Cork reminds me of Texas in many ways. It is a fiercely independent and proud county, and the locals enjoy walking to the beat of a different drummer. And, like Texas, they have a very distinctive accent. George Bernard Shaw once said, “England and America are two nations separated by a common language.” He could have said the same of County Cork multiplied by ten.

On the website: Vitali’s Ireland I found this tongue-in-cheek view of the Cork accent:

“Corkonians speak ‘gammin’ – their unique language – with inimitable singsong drawl, swallowing vowels (of which there are twenty-six in the Corkonian alphabet) and consonants (of which there are 2), too. A first-time foreign visitor may be led to believe that they all have little church spires inside their mouths which – on inspection – usually proves untrue.”

The first few times Pat and I heard the Cork accent, it took us several seconds to even register that the person was speaking English. “Impenetrable” is one of the most common adjectives used to describe the accent. It is even difficult for people from other parts of Ireland to understand a Cork local. I personally love the way it sounds, but it still takes a lot of work for me to understand Corkonians with heavy accents. The words roll off of their tongues incredibly quickly. Between the fast rate of speech, unusual slang terms (more on this in a later post), and different pronunciations non-locals need to have a very alert ear.

When talking to locals it is apparent that there are many versions of the Cork accent. Someone from Knocknaheeny in the north part of the city sounds very different from a person who grew up in Bishopstown, which is south of the river. And they both sound very different from someone who is from West Cork.

So what does the Cork accent sound like? I can tell you that it is definitely NOT Tom Cruise’s performance in Far and Away. He should be the poster boy for what a bad Irish accent sounds like. And it certainly isn’t Julia Roberts in the film Michael Collins.

Now I am not a linguist, but I can share a few obvious differences in pronunciation (bearing in mind that these sounds may vary from person to person depending on which part of the county you are in).: Firstly, the TH sound does not exist. They say “Tirty Tree” instead of “thirty three”, and “dee” instead of “the”. As a speech therapist, I quite like this speech characteristic. Countless American children have trouble producing the TH sound. The Irish have eliminated this common mispronunciation by eschewing the sound altogether.

Next, the production of consonants are very crisp and parsed. In America we tend to get lazy and drop off some consonant sounds. Americans say: coulda, woulda, shoulda. The Irish say: could have, should have, would have. Vowels, on the other hand, are much softer. I live in “Cahrk”, my lucky number is “fahrty fahr”, I enjoy “Tamahtoes” on my sandwich, and my grandfather is a “coh-bye” (cowboy).

Finally, there is a musical lilt present when the Irish speak. I have read that the patterns of intonation and tone used in Cork are unique even in Ireland. The women, in particular, seem to have a high-pitched tone to their voice.

Tommy Tiernan, an Irish comedian, does a great bit on the Cork accent. Trust me when I tell you that he is speaking English through the entire bit. Listen carefully. This spoof is really not far off the mark, at least to my American ear!