My Irish eyes are smiling. I wish I had an accent
My favorite news story of 2009 revealed that in a poll of 5,000 women worldwide, Irish was voted the sexiest accent in the world. French accents, which held the top spot for decades, have fallen to fourth place, behind Scottish and Italian, followed by Australian, English and Swedish. American accents ranked 10th, behind Spanish and Welsh and just ahead of Jersey and the Bronx.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a sexy Irish accent. However, I am of Irish descent. Being of Irish descent hardly makes me unique. There are about 45 million Americans who claim some ancestry of Irish descent, and 5 million or so who identify as Scotch Irish. If my numbers are correct, I have no doubt that they are not, 12% of the US population is descended from Irish immigrants.
That number will skyrocket next Friday when two million more Americans embrace their nonexistent Irish roots in one hand while holding a jug of green beer and a cardboard shamrock in the other while drunkenly exclaiming “Irene go brag.” Not only does this plastic weed have more Irish blood than a yogi bear, but you can’t blame anyone for wanting to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
The desire to be Irish has a mystical appeal to many people. There is practically an entire industry built on helping people trace their Irish roots. There are more websites dedicated to tracing the Irish family tree than there are sites featuring nude photos of Pamela Anderson. I wouldn’t believe it myself had I not done extensive personal research on the subject.
The Irish have not always been so popular. Like most immigrant groups, the Irish have faced discrimination and stereotypes. At the height of the Irish diaspora, it was not unusual to see the letters “NINA” in job advertisements – “No Irish Need to Apply”. The Irish have been stereotyped as friendly, violent, scruffy, artistic, musically gifted, drunk, lazy, funny, conservative, intellectually gifted, wild, messy, and devout. Did you know that the word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic word “uisce beatha” which means “water of life”. Have you heard that God made whiskey to prevent Ireland from conquering the world?
Would you be surprised to learn that Ireland has more dogs per capita (human per capita) than any other country in the European Union?
The great Irish-American statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan lamented that it was part of the nature of being Irish to know that eventually the world would break your heart. Malachy McCourt, brother of Frank McCourt of Angela’s Ashes fame, noted that Irish men don’t look at each other when they’re talking — instead they usually veer toward imaginary surroundings no matter how far away they are from one of them.
The list of notable Irish Americans is long and distinguished, including eight signers of the Declaration of Independence and former President Obama, who, according to some, was born in Ireland, among other places. The Irish component of my family hails from County Cork. I don’t know much about my paternal Irish great-grandfather, other than it seems that his departure from Ireland for America was less a question of him wanting to leave than of Ireland not wanting him to stay.
I’ve now been to Ireland three or four times myself and hope to be back again soon. And although Ireland is not my home, when I hear an Irish accent or listen to a Celtic song or see a beautiful stone wall or storm-tossed sea, I often feel something akin to nostalgia, a feeling of homesickness for the place I live in. He was not born and only visited as a tourist. Maybe it’s time for me to plan another trip to the old country next year. Until then, ladies beware — I’m going to work on my accent.
Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper. This is from Classic Files.