Wullie Drennan Blog
The Ballyhoo Song
If you weren't so Ballymena with yer Ballymoney
You'd get a Ballycastle for your Ballyholme
There's a ballyhoo near yer bally everywhere
Yer bally here and yer Ballyclare.
When you go for a danner in the north of Antrim
You can Ballybogie till yer Ballyrashane
Ballybogie, Ballintoy, Portbalintrae
Ballybogie down Giant's Causeway.
If yer Ballyholme is in the County down
You will Ballynoe all the ballyhoo
When ye meet yer man the Ballywalter
You will Ballyhay a Ballylesson.
Have you ever been to the bally Bilfawst
Did you ever Ballyhackamore
Did you meet yer man the Ballymurphy
Or have you never even Ballybeen.
If ye cannae Ballycarry ye'd better Ballyhide
Cannae go Ballysloe you might never Ballymore
It's Ballyduff if you Ballybrack
When you're Ballyknockan yer Ballybunion.
In 2018 I was guiding and entertaining a group of hikers who were spending a week walking the hills and coastline of County Antrim. This was organised by Freewheeling Adventures of Nova Scotia. It was their first time in Northern Ireland and they had lots of questions to ask the natives about Northern Irish peculiarities.
One such question was, “ why are so many places were called bally something and what does that mean.”? I explained bally was an old Irish Gaelic word for settlement and literally means town of, townland of or home of. I recited the apparently nonsensical line I heard as a child: “If you weren't so Ballymena with your Ballymoney ye'd get a Ballycastle for yer Ballyholme”.
I tried to explain that in this case the word bally could also mean anything you wanted it to mean, or nothing at all, and that in modern English ballyhoo refers to a lot of nonsense or fuss.
The Canadian hikers didn't really understand the point of it all but nevertheless they were intrigued enough to create a wee song around it all. They came up with a few fun lines and the Freewheeling tour guide, Adrian House, set it to music. Adrian happened to be a very accomplished singer -songwriter from Newfoundland.
I later developed the idea into The Ballyhoo Song by adding a few verses and expanding the melody.The end-result is a comprehensive story that addresses the complexity of language in Northern Ireland. There is Old English. Modern English, Irish Gaelic, Ulster Scots and local variations of all those forms of speech. There is also dialect, slang and rhyme that hints at alternative meaning.
It all does make some sort of sense, to me, and contains some profound insight within. Although I accept that only people in Northern Ireland who are familiar with all the various forms of local language will totally get it straight away. Northern Ireland is full of folk who are multi lingual and they don't even know it.
The place names are mostly from counties Antrim and Down, or Belfast – pronounced Bilfawst in Ulster Scots. In the last verse however I threw in a few colourful ballys from other parts of Ireland to allow more depth of meaning for the story.
The initial verse (chorus) actually refers to the fact that the people of the Ballymena area are considered to be thrifty with their money as a result of their historic Scottish connection. This has been often exaggerated to suggest that Ballymena folk are tight with their money, stingy and even greedy to the point of being mean. Of course there is absolutely no justification for this as Ballymena folk are actually very generous and kind by nature. What it is: if you are from Ballymena you have naturally inherited a profound comprehension of fiscal management - and that is something completely different. It has been said that Ballymena children learn to count before they can walk. Of course this is just nonsense: a load of ballyhoo, but is probably related to spurious tales of children not been given shoes and socks until they were able to count all their toes.
A few notes for those who are not Northern Irish multilinguists.
When a place name starts with with bally it has a capital B. When bally does not have a capital B it refers to something else. I hope that is clear.
Ballybilfawst is the same place as Belfast. It's just pronounced different.
In Northern Irish lingo the expression “yer man” does not necessarily mean that the the man being referred to is your man.
This photo above shows some of the team who initiated the Ballyhoo Song - walking over a bridge somewhere between Ballycastle and Ballintoy. Photo by Heather.