If there is one thing Irish people are known for, and I am not talking about the drink, it is their famous Irish sayings and phrases. These phrases range from totally understandable to nonsensical and sometimes naughty and inappropriate.
In all honesty, the blend of the native Irish language and English language forced upon the Irish a hundred or so years ago has led to some rather interesting sayings that can have you wondering what they mean.
But trust me, if you want to blend in with the local crowd and impress some of your Irish pals, you are going to want to know some common phrases and whether you should use them – don’t worry, I will let you know which ones you do not want to use.
Ready to learn about some Irish phrases you need to use and a couple you want to avoid?
Alright then, here we go.
7 Funny Irish Sayings
“God invented whiskey to prevent the Irish from ruling the world”
The Irish have a massive history of emigration, and it means there are likely more Irish people outside of Ireland than in it now.
The stereotype that the Irish are drunkards definitely isn’t true. Yes, we love a good bevvy or two but we can also say no. But that is where this saying comes from. If it was not for the whiskey, we’d have taken over the world by now.
“My stomach thinks my throats been cut”
This one is a long-winded way of saying you are starving and could do with a good feeding.
“She’d talk the hind legs off a donkey”
This phrase is still common in Ireland, even today. It is used to describe either someone who has some serious charm when it comes to their speech or to describe someone who just does not know when to shut up.
“He still has his communion money”
If you know anything about the Irish Catholics, their communion is a big deal. When you take communion at around eight years old, it is customary for friends and family to gift you a little bit of money.
So, this saying is a funnier way of telling someone they are tight-fisted with their finances.
“You could grow potatoes in them ears”
What do spuds grow in? Mud, that’s what. So, take a hazard of a guess at what this funny Irish saying is hinting at.
If someone says you could grow potatoes in your ears, it’s them telling you a bath would not go a miss because you look like you have mud behind your ears.
“This isn’t a hangover – it’s the Irish flu”
I have put this one here because it is everywhere on the internet. Yeah, it’s a little funny and it does play on the alcoholic stereotype of the Irish. However, it’s not spoken here or at least I have never heard anyone use this saying.
“Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out!”
Now, this one is definitely used today and I have heard it said many times. It is more sarcastic than funny and is generally used when speaking to someone you want to leave.
In short, it means don’t linger in the doorway. Leave before the door closes.
4 Short Irish Sayings
“She’s/He’s away with the fairies”
You might have already heard of this saying but just in case you don’t know what it means, I had to add it here.
Used often in Ireland, this saying describes someone who isn’t rooted in reality or is living in their own little daydream world.
“If you want praise, die”
It’s no secret, the Irish, as nice as we all are, aren’t very good at supporting and celebrating successes. I have no idea why but we’re also not very good at taking compliments either.
However, the minute someone dies, they are praised from the rooftops by the entire town. So, if you want praise, you have to die to get any.
“Two people shorten the road”
I love this short Irish phrase. It’s really sweet and also very true. It’s a more delicate way of saying a journey goes faster when you have company.
“A good word never broke a tooth”
I know I said the Irish aren’t very good at taking a compliment or celebrating success but it’s no secret we’re a friendly and helpful bunch. This saying pretty much means you never lost anything by being good or doing something nice.
5 Old Irish Sayings
“It would fit Fionn Mac Cumhaill”
If you know anything about Irish mythology, you’ll have heard the stories of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. He was sometimes depicted as the leader of the Fianna warriors but also as a giant. Remember the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland? Yeah, that was thanks to Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his war with the Scottish giant, Benandonner.
So, this saying was used when you would have been handed an item of clothing way too big for your body.
“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”
I’ve heard this saying used outside of Ireland, so it no longer belongs to just the Irish. It’s often used when someone is asked to make something beautiful out of something ugly, cheap, or tacky.
If you’re feeling particularly nasty, this saying can even be used to describe a person.
“All his geese are swans”
This Irish phrase, much like many other Irish sayings, uses imagery to convey its message and it’s not necessarily a good one. If you overhear someone using this saying to describe you, it means they think you love to exaggerate things. Especially things that make you sound or look better.
“I knew him since his boots cost fourpence”
The Irish love to proclaim how long they have known someone and this saying describes just that. Although it’s not used anymore, it was used as a way of saying you had known someone since they were a young child.
