Tag Archives: Omagh

Breda’s gaze

It’s interesting traveling to a foreign country where English is the primary language. You might assume that communication won’t be an issue, but the different accents and slang can at times make you wonder if you’re speaking the same language at all.

Case in point, in October I traveled to Northern Ireland to meet my friend Bernadette. She was born in Northern Ireland but has lived on the Isle of Man off the coast of England for about thirty years. When we chat on the phone, I often miss a few words here and there until my ears have become attuned again to her lovely manner of speaking.

A view of Pigeon Top, Flickr

I flew in early to spend a couple of days exploring Belfast, then met Bernadette at the airport. She rented a car and we drove to her sister’s home in the countryside outside the city of Omagh, not far from the village where the sisters grew up. Breda and her husband Aidan stayed in that area, raising three children and building a successful contracting business. We had been invited to spend the week at their beautiful home on rural Tattykeel Road, situated amid a panorama of hills called Pigeon Top.

I fell in love with Breda and Aidan immediately. Warm, welcoming, hospitable and funny, I quickly realized how lucky I was to be their guest. In the evenings we’d sit in comfy chairs facing the toasty Aga stove in their kitchen and talk and laugh until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

We arrived on Friday evening and on Saturday Breda took Bernadette and me back into Belfast to shop at St. George’s Market and to visit her daughter, Aideen, who is a doctor in the city. The ladies were talking about Breda’s younger daughter, Rosie, who lives in New York, and Breda commented on a funny incident that had happened recently to Rosie and the Gays she works with in Brooklyn.

Huh. I was surprised that she’d call out the sexual orientation of Rosie’s coworkers, but there was nothing homophobic about the story and we quickly moved on to another topic.

Sean Og’s pub in Omagh, Northern Ireland

Sunday evening Breda and Aidan took us to a pub in downtown Omagh to hear some Irish music (a request I’d made of Bernadette before the trip). I’m going to try to insert two sound clips in this post because  the music was incredible. The musicians were just local men, not professionals, who turn up on a Sunday night to jam at this pub for the fun of it – and for a few free pints.


We grabbed a small table in the back and next to us was a much larger one ringed by a group of seven or eight boisterous young men. These burly fellows were having a grand time and the second audio clip will be of them talking to each other. Listen to this:


Now, I was right next to them and I think I only caught every fifth word or so. That’s the strong Northern Ireland accent!

When I leaned over to tell Breda I planned to record them, she laughed and said something like, “Oh, those Gays are surely having a fine old time this evening, aren’t they?!”

I’m thinking, what? How does she know? Not to stereotype here, but these guys wearing jeans and football jerseys and slamming beers strike me as typical heterosexual jocks. But this is Northern Ireland. What do I know?

On Monday night Aidan left us after dinner to go to band practice. He plays the saxophone in a group that I think was started in their church. They play tunes like you’d hear at a football game, I guess. Aidan said “marching music,” and I asked, like John Phillip Sousa? He said yes.

At bedtime Bernadette, Breda, and I were sitting around the stove gabbing and I commented on how long band practice is.

Breda replied, “Oh, sometimes Aidan likes to go out to have a drink with the Gays after practice.”

Um, what? I’m wondering if there’s a contingency of homosexuals in the band, or if perhaps Aidan enjoys going to a local gay bar on Monday nights.

At this point I’m just a bit surprised at how many gay people this family comes across, and am somewhat puzzled by why Breda so casually points it out every time the opportunity arises. By this time I think she’s adorable and would be sad to think she’s prejudiced.

Sometimes it takes a while for the penny to drop with me. By Tuesday evening when the four of us are drinking our coffee after dinner and yacking around the Aga, when Breda refers yet again to some Gays she serves on the board with at the Credit Union, I finally hear it.

Breda is saying GUYS. It’s the accent.

I broke out laughing and the others turned to me, eyebrows raised. When I was able to stop laughing long enough to explain what I’d thought she’d been saying, we all cracked up.

For me, “guys” sounds like GIZE. For Breda, it’s GAZE. And for Aidan and Bernadette, it was somewhere in between the two.

Since so many people all over the world are exposed to American accents on television, in the movies, and in music, our pronunciation doesn’t often surprise them. Perhaps a deep Southern accent might throw them, but heck — sometimes I miss a word pronounced with a strong Southern accent, too. For the most part, people in other countries may be entertained to hear a real person speaking with an American accent, but it’s not unfamiliar.

But when you’re traveling abroad – whether to Ireland or England or Australia or to any other English-speaking country, don’t be surprised if you have a harder time comprehending the locals than you’d expect. When in doubt, ask for clarification, or you may come to conclusions that aren’t quite as accurate as you’d think!

Happy holidays, you GIZE!

Confessions of a picky palate


First, the good news:  I’m going to Ireland in October. Yay!

Northern Ireland map

I’ll be taking a bus from the Dublin airport to Belfast (in red). Pigeon Top is a bit west of Omagh (see right above “Northern”). Dublin is due south from Newry.

