Thursday, July 13, 2017

Irish Traditions, Customs and Characteristics

This is a thread I started on the Irish Conservatives Forum. Any suggestion from my blog readers is welcome:

OK, this thread is close to my heart, and I'm going to pin it-- because I get to do that. If anyone has a problem with that, please send a letter of complaint to Complaints Department, Irish Conservatives Forum, P.O. Box Go Jump in a Lake.

I've always wanted to compile an attemptedly exhaustive list of Irish traditions and customs-- including both the obvious ones, and the ones that we never think about. I mean, trying to get really fine-grained and forensic about it.

It's extraordinary how we don't think of a lot of our traditions and customs. When I was getting married, my wife was very interested to know about Irish wedding customs, and I get kept saying: "I can't really think of any. I've only ever been to one wedding and I was a kid." One day, we were in a shop, and the shop assistant fumbled (or, more likely, I fumbled) the change and it fell everywhere. "Grushie!", someone said. "What's grushie?", my wife asked. "Oh, it's an Irish wedding tradition where you throw coins at a wedding", I said.

The "floozie in the jacuzzi"

A few years ago, I heard the card game twenty-five was Ireland's national card game. I'd never heard this. It's little things like that fly under the radar.

Someone on another thread mentioned the Irish tendency to ignore celebrities, which seems distinctively Irish (though doubtless it's not uniquely Irish). This is the kind of tradition or custom we never think of when it comes to these lists. So I wanted to see can I make a really exhaustive list which could be added to by others, over time. They can be quirks of language, quirks of personality...anything which makes Ireland distinctive (again, doesn't have to be unique).

Please add posts and I will integrate them into the main lists.

So I am going to kick off with all the most obvious ones:


Gaelic Football
The Munster Hurling Final
Road bowling
Rugby, especially in Limerick
Horse racing and horse breeding
Supporting English soccer teams
The John 3:7 placard
Swimming in the forty-foot.

I'm not that much of a sports person, I prefer soccer to Gaelic games. Maybe some people can tell me traditions within those sports, such as making mad speeches when awarded the All-Ireland trophy.

Music and Dance

Irish traditional music
Sean-nós singing
Irish folk ballads
Tin whistle
Uileann pipes
Set dancing
Lúibíní, whatever the hell they are
Country music, in some areas. (I hear it is a way of life in some towns. Is that true?)

The "hags with the bags"


The Irish language
The various dialects
Yola and Old Fingalian (well, these are more memories than traditions, but I'll put them in anyway).
Hiberno-English, which deserves a section all of its own


Giving rhyming names to Dublin statues (the Floozy in the Jacuzzi, the pr---- with the sick, the hags with the bags, the tart with the cart, etc.) No name for the Millennium Spire ever stuck, despite many efforts.

Visual arts

Celtic knotwork
Pre-Celtic spirals
Hiberno-Romanesque architecture


Corned beef, cabbage and potatoes (puke puke)
A full Irish breakfast (which is...?)
Colcannon on Halloween
Red, white and orange ice-cream and jelly on St. Patrick's Day
Tea. Strong tea, especially in rural areas. Lyons and Barry's.
Red lemonade.
Cadet Orange.
Cavan Cola.
Irish stew.
Dublin coddle.


Catch-all parties.
Clientelism and parish pump politics.
The two-and-a-half party system.
Small, breakaway parties that are successful for a while and then disappear.
Splits. ("The first item on the agenda of every Irish organization is the split.")

The "tart with the cart"


The Late-Late Toy Show
The Late Late Show itself
The dawn chorus on Mooney Goes Wild
Dustin the turkey
Shows in the format of Scrap Saturday


The Irish wake.
"I'm sorry for your troubles".


The "debs"
The colours debate between Trinity and UCD

Social Life

Pretending not to see famous people.
"You're very good" expression.
The Irish mammy-- matriarch in working class areas (at least she used to be).
St. Patrick's Day parade
St. Patrick's Day shamrock


Standing at the back of Mass
Taking the straw from the Christmas crib
First Communion madness
St. Brigid's Cross
St. Patrick's Day being a "break" from Lent

Clothes and jewellery

Aran sweaters
Cloth caps
Tara brooch replicas
Claddagh ring


  1. You want us to say a piece about each??!!

    1. No, I was just inviting anyone who wished to suggest other traditions and customs I haven't thought of. I'm sure there's hundreds.

