Irish Sayings & Phrases (Now Including 10 of our Favourite Examples)

Published: 17 November 2022, last updated: 21 February 2024

The Irish have a unique relationship with the English language; on your travels, you are likely to hear some Irish phrases and wonder what on earth people are talking about!

So we’ve compiled this list of some of the most commonly used Irish sayings and their meanings to help you out.

If you want to blend in with the locals, why not give a few of these Irish slang phrases a try, and keep your ear to the ground for any more whilst you are at it, and please let us know any more Irish phrases we can include in our guide.

And once you’ve become a pro, why not come visit us on our Nature Reserve and test your Irish phrases out!

Cliche Irish Phrases (I’ve NEVER heard them in Ireland!)

“Top o the mornin to ya!” 

Would a piece about Irish phrases be complete if we didn’t mention this classic?

But did you know, although the phrase originated in Ireland, it is rarely, if ever, used there today, and is usually only bandied about as a cliched Irish-ism rather than as a sincere greeting. But should you ever be greeted with this phrase by someone wishing you a pleasant morning, it could be handy to know that the traditional response is in fact,

“And the rest of the day to yourself”.

Here’s another cliche Irish phrase:

“To be sure, to be sure”.

You might hear this in a film or from someone parodying the Irish, but this is another one that is rarely spoken by the Irish, so do try and resist the stereotype!

But enough about the Irish phrases you won’t hear. Let me tell you some of the words and sayings that are more likely to crop up over

“a pint of the black stuff”

in the pub- and that would be a pint of the authentically Irish Guinness to those of you that didn’t know! 

One of the Irish phrases that I seem to be hearing more and more in conversations with non-Irish nationals is,

“He’s talking a load of Blarney”

I’m sure you might already know that this means talking a load of rubbish, usually referring to something that has been said as being untrue. But do you know the interesting origins of this phrase?

There is a long history of the use of this word, starting from Blarney, County Cork and featuring the Blarney stone, which if you are interested in, you can read all about HERE.

Unusual Irish Phrases & Sayings

One of my absolute favourite Irish phrases is

“Acting the maggot!”

No, this doesn’t specifically mean rolling around the floor blindly or having a penchant for mouldy food, although I guess these things could fall into the broader meaning!

No, if an Irish native tells you that John has been acting the maggot, what they mean is that John has been getting rowdy, creating mischief, making a fool out of themselves or just plain old not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

One that splits opinion on its origin is the phrase

“up to 90”

Some will tell you it comes from the temperature of water being 90 degrees, otherwise known as almost at boiling point, whilst others will tell you it comes from 90mph, or basically very very fast!

But wherever it originated from, all agree that the phrase can be used to refer to something in the extreme, like being flat out busy, i.e. “I’ve been up to 90 since 7am this morning” or else to being at the extreme end of angry, i.e. “The missus was up to 90 when she got home and saw the state of the house.” 

If you’re chatting to someone from Ireland and they reply to you by saying

“sure look”

it tends to mean something along the lines of ‘it is what it is’, usually meant to be somewhat reassuring.

However, it can also be a bit of a conversation filler, an indication that the person you’re speaking to is either uninterested in what you’re saying, or perhaps has no idea how to respond to what you’ve just said, for example if you’ve asked a rhetorical question such as “Isn’t it a rotten day out there?” you might get a response of “Ah, sure look it.”

“Give it a lash”

is a phrase heard infrequently outside of Ireland, but is one that most of us could probably hazard a guess at the meaning of. It could be used in a variety of different contexts, but simply it means to “give it a go”. Like if you were having a spot or car trouble you might find yourself asking if your neighbour would be able to “give it a lash with the jump leads”.

“Stall the ball”

is one of the more amusing sounding Irish phrases which you might hear in a context similarly to the more English ‘hold the phone’. It is basically used to ask someone to wait for you or to stop what you’re saying.

Classic Irish Phrases

Some of these you will have heard of, the first few in fact have definitely made their presence known in famous Irish television programmes. But we’ve tried to include a couple that you might not have heard before to try and save you from a blunder or two when conversing with an Irishman. 

Grand – ok/cool/fine

Feck – the politer form of the swear word that differs in just one letter

Banjaxed – broken

Manky – dirty

Kip – dirty or in a bad way, i.e “The hotel room was a kip and a half!”

Gas – funny

Culchie – someone from a remote area of the country

Jammy – lucky

Eejit – a fool or dense person

Melter – an annoying person

Lashing – raining heavily

Deadly – great/fantastic/awesome

Savage – brilliant

Sound – an affirmative response, or as a description of someone or something good or cool

Hallion – a rascal/a messer

Bake – face, i.e “Shut your bake”

Dander – a walk

Peeler – a police officer

Scarlet – embarrassed

The Pale- the Dublin region

Jacks – toilet

Sleeven – sly or underhand person

Fluthered – very, very drunk

The Irish Language

If you are wondering how much of the Irish language you need to have a grasp of to get by in Ireland, the answer is realistically none. Everybody speaks English in the Emerald Isle. Even in the Irish-speaking areas mainly on the Western seaboard known as the Gaeltacht, English is generally the language used to communicate with visitors.

But just because you don’t need to be fluent in Irish, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it can be fun to learn a few of the native words and greetings. Check out some of the pleasantries you might find helpful to know below:

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