Mastering the Irish Dialect for Outside Mullingar

by Clare Arena Haden (Rosemary Muldoon)

I love going to work on a dialect for a play. Thankfully, I had an insightful and brilliant mentor in this area in Susan Sweeney (who you may have seen in 4000 Miles). The first thing that I like to do is find out some general characteristics in terms of the musicality of how they speak: where it's placed in the mouth, what pitch range is used, etc. So for instance, I knew that Mullingar was situated in the midlands of Ireland just west of Dublin. While the Northern Irish dialect tends to move from low to high in musicality, the midland sound moves from high to low, almost like a tumbling down the hill of the voice. I also learned that the jaw is much tighter and the placement of where they speak in the mouth is much more forward than we tend to speak in America. Finding the placement and feel of it is a big part. It's the doorway into the dialect.

Then you need to get specific and actually find really great sound samples. We have a dialect coach (Raeleen McMillon) who is helping us hone in on specific sound changes and offering some useful listening examples. Joe Dolan is a famous singer from Mullingar, so I've been listening to old interviews of him. When I find an example I really like, I do my best to mimic exactly how they speak. This helps lock in the placement, musicality, and overall feeling of the dialect.

My next step is going through and scoring my script with all of those sound changes using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) so that I can stay as consistent as possible. This all happens before the first read through with the other actors. Then, once you get in the room with everyone, you have to make sure that you're all sounding like you live in the same world. This is where an outside ear (dialect coach) is really helpful. You also have to take into account intelligibility for the audience and make sure that you don't go so far with the authenticity of the dialect that you can't be understood anymore. The story has to be clearly communicated first and foremost, so there's a delicate balance of getting the flavor of the dialect as consistent as possible without sacrificing intelligibility. And then at some point (and I'm not close to being there yet!), you have to just let go and trust in all that work and play. That's the FUN part.

Here are some wonderful examples if you want to listen and give it a whirl!

Joe Dolan Interview

Video of political rally about fair water usage in Mullingar