The cousin to Fake Brit
and Fake American
and a subtrope of Fake Nationality
Irish characters are some of the most frequently depicted foreigners in British and American
media but they often tend to be played by non-Irish actors with, ahem, 'variable' success
when it comes to accents, or use the "wrong" Irish accent. For instance Northern Irish accents are quite distinct from southern Irish accents.
Another reason why non-Irish actors are used is the desire for name recognition. Even if an appropriate-age largely unknown Irish actor or actress is available the film makers will often be tempted to go for someone with more international appeal. For some reason this seems to be particularly the case with actresses; even a film with mostly Irish actors, like Intermission
or About Adam
or the recent Perrier's Bounty
will still fill its female roles with British or American actresses. This may be why there are quite a few famous Irish actors in Hollywood but vanishingly few famous Irish actresses: their chances of a breakthrough role are that much smaller. See also this article
for theories on why there are so few name Irish actresses.
For some reason Scottish
actors and actresses seem to be disproportionately likely to play Irish characters, which is unlikely to help those who already can't tell the two countries apart.
Also, a strong Ulster or Southern Irish accent done by a Scottish person would confuse things even further (such as the Glaswegian actor of Irish descent, David O'Hara in The Departed
or Dundonian Brian Cox in 25th Hour
As you might expect Fake Irish
characters often slip into Oireland
territory. Note that American, British, Canadian, or Australian actors of Irish descent generally avoid the Fake Irish
label since they are well...Irish. But if they screw up the accent, expect to hear about it.
- Julia Roberts played real-life Irishwoman Kitty Kiernan in Michael Collins and fictional Irishwoman Mary Reilly (in the film of that name) in the same year.
- Scottish actresses Kelly Macdonald and Shirley Henderson played Irish sisters in Intermission.
- The 1995 film Circle of Friends was particularly full of fake Irish: Minnie Driver, Saffron Burrows, Colin Firth (English), and Alan Cumming (Scottish). American Chris O'Donnell, who also played a lead, is Irish-American but was Not Even Bothering with the Accent.
- Ryan's Daughter had English, Australian and American leads surrounded by Irish extras. In fact this particular film might push the trope into Unfortunate Implications territory: the sympathetic 'Irish' characters are all played by foreign actors while the less sympathetic/outright villainous villagers are portrayed by natives.
- Yorkshireman Sean Bean played an IRA man in Patriot Games. In fact only three actors in this film were actually Irish: Richard Harris, Patrick Bergin and Jonathan Ryan (Who was NOT playing John 'Jack' Patrick Ryan). This means all of the other Irish characters were this trope. Englishwoman Polly Walker plays the IRA terrorist Annette, though it is revealed in film that Annette is British-born (presumably of Irish ancestry).
- There have been substantial ethnic Irish communities in England and Scotland for centuries, with many, of course, being involved with Irish nationalist activities in one way or another.
- Bean played another Fake Irish in the adaptation of Irish playwright John B. Keane's drama The Field, again alongside Harris.
- Richard Gere played a (former) IRA man in the The Jackal with a notably horrible accent.
- Tommy Lee Jones played a (former) IRA bomber in Blown Away (notice a pattern here?), also with a bad accent (though the film is notable for having some characters speak in Gaelic, unusual for American cinema). In the same film Jeff Bridges played a Boston cop who was — you guessed — formerly in the IRA (and had no trace of Irish accent, but he was pretending to be an American-born Boston native, which is famous for having many people with Irish background).
- The Scottish Ian Bannen played Jackie O'Shea in Waking Ned Devine.
- Emily Watson (English) and Robert Carlyle (Scottish) play Frank McCourt's parents in Angela's Ashes.
- Kim Cattrall played Brendan Gleeson's Irish wife in The Tiger's Tail.
- Debatable examples: Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz played Irish/first generation Irish-American characters in Gangs of New York. You could make a case for it being this trope in that whilst both their characters are American born like themselves, neither actor is of Irish descent. As for their accents, Leo's isn't all that imposing but you can let it slide as he's been in America most his life. Diaz's is unfortunately noticeable for all the wrong reasons.
- Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson in Back to the Future III, part of the Identical Grandson / And You Were There of the series.
- In a mix between Fake Irish, Fake Nationality and Fake American, British actor Alan Rickman played real life half-Cuban, New York-born, Irish revolutionary Eamon de Valera in Michael Collins.
