A Completely Unbiased Guide To the Best and Worst Irish Accents

By Thomas Cleary / October 5, 2021
Irish accent

There are seven English speaking countries in the world, the UK, Ireland, U.S.A, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, and if you separate the UK into its four countries, that would make 10. Each of these countries have their own wide variety of accents that are usually the quickest way that people are able to make a guess at a nationality.

It’s not at all surprising that a country like the United States, with its massive area and dense population, has a huge number of different accents, influenced by the huge number of immigrants that have settled there over the last few centuries. The differences in accents between certain states can at times be extreme, which makes sense, due to the sheer size of the country. Just listen to the differences between a Boston and Texas accent to see what I mean.

Size however, is not what causes a country to have many different accents, and Ireland is proof of this. Even though it is the smallest English speaking country (aside from Wales) Ireland has a ridiculous number of accents. Not only does every one of the 32 counties have their own, distinct accent, but at times neighbouring towns can spawn people who sound completely different. 

So what are the different Irish accents? Because there are so many, I won’t be going through every single one in this article. Instead I’ll be going through the 10 best and worst of the accents that grace the island of Ireland – while leaving out the more forgettable ones.

The 10 best Irish accents

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Obviously, the sound of any accent that sounds nice to one person, may sound horrific to another, and vice-versa. So these accents are not being rated in order from worst to best by any real metric. It will be loosely based on how pleasing to the ear they may be, and by how much or how little they irritate Irish people in general. 

So here is (in no particular order) a not so objective list of the best Irish accents.

Roscommon

Even though Roscommon is a county that’s often forgotten by many people in Ireland, particularly by those who don’t live anywhere around northwestern Ireland, it has one of the most poetic, soft accents in the entire country.

The people of Roscommon are a bit of an inspiration to be honest, (not socially, being the only county to vote “no” the referendum on gay marraige), but because they always manage to sound so cheerful. Despite the fact that they, you know, live in Roscommon. No matter what they say, it’s difficult to gauge whether or no they’re being sarcastic.

There are a number of famous people from Roscommon, including Douglas Hyde (Ireland’s first president) and actress Maureen O’Sullivan. The most well known Roscommon person today however, is actor Chris O’Dowd.

Derry

The Derry accent was suddenly thrust into the spotlight a few years ago with the release of hit comedy ‘Derry Girls’, which had people all over the world desperately searching for subtitles. 

Probably the most pleasant of the Northern Irish accents, it’s soft, lilting, calm while still being slightly threatening, and even sometimes sounds like a song. This accent makes you want to pull up a chair and be regaled with a tale that you can only partially understand.

Derry has no shortage of celebrities from all walks of life, including musician Phil Coulter, singer Nadine Coyle, and British football fans most beloved player, James McClean

Cork

This may be a more controversial one, as many people from all over Ireland get kind of sick of how much people from Cork love talking about, well, Cork. The Cork accent is quite melodic, and is forlorn to the point that the people always sound a little but upset about something.

Some may find it to be a bit annoying, but that’s bound to be the case with any accent that isn’t boring. You can say whatever you like about the Cork accent, but it’s certainly far from boring

Cork gas produced a number of people who are well known outside of Ireland. Examples being Roy Keane, Graham Norton, and Cillian Murphy. The best example of a Cork accent however, is that of Olympic rowers the O’Donovan brothers.

Galway

An accent that frequently ranks very highly on “Best Irish Accents” lists is that of Galway. It’s not as rough as other western accents, and it’s generally just very reassuring and easy to understand. Which makes it very unique in the west of Ireland. 

Famous people from Galway include Derry Girls actress Nicola Coughlan, and Young Offender actress Hilary Rose. A great example of a Galway accent however, is this accent tag video.

Kerry

Probably the accent that comes to mind when any non-Irish person thinks about an Irish accent, the Kerry accent is probably the closest one we have to the stereotypical Irish accent, and even many Irish people struggle to understand it when it’s at its thickest – and it can get fairly thick.

People from Kerry speak quickly too, and they throw in an ‘SH’ sound in any word that has an ‘S’. Listening to this accent is like enjoying a nice breeze.

The shound of it can be hard to undershtand, but once ye get goin’ it shounds grand actually.

Michael Fassbender is probably the most famous Kerry man outside of Ireland, but for the sake of his career, he’s dropped a lot of the harshness from his accent. But here’s a really strong Kerry accent. Good luck.

