30 Weird and Wonderful Irish Facts

Campanile, Trinity College Dublin Ireland can be strange place sometimes. It may be the unpredictable weather, the fact that we’re slightly isolated from the rest of Europe, or maybe even all those myths and legends that have been told for generations. Whatever it is, here are some weird and wonderful Irish facts that we at Claddagh Design think you definitely haven’t heard before...

  1. Guillotine The majority of people attribute the Guillotine to the French (hence the name), but there is evidence of it being used in Ireland 500 years before it made its way to France. A man named Murcod Ballagh seemingly used it for an execution near Merton in county Galway on April 1st - the unfortunate victim and their crime is unknown.
  2. Food Falling from the Sky A strange case of food falling from the sky was reported by policemen in Dublin in 1867. The men were forced to take shelter from the ‘tremendous rainfall’ of very small black oranges around half an inch in diameter, seemingly made from wood and with a ‘slight aromatic odour’. An onlooker clarified that they were actually preserved hazelnuts, but how they ended up falling from the sky is a great mystery!
  3. The Term 'Boycott' The term ‘boycott’ originated in Ireland when the people of Ballinrobe, county Mayo, began a protest against Charles Cunningham Boycott, a British ex-soldier who became a land owner in Ireland after his retirement. The locals didn’t take kindly to him because of his background, stature and refusal to reduce rents, so they refused to harvest his crops, serve him in shops or do his laundry. After writing to the British press and importing Orangemen to harvest his crops, he eventually gave up and went back to England.
    Oireachtas logo
  4. National Emblem Ireland is the only country in the world that has a musical instrument as its national symbol. The harp appears on Irish euro coins, passports, government documentation, and various other official departments. Although the instrument itself originated in Mesopotamia, the harp came to symbolise Celtic society and was also adopted as a political symbol.
  5. First Prisoner Dundalk Jail Dundalk Jail was built in 1853 by a man named John Coffee. In an unfortunate turn of events, while he was building the prison he encountered some financial difficulties, ended up declaring bankruptcy, and became the very first inmate in his own prison when he couldn’t pay off his debts!
  6. Cap of Guinness In 1974 a bizarre medical case occurred when a baby was born with the cap of a Guinness stout bottle stuck in its scalp. Neither the mother nor her doctors had any idea how the cap made it in there – the only explanation to date is that she must have accidentally swallowed it at some point.
  7. Dublin Mean Time In 1880, the Statutes Act deemed that ‘Dublin Mean Time’, as opposed to ‘Greenwich Mean Time’, was the legal time for all of Ireland. Dublin Mean Time was, for some reason, exactly 25 minutes and 21 seconds behind the local time in Britain. After the Easter Rising of 1916 everyone realised that this was not only confusing, but also impractical for telegraphic communications, and the time zones were switched back to coincide with British time.
    Saint Patrick
  8. Saint Patrick St. Patrick isn’t just the patron saint of Ireland. He has also been designated as the patron saint of... Nigeria! Although he never actually made it to Africa himself, Patrick was given secondary patronage status along with the Blessed Virgin Mary as the St. Patrick’s Missionary Society was the first to bring Christianity to the country.
  9. An old nickname for Wicklow people was ‘Goat Suckers’, usually given to them by their nearby neighbours in Dublin. The term was coined because of the feral goats that frequented the Wicklow mountains, which have a spongey surface on the rims of their hoofs that act like ‘suckers’, allowing them to hop from surface to surface with ease.
  10. Contrary to the often used stereotype, Irish people are not in fact the biggest alcohol drinkers in the world. We’re actually fourth on the list after Austria, Czech Republic and Germany. We are, however, the biggest tea drinkers, consuming an average of 1,184 cups per person per year. 11. Ireland is currently the only country in the European Union without a postcode system. That’s all on the brink of changing, as it's in the midst of being introduced – at the small cost of 15 million Euro!
    Doon Signpost
    Source: County Limerick Genealogy
  11. Town Name Change In 2007, the small town of Doon in county Limerick successfully changed its legal Irish name from An Dun, meaning simply ‘the fort’, to its historical name of Dun Bleisce, a slightly more risqué title meaning ‘fort of the harlots’. More than 800 locals signed the petition to revert to the original name.
  12. Longest Place Name Although there are some strong contenders, the title of the longest place name in Ireland goes to.... Muckanaghederdauhaulia, or ‘Muiceanach idir Dha Sahaile’ to give its Irish name. It literally means ‘ridge shaped like a pig’s back between two expanses of briny water.’ It’s in the parish of Kilcummin in county Galway if you feel like taking a road trip!
  13. Walking Marriage Up until the 1920s, couples could legally marry in Ireland just by walking towards each other, as long as they did so in Teltown, county Meath, on Saint Bridget’s Day. If the marriage didn’t work out, they could also divorce at the same spot on the same day by walking away from each other. The custom was based on old Irish Brehon laws which allowed temporary marriage contracts.
  14. 1800 Irish Population In 1800, the population of Ireland was almost twice as large as the population of the United States. It didn’t take long for that to change however – nowadays, the population of the US is around 60 times that of Ireland! Around 12% of US citizens claim to have Irish heritage though, so we probably had something to do with that...
  15. The Word 'Quiz' There is popular legend that the word ‘quiz’ was invented by a Dublin theatre owner named Richard Daly in the 1830s. He made a bet that he could make up a word and make it known all over the city in two days. He made his employees write it all over the walls of the city, and was seemingly successful in his bet (although historians argue that the word was already in use by then).
  16. Standing Coffin In 1864, a Dubiln doctor by the name of John Osborne achieved notoriety when his dying wish was to be buried in an upright coffin. Why? Apparently he wanted this done so that he wouldn’t be at a disadvantage when the Day of Resurrection came. He suffered from arthritis and had trouble moving from a lying to a standing position.