- Scot Ewan McGregor portrayed James Joyce in Nora.
- Scot Gerard Butler portrayed Hillary Swank's late Irish husband in PSI Love You. His Fake Irish accent was generally savaged by Irish newspaper reviews. She then goes on a holiday to Ireland and meets Jeffery Dean Morgan. Amusingly Butler was quite open about his failure to "channel" his Irish ancestry and during an interview actually issued a lighthearted (but no less honest) apology to the people of Ireland.
- Ronin - Natascha McElhone is English in real life. However, her mother is Irish and Natasha regularly visited Donegal as a child.
- Both parents in In America are played by English actors, though the daughters are played by real-life Irish sisters.
- Daniel Day-Lewis frequently plays Irish characters but is actually from London, and half Anglo-Jewish. On the other hand he became an Irish citizen in 1993 and is partially resident in Ireland so depending on your point of view this trope may or may not apply to him. Worth noting, unlike an awful lot of the other examples, he can actually pull off a convincing Irish accent.
- In a double subversion, in Gangs of New York he played xenophobic gang leader Bill the Butcher, who hated the Irish and killed Irish characters.
- Day-Lewis's father was Cecil Day-Lewis who was born in Ireland (when it was still part of Britain) to an established Anglo-Irish family. He lived most of his life in London, became the British Poet Laureate, and, when Ireland became a fully independent republic in 1949, he decided to opt for British citizenship. Nevertheless, he still claimed to regard himself as properly Anglo-Irish. So Daniel Day-Lewis's situation under this trope is indeed complicated.
- Far And Away gave us an 'Irish' accented Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
- Alan Hale, Sr., father of "The Skipper" and friend of Errol Flynn (see under Real Life below) played a ton of Irish characters in the '30s and '40s such as the Earl of Tyrone (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex), Gallagher (Three Cheers for the Irish), Francis Patrick Murphy (Captains of the Clouds), Pat Corbett (Gentleman Jim), "Boats" O'Hara (Action in the North Atlantic), "Big Mike" Harrigan (God is My Co-Pilot), etc.
- Canadian Victor Garber played real life Belfastman Thomas Andrews in Titanic, but was criticised in Northern Ireland for apparently using a soft southern lilt, rather than the much harsher Ulster accent.
- Ordinary Decent Criminal, a movie very loosely based on real-life Dublin gangster Martin Cahill, starred Kevin Spacey as the Cahill-type character, fellow American Linda Fiorentino as his wife and Brit actress Helen Baxendale as Fiorentino's sister.
- Irish princess Isolde was played by English actress Sophia Myles in the 2006 version of Tristan & Isolde.
- Disney's Darby O'Gill and the Little People had Sean Connery (Scottish), Janet Munro (English) and Estelle Winwood (English) playing Irish characters.
- Sean Connery in Tarzans Greatest Adventure, Sean Connery in The Longest Day, Sean Connery in The Untouchables.
- The Amy Adams film Leap Year has her Irish love interest played by Devon-born Matthew Goode.
- Michael Caine played a Dublin actor in the 2003 film The Actors. He didn't even try to do an Irish accent.
- 2010 gangster flick Perrier's Bounty has Jim Broadbent as Cillian Murphy's father. In the same film Jodie Whittaker is an odd semi-example: she keeps her native accent so (presumably) her character is English, but since her nationality is never addressed and since nothing about the character is specifically English it seems likely the role was originally written as Irish but Whittaker couldn't manage an Irish accent.
- Brad Pitt has played Irish characters in two films, as well as some Irish-American characters. He is a Northern Irish terrorist in The Devil's Own, and an Irish Traveller in Snatch. He does quite well on the accent test: most people think his accent in Snatch is pretty good, and while opinion is more divided about his Belfast accent in The Devil's Own, a lot of people think he definitely avoids Oireland level even if he fell short.
- The Belfast-based movie Cherrybomb falls prey to this. Although pretty much all the supporting cast members were genuinely Irish, the male lead (Rupert Grint) was English and his love interest (Kimberly Nixon) was Welsh, and yet they were required to put on strong Irish accents for their roles.
- In a bizarre bit of casting Alice Eve, perhaps the most thoroughly English young actress working today played an Irish nanny (named 'Erin', which is a little like having a British nanny named 'Albion') in the second Sex and the City movie. At least one critic thought her character verged into outright racism.
