Ireland, the nation that brought us shamrocks, Guinness and Father Ted, certainly has its fair share of endearing quirks and peculiar Irish customs. While the country may be known for its resplendent greenery, justifiably earning its nickname as the Emerald Isle, it’s the country’s residents who will really win you over during your stay. With their colourful quotes and snappy one-liners, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find someone who doesn’t embody the craic.
If you’re interested in learning the ways of the locals before you arrive, here are 13 unique Irish customs you’ll only experience in the land of leprechauns:
1. What’s the craic?
While exploring Dublin, Galway or any part of the Emerald Isle, you’re bound to hear the phrase: “What’s the craic?” Craic (pronounced crack) is a customary expression that can be used in multiple situations but generally means “fun”, or a “good time”. It is also put to good use as a greeting, for example, “Ah, Alex. What’s the craic?”
2. Meeting the Irish
As you’ll soon experience, the Irish are generally rather casual and will automatically defer to using one’s first name upon meeting someone new. It is customary to shake hands, not just with adults but with older children too. And, you can expect these greetings to be warm and jovial, quickly turning into full conversations.
3. Irish beer culture
Having a few pints is more or less an everyday Irish custom and heading to the pub is a common occurrence. The most reliable rule, if you want to drink like a true Irishman, is to stick to whiskey or stout — Guinness, preferably, and served by the draft, if you can manage.
The Irish equivalent of “cheers”, sláinte meaning “health” in Gaelic, is a customary phrase to call out before taking the first sip of your pint. And, if you’re also travelling to Scotland with Trafalgar, you’ll hear it there too.
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5. St. Patrick
While St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world as a day of fun and merriment, in Ireland it is regarded as an important religious day. There are still joyful festivities to be enjoyed, but the locals don’t typically dress in full green and orange. Rather, they don a small bunch of shamrocks on their shirt to signify the pride they have in their country.
6. Tying the knot
We’re not sure whether you’ll come across a wedding during your journey, but this is one of those unique Irish customs that the locals will be more than willing to clarify after a few drams. The tradition of “tying the knot” occurs during a marriage ceremony when couples hold hands and a ribbon is gently wrapped around their wrists to bind their union.
7. Leap year proposals
This is another favourite Irish custom to ask the locals about. Although you may have thought this concept was a myth, according to the old Irish tradition, the leap year is the perfect chance for a woman to take the matter of marriage into their own hands by proposing to her beau. The opportunity occurs just once every four years, on February 29th (Leap Day).
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8. Irish Song and Dance
Few things will ignite your curiosity for Irish culture more than Ireland’s love of music and traditional dancing, which takes on many forms. These range from jigs and reels, to step dancing and ceili dances. With a bit of Irish luck you’ll encounter a few vibrant performances during your travels.
9. Irish customs of birthdays
This slightly peculiar yet entertaining Irish tradition is customary on birthdays of smaller children. It entails them being turned upside down to have their head gently bumped on the floor the same amount of times as their age – with an extra bump for good luck.
10. An itchy nose
As you’ll quickly discover, Ireland boasts a rich history based on folklore and superstition. And although this is one of the more tongue-in-cheek Irish customs, an itchy nose is considered as a sign of an impending argument or fight, unless of course you give (or receive) a slap on the back of the hand to avoid it.
11. Thank the bus driver
Ireland has a long-standing custom of thanking the bus driver, no matter how short or long the trip. If you too want to be a part of this wonderfully polite tradition, remember to thank your own Trafalgar driver each time you arrive at a new location.
12. Salute a magpie
It’s not uncommon to see the Irish saluting Magpies, thought to prevent bad luck (as long as you salute it). After thanking the bus driver, why not salute one of these birds while exploring on foot?
13. On the subject of Irish coffee
You may well have tasted this iconic beverage before but in Ireland, you’ll experience it the traditional Irish way, made with whiskey, brown sugar, and cream. That’s it. No Baileys, no Kahlua, or crème de menthe, as you’ll typically find it prepared in other parts of the world like the United States.
Do you know of any special Irish customs that we haven’t included in this article? We’d love to hear all about them in the comments…