Short Glossary of Irish Vernacular and Slang

Please note that this page will probably never be "finished". New terms are constantly creeping into the vernacular.

Without thinking about it, I spout a lot of terms and phrases which may sound foreign to Americans. Some of these may be Irish slang and some may be blamed upon my upbringing. (I was born in Kansas, but I got over it.) If you see any words or phrases on these webpages which you don't understand and if I fail to define them here, don't hesitate to email me for a definition. You might get one.

This is not meant to be a dictionary of Irish or Irish slang. If that's what you desire, pick up the book "Slanguage - a dictionary of Irish slang" by Bernard Share.

This is simply a short lexicon of some of the words and phrases, both English and Irish, used in everyday conversation in Ireland which might not be familiar to you. Where applicable, I demonstrate use in context. Pronunciations, if necessary, are in parenthesis, but most are "WYSIWYG". The exceptions are words and phrases in Irish, rather than English - nothing in Irish is pronounced the way it's spelled.


acting the maggot - behaving in a humourously irrational manner.

amadan - fool

atallatall - an example of redundancy for emphasis; "A yellow line means no parking; two yellow lines mean no parking atallatall" - Flan O'Brien.

BIFFO - big, ignorant f**ker from Offaly.

bits and bobs - an odd assortment of anything.

bob, a few - money; a few pounds. Or a few Euros, now that we've converted.

bog - dismally squelchy terrain, comprised, variously, of water, mud, live vegetation, dead vegetation, unidentifiable, malodorous muck and the occasional bronze age body. See also "Peat Bog", which is something different. Virtually unnavigable by any means other than hovercraft.

bogbean - one of a variety of flowering plants, similar to thistles, definitely inedible and, perhaps, poisonous.

bogway - see boreen (only worse).

bollocks - 1. testicles 2. term used to describe despicable / unsavory individual, invariably male.

bold thing, the - sexual intercourse.

boreen - small country road, barely a path.

Boys, The - revolutionaries / republicans, esp. those on the run. See also "Lads, The".

cailín (colleen) - girl

cameón (come-on) - a bit of ashwood stick used in the game of hurling.

caravan - small house trailer.

carragheen - Dulce; edible seaweed.

céad míle fáilte (kay-ed mill-uh fault-chuh) - a hundred thousand welcomes. Literally translated, céad means hundred; míle means thousand; fáilte means welcome. Actually, it means, "Here comes another one".

ceilidh / ceili (kaylee) - friendly call, visit, social evening, dancing session.

Celtic Tiger - the robust Irish economy.

Continuity IRA - small splinter group, broken off from the Provisional IRA around the time the PIRA declared a ceasefire in the 90s. Considered responsible for the Omagh bombing.

craic - (crack) the particular sense of esprit produced by the confluence of drink, romance and music. "We went out to Pollagh last night - The Renegades were playing. The craic was mighty!" It can also mean whatever is happening at any particular time and place. Seamus walks into the bar and asks, "What's the craic, lads?"

crapper - half-glass of whiskey. And I'll bet you thought it was scatological.

crusheen - a small jug such as one might put whiskey in.

culchie - what the Yanks would call a hick or hillbilly - the ones you see on the postcards from Ireland.

cute - clever; has nothing to do with looks.

desperate - very bad. Desperate weather can embrace snow in July; a desperate neighborhood would be filled with dodgy or dangerous characters.

diddle - make traditional 'mouth music'.

diddlyie (diddle-ee-aye) - traditional Irish music. "Were they playing rock and roll last night, or was it diddlyie?"

Disneyland - Ballymena, Co. Antrim, because of the constant references to it heard there, as in "John loves his praties, but he disney like the carrots".

dodgy - disreputable, possibly dangerous. "He lives in a dodgy neighborhood."

(the) dog's bollocks - So good it's "outstanding"!

donkey's years - long period of time; ages. "I haven't seen him in donkey's years."

dosh - money.

dosser - derogatory; a ne'er-do-well, usually on the dole.

drisheen - blood sausage; black pudding.

drink taken - as in "he had a bit o' the drink taken"; moderately under the influence.

Dub - native of Dublin. While some Dubs consider provincials less than the full civilised shilling [see "full shilling"] - "muck savages" is a phrase which comes to mind - some provincials appear to consider Dubliners less than fully Irish. Therefore, see also: "jackeen".

