NOTE: This page uses the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For information about this notation, please visit my page of International Phonetic Alphabet Resources.
It is hard to divide Irish accents into categories. Even as Irish Gaelic has ceased to be spoken in the vast majority of the island, Irish people often consider English as, spiritually speaking, a second language.
Below is a list of the broadest categories of speech in Ireland.
Please note: I am openly relying on the classification system created by linguist Raymond Hickey (whose invaluable Irish English resource can be found here), since I find his dialect groupings to be the most accurate.
East Coast Irish English (Dublin)
This category comprises the mostly urban accents spoken from Drogheda in the North to Waterford in the south. Perhaps the most famous of these dialects is working-class Dublin.
- Unlike most Irish accents, non-rhoticity can occur in some very working class variants (i.e. the “r” at the end of “water isn’t pronounced).
- The vowels in goat and face are pronounced as diphthongs similar to most American and British accents (this contrasts with the rest of Ireland, where these phonemes are monophthongs).
- The dipthong in kite often starts from a centralized place: IPA kəit. To American and British ears, kite can sound a bit like “koyt.”
- The diphthong in mouth is often fronted to something like IPA ɛu or æu or ɜu, among other variants. Hence mouth can sound like “meh-ooth.”
- Th becomes IPA t and d in words like thing and this (i.e. “tin” and “dis”).
- There is a tremoundous amout of variation, ranging from some suburban Dublin dialects which sound faintly American, to working-class dialect which are nearly-incomprehensible to outsiders.
Famous Speakers: Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleason, Damien Dempsey, the members of U2.
South-Western Irish Accents
This is the group of Irish accents spoken from County Cork on up through County Mayo of the West and Southern coasts of Ireland. These tend to show a good deal of influence from Irish Gaelic, even if the speakers have no knowledge of that language.
- The diphthong in mouth is often heavily backed and rounded, pronounced IPA ʌʊ or ɔʊ. Hence “about” can sound a bit like “a boat” to American ears.
- The diphthongs in “goat” and “face” tend to be monophthongs (i.e. IPA go:t and fe:s).
- The accent tends to have a very “musical” intonation.
Famous Speakers: Cillian Murphy is the only really famous person I can think of (he’s from Cork), there are a number of other celebrities from this region, but they have almost all softened the features of this dialect.
Northern Irish Accents
This is the group of Irish accents spoken in the province of Ulster (and a few “border” areas). Although most of these accents are to be found within the boundaries of Northern Ireland, this also includes English as it is spoken in County Donegal (in the Republic). Due to the history of Scottish plantation in this region, many of these accents share features with Scottish English.
- Centralized proununciation of the diphthong in words like mouth or mound: this can be IPA məʉnd, mɑʉnd, or a number of other variants. Hence mouth can sound a bit like “maith” or “moyth” to a British or American listener.
- As in other Irish accents the dipthongs in face and goat tend to be monophthongized (see above).
- The “oo” in “goose” is pronounced very far in the front of the mouth (as in Scottish and London English). This can be IPA ʉ, ʏ, or a number of other variants.
Famous Speakers: Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Van Morrison
But wait? Isn’t Ireland the land of a million accents? Why are there only three categories here?
The problem is, Ireland in some ways has too many varieties of English to easily classify into smaller sub-areas.
Take Dublin, for example. It seems there are as many accents in that city as there are people, and many of these accents are wildly different from each other. These differences are found in many parts of Ireland, where it often seems that every village has a totally different way of speaking from the one next door.
As with most of these dialect overviews, this is a very incomplete guide to a large region. In the future, this page will be updated information on various outside sources that will give you a more complete overview of Irish accents and dialects.