Everybody's Irish identity is their own and we choose to express it and celebrate it in our own separate ways, none better than the other.
Here are a few of our favorite quotes from some of Ireland's greats on what being Irish meant to them.
1. “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
― W.B. Yeats, Irish poet.
2. “To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”
― Daniel Patrick Moynihan, American politician, and sociologist.
3. “When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.”
― Edna O'Brien, Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer.
4. “...that it is not the literal past, the 'facts' of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.”
― Brian Friel, author of "Translations"
5. “If there were only three Irishmen in the world you'd find two of them in a corner talking about the other.”
― María Brandán Aráoz, Argentinian author.
6. “We Irish prefer embroideries to plain cloth. To us Irish, memory is a canvas—stretched, primed, and ready for painting on. We love the "story" part of the word "history," and we love it trimmed out with color and drama, ribbons and bows. Listen to our tunes, observe a Celtic scroll: we always decorate our essence.”
― Frank Delaney, Irish novelist, journalist, and broadcaster.
7. “Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies' heads. Where they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.
And that is how the Irish saved civilization.”
― Thomas Cahill, American scholar, and writer.
8. “The Celt, and his cromlechs, and his pillar-stones, these will not change much – indeed, it is doubtful if anybody at all changes at any time. In spite of hosts of deniers, and asserters, and wise-men, and professors, the majority still are adverse to sitting down to dine thirteen at a table, or being helped to salt, or walking under a ladder, of seeing a single magpie flirting his chequered tale. There are, of course, children of light who have set their faces against all this, although even a newspaperman, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt, unlike any other, is a visionary without scratching.”
― W.B. Yeats
9. “My people – before I was changed – they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It's a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship; the crown represents loyalty... and the heart... Well, you know... Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this.”
10. “Thankfully the rest of the world assumed that the Irish were crazy, a theory that the Irish themselves did nothing to debunk. They had somehow got it into their heads that each fairy lugged around a pot of gold with him wherever he went. While it was true that LEP had a ransom fund, because of its officers' high-risk occupation, no human had ever taken a chunk of it yet. This didn't stop the Irish population in general from skulking around rainbows, hoping to win the supernatural lottery.”
― Eoin Colfer, author of "Artemis Fowl."
11. “For you can't hear Irish tunes without knowing you're Irish and wanting to pound that fact into the floor.”
― Jennifer Armstrong, author of "Becoming Mary Mehan"
*Originally published in June 2017, updated in Apr 2022.