Travelers to Ireland need to work on understanding the variety of Irish accents in English before they start learning Irish sayings — it’ll be a better use of your time. But if you want to immerse yourself a little deeper into Irish culture, it’s a good idea to look at some of the most common phrases in Irish Gaelic, also known as Gaeilge.
English and Irish (Gaeilge) are the official languages in the Republic of Ireland, and in 2016, 1,761,420, i.e. 39.8 percent of the population of the country, said they could speak Irish. Irish is mostly spoken in the south and west of the Republic of Ireland (from Cork to Mayo along the coast), and more commonly in rural areas, but it’ll never hurt to know a couple of Irish sayings for when you visit these parts — if only to show that you’re interested in the country’s traditions.
Here are eight Irish sayings about Guinness, tea, and God that will help you understand Irish culture better, and appreciate it even more.
Irish saying #1: Cé leis thú? | Who do you belong to?
When you meet an Irish person, their primary concerns tend to rest more with where you came from and who your granny is than about finding out about your own interests. We need to know if you are of good stock before we could possibly entertain a light conversation with you. The chitchat is then generally preceded with a lengthy discussion on your great-aunt’s neighbors, cousins you never knew you had, and the local shop that your mam used to live near.
Irish saying #2: Marbh le tae marbh gan é | Dead with tea, dead without it
The Irish have a pretty serious obsession with tea. The above phrase equates to saying “Tea: can’t live with it, can’t live without it”. You won’t last long in an Irish house without the teapot being brought out.
Irish saying #3: Fliuch an tae | Wet the tea
In Ireland, we “wet the tea.” “Fliuch an tae, le do thoil” may sound strange to the unaccustomed ear (tea is wet), but to us, this is an everyday request from our parents to make it. We are very picky about our favorite drink, it has to be drawn for the right amount of time (an tae a tharraingt) and we do not, for the most part, like weak tea (anglais tae).
Irish saying #4: Le cúnamh Dé | With the help of God
While many Irish are not as devout as we once were, we seem to still depend quite a lot on God. Most things in life, the weather, openings, the lotto, etc. are left to God to sort out for us. We can be pretty blasphemous, too, and we struggle to utter a sentence without referring to “Dia” or “Iosa Chríost”.
Irish saying #5: Chuirfeadh sé dubh ina bhán ort | He’d convince you black was white
The Irish are particularly gifted when it comes to blaggarding people. When I lived in America, some of my Irish friends managed to convince some locals that there were only six days in a week in Ireland, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and that we simply have more hours in each day so there is the same amount of hours over the week. No harm is ever meant, it’s all in the name of craic (fun), but be very wary of believing something that a person says without question.
Irish saying #6: Peata ceart a dhéanamh de dhuine! | Make a right pet of someone
One of the biggest insults an older Irish person can give is to say that someone has spoiled their child. We are strong believers in providing our children with enough hardship so that they grow up never expecting too much in life or being demanding. Many of the older generations think our children need more of the wooden spoon and fewer hours in front of a screen.
Irish saying #7: Is fearrde an Guinness thú | You are the better for Guinness
Some genuinely believe that Guinness has magical health benefits and that no matter what the ailment is (hunger, shock, flu) the best cure is some alcohol. There’s a reason why Guinness was marketed “for strength” for so long. The same curative line of thinking goes for the harder stuff, too. Coming down with the flu? No doctor for me, I’ll just have a hot whiskey. The Irish for whiskey, “uisce beatha” translates as “water of life”, which says a lot about our attitude to the drink. For some, it is our elixir, but there’s no doubt that it comes second to tea.
Irish saying #8: Deoch an dorais | Drink of the door
Leaving places — pubs, neighbors’ houses, cafés — is a fifteen-minute ordeal. By the time you start indicating that you are ready to leave, get up, and head for the door, you run into your cousin’s girlfriend’s brother, sit down for a chat with him, and have one more pint so as not to be rude. If you need to be somewhere else you’d better plan your departure well in advance.
A version of this article was previously published on March 5, 2015, and was updated on March 14, 2022.