The excellent website of Dublin life and lore Come Here To Me! embarks on a discussion of that now vanished phenomenon “the Rathmines accent”, prompted by the (not, it must be said, enormously well vouched) idea that Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was taught English by an Irishman – in fact a native of Leinster Road in Rathmines.
The phrase seems to have been a simple shorthand term for posh or Anglified speech, which then as now tends to rub many ordinary citizens up the wrong way. Still, the accent had its uses, it seems: in 1942 “a married woman” and “a married man” (not married to each other, one assumes) were able to gain admission illicitly to one of Mr Paddy Belton’s licensed premises by saying they were from Rathmines. They were, in fact, from Santry and were fined 5/- each for the imposture at Kilmainham District Court.
One memorable comic use of the figure of the Rathmines toff which the Come Her To Me! post does not mention is O’Casey’s in The Plough And The Stars.
A “fashionably dressed, middle-aged, stout woman” comes upon Fluther, the Covey and Peter, who are looking to profit from the confusion caused by the uprising to do a bit of looting.
Woman: For Gawd’s sake, will one of you kind men show any safe way for me to get to Wrathmines? … I was foolish enough to visit a friend, thinking the howl thing was a joke, and now I cawn’t get a car or a tram to take me home – isn’t it awful?
Fluther: I’m afraid, ma’am, one way is as safe as another.
Woman: And what am I gowing to do? Oh, isn’t this awful? … I’m so different from others … The mowment I hear a shot, my legs give way from under me – I cawn’t stir, I’m paralysed – isn’t it awful?
Fluther: (moving away): It’s a derogatory way to be, right enough, ma’am.
One public figure whom we do know to have been taught English by an Irishman was the interwar leader (regent) of Hungary, Admiral Miklós Horthy – an authoritarian figure of the right and thus very much an enemy of Lenin. It seems unlikely that the two men ever met, but if they did English would have been a language they had in common. But would the Rathmines-accented Vladimir Ilyich have been able to understand Admiral Horthy, who took in some lessons from James Joyce when the latter was briefly teaching at the Berlitz school in Pola/Pula on the Adriatic (today in Croatia) before he moved to Trieste? Joyce of course lived all over Dublin, but his accent may well have been a Northside one, at least if we are to judge from a line in the Portrait (“It [a funnel] is called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra, said Stephen, laughing, where they speak the best English.”) Cf Bertie Ahern.
Lenin, of course, as Brian Earls has informed us in a recent drb essay on Russian jokes, spoke with a rather strange high-pitched voice, which many citizens found funny, though perhaps most were shrewd enough not to laugh in public. He also had considerable difficulty pronouncing the letter “r”, so we can perhaps imagine him, on being congratulated by Comrades Zinoviev and Lunacharsky on his good English, confiding that he had learned it from an excellent Iwish chap from Wathmines.