10 Irish Words You Should Know When Traveling Around the Emerald Isle

gaeltachtOne of the great things about traveling to Ireland is that the Irish people speak English. Or at least most of them do! In fact, over a half million Irish claim to speak Irish, the native language, often referred to as “Gaelic” by visitors.

Normally, you do not need to know any Irish language words in the course of staying at hotels or B&Bs, eating in restaurants, going shopping, or taking part in the conviviality of pubs.

However, it is useful to know some Irish words when traveling around the countryside – because there are certain areas in Ireland where Irish is the everyday spoken language and signs on the roads are all in Irish. Here are the top 10 words you should be able to recognize, if not actually pronounce. (Most Irish words are not pronounced the way they look).

  1. Gaeltacht – Region or district in Ireland where Irish (Gaelic) is the predominant language. There are Gaeltachts in Donegal, Meath, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, Waterford, and several other pockets around Ireland. Place names and road signs in Gaeltacht areas are usually in Irish, so it is wise to carry a map that lists places in both Irish and English. Otherwise, you can get lost pretty fast!
  2. Fáilte – Word you’ll see and hear over and over again. It simply means: Welcome. You’ll also see Céad Míle Fáilte which means 100,000 Welcomes.
  3. Sláinte – The toast you will hear in the pubs. It means “To Your Health!”
  4. Céilí – A traditional social dance event or party. You will see signs in pubs and tourist offices announcing a local céilí – and everyone is invited to join in. (pronounced Kay-lee)
  5. Craic – This word, pronounced “crack,” causes lots of consternation when you hear it first. No, it has nothing to do with drugs. It is an Irish word that simply means music, good times, entertainment and conversation – all in good fun. You’ll hear people say “Where’s the craic tonight?”
  6. Garda síochána – The police. The words mean “guardian of the peace.” Usually people just use the first word, Garda.
  7. Géill Slí – A road sign meaning “Yield right of way”
  8. Stad – A road sign saying: “Stop”
  9. Téigh – A road sign telling you it is safe to “Go.”
  10. Go Mall – Anther important road sign if you are tempted to go speeding on twisty roads – it means “Slow.”

TWO MORE TO ADD TO YOUR LIST from our editors…

There are two words we’d add to the list as well… they are often used to label the “toilets” (the Irish don’t usually use the word “bathroom”)

Mná = Women & Fir = Men

We wouldn’t want you walking into the wrong “restroom”!

Ireland Travel 101.jpgBy Patricia Preston from www.IrelandExpert.com and author of several must-read books on Ireland and Irish Travel. (May 2011 – Sadly, Pat passed away this month – She will be terribly missed… our farewell to Pat)

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    • I agree… Mna and Fir should be included aswell.

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      • yes I agree and I know who it is sinead

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  1. I think “Guinness, please” is a universal phrase ;).

    And Lydia, the Irish do choose the word toilet over the American-preferred bathroom and restroom.

    Oh, how our list could go on and on.

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  2. Also missing is Go Raibh Maith Agat…! (Guh Rev Mohh A-gooth) = Thank You Where are their manners??

    And while I’m at it – Más é do thoil é (Mawce ay thuh hull ay = Please) …..

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  3. Interesting. I would venture to say that many English words are not pronounced the way they look either. Actually Irish words are pronounced the way they look, but they are not pronounced as English (or French or Italian) words are

    women, through, trough, laugh, mountain, maintain etc…

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  4. Great stuff — I’ve heard them all when I’ve traveled around Ireland. First time there I asked where the restroom was and there was a strange glance back. Then I was to find out that toilet is the word for that need! Good stuff.

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  5. I’d add
    Slán = goodbye

    Slán abhaile (Slawn a-wall-ya) = Safe home — said to those who are leaving

    Slán abhaile is also the name of a very fine song [mostly in English] by Dermot Henry

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  6. The funny thing about “Mná” (for a ladies toilet) and “Fir” (for a mens toilet) is that I have seen these abbreviated to “M” and “F” on the doors, with predictable consequences.

    You also forgot “Hello” – Dia Duit. This means “God be with you” – and, as the Irish-based New York native comedian Des Bishop has said, shows that Irish people cannot even say “Hello” without bringing God into the conversation 🙂 . Actually Des Bishops TV series about learning Irish is hilarious, especially for those of us who grew up learning it at school.

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  7. I have a slight problem with the title: “10 Irish words you should know when travelling around the Emerald Isle.” That implies that people speak Irish all over Ireland. They don’t. (Hey, it would be nice if they did!)

    Irish–when it is spoken–is mostly used on the western end of the island, with isolated pockets here and there. Wikipedia has a good article: It shows the Gaeltacht areas are Donnegal, Galway, Mayo, Dingle, Kerry, some in Cork, and some in County Meath. Thus, one is not likely to hear spoken Irish at a pub in Temple Bar (Dublin) but more likely to hear it at a pub in Galway.

    Not everybody in Ireland speaks Irish; most people are forced to learn it in Secondary School and the majority ends up hating it because of the way it is taught. Thus, they avoid Irish altogether and simply speak English. Because Irish is not as easy to learn as French & Spanish, people don’t really want to put the effort into learning it. Also there are negative connotations to speaking Irish. People who speak it are stereotyped as being “a culchie” and backwards. Centuries of English occupation and their contempt for the Irish people and all things Irish engendered this negative viewpoint. Sorry if that sounds unpleasant, history is sometimes ugly.

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    • Id have to disagree,I live in Kilkenny and all my life we use the odd bit of Irish in daily life and as for contempt of our native tounge,to a point yeah,but then you grow up from being a teenager and realise how stupid you were,
      Slan go phoil mo cairde

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  8. yeah I agree that Mná and Fir should be there as well because you will defo run into that. Don’t know what Hitchhiker42 is on about. the title is words you should know not words you have to know. These words will all come up if you are hanging around Ireland. We were out with some yanks one night and my mate said ‘What is the craic with that’. He left for the toilet a few minutes later and the americans jumped on the chance to ask about his drug problems haha. It was funny because we just played along and said that it wasn’t really a drug problem cause everyone does it so we just call it drugs. we then asked the next guy to go past what the craic was and he replied with ‘the craic is 90’. we were in tears laughn

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  9. These words are only ever needed if you’re travelling around a Gaeltacht (I’m Irish, born and bred, and I’ve only ever passed through one, their being very very small patches of lands intended mainly for Irish learning students)
    Also, most of these phrases are academic Irish rather than cultural Irish (ie. Gaelic is a sport, Gaeilge is the language)

    Honestly, you’re better off knowing accents and colloquialisms, like a ‘sesh’ (party, generally with trad music), ‘schobe’ (person of disrepute, generally around Dublin), or the many many phrases for getting drunk (langered, scuttered, hammered, locked, ossified etc.)

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  10. Des Bishop is a muppet but if your ever in Youghal, Co. Cork
    and you hear the words “story kid” from someone who sounds about 14 years old standing behind you. Know this: No good will come of it.

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  11. OMG, that’s Canadian for Oh My God and that’s what I”m thinking now after reading the “Irish Language” guide.
    I’ll be in Ireland next week for a vacation from Canada. I was born and brought up in Scotland but I don’t think that fact will help me at all.
    I will be travelling around Galway and down south in Cork Do you think it will help me if I speak with my “Scottish Accent”?

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  12. Everyone in Gaeltacht areas is bi-lingual and even a fleeting knowledge of the Irish language is totally unnecessary.

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  13. Good blog…sure to help first time visitors to Ireland, particularly if you plan to explore outside of Dublin!

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