Ireland is often said to be the land of a thousand welcomes, and we would like to think that to be true. However, there are some things that you should know before visiting Ireland, to help you appreciate that welcome all the more.
1. We drive on the other side of the road.
When visiting Ireland, I always recommend renting a car – there is so much to see, especially in the countryside. When exiting the airport, there are plenty of signs to let you know that we drive on the other/wrong/right/correct side of the road. In a nutshell, be careful We mostly drive manual (or stick), so if you want an automatic make sure and ask at the rental desk – otherwise you will be crunching the gears and grinding the clutch as you meander the country.
All you need to do is forget everything you have ever known about driving in the US and reverse it, then you’ll be fine! It’s easier said than done though…
2. Our most popular beer is black (not green)!
We do like our beer. Oh and we like spirits too. In general there is a stereotypical persona that Irish people are heavy drinkers. That, perhaps, is a little unfair, but we do put whiskey in our (Irish) coffee. Suffice to say that Guinness is a very popular beer (not beer, its stout!) in Ireland but it is an acquired taste. It tastes best in Ireland too. That sounds a little twee but they do say that Guinness doesn’t travel well. So try a pint and see what you think.
Guinness is like no beer that you are used to, but it does look as good as it tastes. The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, is the number one visitor attraction in the country so you will probably end up there at some if visiting Ireland. It is worth a visit and best to finish the tour with a drink in the gravity bar – the views over the city of Dublin are terrific.
We also have micro breweries distilling all sorts of fine Irish whiskey too. Lots are sold in the many pubs around the country, so be sure and try one. And on whiskey, across the river from the Guinness StoreHouse you’ll find the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street – this is also worth a visit.
3. Our country is old, like really old!
There is no denying. this little island has been around a very very long time. The earliest evidence of human presence in Ireland is dated at 10,500 BCE (12,500 years ago). The island was Christianised from the 5th century onward.
From the 9th century, small numbers of Vikings settled in Ireland, becoming the Norse-Gaels. Anglo-Normans conquered parts of Ireland in the 12th century, while England’s 16th/17th-century (re)conquest and colonisation of Ireland brought many English and Lowland Scots people to parts of the island, especially the north. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. Suffice to say we’ve been here a long time.
To put those timelines in perspective, the Vikings came from the north and in the 800’s AD. Contrast that with the fact that the USA would still be waiting another seven hundred years to be discovered.
As a result the country is steeped in history and mystery. All waiting to be discovered by you.
4. We say one thing but might mean another.
When visiting Ireland, you will definitely hear someone say ‘crack’ is shape or form. Don’t panic! It is not addictive drugs being discussed. It is actually ‘fun’ we speak of, and its spelt ‘craic’ by the way. So ‘what’s the craic?’ is ‘whats going on?’ or ‘what’s the story?’ – Just let them know your ‘grand‘ (another way of saying good!).
As well as meaning “fine”, or just “okay”, “grand” can also mean substantial and pleasant, however, such as “grand stretch”, noting the brightness of an evening.
You will encounter a smattering of the Irish language as you tour the island, especially down south and in the west of the country. that said, you might come across it anywhere. Phrases such as ‘beal bocht’ (pronounced bail buckd) means the poor mouth or moaning as in, ‘Ah, he’s always got the beal bocht!’ – he’s always moaning.
Here is a few more Irish sayings to help you along:
- Gaff – slang for “house”
- Nixer – is a side job or side hustle, more than likely paid for in cash, so the taxman never gets sight of it.
- Going on “the sesh” – going drinking
- Mar Dhea (pronounce mar ya) – sceptical Irish term, essentially meaning “yeah, right” or “as if”
- Jacks – toilet
- Eejit – idiot
- Sleeveen – sly person.
- Dose – An awful dose of an illness, as in a large measurement of something, but that can lead to having a bad dose itself, which in term can lead to someone else having an awful dose.
- ‘I will, yeah’ – I won’t
- A guy is ‘your man’ – A guy walks into a bar / your man walks into a bar.
- Pants are underwear – not trousers
- We don’t say ‘Top of the morning’
There is loads more and probably too many to mention but you’ll figure it out and return home with a few words yourself, you never knew.
5. Our concept of distances is flawed.
When you stop along the road and ask for directions, be wary! The Irish have a rare sense of distance and you might find yourself more confused than before you asked. Phrases such as ‘just down the road’ and ‘not far’ are fraught with danger, to the point where the concept of the ‘country mile’ was found.
