Yeah, it takes a whole army of bounty hunters to bring in Sean Macguire.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to see Vulfpeck's Joey Dosik perform live in Dublin's Sugar Club. After a sincere acapella performance, less than a split second elapsed before a member of the crowd bellowed, "GEWON JOEY!" A thundering applause from the audience immediately ensued, threatening to bring the very walls of the building crashing down.
There's something about the spirit of Dublin that's perpetually vital; an unwavering confidence coupled with a burning passion for life. That's the Ireland I've grown up knowing, having spent all 23 years of my life living in Dublin. However, that's not the Ireland I see portrayed when I play video games - or at least it wasn't until I came across Red Dead Redemption 2's Sean Macguire.
Macguire, known more commonly today as Maguire, is a surname meaning "son of the dark one". Etymologically, it's associated with a lineage of Kings from Fermanagh, a county in the north-west of Ireland. It's a noble name, but Sean Macguire is not a noble man, nor is he from the north-west. Sean Macguire is a Dub, born and bred, and presents the most true depiction of Irishness in a video game I've ever seen.
There have been several prominent Irish characters in video games throughout history. Fallout 4's Cait, The Saboteur's Sean Devlin, and more recently Overwatch's Moira immediately spring to mind. Cait is a Jet-addicted alcoholic who fights for drinking money and speaks with a leprechaun accent that belongs to no region in Ireland. Sean Devlin, the protagonist of a game with a "Feckin' Hard" difficulty setting, sounds like an awful Irish actor trying to put on an American accent. His "top o' the mornin' to ya" greetings are derived from a strange trope associated with Ireland, despite the fact that no one in the country actually speaks like that. He's an alcoholic as well. Moira's a little better - no relationship with drink as far as I can see, although she does speak in an accent resembling that of a news anchor reporting on the latest scandalous politician's affair. That's not really a depiction of Dublin, per se.
When I heard Sean's first line in Red Dead Redemption 2 my ears perked up. An actual Dublin accent? Like, from the inner city? Surely not. Alas, my ears hadn't deceived me. Voiced by Cork man Michael Mellamphy, Sean Macguire emanates confidence and a playful wit that is emphatically Dublin-esque in every sense. "Arthur!" Sean exclaims, speaking to his saviour after being rescued from Blackwater. "You know, you're a lot less ugly from that other angle, Arthur."
After the player walks away, visibly unimpressed with Sean's joke, Sean calls out to them: "Do I not get a hug, Arthur? A warm embrace for a lost brother, now found?" Sean goes on to take the piss out of Arthur: "You're a great man, Arthur Morgan. The kind a young whippersnapper can really admire."
For those who don't know, the Dublin accent is quite a distinctive one. "Brother" is pronounced as "brudder" and "t"s are silent in lots of words - we don't like dental suffixes. Phonetically, the last line quoted here would be spelled, "Yourda grea' man, Artur More Gin. De koyind a yung wipper snapper can really admiyer." It suffices to say that Sean's accent lends itself well to his characteristic enthusiasm.
It makes sense for a Dub to be in America at this time, too. The Irish Famine in the 1840s drove 1.5 million Irish people to emigration between 1845 and 1855. In 1847 alone, 250,000 people left. Sean's "da" in the game was likely brought over as a young boy, as Sean refers to him having grown up in Donegal, the most northerly county in Ireland. The Donegal accent resembles Sean's in no way whatsoever, so we can only assume that he got his accent from his mam, who could potentially have been a Dub.
Interestingly, Sean's celebration party after he is rescued from Blackwater highlights one of the most important distinctions in the depiction of Irishness in all kinds of media: the difference between a drinking culture and an alcoholic culture. Unlike the hard-boiled, whiskey-nosed Cait and Sean Devlin, Sean Macguire is always up for a party, but he doesn't lose himself at the bottom of the bottle.
