Common Irish Words and Phrases

A few weeks ago, someone asked me for some common or frequently used Irish words and phrases. She was going to be visiting Ireland soon, and she thought it would be fun to have a few words in Irish before she got there.

I must admit, I had to wrack my brain for a bit. As you know, if you’ve been following this blog, while Irish is definitely still to be found, if you know where to look for it, it’s not exactly “common” outside of the Gaeltacht.

I finally sat down and worked out a list of Irish words and phrases that most Irish people are likely to know, even if they’re not Irish speakers and have forgotten most of their school Irish.

Slán (Goodbye)

You might think that “hello” would be more commonly recognized than “goodbye.” The thing is, “hello” is a bit more complicated than “goodbye” in Irish, with regional variations that further complicate matters.

Slán (pronounced “slahn”) is easier to remember, though not so very long ago, it came with some fairly complicated rules as well.

The literal meaning of the word is “healthy/sound.” Once upon a time, it was part of a longer phrase, go dté tú slán (guh jay too slahn), literally “may you go with health” (you’ll still hear this phrase in songs, such as the well-known “Siúl, A Rún“).

(Note: If you listen to the recording above, you’ll hear a mhuirnín – my darling — inserted into the phrase: go dté tú, a mhuirnín, slán.)

In Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) areas, you’ll still hear vestiges of this. People will say slán leat (slahn lyat) — “health with you” — to the person who is leaving. Likewise, the one leaving might say slán agat (slahn AG-ut) — “have health” — to the person staying behind.

Generally, though, it’s all just shortened to slán, and most Irish people will recognize it.

Sláinte

People recognize this one even outside of Ireland. Sláinte (SLAHN-cheh) is related to slán. It means “health,” and is used as a toast.

Sometimes you’ll hear it used as part of a longer phrase: sláinte is táinte (SLAHN-cheh iss TAHN-cheh) — “health and wealth.”

Be careful, though. While sláinte is the equivalent of the English “cheers,” it doesn’t actually MEAN “cheers” — you don’t use it, for example, as a stand-in for “thanks.” But say it in a pub, and everyone will know what you mean.

Fáilte

This is another one that just about anyone will recognize: Fáilte (FAHL-cheh) — “welcome.” In fact, the Irish Tourism Board used to be called Bórd Fáilte.

You’ll see/hear fáilte used all over, in words and in phrases, such as Céad Míle Fáilte (kayd MEE-luh FAHL-cheh): “A Hundred Thousand Welcomes.”

Just remember…it means “welcome,” not “hello.” You can use fáilte to greet a visitor or someone you’re hosting, but not as a generic stand-in for “hi.”

Craic

The funny thing about craic (pronounced “krak”) is that it’s actually a loan word from English slang (originally spelled “crack,” but Gaelicized as craic). It’s been thoroughly adopted into Irish, however, and is used enthusiastically by both Irish speakers and non-Irish speakers.

It’s one of those words that defies a precise definition, but can generally be taken to mean “a good time.” Sometimes it’s used in a more general sense to mean “what’s happening,” as in “I’ll just walk up the street and see what all the craic is about.”

Walk past a pub, and there’s a good chance you’ll see ól, ceol, agus craic (ohl, kyohl, AG-uss krak) — “drink, music, and a good time.”

You’ll even hear your English-speaking Irish friends using it: “What’s the craic?” (what’s going on?), “The craic was mighty” (“it was a REALLY good time”), etc.

Just be careful! It’s an addictive little word, and you may find yourself using it when you get home. If you tell your friends “there was great craic at the session last night!” and they don’t happen to be Gaelophiles, they’re sure to give you a funny look (yes, this is the voice of experience talking).

Of course, there’s a lot more

Even though, sadly, most Irish people don’t speak Irish in their day-to-day lives anymore (for more on this see our post on “Why Do the Irish Speak English“), knowing a few words in Irish (or, as they say in Ireland cúpla focal (KOOP-luh FUK-ul)) it is still very much a part of the culture, and knowing a bit can greatly enhance your visit.

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Comments

  1. Eoin says:

    Craic sure is a funny word, and most Irish people probably don’t realize that it is a word taken from Irish. That being said, it’s used widespread in the English language in Ireland.

