Today I’m thrilled to welcome Lyn Horner to my blog. Lyn is author of the wonderful Texas Devlin’s books, a paranormal historical series about three Irish-American siblings who each possess a unique psychic power. I’ve read all her books and besides being a great writer, she’s very “gifted”when comes to the Irish dialect. After writing my blog Dialect Tips To Use Not Abuse, I gave her holler and invited her to explain how she does Irish dialect so well.
By Lyn Horner
Have you ever felt an affinity for a country other than your own? I have. For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by Ireland, its people, history and beautiful land. Thus, when I ventured into writing western historical romance, choosing an Irish-American heroine was a no-brainer.
However, when it came to writing the Irish dialect, I had a lot to learn. There’s a huge difference between “hearing” an accent in one’s head and translating it into written words. Like many beginners, my tendency was to phonetically spell words the way I thought they should sound. Well, yeah, but not every other word!
Writing workshops and constructive criticism from experienced authors taught me it’s much better to choose only a few key words to spell phonetically. Combined with the unique Irish style of sentence structure, these key words convey the Irish lilt without pulling readers out of the story.
Here are a few examples of an overdone Irish accent and ways to tone it down while still getting the effect you want with sentence structure. Notice key words ye and ’tis.
OVERDONE: Where are ye goin’ this foin day?
BETTER: Where might ye be going this fine day?
OVERDONE: Ye’ll ne’er find yer pot o’ gold, ye wicked auld de’il.
BETTER: You’ll never be finding your pot of gold, ye wicked old devil.
OVERDONE: Sure’n I’m tryin’ ta find me way ta the village pub.
BETTER: Sure now, I’m trying to find my way to the village pub.
OVERDONE: ’Tis a grand mornin’ for strollin’ inta town.
BETTER: ’Tis a grand morning to be strolling into town.
Notice I eliminated the dropped g in “ing” words. Dropping that consonant is a common way to show a soft Irish accent (also true for a southern drawl) but it’s very tiresome for both writer and reader. The same applies for ye’ll, ye’re, ye’ve and ye’d. Take my word it’s a pain to repeat those phonetic misspellings time after time in a manuscript.
More importantly, accent overkill will pull readers out of your story and likely drive them away. That said, there are exceptions to every rule.
Secondary characters who appear for only a short time in a book offer a
chance to exaggerate an accent. Here’s an example from my current project, Rescuing Lara. The first portion of the story is set in County Kerry, Ireland. In this scene, the heroine and her hero are visiting his Irish kin, one of whom is his great aunt several times removed. She has a pronounced Irish accent, although, even with her I toned it down to some degree.
“How old are you, Granny Kate?” he dared to ask as bowls and platters of steaming meats, vegetables, breads and assorted condiments were passed around.
She cocked a snow-white eyebrow at him and, blue eyes twinkling, turned his brazen question back on him. “How old d’ye think I am, nephew?”
Refusing to be embarrassed, he looked her over in a way that might have made her blush, were she a few decades younger. “I’d guess you’re in your mid eighties.”
She cackled with glee. “Yer guess is off by a good bit, young man. I shall be ninety-five come November.”
“Well, you don’t look a day over eighty-five.”
“Ooh, ye’re full o’ the blarney, ye devil!” She poked him in the ribs with her bony elbow. “But I’m no complainin’, mind ye.”
Conn grinned at her. “You’re a charmer, Katie O’Shea.”
“Me name’s not O’Shea. ’Tis Mrs. Katherine Lenahan, if ye please. Me dear Michael saw to that when I was the tender age o’ seventeen.” The old lady’s voice softened and her eyes grew watery. “He’s been gone nigh on thirty years now, God rest his soul. But soon I’ll be wid him again.”
Conn slipped his arm around her frail shoulders. “He’ll be happy to have you with him, but not too soon, darlin’,” he murmured, smiling down at her.
“Och, ye’ve got me leakin’ like a waterin’ pot.” She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with an old fashioned embroidered handkerchief. “Now eat yer supper before it gets cold.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, exchanging a glance with Lara over Granny Kate’s head.
Movies and books are great sources for observing accents. One of my favorite movie sources is The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, with wonderful Irish co-stars including the delightful Barry Fitzgerald. That movie is a treasure trove for any author wishing to hear Irish accents.
I have a slew of books about Irish history, poetry, legend and lore, several with examples of Irish dialect. Some of my favorites are:
Ireland, A Celebration In Verse, Edited by Roy Benjamin
The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, Edited with translations by Thomas Kinsella
Hibernian Nights by Seamus MacManus
The following excerpts are from short tales in Hibernian Nights. Notice the lyrical way MacManus arranges his sentences.
“It’s many a happy day I’ve passed in that little cabin, more than a hundred years ago when I was only a poor tinker; and when I’m in the Next World, it’s often and often I’ll think of my happy days here.” ~ from The Tinker of Tamlacht
The Little Red Man drew up at the forge-door with a “God save ye, Donal O’Donnell.”
“Save yourself,” says Donal. “Is it anything I can do for you?”
“Would you kindly lend me,” says the Little Red Man, ”the loan of your forge-fire for a few minutes till I shoe my horse?”
“With a heart and a half,” says Donal O’Donell, who was always the heart and soul of a good fellow. ~ from The Wee Red Man
Very well and good, then; Jack and the ass and the dog and the cat and the cock fared forth, and they traveled all that day until the night was coming down. Then they cast an eye around them, and fixed on a little house under a hill, which Jack said looked likely for a lodging. And when they came near, they saw the man of the house, himself, sitting out by a ditch, and he looking gloomier and more dire than the night that was over him. ~ from The Bold Heroes of Hungry Hill
Irish Gaelic words
Another way to show an accent is to insert a Gaelic word in dialogue. Not often, of course, just now and then to add a touch of color. Good moments for this are when a character is startled, upset or during internal thought. My Irish lads and colleens have been known to cuss in Irish a few times.
When needing to translate a word into Irish Gaelic, I go to the internet, where several Irish/English dictionaries are available. These are a couple of my favorites. Both include phrases.
Lyn Horner resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” – with her husband and several very spoiled cats. Trained in the visual arts, Lyn worked as a fashion illustrator and art instructor before she took up writing. This hobby grew into a love of research and the crafting of passionate love stories based on that research.
Lyn’s Texas Devlins series blends authentic Old West settings, steamy romance and a glimmer of the mysterious. This series has earned Lyn several awards, including two Reviewers Choice Awards from the Paranormal Romance Guild. Her most recent release, Dearest Irish, was nominated for a Reader’s Choice Award on BigAl’s Books and Pals and a Rone Award from InD’Tale Magazine.
Leaping into modern times, Lyn is now at work on a romantic suspense series with her trademark touch of psychic phenomena. Rescuing Lara, Romancing the Gaurdians, Book One, will be autumn in autumn 2014.
Also Lyn her at: