Source: Siobhan Meehan/Pinterest
Ireland is well known for many things. Guinness, shamrocks, and U2 to most; potatoes, black pudding and green hills to many more; and to even more besides (especially those who have lived or visited the island), a strong literary tradition, gregarious natives and a love of ‘the craic’. It’s these last three particularly Irish traits that have resulted in a rather unique manner of speaking and turn of phrase throughout the country. Many people don’t realise that the Irish accent you hear in movies and on television is actually nothing like how most ‘real’ Irish people speak. In fact, the Irish accent differs greatly from region to region - which says a lot considering we’re such a small island compared to many other countries in the world.
The origin of the huge variety of accents within Ireland is complicated. The initially Gaelic-speaking natives adapted to the English language when colonised, but kept much of the sentence structure and grammar from Gaelic and simply translated it literally. As well as that, each province had its own unique dialect of Gaelic, which most definitely contributed to creating such broad variations of accents. And finally, settlers from foreign lands who made new lives for themselves and intermingled with the native Irish most likely also caused a shift in the way people spoke, phrases used, and so on. With the differing accents of each region comes different colloquialisms. Some are so different that sometimes a person from Cork could have a conversation with a person from Dublin, each using their own slang words, and neither would know what the other was talking about! Having said that, there are also plenty of national level terms that are popular throughout the country, but virtually unknown even in the UK. We’ve collected just a small sample of some of the most widely used, as well as some of the more obscure ones that even the locals may not have heard of.
Irish people have no time for egos, and are quick to take someone down a peg or two if needed. To do this, we have a vast array of special insults. These are often used in jest as a playful way of mocking each other, as well as being used as genuine insults just to make things that little bit more confusing!
Not in fact a trailer attached to a moving vehicle. If an Irish person calls you a ‘wagon’, it means you are not a nice person in any way. Usually in reference to females.
A ‘chancer’ is someone who ‘chances their arm’ a lot, or pretends to be someone they’re not, or tries to fool people into doing something. Generally a risky character.
Dublin folk refer to anyone from outside Dublin as a ‘culchie’, and the term has been proudly adopted by culchies themselves to spite them.
The culchies’ counterattack: a Jackeen is the mildly derogatory term used by country folk for people who hail from Dublin.
If somebody is referred to as ‘thick’, they are stupid or unintelligent.
If something is manky, it is disgusting, dirty, horrible, etc. Usually used in reference to bad food or dirty clothes etc. rather than people or places.
Terms of Endearment and compliments
Girlfriend, wife, or any other kind of romantic female partner.
If someone calls you a ‘dote’ or if something is ‘dotey’, it means you’re cute, adorable, etc. If you’re described as ‘doting’ on someone, it means you’re smitten.
Another example of the many unusual Irish insults, an ‘eejit’ is an idiot or a fool, but more often it’s used in an affectionate (yet still mocking!) manner.
When you win the lottery in Ireland you will be known as a ‘jammy’ person, or in other words, very lucky.
A phrase uttered to anyone who did a good job or achieved something. Otherwise known as ‘well done’.
Not shorthand for gasoline. In Ireland if a situation or a person is ‘gas’, it means they’re very funny.
If something is ‘class’, it’s excellent or really really good.
Up to Ninety
If someone is ‘up to ninety’, ‘going ninety’, or anything to do with ninety, this usually means that they are extremely busy or something is extremely chaotic.
Contrary to what you might think, if something is ‘deadly’ it isn’t extremely dangerous, it’s actually really really great.
‘I was Scarlet’ or ‘Scarlet for you’ is what Irish people (usually from Dublin) say when something horribly embarrassing happens, referring to being red-faced.
I will yeah
Usually when someone Irish says this to you after you ask them to do something, it means they most definitely will not do it.
Another way of saying something is class, deadly, or generally amazing.
While in some countries a ‘yolk’ is the yellow part of an egg, in Ireland a ‘yoke’ is literally any object that has no known name or that someone can’t remember the name of.
