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Irish Sayings and Phrases Translated for the World

May 9, 2014

Guide to Irish Sayings and Phrases

Our friends at (hi guys, we’re friends now, kay?) published a list earlier this year titled 35 Irish sayings and phrases you need to learn before you visit, a light-hearted look at some widely used, but sometimes confusing things Irish people say. Allegedly.

As an Irish company, with loads of Irish employees, we’re naturally experts on the topic, and thought we’d give our opinion on some of IrishCentral’s interpretations, and add some variations too. You can never have to many strange phrases in your arsenal!

Sure tis’ only a bit o’ craic, ha?!

Typical Irish Phrases

“Sure look it”

According to IrishCentral “…is an acceptable response for any question, statement, or comment.”

Spot on. There are no restrictions on how this phrase can be correctly used, and it’s especially useful if you didn’t quite understand the question, but are clearly not in a position to simply say nothing. This happens quite a lot in Ireland, hence the widespread use of “catch all” responses.

Variants – arra’, ah sure, sure I know, ah yeah, sure g’wan

“A whale of a time”


Not too sure how often this one is used, but the phrase does make sense, so we won’t be too harsh.

Variants – having a ball, a mad one, livin’ la vida loca (Waterford only), some session, great craic

“Go way outta that”

A dismissive term, but in the nicest way possible. It’s almost as versatile as “sure look it” in its one-size-fits-all glory, but best used when trying to convince someone to do something they know they probably shouldn’t, when you both know they probably will.

Variants – ah stop, ah ya will, give it a rest, quit yer’ messin, get up outta that



“Sure yer man’s always parking arseways”.

Straightforward enough, it’s a term that can apply to anything done slightly (or fully) wrong or haphazardly.

Variants – banjaxed, wonky, shockin’

“Was it any use?”

Not sure why this one’s in the list, it seems a perfectly acceptable use of language.
For that, IrishCentral, you lose some kudos.

Sorry, but we need strict rules or else this article won’t be taken seriously.

Variants – and?, well?, how’d it go?

“Donkey’s years”


The mythical nature of the elusive Donkey has worked its way into common language across the globe, and they’re so stubborn that a sense of immortality surrounds them – death himself gives up trying.
Nobody knows just how long a donkey’s year is, but I’d guess it’s at least four human years.

Just look at those adorable ears. Bless him.

Variants – yonks (a classic from the 90’s), bleedin’ ages ago

“Happy out”

This one just means “happy” – adding “out” is just to throw visitors off the scent, I think, and maintain our reputation as lingual-freestylers.

Variants – happy, grand, not a bother, happy as Larry


As per IrishCentral – If you’re very tired. Normally used after a big night out.

Again, that’s spot on. However, it also has other, more literal (and offensive) uses. Let’s skip over them for now.

Variants – hangin’, in a heap, mouldy, a little tender, tummy bug (when calling your boss)



Referring to any fizzy non-alcoholic beverage, the humble mineral is a common sight at parties and in pubs where children are present. A can may, in some areas, be called a “tin”.

Ever heard of Red lemonade? It’s an Irish thing – and nobody to this day has figured our exactly what it contains, or what the taste is meant to be, but we still love it.

Variants – fizzy pop, can of fanta, bottle of TK

“Pint of Gat”

The famously stereotypical pint of Guinness (we don’t ALL like it!).

Hmmm….not too sure on this one either. While there’s certainly an unlimited supply of words to describe a pint, Gat wouldn’t be common for most people. Perhaps it’s a local thing, somewhere.

Variants – pint of plain, pint of porter, the black stuff, simply a “pint” (other pints need to be specified)


One of the more poetic descriptions of inebriation (which is another).
Not wanting to reinforce cultural stereotypes, we Irish folk have a way of creatively deflecting from the obvious health concerns and physical dangers associated with drunkenness, adding to our allure and romanticism, probably.

Variants – locked, legless, on your ear, wasted, mouldy, tipsy, sloppy, “he’s gone all sentimental”

“The fear”

We’ve all been there.

A few post-work drinks turns distinctly feral, and before you realise, it’s 2.45am and you’re propping up the counter in your local chipper, justifying only four hours sleep, and then maybe three.
Once the first signs of sunlight appear, the guilt kicks in and can occasionally stop you falling asleep.

You dread the alarm. You dread facing your colleagues. You dread the hangover and the headache.

This is The Fear, and it can last well into the afternoon – if you’re lucky.

Variants – the demons, the jitters, “i’m never drinking again”

“The jacks”


A stalwart of any Irishman’s vocabulary.
Warning – “Hittin’ the jacks” too early on a night out can result in “the floodgates” being breached, which then requires a repeat trip every hour. It’s not practical, it’s not fun and it’s certainly not cool.

Variants – the loo, the bog

“I’m gunna head on”

This one must be a regional thing, as here in CurrencyFair we’d be more familiar with a phrase that might seem to be the exact opposite, but means the same – “I’m gonna head off”.
Very useful when you want to leave but would rather not give too much detail as to why, or where you may be going.

Variants – head off, leggit’, scarper, bail, scatter (Dublin only)

“Naggins” and “shoulders”

The perfect way to sneak spirits into a nightclub (or cinema?). Usually refers to vodka or whiskey, but gin sometimes appears on the radar.
Naggins are a little smaller than a shoulder, and easier to hide due to their (deliberately) curved shape, which fits perfectly into a coat pocket, and can even mask itself as a rather large phone/wallet in jeans or trousers.

Let’s not forget our dear friend, the flagon. Traditionally a beautifully crafted vessel for holding ale, beer or whiskey, in modern times it’s taken on an altogether more sinister form.
Typically containing cheap cider, a flagon now refers to a 2 litre plastic bottle, and is a particular favourite of those who frequent fields, car parks and anywhere else your parents can’t see you.

Variants – none, they are what they are, and everybody knows it

“That dose is going’ round”

As we all know, going outside in the cold without a vest and scarf causes actual viruses and bacteria to spontaneously burst into life within your body and attack your immune system (thanks for the heads up, mom).


Once activated, these nasty little things make you sick – and this unsavoury state has at least a million unique descriptions.

If you’re lucky, you’ll avoid the dreaded man-flu, which has been known to stop a man getting out of bed entirely, and in some cases even prevent him playing computer games.

Variants – flu, bug, headcold, somethin’ in the air/water

“Call round for a céilí”


Thankfully, IrishCentral cover this one with – “The phrase is beginning to die out, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring it back!

Yes, we could bring it back, but then what would we call an actual céilí? I think that would create more confusion and embarrassment if your friend turned up in full Irish dancing regalia, and you’re still in your pyjamas.


So there you have it – 17 commonly used, and occasionally bewildering Irish sayings.
Thanks once again to the folks at for the inspiration.

If you have any strange Irish sayings you’d like to understand before your trip over, we’re more than happy to help, and if we’ve left out any funny ones, please let us know!

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