YOU can look, feel and be Irish — but if your accent is English, you may well find yourself on the receiving end of hostility when claiming your heritage in Ireland.
I have a west London accent and my last experience of this was in a Dublin pub in Swords, where a family friend linked me to the lady who lives in Buckingham Palace.
Some of his fellow Dubs told him to stop being an eejit. I simply smiled, but it’s safe to say we didn’t exchange Christmas cards.
Curious to find out if other second-generation Irish had experienced similar, I spoke to a cross section of the Irish community in Britain and discovered I wasn’t alone.
And not only that — but it appears that if you have a London accent you’re in for less of a welcome in Ireland than if you’re a Northerner.
Why is this? The most obvious reason is that some Irish people view a southern English accent as being synonymous with the British establishment.
Politicians, news readers, James Bond — they all speak with that posh southern accent, while Cockneys crop up as British soldiers in old war films — just think of Michael Collins or The Wind That Shakes the Barley.
London, despite the hundreds of thousands of first and second-generation Irish living here, it is not really seen as an Irish city. Manchester on the other hand represents Manchester United — the most supported team in Ireland, with a history of Irish players.
Manchester also gave the world Noel and Liam Gallagher, the singing sons of Irish parents. And I don’t recall my gran ever missing an episode of Coronation Street either.
Liverpool represents the second best supported club in Ireland as well as The Beatles, who had several members with strong Irish backgrounds — Paul McCartney even released the song, Give Ireland back to the Irish.
Holyhead, it too was the destination for many Irish people and everyone in Ireland has heard or sang a verse or two of The Leaving of Liverpool.
The Scottish accent is also well loved in Ireland — with celebrities like Billy Connolly and the obvious Glasgow Celtic links helping relations between the Irish and Scots. While not every second-generation Londoner has stories of negative experiences in Ireland, the majority I spoke with did.
Ricky Dunne, was born in south London, to parents from Tipperary and Limerick. The 36-year-old, who now lives in St Albans, founded iconic west London pirate radio stations ICE FM 88.4 and MAC 92.7FM.
“No question, my accent was the reason kids wanted to fight me when I used to go back to Ireland, especially in my early teenage years,” he says. “They used to call me a black b****** because of the black and tan thing but I didn’t want to fight anyone. My three children were born here, have English accents — but they are Irish.”
Mick Guilfoyle, grew up in Tooting. His parents are from Clare and Dublin. The 43-year-old carpet fitter is a former amateur boxer who coaches at the Fitzroy Lodge Boxing club in Lambeth.
Despite being able to look after himself inside the ring, he has had issues outside of it in Ireland, which he claims is because of his south London accent.
“The last time I got some stick for it was when I asked some fella for directions in Dublin — he told me to p*** off home,” he says. “It was a lot worse when I was younger though.”
Tommy O’Shaughnessy was born in Balham, London, but moved back to Dublin in 1972 when he was six, two months before Bloody Sunday. The 47-year-old site manager, who now lives in Hertfordshire, returned to London aged 18.
“Going back to Dublin in 1972 with an English accent didn’t exactly make life easy for me — especially in school,” he says. “There was a lot of name calling like Brit b******. My older brother got it even worse. There were some rough kids in my school which was near Finglas, it was intimidating, and it affected me, but I had to learn to defend myself. There were some other families who moved back from England and some of those lads were tough — we used to help each other out.”
He adds: “I developed a Dublin accent quite quickly but they never forgot that when I moved back to Dublin I had an English one.”
Martin Joyce, 61, was raised in a traditional Irish family who moved from Crawley in south London in the 1950s. The Millwall fan, who now lives in New Cross, says he has been lucky not to have experienced any negativity regarding his Irish roots.
“My accent was never an issue in Ireland,” he says. “My father is from Mayo and mum from Connemara in Galway — where I now have a house. When we moved to Crawley from Streatham I was six and didn’t have to make any friends — I was surrounded by relatives.
“My family worked in construction — the Joyces and O’Briens and they got everyone over from Ireland. Everyone was speaking in Irish — that was very normal for me growing up. I had a slight Irish brogue going on with certain words. I think the way they spoke did influence my decision to become an English teacher — it was poetic and witty.”
Louise Keegan, 33, runs The Keegan Academy of Irish Dance in Manchester and has a similar story. Her Mancunian accent always went down well, and continues to be met warmly, on trips back to Ireland.
“My mum is from Leitrim and dad is Roscommon. My cousins really liked my accent when we were young — they used to try and imitate it,” she says. “I’ve never been called a plastic paddy — I would eat the head off anyone who did. Most Irish people want to talk about Manchester United when they hear I’m from Manchester.”
Alan Keegan, Louise’s uncle, is the match day announcer for Manchester United. His accent has played a key role in having a career in broadcasting. “I started out doing an Irish radio show in Manchester and it was never an issue me having a Mancunian accent presenting a show for the Irish community,” he says.
“My siblings were born in Ireland, I wasn’t, but I’ve never been called a plastic paddy. I got on very well with Irish players like Roy Keane, Dennis Irwin and John O’Shea. Roy’s children would have very strong Mancunian accents.”
Richard Grimes, from Birmingham, owns Grimes Finishing Ltd, and works as an actor. “My dad is from Mayo, mum is Donegal. When I started school in Birmingham I had a Donegal accent because I was always with either my mum or her mum,” he says.
“I’m part of the furniture back in Westport. I have a house there now and never get called a plastic paddy. People hear my accent and ask if I know a friend or relative of theirs in Birmingham and the scary thing is nine times out of 10, I do!”
Liam Murphy, 24, is an IT technician, at a school in his native Birmingham. He says he’s always felt welcome back in Ireland. “My mum’s side of the family are Mayo, and my dad’s side are from Roscommon,” he says. “My accent has never been an issue when I’ve been back in Ireland. I always feel welcome and one day I would like to live over there.”
John Connell from Scotland found his accent made him feel right at home when he worked in Belfast. The 52-yearold electrician from Kirkcaldy was raised in a traditional Irish family who moved to Scotland in the 1950s. “I never got any bother for my Scottish accent when I worked in Belfast,” he says. “I think it’s accepted better in Ireland than an English one.”