I will be spending most of the trip as a guest in the home of my dear friend Bernadette’s sister, Breda. Breda’s home is in tiny Pigeon Top near the city of Omagh, which is about 70 miles or so west of Belfast. Bernadette, who lives on the Isle of Man, will fly over to meet me in Belfast. We’ll rent a car to drive to Breda’s home. In addition to staying with Breda, I’ll meet more of Bernadette’s brothers and sisters and we’ll take day trips to visit places like the Giant’s Causeway and the Ulster Folk Museum.  Bernadette and I have talked about doing this for years and I’m so glad we’re finally going.


A view from Pigeon Top in Northern Ireland

However, when I told my son Chris about our plans the other night he expressed grave concerns about me staying with Breda and Bernadette. Chris tends to be rather critical of me (in a loving manner), but it’s not without cause. Here’s why he’s worried:

Baby squash from Babies Ideas

This is how I still react to squash. Pic from Babies Ideas – thanks.

The bad news is that I’m an extremely picky eater. I have the palate of a cranky kindergartner. I wish I could tell you that I bravely suck it up and eat whatever is put before me whether I like it or not. But, no. No. I can’t do it. I think the years growing up when we had to sit at the kitchen table and finish a meal no matter what had an impact. I couldn’t quite understand the correlation between my dad having to eat ketchup sandwiches during the Depression and me gagging on liver and onions in 1958, but the logic was there somewhere, I guess. Wasting food, starving children in China, etc. Plus, Dad was a big and kind of scary guy when he was angry.

Usually I can hide my food phobias thanks to the variety of menu choices on offer when dining out. In the privacy of our homes, my close friends and family know which foods I won’t eat and, to be fair, my sister and brother are at least as picky as I am. Maybe worse. Planning a meal for a big family dinner is fraught with culinary land mines. Nothing made with milk for Bob. Nothing orange and mushy for Kate. Make sure Mom’s and Penny’s meat shows not one hint of pink. That’s just the beginning.

We like to think we’re normal, but my Chris is not afraid to laugh and point out that we’re not. After my own experience growing up, I decided not to force young Chris to eat things he didn’t like. As a result, he was never afraid to try new foods and now eats just about everything. I think it’s safe to say that his adventuresome palate is due in no small part to my enlightened parenting skills. (You’re welcome, Chris. Now stop making fun of me.)

Baby eggs New Kids Center

Eggs for breakfast? Oh nooooooo! Pic from New Kids Center – thanks.

Anyway, now I’m worried, too. That’s why I’m writing today. I am outing myself, admitting to everything I won’t eat. I’ll share this post with Bernadette and ask her to pass it along to my unsuspecting host, Breda. Here’s the deal, dear ladies – I decided it may be wiser to embarrass myself up front rather than sit at your table in October trying to figure out how to explain why I can’t eat a lovely meal that any normal person would enjoy.

It’s not you. It’s me. Boy, is it me. So here we go with the foods I won’t/can’t eat:

  • Eggs – in any shape or form. That’s right – not fried, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled – nothing. Eeuw.
  • Paul and Mary

    Dear ones, do you watch Paul and Mary on the Great British Baking Show? I love them. They would be ashamed of me. So ashamed.


  • Anything orange and mushy, which includes cooked squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yams, etc.
  • Bananas (that includes banana bread, or any other baked good with bananas)
  • Asparagus
  • Liver
  • I love mild white fish like cod and halibut, but no salmon, mackerel, herring, etc.
  • Oysters (do I get points for loving octopus, though?)

I think that covers it. Embarrassing, but there you go.  I’m too old to be coy about this, guys. When I was in Ireland about ten years ago I went with my friends to a pub to grab some lunch. I ordered a BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich) and it was served with a fried egg plopped on top of the usual ingredients. What the . . . ?! I was horrified. What kind of monster would sneak a fried egg onto an innocent BLT, I ask you?

(And on a side note, as you may have guessed, I refused to touch the blood pudding or sausage or whatever it was that accompanied a hotel’s fried breakfast, the price of which was included with a night’s stay. Most folks rub their hands with glee at the sight of a hearty Irish breakfast. I ate the toast.)

Irish breakfast

This traditional Irish breakfast would send me screaming into the woods. Are those mushrooms near that triangle thing? Aargh!

So there it is, my friends. I might add, as soon as poor Breda gets a look at me she’ll wonder that I don’t eat everything, including the kitchen sink. I am not a wispy little lass by any stretch of the imagination. This body is what happens when someone chooses the


Yes, darling Breda and Bernadette! Send me to Omagh if you must!

cheeseburger over the seasonal pumpkin soup. Pancakes instead of an omelet. A Kit Kat rather than a banana.

Other than that, I hope you’ll find me to be a pleasant enough person, dear Breda. If not, feel free to boot me toward the nearest hotel in Omagh. I promise not to throw a toddler tantrum.