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.

Say 'slainte' this St. Patrick's Day (Getty Images)

Say 'slainte' this St. Patrick's Day (Getty Images)

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."

Raise a glass to good health (Getty Images)

Raise a glass to good health (Getty Images)

* Originally published in 2013, updated in March 2020.