Today, English is the most widely-spoken language in Ireland, but it wasn’t always so. Before English, the inhabitants here spoke the Irish language (also known as Irish Gaelic). An old language that was spoken in Ireland for centuries, Irish nearly died out once the British began to enforce the widespread use of English.
Happily, the Irish language has seen a massive revival in Ireland in recent years. The Gaelic Revival started in the late 19th and early 20th century, bringing Irish language, culture and tradition back to the spotlight.
This impressive feat was originally brought on by Douglas Hyde, a founding member of the 1876 Cumann Buan-Choimeádta na Gaeilge (Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language). The society’s goal? Develop interest and protect Irish tradition, sport, music, folklore, dance, and of course the Irish language. And it has succeeded with gusto. Irish music fills the pubs many a night, sports like GAA and hurling are immensely popular as is Irish dance, oral storytelling and traditional folklore tales are told and retold, and of course, the Irish language has seen a comeback. Want to learn more about Irish history? Read our History of Ireland for an overview of Ireland through the ages here.
There’s a government-backed push to revive the Irish language, now a required subject from primary school through the Leaving Certificate (akin to the US SATs or British A-Levels). Some schools even teach solely in Irish schools. Outside of schools, find many pockets of native Irish speakers throughout Ireland.
Though few people hold daily Irish conversations, most are conversational in Irish. Many Irish people use sprinkles of Irish in everyday dialogue, email salutations and exchanges. All road signs, official documents, and government services are translated into Irish. Cultural content is increasingly created in the Irish language, including Irish-only TV and radio channels as well as songs, literature and books.
Interestingly, though Irish people speak English as the main language, it’s our own particular brand of English that varies from English spoken elsewhere. it’s called Hiberno-English. Many words or phrases are largely unique to Ireland.
For example, when the Irish are flat out, they are busy. Putting something in the press doesn’t relate to journalism, but rather someone’s likely telling you where to put dishes or food (it means a cabinet or pantry). Don’t ask for a ride, ask for a lift (ride has a very different meaning). If someone says you’re grand, they don’t mean you’re elegant, but more likely they mean it’s alright or fine. And if they are doing the messages they aren’t texting but rather doing their weekly shopping.
These Irish sayings and phrases will have you befriending the locals – or even simply helping you follow a basic conversation.
Here are some basic useful words and phrases in Irish. It’s important to note that how these are pronounced will differ throughout the country, so we have provided some links to help with pronunciation.
Meaning: “Hello” (literal translation of “god be with you”)
Meaning: A hundred, thousand welcomes
Meaning: “Goodbye” with (literal translation of “safe”)
Meaning: Good night
Meaning: Kiss my arse!
Meaning: Fun and music
Meaning: Excuse me
Meaning: Refers to a primarily Irish-speaking region
Meaning: “Thank you” with a literal translation of “may you have goodness”
Meaning: Hurry up!
Meaning: Broken Irish is better than clever English
Meaning: Literally means “health” ; used as a drinking toast.
Meaning: Good luck to you
Meaning: “Please” with a literal translation of “with your will”
This iconic peninsula in Kerry is a popular destination for outdoor lovers largely based on the presence of the Dingle Way. However, most visitors stay in and around Dingle town. On the northern side of the peninsula, communities are smaller and more scattered, supporting several community pockets of Irish speakers. Dingle and the nearby Blasket Islands have an important Irish language literary tradition. Just go to the pub and listen to the locals – it’s likely you’ll hear it spoken!
The peninsulas are one of Ireland’s most wild and isolated regions, even today. They are simply far away from Dublin, Limerick and other larger cities, leaving West Cork’s small communities tight-knit and attached to tradition. There are several villages and townlands here where Irish is still the spoken language, and kept so by West Cork’s wild and far-flung landscapes.
Connemara is perhaps the most famous of the Gaeltacht regions. Connemara itself is fabled for its beauty, and the rugged mountains, stunning coastlines and blanket bogs have drawn visitors for centuries. Located near Galway, there are a number of towns and villages that are part of the Gaeltacht. Due to the region’s iconic landscapes and national park, Connemara’s Gaeltacht is one of the easiest and most popular regions to discover.
Nicknamed “the Forgotten County,” Donegal is cut off from the rest of Ireland politically and geographically. Historically speaking, Donegal was the last holdout against the British, maintaining a degree of independence until the Flight of the Earls in the 1600s. Due to this combination, Donegal has maintained a rebellious streak, including pride in Irish tradition. Though not as well-developed as other locations listed, some rural northern sections of Donegal are part of the Gaeltacht.
Islands are often microcosms of culture. Self-contained, islands often retain tradition better than mainland communities. The Aran Islands are Ireland’s most famous Gaeltacht islands. Though not huge, the Aran Islands are still among Ireland’s largest communities, and Irish is spoken widely throughout the island. Irish playwright J.M. Synge famously spent time on the Aran Islands to learn Irish and get in touch with his Irish heritage.
This island off of West Cork was likely the last view of Europe most emigrants ever saw of Ireland as they left in boats headed to new lives in the Americas, Australia and beyond. Though small – the population is not much over 100 – it is well-known as part of the Gaeltacht. Not only that, it is a beautiful place to visit, with great Atlantic views and a mild climate.
Have we piqued your curiosity about the Irish language? If you want to learn a few Irish phrases to use on your next trip to Ireland or even try your hand at learning some Irish Gaelic, read on for our essential guide to the Irish language.
In Ireland, our version of the English language – known as Hiberno English – is just that wee bit different. You’ll encounter a vast array of slang on your travels so here are you few that might come in handy.
Meaning: News, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation
How it’s used: “What’s the craic?” or “We had great craic last night”
Meaning: Well done
How it’s used: “Thanks for doing that, fair play to ye”
Meaning: How are you?
How it’s used: “How are you?” “I’m grand thanks” | “The weather is grand today”
Meaning: Amazing, brilliant, awesome
How it’s used: “The weather is savage today!” or simply, “That’s savage”
Meaning: I’m well or I’m good
How it’s used: “How are you?” “Ah, not a loss on me”
Meaning: Chastise, scold, complain, moan, rant
How it’s used: “Don’t be giving out to me – it wasn’t my fault!”
Meaning: Jeer or make fun of someone
How it’s used: “Don’t be slagging her off behind her back”
Meaning: Thin slices of bacon
How it’s used: “I would murder a rasher sandwich right now”
Meaning: Lose your temper, throw a tantrum
How it’s used: “If I hear that song once more, I’ll lose my rag”
Meaning: Someone who’s wiser than they appear
How it’s used: “Don’t be fooled, he’s a real cute hoor”
Meaning: funny, fun, humorous
How it’s used: “That show last night was gas craic!”
Meaning: Be wise, become aware of something, come back to your senses
How it’s used: “Would you ever catch yourself on and wise up!
Meaning: Soft drinks
How it’s used: “Will you grab me a mineral at the shop?”
Meaning: When occupants remain inside a pub after closing time.
How it’s used: “There was a lock in the pub last night”
Meaning: Idiot, fool
How it’s used: “He was a real eejit that fella” | “You’re acting like a gobshite!”
Meaning: Naughty, messing around, being silly/stupid
How it’s used: “Ah now, don’t be acting the maggot!”
How it’s used: “That child is so bold”