Useful Irish Phrases and Words You Might Need

A (Very!) Short Introduction to the Irish Language

Cead mile failte, Irish 'Welcome'
••• Cath?rine / Getty Images

Just how many Irish words do you need to get by in Ireland? The simple answer: none. Literally everybody in Ireland speaks English, and the so-called “first language” Irish is seldom heard in everyday common usage, the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking areas mainly on the Western seaboard) being an exception. But even here, English in generally the lingua franca in contacts with the visitor.

In any case, speaking Irish like the natives might be far beyond your linguistic abilities (and mine too, though that never was a problem during the last 35 years).

But a smattering of common words and typical phrases is always helpful.

You might, for instance, simply need some Irish phrases and words … because when visiting "the auld country" you don't want to come across all touristy. Or, more sensibly, you just want to know what the correct entrance to the public conveniences for your gender would be. Well, you can start here. You won't actually get an Irish language course, but you'll certainly notice that the local lingo is mighty different from plain English.

But here's the thing—without immersing yourself in the language, you’ll not be able to actually hold a conversation in Irish. Not at all, period. Having said that (and maybe curbed your enthusiasm, or even shot down your aspirations a bit), you may spice up your English (an idiomatic variety of which is spoken by everyone in Ireland anyway, though some of it might just be Blarney) with some Irish phrases and colloquialisms.

This may actually endear the eachtrannach ("stranger"/"foreigner") to the locals. Just don’t expect them to buy you pints of Guinness to honor your effort.

Some useful phrases in Irish (that go beyond the essential words you should know in Irish are, then, grouped in logical categories:

Hello, Goodbye

  • Hello - Dia duit. (literally "may God be with you")
  • How are you? - Conas atá tú?
  • I am ... - Is mise ...
  • What's your name? - Cad es ainm duit?
  • What's the news? - Cén scéal?
  • Pleased to meet you - Tá áthas orm bualadh leat
  • Welcome - Fáilte
  • Goodbye (short and general form) - Slán
  • Goodbye (if you are leaving) - Slán leat
  • Goodbye (if you are staying) - Slán agat
  • See you (later). - Slán go fóill.
  • Stay safe, take care. - Tabhair aire.

Small (but Important) Words

Take note that while I give words for "yes" and "no" here, this is not entirely correct. In fact, there are no such words in Irish, just approximations like "it is". This might have to do with the reluctance of the Irish to firmly commit to anything in life or just be a linguistic quirk; both theories have their adherents.

  • Yes - Tá
  • No - Níl
  • It is - Sea (used more often than "tá")
  • It isn’t - Ní hea (used more often than "níl")
  • Please - Le do thoil.
  • Thank you - Go raibh maith agat
  • I’m sorry - Tá brón orm
  • Excuse me - Gabh mo leithscéal

Linguistic Prowess (Or Not)

  • Do you speak Irish? - An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?
  • How do you say that in Irish? - Conas a déarfávsin as Gaeilge?
  • I understand (you) - Tuigim (thú)
  • I don't understand (you) - Ní thuigim (thú)
  • Say again, please. - Abair aris é, le do thoil. (You'll be repeating this ad nauseam, or until the exasperated Irish speaker switches to English.)

    Just Follow the Sign

    • Fir - Men
    • Mná - Women - yes, the big sign "MNÁ" on the lavatory door is not a mis-spelling of "MAN", so beware!
    • Oscailte - Open
    • Dúnta - Closed
    • As seirbis - Out of service
    • An lar - Town centre
    • Garda - Police (the official title in the Republic of Ireland only, in Northern Ireland the Police Service is translated as Seirbhís Póilíneachta)
    • Eolais - Information
    • Oifig Eolais - Tourist Information
    • Oifig an Phoist - Post Office
    • Páirceáil - Parking

    Mixed Blessings and Curses

    • Cáisc shona! - Happy Easter!
    • Go n-éiri an bóthár leat! - Have a good journey!
    • Go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat! - May you be eaten by a cat that will be eaten by the devil! (the Irish version of "Go to hell!")
    • Imeacht gan teacht ort! - May you just leave and never come back! (the Irish version of "Bugger off!")
    • Nollaig shona! - Merry Christmas!
    • Oíche mhaith! - Good night!
    • Saol fada chugat! - A long life to you!
    • Sláinte! - Your health! (the Irish version of "Cheers!")
    • Sláinte is táinte! - May you be healthy and wealthy! (the Irish version of "All the best!")
    • Titim gan eiri ort! - Fall down and never rise again! (the Irish version of "Drop dead!")

