I’ve been labouring under a misconception for years. What is the actual origin of the Blaa? Now it’s not something that keeps me up at night, but all the same it is a question that pops up occasionally. I was personally swayed by rumours of a French influence on this indigenous Waterford staple but finally I have learned the truth, thanks to the latest publication by Waterford’s Cian Foley, founder of www.upthedeise.com. ‘The Deise Dictionary Tew’ is a little storehouse of hilarious information that has just hit the shelves in time for Christmas stockings everywhere and will no doubt be a marvelous resource for every Waterford household. With kind permission of the author, here is the origin of the Blaa as stated in the book. A Waterford pilgrim (whose name has been lost through time) was travelling through the holy land circa 33AD and after many adventures and misadventures it just so happened he ended up in Jerusalem on the night before our Lord was crucified. Tired and hungry from all his travels, he came upon an inn where a small feast was taking place. Being a stranger and with scarcely a few shekels to his name, he decided to gatecrash the party and hid behind a curtain while the bread was being divided. Craftily, he slid one hand out from his hiding place and grabbed a piece of bread. Peter, one of the guests (he wasn’t a saint yet), saw him, grabbed his hand and with an almighty roar declared “THAT’S BLASPHEMY” to which the Déise boy responded “go way out of it, boy, that BLAA’S FER ME,” and ran from the room with the sacred bread wrapped up in his blue and white shirt. On returning to his native Deise, he did his best to reproduce that bread and the closest thing he got to it was today’s famous Waterford BLAA, and that’s the truth!!!
The origin of the Blaa is just one of many Waterford sayings and phrases explained in the book. It is no doubt the result of many hours of painstaking and thorough research by the author! It is the follow up to the controversial ‘The Deise Dictionary’ which came out last year. Very cleverly, the cover design of both books, when held up together, form the Waterford flag. It has to be said that, taken out of context, some of the words and phrases within are indeed slightly rude, but it’s very obvious that neither book is designed to cause offence. Both are written with a tongue stuck firmly in cheek. (As a warning though, if you have had a recent sense-of-humour bypass, or are overly sensitive to slang, then maybe it is best to avoid them.) However, as the title implies, it is a Dictionary and therefore we can only deduce that if the inclusion of explanations of rude words make a dictionary unfit for public consumption then Collins, Roget, and Oxford are all guilty of the same thing.
Cian Foley insists that both publications are really a ‘bit of craic’ and I’m sure it has been great fun putting them both together, but underneath it is actually a work of preservation. Although many might deem the preservation of an indigenous dialect to be unnecessary, Cian has done us all a great favour. Some of the words included have been gathered from a much older generation and are probably, as we speak, ebbing out of colloquial language as Ireland takes on a more multicultural, cosmopolitan identity. It may be many years yet before the true impact of the Deise Dictionaries emerge.
For anyone living in Waterford, or indeed anyone from Waterford but currently living away, upthedeise.com is a great website. It captures that unique Waterford wit while also keeping abreast of news, sport and providing interesting information. It is a place where people can go and have their say, but equally there is a humorous, lighter side that grabs the imagination. One current survey on the site is investigating the dialect within the Waterford dialect. It simply takes the word ‘sandwich’ and looks at the many different ways it is pronounced in this area. So far, 21% of respondents pronounce the word as ‘sam-wich’, 13% say ‘sam-mich’, 30% say ‘san-wich’ and 34% say ‘sang-wich’. We can only assume that the 34% particularly enjoy a ‘hang sangwich’. This poll is by no means definitive but if you listen as you go about your daily business you will find that it is relatively representative. Maybe they could try the word ‘chimney’ as another experiment. The variations from ‘chimley’ to ‘chim -illy’ could prove interesting. I was lucky enough to be at the launch of The Deise Dictionary Tew at Revolution Bar in Waterford last Friday night.
It was a great event and the first time I met Cian Foley and his family. Cian is a really smashing guy with a cherubic face, twinkling eyes and hugely appealing laid-back, boyish nature, but there is no mistaking the intelligence behind it. If you don’t get a chance to read The Deise Dictionary Tew before Christmas, make sure you have a copy handy for the holidays. I have no doubt it will raise a smile or two after the turkey on Christmas Day.
Waterford certainly appears to be a hotbed of culture at the moment and there are more books being launched in the next few days. In the meantime though, in case you didn’t know, the inaugural Waterford Film Festival kicks off this week on Thursday, November 15th. Check out www.waterfordfilmfestival.com for information.