Instead of being a gaunt and jaded alcoholic, Sean is the type to stumble around the party saying, "It's because I luv ya, Artur. Really, it is." This drunken love buzz is Irish; the isolated loner-type who drowns their sorrows in silence isn't. We're a loud and friendly bunch, us Dubs. Sean captures that essence perfectly, correcting the relationship between Irish people and drink. A pint of plain is your only man, but we don't swallow 10 of them for breakfast.
Although Sean is seen to be a nuisance by most of Dutch's gang, they really do care for him. He may not around for that long, but the gang's reaction to losing him highlights the unanimous affection they felt towards him. He may have been loud, bashful and painfully sarcastic, boasting an obscene confidence that made no sense from an outside perspective. For example, he defends his capture by bounty hunters, saying, "it takes a whole army of bounty hunters to bring in Sean Macguire." Afterwards, Sean decides to slag John Marston off. "You had your feet up the whole time playing sick, and fondling that new scar like you're gonna buy it breakfast in the morning." Both of them were out of commission for a while, but according to Sean, his capture testified to his heroism, whereas John being attacked by a wolf yielded no excuse to stop working.
When he's subsequently put down by Charles, John and Arthur on the way to rob a train, he responds saying, "Fine! Damn, you three... Sulky, Angry, Scar Face." This emphatically sulky and angry response makes Sean a much more endearing character. His unflinching and entirely unhazarded self-belief creates a positive and light-hearted atmosphere, which is masterfully juxtaposed with how upset he gets when anyone attempts to give it back to him. He knows he's not the brightest spark, but he doesn't care - and why should he? "I love you bastards... Have fun. Have lots of fun!" The gang loved Sean, too, no matter how much they pretended not to.
It's important Rockstar took pains to include a genuinely Irish character in Red Dead Redemption 2. The original Red Dead Redemption featured a character that was literally named Irish, who ended up being just another stereotypical whiskey-drinking idiot. From touching a horse's scrotum to accidentally shooting himself, Irish was more of a comic relief oddball imbued with Irish stereotypes than a character with even the most minor semblance of an Irish person.
The same can be said of GTA 4's McReary family. Derrick in particular is a complete junkie, inviting an even more hyperbolic stereotype of Irish dependence on drink and drugs. None of this family are in any way Irish except for their alignment with stereotypes. They have lived in America for their whole lives, with the exception of Derrick, and they speak with American accents. However, the hard-drinking crime gang are as stereotypical as ever when it comes to the negative traits of the Irish, and the only one who has been to the "homeland," as Packie calls it, is Derrick, who returns to America with a heroin addiction. The only one of them to get in touch with their Irish heritage ends up being the one that conforms most to negative Irish stereotypes.
It's a breath of fresh air, so, to see Sean received with such a unanimously positive reception. A mate of mine from Newcastle asked if that was an accurate depiction of an Irish person, to which I could only say, "that's Dublin through and through." When Sean said, "Can't wait to slit some bastard's throat," I laughed so hard. Not because us Irish are a violent bunch, but because the way in which Sean speaks is so semblant of people I see every day. Again, I'm talking about the accent here, not the actual content of what was said. However, if you've seen Love/Hate, then you'll probably know why this line was particularly funny.
After many years of seeing "Irish" characters so un-Irish they upset me, I can't begin to stress how vital it is Red Dead 2's Sean is recognised for what he is: a video game character who's actually Irish. There are a plethora of accents interspersed throughout the Emerald Isle, although none of them sound in any way like the pot o' gold leprechaun singing and dancing at the end of the rainbow.
Dublin is the capital of Ireland and is home to a quarter of the population. Rockstar recognises this by making Sean the cocky, loud and affectionate person he is. When he moves his left leg forward, he throws his right shoulder back - in Dublin, it's common to ask people who walk like this if they dropped their maths book, as they're throwing shapes all over the gaff. It's nice to see that represented in a game, no matter how minor it might seem. It's the minor touches like these to Sean's character that makes his presence in Red Dead so representative of the spirit of Dublin. Sean Macguire is the kind of Irish character I, as an Irish person, am grateful to see in a video game.