A country mile is not like a regular mile, and how far it is has never been exactly determined. So when asking for directions and someone says that ‘its just around the bend…’ it probably isn’t.
Also worth noting that locals expect you to know the area and may describe directions in terms of being ‘just passed Sean’s house, or take a right and when you get to Murphy’s farm, its just passed there and not far really’.
6. We are very friendly and open and always happy to help.
Ireland hasn’t been badged with the name ‘Land of a thousand welcomes’ for nothing. If you find yourself lost or stuck somewhere, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We are a friendly bunch for the most part. Always open to having a chat and interested in you. So don’t be afraid of strangers asking you all about yourself. We are genuinely interested.
7. For the most part, private citizens don’t own firearms.
We have a simple rule for the most part; ‘Only Bad Guys Have Guns’. Even our police force don’t carry guns. No good guys have guns. Well except for maybe a farmer who has a licensed shot gun, or the enthusiast who goes hunting birds, but these are all rifles – there are NO handguns in the hands of law abiding citizens…we just don’t have them.
In the unlikely event that you come across a person with a handgun you are (i) very unfortunate, (ii) in the wrong place at the wrong time, (iii) involved with bad people or (iv) you are a criminal consorting with criminals.
SO in a nutshell, if someone has a handgun they are probably a criminal. If you are lucky, they could a member of the special branch of An Garda Siochana (thats what we call the Irish police force). Regardless of who they are, get yourself away from them. It’s unlikely to be a terrorist, we don’t have many of those.
8. We have lots of things to see if you are visiting Ireland.
There are a lot of things to do and see on this small island. Dublin City is very compact, born from a viking settlement thousands of years ago, and is quite easy to navigate on foot. However, as I mentioned earlier I would recommend hiring a car if visiting Ireland and exploring some of our superb coastline.
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the world’s best coastal drives, although the people of Kerry will argue that the Ring of Kerry drive is too. I am a big fan of the Causeway Coast, not only is the drive spectacular, but with the Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and all the Game of Thrones filming locations – you might need longer there than you think.
Killarney is another town that should be on your list if visiting Ireland, and the Munster Vales has some top class attractions including the Waterford Greenway.
I could go on but your holiday would have come and gone if I was to tell you all you need to see in Ireland. Best grab a lonely planet or check out some more of our holidays in Ireland here.
9. There is not that many of us, but traffic can be bad.
There are quite a few cars in Ireland and not the best infrastructure, especially in a cities. This is primarily due to the fact that the cities grew from towns and villages and spread out.
Most of the roads hark back to ancient times and have been ‘upgraded’ from then. So expect narrow streets and traffic. It is probably best to explore on foot where possible, and if you must drive from location to location, have a leisurely breakfast, avoiding peak rush hour traffic times, and then set off to your next destination. It will save a lot of frustration.
Having said that, Ireland is not a big country and you will get to most destinations in under four hours. In fact you can drive from the most northernly point of Ireland which is Malin Head in county Donegal, to the most southerly point of Ireland which is Mizen Head in County Cork, in eight hours according to Google maps – but you will have to stop for tea!
Just bear in mind that Dublin’s own ring road, the M50, is similar to LA freeways at peak traffic times – then you’ll be just fine!
10. We do like a good ‘session’.
Irish pubs are the best in the world, FACT! That’s why we even export them with ‘craic’ enclosed.
In almost every major city in the world from Dubai to the streets of Manhattan, you will eventually stumble upon an Irish bar. But the best ones are still homegrown. We like to think our beer/stout (Guinness) is superior and we like to think that our Jameson Irish Whiskey is the best in the world. But one thing is for sure, we absolutely love our pubs. When visiting Ireland, I have no doubt that once you walk into any pub, you will be greeted with warmth.
‘Its like coming home’ someone once said. There are big ones and small ones, city pubs and country pubs, and there is one if not more in every town.
If you get out of the city and find yourself in a small village in the evening, you will inevitably come across two lads (or ladies) in a corner of the pub with a banjo in hand. Beside him will be a lad with a fiddle and usually to finish the threesome, a guitar player.
Here they will play late into the night, doing so for a few pints to keep the throat from becoming dry. You will hear a nations history told in song with songs about rebels, war, emigration and long lost love. So find a country pub in the evening. Order a pint and a small one (pint of Guinness and a glass of whiskey) and enjoy songs and stories until the small hours.
You might even get locked in. Don’t worry, thats a good thing! Ask anyone.
