Ireland has always done things differently, we have our own Irish traditions and customs that distinguish us from anywhere else in the world. Our language, music, arts, literature, folklore, cuisine and sports are all special to Irish people. Below you will find a fully comprehensive guide to Irish culture and Traditions.
Much of Irish tradition has been influenced by Angelo- Norman, Scottish & English Culture. But of course, the biggest influence on Irish traditions and customs has been Gaelic and Celtic culture.
Influence of Irish Traditions
In the 12th century the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland, then further into the 16th and 17th century the Anglo-Irish and Scot-Irish (Ulster Scots) arrived in Ireland.
In modern times there are many traditions that differ between various communities in Ireland. Christian denominations such as Catholics and Protestants each have their own customs and traditions. Irish traditions also differs between ethnic groups. For example, the travelling community have their own customs and Irish traditions.
Due to the fact that many people of Irish descent have emigrated to different parts of the world, Irish tradition and culture have reached a global audience. Festivals such as St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween are celebrated around the globe.
Although there are many unique Irish traditions, some aspects of Irish culture is shared with other counties. This includes Britain, some English-speaking or catholic European countries and Celtic nations.
Let’s explore some interesting and unique Irish Traditions. We’ll cover the following topics below. Why not skip to one of the following sections in this article
- Traditional Irish Festival’s & Celebrations
- Traditional Irish Music and Dance
- Traditional Irish Clothing
- Traditional Irish Food
- Traditional Irish Sport
- Traditional Irish Language
- Irish Myths and Legends Traditions
- Pub Culture of Ireland – Irish Traditions
Traditional Irish Festival’s & Celebrations
Saint Patrick’s Day Traditions
One of the most famous and popular Irish traditions is the feast of Ireland’s Patron Saint, St. Patrick. The 17th of March is known as St. Patrick’s Day all around the world. He is one of the most famous figures to ever come from Ireland.
Although St. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish, he was born and raised in Roman-occupied Britain. When he was 16 years old he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and was forced into slavery in Ireland.
During his time as a slave Patrick turned to God, praying often as his faith began to grow. Six years later he got a ‘calling from God’ telling him to head to a port over a hundred miles away and left Ireland, returning home to Wales.
However, Patrick returned to Ireland after a vision which convinced him to bring Christianity to the Irish people. From that moment on he became an iconic figure associated with Ireland.
Patrick passed away on the 17th of March 461 AD after a lifetime of preaching the word of Christ. The People of Ireland began to celebrate this day in remembrance of him. Subsequently, during the 19th century when the Irish immigrated to America and other parts of the world, the celebration of St. Patrick was brought with them. From that moment onwards, the patron Saint of Ireland became of a global celebration of Irish culture.
Irish traditions associated with Saint Patrick’s Day include wearing the colour green, wearing a Shamrock and enjoying a day full of festivals and parades.
St. Patrick’s day, Paddy’s day, or “St. Patty’s day” as it sometimes referred to in the US, is known as the day “where everyone is a little Irish”. It just goes to show how popular – and welcoming – our culture is; people are eager to join in and celebrate!
Traditional Irish celebrations include parades in each town filled with musical and dance acts. public figures are in attendance and parade floats often depict relevant parodies or issues of the previous year.
St. Patrick’s day is not the only day the Irish honour the Patron Saint. On the last Sunday of July it is common for Irish people to make a pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo. People climb to the summit of the mountain – sometimes barefoot- and go to mass inside the church at the top.
Croagh Patrick, or the “reek” as it is commonly known was named after the Saint as he spent 40 days and 40 nights fastingon top of the mountain.
Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday:
In the past the majority of Irish people were practicing Roman Catholics and Shrove Tuesday marked the beginning of Lent. Lent marks the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus fasted in the desert before the celebrations of Easter take place.
Families would feast on Shrove Tuesday, using all of the ingredients that would not keep fresh over the 40 days, such as eggs, sugar, milk, salt, flour and butter.
Pancakes became popular as they contain all of the ingredients that would spoil, but also they could be altered easily to accommodate for extra or missing ingredients and were quick to make.
