaving on that land. We have dialects here in Italy. There are words in some dialects that are untranslatable in Italian.
    We should all strive to preserve ‘our’ language.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Loved this. My scottish wife thought I was making ‘Fernenst’ up. Couldn’t find it elsewhere on Web so it must be Ballymena specific. Thank you for taking me back to my childhood in ‘The Town’.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. At the Noireland International Crime Fiction Festival last weekend (brilliant by the way), the Scottish author Stuart MacBride and Irish author Adrian McKinty had fun swapping colloquial words used in their respective areas. We all learned something.
    Incidentally, one or two comments above mentioned the word ‘gutties’ which in my young days referred to the plimsolls we got every summer but which had to be whitened every night. God, what a job that was! I believe the name came from gutta-percha (rubber) which was the material from which the soles were made.


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