English justice - oxymoron; you're presumed innocent until proven Irish.

fag - usually, a cigarette; only occasionaly used to refer to a gay male or female.

fekin' eejit - fool, simpleton; phonetic spelling for the way the Irish pronounce "f**king idiot".

Fenian - (feenyun) Republican or revolutionary; after Fionn Mac Cumhaill, legendary warrior; a term (of abuse, if used by Loyalists) applied to nationalists or republicans.

full shilling - as in "not the full shilling"; mentally handicapped, slow, or backward.

Gaybo - Gabriel "Gay" Byrne, universally-loved long-time host of The Late Late Show, Ireland's answer to The Tonight Show.

gerronwiddit! - literally, "get on with it".

gerrup da yard - crude invitation to "get lost". Probably stems from headmasters telling students to bugger off to the opposite end of the schoolyard.

git - term of asbuse, as in "Gerrup the yard, ye oul' git!"

give out - speak angrily and harshly; "I hadn't done a thing wrong, but there was the missus, givin' out to me".

gob- mouth.

gobsmacked - totally surprised; taken off-guard.

gobshite / gobshyte - potty-mouth; undesirable person.

gombeen - moneylender or trader who exploits the disadvantaged through unfair practices, such as usury interest.

gurrier - juvenile delinquent; guttersnipe.

gurteen - small field.

himself - man of the house; quasi-respectful ref. to any male. "I must be home by six 'cause Himself wants his tea".

hold your hour - wait a minute; have patience.

holy hour - sixty-minute of compulsory bar closing, 14.30 - 15.30 on Sundays, recently abolished and not always observed when it was law.

hoor / hure - phonetic pronunciation of "whore"; term of mild abuse, applied to either gender.

how's she cuttin'? - how are things? Catchphrase setmming from agricultural machinery.

hurley - slang for a cameón.

INLA - Irish National Liberation Army; another splinter paramilitary group, philosophically aligned with the PIRA. Thought to be in loose collusion with the Continuity IRA.

IRA - Irish Republican Army. Under the leadership of Michael Collins, the IRA waged a successful war for Ireland's independence from Britain beginning shortly after the Easter Rising of 1916. Not to be considered as precisely the same organization as the PIRA, below.

Irish - the original language of Ireland; not to be confused with Gaelic, which is spoken in some areas of Scotland, even though Irish is referred to as "the gaelic" here. The two languages have common roots, as well as many common words and phrases, but a Scottish highlander and someone from The West of Ireland would probably have difficulty conversing with one another.

jacks - toilet. The name "Jack" is often substituted for "John", hence...

jackeen - a Dubliner. Dublin was always seen as the most "English" city in Ireland by provincials and this was coined as a term of derision stemming from the English flag, the Union Jack, by adding the diminuitive, -een. Literally, "Little Jack". Derived from "shoneen", a sort of "working-class West Brit".

jar - indeterminate measure of drink. From the earthenware jars formerly used to hold beer or spirits.

jarred - well and truly drunk.

Kerry witness - someone who will swear to anything.

kilt - killed.

knacker - itenerant tinker or, to use the politically-correct term, "Member of the Traveling Community", usually found living in a caravan at the edge of town, doing odd jobs, stealing this and that when they can and littering the landscape; general term of abuse.

kneecap - form of punishment favoured by paramilitaries involving shooting the victim in one or both knees.

lad - applied with ref. to undifferentiated inanimate objects, as well as men; usually a term of grudging affection; person or thing that's very bad or very good.

Lads, The - revolutionaries / republicans, esp. PIRA.

langered / langers - well and truly pissed.

legless - too pissed to walk.

locked - far beyond legless.

long finger, put on the - postpone indefinitely.

long grass, be in the - lie low. "He asked why he hadn't seen me in donkey's years and I told him I'd been in the long grass."

loo - see "jacks".

loyalist - a radical protestant unionist. Loyalists wish the entire island (yes, Dublin and all) to be once again ruled by Britain. Barring this, they'll settle for running off all the Catholics, whom they call "papists", so they can have the place to themselves. The UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) which is politically-aligned with the Ulster Unionist Party, is the only paramilitary group in Ireland remaining active, not on ceasefire.

maggot - popular term of contempt. "The dirty li'l maggot was kicking a woman!"

morter - a mortal sin.

Nationalist - One who wishes Northern Ireland to be under home rule, rather than be ruled by Britain.

Oirish - paddyism connotating excessive or exaggerated display of perceived national characteristics.

off-licence - a liquor store. Derived from the fact that it has a licence to sell beverages for consumption off-premises.