Nowadays the majority of Irish people do not fast during lent, but they may give up one particular item. Nonetheless pancake Tuesday is immensely popular and is often celebrated in schools and at home, marking the beginning of the countdown to Easter.
For those that don’t know, the popular festival of Halloween originates from the Celtic pagan festival called ‘Samhain” (Ending of Summer) that took place in Celtic Ireland.
Over a thousand years ago, Irish Ancestors celebrated the beginning of winter with the Festival of Samhain on the 31st of October. They believed this was the best time to link between our world and the spirit world, allowing the dead to return to Ireland on this night.
Many of our Halloween traditions such as dressing up and pumpkin lights come from this Irish Celtic festival. During the festival of Samhain people would disguise themselves with animals to protect themselves from any evil spirits. They would also light fires to guide good spirits during Samhain. People would carve out scary faces on turnips and leave it their doors to ward of evil spirits.
Traditional Halloween customs in Ireland include – children disguised in costumes going from door to trick-or-treating.
Many of these Irish traditions can still be seen in today’s celebration of Halloween. As Irish people emigrated to America they brought Halloween festivities with them. Turnips were hard to find in America, so people began carving out pumpkins instead.
Halloween became a huge festival with parades and events happening all around the globe, just like St. Patricks day. You can thank the Celtic Irish for that!
St. Brigid’s Day Traditions
St. Patrick is not the only Patron saint of Ireland. St. Colmcille is another saint whose feast day is on June 9th.St. Brigid of Kildare also has her fair share of folklore and unique celebrations.
The 1st of Febuary marks St. Brigid’s day. It is celebrated on the same day as the Celtic pagan festival of Imbolc, which celebrated the Pagan Goddess Brigit and marked the half way point between Winter and the Spring Equinox)
On St. Brigid’s day it is customary to make a cross out of rushes and bring it to mass to get blessed. The cross is then placed over the entrance of your home, to help keep everyone in the house healthy. The cross from the previous year is then moved out into a shed or farmhouse to bless the farm. Irish home traditions like this are still seen in many houses today.
Brigid performed many miracles, the most famous being her magical cloak which allowed her to build a monastery in Kildare. The legend goes that when Saint Brigid’s request to build a monastery in a field was denied, she asked for as much land as her small cloak would cover.
The King was bemused by this and allowed her to throw her cloak on the field she wanted. Brigid and her sisters prayed to God for a miracle and when Brigid threw her cloak it began to expand in every direction. The King who had witnessed this realised that Brigid was truly blessed and converted to Christianity, assisting Brigid in her mission to build the monastery.
St. Brigid actually shares similarities to the ancient Goddess of the mythological tribe of the Tuatha de Danann known as “Brigit”. Brigit was the goddess of fire and light who was known for her generosity. She was part of the Tuatha de Danann, Ireland’s race of supernatural deities. In Celtic mythology the Saint and the goddess are the same person. You can read more about Saint Brigid and her connection with the Tuatha De Danann here.
Christmas Irish Traditions
In Ireland, Christmas is a very important celebration. Christmas in Ireland usually runs from the Christmas Eve (24th of December) until the Feast of Epiphany (6th January) and it comes with many Irish traditions. Irish People have their own unique traditions and customs when it comes to celebrating Christmas.
There is an old tradition in Irish homes at Christmas, where a tall thick candle would be placed on window sills after sunset on Christmas Eve. The candle would be left burning all night as a welcoming symbol for Mary and Joseph. There are still people in Ireland that practice this tradition.
In the Irish language, Christmas is referred to as ‘Nollaig’ and Santa Clause is referred to as ‘San Nioclás’. Like most places, Irish children go to sleep on Christmas Eve and hope to wake up in the morning with presents left from Father Christmas.
Food is left out for Santa Claus, ranging from milk and cookies, to Guinness and mince pies, and even whiskey to warm him up for the long journey ahead!
Traditionally people attended mass on Christmas eve, and to this day midnight mass is a popular way to celebrate Christmas day with your family and friends.
