Norman Freeman on Audible Differences – The Irish Times

I heard about a guy who was scheduled to take his story at the party guests on an accent tour of Ireland. He began with a sharp Belfast tone, then moved to a county he called Cavan, with its characteristic resemblance, then to Dublin, speaking like Ronnie Drew.

From there he went to Wexford, where he said people said permanence and potions instead of them and these. He then moved to Waterford, where he claimed that the tourists had become followers of the Church.

Then he gave this guy his version of the Cork, Kerry, and Galloway dialects, and ended up with a type of Daniel O’Donnell of Donegal.

The truth is that there are many variations of each dialect within each county and city. I know there are many Belfast dialects that can be specifically identified by those Aboriginal people who have an ear for vocal nuances. Some of them are not easily understood, especially when a Belfast boxer wins a big fight and gives a breathless interview on TV.

I am told that in Cavan there is an audible difference in dialect between the people from Kingscourt on the eastern edge of the county to those of Belcoo in the far west. It is the same in County Wexford where, for example, the dialect of New Ross blends with those of South Kilkenny and East Waterford.

Accents everywhere overlap each other and it can be hard to tell where one accent begins to fade and another begins. It can be difficult to detect subtle differences in inflections and pronunciations between accents.

My first experience of this was in Tipperary where I grew up. Two sponsors formed the throwing team at Holycross/Ballycahill. It had famous players such as John Doyle and Pat Stacklum. Its leader was a powerful player named Francis Bannon. It was said by people from both parishes Bannon. However, I heard a man say “Don’t you know that man comes from Ballycahill the way he says the name.” It must have been a very subtle cadence of the word because I definitely can’t tell any difference.

In cities like Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, there are areas where a strong city accent prevails. They are dear to those who are proud of who they are and where they come from. It always recedes in some suburb, and is shaped by where people live, their educational and social backgrounds and sometimes by their societal aspirations.

Some exclusive boarding schools became known for the way the rural dialects of some pupils were discouraged. These boys have been shamed for adopting a supposedly polished tone. An element of arrogance was involved.

It seems likely that the characteristic sounds of speech are declining, especially among the younger generations. It can happen in places where people work from home. They may be in regular iPhone/Zoom contact with people who are not just from another county but from another country with different language or cultural backgrounds. They find that they have to pronounce their words clearly in order for them to be clearly understood. In doing so, they may miss some small inflections for their way of speaking.

This is likely to happen for the same reason as people leave their homes to work abroad. They have to pronounce their words clearly. When they return to work here, some of the sounds of their original dialect may have faded.

Fortunately, the era of Irish back home with newly acquired English or American accents is over. Sometimes it happened so long ago that Irish dialects were ignored due to a feeling of inferiority. Confident Irish youth today have no such attitude.

The influence of television and the Internet has introduced new words and phrases, mostly from the United States, into the ordinary discourse of the Irish people. It’s bound to have some effect on accents, too.

Yes, there are places across the country where distinct accents have been kept mainly because many people have stayed in their hometown. A few months ago I met a schoolteacher from Aquile Island in May, who told me she told me she could actually tell the faint difference in dialects between people in the villages there.

A distinctive way of pronouncing certain words is part of some dialects. One example that I know of is where the “c” merges with what looks like the “y” if it precedes the emphatic “a”.

The Koli Peninsula was once a stronghold of this way of speaking. It’s still there because I heard it was used recently. “He got on the internet and traveled to Surlingford for a game of siards.”

I suspect the ‘cy’ is to the north of Louth and probably in Monaghan and Cavan and to the north in Armagh. Perhaps Frank McNally of this newspaper can add to this observation.

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