Contrary to what the list below might suggest, we’re not a particularly sensitive bunch in Ireland, and you’ll get away with a lot. Tourism is big business here – a huge source of national income, in fact – and we’ve heard it all, from the assumption that everyone has red hair, to the expectation that the entire population drinks themselves into a stupor every Friday night (false, for the record!).
Like anywhere you might happen to travel, though, it is worth learning about some cultural sensitivities, and there are a few things to bear in mind when you’re visiting the Emerald Isle. Will these statements get you in trouble? Unless you’re being generally difficult, it’s highly unlikely. Will you do better fitting in if you avoid the inner disparaging smirk some of these ideas might carry with them for the local populace? Undoubtedly…
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Unless you actually are, of course. It’s probably fair to say that the natives of Ireland have long since understood that North American phraseology like this is intended to mean “I have Irish heritage”, but it undoubtedly still grates on locals. It’s not that we don’t like your affinity to our country – quite the opposite. It’s just that we’re not only an ancient bloodline that sits somewhere in your past, used to form an abstract identity. We’re a fully-fledged country that has moved with the times, and what many people of Irish heritage picture as ‘Ireland’ simply doesn’t exist any more. This commonly heard sentence is almost certain to evoke eye-rolling.
Quizzing about potatoes
Yes, we know this is a running joke of an Irish stereotype, but a couple of points of order. Firstly, there’s a lot of great food here: explore Ireland’s beef, salmon, oysters, butter, lamb, strawberries and blood sausage, for example (okay, you might not be queueing up for that last one). Secondly, while potatoes are indeed the local staple carbohydrate, they’re also heavily culturally linked with the Great Famine, with potato blight contributing to the death of a million people and emigration of a million more, reducing the population by close to 25%. Sure, it was in the 1840s and 1850s, but it’s a touch culturally sensitive.
Anything about an Irish car bomb
In fact, we’ll offer a little side tip with this one: if you see a bar selling an ‘Irish car bomb’, don’t go in: it’s as touristy as they come. Actual car bombs were a very real part of life in some parts of Ireland for years, and with people having died from these bombs (and very much within living memory), most people don’t find the branding of this drink particularly amusing. Same goes for the ‘Black and Tan‘ which is actually almost unknown in Ireland, but evokes a delicate bit of local history. Leave it at arrivals!
“Top of the morning to you”
No, no, no. There are some wonderful quaint phrases that commonly crop up in Irish conversation. There’s the wonderful local habit of saying “bye” a dozen times at the end of every phone conversation, for example, or the ‘Irish past tense’, phrased as “I’m after going/ doing/ seeing”. But this little bit of Hollywood Irish is something hardly anyone in the Emerald Isle actually uses, and it’s unlikely to go down well.
“Everything is better in… (insert large city)”
We know we’re not the best in the world at everything (or all that much, truth be told), but it does seem to be a habit of visitors to point out Ireland’s differences to locals, often disparagingly. But you came here because it’s not the same, right? A few obvious ones: we don’t have tall buildings as a city beautification decision (though it’s up for debate), big cars aren’t really something Irish people put much stock in, and if you’re only eating the pub food, it’s probably not going to be all that inspiring. It’s worth remembering that even the capital, Dublin, has a population of just over one million; the entire island’s population is only six million. Don’t expect Irish cities or towns to be compared to London, Berlin, or Paris.
“St Patty’s Day”
Ah, the national day: lots of green, parades, silly hats and binge drinking. The 17th of March is a holiday worth indulging in, and the author of the mother of all hangovers. You can call it St Patrick’s Day or St Paddy’s Day (no, it’s not derogatory), but not St Patty’s Day. Why? Well, Patty is short for Patricia in Ireland, and Patrick was definitely not a woman. The double ‘d’ in ‘Paddy’ is taken from the original Irish spelling of the name, Padraig.
“Do you know so-and-so from…”
This one is so common, it’s almost painful. Six million people is not that small a population, and when talking to tourists, locals will tend to describe where they come from in a somewhat vague sense, simply because the finer details require a real geographical sense of the island. But think about the size of an average social circle (1,000 at absolute most?) next to the size of a country, and try to leave the idea that everyone knows each other at home.
“I love U2”
An odd one, yes? The Irish (and Dubliners in particular), have such mixed feelings about one of their greatest musical exports that The Guardian recently penned a lengthy article exploring why they’re so little celebrated. There are multiple strands, from the band’s controversial decision to move their taxes outside Ireland, to Bono’s tendency to preach as well as sing. It can be a great conversation-starter to ask the Irish what they think of U2, but you’re likely to hear the disparaging local insult aimed at the frontman in response: “Bono is a pox”.
Anything about leprechauns
Let us give you a steer on this one: locals tend to find leprechauns something of a ridiculous cliché (the collective national eye-roll on the opening of the (uninspiring) National Leprechaun Museum in 2010 was something else). It’s certainly not a subject that takes up any time at all in the local psyche. If you want to talk myths and legends, there are some outstanding ones to explore with genuine historical roots; stories that many older locals will love expanding on. In the west, for example, pirate Queen Grainne [pronounced grohn-ya] O’Malley is something of a hero. In the north, Finn McCool is the big thing (read on to get that awful pun), while the story of Setanta and Cu Chulain links closely with the ancient sport of hurling.
Anything in a fake Irish accent
Yes, we know it can be hard not to pick up a little of the local dialect when you travel, especially when everyone’s speaking your language. Faux Irish accents stick out like a sore thumb in most cases, however: you won’t convince anyone you’re just from another corner of the island, and while it might get a laugh among your friends, it’ll probably sound mocking to the locals. Best just to stick to your own authentic twang.
And one for luck…
Isn’t Ireland in the UK?
Isn’t America in Canada? (No, no it’s not. We had a revolution about that).
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