  17. Aer Lingus
    National Airline Ireland’s national airline carrier, Aer Lingus, takes its name from the Irish phrase ‘aer loingeas’. This literally means ‘air feet’. Doesn’t sound so musical when translated into English, does it?
  18. St Patrick - Green The colour originally associated with Saint Patrick was not green, it was blue; there is even a special shade of the colour known as Saint Patrick’s Blue. The association of green and Saint Patrick only became popular when green was unofficially adopted as the colour of Ireland’s nationalism movement.
  19. St Patrick's Day Ireland isn’t the only place in the world where Saint Patrick’s Day is a national holiday. Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada and the Carribbean Island of Montserrat also get a day off for the festivities as they were originally settled by largely Irish populations.
  20. Windmills Ireland is the only country in the world where the windmills turn in a clockwise direction. All over the world, without fail, windmills turn anti-clockwise. So say many sources on the Internet at least, however, experts say that this is completely untrue, and that windmills turn whatever way they are programmed to turn!
  21. Household Pigs In agricultural areas in Ireland in centuries past, it was not unusual for farm pigs to be living in family farmhouses, almost as pets. It was common for the household pig to be referred to as ‘the gentleman who pays the rent’.
  22. Irish Yes or No In the Irish language, there is no word for ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If you want to confirm or deny something, you must say ‘I did’ or ‘I didn’t’, for example, if someone asks ‘will you have cup of tea?’, you would answer ‘I will, thanks’.
  23. Irish Language Structure The word order in the Irish Language is also peculiar and something only 9 per cent of the world’s languages use. While in English the order is subject > verb > object, for example, ‘I walked home’, in Irish it is verb > subject > object, or ‘home I walked’. So a lot of time if you literally translate simple phrases from Irish to English, you’ll sound like Yoda!
  24. Trinity College Superstition In Trinity College in Dublin city, undergraduates will never, ever walk or stand under the ‘Campanile’, the bell tower in the main square of the campus. If they do, legend has it that they will fail their exams. How or why this will happen doesn’t matter, apparently!
    Men with Sheep
  25. Freedom of Dublin Anyone who the Lord Mayor of Dublin bestows with the Freedom of Dublin award receives some unusual privileges. This includes the right to pasture sheep on any common ground in the city boundaries. In 2000 when U2 frontman Bono received the award, he brought some sheep to St. Stephen’s Green to exercise this right, in true Bono style.
  26. Stormont Acts The Stormont government, operating in Northern Ireland from the 1920s to 1970s, passed two acts which are incredibly still active today. One was the Marketing of Eggs Act in 1957, giving Ministry officers the power to examine any eggs in transit. The second act was the 1964 Marketing of Potatoes Act, which gave constables the power to seize and detain any potatoes suspected of being sent out of Northern Ireland.
  27. Obscure Laws At various stages of English rule, laws were passed that prevented Irish men and women from doing various activities such as participating in Catholic mass, joining certain religious orders, or holding certain government positions. One of the more obscure laws however, forbade Irish men from growing beards.
  28. The Late Late Show The Late Late Show is the longest running television show not just in Ireland, but in the world. Running since 1961 (the same year television was introduced to Ireland), it has only had four hosts since then – Gay Byrne for 37 years, Frank Hall for a brief period in 1964, Pat Kenny for ten years, and most recently, Ryan Tubridy since 2009.


Bestseller Lists An album only needs to sell 5,000 copies to reach the top of the Irish music charts, while a book only has to sell 3,000 copies to make it to the top of the bestseller’s list. If you found this article interesting, you will also enjoy 17 Weird & Wonderful Irish Inventions.


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