Rhododendron threat raised in Dáil” is a brief but piquant news story well summed up in the first sentence: “Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has claimed that the spread of rhododendron in Killarney National Park is so bad that the army may have to be called in to sort it out.” I bring it here solely for the accompanying video clip, less than half a minute long, which presents, as Trevor, who sent it to me (thanks, Trevor!), says, “a reminder of what a strong Kerry accent sounds like.” It’s truly a thing of wonder; as I said in response, I love the way he says the word rhododendrons.


  1. Favorite segment – when he talks about how much is needed to put Killarney Park in ardor.

    One can only imagine.

  2. Do I hear a retroflex d? [ɑːɖɞ˞]

  3. David Marjanović says:

    Nothing is retroflex in the whole clip, including r itself, which is an alveolar trill. The order at the very end is [äːrdə̆r].

  4. Yes, I hear it now. Bias from hearing too much Swedish, I guess.

  5. Jim (another one) says:

    I’m looking around for the Irish word for rhododendron and not finding one.

    Fuchsias have become invasive in southern Ireland too. At least there’s a word/expression for fuchsia. God help them if anyone lets a geranium loose.

  6. So is the MP’s choice of stressed vowel here idiosyncratic or dialectal?

  7. ə de vivre says:

    I first read the headline as Rhododendron threat raised in Dalí, and thought that this was from some kind of surrealist news agency.

  8. We desperately need a surrealist news agency in these parlous times.

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    Many might consider the work of the official news agency of the North Korean regime to have surrealist elements. Here’s a non-NK website devoted to gathering its output for easy reference: https://kcnawatch.co/

  10. ə de vivre says:

    Don’t believe that surrealist fake news. The rhododendron level in Dalí has in fact been downgraded from ‘tintinnabulary’ to the historically low level of ‘lumpy’.

  11. The Healy-Raes are caricatures of the backwoods clientelist politician; Michael only recently had the nerve to start wearing his trademark flat cap in the Dáil chamber. The accent is part of the package.

    “is the MP’s choice of stressed vowel here idiosyncratic or dialectal?” — I don’t recall hearing “rhododundron”* before, so I would guess it’s idiosyncratic. The Kerry accent has the pin-pen merger (“whin it comes to a national park”) so it may be a hypercorrection of “rhododindron”.

    *I think the vowel is STRUT rather than FOOT, in which case “rhododoondron” is inaccurate.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    I hear a loud and clear [ʊ]. If that’s STRUT rather than FOOT, then what does FOOT sound like?

  13. I hear it as even closer to [u]; I’m amazed it could be considered STRUT.

  14. In the same clip are the following STRUT words for comparison: “comes” 0:02, “nothing” 0:19, “much” 0:26. Some Irish accents merge STRUT and FOOT; perhaps he does in some contexts? The full debate is available on video here, starting at 3h45m, with (frustratingly non-verbatim) transcript here. For GOOSE there are “beautiful” and “tourism” at 3:47:00-06. For FOOT there is “a good politician” at 3:47:26.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    This all sounds like in northern England, where the distribution is simply different: the FOOT-STRUT split is absent, and good (with [uː]) hasn’t participated in the irregular shift from GOOSE to FOOT(/STRUT).

  16. According to De Bhaldraithe the Irish word for rhododendron is ródaidéandran.

  17. @DM: I think it’s only -ook words that have non-standard /uː/ in the North.

  18. David Marjanović says:


  19. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    There’s an interesting map on Wikipedia showing the various realizations of the STRUT vowel in British English dialects. What amazes me is the realization as [ɪ] in Devon/Cornwall. Is it real? Do these varieties merge ‘sun’ and ‘sin’ or has the vowel in the latter shifted to something else?

  20. The New English-Irish Dictionary provides two Irish words for rhododendron: róslabhras (= ‘rose laurel’) and ródaideandrón; there are audio files for the latter from each of the three main dialect regions.

  21. FWIW Twitter’s reaction to Healy-Rae broke rhododundron 3 to rhododoondron 0

  22. Dave Marks says:

    Note also the very clear NORTH-FORCE distinction in his accent. Some people from that area have a further distinction within the NORTH set between, e.g., cork and dork. He also has a distinction between the vowels of work and learn. He might even have a 3 way distinction between those 2 and quirk, but I didn’t hear any ir words in the section I listened to.

    P.S. Victor Mair can eat a bag of dicks.

  23. …Why is that?

  24. Yeah, that seems an odd thing to say. I occasionally disagree with Mair, but he seems like a good guy.

  25. January First-of-May says:

    This, plus it’s also a bit of a general non-sequitur.

  26. Yeah, what brought that on?

  27. Michael Healy-Rae’s /ʌ/ is on the whole back and probably rounded, in the vicinity of cardinal [ɔ], to my ear. This is what I hear in his realisation of suffer, number, come, hundred, enough. He has the same vowel before tautosyllabic /r/ in survey, further, thirty, work, world. However, in some words he consistently uses a much higher vowel, which I would transcribe [ʊ], and it doesn’t sound to me different from what he has in pull, good, put. The words in question are much, rubbish, rhodod[ʊ]ndron, done, money (“the moony that had been spint”). I haven’t done any instrumental analysis, so I may well be wrong, but still I have little doubt that his vowels in number and money are different (I’m less sure to which set done belongs, since I spotted only one occurrence of the word). Is it possible that the STRUT lowering in the Kery accent had more lexical exceptions than in Southern BrE?

    As for his FORCE and NORTH vowels, the former set has [or], the latter [ɑr] — with very little if any rounding (= his LOT), but different from the START vowel (as in his park), which is rather front. If not contrasted with park, his important (which goes with the NORTH set), short, order sound like “impartant, shart, ardour”.

  28. He has the same vowel before tautosyllabic /r/ in survey, further, thirty, work, world.

    I wonder if this is the vowel that 19C English writers transcribed o, as in sor(r) ‘sir’, found in both Kipling and Lewis Carroll.

  29. John C. Wells (1982, Accents of English, vol. 2: 422) is worth quoting here. He discusses the characteristic quality of /ʌ/ in Irish English (“typically a mid centralized back somewhat rounded vowel which might best be symbolized [ɵ-] or [ɔ̈]”), and then the question of STRUT vs. FOOT:

    My impression of Irish accents as a whole is that most speakers have at least a potential /ʌ — ʊ/ opposition (much more so than, say, Newcastle-upon-Tyne) — but that the lexical incidence of the two vowels differs considerably frpm that used in the standard accents. Thus Mac Éinrí, himself from a rural County Mayo background, includes among his minimal or near-minimal pairs for /ʌ/ vs. /ʊ/ not only stud vs. stood and flood vs. good, but also pup vs. sup, pub vs. sub, tub vs. grub, nut vs. cut, blood vs. bud, judge vs. budge, and brother vs. mother

    This is exactly what I hear in the Rhododʊndron Interpellation. The contrast is there, but the lexical incidence is erratic when compared with the mainstream varieties of English.

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