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The Irish Language (Gaelic) for Tourists

Updated on August 23, 2014
Howth, Ireland
Howth, Ireland

Irish (Gaeilge) is a struggling language but a beautiful one, and one well worth learning. It is the national and first official language of Ireland, yet you’d be hard pressed to find someone who speaks it fluently on the street. It is a tough language to learn and abides by ancient, and often very complicated grammar rules. The best way to learn fluency is by immersion but this guide should help you get an idea of some of the basics!

There are certain words and phrases that most Irish people know and understand, and if you’re planning a trip to Ireland (Éire) it may be worth your while learning them. Irish people will be delighted to meet tourists who have ‘an cúpla focal’ (a couple of words), and you never know, somebody might just be so appreciative that they buy you a round in the pub.

Dublin Airport Terminal 2
Dublin Airport Terminal 2 | Source

At the Airport

Although not many people speak the language fluently you may be pleasantly surprised to find dual-language signs all over the country. You’ll first notice them on arrival at the airport. Here are a few you might come across there!

Fáilte- Welcome (Fawl-cheh)

Bealach amach- way out (Bal-och a-maw-k)

Paisneirí- passengers (Pash-nairy)

Scrudú Pasanna- Passport control (Screw-do pas-anna)

Halla an bhagáiste- Luggage reclaim hall (Holla on vag-aw-sh-te)

Custam- Customs Control (Cus-tam)

The Irish landscape can be breathtaking
The Irish landscape can be breathtaking | Source

Greetings and Niceties

Dia dhuit- Hello (Dea dit)

-An interesting fact about this phrase is that is literally translates as ‘God to you’. Irish is a language long rooted in Catholicism.

Conas atá tú?- How are you? (Cun-ass a-taw two)

Aon Scéal? What’s up? (Ay-n Sh-kay-L)

Más é do thoill é- Please (Moss ay duh hull ay)

Go raibh maith agat – Thankyou (Guh rev mah awgut)

Slán- Bye (Slawn)

Cupán caife
Cupán caife | Source

Food and Drink

Cupán Tae- A cup of tea (Cup-awn tay)

Cupán Caife- A cup of coffee (Cup-awn Caff-ay)

Bainne- Milk (Bon-ye)

Siúcra- Sugar (shoe-kra)

Bia- Food (Be-ah)

Sceallóga- Fries (Sh-k-yall-owg-ah)

Iasc-Fish (eesk)

Stéig- Steak (Stayg)

Prátaí - Potatoes (Praw-tea)

-In Ireland we actually call fries ‘chips’, and we call chips ‘crisps’.

Pionta Guinness
Pionta Guinness | Source
Gloine Fuisce
Gloine Fuisce | Source

At the pub

Pubs are a focal point of social life in Ireland, as they are in many countries. Heading to the local pub is a great way to meet people and have some fun. Most pubs in Ireland are English-speaking, although you can find a few in which Irish is the only language spoken. If your heading to Dublin, Club Conradh na Gaeilge is a great Irish-speaking pub, and the perfect place to practice the phrases below!

Sláinte- Cheers (Slawn-che, the literal translation means Health.)

Pionta Beor- A pint of beer (Pee-un-ta byor)

Gloine Uisce- A glass of water (Glin-eh ish-ke)

Gloine Fuisce- A glass of whiskey (Glin-eh f-wish-ke)

Airgead- money (ari-gid)

Leithreas – Toilet (Le-hris)

Cailíní- Girls (Coll-eenee)

Buachaillí- Boys (Boo-cally)

Baile Átha Cliath
Baile Átha Cliath

Some popular destinations

Baile Átha Cliath- Dublin (Bol-ye aw-ha clee-ah)

-An interesting fact about this word is that it describes Dublin’s original condition as a city. It translates directly as ‘Town of wattle and daub’. Wattle and daub is an ancient form of construction using a wooden frame (wattle) daubed with a sticky substance generally made up of a mixture of clay and wet soil.

Gailimh- Galway (Goll-yiv)

Corcaigh- Cork (Ker-key)

Na hOileán Árann- The Aran Islands (Nah hill-on aran)

Béal Feirste- Belfast (Bail Fer-ish-te)


Gaeltacht Areas

If you really want to experience an Irish-speaking Ireland I suggest you visit one of the Gaeltacht areas of the country. These are areas in which the people use Irish as their first language and speak it on a daily basis. Don’t worry, they also speak English so you will still be able to get around! Here are just some of the places in Ireland where you can find Gaeltacht areas, with the most popular areas highlighted in bold:

Galway (An Spidéal (Spiddal), An Ceathrú Rua, Na hOiléan Árann (The Aran Islands), Connemara)

Donegal (Na Rosa (The Rosses), Gaoth Dobhair, Clock Cheannfhaola)

Mayo (Acaill (Achill Island), Iorrais,Tuar Mhic Éadaigh)

Kerry (An Daingean (Dingle), Corca Dhuibhne, Uibh Ráthach, Baile an Sceilg)

Enjoy your trip!

show route and directions
A markerConnemara -
Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland
get directions

B markerAn Spidéal (Spiddal) -
Spiddal, Co. Galway, Ireland
get directions

C markerNa hOileán Árann (The Aran Islands) -
Aran Islands, Co. Galway, Ireland
get directions

D markerAcaill (achil island) -
Achill Island, Co. Mayo, Ireland
get directions

E markerNa Rosa (The Rosses) -
The Rosses, Co. Donegal, Ireland
get directions

F markerAn Daingean (Dingle) -
Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland
get directions

Quick poll about the Irish language

Do you think the Irish language should still be taught in all schools in Ireland?

See results

These videos are a great start to learning Irish!

© 2012 Emer Kelly


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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Thanks so much. I went to summer school (mostly with Dublin kids who did not know Gaelic) in Ballyferriter and know the people there in Kerry would not want to be forgotten.

    • EmerKelly profile image

      Emer Kelly 5 years ago from Saint Petersburg, Florida

      Thanks DrMark, and thanks for reminding me about an Daingean and Corca Dhuibhne, I've added them in now!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Beautiful work, it has been a long time since Ive heard anyone speaking with love about Irish, but why did you not suggest they travel to the Dingle penninsula?