Meath

‘I dooon’t eeeveen haaaaave an aaaccent’

The Meath accent gets a bit of a bad rep, but as they’d say themselves, it’s daaycent. This accent is a nice blend of being ‘Irish’ enough to sound pleasant to Irish and non-Irish alike, while also not being too rough or incomprehensible. 

It’s basically the perfect blend of urban and rural Ireland.

Watch any Tommy Tiernan show and you’ll see what I mean

Donegal

Probably the national favourite, the Donegal accent is nothing short of universally loved. It’s similar to the Derry accent, but without it’s slightly threatening nature.

Anyone who hears a Donegal person speak, no matter their sexual orientation, tends to melt a little beneath the soft, warm tones of Ireland’s most northern county.

The one issue with the Donegal accent is that, to the untrained ear, it can be almost impossible to understand. If you’re from Donegal, you may notice that any non Irish person may tend to just smile and nod as you speak. That’s because they’re desperately trying to catch any word at all, while also trying hard not to jump your bones.

Here’s a Donegal accent that’s a bit easier to understand.

Mayo

I don’t think there’s any county in Ireland that’s the butt of more jokes than poor Mayo. It’s famous for rugged landscapes, wind, rain, bogs, and terrible farmland. Despite all this, it has one of Ireland’s most attractive accents.

As much as they may deny it, people from neighbouring counties will have to fight the temptation to put on a Mayo accent when on the pull.

It’s gruff and sometimes hard to understand, but it’s hard to refute the fact that its charm makes it perfect for late night stories, and for chattin’ away to tourists who can’t help but giggle upon hearing it. It’s a perfect accent for poetry.

It’s probably one of most well travelled accents too. As the saying goes: no matter where you go in the world, you’ll always find a gobshite in a Mayo jersey

Waterford

Probably the nicest accent in the southeast, people from Waterford have a way of speaking that just makes everything sound better. Of all of the accents from Irish cities, Waterford is probably the easiest on the ear, and doesn’t seem too urban or rural – a real people pleaser.

Gruff but in a good way, the most authentic way to say the word Waterford is “Waaaherford”. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. 

‘I love me county’

Antrim

The Antrim accent is another one that can be really hard to understand, but is still pleasant to listen to when it’s not spoken too harshly. Many foreigners who hear an Antrim native speak sometimes mistake their wild infections as singing. But no, it’s just madness. 

An example of the softer Antrim accent is that of actor Liam Neeson, who I could listen to all day.

As nice as the accent is, just pray for the poor feckers who try to use any voice recognition software.

The 10 worst Irish accents

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Of course, we don’t talk about the good without mentioning the bad. As universally adored as the Irish accent is, we have our fair share of guttural gibberish too. Here are the worst accents we have to offer.

Leitrim

LIAATHRIM’

Leitrim is one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland, with a stunning countryside full of lakes, fields, and mountains, as well as pretty towns like Carrick On Shannon and Drumshanbo. Unfortunately the accent of Leitrim doesn’t share this beauty.

This accent is known as the ‘ugly duckling of Connacht’, except it doesn’t get better with age. It’s throaty and a little raspy, and sounds like they always have a lump of phlegm stuck in their throat. Leitrim is the most sparsely populated county in Ireland, so maybe they just don’t have as much practice shitetalking as the rest of us.

South Dublin

Known nationwide as the ‘D4’ accent, it pairs up with, and perfectly suits the stereotype of South Dublin being full of arrogance and privilege. It’s very difficult as an Irish person to be objective about this accent, as I feel like many of us ‘culchies’ we’re raised to despise it. Maybe foreigners actually think it sounds good? I doubt it, but maybe. See for yourself.

This accent is all about elongating vowels, maybe so they can hear the sound of their own voice for longer, or maybe it’s to further differentiate themselves from the narrow sounds of the impoverished plebs on the northside. 

North Dublin

It’s bizarre that two accents from one city can be so vastly different, but that is very much the case for Dublin. Unlike the D4 accent, the northside accent has really narrow sounding vowels. Any “TH” sound is replaced by a “D”. As a general rule, you’ll never hear a northsider pronounce the letter ”T” at the end of any word.

Again, the accent itself isn’t really that bad, it’s more about what it’s associated with; and, as a completely unbiased non-Dubliner, I can say that it’s associated with heroin, gangs, and lads asking you for a spare fiver for a hostel.

