Opinion

Sexiest accent? Irish, so work on your brogue | The Latte Guy | March 12

My favorite news story of 2009 was based on a poll of 5,000 women worldwide who voted Irish as the world’s sexiest accent. French accents, which had held the top spot in the poll for decades, slipped to fourth behind Irish, Scottish, and Italian – followed in order by Australian, English and Swedish.

American accents finished 10th in the poll, just behind Spanish and Welsh and in front of Jersey and the Bronx.

Regrettably, I do not have a sexy Irish accent. I am, however, of Irish descent on my father’s side. Being of Irish descent hardly makes me unique. There are some 45 million Americans who claim some strain of Irish ancestry, and an additional five million or so who identify themselves as Scot-Irish.

If my numbers are correct, and I have no doubt that they are not, then fully 12 percent of the population of the United States is descended from Irish immigrants.

That number will go up dramatically next Wednesday when another couple of million Americans will embrace their nonexistent Irish roots in one hand while clutching a pitcher of green beer and a cardboard shamrock in the other as they drunkenly proclaim “Erin Go Braugh.”

These Plastic Paddys have no more Irish blood in them than Yogi the Bear, but you can’t blame a person for wanting to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

The desire to be Irish has an almost mystical pull on many people. In fact, there is practically an entire industry built around helping people trace their Irish roots. Believe it or not, there are more Web sites devoted to tracing one’s Irish family tree than there are Internet sites featuring naked photographs of Pamela Anderson.

Hard to believe, I know, and I wouldn’t believe it myself had I not done extensive personal research on the topic.

The Irish were not always so popular. Like most immigrant groups, the Irish faced discrimination and stereotyping in America.

At the height of the Irish diaspora it was not unusual to see the letters “NINA” in job postings – “No Irish Need Apply.” The Irish were variously stereotyped as friendly, violent, dirty, artistic, musically talented, drunken, lazy, funny, conservative, intellectually gifted, unruly, anarchic and pious.

Did you know that the word “whiskey” comes from the Irish Gaelic term “uisce beatha,” which means “water of life”? Did you hear that God created whiskey to stop Ireland from conquering the world? Would it surprise you to learn that Ireland has more dogs per capita (human capita) than any other country in the European Union?

The great Irish-American statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan lamented that it was part of the nature of being Irish to know the world was eventually going to break your heart.

Malachy McCourt, brother of Frank McCourt of “Angela’s Ashes” fame, pointed out that Irish men don’t look at each other when they speak – instead they usually squint off toward an imaginary ocean no matter how far from one they may be standing.

The list of notable Irish Americans is lengthy and distinguished, including eight signers of the Declaration of Independence and President Barack Obama, who, according to some, was born in Ireland, among other places.

The Irish component of my family hails from County Cork. I don’t know much about my Irish paternal great-grandfather, other than it appears his departure from Ireland to America was less a matter of his wanting to go than a matter of Ireland not wanting him to stay.

I’ve never been to Ireland, so there’s no reasonable explanation for the fact that every so often when I hear an Irish accent or listen to a Celtic song or see a lovely stone wall or a storm-tossed sea, I feel something akin to nostalgia. It’s a feeling almost of homesickness, but for a place I’ve never been.

Perhaps I’ll get there someday. Until then, beware ladies - I’ll be working on my accent.

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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