A Somewhat Guide to Irish Slang
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I’ve been home in Canada for a few months, and one thing (of many) I miss about living in Ireland is hearing all the Irish sayings. I’m going to share some (not all) of the slang and sayings I heard while living in Ireland. This isn’t an exhaustive list of every Irish saying out there. I should also point out that most my time was living and working around Dublin, so some of these terms may be more prominent there. I know a few of these sayings can be found in other countries too, but if you spend time in Ireland you’ll definitely hear them. This list is in alphabetical order.
A Note on the Irish Language (Gaeilge)
Aside from a few words, I’ll mention below, you probably won’t hear a lot of Irish (Gaeilge) in Ireland, unless you’re in an Irish speaking town or actively join an Irish language club. Communities/business where only Irish are spoken will have a sign with the word Gaeltacht, and most of these communities are located on the west side of the country. There are some things you’ll seen in the Irish language (like signs at the train station), but these are also in English. If you want to learn Irish you can, but it’s not necessary to get around the country. Duolingo is a free language learning website/app and has lessons in learning Irish if you are interested. Note this Irish Duolingo course doesn’t offer pronunciation so you may want to look into a course like Bite Size Irish.
Sometimes people will refer to the Irish language as Gaelic, but this is a little complicated since Gaelic can also refer to a similar Celtic language spoken in Scotland. While the two languages are closely related they’re not exactly the same. Sometimes people will refer to the Irish language as Irish-Gaelic to differentiate it from the Gaelic spoken in Scotland. Usually within Ireland people will just say they speak Irish (or Gaeilge in Irish). Here’s a video on the difference between Irish and Gaelic.
Irish Slang and Sayings
Craic (pronounced like crack) is an Irish word that means fun. Craic is also a common greeting in Ireland. Asking someone, “what’s the craic?” is like asking “how’s it going? What have you been up to lately?” You’ll hear people talk about “good craic” and “that was some craic,” etc. It’s like saying “that was a good time.” Of course the first time I heard someone talk about good craic I thought they were referring to drugs, until I learned what craic meant. Out of all the sayings I heard in Ireland craic is the most common.
This means something is really good or excellent. “That concert was deadly.”
Pretty easy to this one out. It’s a term for idiot. “The tourist was being an eejit in Temple Bar.”
Another Irish saying (pronounced like fall-cha). This means welcome. If you’re staying in a hotel or going on a guided tour you’ll probably hear this.
It’s like saying “good job” or “good for you.” As in, “fair play to you for getting that promotion.”
Another term for an apartment. You’ll see the word apartment used sometimes, but you’ll often see flat as well.
A gaff is another term for a house. My roommate was telling me he was going to help his dad “fix up the gaff” and I had to ask him what he was talking about.
I know this isn’t unique to Ireland, but you’ll hear this a lot here. It’s another word for that’s good or great. “Oh that’s grand” “Thanks that’ll be grand” “Oh you’re grand.” “Oh it’s grand like.” I loved hearing people say grand. It’s sounds so much better than just saying, “that’s nice.”
This is the hot water tank in a house or flat. Often you’ll need to turn on the immersion to get hot water for your sink/shower/bath. It usually takes a few minutes for the water to get hot. After you’re done using the sink/shower/bath you’ll need to turn the immersion off, or else your heating bill will go up.
This is another word for mom/mommy/mother. It was fun to get my mom a mother’s day card from Ireland that said, “Happy Mother’s Day Mammy.” If you are in Ireland just know Mother’s day is in March (same as in the UK), and not in May like in Canada and the US.
Short for million. You’ll usually hear it when someone says something like, “thanks a mil.”
If someone is slagging you that means they’re teasing or mocking you. This is often done by friends and family. The Irish love the craic so if someone is slagging on you in Ireland it’s a good thing.
A Gaelic word (pronounced like slawn-cha). This means good health, but you’ll hear it as a toast/cheers before drinking. Not everyone will say sláinte before having a drink, but you will likely hear it in Ireland.
This is another way of saying someone is very embarrassed. “He was scarlet.”