11. We eat potatoes with (almost) everything.
What rice is to Asia, potatoes are to the Irish. Roasted, boiled, fried or baked, potatoes are served pretty much with everything, sometimes even breakfast.
Our love of the humble spud probably harks back to famine times, when we had none! In the Great Famine or Great Hunger between 1845 and 1849, Ireland suffered from mass starvation and disease. This dark time in Irelands history saw a million people die and another million people emigrate. The famine came about from crop failure caused by potato blight.
As a result, when the crop righted itself and potatoes became plentiful again, we couldn’t get enough of them, and that has continued through the centuries. So prepare yourself for a carbs overload when visiting Ireland.
12. We speak very quickly. It is English but accents might confuse you!
There is no denying it, Irish people speak quite fast. When you combine that with an Irish accent, especially from the north, south, or west of the country, you might find yourself at a bit of a loss interpreting what we say. Don’t be afraid to ask us to slow it down a bit. We know that we speak English, but we also know that we speak in what might seem like a foreign language.
So when you find yourself sitting in a bar, hotel or coffee shop in Kerry, beside a local gentleman with a peaked cap, rest assured it will be a colourful albeit ‘hard to understand’ conversation.
I’m sorry to say that you will more than likely have the same problem in across all Irish counties. My advice, just roll with it. It may seem that they are speaking in Irish to you, but believe me its probably English. 🙂
13. Our climate is odd. It rains a lot and is often cold, even in summer.
It really doesn’t matter when you come here, its cold. I don’t mean ‘Iceland in winter’ cold but temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees celsius. Thats right, we use the Celsius method to measure temperature not fahrenheit. And when I say 30 degrees celsius being the temperature, that it is very rare occurrence!
Ireland’s hottest ever temperature recorded is 33.3 celsius (92 degrees farrenheit) and that was way back in June 1887. So if traveling to Ireland during the summer, it is best to err on the side of caution and pack a sweatshirt and a raincoat into your suitcase, because chances are you will find it cold, and will experience a soft day otherwise known as a rainy one!
14. Tipping is not obligatory anywhere.
In Ireland, it is not obligatory to leave a tip. It is a nice thing to do but, rest assured, it is not compulsory from any service provider in Ireland. Whilst it is a nice thing to do in restaurants and bars, staff in those establishments will not chase after you if you just pay the bill and leave. They might not like it, but will accept it.
The idea of a minimum gratuity of ten or twenty percent is not necessary either. A tip of 10% is probably the average amount left in restaurants, assuming you are happy with the food and service. However in bars, if you do decide to leave a tip – the balance of change is fine. So if you buy a pint and it costs €4.80 the balance of 20c is fine. Small but grand.
15. Gas is petrol, Fries are chips!
French fries are chips. Chips are crisps. Trash is rubbish. I know it’s confusing but thats just the way we speak. You will get the hang of it, and even if you don’t, we know what you mean because Americans have been coming to Ireland for many years and we all watch American TV.
You might get a little bit of harmless ‘slagging’ (banter) about it but no harm is meant. We tend to have make fun of people as a national way of saying we like you. If you have a self deprecating response, we’ll love you all the more.
16. Crack is a totally different thing to what you think it is.
This is a serious one – well kind of! We know that around the world, crack usually means crack cocaine. Paradoxically here in Ireland, all we want is the ‘craic’.
On arrival to Ireland, almost every single person visiting Ireland will not know what the ‘craic’ is, but I guarantee you, by the time you are returning home, you will have had the ‘craic’, want more ‘craic’ and understand why every single Irish person everywhere in the world enjoys the ‘craic’. Strange? Yes, absolutely but you’ll know it when you feel it. This might seem crazy but if you have a look at the video above, things might become a little clearer.
17. You will feel like you belong.
No matter where you visit you will receive a warm and friendly welcome. We want you to experience our country and all that it has to offer. Forget about the rain if you experience it (and you probably will), shake off the jet lag.
Walk our narrow winding streets, rent one of our strangely small but economical cars with the steering wheel on the other side and take off on the roads of Ireland.
Travel north, south, east or west and you will experience scenery, fun and craic, warmth and hospitality that we are so proud of. You will take home stories to friends and family that we hope will see you coming back or them travelling for the first time. There is always a céad mile failte (one thousands welcomes in the Irish language) waiting around every corner for you.
I thought I’d try my hand at writing on Sarah’s blog and see how I’d get on. I hope you like my twist on our fair nation and it helps you when visiting Ireland. I might even see you for a pint…..