Hiberno-English evident in Shackleton’s voice recording?

May 10, 2015

After returning from his Nimrod expedition, recordings were made of Shackleton speaking about his experiences. In his book, Shackleton: A Life in Poetry, Jim Mayer wrote:

‘There are no traces of an Irish accent, which had been removed by his teachers at Dulwich College years before…’

[J. Mayer, Shackleton: A Life in Poetry (Oxford, 2014), p. 99.]

I would disagree with this assessment. On first hearing, I thought there was something unmistakably Anglo-Irish about Shackleton’s voice. On listening to it again, I realised that it was not the words he used, nor his intonation, but rather the pace, rhythm and pauses of his voice that, for me, show off Sir Ernest’s Irish roots.

Give the recording a careful listen (or several) yourself and make your own analysis. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. Is there a hint of Kilkea or Donnybrook in his speech? Is it the tone, the pace, or something else that gives it away? Or is it there at all? Did his Dulwich masters beat the Irish accent out of him (which initially earned him the nickname ‘Mickey’)?


Mayer makes the point that usually Shackleton spoke to large crowds and that, in this receording, he would not have had the reciprocal energy from an audience. This is a significant point about the Boss’s character — Shackleton was a man suited to making speeches and dealing in the here and now, but found it difficult to write or engage with more measured performances such as a recording would demand.

[Mayer, Life in Poetry, p. 99.]

To assist with these issues, Sir Ernest had much help from Edward Saunders in the creation of his books. Saunders transcribed Shackleton’s words as the explorer dictated his thoughts and memories, pacing the floor of an office heartily, constantly smoking. Saunders turned his notes based on Sir Ernest’s pacing speeches into readable, firm, yet pleasant prose. Although he was instrumental in the production of the books, Saunders took no credit for the finished products.

[M. Smith, Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer (Cork, 2014), pp. 229-230, 391-392.]


For Shackleton’s books, see:

The Heart of the Antarctic: Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 (‘Nimrod’)

South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914–1917 (‘Endurance’)


For more on Jim Mayer’s book (available in Hodges Figgis, Dawson Street, Dublin 2), see:



Written by Liam ÓMhaoldomhnaigh.

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