Ireland’s disdain for the Irish with English accents

By on April 30, 2013
Irish accent

“If you have a London accent you’re in for less of a welcome in Ireland”

YOU can look, feel and be Irish — but if your accent is English, you may well find yourself on the receiving end of hostility when claiming your heritage in Ireland.

I have a west London accent and my last experience of this was in a Dublin pub in Swords, where a family friend linked me to the lady who lives in Buckingham Palace.

Some of his fellow Dubs told him to stop being an eejit. I simply smiled, but it’s safe to say we didn’t exchange Christmas cards.

Curious to find out if other second-generation Irish had experienced similar, I spoke to a cross section of the Irish community in Britain and discovered I wasn’t alone.

And not only that — but it appears that if you have a London accent you’re in for less of a welcome in Ireland than if you’re a Northerner.

Why is this? The most obvious reason is that some Irish people view a southern English accent as being synonymous with the British establishment.

Politicians, news readers, James Bond — they all speak with that posh southern accent, while Cockneys crop up as British soldiers in old war films — just think of Michael Collins or The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

London, despite the hundreds of thousands of first and second-generation Irish living here, it is not really seen as an Irish city. Manchester on the other hand represents Manchester United — the most supported team in Ireland, with a history of Irish players.

Manchester also gave the world Noel and Liam Gallagher, the singing sons of Irish parents. And I don’t recall my gran ever missing an episode of Coronation Street either.

Liverpool represents the second best supported club in Ireland as well as The Beatles, who had several members with strong Irish backgrounds — Paul McCartney even released the song, Give Ireland back to the Irish.

Holyhead, it too was the destination for many Irish people and everyone in Ireland has heard or sang a verse or two of The Leaving of Liverpool.

The Scottish accent is also well loved in Ireland — with celebrities like Billy Connolly and the obvious Glasgow Celtic links helping relations between the Irish and Scots. While not every second-generation Londoner has stories of negative experiences in Ireland, the majority I spoke with did.

Ricky Dunne, was born in south London, to parents from Tipperary and Limerick. The 36-year-old, who now lives in St Albans, founded iconic west London pirate radio stations ICE FM 88.4 and MAC 92.7FM.

“No question, my accent was the reason kids wanted to fight me when I used to go back to Ireland, especially in my early teenage years,” he says. “They used to call me a black b****** because of the black and tan thing but I didn’t want to fight anyone. My three children were born here, have English accents — but they are Irish.”

Mick Guilfoyle, grew up in Tooting. His parents are from Clare and Dublin. The 43-year-old carpet fitter is a former amateur boxer who coaches at the Fitzroy Lodge Boxing club in Lambeth.

Despite being able to look after himself inside the ring, he has had issues outside of it in Ireland, which he claims is because of his south London accent.

“The last time I got some stick for it was when I asked some fella for directions in Dublin — he told me to p*** off home,” he says. “It was a lot worse when I was younger though.”

Tommy O’Shaughnessy was born in Balham, London, but moved back to Dublin in 1972 when he was six, two months before Bloody Sunday. The 47-year-old site manager, who now lives in Hertfordshire, returned to London aged 18.

“Going back to Dublin in 1972 with an English accent didn’t exactly make life easy for me — especially in school,” he says. “There was a lot of name calling like Brit b******. My older brother got it even worse. There were some rough kids in my school which was near Finglas, it was intimidating, and it affected me, but I had to learn to defend myself. There were some other families who moved back from England and some of those lads were tough — we used to help each other out.”

He adds: “I developed a Dublin accent quite quickly but they never forgot that when I moved back to Dublin I had an English one.”

Martin Joyce, 61, was raised in a traditional Irish family who moved from Crawley in south London in the 1950s. The Millwall fan, who now lives in New Cross, says he has been lucky not to have experienced any negativity regarding his Irish roots.

“My accent was never an issue in Ireland,” he says. “My father is from Mayo and mum from Connemara in Galway — where I now have a house. When we moved to Crawley from Streatham I was six and didn’t have to make any friends — I was surrounded by relatives.