“May everything turn green today except your gills”
Green is the colour of luck, money, and good fortune here in Ireland. However, if you’re green about the gills, it means you are under the weather and a bit ill.
So, this Irish phrase is wishing you luck and good fortune for the day but hoping you stay in good health.
5 Irish Phrases
“Who gossips with you will gossip of you”
Those you gossip about others with will have no problem gossiping about you to others. It’s an Irish phrase warning you from gossiping and also being able to spot those you can’t trust.
“May the cat eat you and the devil eat the cat”
The Irish have come up with inventive ways of cursing at each other. This particular saying can also be spoken in Irish Gaelic “Go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat” and it’s a fancy way of saying go to hell.
It can also be interpreted as someone telling you that you will die with only a cat for company and then that cat will eat you. Nice!
“May the lord keep you in his hand and never close his fist too tight”
The Irish have always loved a good religious phrase and this is one of the most popular. You might not hear it spoken often these days but some of the older generations still use it.
It’s a lovely way of telling someone you hope the lord keeps them safe and well.
“If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, then you’re lucky enough”
The Irish are proud to be, well, Irish. There’s no shame in it. Our entire nation is loved all over the world. So, this saying is a lovely way of telling someone being Irish in this life is more than enough lock on its own.
“May the good lord take a liking to you – but not too soon”
This is another religious saying wishing someone luck and safety. It’s a hope that God gives you goodness, joy, and happiness throughout your life but doesn’t like you enough to send you to heaven before your time.
6 Famous Irish Sayings
“He’s talking a load of Blarney”
If you have heard the stories of the Blarney Stone in county Cork, you already know that by giving it a kiss you are supposed to be blessed with the gift of the gab, or the ability to chat your way into and out of any situation.
However, if someone says that you are talking a load of Blarney, they probably mean you are talking a load of rubbish.
“Póg mo thóin”
This Irish saying can be found in every gift shop, plastered over t-shirts, beer coasters, and even fridge magnets if you’re lucky. If you ask an Irish local for a phrase in Irish, they may prank you and tell you this one is a friendly greeting.
But it’s not. You could offend someone if you say this to someone you don’t know, as it means ‘kiss my arse’ in English. Still, want to know how to say it? You can pronounce this famous Irish phrase this way ‘pog ma hon’.
“What’s the craic?”
This is one famous Irish saying that may baffle most visitors and have you questioning whether you look like a drug dealer or not.
Do not fear, this saying has nothing to do with illegal recreation and actually means ‘How are you?’ Or ‘Any news?’ And is generally used as a greeting between friends.
“Acting the maggot”
Forget those wiggly, cream-coloured maggots you’re familiar with. This famous Irish phrase has nothing to do with the offspring of the common household fly.
Instead, it can mean someone is acting foolishly or someone is being a bit cheeky.
“On me tod”
Another phrase you can hear spoken in Ireland, this saying is a way of telling someone you are on your own.
“Sure, you know yourself”
This famous Irish saying is one of those sayings that is a little hard to explain because it’s used in different ways.
For example, if someone were to ask you whether you were heading to the pub tonight, you could answer ‘sure, you know yourself’. It could mean sure, if you are, I probably am but it’s a nifty way of not locking yourself into any plans.
7 Common Irish Sayings
“Come here to me”
This common Irish phrase does not actually mean that someone wants you to come over to them. It is a saying used when someone is curious or wants information from you. When someone wants to ask you something, they will say ‘come here to me’ instead of ‘can I ask you a question’.
“Sure, look it”
This is another Irish saying that has multiple meanings but the most common use is close to saying ‘it is what it is’.
For example ‘I lost my wallet when I was in Dublin’, ‘Oh no, that’s awful’, ‘Ah, sure, look it’.
Who the hell is yer man? He seems to pop up in Irish society so often that it seems like everyone knows who he is. Sometimes, you may even find yer man is referring to a woman.
Yer man is usually a saying someone uses if they can’t remember the name of someone. For example ‘Who’s yer man over there?’
“There’s a grand all stretch”
Look, the weather in Ireland is my only gripe about living here. I swear there are at least 300 days of rain here in Donegal. So, it is not surprising that the weather is often on the lips of every Irish person. That includes when the evenings finally start getting longer as summer approaches.
