'That's a watery sun' — and other things you'll only understand if you were born in the country

There are phrases and traditions from down the country which may seem otherworldly to those not in the know. Here we explain what some of them mean


Sometimes I let my mask slip.

The carefully curated charade I created falls to pieces as word vomit forms in my gullet. I know the exact moment when it happens. The words aren't even out of my gob when the mouth of the person opposite me drops open and their forehead and eyebrows do a conga line into dismay.

The wall I have built is to protect myself from saying the wrong thing. From saying too much about the often weird traditions and sayings us people outside the Pale grew up with.

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When the cracks show and the first light of the truth begins to shine through, my heart sinks. Not because I feel offended or like a social pariah. No, it's because I will spend an hour explaining the history behind the term "watery sun" and the person will still look traumatised by the end of it.

An even playing field

The culchies versus the jackeens narrative which has been embedded in us all since Jesus was born is one that annoys me from time to time.

Are we not all on an even playing field?

Sure don't we all have motorways now and aren't we all connected by the common threads of Lidl and Aldi?

Well, we aren't. Yesterday, I heard someone utter the words "everyone outside of Dublin is a farmer".

I was immediately transported back 50 years and I thought seriously about taking out my pike, eating some grass and dancing a slip jig around a bale of silage in Stoneybatter for the pagan gods.

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Just to prove a point.

That's cat

The first instance happened as I began my first office job in Dublin when I would say "that's cat" after anything that irked me or was just plain awful.

For example: "Did you hear about Gywneth Paltrow's vagina candle?"

"Ya, I did. Jesus. That's cat."

I quickly realised nobody knew why I was randomly shouting about a house pet with such fury that I could light Gywneth's candle without a match.

Thankfully, Michael Fassbender confirmed it as truth in a Vanity Fair video and next year it will be an official word in the Oxford Dictionary.

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Stations

When I talk about stations, I don't mean Heuston or Connolly. Nor do I mean the stations of the cross.

I mean a station.

As in, mass in a house.

My ignorance led me to believe everyone in Ireland had experienced one in their lifetime but the moment I let the curtain drop, the faces around me contorted.

In the time of Penal Laws when public mass was forbidden, it was often celebrated in private homes. Friends and neighbours were invited and copious amounts of tea was consumed afterwards.

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I have experienced four to five of these stations in my lifetime. Those in the parish would take turns, meaning the time for your house to welcome the Lord would always come around.

As I have grown older I have uncovered the truth behind these stations.

I realised 'a station' was the Catholic euphemism for 'a session'.

Coppers and Cafe En Seine put together wouldn't hold as much alcohol as a station did. It was an excuse for neighbours and friends to come together and get sloshed while ringing a bell and eating holy bread.

Secondly, it was the only time the literal fear of God filled my mother. The station was such an enormous privilege that she would get a new kitchen fitted.

Or if the jitters were particularly bad, a new extension built Dermot Bannon-style.

The postman

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My co-workers watched in horror as I explained the commonality and banality of the postman entering people's houses to give them their post in Kerry.

My father was a postman for over 30 years and it was routine for him to be invited in for tea and cake while on his travels.

On his route, he knew everyone's name and their background story with the prowess of a CIA agent.

If asked, I could tell you the name of every postman or woman in the North Kerry area.

You see, the post in rural Ireland isn't just a service.

Pre-Covid-19, it was a way of life.

A watery sun

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And finally, the most bizarre phrase I have ever professed. Even the most rural of dwellers look at me like I have grown a third head as I squint at the glare of the golden sun and sputter "that's a watery sun".

A watery sun isn't a normal sun. Though it's shining bright, the sun is playing a trick on you. Within 40 minutes the heavens will burst and you will be soaked to the skin.

Then I will be the one laughing because I warned you that the sun was watery but you didn't listen.

I hear "that's a watery sun" from one of my parents at least once a week and each time, they are right.

Mét Éireann and Evelyn Cusack have missed the boat on this one I feel.

If they just said "there'll be a chance of a watery sun" we would know to batten down the hatches and bring an umbrella.

There would be no need for that high pressure and low-pressure nonsense.

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The mask

As quickly as my mask falls, I put it right back up. Some secrets must never be spoken of. Once their magic is revealed, all is lost and the jackeens will know the truth.

We must protect what we know. Like how when someone is particularly drunk or tired we say "they are absolutely Tom Toasted".

However, if I was to explain that to you we would be here for two hours.

And you, dear reader, would still be traumatised.

Image: Vogue Paris shoot from August 2018 issue 


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