“My family worked in construction — the Joyces and O’Briens and they got everyone over from Ireland. Everyone was speaking in Irish — that was very normal for me growing up. I had a slight Irish brogue going on with certain words. I think the way they spoke did influence my decision to become an English teacher — it was poetic and witty.”

Louise Keegan, 33, runs The Keegan Academy of Irish Dance in Manchester and has a similar story. Her Mancunian accent always went down well, and continues to be met warmly, on trips back to Ireland.

“My mum is from Leitrim and dad is Roscommon. My cousins really liked my accent when we were young — they used to try and imitate it,” she says. “I’ve never been called a plastic paddy — I would eat the head off anyone who did. Most Irish people want to talk about Manchester United when they hear I’m from Manchester.”

Alan Keegan, Louise’s uncle, is the match day announcer for Manchester United. His accent has played a key role in having a career in broadcasting. “I started out doing an Irish radio show in Manchester and it was never an issue me having a Mancunian accent presenting a show for the Irish community,” he says.

“My siblings were born in Ireland, I wasn’t, but I’ve never been called a plastic paddy. I got on very well with Irish players like Roy Keane, Dennis Irwin and John O’Shea. Roy’s children would have very strong Mancunian accents.”

Richard Grimes, from Birmingham, owns Grimes Finishing Ltd, and works as an actor. “My dad is from Mayo, mum is Donegal. When I started school in Birmingham I had a Donegal accent because I was always with either my mum or her mum,” he says.

“I’m part of the furniture back in Westport. I have a house there now and never get called a plastic paddy. People hear my accent and ask if I know a friend or relative of theirs in Birmingham and the scary thing is nine times out of 10, I do!”

Liam Murphy, 24, is an IT technician, at a school in his native Birmingham. He says he’s always felt welcome back in Ireland. “My mum’s side of the family are Mayo, and my dad’s side are from Roscommon,” he says. “My accent has never been an issue when I’ve been back in Ireland. I always feel welcome and one day I would like to live over there.”

John Connell from Scotland found his accent made him feel right at home when he worked in Belfast. The 52-yearold electrician from Kirkcaldy was raised in a traditional Irish family who moved to Scotland in the 1950s. “I never got any bother for my Scottish accent when I worked in Belfast,” he says. “I think it’s accepted better in Ireland than an English one.”

Irish Post

About Rob Brennan

The Irish Post is the biggest-selling weekly newspaper for the Irish in Britain and the voice of the Irish community since 1970. Follow the Irish Post on Twitter @theirishpost

13 Comments

  1. Mark Hillary

    April 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I’m the same, Irish family moved to England and I was born near London in Surrey, but I’ve never experienced any problems when back in Ireland. Family have always been welcoming and I guess other Irish have just assumed I’m a foreigner without any family connection. After living in Asia, the USA, and now in South America, I think some people would say I don’t sound very English any longer anyway!

  2. D.Murray

    May 1, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    This article pretty much hits the nail on the head, the upper class RP English accent is perceived as Tory and the voice of the British establishment, the London / Estuary English accent is always the one attributed to moronic Black and Tans in Films, British Soldiers in The North or Football Hooligans therefore it is seen as anathema and the opposite of all things Irish, hence Declan O’Reilly from Woking with an Irish passport and parentage is rejected and disdained yet someone from the North of England or Scotland even with no Irish connections is seen as ‘closer to home’ and ‘one of us’ in terms of wit and humour.

    Having said all that, nothing is as nauseating as the uber paddy with his exaggerated accent and sense of authenticity blowing their own trumpets about where they they were born, something which no human that’s walked the earth has ever decided.

  3. Guy Le Jeune

    May 1, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Interesting piece. I was born in England. Irish father, English mother. I moved to Ireland 24 years ago. I have a flat English accent and on a couple of occasions I’ve had the ‘go back to where you come from’ comments. It’s kind of sad really seeing as this is my home, geographically and culturally.

  4. Dan Gleballs

    May 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    This subject is getting a bit tiresome to be honest. Why in the name of God were you so offended that someone linked you to the Queen (i find it a bit sad really that you cant even bring yourself to say ‘Queen’ in your article)? Its 2013 FFS. I’m like you, born in the London area to Irish parents; we are what we are, a part of Irish history. We dont need a seal of approval from anyone.