    Slán is such a nice simple word that can be used so often. It’s a good one to remember.

  2. Robert Maguire says:

    My cousins from Leitrim came to America with their football team to play some exhibition matches against the Yanks.

    Their first stop was Boston, but sure enough they made their way to my native town of NYC. My sister spent a lot of time with them during the short time they had with us. Made for a LOT of sleepless nights for her!

    Anyway, when she asked them how Boston was, they all replied with enthusiasm, “The craic was fierce there!” A double whammy for her: we Americans don’t use that Cavan/Leitrim term of “fierce” for emphasis and she had never been indoctrinated in the concept of the craic! For the longest time, she thought our Leitrim cousins were drug addicts!

    Slan!

  3. Audrey Nickel says:

    I’m afraid “craic” has gotten me into trouble more than once! Most recently, I was at a choir rehearsal and got to talking about a local Irish music session. Someone asked me if I would be singing, and without thinking, I replied “No, I’m just going for the craic.” Definitely got some funny looks!

  4. victoria pohl says:

    I have forgotten my password!!!!

  5. Luis Miguel says:

    Amadan… That Is a common word, is it not?

    • Luis Miguel says:

      Ok… So I have to clarify… That was not meant for anyone, it was a question…

    • Audrey Nickel says:

      It’s not something that a visitor is likely to say (or want to have said to him!), but yes…I think most Irish people would recognize “amadán.” I wonder if as many would recognize the female version “óinseach”?

      • Luis Miguel says:

        I recognize Óinseach… I have found it in dictionaries. My assumption is that when your male friend gets cited for driving under the influence you call him an “amadán” and when your female acquaintance asks a Mexican guy if he speaks “Mexican” you call her an “Oinseach” but it would not make sense to call her an “amadán”. I wonder what Irish speakers say when they are trying to express frustration, like when Americans are frustrated the most common expression to hear is “shit!”.

        • Luis Miguel says:

          I am Mexican and have been asked (more than once if you can believe it) if I speak “Mexican” by the way… Not a pleasant thing to hear. Mexicans speak Spanish… unless they are of full native heritage in which they may speak any of a variety of native languages, which are called Nahuatl, Maya, Taraumara, etc… but never “Mexican”.

          • Audrey Nickel says:

            People will say the weirdest things, won’t they? I can see specifying “Mexican Spanish” if you need to distinguish it from, say, Castillian, but I agree…anyone who asks “do you speak Mexican” is fíor-amadán/óinseach é/í!

        • Audrey Nickel says:

          Hmmm…I’ve heard expressions such as “A Mhaighdean!” and “Ó, a Dhia!” or “Dia ár sabhail!” (though an Irish speaker is just as likely to say “shit” in good old Anglo-Saxon as well…or “feck.”)

          • Luis Miguel says:

            ha ha… fíor-amadán/óinseach, i like that. My personal favorite is “Phenamadán”, a mixture of the English word Phenomenal and the Irish word Amadán. “A Mhaighdean”? Seems strange… O maiden?

    • Robert Maguire says:

      LOL! My mother used to call me that all the time!

  6. Audrey Nickel says:

    “A Mhaighdean” as in the virgin Mary. Irish oaths have a tendency to be religious.

    If you ever watch Ros na Rún, you’ll hear that one a lot (usually translated in the subtitles as “Oh my God” or “Oh no”)

    • Luis Miguel says:

      Youch! Mexicans would NOT take very well to that… Extremely Catholic. Although in Spain they do that a lot, their religious oaths are the worst ive ever heard.

  7. Christian says:

    I visited Ireland for the first time last month, to run the Dublin Marathon. Needless to say, after taking an ‘Intro to Irish’ language class at the Irish Arts Center in NYC (where I live) a couple of years ago & then subscribing to BiteSize Gaelic to maintain my interest in at least keeping up my memory of basic phrases, I was ecstatic when, during the marathon, a runner in front of me at one point said to the volunteers passing out water, ‘go raibh meath agat’ – and I knew what he was saying! Sadly that was the only time I heard Irish spoken aside from a couple of tour guides, though I did see a number of signs that I could decipher. I look forward to making return trips to Ireland & knowing a little more of the language each time!

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