- Australian actress Cate Blanchett played the eponymous lead in Veronica Guerin, a biopic about an investigative journalist who was assassinated for investigating The Irish Mob and its involvement in the drug trade in Ireland.
- Another Veronica Guerin biopic, When The Sky Falls had American actress Joan Allen play the same role.
- The B movie "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus" has one character whose accent is supposed to be either Scottish or Irish, and is positively painful to listen to, it fails so badly.
- In a weird semi-example Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows saw Rhys Ifans (who is proudly Welsh) play Xenophilius Lovegood with a noticeable Irish accent to fit in better with his on-screen daughter Luna Lovegood (who is played by Irish actress Evanna Lynch).
- Disney's The Luck of the Irish is full of these. Henry Gibson, Marita Geraghty, and Timothy Omundson, just to name three. All Americans.
- In The Boondock Saints, American Norman Reedus plays one of two Irish twin brothers. Irish-American Sean Patrick Flanery plays the other. In the second movie they seem to be doing the accent intentionally badly.
- American Aidan Quinn and Danish Connie Nielsen in A Shine of Rainbows
- In The Name Of The Father had English actors Daniel Day-Lewis, Mark Sheppard and Pete Postlethwaite play Irish characters. However Day-Lewis has some Irish ancestry, possesses Irish citizenship and lives there, while Sheppard also has some Irish heritage. All of them put on good accents too. It's averted with most Irish characters played by wholly Irish actors anyway.
- John Ford's The Informer has a real Irishman — Victor Mc Laglen — in the lead, but the rebel leader is played by Preston Foster, from New Jersey. To his credit, Ford doesn't even have him try to fake an Irish accent...which makes it easier for the audience to suspend disbelief and just enjoy some great performances.
- Mick Jagger's laughable attempt to imitate an Irish accent in Ned Kelly.
- Stonehearst Asylum: The English actor David Thewlis plays an Irishman, Mickey Finn.
- Galway-born Angel of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and Angel) is portrayed by Buffalo-born, Philadelphia-raised American David Boreanaz.note This tends to come up only in flashback scenes. While Spike is still proudly English, Angel has buried his brogue due to the bad memories.
- Most of the flashback scenes in Angel contain some dreadful examples of Oireland including a delightful buxom wench played by Christina Hendricks who sounds - well - not Irish.
- None of the characters who appeared in the brief 'Peter in Ireland arc' in Heroes were portrayed by Irish actors (and it shows), though one was an Irish-American, and another was Dominic Keating, who is half Irish, although he was raised in England. Two seasons later we had American Robert Knepper playing Samuel.
- Burn Notice has both a regular and an in-universe example. Brit Gabrielle Anwar plays former-IRA Fiona Glennane; however, you'd be forgiven for not noticing, as she adopts another, American-ish accent in the second episode (and her original Irish accent was bad enough that it comes as a relief). American Jeffrey Donovan plays American Michael Westen, who uses a cover as Irish terrorist Michael McBride. Also, Michael's Irish accent is so good, Fiona's brother Sean tells him his American accent is "a bit dodgy".
- Made even funnier by the fact that Fiona's brother is played by Gideon Emery, an Englishman and fellow Fake Irish.
- Jimmy O'Phelan on Sons of Anarchy; his accent's pretty painful as played by American Titus Welliver. In fact, the entire Belfast sequence was painful. Seems they couldn't combine filming on location with hiring actual Irish actors, with the exception of Paula Malcomson. Though maybe choosing not to surround terrible accents with genuine ones was a wise decision.
- A pre-fame Heath Ledger played a young Irish warrior prince in the short-lived Hercules/Xena knock-off Roar.
- British actor Paul Whitehouse played Irish estate worker Ted (of the Ted & Ralph sketches) in the The Fast Show.
- Father Ted - of all shows - used this at least once with native Glaswegian Clare Grogan playing Niamh Connolly, an Irish radical feminist pop singer.
- This trope was explicitly parodied and Lampshaded in the first episode of The Troubles themed sitcom Give My Head Peace when the IRA characters (played by genuine Northern Irish actors) are given 'dodgy English' accents.