Orangemen - Members of the Loyal Orange Order, loyalist marching society, founded to commemmorate the victory of King William of Orange over the Irish at the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July, 1690. Every July, they insist on rubbing the Nationalists' noses in it by staging "triumphalist" marches through exclusively Catholic and Nationalist neighborhoods.

Oul' Sod, The - paddyism; term of affection for Ireland.

pan - bread cooked in a pan; sometimes any bread, as in, "Give me a rasher and a slice of pan".

peat - sod of turf, not the "peat moss" used as potting soil in America. Usually burned in a stove or fireplace for heat.

peat bog - considerably less-squelchy than plain bog (see "bog") - layers of vegetation laid down over centuries to form turf of peat (see "turf" and "peat"). If left to itself, which it seldom is, in another few centuries, it would become compressed under successive layers and become coal. One gentleman in Kerry has bought an acre of peat bog and he claims it's a long-term investment - he's waiting for it to become, first, coal, then, later, diamond.

PIRA- Provisional Irish Republican Army. Recently devolved of arms, the PIRA separated from the old (1916-vintage) IRA during the 1960s. It was originally formed as a means to defend Catholic neighbourhoods in the North from sectarian attacks by loyalist thugs because the Royal Ulster Constabulary refused to protect them. (The RUC actually aided and abetted loyalists thugs in murdering innocent Catholic citizens.) With conditions such as these prevalent in the North, the PIRA escalated things terribly and began their own bombing and shooting campaign. They've now disavowed violence as a means to a political end and are active participants in the peace talks.

pissed - drunk. (Not to be confused with pissed-off.)

pissing time - short period of time. "With the large group we have coming over, one case of beer won't last pissing time."

pissup - drinking session.

póg mo thón (pogue mo hone; the first word is pronounced the same as "pogo" in "pogo stick", with the "o" left off; "mo" is the same as "mo" from The Three Stooges; "hone" is the same as what you do to sharpen a knife; "mo" and "hone" are run together as in "Mahoney") - this is an oath and an excellent example of the difficulty the English tongue has in wrapping itself around the Irish language. Póg means kiss; mo means my; thón means ass.

poitin / poteen (poocheen) - literally, "little pot"; illicit moonshine whiskey.

poxy - bad, hardly worth mentioning. "Went to Mick's bar last night and the poxy band drove us out the door".

praties - potatos.

Provos - The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA).

quare - phonetic for "queer"; nice, good; "A quare oul' grin he had on him".

quare fella - individual distinguished by eccentric / unusual conduct / situation. Nothing to do with homosexuality.

rap - counterfeit coin; anything of little worth.

rasher - bacon. Also, sexual intercourse, hence "Rasherhouse" as a nickname for the women's prison in Mountjoy.

Real IRA - splinter group, broken off from the PIRA. Possibly responsible, along with the Continuity IRA, for the Omagh bombing which killed 29 people in 1998. Declared ceasefire after bad publicity resulting from the bombing.

republican - a trifle more hard-core than a Nationalist, a republican wishes not only to have Northern Ireland removed from British rule but to have the entire island united as one republic.

ride - women (more rarely men) generous with sexual favours; also, the act of sexual intercourse. It would not be wise, if you needed to be transported somewhere by car, to say, "Would you give me a ride?"

right - adjective showing intensity, as in, "He was a right eejit".

roaring - see "giving out".

sasanach - English person (term of derision).

score - a twenty-pound note or, more-recently, a twenty-Euro note.

seanachaí / seanachie (shanna-kee) - storyteller.

sharts, the - a condition which occurs the morning after a night of drinking Guinness. You think you're going to break wind, but end up with a laundry problem.

shebeen - from the Irish "síbín" for illicit whiskey, hence an unlicenced drinking establishment or any disreputable public house.

shillelagh - oak cudgel.

Sinn Féin (Shinn Fayne) - Republican political party; spokespersona for the outlawed PIRA.

Skibbereen - a town in Cork, not to be confused with smithereens.

skip - dumpster. "Ran out of room in the bin, so I carried the rubbish out to the skip."

slag - a good-natured insult. In the Midlands, if people don't slag you unmercifully, it's a sign they probably don't like you.

slán - to your health; farewell. (slán go fóill means "seeya later"; slán leat!, slán agat! - cheerio, farewell.)

sláinte - (slon-chuh) a toast - "to your health" or "cheers".

slither - ball used in the game of hurling.

