Explaining Ireland's most famous toast, "Sláinte!"

If you've ever enjoyed a drink with an Irish person, you've surely encountered a few 'Sláinte' toasts. But do you know what sláinte means?

Translating to 'Good Health' in English, sláinte [SLAHN-chə] is an Irish expression that derives from the Old Irish word slán, meaning "healthy" or "safe".

It can be used in different contexts, but it's perhaps most often used as a toast before drinking. For example, offer a "sláinte" as you begin to sip your pint of Guinness or glass of whiskey.

In Ireland, Sláinte is more than just a word; it's a cultural practice. When someone raises a glass and says "Sláinte," it's an invitation for those around them to do the same, creating a shared sense of connection and camaraderie. It's a way of acknowledging the importance of friendship and community, and of celebrating the good things in life.

There are many other expressions that use sláinte, such as "Is fearr an tsláinte ná na táinte" which in English means "health is better than wealth."

"Sláinte na bhfear" ("Good health to the men") is another derivative, used when drinking in the company of men, but if you're in the presence of women, switch it to "Sláinte na mbean."

Another expression is "Go dte tú slán," or "May you go safely" in English, which is said when someone is leaving on a journey.

Slán itself has other meanings besides "healthy" and "safe" in Gaelic. It can mean "farewell" when used as a noun and "goodbye" - as an interjection.

"Slán go deo" means "goodbye forever."

Sláinte is more than just a word; it's a symbol of Irish culture and hospitality. It's a way of expressing a desire for good health and happiness, and it's a way of celebrating the things that make life worth living. Whether you're in Ireland or anywhere else in the world, raising a glass and saying "Sláinte" is a way of connecting with others and celebrating the good things in life. So next time you're with friends or family, raise a glass and say "Sláinte" – you'll be joining in a long and proud tradition of Irish culture and hospitality.

* Originally published in 2013, updated in March 2023.