A grand stretch is a fairly broad phrase used for a long stretch in the evening.
“I will, yeah”
Now, this phrase can be used in an honest-to-goodness kind of way but more often, you’ll find it said in a sarcastic tone. So, don’t be confused when you realize that this phrase doesn’t mean someone is happy to do something.
Usually, it will mean ‘I’m not doing that’.
“Cop on to yourself”
We have all been in a situation where someone is being a bit silly. This is what this phrase was created for. It’s a longer, and more Irish way, of saying ‘get a grip’.
I remember the first time I went home to Scotland after moving to Ireland and used this phrase with my mum. All I got was a blank stare, a pause, and then a ‘giving out what?’.
This Irish phrase is another way of saying someone was having a go at someone else, they were telling them what for, or they were shouting at someone.
4 Stereotypical Irish Sayings
“Top O The Morning To Ya!”
We have all heard of this one but I will say it right now, no one in Ireland says this. At least they don’t say it and mean it. It is a very old Irish way of saying good morning but the way it has become tied to the stereotype of the Irish has seen it disappear from the modern-day Irish language.
“And the rest of the day to yourself”
If you know ‘top o the morning to ya’ then you know that this is what you should reply to someone who says it. It means good morning as well.
However, it is unlikely you will have to remember this one if you ever visit Ireland. Some Irish American communities still use these stereotypical Irish sayings but the only person I know who says this is my Irish father-in-law and even then he says it in jest.
“Christ on a bike!”
Just like you might shout ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Oh my god’, Christ on a bike is another phrase of exclamation and is usually used when something shocking or incredible has happened.
“The gift of the gab”
Now, this stereotypical Irish phrase is still used today. Anyone who is said to have the gift of the gab is thought to have a way with words. This saying is usually used to describe someone charming, who has a way with words and can chat with anyone and everyone.
9 Things Irish People Say
Grand can be used in many different ways. It can mean ok, no problem, good, sounds good to me, and even great.
This word is used to describe people who live in the countryside or anyone who lives outside of Dublin. It has not always been a nice word to use, so you might want to avoid this one if you are visiting Ireland.
Just like the saying ‘looks like a pig sty’, the word kip often describes a dirty room or living accommodation. Alternatively, it can be used as another word for a nap.
I think this is one of the best words to come out of Ireland and it means idiot. Think someone is being stupid or they have done something a bit silly, they can be described as an eejit.
This does not mean something dangerous or life-threatening. This word describes something really cool or exciting.
The Irish have so many ways to say good or ok and this is another one and it can be used on its own or in a sentence.
If you hear someone saying they are going to the jacks, this does not mean they are visiting someone called Jack, it means they are going to the toilet.
If something is broken beyond repair and no longer good for its job, it is probably banjaxed.
Look, the Irish love a curse word but they know it is not always appropriate. So, feck is as close to the word f*ck you can get without actually saying the word.
5 Irish Phrases In English
The direct translation of this Gaelic phrase means ‘god bless you’ but it is more commonly used to say hello. You can pronounce this phrase as dia doot.
This Irish word, pronounced slahn, means farewell or goodbye.
If you have ever been to an Irish pub, you have probably heard this “Slainte” uttered once or twice, and it means health in English. It is used as an Irish Gaelic alternative to saying cheers when toasting drinks.
Pronounced ful-cha, you will see this word plastered everywhere as you leave and enter different Irish towns. In English, it means welcome.
“Le do thoil”
This is an excellent phrase to know, especially if you are planning on visiting our Gaeltacht areas. It means please and is pronounced leh da-hel.
The Irish Love Their Sayings
The language used by Irish people is colorful, confusing, and full of fantastic imagery. One of the best bits about living in Ireland is being a part of what feels like a coded language at times.
Some of our sayings stem from our Christian religions, and others have just come about as a way of cursing without actually cursing.
So, if you ever visit our emerald isle, now you are well educated on some of the best Irish sayings and phrases and you even know how to use them.
- Famous Irish Americans In History
- Irish Birthday Blessings and Toasts
- How To Say Cheers in Gaelic?
- What is Ireland Known For?
I am a British-born copywriter who moved to Ireland over a decade ago and have been captivated by Irish culture, landscape and folklore. I enjoy sharing my passion for Ireland through my writing as a freelancer.