Sodom and Begorrah - characterization of the difference between the Dublin Gate and Abbey Theatres with reference to the sexual orientation of the directors of the theatres in the 1930's.

spalpeen - scamp; irresponsible fool.

spit - measure of distance. "Sure an' it's only a good spit from here".

Stab City - a slur; nickname for Limerick because of the high crime incidence and reputation for violence.

still an' all - nevertheless.

stirrin' the pot - creating or maintaining animosity between individuals or groups.

stone - fourteen pounds. I weigh 12 stone.

suss - to figure something out. "We didn't know what it meant until we got the dictionary and sussed it."

Taoiseach (thee shock) - Prime Minister. The "th" sound is as it's pronounced at the end of "with", not the beginning of "the".

take-away - same as what Americans would call a carry-out restaurant.

tear / tare - as in "on a tear"; engaging in a bout of extended drinking; on a spree.

tobesuretobesure - another example of emphasis through redundancy. Why does an Irishman wear two condoms? Tobesuretobesure.

top / topped - to kill, as in, "Yes, I was depressed, but in no mood to top meself".

turf - see peat.

turf accountant - bookmaker; stems from betting on horse races, although turf accountants will give odds and take bets on just about anything.

turf patrol - euphemism for a hashish-smoking session. "You get the pipe and I'll get the turf."

Unionist - Northern Irish Protestant who wishes Northern Ireland to remain under British rule.

UVF - Ulster Volunteer Force. Protestant loyalist paramility organisation, dedicated to violence against nationalists, republicans and Catholics. Responsible for many violent incidents, firebombings and deaths in the past few years. The UVF is politically-aligned with the Ulster Unionist Party and is the only paramilitary group in Ireland remaining active, not officially on ceasefire.

up - as in "Up Offaly!" Shout of encouragement, usually refering to athletic teams. Not to be confused with the Americanism, "Up yours!"

yer man - individual whom it is considered unnecessary or undesirable, for a variety of reasons, to name directly (term of mild derision).

yoke - any unspecified object.



Do not confuse the following -

Shebeen / Skibbereen

Poteen / Drisheen

Crusheen / Smithereen

Boreen / Colleen

Noreen / Doreen

Tureen / Carragheen

Gombeen / Gurteen

Baked bean / Bogbean



Ath means ford as in Athlone, Athlumney, Athletic, Athleague...

Ballina means ford as in Ballinaboola, Ballinamuck, Ballinspittle, Dripsey, Spiddle, Spink...

Bally means town as in Ballyboggan, Ballygalley, Galbally, Ballyhooley, Oola, Bohola, Boho....

Bun means foot or mouth as in Bundoran, Buncrana, Buncurrant, Bunbeg, Bunratty, Bunmole, Bunmixture.....

Clon means meadow as in Clonkeen, Clonca, Clonkilty, Clonegal, Donegal, Donnylonegan, Monaghan, Finnegan, Chinnigan....

Derry means oak-grove, as in Derrydonnell, Derrybeg, Derrydown, Merrydown, Heydown, Hoedown, Derry Derry down....

Drum means hillock as in Drumbo, Drumfree, Drumbilla, Drumbeatin, Drumshanbo....

Duff means black as in Ballyduff, Clonduff, Lugduff, Plumduff....

Dun means fort as in Dungiven, Dunlavin, Dunroamin, Dundaniel, Dundanion, Dundandelion....

Ford means Ford as in Fiesta, Escort, Transit, Mondeo.......

Glen means glen as in Glenford, Glencampbell, Glenarm, Glenariff, Glengarriff, Glendoo, Glendalough, Glendajackson, Glendun....

Lis means earthfort (see Rath) as in Lisdoonvarna, Liscarrol, Listaylor, Lismore, Lornadoon....

Knock means hill as in Knockbrit, Knockboy, Knockma, Knockmoy, Knockmany, Knockknock, Knockalongy, Knocknee....

New means old as in Newgrange, Newcastle, Newtown, Newmarket, Newshoppingcentre....

Rath means earthfort (see Lis) as in Rathmullen, Rathmore, Rathmichael, Rathdrum, Rathole, Rathvilly....

Tully means hillock as in Tullyarvin, Tullygallen, Tullaghoge, Tullynally, Tallyho, Tallow, Tullow, Hullo, Mallow, Allo, Aberlow, Athlone, Athlumney, Athleague....

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