There are two things most of us believe about accents. The first is no one can really imitate our own, and the second is–paradoxically–few of us believe we have one.
Let’s take the first. No matter how near a British or American actor comes to mastering it, sooner or later it will become more Oirish than Irish.
Jon Voight was among the best in The General, the jury is still out on Brad Pitt’s attempt in Snatch, while Tom Cruise covered the thirty-two counties in Far and Away.
In the great scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, apart from the fact that Irish actors who are every bit as good as ‘the stars’ could have been used to better effect.
So what brings these thoughts to mind? The answer is Jimmy O’Dea.
Mr. O’Dea–and he was always Mr. O’Dea until he specifically allowed otherwise–spent most of his lifetime on stage. When RTÉ came into being, he made several television appearances, particularly with David Kelly in the railway signal box series O’Dea’s Your Man.
He also ventured onto the big screen. His best known film was Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and therein lies my point about accents.
While O’Dea’s enunciation was the real McCoy (heightened perhaps to suit the Disney producers), that of his co-star left a great deal to be desired. The young Seán Connery was as Scottish as he would remain throughout his long and illustrious career. Much to his credit, I would add.
Now to the second point–we don’t usually consider that we personally have an accent at all. Some of our neighbours might have brogues as broad as the Shannon, but our own is soft to the point of being non-existent. We simply speak as we speak, which by the way is the very definition of accent.