    • Rob Brennan

      May 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Interesting comments.

      Dan, I’ve no problem writing the word ‘Queen’. I walk past Bucks house quite often, but yet to be on the end of her wave.

      With The Irish Post being a family paper I opted not to write out the entire conversation I had at the pub in Dublin, but needless to say the feller didn’t mention my accent and the Queen in a manner which suggested he had much knowledge of Anglo Irish history…

      I was delighted the Queen visited Dublin and paid her respects to those who lost their lives.

      There is a minority who will always have an issue with an English accent and my response nowadays is… can you speak gaelic and what’s the story with that Man United jersey? :)

      • Eamon Ryan

        May 21, 2014 at 4:38 pm

        Everywhere, the most vociferous racists are often the ones with sub-conscious issues about their own nationality. They are a minority who can be safely ignored.
        Is the Queen German? Was De Valera American, Cuban or Irish, James Connolly a Scot or Thomas Clarke, English?
        If what you say matters; the accent you say it in is unimportant. Irish by choice has to mean more than Irish by accident of birth.

  5. Geraldine Cowan

    May 4, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Sadly it’s not just second generation Irish but we of the first generation, who had the audacity to leave the fair isle, are also seen as ‘foreign.’ The English accept me as Irish. Why can’t the Irish do the same? This ignorant attitude makes me feel very unwelcome in my own country. No one has the right to deprive me of my nationality.

  6. HELEN RUTTER

    May 19, 2013 at 7:00 am

    This made me laugh out loud! Born a London half-breed, I have a perfect BBC accent (can do good cockney if required) and teach English in rural Ireland – most of my classes spend considerable time trying to perfect their English accents – tis great craic! However, my UK family say I have ‘gone native’ when they talk to me – so my accent is a complete mish-mash these days, but that is good, and how language develops!
    Helen

  7. Ellen Behrens

    June 4, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Dear Rob, I was interested and also quite sad to read your article. I was born in London of an Irish mother and a German refugee father – and yes I do speak with something like a Home Counties accent with a bit of London thrown in. I am now in my 60′s and have been visiting Ireland since a child. But is is only comparatively recently that I have noticed a certain amount of not being accepted because of my accent – and funnily enough by my own relatives who all used to accept me when we were kids and young people. I’m repeatedly being told the English thing is not an issue – and then they make these weird remarks which indicate quite clearly that it IS an issue. I have found myself switching to an Irish accent when I’m there – but I shouldn’t really have to do that, I feel – I mean I am family after all. Maybe the best plan is just not to go there. Or maybe my relatives are just sad people, or have become so (maybe since the demise of the Celtic Tiger!)

  8. Cibess

    July 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Just stumbled upon this. Very interesting. I am an American and was raised to think of myself as Irish Catholic first. We were a subculture. I found out in my twenties when I lived in Amsterdam and worked with Irish women that I was in no way Irish. Laughs on me. Be loyal to yourself. The people we meet in pubs are likely to be alcoholics who dislike everyone, themselves especially.

  9. Frances

    May 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Agree with Dan Gleballs in that I don’t need anyone’s – Irish or British – seal of approval, nor do I seek it. I’m London born to Irish parents and am immensely proud of both aspects of my origins. I have no hang-up with it and if other people do, then they’re pretty small-minded and not the kind I people I want to get to know.

  10. Hercules McGuire

    May 21, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Oh OK so these Bigots who think you have to be BORN in Ireland and have an Irish accent to be “Irish”…er…would you have called James Connolly and Jim Larkin “plastic paddies”? Both born in the UK and with an Edinburgh and scouse accent respectively. I was both born in Ireland and have an Irish accent but you don’t need EITHER to be 100% IRISH…

  11. London123

    May 29, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I was born in Ireland, have a lot of family in Ireland, but moved to England when I was young. Going back to Ireland, I have had people tell me to go back home, and in England I get called a plastic paddy.

    I find it odd, as Irish people come to England, to work or live, and they get no problems from anybody. But if I go over there, with my London accent, even though I was born there, I get problems.

    I don’t think I will be going back there anymore, a shame as I love Ireland, but the people are too stuck in the past and are to stupid to realise I am Irish when I am there.

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