Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland: Words of Wisdom

Christina Knight | July 13, 2017

During World War II, the US Government created several “Pocket Guides” to introduce American soldiers to the countries where they would be stationed. As depicted in the PBS Masterpiece miniseries My Mother and Other Strangers, Americans began arriving in Northern Ireland in early 1942 to work on an Army Air Force base roughly 20 miles west of the capital, Belfast. Even those with Irish heritage weren’t necessarily up to speed on Irish etiquette or the differences between the two Irelands (for one, Ireland was neutral during World War II). The US government-issued Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland covers everything from a brief history of the two Irelands, to “potheen,” the local moonshine whiskey, to slang words and the conversation topics and dance styles to expect in the local pubs. It’s a rather charmingly written guide. Some words of wisdom for our GIs are below.

Country Relations

“The Ulsterman will be tolerant about your ignorance of Ireland; it is only fair play to be tolerant about his ignorance of America. If you live in Buffalo and he inquires if you know his uncle in Los Angeles, don’t laugh at him—you’ll pull an equally bad boner about Ireland before the hours is out.” – Pg 27.

The above is from the “Difference in Language” section (pgs 25-27) in the Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland.


“Argument for its own sake is a Scotch-Irish specialty, and arguing politics might almost be called a national sport. The pub is the principal forum… A word of warning: Your place is on the sidelines.” – Pgs 23-25.

Read more in the “About Arguments” section in the Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland.


“Religion is a matter of public as well as private concern in Ulster and you’ll be wise not to talk about it. In America we ask, “Where do you come from?” In Ulster they ask, “What church do you belong to?” If the question is put to you, tell the truth and then change the subject.”

Read more in the section “The People – Their Customs and Manners” (pgs 11-23) in the Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland.


“In the country, dances are comparatively rare, and jive is unknown. Occasionally, however, you may find a rural frolic in progress. The Irish jigs and reels and the ‘valeta’—a square dance—are strenuous and sweaty fun.” – pg 29.

Find more cultural tips in the section called “The Girls” (pgs. 27-30) in the Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland.


Set in Northern Ireland in 1943, the miniseries My Mother and Other Strangers runs Sundays at 8pm from June 18 through July 16 on PBS.  Episodes stream for two weeks; thereafter they continue streaming exclusively for station members through THIRTEEN Passport. Learn more about the series in our British Telly Dish blog.