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Ten Irish Words Every Visitor Needs

Know your Fir from your Mna - Essential Irish for Visitors


It is more than likely that you will never need to speak a word of Irish in Ireland. English is the lingua franca on the Emerald Isle, despite all efforts to resurrect interest in the Irish language. There are however a few word or phrases you will encounter more or less frequently. Some are in everyday use everywhere and some are used locally. And some may lead to confusion - from missing your bus to entering where you shouldn't.

1. Garda

An Garda Siochana - keeping the public peace ...
© Bernd Biege 2014

Pronounced "guarda" and meaning "guard" or "guardian". Usually the short form of garda síochána, the "guardians of peace". This title was chosen for the Irish police and is used everywhere in the Republic. It is quite common to use the more English expression "the guards" in everyday speech.

The police in Northern Ireland (PSNI) use the simple "police" as identification.

By the way - here are the most important emergency telephone numbers in Ireland, North and South, and you can speak plain English there ...

2. Fir

Toilet Sign "Fir" ("men") - usual in the West of Ireland
Not a tree, but the Irish for "men" - you may find this as an identifier on toilet doors. Which can be quite confusing if not accompanied by a pictorial device or a translation. Especially as the next important word to remember is ...

3. Mná

Not a misspelling of "man" but the Irish for "women". Again this is used as an identifier on toilet doors, mainly in the West of Ireland. The similarity of mná and "man" can lead to embarrassing situations.

4. Áth Cliath

Pronounced "ah cli-a" and literally translated "ford of the hurdles" - the alternative name of Dublin (both names are Irish). Used on road signs, bus destination boards and similar. The preface baile (pronounced "bal-a") simply means "town", thus baile átha cliath is the City of Dublin as opposed to the county.

5. An Lár

Literally "the middle" or "the centre" and used on bus signs to denote the town centre as destination. The main problem being that the definition of the centre cannot hold up to closer scrutiny at times - in Dublin this covers a wide area, roughly between St. Stephen's Green and O'Connell Street.

6. Seirbhís

Pronounced "service" and meaning the same. The opposite is as seirbhís - "out of service". Frequently seen on buses as they tend to travel empty from or to the depot (in other countries, routes actually start and end at or near the depot ... in Dublin especially they tend to terminate or kick off as far away as possible).

7. Sláinte

Pronounced "slaan-sha" this literally translates as "health". It is used as a short toast between drinking companions, standing in for the more time-consuming "I drink to your health!"

8. Slán

Again the meaning is literally "healthy" or "safe", but this form (pronounced "slaan") is used to wish a safe journey and healthy return. The extended slán abhaile ("slaan aval") is used by the host and means "safe homewards". Other forms are slan agat and slan leat, all meaning "good bye".

9. Craic Agus Ceol

Pronounced "crack agus col" (with a drawn-out o) this means "crack and music" and is the usual description of Irish nightlife. The word craic is not Irish - the English "crack" was simply re-written in an Irish form. The original meaning is "fun".

10. Fáilte

The word (pronounced "fall-sha") means "welcome" and is used as a greeting or to denote tourism activities - the Irish tourism industry uses the moniker "Fáilte Ireland". The very popular phrase céad mile fáilte ("kad meel-a fall-sha") translates as "a hundred thousand welcomes".

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