A Short Introduction to the Irish Language

  • 01 of 11

    Need a Little Bit of Irish?

    © Bernd Biege 2015

    It is more than likely that you will never need to speak a word of Irish in Ireland. English is the lingua franca on the Emerald Isle, despite all efforts to resurrect interest in the Irish language (and some attempts to establish Ulster-Scots as a third language as well).

    There are, however, a few words or phrases that you will encounter more or less frequently. Some are in everyday use everywhere, and some are only really used locally.

    And some may lead to confusion and embarrassment - from missing your bus to entering where you shouldn't. So let us start on a journey through the basic words every visitor to Ireland should know ... you really have to be able to select between fir and mná, even under pressure!

    Continue to 2 of 11 below.
  • 02 of 11


    © Bernd Biege 2015

    More than likely the very first word you'll hear, especially if you are flying on Aer Lingus ...

    "Fáilte", pronounced something like "fall-sha", simply means "welcome", and it is widely used both as a greeting, or to denote tourism activities - the Irish tourism industry uses the moniker "Fáilte Ireland". The very popular phrase céad mile fáilte ("kad meel-a fall-sha") translates as "a hundred thousand welcomes".

    Continue to 3 of 11 below.
  • 03 of 11

    Áth Cliath

    © Bernd Biege 2015

    This will be more than likely your first destination in Ireland, maybe even the airport you are flying into.

    Pronounced "ah cli-a" and literally translated "ford of the hurdles" - the alternative name of Dublin (both names are Irish, by the way). Used on road signs, bus destination boards and similar, all over the country (except in Northern Ireland, where a plain "Dublin" is used). The preface baile (pronounced "bal-a") simply means "town", thus baile átha cliath is the City of Dublin as opposed to the county.

    Continue to 4 of 11 below.
  • 04 of 11

    An Lár

    © Bernd Biege 2015

    Getting from the airport to the city centre is no problem, just hop on a bus that takes you to "An Lár", an almost mythical place for the un-initiated.

    Literally "the middle" or "the centre", and frequently used on bus signs to denote the town centre as a general destination. The main problem being that the definition of the centre cannot hold up to closer scrutiny at times - in Dublin this covers a wide area, roughly between St. Stephen's Green and O'Connell Street. It is far easier in smaller cities like Galway, where you'll be dropped off near Eyre Square more than likely.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11


    © Bernd Biege 2015

    Bus not going anywhere? In that case the destination board might have read something different from "An Lár", maybe the seemingly similar "As Seirbhís"?

    Seirbhís is pronounced "service", and it means the same. The opposite, however, is as seirbhís - "out of service". Frequently seen on buses, as these tend to travel empty from or to the depot (in other countries, routes actually start and end at or near the depot; in Dublin especially they tend to terminate or kick off as far away as possible).

    Continue to 6 of 11 below.
  • 06 of 11


    © Bernd Biege 2015

    Need help? Why not ask a policeman (or -woman)? These are collectively known as Gardai here, the single version being Garda

    Pronounced "guarda" and meaning "guard" or "guardian". Usually the short form of Garda Síochána, the "guardians of peace" or "civic guards". This title was chosen for the Irish police after independence, and it is used everywhere in the Republic. It is quite common to use the more English expression "the guards" in everyday speech.

    The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) obviously uses the simple "police" as identification. As do the Airport Police in the Republic, and the Harbour Police.

    By the way - here are the most important emergency telephone numbers in Ireland, North and South, and you can speak plain English on the phone as well.

    Continue to 7 of 11 below.
  • 07 of 11

    Craic Agus Ceol

    © Bernd Biege 2015

    Now it's time for some fun.

    Pronounced "crack a-goose col", this multilingual concoction means "crack and music", and is being frequently used as the overall description of Irish night-life. Multilingual? You bet - the word craic is not Irish at all - the English "crack" was simply re-written in an Irish form. The original meaning is "fun".

    Continue to 8 of 11 below.
  • 08 of 11


    © Bernd Biege 2015

    And when the pints are poured, you raise your glass and bid your drinking companions Sláinte?

    Pronounced "slaan-sha" this literally translates as "health". It is used as a short toast between drinking companions, standing in for the more time-consuming "I drink to your health!"

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11


    © Bernd Biege 2015

    After a few drinks, you might want to visit the toilet and here it gets complicated. Because with a manly stride, and maybe slightly blurred vision, you head for the door marked "Mná" and are greeted by shrieks.

    Mná is not a misspelling of "man" but the Irish for "women". This is used as an identifier on toilet doors, mainly in the West of Ireland without any pictogram or translation. The similarity of mná and "man" can lead to embarrassing situations. And a black eye.

    Continue to 10 of 11 below.
  • 10 of 11


    © Bernd Biege 2015

    So you run out of the Ladies', looking for the Gents' and in your confusion then proceed outdoors and up to a handy tree?

    Nope - Fir in Irish is not a tree, but the word for "men" - you may find this as an identifier on toilet doors. Which, again, can be quite confusing if not accompanied by a pictorial device or a translation.

    Continue to 11 of 11 below.
  • 11 of 11


    © Bernd Biege 2015

    Time to say your good-byes? Well, then do it in Irish fashion as well!

    Similar to "sláinte", the meaning of "slán" again is literally "healthy" or "safe". But this short form (pronounced "slaan"), it is used to wish somebody a safe journey and healthy return. The extended slán abhaile (" slaan aval") is used by the host and means "safe homewards". Other forms are slan agat and slan leat, all meaning "good bye".

    Confused? Don't be, a simple "slán" will always be acceptable.