As a Fermanagh native who is about to embark on her fifth year living in the big smoke, I’ve spent almost a half a decade of my life now feeling a bit like the country mouse when he visited the town mouse.
In reality, I wouldn’t even class myself as a true country mouse. I grew up in a housing estate, in the (admittedly, very tiny) town of Tempo. I can remember engaging in heated debates in the playground in primary school about whether being a country person or a townie was better, and the verdict never seemed to favour the latter. This divide is fairly well acknowledged in Fermanagh, you’ll probably agree – here, a country person or a ‘culchie’ is usually somebody who lives on a farm, or at least in just about the middle of nowhere down a winding lane surrounded by emerald fields filled with cows. It may come as a shock to you that in the big city of Belfast, this definition does not apply. In the big smoke, the only qualifying criteria you need to meet to be classed as a ‘culchie’ is not being from Belfast. End of.
Through living, studying and working in the city, I’ve learned that there are a few of these disparities in culture between us folk from the Wild Wild West and the city slickers up the country. And as it’s now that time of year again, when the naive students descend upon the city of Belfast (a bit like a plague of locusts in the eyes of some), I’ll give some of you a heads up for what to expect when you venture down the M1 to live in the city that never sleeps – or at least in the Holylands it doesn’t.
As I said before, in the big smoke, it doesn’t matter if you live on the tiniest bog lane or in a townhouse smack bang in Enniskillen, you’re all tarred with the same brush – Culchie with a capital C. On top of this, there is another universal trait that all of us culchies hold in common according to city folk – our accents sound stupid and are hilarious. When, in my opinion, it’s their accents that are dodgy, but awk nai, you’ll have a wild hard time convincing them’uns of that.
Besides your actual accent, Belfast natives, and in fact folk from every corner of the country that isn’t Fermanagh, will struggle with translating your Fermanagh spake. You’ll have a while handling trying to get them to understand anything you say. To them, your sentences will sound completely through other. They’ll not even understand any of what I’ve just written, but then, we’ll have a hard time making out whether they mean mortified or bored every time they say they’re ‘scundered’.
Another revelation you’ll make shortly after starting a conversation with these city folk is that geography is rarely their strong point. Mention the name of just about any town further down the M1 than Lurgan and they’ll look at you with total bewilderment. It’s easier to just tell people you’re ‘from Fermanagh’ to avoid the awkward confusion, but sometimes even that fails. I once had an individual respond to my, “Oh, I’m from Fermanagh”, with a confused glance and a worryingly genuine, “Where?” Oh, excuse me, were you under the impression that Tyrone, Armagh, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan just bordered a massive void? I mean, there are only a few counties in the Ulster, they really shouldn’t be that hard to remember. Obama visited once, it was a pretty big deal…you really never heard about it?!
Now, you will likely come across the odd person who has an inkling where the Lakeland county is, due to the fact that they visited it once on their holidays about a decade ago, or because they have a long lost, many times removed relative who lives in or was from or once passed through a back road in Fermanagh, so you know, they know it well. As a result of this, the moment you mention where you hail from, they’ll start into a long, tedious, detailed account of ‘that one time they stayed in the Killyhevlin’, or you’ll be assaulted with earnest requests about whether you know Jimmy from Enniskillen, he’s their sister in law’s cousin’s best friend’s brother and he’d be about your age, or maybe about 5 years older than you, they can’t remember.
After that comes questions about where you’re from, and if it’s on such a road, and if it’d be along such a route. You’ll be asked things like, “Would I pass through your town then on the way to Donegal?” as if you’re Google Maps. I really don’t know, Linda, and seeing as you’re the one driving it, I’d assume you should have a fair idea. Or my personal favourite of all, the vague inquiries about places they visited on their holiday in 2001. “When I visited Enniskillen, I went to this great pub. Awk, it was great! Y’know the one, on that street? It was next to a shop? Now, you must know the one I mean?!”
In the end though, while being a Fermanagh native can make you feel like an alien at times when you’re outside the county borders, it’s not all bad. It’s always a talking point, and everyone is fascinated by our beautiful lakes and countryside, and our easy going nature. And it could always be worse – you could be from Tyrone!