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Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's 'Oirish' Accent


"A loy towld awften enough becomes, loike, the truth, roight!" -- Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

"A loy towld awften enough becomes, loike, the truth, roight!" -- Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

The specter of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin has been haunting the Irish blogosphere of late thanks to the popular "Come Here To Me" site, which takes a sideways look at Dublin life and culture.

One recent "Come Here To Me" blog revisited the longstanding rumor that Lenin spoke English with an Irish accent.

This subject briefly surfaced in the Irish media last year when an "Irish Times" newspaper column made a passing reference to Lenin's supposed Hibernian brogue.

The source the column cited for this claim was none other than Roddy Connolly, the son of the legendary Scottish-born Irish socialist James Connolly.

The article noted that the younger Connolly, who was himself a prominent socialist, met with Lenin on a visit to St. Petersburg in the 1920s:

Connolly claimed that Lenin had a “Rathmines” accent, and that this was “the product of his Irish tutor, who had lived in Leinster Road.” This in turn might help explain why Lenin and his wife – according to her memoirs – found it very hard to make themselves understood when they first visited London and why, listening to speakers in Hyde Park, they found the Irish ones easier to follow.

Picking up the story almost a year later, the "Come Here To Me" blog got great mileage out of the fact that Lenin, the archetypal hero of the working class, apparently spoke "with the mincing, effeminate speech" used by denizens of the leafy Dublin suburb of Rathmines, home to one of the poshest accents in Ireland.

Over the years, this accent has been the source of many jokes in the Irish capital.

It has been claimed, for instance, that the law of torts first saw the light of day as legislation aimed at regulating prostitution in Rathmines.

Many Dubliners will also tell you that the word "creche" was originally used to describe a collision between two cars in the same fashionable south-Dublin district.

Back in the 1920s, the internationally renowned, left-wing Irish dramatist Sean O'Casey even fiercely lampooned the Rathmines accent in his play about Ireland's 1916 uprising, "The Plough and The Stars."

The accent is used to great comic effect in the play, when a "fashionably, middle-aged, stout woman" finds herself caught up in the middle of Dublin's violent insurrection:

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?

Sadly, no recording exists of Lenin speaking English, so we will never know if the seminal Marxist revolutionary did indeed talk with a snooty Rathmines accent.

Then again, it would not come as a surprise if Lenin had perhaps deliberately suppressed any evidence of his English way of speaking.

Given that one of the world's most famous socialist dramatists chose to mercilessly ridicule the very same inflections in his play about the Irish revolution, Lenin may have decided to keep his Rathmines accent a secret, lest it would seriously damage his proletarian credentials!

-- Coilin O'Connor

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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