Louth

Widely considered to be the worst accent on the entire island, the Louth accent is a real ear bleeder. Louth is mostly (and perhaps unfairly, I dunno) known around Ireland for its gangland crime problems. These constant news stories can cause a little bit of fear for people visiting the main towns of Dundalk and Drogheda, but this is nothing compared to the fear of hearing any of the locals speak.

The accent is completely monotone and flat, and is completely devoid of all emotion, while somehow being more menacing than anything you’ve ever heard. They also add the word “hey” to the end of literally every sentence.

Listen to a Louth person say “Drogheda”, then listen to Gollum say his own name, and see if you can hear the difference, I certainly can’t.

Limerick

Like Louth Limerick has a bit of a reputation for being crime ridden. Unlike Louth however, Limerick has been making steps to improve this reputation. Unfortunately their accent still tends to put people off. 

Being nasal to the point that the best way to imitate it would be to glue your nostrils shut and whine, it can be really grating to listen to if no effort is being made to suppress it. It’s by no means the worst accent around though, and lends itself really well to stand up comedy.

Wexford

‘It’s quare warm ain’t it sahn?’

In any article that ranks Irish accents from best to worst, the Wexford accent is always slapped smack bang in the center and called: “inoffensive and forgettable”. As a Wexford native myself, I wish this was true.

Like Leirim, Wexford is an incredibly beautiful county with a not so beautiful accent. It’s incredibly sharp, and so nasal that it rivals the accent of Limerick. Weirdly, many people from other parts of the country mistake the accents of Wexford town and Enniscorthy as Northern Irish, but I don’t see it myself, and that probably gives it too much credit.

Cavan

‘Cyaaaaavaan’

Even though Cavan is one of the most overlooked Irish counties, but it’s accent is considered one of the thickest and most distinct in the country. Being a border county, the accent is a strange mix of Northern Irish and midlands. Both of these accents have some pleasant things about them, but unfortunately Cavan didn’t seem to inherit any of them.

Some people do seem to like it though, claiming they find it both horrifying and sexy. Most people however, would rather take a vow of silence than speak in a Cavan accent.

Westmeath

There are very few midlands accents mentioned in this article, mostly because they tend to be very neutral and inoffensive. Unfortunately for the people of Westmeath, their accent is so neutral and monotonous that it becomes offensive. 

It’s hard to compare it to anything, because it’s just..nothing. Everyone from Westmeath could make a fortune hosting sleep assistance podcasts. The only time you’ll hear someone from Westmeath sound even remotely emotional is when they utter the word “Mullingar”.

They probably don’t have much practice talking to people from other countries though, the only ones they see being passengers on passing buses driving between Galway and Dublin.

Offaly

It’s an accent that everyone in Ireland was sick of when Brian Cowen was Taoseach. It’s brash, loud, and rural in all the worst ways. The people of Offaly seem to have some type of aversion to the letter “T”, and also seem determined to keep their mouth from closing while they speak unless it’s absolutely necessary. ”Sure hooo nayds de lehher tay anyway?”

Like the Wexford accent, bad grammar is built into it; with a lot of ‘I done this’ and ‘I seen your Ma out the back of Tesco with me Da’

Laois

This is an accent that constantly places among Ireland’s worst in any list. Which may be a little harsh, but it’s still not great. Like Westmeath. Laois’ accent’s greatest sin is its nothingness. 

In some ways, it’s similar to its neighbour Carlow, except it’s completely devoid of any character whatsoever.

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As I said above, Ireland is host to at least a dozen other distinctive accents, both good and bad, and many other Irish people would likely place any of them among the best and worst in the country. It’s completely subjective!

The Irish accent is one of the most recognisable in the world, and while people from places like South Africa can sometimes be mistaken for English or Australian, and people from Australia and New Zealand are often mistaken for each other,  the Irish accent is completely distinct from any other English speaking country. Besides our Celtic brethren in Scotland.

Therefore, the Irish accent is what helps people from around the world to identify the Irish more than anything else. More than our pale skin, red hair, or even our proclivity towards drinking. (Which honestly puts a lot of pressure on us when we’re abroad.) The Irish accent is a bit of a global favourite, constantly ranking highly on ‘World’s sexiest accents’ lists, which is well deserved obviously.

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Thomas Cleary

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