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Hiberno-English is part of what makes us Irish – so let's celebrate it!

As Ireland becomes more multicultural, let’s not abandon such linguistic gems as ‘hot press’ and ‘yoke’.

James Harold

TWO WEEKS AGO, EastEnders actor Danny Dyer became a London Underground announcer for a day. His cockney accent was no doubt welcomed as a source of pride for his fellow EastEnders funnelling through London’s tube system.

I envied them as I waited for the 16:21 Dublin Connolly to Drogheda MacBride commuter rail service. As the train wound its way towards the platform, an unmistakeably upper crust British accent came piercing through the air: ‘Please mind the gap between the train and the platform’, she warned. The station’s namesake, his head in his hands, came into my mind. Somehow, the famous London Underground lady had arrived on our shores and taken up residence in Connolly Station, Dublin.

A spokesperson for Irish Rail assures me that: ‘It is not the same voice that is used by London Underground’. Maybe voice doppelgangers do exist so. Either way, Irish Rail is sending a clear message to us: no one will notice the difference. A daily commuter, I grew up with the firm but fair sound of the pre-recorded station announcer warning: ‘Please stand back behind the yellow line, train now approaching.’ That was the voice of Michael Comyn, an Irish broadcaster and professional voice actor with over 30 years’ experience in the industry. But where was Michael when I needed him most?

Cool Hibernia

Ketech, the Nottingham-based operator of Irish Rail’s public address system, introduced the new recording six months ago. Whilst they have chosen to ignore the relevance of our regional English dialect, surely the State’s own rail company can’t ignore our attachment to Hiberno-English, the polished, unique branch of the English language that we have made our own?

Danny Dyer and his cockney accent offer a unique taste of cool Britannia. It’s a shame Irish Rail don’t seem to have the same reverence for cool Hibernia. I am confident that at least one of Fair City’s cast members could muster up a decent challenge to any EastEnders’s efforts as a station announcer. Anyway, even if they’re not interested, a cursory search of the internet returns a host of Irish voiceover talent (not to mention firm but fair Michael). And if even they are not interested, then I would be delighted to head back to Connolly Station and record the announcement in my own native tongue, for free. Where is a nation headed when it can’t even be bothered to prerecord one of its own citizens in a public service announcement?

Loving Hiberno English

Irish Rail’s lazy use of a pseudo-London Underground voice has hit a sour note. Her tones, sweet as they may be, are yet another example of how Ireland has turned its back on the dialect that unites millions of us around the world.

Whilst respecting the rightful place of Irish in our nation’s psyche, let’s be realists and acknowledge the English dialect that has served us well. Hiberno-English has developed and matured in tandem with the nation’s confidence. As dictated by the primary function of any language, it allows its speakers to communicate with ease and efficiency. In turn, this allows us to communicate what is wonderful and unique about Ireland and her people to those unfortunate enough to not already be in the know.

The Director-General of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, recently said that the people of Ireland have “a great respect and affection for the Irish language”. We do. But we lack any form of respect and affection for the language the majority of us use on a daily basis. Cross-cultural references are an inevitability of modern life but kissing goodbye to what is uniquely Irish about the English language is a smack in the face to both our cultural heritage and our cultural aspirations. A bold but thought provoking statement for an Irishman to make, I know.

The little things matter 

Piece by piece our uniquely Irish take on the global working language is being stripped away. Our innate ability to attract foreign direct investment is terrific for job creation. But as more and more multinationals establish themselves in the fabric of Irish society, we appear over-eager to abandon our usage of a language that allows us to lay claim to such linguistic gems as ‘hot press’ and ‘yoke’. If and when Minister Deenihan’s grand plans come to fruition, what will our émigrés think when they move home to ‘airing cupboards’? They’ll only just have gotten over the shock of having no choice but to arrive home on a British Airways flight.

Times change and people move on but we have a duty to preserve our national identity. The things we are most nostalgic for are more often than not the things we turned our back on.

Connolly Station was named in honour of James Connolly to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Easter Rising. The impending 100th Anniversary of this defining moment in Irish history provides a chance for reflection, a chance to take stock of what being Irish means today. The little things matter.

James Harold is a proud Irishman and occasional writer in search of a reason to reactivate his @jumpinjamesy Twitter handle.

Er, we’re not sure this ‘Irish translation’ is completely word-for-word…

Column: Yola and Fingalian – the forgotten ancient English dialects of Ireland

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James Harold

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