‘Cupboard’ and ‘closet’ are words that are virtually non-existent in Irish homes. Instead, you put something in the ‘press’!
If an object is banjaxed, it’s broken beyond repair.
An alternative word for house, as in ‘I’m having a party in my gaff’.
This is a unique Irish word for the toilet! As in, ‘I’m going to the Jacks’.
Words for the RainWe get our fair share of it in this part of the world, so naturally we have come up with multiple ways to say ‘it’s raining’ and describe the distinct qualities of the particular type of rain.
One of the favoured terms to describe rain. If it’s bucketing down, there’s torrential rain outside and you should cancel your plans and stay in and watch a movie instead.
Another one of our many words for the different types of rain experienced in Ireland. If it’s lashing rain, it’s raining very heavily, and you should either take a raincoat and umbrella with you or not go outside at all.
Spitting rain is a less extreme form; enough to get you wet if you stand outside for long enough, but fine for walking short distances. A light jacket is all you’ll need.
A ‘soft day’ is when it’s overcast and there is intermittent misty rain. On a soft day it’s hard to tell if it’s raining from inside, but when you go out, you’re quickly covered in a layer of moisture.
This infamous Cork term refers to what other people around the country would call an ‘awful eejit’. In other words, it’s an idiot or a fool.
Another Cork phrase, this is a somewhat unusual term for a haircut. So if a Cork person asks you ‘did you get a bazzer since I saw you last?’, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
A very good looking or attractive person. If you show up to a party wearing a nice dress or suit, someone will undoubtedly tell you ‘you’re a flah!’
In the same way that people in other countries may say someone is ‘pure evil’, in parts of Ireland we also attach the word to just about anything to mean ‘very very’. e.g ‘it’s pure cold out’.
If something is gammy it’s not quite broken, but definitely doesn’t work perfectly either.
A Galway term for prison, e.g ‘don’t steal, you’ll end up in the clinker’
‘Cop on’ is a general catch-all term for having common sense or intelligence in any situation. If you’re behaving foolishly, you’ll be told to ‘cop on’, if you solve a difficult problem, you’ll be praised for having good ‘cop on’.
Like ‘pure’, this is a word attached to any other word to enhance it. For example, waiting in line for something could be ‘quare dull’. It can also be used to describe anything unusual, such as ‘that was a quare film’.
This is yet another accentuating word. So the weather can be ‘fierce mild’, the traffic can be ‘fierce bad’, and so on.
Acting the maggot
If you’re acting the maggot, you’re messing around, being mischievous, and generally causing mayhem or irritating people.
Make a bags of it
To make a bags of something is to mess it up entirely, do it completely the wrong way, or fail miserably. #
This does not in any way refer to illegal drugs! ‘Craic’ is a catch all term that usually means ‘fun’. If something was ‘good craic’ or you did something ‘for the craic’, you did it just for kicks. It can also be used as a question such as ‘what’s the craic?’ which basically means ‘how’s it going?’ or ‘what’s up?’, or ‘any craic with...’ which means ‘what happened with...’
While nobody actually knows just how long a donkey’s year is, it is apparently believed to be a very long time by the Irish! If you haven’t seen someone in ‘donkey’s years’, you haven’t seen them in several years, even decades.
This is a phrase that confuses many! When someone is ‘giving out’, it simply means they are complaining about something, or scolding someone for misbehaving.
To ‘mitch off school’ is to skip school in favour of more fun activities for the day.
‘Ructions’ occur when two or more people have a huge argument about something. Often used with regard to children having tantrums, as in ‘there were ructions when his favourite toy was taken away from him’.
Completely made up phrase for the sake of $$$
This could refer to when you buy a superior piece of handmade jewelry from an established goldsmith. For example: "John bought his wife a wonderful handmade bracelet and now she thinks he is a complete 'Claddagh Design'!"
Give it time, we are sure everyone will be saying that this time next year!