Actor and comic Aisling Bea is a Kildare woman, like myself. Unlike me – raised practically on the Dublin border – she's from Kildare Town in the heart of the county and is the daughter of retired jockey Helen O'Sullivan.
I sometimes ask myself if Kildare has much in the way of an identity apart from the horses and a deep affinity with processed meats and usually come away thinking “it does and it doesn’t”.
I had a similar response recently when someone asked me if Kildare has an accent. It does and it doesn’t. Some of us are fairly neutral with that very particular way of saying a clipped “neow” instead of now and “ceow” instead of cow.
I have a friend who's practically in Wicklow with a Kildare Eircode who calls a horse a "hearse" and a hearse a "hearse" and can hear a distinct difference between the two.
I cannot understand getting twisted knickers over a working actor taking on a role and then speaking in a voice that matches that character's description
Aisling Bea has a soft Kildare accent. A lovely one. She has the soft Irish T that turns but into “bush” and water into “wawsher”. She has an elongated “oh” that drops an interval at the end of the emphatic “no” used to great effect in her excellent Channel 4 show This Way Up.
She kept her accent too when starring beside Paul Rudd in Netflix's Living with Yourself and when playing BBC executive Claudia Rosencrantz in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire miniseries Quiz.
When the trailer for one of Bea’s most recent roles dropped recently though she was all hard Ts and pronouncing it “mathuh” and not “mudder” (mother, that is). She plays the matriarch in Disney’s reboot of Home Alone, due out this Christmas, and does it with a convincing generic English accent.
Quite the role for the gal from Big Naas Ball country!
However, people were displeased. Social media reacted with sentiments along the lines of “what have they done with Aisling Bea’s accent?” and semi-joked that it was “offensive” and discombobulating.
I can understand the element of pride in hearing an Irish accent in a non-Irish setting. I can understand that Bea's lilt is often integral to her comic delivery and that she is a prominent representative of Ireland in the entertainment industry. However, I cannot understand getting twisted knickers over a working actor taking on a role and then speaking in a voice that matches that character's description.
Bea playing an English woman is not representative of “800 years” or the popular meme which accuses the Brits of being “at it again”. I mean, if they started claiming her as British then maybe we would need to revisit the subject.
We love that Ireland has an accent that's so difficult to replicate and then expect foreign actors to produce a perfect brogue or risk offending us gravely
As she said herself in an Instagram post addressing the issue, "It's because the character's English. She's from England and if she was from England and she spoke with an Irish accent then that would be quite strange."
Saoirse Ronan has the opposite problem. When she appears "as herself" on talk shows and in interviews she's accused of putting on her accent, of having a "fake Dublin" twang or an "Oirish schtick" despite the fact that she … is Irish. Ronan has a fairly broad traditional Dublin accent. She was born to Irish parents (both Dubs) in New York, moved to Carlow as a toddler and then to Howth when she was in her teens. She's moved all over the world for work and has portrayed characters with a range of accents. I would say the rise and fall of her natural delivery perfectly reflects her 27 years on earth. What on earth would she have to gain from putting it on?
The hypocritical obsession with our accent has to relent. You’re damned if you do (Saoirse) and you’re damned if you don’t (Aisling). Young people are routinely damned for the mid-Atlanticisation of their accents, a product no doubt of growing up with US media and exposure to apps like TikTok.
I have friends whose children say "garbage" or "trash" despite both parents coming of age with Glenroe and Aslan. They watch Netflix, their friends watch Netflix and accents and linguistics change according to environment and zeitgeist and trends. It's the children with the more neutral accents who are more susceptible too. I'd be hard pushed to believe that anyone who grew up on the same road as Love Island star and Longford legend Maura Higgins could ever get away with a convincing LA twang.
We love that Ireland has an accent that's so difficult to replicate and then expect foreign actors to produce a perfect brogue or risk offending us gravely. We should welcome all the hamfisted attempts, they've given us some of our greatest comic moments – Tom Cruise roaring "Tell me you like me hat, Shannon" in Far and Away anyone? We obsessed over the accents in Wild Mountain Thyme when they were the least problematic thing about a movie that was quite simply bonkers.
Let’s be proud of Saoirse, proud of Aisling and proud when any one of us manages to order a water in America first time round.