How the Irish speak

 

A chara, – If Prof Raymond Hickey is accurately quoted in Hugh Linehan’s article entitled “How the Irish, Like, Speak Now” (Weekend Review, February 20th), he is surely mistaken. Prof Hickey is reported as saying “listening now to recordings of James Joyce and Sean O’Casey, it’s extraordinary how English they sounded”.

But they did not sound English at all. Both speak with distinctive but cultivated Dublin accents, and though their cultural and educational backgrounds differed to some extent, they sounded not too dissimilar in the variety of English they used.

To judge for themselves, readers can listen to the online Sylvia Beach (1924) and CK Ogden (1929) recordings of Joyce reading from Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, and to the Cyril Cusack Productions’ recording for radio of Juno and the Paycock (1955), to which O’Casey contributed an introduction.

In the passage from Finnegans Wake, Joyce affects a washerwoman’s accent in which some people detect an east or north Cork country type of speech, slow, deliberate and heavily articulated. His father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was a Corkman.

As regards the derivation of what I have termed a cultivated Dublin accent, I would posit that certain elements were inherited from generations of middle-class Dubliners.

But it is likely that the writers also modelled their speech patterns, especially for purpose of the recordings, on the speech of their educational and clerical mentors who at that time, for the most part, spoke a very proper but very Irish type of English. – Yours, etc,

Dr LIAM P Ó MURCHÚ,

Department of Modern Irish,

University College Cork.