Northern Irish people! It's time to reclaim our god-awful accent

Suzie McCracken feels like her vocal chords are haunted by the booming projections of past politicians and preachers. Surely now it's time to stop being an incessant apologist and be proud of our vowels?

The comedian Hal Cruttenden tells a joke about his Northern Irish wife’s proclamations of love being undermined by the brashness of her accent. He suggests that no matter how sweet her "I love you" truly is, it is rendered murderous by her regional intonation. Undoubtedly it’s true – to perform a good impression of me it is essential to stretch your mouth into a grimace and pepper your rendition with nasally colloquialisms.

The Northern Irish tend to be mortified by their accent. Apart from a few that boldly bellow into terrified tourists' faces, there is a general awareness that not only are we harsh but just plain old difficult to understand. I have seen people turn off the TV if someone from the province makes an appearance. I have a friend who watched The Voice UK religiously, supporting the two local girls with vigor, but then found herself muting her set each time they stopped singing.

This is by no means a unique response to hearing provincial voices on the airwaves, but the Northern Irish cringe reflex is so immediate that it makes me wonder if it’s purely an auditory issue.

I feel that my vocal chords are haunted by the booming projections of past politicians and preachers. I am truly of the first generation of peace in Northern Ireland, and yet Paisley’s shouts were so deafening that they’re still echoing through my existence. My harsh tone links me with a past I don’t remember; the relative lack of NI voices in the media ensures that its strangeness is amplified.

With so much attention being forced onto this idiosyncratic place of late, with Derry-Londonderry being UK City of Culture and the world’s eight most important people in suits playing golf on our green lands, isn’t it about time that the national media give a few more speaking parts to the NI extras? Not only would this normalise the brogue but it may encourage those who speak it not to spurn it. Perhaps if we work on associating the tone with overpaid people in the media instead of overpaid people in politics then we’ll be able to carve out an oral identity to be proud of. The accent could connote "incubator for excellent music" or "creative place" rather than "home to the small minded and threatening".

It might also help stop us all being incessant apologists. We seem to be constantly saying sorry for our accent, our past, our eccentricities and our talents. You’ll often hear of people from the region being described as "humble". That’s because we feel, as a nation/community/whatever doesn’t offend you, that we’re too brash to be allowed. And so we say sorry, we don’t get in the way and we curb our dialect. Two Door Cinema Club frontman Alex Trimble astounded me during his Glastonbury set by speaking in a tone so unlike what I heard come out of his mouth when I was 15 that I was ashamed of my own diluted, Londonified lilt.

I realised that over the past few years I haven’t simply been trying to be understood – I’ve been apologising for being where I’m from. I have resolved to start taking my lead from the resoundingly brash Phil Taggart, a recent addition to the BBC Radio 1 team. Born and raised in Omagh, he’s normalising his less-than-soothing inflection for teenagers across the land, just like Colin Murray did when I was an early teen. Hopefully, in another generation's time, the Northern Irish intonation will be truly reclaimed from the province's past. Still think the timbre is intense? Nah mate - it's impassioned. 

Now read about the death of the Cromerty fisherfolk dialect.

 

The Peace Bridge in Derry-Londonderry, UK City of Culture. Photograph: Getty Images

Suzie McCracken is a freelance journalist, occasional walking tour guide and complete novice.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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