7 Big Differences Between The Irish vs Scots

Both Ireland and Scotland are two countries that are beloved by millions of people all over the world.

But what makes the Irish different from the Scots?

In many ways, both Ireland and Scotland are very similar. Many of their cultural aspects are similar. They are both Celtic nations, and even their native languages, Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic, share uncanny similarities.

But there are also some glaringly obvious differences, such as their national currency. In Scotland, they have the pound sterling, whereas in the free state of Ireland, they use the Euro.

Keep reading to find out more of what makes these two beautiful countries so incredibly different.

Table of Contents

    #1 Language

    Both Ireland and Scotland have their own native languages, even though English is the primary language in both countries.

    At one point, both these languages were the same, but over the years, they have diverged and become separate languages of their own.

    In Scotland, the native language is Scottish Gaelic, pronounced gaa-lik, whereas Ireland’s native language is simply Irish. Although outside of Ireland, many people will refer to Irish as Gaelic or Irish Gaelic, pronounced gay-lik.

    Both these languages have Celtic origins, but that is where their language similarities end. 

    Although every area of both countries will have different accents and dialects, it is Scotland that is even more interesting when it comes to languages.

    Reading Suggestion: What is Ireland Known For?

    Scotland has another language called Scots. That’s right, Scotland actually has three nationally recognized native languages. English, Gaelic, and Scots. Whereas Ireland only has two different languages.

    In Ireland, it is estimated that around 1.7 million people can speak Irish. Scotland has a much lower number of people who speak Gaelic, at just 57,000 people. However, more than 1.5 million people can speak Scots. 

    So, although the languages of these two countries are incredibly old, they are still alive and thriving to this day.

    #2 Traits And Physical Looks

    When we think of the Irish and the Scots, it is not uncommon to think of pale skin, freckles, and flaming red hair when we conjure up an image of those that live there. However, this is very far from the truth, and you will be harder pressed than you think to spot a red-haired individual.

    Both the Irish people and the Scottish people have fiery tempers. Many of them are bold, loud, and honestly quite charming.

    Reading Suggestion: 9 Typical Irish Traits That makes The Irish Special

    However, if we go a few centuries back, long after the Celts settled in both countries, the biggest physical difference between the nations were their sizes.

    Scottish men were bigger and broader, whereas Irish men were more slender and delicate in appearance. Now, they weren’t short but they weren’t as ‘built’ as the ancient Scots.

    These days the differences between these two nations are pretty indistinguishable. Aside from their accents which are very obviously different, there is no tell-tale Irish or Scottish look.

    Sorry to disappoint, but if you visit either of these magical shores, you won’t be surrounded by red-haired people. Even in these countries, the appearance of red hair is quite rare. However, the media would love you to think otherwise.

    #3 Culture

    Although both Ireland and Scotland share many cultural similarities, there are also some great differences.

    Traditional Dancing

    Ireland is most famous for its Irish dancing, a traditional dance that is now polar all over the world. These days Irish dancing is well known for the women’s big and bouncy curls and their colorful dresses.

    Although Irish dancing is over 2,000 years old, it wasn’t until the 16th century that it became more sophisticated and admiration began to spread to other countries, such as England.

    Now, Scotland as a whole doesn’t have a traditional dance. Only the Highlands of Scotland feature a traditional dance similar to Irish dancing.

    Highland dancing dated back to around the 1500s and was considered a war dance. Think of the Maori and their Haka. That is what Highland dancing was to the Scottish people.

    Nowadays, Highland dancing is more of an art form, and unlike their Irish cousins, the uniform for Highland dancers is still incredibly traditional. Dancers will don kilts, knee-high socks, and traditional lace-up slippers when doing the highland fling.

    Traditional Music

    Ireland and Scotland have very similar folk music. Yet some of their traditional instruments differ.

    When you think of Scotland, the traditional bagpipe is what comes to mind. Perhaps with a kilted Scotsman at its helm. Interestingly, bagpipes aren’t actually a Scottish invention, and remnants of this signature musical instrument of Scotland can be found all over Europe and even in Africa.

    However, the Scots did something no one else did. They used the bagpipes as a pre-war fear-inducing tradition. Their enemies would hear the bagpipes, and often it would strike fear in their hearts.

    As for the Irish people’s most famous instrument is the Celtic harp. This large triangle-shaped instrument can be found in written records as far back as the 11th century.

    Although the Celtic harp was seen as an instrument for the prosperous and was highly respected, its popularity has steadily declined over the years.

