Hollywood’s best (and worst) attempts at an Irish accent ranked by Irish expats in the US

Hollywood’s best (and worst) attempts at an Irish accent ranked by Irish expats in the US

HOLLYWOOD’S BEST and worst attempts at an Irish accent have been revealed in a study that saw Irish Expats rate some of the most famous attempts ever put to film. 

With bad Irish accents back in the headlines thanks to the nightmarish efforts of Emily Blunt, Christopher Walken and Jamie Dornan in the Ireland-set romantic comedy Wild Mountain Thyme, the experts over at language-learning app Babbel decided to investigate. 

They asked asked Irish expats in the US to vote for what they considered to be the best accent from their country of birth to ever be attempted by a (non-Irish) American actor playing an Irish character in a major movie. 

Babbel got Irish expat and heritage organizations in the US - including The New York Irish Center (www.newyorkirishcenter.org) and The Irish Cultural Center of New England (www.irishculture.org), which have over 20,000 members between them - to rate actors’ attempts at Irish accents in the highest-grossing movies in which an American actor has played an Irish character (in a lead or supporting role). 

Participants were presented with short clips for each on-screen attempt at an Irish accent, and asked to rank them out of 5. 

Meryl Streep was voted as the Hollywood star with most convincing Irish accent thanks to her performance as Kate Mundy in the little seen Dancing at Lughnasa (1998), which scored her 3 stars out of 5.

The film revolves around the lives of the five Mundy sisters, who live in a cottage outside of Ballybeg, County Donegal. The oldest sister, Kate, played by Streep, is a devoutly Catholic matriarch and the local schoolteacher.

More surprising, was the presence of Brad Pitt in second spot for his star turn as Francis “Frankie” McGuire in the poorly-received action thriller The Devil’s Own (1997). He scored 2.6 stars out of 5.

Pitt played an IRA member in the film sent to America to obtain missiles to shoot down British helicopters. The film, which also starred Harrison Ford, was a critical and commercial flop.

Julia Robert’s accent in Michael Collins, in which she plays Kitty Kiernan, the fiancée of Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins, was voted a narrow third-best (2.4).

On the flip side, there was bad news for Michael J Fox, who scored a miserable 1.1 star out of five for his brief appearance as Marty’s Irish ancestor Seamus McFly in Back to the Future III (1990).

Seamus emigrated to America from Ballyboghil, County Dublin, in the late-19th century. 

Julie Hansen, CEO of Babbel said: “There is a tradition of American actors attempting an Irish brogue, and though critics have commented on their success (or otherwise), it seemed right to ask the true experts for their opinion.  

“We are celebrating the American actors who’ve nailed one of the most distinct accents in the world - easy to approximate, but hard to get right.” 

The best-to-worst ranking of the ten actors (alongside information on their roles, US domestic gross figures) are as follows:

Meryl Streep as Kate Mundy in Dancing at Lughnasa (1998) - 3.0 / 5.0 - $2,287,818 


Brad Pitt as Francis "Frankie" McGuire in The Devil’s Own (1997) - 2.6/5 -  $42,868,348


Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan in Michael Collins (1996) - 2.4/5 - $11,092,559


Richard Gere as Declan Joseph Mulqueen in The Jackal (1997) -2.0/5 - $54,930,280


Cameron Diaz as Jenny Everdeane in Gangs of New York (2002) - 1.8/5 - $77,812,000


Tommy Lee Jones as Ryan Gaerity in Blown Away (1994) - 1.7/5 - $30,156,002


Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon in Gangs of New York (2002) - 1.4/5 - $77,812,000


Tom Cruise as Joseph Donnelly in Far and Away (1992) - 1.4/5 - $58,883,840


Chris O’Donnell as Jack Foley in Circle of Friends (1995) - 1.3/5 - $23,389,975


Michael J. Fox as Seamus McFly in Back to the Future III (1990) - 1.1/5 - $88,277,583