  2. I daresay Dublin was a always a bit less traditional when it came to weddings, wakes etc
    I can remember even when I was young big queues going into a neighbour for the viewing of the deceased, but(in the way of comparison) years later-going into the 90s-my niece's great aunt, on her father's side, who lived down the South Coast had a queue of mourners three miles long.
    Probably the main emphasis when getting married ,up to the 6os at least, was organising a proper church wedding and confession which all-in-all was the most important thing. My parents did mention once that couples were obliged to bring pieces of cake to aged or infirm relations who couldn't attend. In their case there were no wedding cake left for a great aunt, so they had to go to a good cake shop to buy a slice of something that would fool her. I don't know whether they still usually have actual wedding cakes in Ireland now? There is a tendency in Australia for young couples to have chocolate or sponge covered with white icing, which is ironic considering how poor the couples were in the old days by comparison and how hard they would have saved for the old style cake.
    You mentioned spórt -
    Michael O'Hehir wrote his autobiography in the 90s, just before he died-if anyone is interested in the subject and ever comes across an old copy it really IS the story of sports broadcast in Ireland, and an overview of modern history in Irish sport also

    1. Thanks Seamus. I think that's a good tradition about funerals but I wasn't aware of it. I often wonder who will come to my funeral. If I got knocked over by a bus tomorrow few people who read this blog would see me off because 1) they wouldn't hear about in the first place and 2) they're scattered around the world! I'm just going to have to avoid walking anywhere near a bus.

      I know next to nothing about hurling, sadly.

      We had a "proper" wedding cake but nobody ate it. We made a cake out of profiteroles and chocolates as well, and everybody ate that.

      We had confession immediately before getting married, too.

      Thanks for the picture!

  3. Under the heading of music, there are traditionally distinct regional styles of fiddling. Three that spring to mind are Sligo, Sliabh Luachra, and Donegal.

    I, of the two left feet, probably shouldn't venture to mention dancing, but for variety, sean-nós dancing, as opposed to the more regimented competition styles, seems to be making a comeback.

    And under singing, I love the tradition of "lilting." A tune has such life when sung by a confident lilter. I'm not sure what the distinction is in Irish (or at least Irish English) terms, but then there's also the contagious practice of putting verses of nonsense (as opposed to meaningless vocables) to a tune to sing it. In Scotland, it's called puirt à beul. I think maybe catchy, repetitious Irish songs like "'Sí do mhaimeo í" might fall under a similar heading?

    1. Thanks for those, Molly. I know nothing about music so that's all new to me. I've just listened to Irish it very much!

  4. Two suggestions from across the Irish Sea for 'Religion' - in my (alas too-small) experience, you have very fast Masses, and also huge car parks for churches!

    This isn't a custom (or at least it becomes a rule as soon as it is a custom!) but your railways are all laid to a gauge of 5ft 3in, virtually unknown anywhere else. It's something unique about Ireland anyway!

    1. That last is the kind of thing I'm especially looking for...stuff we would never think of! And I'm very flexible with the term "custom".

      Someone else mentioned the fast Masses on this blog recently, too. I never knew about this!

  5. Actually,O' Hehir didn't only commentate on hurling. He did all sports including horse racing. One interesting thing about the Irish sports is that they had mostly amateur sportsmen for most of hurling-Gaelic football history. As a result, young priests and seminarians were known to play in the big league games, often secretly. O' Hehir mentioned being told at a grand final that Fr such-and-such didn't have the bishop's permission to be there,"so don't call out that Father has the ball now". At the time there was no tv coverage, only radio. He also had to change the name a bit- something like Pádraig Molloy to Pat Moloney.
    Archbishop Prendiville, Bishop of Perth from 1935-68 played for Kerry in the 1924 premiership match,apparently escaping from the seminary by climbing over a wall. There WAS trouble but he got ordained in the end.
    Another Kerryman's memoirs that I read once mentioned a tradition of straw-boys, fellas that gatecrashed wedding receptions dressed in straw hats(which is possibly an offshoot of the earlier tradition of biddy boys; dressing up in straw on St Brigid's day) and possibly wore masks too. It seems they did some set dancing, were given a drink and then disappeared. It brought luck to the couple, but the family themselves weren't allowed to arrange it, the young men had to be strangers, not from the same town.

    1. Strawboys? Never heard of that! Really interesting! Thanks!

      I'd heard about the naughty seminarians playing county level GAA, though! Some funny anecdotes.

    2. Not to intrude on Séamus' post, but the Strawboys custom (which was entirely new to me) put me in mind of the tradition of Wren Boys on St. Stephen's Day.

      (Since I'm here, I can't help remarking that those stories about the clergy sneaking out to play field sports are rather endearing!)

    3. Wren Boys are fascinating. Still hanging on, too!

  6. Another thing I meant to ask.... There was a sculpture in St Stephens Green many years ago, popular for graffiti ,I think it was meant to be in memory of Thomas Moore, but it didn't look much like anything at all... Is that still there?

    1. I'm not sure which you mean, but there are lots of sculptures in St. Stephen's Green. I always liked the one of the Fates, especially.

  7. Tart, floozy, hag.... Just the fact that they name their statues makes Dubliners Dubliners. Our city has plenty of statues and not a single colloquial name yet

  8. when i was at school《!》a chap who wanted to be a radio announcer, and he did have the right voice for it ,used to say- i want to be like Michael o'hehir* it's impossible to overestimate how important he was in that field. but he didn't like Phoenix park racecourse, old territory of mine. i can understand though. it was hard to call there. the plan made out hard for them to see the finish line

    1. It must be a very difficult job. You have to keep talking and sound interested even when the game is boring!