    Consider Reading: The 10 Best Irish Drinking Songs

    Traditional Dress

    Another big difference between Ireland and Scotland is their traditional clothing.

    When you conjure up images of a stereotypical Irish man, you envision an Aran sweater or a flat woolen cap, but this isn’t really a traditional dress. There doesn’t seem to be an item of clothing synonymous with the emerald isle.

    Yet, it’s a different story when it comes to Scotland. For better or for worse, the stereotype of Scottish men and their love for the traditional kilt is 100% true.

    Getting married? Wear a kilt. Going to a funeral? Wear a kilt. Traditional games? Wear a kilt. 

    The Scottish people are incredibly proud of their traditional clothing, even creating different tartan patterns for every individual clan. 

    Originally worn in the highlands of Scotland, the kilt and its tartan were worn with pride. They also indicated which clan the wearer belonged to. It was an item of clothing that provided free movement to the wearer, usually men, especially during battle. 

    These days, battles aren’t on the agenda, but the love and pride for this famous piece of clothing haven’t wavered.

    Cultural Holidays

    From the beloved St. Patrick’s Day of Ireland to the fun-filled Hogmanay of Scotland. These two Celtic nations have their own cultural holidays that only they know how to do right.

    In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day celebrates the nationally recognized death date of the patron saint. Once a holiday full of Christian culture and belief. Nowadays, St. Patrick’s Day is more of an excuse to fill yourself with booze, wear green, and attend Paddy’s day festival or two.

    However, Paddy’s Day has breached the Irish shores and is now celebrated in many different countries all over the world.

    In Scotland, their most well-known cultural holiday is Hogmanay. You would be forgiven for thinking this is just another name for New Year’s Eve, but it’s actually a whole other thing.

    This Scottish New Year’s Eve festival is much more than Auld Lang Syne and a shared bottle of Scottish whisky or two. 

    Most communities around Scotland will burn a staggering bonfire before the clock strikes twelve. Once it passes into the new year, it is traditional to participate in first footing.

    First footing is when people walk around their community, carrying gifts of shortbread, whiskey, and coal and trying to be the first people to cross the threshold of their neighbor’s home. 

    This tradition has become less common and is more a generational custom. However, some people still observe their first footing on New Year’s Day. 

    #4 Religion

    Although both Ireland and Scotland were originally pagan countries nowadays, they fall somewhere on the scale of Christianity. 

    In Scotland, the most popular religion these days is the protestant faith, with around 40% of the nation affiliated with the Church of Scotland.

    Ireland is a little different. If you don’t already know, the island of Ireland actually consists of two different countries. The Republic of Ireland, an independent country that covers most of the island, and Northern Ireland, which is a part of Great Britain, found in a small section of north Ireland.

    This difference has had a massive influence on their predominant religions.

    In the Republic of Ireland, most Irish people who have a Christian faith will be roman catholic or just Catholic. Whereas north Ireland, as a home nation of the United Kingdom, protestant Christianity is the top-ranking religious belief. 

    This difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism between Northern Ireland and Ireland has been the subject of many wars and violent clashes.

    #5 Food

    Most countries and cultures will have traditional dishes and Scotland and Ireland are no different.

    Traditional Dishes

    In Scotland, traditional dishes include the well-known Haggis, Angus beef, and even the simple and unassuming porridge. However, there are a couple of other traditional dishes you should know.

    Cranachan is a delicious cream-based dessert found in most Scottish restaurants. It consists of whipped cream mixed with Scottish whisky, raspberries, and porridge oats. 

    Black pudding is a traditional food that visitors to Scotland can be a little afraid to try. This classic blood sausage was traditionally crafted using fresh pork or beef blood, porridge oats, barley, and herbs and spices. 

    However, thanks to health and safety regulations, most black puddings use dried blood as an ingredient. 

    Don’t let the blood put you off, this rich and heavy traditional Scottish food goes perfectly with the Scottish fried breakfast.

    Ireland also has some traditional dishes that are a must try, and just like Scotland, many of their national foods are warming to the soul and filling for the stomach.

    Hearty stews, especially the Irish stew are dishes that most of us have heard of. A rich and chunky stew, this dish usually includes a variety of root vegetables and slow-cooked cuts of beef. 

    Some other less well-known dishes that are just as delicious are potato farls, Colcannon, and boxty.

    If you’re looking for something a little sweeter, the Irish love a healthy barmbrack serving. A sweet bread filled with dried fruit like raisins and cherries, this sweet treat is traditionally enjoyed during Halloween but can be found in stores throughout the year.

