After I gave my first lecture to the crowd at PRONI, a woman came up to me and said, ‘Are you sure you’re pronouncing “Kilwaughter” correctly?’ Of course, I’d never even thought that there could be different ways of pronouncing it. I had always heard my mom and gran pronounce it like ‘kil-water’, with the ‘w’ being sounded. Of course, my six year old son thinks it must, therefore, be a very cool place because it is ‘that place, mamma, where they kill water!’
But the woman’s comments got me to thinking, that ‘augh’ in Irish place names is often sounded, isn’t it? As in ‘Augher’, for instance. And in those cases, it is pronounced with the hard ‘gh’ sound, as in ‘lough’ or ‘cough’. So maybe it is actually pronounced ‘kil-w-augh-ter’. But when I put this to her, she said that the way she had heard it pronounced was without the ‘w’, like ‘kil-aughter’.
Of course, I know what Bill Macafee would do. He would head off there and just ask people what they called it. But I’m a bit shy, what with my big Canadian accent, and the time when I did wander around, there was no one about to ask, really. Someone came up to me at the Poverty lecture and said he worked with a couple of guys from Kilwaughter, and he thought they pronounced it the way my gran had: ‘kil-water’.
Of course, for the local historian, this whole debate raises that whole idea of a place that exists on a page, or in a photograph (which it all it has ever done for me for my whole life) and one that exists in the spoken word of the people who actually live there. It reminded me of my home town (Windsor, Ontario) which was originally settled by French immigrants. Many of the streets take the names of these early settlers, and over the years, the pronunciation by locals has been twisted almost beyond recognition. Thus, ‘Pierre Street’ is, to a Windsorite, ‘Pirrie Street’. What is also does is to raise the whole question of ‘right’ pronunciation. Is there such a thing? Who’s to say that the way folk pronounce Kilwaughter now is the way they did a century ago? Maybe people on the left-hand side of the parish always pronounced it one way, and those on the right another? If no one ever wrote these things down, and there’s no one left to ask, then it’s a question no one can answer.
I’m not sure if a local historian’s work would be any less accurate if they never discovered these odd disconnects between the printed sources and oral tradition and custom. I know from my recent experience, though, that it can be pretty embarrassing!
If anyone from Kilwaughter ever finds their way to this blog, please do post the ‘right’ pronunciation and help me avoid sounding like the outsider that I so obviously am.