Christmas Traditions in Ireland continued
In Ireland, the day after Christmas is called St. Stephens Day which is also known as Boxing Day in parts of the UK. It’s a day dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. However, the Irish celebration has very little to do with him.
Historically it was a day about ‘Going on the Wren’ which relates to ancient Celtic Mythology that remembers the day after Christmas. On this day the robin (representing the new year) killed the wren (presenting the old year).
In Modern Ireland, it’s a day most will spend with friends and family. There is usually a variety of horse racing events taking place on this day in Ireland.
One of the popular traditions of putting a ring of Holly around your door was started in Ireland. Holly was a plant that flourished at Christmas time in Ireland and was given to the poor population to decorate their homes.
Other Irish traditions of Christmas include putting up festive decorations, which are usually taken down on the 6th of January. It’s considered bad luck to remove the decorations before this.gaeltacht
The 6th of January is also known as Nollaig na mBan. This translates to “Women’s Christmas” in English, and was traditionally a day where mothers and wives could rest and enjoy themselves after spending the Christmas season cooking and entertaining for guests. On this day the women would even go for a drink in the pub with friends while the rest of the family prepared dinner.
A tradition that has gained popularity in recent years is the Christmas day swim, traditionally done by seaside dwellers, people all around the country now like to start their Christmas morning by jumping into the freezing Irish sea.
The 12 pubs of Christmas is another newer tradition in Ireland. In reference to the old ’12 days of Christmas’ carol, the 12 pubs is a day out where a group of people visit 12 different pubs and have a drink from each.
In Ireland there are many small pubs in villages and towns, so the 12 pubs can be done on foot. It is a nice way of supporting all of the local pubs in your area and you are guaranteed to meet many old friends and loved ones on their own 12 pubs run. It is often difficult to complete however!
The Irish people have a whole day dedicated to James Joyce, who is considered as one of the most famous literary masters from Ireland. Bloomsday takes place on the 16th of June, it is a reference to one of Joyce’s novels “Ulysses”. Bloomsday was first celebrated in Ireland in 1954.
However, it has now turned into a global event with people celebrating the incredible writer far and wide. In Dublin where James Joyce was from, a variety of events take place leading up to and on the day of Bloomsday at the James Joyce Centre.
4 Gaelic seasonal festivals:
As previously mentioned, Imbolc is one of the 4 seasonal festivals in pre-Christian Ireland. These Irish folk traditions managed to survive the arrival of Christianity and are still around in some shape or form.
Imbolc marks the halfway point between Winter and the Spring Equinox. the Spring Equinox marks the beginning of Spring in Ireland.
The next festival was Bealtaine; this is what the month of May is called in Gaelic and it marks the beginning of Summer. Bonfires were lit to celebrate the hopes of a good harvest.
Lughnasa, celebrates the start of harvest season, and is named after the pagan God Lugh, bonfires were also lit to celebrate. Lughnasa is known as the month of August in Irish.
The final pagan festival is known as Samhain, celebrated at the end of October. The month of October is known as Samhain in Gaelic. Samhain marked the end of one Celtic year and beginning of the next, as Summer transitioned into Autumn and Winter.
Modern day Halloween is believed to have derived from Samhain, for example dressing up in costumes and carving faces on turnips (instead of pumpkins) are all Samhain traditions from hundreds of years ago. It is fascinating to think that these ancient Irish rituals have become so commonplace internationally.
The Celts believed that the veil between the spirit world and ours became blurred during Samhain and so disguised themselves as spirits to protect themselves from otherworldly entities. This tradition continued for many centuries as as the Irish emigrated abroad. They brought these customs with them, creating what is now known as Halloween around the world.
Traditional Irish Music and Dance
Irish Traditions – Music
Traditional Irish Music is the most popular form of music to come from Ireland. Music has always played a huge part of Irish life. In past centuries when there was no electricity music and storytelling were the main form of entertainment.
People would gather at the pubs to hear stories and play music from local musicians. Of course, people would also be dancing which is where Irish dancing traditions came from. For centuries the popular Irish tradition of music has been such a vital part of life.
