Mary Minihan: Five reasons why it is hard to be a Nordie
Life south of the Border throws many personality and cultural traits into stark relief
North-South relations: “Despite working in and around Leinster House for more than a decade and studying Irish at school, I’m still self-conscious of my pronunciation of the word ‘Dáil’ and even ‘Taoiseach’.”
The humble Nordie settled south of the Border is often misunderstood.
At the risk of adding to the stereotype of the “whingeing Northerner”, I think we are regularly and unfairly characterised as chippy, miserly and even aggressive.
Here follow five reasons why sometimes it’s hard to be a Nordie in the Republic.
1. They think we talk funny and, just maybe, we do.
A study of Received Pronunciation by the British Library found people from Northern Ireland (and Scotland) have access to a couple of additional consonant sounds beyond the typical 24.
One allows us to give words such as “loch” extra welly, and is also useful for pronouncing the multipurpose exclamation “och!” or “ach!” The other, apparently, allows us to distinguish between words such as “wine” and “whine”, which could surely prove useful in certain situations.
But there our advantage ends.
A Dublin-based voice coach once told me Northerners can’t pronounce “sixth”. Despite working in and around Leinster House for more than a decade and studying Irish at school, I’m still self-conscious of my pronunciation of the word “Dáil” and even “Taoiseach”.
2. We don’t like to blab, and we may well have good reason.
Northerners of a certain “child of the Troubles” vintage or older will have been brought up with the closed-mouthed “whatever you say, say nothing” mantra.
The carefree “reveal all” conversational style of residents of the Republic, peppered with innocent questions about occupation and other personal topics, can be a shock to reticent Northerners. We are not so easygoing with strangers, primarily because we grew up so differently.
As a youngster, before attending a birthday party at a pal’s house, I distinctly remember my mother and myself practising how I would throw myself to the ground and lie face down in the event of the windows being smashed in. Why? The birthday girl’s father happened to be a policeman. So I will concede we might be a little edgier than the average southerner.
The trend towards what might be termed confessional behaviour on social media has exacerbated our introverted difficulties. So you’ll probably find us declining Twitter’s invite to reveal our location of an evening. And as for Facebook wanting to know where you went to school, that was always clumsy Northern code for, “What religion are you?”
3. They complain about northern roads, and think we’re overly frugal.
Perhaps stung by criticism from neighbours to the North about poorly maintained roads, the South created an extensive motorway network during the boom-time years. Unfortunately, southern motorists’ habit of hogging the overtaking lane is a cause of despair for northern petrolheads, and don’t get us started on their apparent inability to navigate roundabouts in the proper fashion.
Those of us who maintain a Sterling purse or wallet as well as one for euro are hyper-sensitive to the dual-pricing rip-off system still in place.
Pre-bust, the perception was that while Northerners guarded their pounds and pence, residents of the Republic splurged their euro and cent, leading to accusations we were mean with money.
Workmates used to laugh at my scrimping ways as I brought my packed lunch to work, while they splashed out on overpriced ciabatta sandwiches and bottled water. These days, the fridge in your average Dublin office is stuffed with home-made fare.
4. We haven’t a clue how to get our kids into your schools.
One of the interesting things about being a Northerner south of the Border is that most people can’t place you in the class system. This provides opportunities which are snobbishly denied to those with more easily identifiable accents or social backgrounds.
But cracking the code of how to gain access to schools is simply beyond the ken of the average Northerner. Admissions policies are beyond cryptic. Pre-enrolment fees for expensive private schools appear to grant merely the privilege of getting a child’s name on a waiting list. The concept of having to pay for school books and transport is also difficult to comprehend.
5. They suspect that deep down we’re all flag-waving, bonfire-building, antagonistic tribalists.
Okay, so the flag on every lamppost, and bizarre green, white and orange or red, white and blue kerbstones are difficult to ignore. For every Seamus Heaney, Mary McAleese, Van Morrison or Darren Clarke who makes us proud, there’s a red-faced bigot spouting sectarian nonsense to make us cringe. But a recent cross-Border RTÉ/BBC poll gave the lie to the idea people in the Republic are more tolerant.
People in Northern Ireland would be more comfortable with a family member marrying someone from a different religious background (84 per cent to the Republic’s 79 per cent) or skin colour (86 per cent to 83 per cent).