The Irish Accent: Galway

Connemara born actor, Peter O’Toole. A lovely lilt if ever there was a lovely lilt. Photo via Scenestealers.com

Galway, in the west of Ireland, has a plethora of accents. Think of the actor Peter O’Toole’s accent for a moment. It is a refined  and subtle upper class English accent; not an ounce of starch in that lovely lilt.O’Toole is a native of Connemara, a Gaeltacht area, which are locations in Ireland renowned for speaking the Irish language, Gaeilge, first, and English is the second language.

Where I grew up, Portumna, in south-east Galway, the accent was definitely broguish, but again  mild affectations, the kind Hollywood likes to exaggerate.

Words like “room” came out as “rum,” if something was outside it was “abroad in the yard.” The little lights in the night sky were not “stars” but “shtars,” and we lived in the “wesht” of Ireland. Everything is either “lovely” or “grand” when it is good. A day of bad weather is a “durty oul day.” “Sure” is “shure,” and “It is” is ’tis, whereas, “It is not” becomes ’tisn’t. We’re very economical with our speech in the wesht of Ireland; money we’re getting more economical with by the day.

Though I have lived in America for 19 years now, when people hear me speak, they hear a strong Irish accent. When I visit my homeland, I am told I have such a yankee accent; keep in mind the words “yank” or “yankee” have nothing to do with the civil war in America, it is a general term in Ireland which means “American.”

I became aware of the differences in accents in the west when I went to Connemara for 4 weeks to further my ability to speak Irish, Gaeilge. The locals spoke English with an Australian accent because they learned most of their English from watching television. In the early 1980’s Australian soaps were very popular on Irish television. The greeting in English was “G’day.” That most certainly has changed now as the internet and multiple television channels have exposed the native Irish speakers to more outside influences.

“It’s an orthopedic matraas and it’s a great matraas for back pain. Not an expensive matraas either, mind you.”
“What’s a matraas?”

Even closer to home, only forty or so miles away from Portumna, is a town called Tuam. Words such as girl, lad, laneway are all suffixed with “een.” So the sentence, “The girl and boy walked down the laneway,” would come out as, “The girleen and ladeen walked down the boreen.”The word “mattress” always reminds me of my college room-mate in Galway University, herself a Tuam native. She teased the daylights out of me for shortening the word “room” to ‘rum.”

One Sunday night she returned to school and told me about a new “matraas” that she bought for her bed at home in Tuam. After enduring the teasing over my own pronunciation of “room,” I saw my chance and sprang at it with pure delight. I asked the questions which prompted the answers. “Is it an expensive “matraas?” Is it a comfortable “matraas?” I heard her out on how good this “matraas” was; it was an orthopedic “matraas,” and it wasn’t an expensive “matraas.”

Finally, after hearing her pronounce the word mattress as  “matraas” several times, I asked, “Would you mind telling me, what the $%*$ is a “matraas?”

Here’s me, with my Galway accent after 20 years of exposure to the American twang, reading an accent challenge posted on twitter.

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5 thoughts on “The Irish Accent: Galway

  1. Why then, you’ve a lovely accent. I can hear the Galway, but America as well. That’s how young people in Ireland are beginning to sound anyways. They do sound Irish to everyone else, but to older people, it’s a bit sad. God bless Limerick City and rural Kerry and them not collapsing beneath the weight of Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory (I don’t even know what the kids watch, I hope that’s a sufficient reference).

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