If you ever visit Ireland, you’ll find that in many pubs sessions of traditional music are still being played. These music sessions usually include a variety of skilled musicians playing folk songs on instruments such as the Fiddle, Tin Whistles, Flutes and more traditional Irish instruments. The style of music played would go on to be recognised around the world as distinctively Irish.
Check out the Ulster Fleadh video below which is a festival celebrating traditional Irish music, songs and dance.
The Main Instruments Associated with Traditional Irish Music Include:
The Bodhrán: The Bodhrán is a simple handheld drum used as a percussion instrument. It’s referred to as the heartbeat of traditional music providing the music with a great pounding sound. The user places their hand inside the drum and hits the other side with a small stick.
The Bodhran is traditionally made from a wooden frame with goat skin as the head of the drum, however synthetic options are now available.
The Bodhrán is always played vertically, resting on the musician’s knee. The musician places their ‘free’ hand on various parts of the interior of the drum to control the pitch and timbre.
The Celtic Harp: This is one of the most iconic instruments played in Irish music and even appears on the national flag of Ireland. It’s a wire-string instrument that requires great skill and a lot of practice to master.
Fiddle: The Irish fiddle is an essential Irish traditional instrument that looks very much like the violin, however it offers a unique playing style and sound that sets it apart. In traditional Irish music, the fiddle is usually heard above all other instruments.
Tin-whistle: The Tin-whistle or “feadóg” as it is known in Irish, is a small wind instrument with a high pitched sound. The user blows into the whistle at the top and can play notes by covering different combinations of the 6 holes on the whistle. There is also a Low-whistle which is larger in size and plays a lower pitched tone.
Other notable Irish Instruments:
The Accordion, Irish flute, Concertina and Uileann bagpipes are also commonly played in Irish Trad. All of these instruments are utilised by Irish musicians in combination with more common instruments such as guitars and pianos, to create songs that feel both modern yet distinctively Irish.
Irish Traditions – Dance
One of the most famous Irish traditions is known as ‘Irish Dancing’ it’s a phenomenon not just in Ireland, but around the world. Irish dancing is a variety of traditional dances that compromise of solo and group routines.
Irish Dancing is a huge part of Irish culture & heritage and over the last few decades, the tradition has grown in popularity with younger generations. This newfound revival can be attributed to the success of Riverdance.
Riverdance was first performed at the 1994 Eurovision song contest, transmitted to over 300 million viewers worldwide, Anúna performed the vocals with “The Lord of the Dance” Michael Flatley, and Jean butler leading the revolution of Irish dance.
Riverdance created a whole new version of traditional Irish dancing, with an emphasis on emotion and storytelling.
One can not truly do the performance justice with words, so be sure to check out the original performance below. Riverdance became an instant classic around the world and is still performed to this day. Check out their offical website here to see where you can see the show for yourself!
Did you know? Ireland is the only country to hold the Eurovision three consecutive times in a row, from 1993-1995. Ireland have won the competition the most times ever, with 7 wins overall; a testament to our love for music and dance!
However Irish dancing was around long before Riverdance was ever a thing. For many people in Ireland, they took up Irish dancing as a fun activity as children and continued to enjoy it as adults. Irish dance has always been a huge feature in Irish themed events such as St. Patrick’s Day.
What makes Irish dance so special is it’s completely different from modern dancing – it has its own unique form of dancing that’s captivated people for decades. Even today, young and old are still practising the different steps involved in Irish dance routines. These dancing routines include jigs, reels, ceilis and step dancing.
In previous generations dance halls were the place where people socialised. Many elderly people recall meeting their future husband or wife at a dancehall, so it was important that you knew a few steps!
Find out more about the Irish dancing traditions here.
Traditional Irish Clothing
Traditional Irish Clothing has always focused on durability and functionality; they are well-made and last for a long time.
First up on our list of traditional Irish clothes is the Galway Shawl. Traditionally worn by women during the Winter months the shawl was warm and functional. When first introduced it was considered ‘Sunday best’ and brides to be often received it upon marriage.