Taking the piss
Also another way of saying someone is slagging or mocking someone.
Instead of a sign saying “for rent” it will often say “to let.” Means the same thing.
Often people will say “thanking you” instead of just “thank you.” Here in Canada if someone says “thanking you” (which isn’t common) they’re thanking you for something in the future. Generally it’s just something like, “thank you for the report you’re sending me tomorrow” and not “I’m thanking you for the report you’re sending tomorrow.” In Ireland, people would say this for something happening in the present moment. Like if I was waiting a table and dropping off drinks a customer might say, “thanking you for the drinks.”
What’s the story?
What’s the story? This is a greeting similar to, “what’s the craic?” It’s a “how are you doing? what’s going on with you?” kind of thing.
You’re very much welcome to
Kind of like the thanking you example in Ireland (especially on tours and at tourist sites) you won’t just here “welcome to Dublin” but “you’re very much welcome to Dublin.” Every time I heard this I loved it.
Here’s a fun story. I worked at a pub in Ireland for about a year, and the music in the pub came from Spotify playlists in the manager’s locked off. The playlists were sometimes really random (and awesome). One day the song “Mr. Cellophane” from the film adaptation of the musical Chicago (sung by John C. Reilly) came on. I love musicals, but even I admit hearing a musical song at a pub was a little strange.
My coworker turned to me and asked, “isn’t that your man?” The pub wasn’t open yet (I was mopping the floor), and there were no customers inside. My first thought was, “What is he talking about? There’s no one here, and I’ve never met John C. Reilly.” I was very confused. Then I learned if someone says or asks about, “your man” it’s like saying “this man or that man.” So someone might say something like, “your man took forever to order his drink” instead of saying “that man over there took forever to order his drink.” Similarly to “your man” is “your wan,” which means “this woman or that woman.” I definitely heard “your man” more than “your wan” though.
Things You’ll Never Hear People Say in Ireland (Unless They’re Tourists or Taking the Piss)
Anything serious about Leprechauns and Pots of Gold
There is a Leprechaun Museum in Dublin (never went myself), so you might hear people talk about leprechauns there. Generally just out and about you won’t here talk of leprechauns or pots of gold. I did take a taxi where the driver (when finding out I was from Canada) asked me if I believed in Bigfoot, which led to a really interesting conversation.
The Black Stuff
The black stuff supposedly refers to Guinness, but not once in my almost two years living in Ireland did I ever hear anyone ask for, “a pint of the black stuff” (and I spent a year working at a pub). People would just ask for a pint of Guinness.
Catch Me Lucky Charms
No one will say anything about “catching me lucky charms.” If you say anything of the sort people will look at you like you’re an asshole. Lucky Charms cereal is American, and while it’s not impossible to find in Ireland (at least in Dublin you can get it at some of the bigger grocery stores) it will be expensive. Usually about €8/box (or $12CA).
We should go to Temple Bar, because the drinks are reasonably priced there, and it’s not crowded at all.
Hahahahaha. No. I mean go to Temple Bar in Dublin to drink if you want, but there are plenty of pubs in Dublin, and lots of other places for a drink (alcoholic or otherwise). Drinks at pubs in Temple Bar are expensive and many pubs will charge you more for your drinks the longer you’re there. Don’t think that nursing your pint is gonna save you money when you order the next one 40 minutes later.
Wow! You’re 1/16th Irish on Your Mother’s Side? You’re definitely Irish. Have a free pint of Guinness.
There are a lot of people of Irish heritage in the world, and that’s great. There’s even a museum in Dublin (the EPIC Museum) where you can learn all about the contributions the Irish and people of Irish descent have made (a great museum to visit in Dublin). However most people in Ireland aren’t gonna be impressed if you tell them your grandmother’s cousin was from somewhere in Ireland. Kind of like how when people found out I was from Canada they’d say something like “oh my niece’s friend moved to Toronto.” I mean cool story, but also Canada is really big, and I live like 4000km from Toronto, so there’s that.
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Have you heard of any of these Irish sayings? Are there any Irish sayings I missed?