How to say “Good Morning” in Irish Gaelic

It makes me cringe every single St. Patrick’s Day.

At some point during the morning, either on TV, on the radio, or in person, I know I’m going to hear someone say it.

“Say what?” you ask. What else but…

Top o’ the mornin’ to ya!

(Makes me shudder just to think about it!)

No, not even in English

I don’t know where that particular bit of “Stage Oirish” came from, but it is NOT how Irish people say “good morning.”

In fact, if you use it in Ireland, be prepared for, at best, a heavy sigh and rolled eyes (they really do get VERY tired of these stereotypes, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. No one likes to be stereotyped, especially when the stereotype is dead wrong).

In English, an Irish person will most likely greet you with plain old “good morning.” Or maybe a “hello,” “how are you?” or even “hiya.” But they will not wish you the top, or any other portion, of the morning.

Saying “good morning” in Irish

If you really want to sound Irish (on St. Patrick’s Day, or any other day) how about saying “good morning” IN Irish (sometimes referred to as “Irish Gaelic“)?

Here are a few ways to say “good morning” in Irish:

The simplest: maidin mhaith

Lamb

“Maidin mhaaaaith!”
Photo 2008, by Audrey Nickel

Maidin mhaith, which is the simplest way to say “good morning” in Irish, is a direct translation of the English phrase.

Maidin: Morning

Mhaith: Good

(In Irish, the adjective comes after the noun, much as in Spanish or French).

Pronunciation for this varies a bit among the three main Irish dialects:

Ulster (Including Counties Donegal, Monaghan, and Cavan, as well as the six counties of Northern Ireland): Maidin mhaith: MA-jin why.

Connacht (Western Ireland): Maidin mhaith: MA-jin wah.

Munster (Southern Ireland, particularly Clare, Kerry, and Cork): Maidin mhaith: MA-jin vah.

NOTE: Some purists dislike “maidin mhaith” because it is a direct translation from English, and thus could be considered “Béarlachas” (an English idiom that doesn’t really work in Irish).

It’s widely used, however, particularly in Donegal. It may have originated as Béarlachas, but it’s come to be accepted, and will be understood in any Gaeltacht.

It’s a handy one to know, both because it’s easy, and because you don’t have to worry about whether you’re addressing one or more people, which can be an issue with other greetings (as you’ll see in a second).

A little more formal (and traditional)

There’s a slightly more formal way to say “good morning” in Irish…one that appeals to language purists because it’s a traditional Irish idiom:

Dia dhuit ar maidin (JEE-uh g(w)itch air MA-jin): “Good morning” said to one person.

Dia dhaoibh ar maidin (JEE-uh YEE-uv air MA-jin): “Good morning” said to multiple people.

This literally means “God to you this morning,” but would be more idiomatically translated as “Hello/greetings to you this morning.”

(Many Irish greetings are religious in origin, but they are used by all Irish speakers, whether religious or not, much as “Goodbye” (“God be with ye”) and “Adios” (“with God”) are in English and Spanish, respectively.)

Finally, the (likely) culprit!

Another traditional Irish morning greeting is PROBABLY the one that gave us the infamous “top o’ the mornin‘”:

Móra na maidine duit (MOR-uh nuh MA-jin-uh ditch): “Good morning” to one person.

Móra na maidine daoibh (MOR-uh muh MA-jin-uh DEE-uv): “Good morning” to multiple people.

It’s likely that a mistranslation of this greeting gave rise to the “Stage Oirish” greeting. Mór (of which “móra” is a variation) has a variety of meanings, including “big,” and “great.” Possibly someone mistook this greeting to mean “the bigger/greater part of the morning too you.” From there, it’s not hard to see it becoming “top.”

In this case, however, móra simply means “good.”

You’re all set!

Next time you want to say “good morning” in a traditional Irish style, you’re all set! Any of these will be understood and appreciated by most Irish speakers.

(And if you’re NOT talking to an Irish speaker, it will give you a good opportunity to educate people about that whole “top o’ the mornin'” thing!).

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Comments

  1. Kathleen Horton says:

    Dear Audrey,
    I certainly appreciate your perceptive comments.You are “right on” with your explanations. I have had the same reaction when an American says “TOTM.” It is especially embarrassing when said in Ireland. Thanks very much for your input.

    Katie

    • Eoin says:

      Agreed, “top of the mornin’ to ya”, said in anything but jest, is a bit cheesy :)

      • mehull says:

        I unreservedly respect the authority of the author in saying that is not what Irish people say now.I am after humbly asking though if we should dismiss it as entirely baseless, or a misunderstanding/translation? The slight glimmer of doubt i have comes from an old book i have about the Isle of Man, From memory: in a story about old Nance’s bargain she makes with one of the island`s fairy folk, in return for a “Hollintide Farin” (a sweet from the baker at Hollintide) the fairy will make sure the price of butter will rise to “the top of the horns of the cow” for that day. The day old Nance is goin to Hollintide to sell her butter.
        Not sure if i am pullin on too finer thread hear, but i’m after thinkin that the term “top of ……..” at one time , might have been an expression in common use meaning something like “the best of” , or “the best possible”? I can imagine a time most have forgotten , when country folk possibly used it in a variety of circumstances including wishing someone the best possible morning. I am aware that the Isle of Man is NOT Ireland, but anyone who doubts its Irishness doesn’t the place. [or at least the place that was]

        All that said i feel the same cring when people use the expression to me but there is worse. I have this stupid occasional acquaintance who when ever he sees or phones me will introduce himself wit dat and “Fiddel-de-de Potatoes in an appalling attempt at an Irish Bough.This despite the fact taht i have taught him a basic “how are you” in Irish.

        Ahhhhhhhh! he means well…

        is mise mehull `

        • Audrey says:

          The bottom line, though, is that “top of” would never be used as a legitimate translation of the Irish expression. It’s a little like “éirigh le,” which “literally” means “rise with,” but actually means “succeed.” An overly literal translation of that is what gave us the ridiculous “may the road rise with you” expression…which makes absolutely no sense in either language.

  2. Arielle says:

    Thank you for your insight and your helpful newsletter. I appreciate it very much! Peace, Arielle

  3. Joan T. Murtaugh says:

    Wow! Sounds like a kinda snobbish reply to a friendly greeting. And the rest of the day to you!♥

  4. steve quill says:

    diaghuit I believe this is the correct spelling and what true Gaelic people say in the morning as far as saying good morning look it up let me know what you find out..

    • Audrey says:

      It’s spelled “Dia duit” or “Dia dhuit” (exact spelling varies by dialect), and is simply “Hello,” not “good morning.” Irish speakers will say “good morning” by either saying “maidin mhaith” or “Dia duit ar maidin” (again, the difference appears to be regional).

  5. steve quill says:

    One more thing, what it means is may God be with you ! And that’s what they say. let’s just be clear on this they don’t say good morning they say may God be with you. And the word is what people……………diaghuit ! yeah, you got it ! Now that we’ve got that cleared up, what you would say in return is diasmeraghuit ( not sure of the spelling) which in turn means may God and Mary be with you.. By the way happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone !!