With it’s stunning scenery, mystical history and charming people, nobody can deny that Ireland is a very romantic country. Even Saint Valentine’s remains are housed in the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street in Dublin. Father John Spratt, a preacher attached to the Church, visited Pope Gregory XVI in Rome and somehow blagged his way into gifting the remains from their location in the Cemetery of Saint Hippolitus to Ireland in 1836. They’ve been here ever since!
We’ve had our own special ways of expressing love for hundreds of years, both through the Irish language and through other traditions. One special way that couples mark their commitment to one another is with claddagh rings. This tradition originated from the town of Claddagh in county Galway. The ring is a heart held by two hands with a crown on top. The heart symbolises love, the hands friendship, and the crown loyalty. The tradition is that if you wear the heart pointing in towards your body, you have found love, but if it’s pointing outwards, you’re looking for love.
The phrase ‘tying the knot’ also has its origins in Irish history. Before the tradition of exchanging rings, couples at the altar would clasp hands and they would be tied with a rope, ribbon or piece of cloth to symbolise their eternal union. However, sometimes only words will do, so here are some of the many ways in which to say ‘I love you’ in Irish.
Types of Love
Irish is one of those languages that has several different words for certain things – although it’s not as bad as Eskimo languages, which are famous for having up to 27 different words just for ‘snow’. In any society there are always various different types of love however; parental love, friendship love, romantic love, and many more. There is at least one word for each in Gaelic, so things can get a bit confusing to say the least. Here are the most commonly used ones.
Grá: General love! This is the most common word used for love in the Irish language. It denotes the love between couples, family, friends, significant others, and the like.
Cion: Affectionate love. The kind of love between close friends, relatives, parents and children. Non-romantic but still meaningful love.
Gean: Another less often used word for affection. Informal love rather than the ‘formal’ love between a man and wife or lovers.
Searc: True love, eternal love, primary love. This word is a lot more passionate and more serious than ‘grá’, so only use it if you really mean it!
Breá: Love of a thing or activity rather than a living person. For example, you would say ‘Is breá liom cáca milis’ (I love cake) rather than ‘Is grá liom cáca milis’, which is grammatical nonsense.
‘I Love You’ in Irish
Despite being a rich and complicated language, believe it or not there is no literal translation for ‘I love you’ in Irish! It’s not because we’re not into romance and serenading however, it’s because we have so many different ways to express it. It’s also just the way the grammar of the language works, unfortunately! Not having one definitive way to say ‘I love you’ isn’t a bad thing however, as we’ve come up with a lot of creative and poetic ways to express it instead. There are a lot of options, we’ve included all of them below…
Is tú mo ghrá : You are my love.
Is tú grá geal mo chroí: You are the bright love of my heart.
Mo ghrá thú: literally ‘my love you’, i.e. ‘you are my love’, the most common expression
Tá grá agam duit: I have love for you
Táim i ngrá leat: I’m in love with you
Tá mo chroí istigh ionat: My heart is within you
Tá cion agam ort: literally ‘there is affection at me on you’, or ‘I have a soft spot for you’.
Grá mo chroí: Love of my heart
Thabharfainn fuil mo chroí duit: I’d give you the blood of my heart
A stór mo chroí: Love of my heart
Mo Leannán: My lover
Grá buan: Love forever.
Is tú mo rogha: You are my chosen one.
A chuisle mo chroí: My heart’s beloved.
Tá tú mo chéadsearc: You are my true love
Is tusa mo ghrá: Literally “You are my love”
Ádhraím thú: I adore you
Is grá mo shaol í (é): She/he is the love of my life
Le grá go deo: with love forever
Mo shíorghrá: My eternal love
B’fhearr liom thú nó céad bó bainne: I prefer you to a hundred milk cows!
Irish Love Sayings and Proverbs
Irish people have a lot to say at the best of times, and the mix of Gaelic phrases translated into English speech makes for some unique sayings. There is an old Irish proverb for almost every occasion, including love, marriage, and everything in between. However, Irish folk are also a very down to earth, practical bunch, so some of the turns of phrase aren’t quite as romantic as others. Here are some good (and not so good) thoughts on love, all of which were part of standard vocabulary a few decades ago, and are often still quoted today.
Love is like a lifeboat on the stormy sea of life
Trouble in love hates nothing more than a smile
Beware an Irishman who loves his wife the most but his mother the longest
Love makes time pass, beware time making love pass
Love him when he least deserves it, that’s when he most needs it
It is easy to halve the potato when there is love
May you have warm hands on a cold evening
Pulse of my heart, song of my soul, light of my night
Live in my heart, and pay no rent.
Would you like to hang your washing next to mine?
Tis a lonely wash with no man’s shirt in it.
Mairg nach ndéanann comhairle dea-mhná: Woe to him without a good wife’s counsel.
Capall an tsaoil an grá: Love makes the world go around.
Maireann lá go ruaig ach maireann an grá go huaigh: A day lasts until it’s chased away but love lasts until the grave.
Folíonn grá gráin: Love veils ugliness.
Níl leigheas ar an ngrá ach pósadh: There is no cure for love other than marriage.
Irish Love Poems and Quotes
Ireland is well known for its many distinguished authors, playwrights and poets. W.B Yeats, a Dublin born poet who spent much of his childhood in county Sligo on the West coast, was known for the many love poems he wrote to Maud Gonne, a young woman who refused his marriage proposals four times before choosing someone else over him. Naturally, he had a few things to say about the matter, which has resulted in some beautiful if poignant poetry.
Another famous writer who regularly mused on the topic of love was Oscar Wilde. He has provided us with many plays such as ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ and ‘Lady Windermere’s fan’ that explore love and marriage in the Victorian era, as well as endless witty quotes and one-liners. There are many other writers who penned their thoughts on the subject too, and we’ve included some of our favourites below.
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet;
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
My love is like a cabbage
That’s easy to cut in two.
The leaves I’ll give to others,
But the heart I’ll give to you.
Love hath a language of his own, a voice, that goes from heart to heart, Whose mystic tone love only knows. – Thomas Moore
If you do not love me, I shall not be loved. If I do not love you, I shall not love. – Samuel Beckett
I believe there is a sun when it is not shining, I believe there is a God when I cannot see him, I believe there is love when I feel it not – Anonymous
Man always wants to be a woman’s first love. Women have a more subtle instinct: what they like is to be a man’s last romance – Oscar Wilde
The most important things to do in the world are to get something to eat, something to drink, and somebody to love you – Brendan Behan
You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear – Oscar Wilde
Hearts are not to be had as a gift, hearts are to be earned – WB Yeats
Love will heal what language fails to know – Eavan Boland