    Irish Whiskey vs Scottish Whisky

    Aside from the spelling of the word whiskey/whisky, there are some distinct differences between this favorite drink of Scotland and Ireland. 

    In Ireland, whiskey is traditionally distilled three times. This triple distillation process gives Irish whiskey a smoother and lighter taste than Scottish whisky, which is only distilled twice. However, this isn’t always the case. 

    Connemara whiskey, an Irish favorite, is only distilled twice, and Islay Single Malt Scotch whisky is distilled a whopping four times. These types of whiskey are out of the norm for most of the national whiskey brothers.

    The other difference is the ingredients used to craft these expert whiskeys. 

    In Scotland, there are generally only three types of whisky. Single malt, single grain, and blended whisky. All of these whisky types use mashed malted barley to create their signature taste.

    In Ireland, there are four types of whiskey. Single malt, single pot malt, single grain, and blended whiskeys.

    The main difference here is the pot still whiskeys. Instead of using simple malted barley, unmalted barley is also used to give it a uniquely Irish taste.

    #6 History

    Ireland and Scotland share a very similar rich history. Both nationalities began with the Celtic people. In fact, it is considered that the Scots we know today began as Celtic Irish settlers. Whether that is true or not proves difficult to confirm.

    However, both of these countries were traditionally pagan before the arrival of Christianity and it being forced upon the local people by the British empire. 

    Both nations came into contact with the Anglo Saxons, the Vikings, and the Romans which no doubt heavily influenced their cultures. They also both experienced an attempted eradication of their traditional culture and languages by the British monarchy. 

    Scotland had some epic battles as they fought for independence from the British government and monarchy such as the Battle of Culloden, and the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

    Likewise, Ireland spent many centuries fighting against the British for independence. With devastating events such as the Great Famine and the foundation of the orange order, it was no surprise that the Irish eventually stormed forward to force the British government’s hand. 

    However, the most notable difference between Scottish and Irish history is that, despite many attempts, Scotland still hasn’t gained independence from England. 

    Whereas Ireland managed to agree with the British government which led to the creation of the Irish free state, or the Republic of Ireland as it is more commonly known.

    Even though the northern part of Ireland remained in the UK, it was a great victory that most of the island fought and won independence.

    #7 Politics

    As a member state of the United Kingdom, Scotland has adopted the rules of the British Parliament. However, they have their own Scottish Parliament, unlike other British home nations. 

    The way Scotland handles their democratic Parliament is very unique in that they are represented by both the Scottish Parliament and the UK parliament. However, power first and foremost goes to the Scottish government, especially on matters that are only related to Scotland. 

    This creation of an independent Scottish government was only as recent as 1999 but it was a compromise at the time to sway the Scottish from demanding their indolence once again. 

    This national government controls the results of matters of tourism, health, education, and transportation, but when it comes to the global economy, the economy of the united kingdom as a whole, national defense and monetary policy, Scotland defer power to the UK parliament.

    Scotland was also recently forced to leave the European Union thanks to Great Britain’s decision upon Brexit, despite protests by its people.

    Ireland and politics have a very complicated history, especially due to the island of Ireland being split into two separate countries in 1921. 

    Northern Ireland, like Scotland, comes under British rule still and defers to British parliamentary powers for subjects that affect the whole of Great Britain. 

    Also like Scotland, Northern Ireland has its own national government that deals with more home-based issues.

    The Republic of Ireland, as a different country, has its own political system entirely and its own government. This government is a democratically run parliament, better known as the Oireachtas.

    The Republic of Ireland is very proud of its democratic government and the actual arrangement and sharing of powers have been created to ensure that no one party has all of the power.

    The Irish government is split into three houses. 

    The Dáil is the main legislative body whose members are voted in by the general public.

    You then have the Seanad, whose members are appointed by governmental figures. This house can debate legislation and suggest amendments to the constitution but can’t enact any of their suggestions.

    Lastly, you have the President of Ireland. Predominantly a ceremonial figure, the President has the responsibility of deciding whether the new legislature is constitutional or not. He or she can even refuse to sign a new legislature into law if they believe it is unconstitutional. 

    You might also like reading the 10 big differences between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

    Natasha Peters

    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.

    2 thoughts on “7 Big Differences Between The Irish vs Scots”

    1. As an Irishman, son of Scottish father and an Irish mother, both of whom were Gaels, I find your description of the Garlic languages a bit facile. Intermutability was never an obstacle when they were having a go at one and other. Hot blooded Celts.


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