One of our most controversial stories of all time, this explores how people feel about the Irish accent.
Is the Irish accent alluring when it comes to dating, or is it totally off-putting?
Last week my brother visited New York from Ireland. Only 21 and fresh out of DCU, he’s young for a graduate but looks about 35.
Tall, scrawny and bearded, he blended in effortlessly with the intentionally bedraggled masses of Bushwick, sporting plaid shirts and desert boots that were probably bought recently but had been aggressively distressed to look worn and “salvaged.”
With only three years between us we have always been close friends, so I didn’t hesitate to bring him along to our weekend antics and introduce him to our loose, wild nightlife. (Of course, without visitors I’m usually home by 10 p.m. watching re-runs of Dawson’s Creek – but I couldn’t risk seeming so incredibly uncool next to my younger bro).
While gallivanting around a typical dive bar, marveling at the free-pours and the novelty $5 “Beer & Shot” combo, we stumbled upon another group of Irish folk who we hadn’t met before (which almost never happens).
The usual rigmarole ensues. “Are you from Dublin?” met with, “Waterford – born, bread and buttered!” followed by a semi-amused/semi-disappointed, “Oh, the country…”
Outside, one of the girls struck up a slurred conversation with me. Bored, I turned to leave before she grabbed my arm and said, “By the way, your brother’s hot. I’m going to hit on him.”
Gagging into my vodka-soda, a nearby gaggle of American girls chimed in with, “Yes, oh my god, that accent.”
Now, bear in mind, the Irish accent is one thing – and thanks to the likes of Colin Farrell and Michael Fassbender, it is up there as one of the most sought after in the world alongside Scottish and Welsh. (It seems that women want to find men that are almost impossible to understand.) However, the Waterford accent is no pretty thing.
Age three, sitting on the newly carpeted floor of our small townhouse, frantically un-capping Crayola pens before using them as weapons against the pool of paper surrounding me, my dad is filming a birthday party home-video. (My dad, by the way, was born and raised in London).
“Rachie, what have you got there?” he asks affectionately.
Looking up at the camera like an omen child with a face destroyed by various shades of ink, I announce “Deyr maahr-kers dah!”
God only knows where I had picked up this adorable/terrifying gypsy accent, but I was swiftly put in elocution lessons for the next 15 years. My brother, on the other hand, was not.
On several occasions throughout our city wanderings, waitresses, baristas and bartenders alike had to ask my brother to repeat himself – not once, but occasionally four or five times. There were even times when my Irish friends here couldn’t understand him.
I could see that look on their faces, like when an oddball aunt or a senile grandmother says something completely off the wall so you opt for a smile-and-nod combination so as to avoid conflict or offense. Even I had to ask him to slow down sometimes. His own sister.
I have concluded that it is a year spent in America that has estranged us from the raw beauty of the Irish accent. I used to speak fast and low, running words into each other and tumbling over my own mouth as I rushed to get sentences out – what my mother would call “muttering.”
My accent was always neutral (a preferred term to “posh” – thank you, Lamda) and now I wonder why the colloquial twang was so aggressively beaten out of me (figuratively, not literally.) Why would anyone want to sound less Irish?
People now mistake me for English, Australian or even American, and a lot of my friends from Dublin encounter similar issues. Most of these Dublin girls loathe the notorious “D4” accent, and even among that demographic prefer Irish guys to have a more “Irish” accent than the upper middle-class Tiger Cubs who say things like “Rosyh, I’m awf for a point.”
However, as a quasi-country lass, when I first arrived here, the speed of my speech often made it difficult for people to understand me. My friends and I have agreed – whether from inside or outside The Pale it is crucial to slow down and annunciate each syllable. Otherwise, it just gets embarrassing for everyone involved as you continue to repeat yourself, and they continue to feel like an ass for asking you to do so.
So is this why toddlers like me are put into elocution classes before they can even string a sentence together? And if what remains is still so incomprehensible, why is it so attractive?
Asking around, the general consensus among American men and women is that the accent is “exotic.”
Really? I can’t help but think back to that Guinness ad where an attractive woman meets an even more attractive man and they wordlessly exchange numbers before he nips outside to leave an excruciatingly incomprehensible voicemail in a squalling Cork accent. “Hai, kid! It’s me, the guy from the bar!”
Perhaps there is something wild and untamed about it that suggests ferocity, individuality and cultural flare. Something foreign which is inherently exotic -- not in the sense of tropics and palm trees but something raw and unknown, with an indefinable edge.
I’m barely even convincing myself. I realize I fall into the category of biased with an Irish beau at home, but there is something inherently gruff yet gentle about the voice of an Irish man.
Meanwhile, my eternally single friend announced last weekend that she had met the most beautiful man in the world but was turned off as soon as he opened his mouth to speak and phrased a statement in the tone of a question: “I just, like, can’t right now?”
Thinking back to that moment last weekend where four women, Irish and American alike, simultaneously felt it appropriate to inform me of their attraction to my brother, I wonder if they even understood a single word he was saying.
Readers, please share your experiences of the colorful variations of the Irish accent – the thicker the better?
* Originally published September 2014.