Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: 'Nows or nose' - BBC pronunciation of Sandyknowes drives me crazy

Ulster-Scots names are part of our rich cultural heritage and we are all better off as a result. By Nelson McCausland

Former Prime Minister Terence O’Neill, an Ahoghill native
Former Prime Minister Terence O’Neill, an Ahoghill native
Robert Burns
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

This week I am turning away from politics, Westminster, Brussels, borders, Barnier and Brexit and turning instead to a local cultural travesty... and it is all about the name of a roundabout.

There was some comment last week on social media about how Northern Ireland radio presenters reading the traffic updates pronounce — or sometimes mispronounce — the name of the Sandyknowes roundabout on the M2.

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It is a motorway junction, indeed one of the busiest junctions in Northern Ireland, and so it gets mentioned fairly often.

Presenters don’t have a problem with the first syllable, but some of them really do have a problem with the second, and that is what caused one listener to take to Facebook.

That second syllable should be pronounced “nows”, but some presenters seem to think that it should be pronounced “nose”. They are wrong. That’s what happened last week and that’s what irritated a number of listeners.

The second syllable “knowe” is a Scots and Ulster-Scots word for “small hill” and, so, “sandy knowe” means “small, sandy hill”.

Before the motorway was built the general area was known as “the Sandyknowes” and the name described the area.

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Many presenters do pronounce it properly, but some don’t, and I have to confess that I, too, find it annoying. Very annoying.

Judging by some of the social media comments last week so do others, with one person observing: “It drives me nuts.”

Now, radio presenters aren’t the only culprits as regards the mispronunciation of Sandyknowes. There is a website — — which provides guidance on pronunciation for almost anything you could imagine and even it manages to get it wrong in all three audio clips.

The word “knowe” also occurs in north Belfast in the place name “Fairyknowe”, which is beside the M2 in the Whitewell area. In folklore such hills were often associated with fairies and hence that particular name which, like Sandyknowes, is found in Scotland as well as Ulster.

Of course, those are only two of the Ulster-Scots place names in that area. There is a White Brae above Ligoniel and nearby there is a Flush Road as well as Flush River.

Ulster-Scots names also occur in other areas and there is a Flush Bend on the Springfield Road in west Belfast (the Ulster-Scots word “flush” means “boggy ground”).

Mispronunciation of place names is nothing new and is not restricted to Ulster-Scots names.

Back in the days when Terence O’Neill was Prime Minister we used to smile at the efforts of some English and international newsreaders to pronounce his home village of Ahoghill. There were many who pronounced it as “a hog hill” and couldn’t manage the guttural “gh” sound of Ahoghill.

At first we smiled, but then it became irritating and, eventually, it was downright annoying.

Thankfully, our local presenters did not inflict that travesty on listeners and viewers, and I suspect Scottish newsreaders also managed to get it right.

Here in Ulster we have three main linguistic and cultural traditions and they are all part of our cultural wealth. Indeed, such cultural wealth is increasingly important in a world that is becoming more globalist and globalised.

The Ulster-Scots tradition that finds expression in names such as Sandyknowes and Flush Road is very much alive and we are all the better and the richer for that.

I had the privilege of attending and then viewing the Burns’ Night celebration which was broadcast by the BBC in both Ulster and Scotland, with performers from both sides of “the narrow sea”.

I also had the privilege of attending another Burns celebration in Kilkeel. This event is now well-established in the cultural calendar of the Kingdom of Mourne and the song, dance, poetry and music, all by local performers, were excellent.

So, perhaps someone in the BBC will read this and have a word in the right quarters and perhaps we will see an end to the misnaming of that roundabout.

It’s pronounced “Sandy-nows” — not “Sandy-nose”.

Belfast Telegraph


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