Thursday, September 21, 2017

Irish Traditions and Customs

Regular readers will remember me mentioning, fadó fadó (a long, long time ago), an ambition to compile a comprehensive list of Irish traditions and customs, including the sort that generally fly under the radar.

Well, I'm still a long way from achieving that, but I enlisted the help of the contributors to the Irish Conservatives Forum and we've put together a fairly good list now.

I'd like this to be the kind of blog post that people might find through an internet search. My post on differences between Ireland and America seems to get quite a lot of that traffic, as does my review of Groundhog Day. I hope it might be useful to people, or at least interesting.

What is a tradition? What is an Irish tradition? Two big questions. I don't have any working definition, but I've followed a few guidelines. I've tried to stick to traditions that are ongoing, or that might possibly be revived. (There are exceptions.) I've tried to stick to things that are distinctively Irish, though not necessarily exclusively Irish. That's pretty much it.

So, without any further ado, here is the list. If you can think of any traditions I've left out, please tell me.


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 that sports fan carries to games
Swimming in the "forty-foot" promontory in Dublin Bay, especially on Christmas Day.
Making speeches after winning the All-Ireland

The social media hashtag #COYBIG (Come On You Boys in Green) when Ireland play international soccer matches

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 Sean Ó Riada Mass, and the hymns taken from it

Handel's Messiah, first performed in Dublin and often performed there since


The Irish language
The various dialects
Yola and Old Fingalian (well, these are more memories than traditions, but I'll put them in anyway-- vanished dialects of English in the East of Ireland.
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. Also used for at least one monument in Belfast; "the Balls in the Falls".

Visual arts and architecture

Celtic knotwork
Pre-Celtic spirals
Hiberno-Romanesque architecture
John Hinde postcards

Ireland's strong tradition of stained glass, in the modern era
Round towers 


The Irish literary tradition in general.
Short-story writing (Sean O'Faolain, Mary Lavin, and others.)
Winning the Nobel Prize for literature (four times)

The Ogham script of medieval Ireland

Food and Drink

Corned beef, cabbage and potatoes
A full Irish breakfast
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.
Irish whiskey
Red lemonade
Cadet Orange
Cavan Cola. (I understand this is no longer produced but there are campaigns to revive it, so I will keep it in.)
Irish stew
Dublin coddle
Friend breakfast at Bewley's
Dulsk (chewable seaweed)


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.")
Political dynasties and family 


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 Rose of Tralee
The Galway Races
The Ploughing Championships
The Young Scientist Awards
St. Patrick's Day
Nollaig na mBan/Little Christmas
St. Brigit's Day
The summer solstice in Newgrange
The Twelfth of July
Reek Sunday
St. Patrick's Day parade, including the wearing of St. Patrick's Day shamrock

Halloween (an Irish tradition itself)

Mummery - the tradition of playing practical jokes and pranks for the sake of personal honour among young men. May just be an Ulsterian or Co.Louth variation, as I Mummery is the name of another, entirely different practice elsewhere in Ireland involving people stuffing straw up their shirts.
Halloween bonfires
Halloween costumes
Pumpkin carving (originally turnip carving.)


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", an expression equivalent to "Thank you"

The Irish mammy-- matriarch in working class areas (at least she used to be)
Wren boys
Irish names such as Sinéad, Cormac, etc.
Going to the Gaeltacht
Shops having later opening hours on Thursday nights (in Dublin at least-- not sure about elsewhere)


Standing at the back of church at Mass
Taking the straw from the Christmas crib
The Irish monastic tradition
First Communion madness
St. Brigid's Cross
St. Patrick's Day being a "break" from Lent
Calling the day after Christmas St. Stephen's Day (not Boxing Day, as in Commonwealth countries)
Lough Derg pilgrimage
Croagh Patrick pilgrimage
Sitting on the backmost kneelers during the 'sitting down' portions of Mass, then standing and kneeling at the appropriate parts, since its wrong to sit on the floor and it doesn't 'make sense' to be standing all the time when there's a perfectly good seat right there.


Burning the Jack of a newly bought/opened pack of cards because it's bad luck.
Not killing spiders because they are 'lucky' in the sense that they 'prevent' bad luck by killing pests such as flies and other lesser insects. I think this might just be an Ulsterian superstition.
Not picking up a comb left lying on the ground, as it may belong to a banshee.
Folk cures, including holy wells
Travelling to the house of a person with a healing prayer, for ailments such as a wart, having their hands raised over you and a prayer said by them, then being directed to a well to apply some of the well water. Certainly in Wicklow, possibly Cavan and Leitrim.

Clothes and jewellery
Aran sweaters
Cloth caps
Tara brooch replicas
Claddagh ring
The Irish language fáinne (ring-brooch), indicating you speak Irish
Pioneer pins
Trench coats

Lace-making, especially in particular areas such as Carrickmacross


Fairy forts and the Shee in general
Tir na nÓg
The Hell Fire Club in the Dublin mountains, and the legends attached to it
The Ulster Cycle
The Fae
The Children of Lir
The Book of Invasions
The Otherwold, including Tir Na n-Óg


Nicknaming people named Christopher "Git"
The nickname "Joxer"

Men with the middle name "Mary", in honour of our Blessed Mother-- very popular once upon a time, and not so long ago


Aer Lingus vs. Ryanair
The Morris Minor


Carroll's cigarettes (still made?)
Bórd na Mona peat briquettes
President's cheque to centenarians
The Irish weather, and talking about the weather
The Irish diaspora
Red hair
Blue eyes

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