The diversity of language and accents on the island of Ireland has long been a fascinating subject for many.

Why is there so much diversity on the way we speak? Philip Boucher Hayes assembled an expert panel to discuss this: Dr Mairéad Moriarty, Professor of Applied Linguistics University of Limerick, journalist Pat Fitzpatrick and writer and actor Nuala McKeever.

Well, a panel with one expert and what Philip called two "accent guinea pigs."

Philip started with a question for Mairéad - is it the case that Ireland has a greater diversity of accents than other countries? The answer was, well, nuanced:

"Ireland is particularly accent-rich for a variety of different reasons. So historically, it's a country in which many languages have lived, due to various invasions, from Norse to English, et cetera.

"But also, Ireland is clan-based and historically because we didn’t have any means of transport between localities or between clans, there are accents which are from very rural, small groups and localised and for that reason they have retained a real richness of accent diversity even in an island of this size."

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So, Philip summarises, bad roads is why we’re so accent-rich. But, disappointingly, Mairéad isn't convinced that Ireland has more accents than other countries:

"Most countries are really, really diverse accent-wise, but I guess what makes Ireland slightly different and slightly more diverse than you would expect given its geographical size, is the historic base of our country on the clan system.

"And primarily our influence of our accent comes from our primary care givers, those who surround us, our parents, our family. And because Ireland was so tightly-knit in terms of the clan system, this has retained to the present day."

Pat Fitzpatrick, journalist and Cork person, talked about the posh Cork accent versus the posh Dublin accent – the latter seen by Cork people as sounding "quite English," according to Pat, and possibly detectable in the dulcet tones of our host:

"That old, you know, the English tones. And Philip, I might suggest, you’d have a small bit of it yourself."

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Then Pat – perhaps wisely not in the same studio as our host – moved on to the differences between the posh Cork accent and the working-class accent, as well as the differences between West Cork and East Cork accents. It’s that difference in such a small area that, surely, makes Ireland, if not unique, then at least pretty rarified. And, as Pat points out, it makes our geographical notions seem pretty silly:

"It makes you realise how ridiculous borders are as well, that obviously, the West Cork accent, that’s you know, the Kerry accent really is just the West Cork accent without manners. So, all these things, they’re kind of, going back to the clan thing, it would have straddled borders, obviously. The borders don’t make any sense, there’s no such thing as a Cork accent, really."

Belfast’s own Nuala McKeever did outline a dilemma that many people on this island have when it comes to accents:

"We’re all so caught here on this little island with, you know, simultaneously hating and wanting to ape the English and in England they’re all hating and wanting to ape the southeast of England. I don’t know who they hate and want to ape in the southeast of England, probably themselves."

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Nuala also highlighted how a lot of people with, shall we say, regional accents tend to smooth out the more localised elements of their speech in an effort to become more universally understood. There are also those who hold on to their original accents through thick and thin and wear them as a badge of honour:

"Like, I’m working class, I’m working class and I’m not going to stop being working class even if I live in a detached house and I have somebody comes into clean for me twice a week, I’m still working class, you know what I’m saying?"

The above is, of course, better listened to than read, and you can listen to it and the entire discussion – including talk of how people from Northern Ireland put a diphthong where people from elsewhere in the country use a vowel and the sad absence of subtitles on radio – by clicking above.