Many older women continued to wear the shawl well into the 20th century, however it is rare to see now.
If you would like to learn more about Galway check out our articles on the history of Galway and the best 25 pubs in Galway city.
The Aran islands are found along the Wild Atlantic Way in Co. Galway and are home to the iconic Aran sweater. The world famous sweaters made from sheep’s wool are comfy and water proof – essential for Irish weather! Originally worn by Aran Island fishermen and farmers to keep dry while braving the elements, the sweaters are functional yet fashionable; a timeless classic and staple of many wardrobes.
The Claddagh ring has two hands clasping a heart with a crown on top. The heart symbolises love, the hands symbolises friendship and the crown symbolises loyalty. The Ring has been used for engagements in Ireland for centuries because of what it symbols. The ring is worn by both men and women, the way in which the ring is worn can tell you if a person in single, in a relationship, married or engaged.
Originating in the seaside town of Claddagh in Galway, Richard Joyce is credited with designing the Claddagh ring after being captured and sold as a slave to a goldsmith. When he was freed he returned home to Ireland with the first ever Claddagh ring, which he aptly gave to his future wife.
We have a full article about the Claddagh ring for you to check out, or why not learn about amazing Celtic jewellery in our art history article.
Flat Cap / Paddy Cap:
Originating throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom, the flat cap falls under many different names including a ‘Bunnet’ in Scotland, a ‘Dai cap’ in Wales and a ‘Paddy’ Cap in Ireland.
These caps have been worn for centuries and have recently resurfaced as a fashion piece, thanks to the massive success of ‘Peaky Blinder’. The BBC crime drama is set in the early 20th century and the flat caps are an iconic piece of the Shelby clan’s wardrobe.
Irish actor Cillian Murphy stared as the brilliant Tommy Shelby and everything from his haircut to his Paddy cap became fashionable.
You will most likely see Irish men wear the cap at special occasions or horse racing events; it is not really an everyday hat, although some farmers still wear them.
Traditional Irish Food
One of our favourite Irish traditions is all of the amazing unique food that comes from Ireland. If you plan on visiting Ireland anytime soon make sure to try some of these traditional Irish foods.
Many dishes in Ireland were made with scarce ingredients. They are not fancy, but they remind us of home and are hearty filling meals.
This is one of our most beloved classical Irish food dishes and is thought of as the national dish of Ireland. It’s also very popular to have Irish Stew on St. Patrick’s Day. The most common ingredients you would find in Stew are Lamb, Mutton, Potatoes, carrots, turnips and Onions.
When the Irish started immigrating to America they brought their food traditions with them. It started to adapt and evolve over time to include local offerings. You’ll find a lot of places around Ireland keep to the traditional style of stew, its a must try next time you’re at a pub or restaurant.
This dish has been around for many centuries and is most popular in the winter months. Irish stew is a warming dish and tastes more delicious when you add rosemary and thyme.
Irish Traditional Soda Bread
A second much loved Irish food tradition is the Irish Soda Bread. Soda bread is a simple classic and nearly every family in Ireland have their own unique recipe.
The history of making soda bread began for practical purposes. The first people to actually use soda were the Native Americans. However, the Irish were the ones that earned a worldwide reputation for their bread.
Irish Soda Bread was first created during the late 1830s when the first process of baking soda was introduced in the UK. Ireland was going through financial strife and had little access to ingredients; soda bread was considered a necessity as you didn’t need expensive ingredients to make it.
These ingredients include wheat flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt. To make soda bread soft wheat flour was preferred and the Irish climate was considered one of the only places suitable for growing this type of wheat.
From then onwards soda bread became a perfect Irish recipe that families could make at home as it was a simple and filling dish. Many of the lower class homes would cook the bread in Iron pots or on griddles over open hearths. This is how the bread got is signature texture; hard crust and a slight sourness that it’s now famous for.
It’s one of those Irish traditions that will never go away, soda bread is part of every Irish family life. Eating the bread makes many people nostalgic as it was a staple of Irish life growing up.