- Murder, She Wrote: The Celtic Riddle. Good gravy. We even get a sub-plot where there's a secret message coded in Ogham. And the "Irish" characters can't even pronounce "Ogham" properly! (it's "oh-am" in case you're wondering)
- Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald plays Irish immigrant Margaret Schroder in Boardwalk Empire with quite a convincing accent for a character from early 20th century Kerry. Also on Boardwalk Empire, the IRA fighter Owen Sleater is played by the English Charlie Cox, and Margaret's brother, Eamonn is played by the Scottish Tony Curran.
- In General Hospital, American actress Erin Chambers plays Galway native Siobhan McKenna...with an extremely thick accent that sounds as fake as it is.
- In The Wild Wild West two episodes - "The Night of the Double-Edged Knife" and "The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse" - feature some actionably bad Irish accents, particularly Elisha Cook in the former and Karen Sharpe hamming it up in the latter ("Terrible! TERRIBLE!" indeed). On the other hand, "The Night of the Firebrand" has Pernell Roberts not only playing a convincing Irishman but also playing a convincing Irishman pretending to be American!
- Subverted with British actor Jamie Bamber, who was born in London, but is of Irish ancestry and has Irish citizenship, thanks to his mother. However, his character from Law & Order: UK, Matt Devlin, was given a slightly different background—born in Ireland, but emigrated to London at young age.
- Peaky Blinders takes place in Birmingham, but there are two Irish characters in the cast. New Zealander Sam Neill comes by his Ulster accent honestly - it's based upon his own father's County Tyrone accent - but Englishwoman Annabelle Wallis has to also affect a Northern Irish accent. It's pretty good; her costar Cillian Murphy praised the work she did.
- Inverted in the series Outlander. Main character and Englishwoman Claire Randall is portrayed by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe.
- Nominally Irish assassin Nina Williams from the Tekken game series is played by South African actress Candice Hillebrand in the film adaptation.
- Henry of No More Heroes fame is played by Quinton Flynn. Quite fitting, considering the voice actor of Henry's rival and twin brother Travis Touchdown pulls a Fake American accent.
- Sean Devlin, the Irish protagonist of The Saboteur is played by the English voice actor Robin Atkin Downes, and he isn't all that convincing.
- Interestingly, BioShock 1 accomplishes this in-story. The very Irish revolutionary "Atlas" is actually a monstrously amoral New Jersey businessman putting on an accent, but the character is voiced by Irishman Karl Hanover, and his true identity is voiced by a different actor.
- During one review in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee did half the review in a stereotypical Irish accent, including changing the cartoon version of himself to wearing a green hat and sporting a large, red beard.
- He says that it's an Irish accent, but it doesn't even vaguely resemble one. It sounds more like someone punched him in the jaw than anything else.
- Which may be how he achieved that effect.
- Of all the Irish characters in Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks only the adult version of Piggley is voiced by an Irish actor (Peadar Lamb). The others are all voiced by Americans, except Molly and Dannan O'Mallard who are voiced by Canadian Tara Strong.
- The infamous Captain Planet episode set in Belfast. Setting aside its magnificently terrible stereotyping and complete lack of research, all the voice acting clearly wasn't performed by anyone raised remotely near Belfast.
- Patrick O'Brian (born Richard Patrick Russ), the Hibernophile English author of the Aubrey-Maturin series at the very least made no move to correct journalists who thought he was Irish though whether he actively pretended to be Irish is a bit murkier.
- Errol Flynn, who was an Australian of partial-Irish descent, passed himself as Irish in his early Hollywood career in the belief that few people knew of Australia.
- People figured out at one point that if you want to be elected a judge in the Chicago area, you need an Irish-sounding name—nobody's ever heard of any of the candidates, so the "vote for the person who sounds Irish" contingent swamps the people who are actually voting based on policy. So many lawyers who wanted to be judges changed their names that the county started requiring their old names to appear next to their new ones on the ballot.
- It was also a trend for boxers in the late 1800s and early 1900s to adopt Irish names, as it was believed that Irish boxers drew better crowds than the former. Examples include the Italian-born Johnny Dundee (born Guiseppe Curreri), Italian-American "Fireman" Jim Flynn (Andrew Chiariglione), and Lithuanian-American former heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey (Joseph Zukauskas). In a bit of an inversion, there's Michael Gomez, an Irish Traveller boxer who was born Michael Armstrong, but adopted Gomez in homage to Puerto Rican legend Wilfredo Gomez. Ironically, his nickname is the Manchester Mexican.