    Counting

    • 1 - aon
    • 2 - dó
    • 3 - trí
    • 4 - ceathair
    • 5 - cúig
    • 6 - sé
    • 7 - seacht
    • 8 - ocht
    • 9 - naoi
    • 10 - deich
    • 11 - aon déag
    • 12 - dó déag
    • 20 - fiche
    • 30 - tríocha
    • 40 - daichead
    • 50 - caoga
    • 60 - seasca
    • 70 - seachtó
    • 80 - ochtó
    • 90 - nócha
    • 100 - céad
    • 1,000 - míle

    Days of the Week

    • Monday - Dé Luain
    • Tuesday - Dé Máirt
    • Wednesday - Dé Céadaoin
    • Thursday - Déardaoin
    • Friday - Dé hAoine
    • Saturday - Dé Sathairn
    • Sunday - Dé Domhnaigh

    Months of the Year

    • January - Eanair
    • February - Feabhra
    • March - Márta
    • April - Aibreán
    • May- Bealtaine
    • June - Meitheamh
    • July - Iúil
    • August - Lúnasa
    • September - Meán Fomhair
    • October - Deireadh Fomhair
    • November - Samhain
    • December - Nollaig

    Seasons

    • spring - an t-earrach
    • summer - an samhradh
    • fall - an fómhar
    • winter - an geimhreadh

    And How Do You Pronounce These Irish Mouthfuls?

    You might think "Ah, well, Ireland is next to Britain ... so even if the words are different the pronunciation should be much the same." Once your first attempt at pronouncing something Irish ends in laughter, confused stares, or a riot, you'll have another thing coming. Irish is different despite using much the same alphabet as English (but only because a specially developed style of Irish writing failed to become standard).

    Vowel Sounds

    Irish uses the same five vowels as English, but the pronunciation is different at times; if there is an accent over the vowel it is a "long" vowel:

    • a is pronounced as in "cat", but á is pronounced as in "saw".
    • e is pronounced as in "wet", but é is pronounced as in "way".
    • i is pronounced as in "fit", but í is pronounced as in "fee".
    • o is pronounced as in "son", but ó is pronounced as in "slow".
    • u is pronounced as in "put", but ú is pronounced as in "school".

    Vowels are also divided into "slender" (e, é, i and í) and "broad" (the rest), influencing the pronunciation of the consonants before them.

    Consonant Sounds

    As a general rule, all single consonants are as in English, except when they are different. And clusters of consonants may have very interesting tongue-teasers hidden in them.

    • bh
      - pronounced as in "village", it is similar to our v.
    • bhf
      - pronounced as in "wall", it is similar to our w.
    • c
      - always pronounced as in "cut", like a k.
    • ch
      - pronounced as in "loch".
    • d
      - pronounced as in "do" when followed by a "broad" vowel.
      - pronounced like the j in "joy" when followed by a "slender" vowel.
    • mh
      - pronounced like the w in "will" (again).
    • s
      - pronounced as a normal s when followed by a "broad" vowel.
      - pronounced like sh in "shop" when followed by a "slender" vowel.
      - pronounced like sh at the end of a word.
    • t
      - pronounced like a normal t when followed by a "broad" vowel.
      - pronounced like the ch in "child" when followed by a "slender" vowel.
    • th
      - pronounced just like the h in "home".
      - pronounced like the t in "bet".
      - pronounced not at all at the end of a word.

    Other Oddities of Spoken Irish

    Apart from the fact that even people from neighboring villages in the gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking areas, the non-Irish-speaking areas being helpfully called galltacht) can’t agree on the proper pronunciation?

    Well, you’ll notice that the Irish tend to roll their r more than other people, even when speaking English. At the same time, the horror of clustered consonants is obvious, the English "film" becoming "fillim" regularly. Oh, and a very good party trick is to have an Irishman read out "33 1/3" which may end up as "dirty tree and a turd".

    Pulling It All Together

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