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Sure japers we haven't seen you in donkey's years! A guide to Irish saying and their meanings. Photo by: Photocall Ireland

35 Irish sayings and phrases you need to learn before you visit

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Sure japers we haven't seen you in donkey's years! A guide to Irish saying and their meanings. Photo by: Photocall Ireland

Before you come to Ireland, you're going to need to get yourself acquainted with some of the typical Irish phrases that might confuse you.

Not to worry though, we're here to help with 35 phrases you can learn before your visit.

1. "Sure look it"

Rule number one for speaking like an Irish person: 'Aw sure look it' is an acceptable response for any question, statement, or comment.

What does it mean? God only knows! But if ever you find yourself in a situation where you're not sure what to say, just go 'sure look it' and you'll fit in just fine.

In use: "Isn't it lovely weather we're having?" "Aw sure look it."

2. "A whale of a time"

Hopefully this is what you'll have when you come ove. It's simply an expression of how good a time someone has had – usually used after a night out.

In use: "The bar didn't close till half three, and Micky got up and sang with the band. Sure we had a whale of a time!"

3. "Who all's there?"

This is one that isn't as widespread, but if you're visiting Ulster you'll definitely hear it. Usually asked over the phone when the person is wondering how many people are in a certain place.

In use: "Are you calling round? There's a bit of a hooley kicking off here." "Oh is there? Who all's there?"

4. "The jacks"

If you arrive in Ireland and ask someone for the rest room, it is social suicide. It's either called "the toilet," or even more commonly "the jacks."

In pubs the sexes are written in Irish on toilet doors. So you have the "fir jacks" and the "ban jacks." Not to be confused with "banjaxed," which means something is broken. You'll learn soon enough.

In use: "Tell ye what, you get in another round, while I head to the jacks."

5. "Go way outta that"

This has a few meanings. It can be an exclamation of disbelief, or a standard response when someone pays a compliment to you (we don't really know how to take compliments in Ireland).

However the time you'll hear it said is probably when someone means "don't be silly," or "it's no trouble."

In use: "You'll have a brandy?" "No thanks, don't be troubling yourself." "Ah go way outta that, of course ye will!"

6. "Arseways"

To do something the wrong way, for something to go wrong on you.

In use: "We tried to roast the turkey but it went arseways on us."

7. "Was it any use?"

Simply means "was it any good?" It's a common saying everywhere, and if you're heading to any events you can consider it a guarantee that an Irish person will ask you this question afterwards.

In use: "We headed into town for a few last night." "Was it any use?"

8. "Donkey's years"

Used as a reference of time. We have absolutely no idea what the length of time a donkey's year is, but it's widely accepted that it's a very very long time.

In use: "You're all very welcome to Lisnabuntry, we haven't had this big a crowd here in donkey's years."

9. "Quare"


This is fairly common around the south of Ireland. It's an odd pronunciation of "queer," but it's used as a replacement for "very."

In use: "Jaysis it's quare warm today isn't it?"

10. "Happy out"

Just means "happy," but for some reason we feel the need to add "out." It's usually used in the present, so basically while you're in the process of having a whale of a time, you're happy out.

In use: "Look at you there, happy out leaping about the place."


11. "Put the heart crossways" in someone

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