The Irish ‘brogue’ is notoriously difficult to master, and a non-Irish actor pulling one off on-screen seems to be the exception rather than the rule. So commonly bungled is the accent that Irish cinema-goers have come to expect at least one mangled Cork twang or misplaced Donegal lilt from any film set in the country. Here are the ones that have garnered the largest collective groan from real Irish people.
The five Irish people who could actually bring themselves to watch Leap Year ranked Matthew Goode’s Irish accent among one of its many inaccuracies, varying from the comical to the outright ludicrous. After the boat that Amy Adams’ character takes from Wales to Cork decides to detour to Dingle for some incomprehensible reason – an idea any Irish primary school child could have told the director was geographically nonsensical – she meets Goode’s supposedly Irish barman, who proceeds to butcher the accent as completely as is humanly possible.
Julia Roberts played an Irish character twice in 1996, in both Michael Collins and Mary Reilly. Her accent as Collins’ Longford-born fiancé was bad, but Mary Reilly was much, much worse. With inflections that are all over the map – everywhere except Ireland, that is – Roberts was even nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for her portrayal of Dr. Jekyll’s Irish chambermaid.
Tom Cruise’s Irish accent in Far and Away stops just short of ‘top of the morning to you.’ Playing a poor farmer called Joseph Donnelly who immigrates to America, Cruise, at one point in the film, announces ‘You’re not in Ireland anymore’, and his pronunciation would suggest that the actor has never been either. His cadence was so bad that it managed to take the spotlight off Nicole Kidman’s, which was almost but not quite as horrendous.
Minnie Driver was widely praised for the job she did pretending to be Irish in 1995’s Circle of Friends, which makes one wonder if she shouldn’t have taken it upon herself to give her co-star some lessons. An adaptation of the novel by beloved Irish author Maeve Binchy, the film stars Chris O’Donnell as the male lead, who is unfortunately too busy flicking his bouncy hair around to actually pronounce many of the words correctly. Incidentally, this film also stars a young Aiden Gillen, who has an inexplicably weird, bad Irish accent in Game of Thrones, in spite of actually being Irish.
With a mother from Donegal, you might think Natascha McElhone would be well able to do a convincing Northern Ireland accent. Not so. In 1998’s action-thriller Ronin, her efforts at portraying an IRA operative called Deirdre have quite rightfully earned her a place in the Bad Irish Accents hall of fame. In fairness, most Northern Irish accents are so distinctive and difficult to replicate that even people from the south of Ireland can’t do them well.
Scotsman Gerard Butler was ridiculed far and wide for his truly atrocious Irish accent in the film adaptation of Cecilia Ahern’s novel P.S. I Love You, but at least he was one of the few who had the good grace to apologise for how terribly he got it wrong. Having even attempted to sing the classic Irish song ‘Galway Girl‘ in the film, the 300 star later promised journalists he would never try to play Irish again.
Sean Connery was one of the first to get the Irish accent supremely wrong, in the 1959 Disney film Darby O’Gill and the Little People – the rerelease trailer doesn’t even show him speaking. His halfhearted attempt at sounding like he might be from Dublin makes him a deserving candidate for this list, and unlike Gerard Butler, he didn’t learn his lesson. Adding insult to injury, he tried again in 1987’s The Untouchables, for which he has been voted as having the worst Irish accent ever.
And the good news…
It isn’t all bad. Though the other two Scots on this list managed to fluff the Irish brogue entirely, there is one Scottish man who did it perfectly, and that’s James McAvoy. His turn in the 2004 comedy-drama Inside I’m Dancing saw him transform into Rory O’Shea, a Dubliner and sufferer of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His accent was later praised by The Irish Times.