As it’s Saint Patrick’s day, there have been a number of “worst Irish Accents on film articles floating around. I like to remain relatively positive here, so instead of putting out another list eviscerating Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, I’d like to counter these hatchet jobs with a list of the best Irish accents on film.
Its very easy to criticize actors doing Irish Accents. Ireland is an island with just over six million people, and sometimes it seems there are twice as many accents. An actor studying an Irish accent is likely to get some very unreliable feedback.
With that in mind, this is a list of my favorite Irish accents in cinema. Sometimes I single out individual actors, other times I refer to the whole movie. Some of these accents are authentic (spoken by actual locals), other times pitch-perfect simulations. But they are all great examples of the diversity of Irish speech. I’ve included some clips for your perusal.*
1.) The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
Specific Accent: County Cork
Filmmaker Ken Loach makes it his policy to only hire actors who are actually from the regions where he sets his films. That means the accents in this lush drama set in Civil War-era Cork are 100% authentic. It’s a great opportunity to listen to one of the most colorful, bizarre and beautiful accents of the English language.
Choice Clip: This extended trailer gives some good snippets of the Cork accent.
2.) Daniel Day-Lewis, In the Name of the Father (1993)
Specific Accent: Belfast
Many people have said this is the greatest dialect work by an actor captured on film. I can’t disagree. The accent is authentic enough that it’s perhaps the only fake accent I recommend actors listen to for research. Day-Lewis masters such precise nuances of the Belfast brogue that it boggles my mind to consider the work it took to acquire it.
Choice Clip: This tour de force scene, probably one of the greatest monologues in film.
3.) Intermission (2003)
Specific Accent: Dublin
The actors in this film are a mix of local Dubliners and actors from elsewhere, so the level of authenticity varies. But I can think of few films that capture the language of a city better. From the opening monologue (delivered by Colin Farrell in the thickest of brogues), I was hooked.
Choice Clip: This shocking (but hilarious) opening monologue.
4.) Bloody Sunday (2002)
Specific Accent: Derry
This film, about the pivotal Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, Northern Ireland, is packed with local actors and authentic accents. One of the great things about this film is it portrays how very different the English spoken by the residents of Derry was from the British soldiers who occupied the city. The accents give an idea of how much these two groups saw each other as foreigners, and how much this contributed to the tension.
Choice Clip: This trailer has many brief snippets of the Derry accent.
5.) Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine, In America (2003)
Specific Accent: Middle-Class Dublin
I love this tearjerker of a film, about a struggling family of Irish immigrants in New York City. British actors Morton and Considine prove that subtle dialect work is often the most effective. Employing gentle Dublin accents, they never let the accents get in the way. The lesson: you don’t need to sound like a leprechaun to be recognizably Irish.
Choice Clip: Another trailer, with a lot of clips of Morton and Considine (and the two adorable little girls who play their daughters).
I admit there have been many terrible Irish accents through the years, usually by misguided American movie stars demonstrating their “versatility.” But the really great Irish accents make up for it. Little evokes the beauty of the Emerald Isle more than the speech of the place.
Happy Saint Patrick’s day!
*My policy regarding online video clips is that I only embed videos that have been uploaded by creators or copyright holders. Since I can’t confirm the status of the clips above, I only provide links, not embedded video. If any of these links don’t work, let me know!
I have a (sort of) related question: Sometimes when watching BBC documentaries, a person speaking with an Irish accent will lose their ‘Irish brogue’ and sound almost completely American, at least to my native US English speaking ears. Is this something that is common with a specific Irish accent?
Great question! There are a number of reasons this might be the case. Some Irish celebrities do tend to “Yank it up” a bit. For example, you can find interviews with Van Morrison from the 1970s where he softened his Belfast accent to the point where he sounded nearly American (and this was only after recently moving to the states!). Interestingly, when he moved back to Ireland, the brogue came right back with him.
There are also some Irish actors who have spent so much time in the states that it’s watered down their accents considerably. Colm Meaney and Brian F. O’Byrne, for example, have both lived in America long enough that they only have very slight accents (although they can both slip right back into the strongest of accents at will).
But there is a third possible reason here, which is the rise of something termed “Supraregional Irish English.” It’s a type of non-regional Irish English that seems to be derived from the suburban/middle-class dialects of Dublin. It bears some similarities to American accents, even though I think this is coincidental. Like American, it has a rather flat intonation, a very strong “r” sound (technically referred to as a “retroflex r”), and several diphthongs similar to General American.
Hope that helped!
Thank you so much!
I don’t know if you’ve had a “Worst Irish Accents” post yet, but if you have, you should add the Irish accents from the T.V. series Heroes to the list. Supposedly Irish actors who auditioned for the Irish roles didn’t get them because the producers didn’t think they sounded Irish enough. So they had Americans play the Irish characters, with horrible results. Also Justin Theroux from Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, if you’ve seen that. Not that I’d recommend that movie anyway.
On a more positive note, to this list I would add the film Fifty Dead Men Walking and specifically the accent of Jim Sturgess (an Englishman). Check out this interview. Supposedly the accents in the film Cherrybomb with Rupert Grint were fairly good too. I haven’t seen it though. Nice post.
I actually don’t remember Justin Theroux’s accent being horrible, although I only saw that film once, years ago, after being dragged by a friend. What I think happened there was that Theroux had recently acted in a Frank McGuinness play in New York, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Toward the Somme, about a Northern Irish regiment in World War I. I think he decided to use that accent and call it a day, and people found it a bizarre choice.
My bigger issue with Theroux’s accent in that film was that it was, inadvertantly, kind of offensive. I remember thinking it bordered on insensitive to employ a Northern Irish accent to portray a terrorist/mafioso type. Not that the average viewer of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is the most geopolitically aware moviegoer!
I forgot to mention that the accents in both Cherrybomb (even though I haven’t seen it) and Fifty Dead Man Walking were Belfast accents. But you probably knew that anyway.
The links for 2 and 5 don’t work – it says the movie has been suspended or something.
Interestingly enough, my Irish teacher is from Cork. Since my grounding is in Scottish Gàidhlig, this makes it rather difficult for me… It’s the opposite end of the dialect continuum.
It is strange that movies often use actors with the wrong accents when actors with the right accent are available. One movie cast Sean Connery as a Spanish guy and a German guy as the Spanish guy. Sean Connery probably would have sounded better playing the Scottish guy. I saw “In the Name of the Father” and did not know that Daniel Day-Lewis was not Irish. Perhaps his is the best fake Irish accent in film. The other films mentioned are using Irish actors and that is like cheating when it comes to doing Irish accents.
The Secret of Roan Innish is a wonderful example of the Donegal accent.
I just discovered this site and have been fascinated, not to mention educated, by many of your posts.
In terms of best Irish accents on film I’d have to mention any of the Roddy Doyle adaptations, The Commitments and The Van, in particular. Although most of the cast were Dubliners, there were some from other areas. Bronagh Gallagher who played Bernie McGloughlin, for instance, is from Derry.