"The people hereabouts have a vigorous and imaginative speech. "Gold," says a man to whom I had been listening, "doesn't all the world want it? - the man digging in the fields, the priest going up to Mass, the fool upon the road, the child upon the knee! If you hold it up before it, won't the child turn to the gold?" They had been talking about children who had been left orphans. "Sorra a bit so-and-so would care if they went the way of the wild birds." "Michael was the soundest child that ever blessed his face. And he wouldn't be put out if he saw you coming down the road with horns on you. He never let the red roar out of him." "Some children," says another, "would come to you on a silk thread, and with others the chain of a ship wouldn't pull them." The talk flows on in humour and satire, with proverbs and bits of poetry, and always with vivid illustrations. "Did you know such a person?" I ask. "Do I know him, do I know him? Do I know my oul' shirt? Aye, I know him as well as I know bread." A woman gave a description that exactly fitted the impetuous person we referred to. "Murty came in with a windy hat on him, and threw gold down on the counter." "Murty-windy-hat," she called him, and the name gave the atmosphere that goes with the man. And I heard her once call a slow cautious character "Martin-steal-upon-larks." The person they spoke about, Murty, has fine speech. He and his wife are a quarrelling couple. The other day I went into their house and found a silence between the pair, and an atmosphere that was tense. "What is the matter with you, Nora?" I said to the woman. "There is an oul' devil eating the flesh off me," she said. Did she get the phrase from Swift, from some oral tradition of the Dean's writing, or did Swift and she get it out of a common stock? The man spoke to me outside the house. "She sticks her eyes into me when I come in, and the sort of a temper I have, the brain does be leppin' off me." He made an apology in a speech that was poetry in everything except form. "I'm runnin' the four winds of the world, striven' to get them bread. I would not know why the people were dressed nor when the holiday came, I would be that bent with the hardship." Once he spoke to me about the virtues of a certain well that was near. I wrote down his phrase. Afterwards I thought that this was the expression he had used, "The water of that well.when the sun is on the stones, the coldness of it would shake the teeth in your head." But Murty had a better sense of the balance of a sentence. He had said, "The water of that well.when the sun would be splitting the flags, the coldness of it would shiver the teeth in your head."Brendan Leen, B.Ed, M.A., H.Dip in Ed.
Educated people find it hard to believe that an Irish countryman or countrywoman, when speaking, has often a compelling sense of style. I believe that it is so. A man said to me, "He was offered gallons of gold in Cavan gaol to betray the people." He used "gallons" with "gold" for the sake of the alliteration. Another man said, "I could have made monuments with money, if I had stayed in America."
It has been said that in England the countrypeople have a vocabulary of from 300 to 500 words. Doctor Pedersen took down 2500 words of the vocabulary of Irish speakers in the Aran Islands. Doctor Douglas Hyde wrote down a vocabulary of 3000 words from people in Roscommon who could neither read nor write, and he thinks he fell short by 1000 words of the vocabulary in actual use. He suggests that in Munster - especially in Kerry - the average vocabulary in use amongst Irish speakers is probably between 5000 and 6000 words. Behind this abundant vocabulary there is a highly developed social sense. Now, satire equally with agreeable conversation is a product of the highly developed social sense, and, in peasant Ireland, satire is current, and has noticeable effect. "Isn't my wife a well-discoursed woman?" said a young farmer, speaking of one who in another environment would have been noticeable for her considerable literary and social gift. A near relation of his made answer, "She thinks she is as famed for her conversation as Daniel O' Connell, but there's as much heed given to her as to the dog barking on my ditch outside." This man had a meal at his young relative's house, and he said afterwards, "God made meat, but somebody else made cooks." In the old days in Ireland poets were always making satires; as the Irish spirit asserts itself again in literature, satire comes to the fore, and books such as George Moore's Hail and Farewell and James Joyce's Ulysses belong to Ireland as the literature of chivalry belongs to Spain."