Oatmeal and Buttermilk

A Summer Drink in Ballinagree

There was a delightfully cool and refreshing oatmeal and buttermilk drink I remember being given to me on warm summer days after the war by my grandmother (Mrs. Mary Manning ‒ born 'Mary Ring' ‒ she died in December 1948, aged 64) in Ballinagree, County Cork.

I have learned that it a similar drink was also known in rural Cardiganshire in the 1930s where it was called llith (a Welsh word meaning 'mash').

I was very impressed to find that in Cardiganshire, jut as in Ballinagree, it was not drunk from a cup but from a bowl.

I remember now that my grandmother's glazed pottery bowl from which, in wonder, I drank my oatmeal and buttermilk, was creamy white in colour...

Now, (late August 2004) as the memories come flooding back, I have begun to add oatmeal to my yoghurt. (Not really the same, you know, but it does help a bit to refill the emptying heart).

In those days it does indeed seem that almost every farmhouse in Ireland (and in Wales as well, I feel sure) had its churn for making butter from cream. Fresh buttermilk, with its uniquely lovely silky smooth taste, was available only on the day of the churning and for a very few days after that. In the summer heat of Ballinagree it soon turned sour and undrinkable. Then it was used to make wonderful soda bread. As a matter of fact it wasn't called 'bread' at all ‒ 'bread' you got from the shop. It was 'brown cake' or 'white cake' if it had no sugar in it, 'sweet cake' or even 'cakey Mammy' if it did.

Then we'd all say: "Neam, neam!" (sounds like: "N'yam, n'yam!"), our mother's way of saying "Yum, yum!" She also knew many other Irish words.

Afterthought (late December 2004). On 26 December I had a meal with a friend. Eberhart is from Stuttgart and drives a taxi in Cardiff. Pleased with the food I said, "Neam! Neam!" and, on being asked, explained why I had used it.
Eberhart mentioned a German expression, "Lecker schmecker!" Then, a few moments later, it came to him: 'In Germany some older people also say,"Nam, nam!" ' Eberhart's pronounciation would have it rhyming with "pam, pam!".

I was, and remain flabbergasted. How did my mother come to be using almost the same expression (though her pronunciation was unmistakeably Gaelicised). Does anyone have an explanation? Did the Palatines who came to County Limerick from the Rhineland in the early 18th century bring that German expression with them?

Or was it brought to Macroom, only six miles from Ballinagree, by Art O'Leary (Airt Ó Laoghaire), who as one of Ireland's 'Wild Geese' had served in the Austrian Army?

By Barry Tobin

The Green Dragon No 12

Eulogy at my Mother's Funeral

Old Words my Parents Knew

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