Northern Ireland news

'Culchie' could be banned from Scrabble competitions

Comedian Conor Grimes, who describes himself as a 'culchie'

FOR many people, the word 'culchie' is seen as as badge of honour - a term used to describe those who live in the country.

Some claim to be "culchie and proud", while others have even competed to win the title of Ireland’s finest culchie.

But the use of the word by players of a popular boardgame could soon be at an end.

US competition organisers of Scrabble are discussing banning the use of the word in professional tournaments in America.

It says it is among hundreds of slurs and other words it believes should be banished for use by competitors. The decision is due after weeks of anti-racism protests in the US and around the world.

The North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) will vote to remove 226 "offensive" words from its official lexicon.

The words have been separated into seven categories - slur, anatomical, political, profane, prurient, scatological and vulgar.

NASPA says culchie is a pejorative term for someone from rural Ireland and has included the word in the slurs category as well as culchies, culchier, and culchiest.

In a letter to its advisory board, John Chew from NASPA explained the reasons for considering banning the words.

"I am thinking specifically of those words which are used primarily as slurs: that is, words that are used to label someone as being of less value than the speaker based on some innate trait such as gender, race or sexual orientation - not words that are used to cause offence on scatological, prurient, profane or other grounds," he said.

"When we play a slur, we are declaring that our desire to score points in a word game is of more value to us than the slur's broader function as a way to oppress a group of people.

"I don't think that this is the time for us to be contributing divisively to the world's problems."

If the vote is passed, it is expected that officials who govern Scrabble tournaments in Britain will hold discussions about the issue. The online version of the game is also due to be impacted.

On an island where a festival was regularly organised to preserve the culchie honour, the vote by Scrabble officials has raised humourous debate.

For Co Tyrone comedian Conor Grimes, who proudly calls himself a culchie, it is step too far.

Comedian Conor Grimes, who describes himself as a 'culchie'

Regularly portraying culchie characters on stage with Alan McKee, he said "it's not even near the knuckle, it's not even in that domain".

"It's not derrogatory or offensive at all. Alan McKee and I in our new show, The Real Rules of Gaelic which we just premiered prior to lockdown, it centres on two culchies, two Tyrone fans heading to Clones for the Ulster final.

"They have the bootcut jeans, brown boots and denim shirts - all the things you would expect and the title of the sketch is, the culchie.

"We have found that the vast majority of our shows are in the country, where people laugh out louder than they do in Belfast.

"The culchies aren't offended, so why would anybody be offended?

"I am a culchie, I live in Tyrone in a wee village where there's that fresh countryside smell - it just makes me feel like I'm at home.

"It's not a term I find offensive at all."

Aodhán Connolly from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has similar views on the use of the word.

Originally from the townland of Annakera, near Portadown, he said he was "culchie and proud".

"It's very strange that culchie should be construed as a derogatory term," he said.

"I'm a culchie and for me it's a badge of honour and pride.

"For me you can definitely take the boy out of the country, but not the country out of the boy."

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