In a manner of speaking
I am the only Irish person I have met who has kissed the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone, if there is anyone who does not know, is an inaccessible slab high on an Irish castle's ramparts which, it is rumored, will repay with the gift of an unfaltering tongue those who bestow on it the required salutation. In defence, I can plead my youth (16) and my company (American). For, as any Irish person knows, the Blarney Stone is strictly for tourists.
Nor has it, I hasten to add, bestowed the promised fluency on me. There have been many times since then when verbal inspiration has failed me. But I don't want to talk about how badly, or how well, I can talk: I want to talk about the language I speak. For I realized recently that I don't speak English at all. I speak Anglo-Irish-American-Canadian, a dialect situated somewhere between Labrador and the Azores.
I am (almost) the only native Dubliner I know who has climbed Nelson's Pillar. Nelson's Pillar was a large (Doric, I think) column which graced Dublin's city center until blown up by extremists about 15 years ago. It was said that the mark of a true Dubliner was never to have climbed the winding staircase inside ''the Pillar,'' whose main function seems to have been as a destination for buses and a place of rendezvous for couples going to the many cinemas on and around O'Connell Street. Whence this determination to estrange myself from my native land and people by doing things they studiously avoided? I do not know, but it is a process that has worked all too well. I have (linguistically at least) estranged myself not only from Dublin and Ireland, but from everyone.
I don't think I ever really had what everyone except the Irish calls a ''brogue.'' Dublin is not an Irish city. Originally Viking, it was subsequently an English stronghold for centuries. According to Dubliners, the ''Pale'' of ''beyond the Pale'' was originally a line circumscribing the area around the city, beyond which all kinds of wild specimens of humanity were known to reside. Even today, the Dubliner plays soccer rather than Gaelic football, and regards with suspicion the strange types who invade the city to swell the ranks of the Civil Service, or merely to cheer on their local Gaelic or hurling team in Croke Park.
Further, I was brought up in a suburb rather than the inner city, and went to a university that had its roots firmly in the Anglo-Irish tradition, with the emphasis on Anglo. But it was only when I left Dublin to teach in a London school that my real problems started. Because of various incidents in London at the time, Irish people, and Irish accents, were becoming progressively less popular. So I found that my relatively mild version (suburban Dublinese) was being steadily eroded.
Various stays in Belfast, Boston, Vancouver and other places have hastened the destruction of whatever attempt at a brogue I might once have made. Understandable, you say, but why include Belfast? Well, anyone who has ever listened to them will agree at once that the Northern Irish, whether they are to be regarded as Irish or not (a question which we shall put strictly in brackets) , do not have an Irish accent. The Northern Irish accent is a cross between the Scottish and the cadences of Atlantis: at least, what one might imagine the latter to be.
It is an incredibly infectious accent, as anyone who has spent a day or two in the company of Northern Irish people will find out. And there are parts of Belfast where a chameleon-like ability to blend into the surrounding scenery can be a marked advantage. So that a simple request to know the time of day can come out something like ''D'ye hawve the rate tame, please?'' (This is all very well till you get back to Dublin, and have to switch back.)
Across the Atlantic, people with an Irish accent have different problems. I yield to no one in my admiration of American hospitality. But I must say that it is a little trying to discover that the eager questions with which someone has been plying you for half an hour weren't meant to elicit your views on the structure of the universe but simply to bring out ''that cute accent.'' And even more trying to discover that that, rather than any putative physical or cerebral attractiveness, was the reason you had been invited to the party in the first place.
So my accent, as I said, has become deracinated. In attempting to be at home everywhere, I discover I am at home nowhere. Americans think I am English, and the English think I am American. (In Ireland, I am taken for both.) The only thing I am not taken for is what, in fact, I am.
And, in spite of it all, am proud to be.