A Full Irish Breakfast
There’s no denying that the Irish love their food; around the world many people would usually enjoy ready meals for breakfast. But there has been a long Irish tradition of having a fried breakfast (simply called a ‘Fry’). It’s a meal that will fill you up and give you energy for the day ahead.
A traditional Irish breakfast includes a variety of meats; bacon (we call them rashers), sausages, pudding, eggs, baked beans, hash browns, mushrooms and fried tomatoes. You may even fry a few spud (potatoes) if feeling adventurous! The hearty breakfast is also served with homemade Irish soda bread or potato bread (also known as boxty) and a strong cup of tea or a glass of fresh orange juice.
It was originally a tradition to help prepare people for a full day of work on the farm. Many people would spend hours working before returning for lunch or dinner, but in today’s modern world it’s not possible to have a full most working mornings as people have to commute for work, especially in rural areas.
People are definitely more health conscious and wish to avoid eating large quantities of fried food regularly.
However, the traditions of a full Irish breakfast serves a staple treat in many households in Ireland. It is usually prepared on a Saturday or Sunday morning when people have time to make and enjoy the breakfast. It’s also a meal that you can have for your evening dinner and many Irish people enjoy doing this.
The Breakfast Roll
Essentially a full Irish breakfast rolled into a baguette with butter and ketchup, the breakfast roll is iconic in modern Ireland. As our populations careers have diversified and is no longer predominantly a farming country, people who work outside the home usually don’t have time to cook a fried breakfast.
The breakfast roll is a very popular menu item in Irish shops and delis consisting of sausages, rashers, pudding, eggs, hash browns and tomatoes or mushrooms. The chicken fillet roll is also popular containing a breaded chicken fillet, lettuce, and cheese in a baguette.
It’s impossible to deny that we aren’t able to adapt when it comes to the important things!
Shepherd’s Pie is a staple of any Irish dinner table. The filling is rich with lamb, vegetables and gravy, and topped with, of course, mashed potatoes. The dish is considered a comfort food that Irish people love to have, especially during the cold, dark winter months.
Shepherd pie was first introduced by housewives in the late 1700s and early 1800s who were looking for ways to incorporated leftovers into their meals. Even though it was created out of leftovers it soon became a delicious and much loved Irish dish.
As time has gone on Irish people have loved to put their own spin on the dish with different seasonings and vegetables. Everyone makes their own version of mash potatoes, so depending on where you are having it eating the pie can be a very diverse experience. For many Irish people, even the best chef’s in the world could not improve the recipe they grew up with!
You will find shepherds pie in most Irish pubs and you’ll be sure to notice different tastes depending on what part of Ireland you’re in.
Boxty, also known as potato cakes or potato bread is a mixture of mashed potatoes, salt flour and butter that is fried in a pancake-like batter.
Bacon and Cabbage
A firm favorite in many households, Bacon and Cabbage are boiled together in a pot and usually accompanied by boiled potatoes, turnips and carrots as well as a parsley sauce.
It is another simple dish, but it is hearty and serves it’s original purpose to be a nutritious meal for farmers working long days in the field. Once again many Irish people have great nostalgia from eating the dish as a child.
Bacon and turnip, or Corned beef and cabbage are popular alterations, the latter is actually more popular in the US than Ireland.
Baírín Breac or Barmbrack:
A cake of bread mixed with fruits and spices, “Brack” as it’s colloquially known is often enjoyed with a cup of tea. It is eaten all year round, but has its own Halloween Tradition.
Traditionally at Halloween a ring is placed in the brack, and whoever receives the slice with the ring in it is said to be the next to get married. Sometimes a coin is also placed inside and the lucky recipient is said to become rich within the next year!
This tradition is still popular today as you’ll find brack in almost every house you visit during Halloween.
From Cod, Salmon and Oysters, fresh seafood is never too far away. With so many coastal towns along the Wild Atlantic Way, there is an abundance of fish takeaways and seafood restaurants offering the classics, such as fish and chips and seafood chowder.
Traditional Irish Sports
Sports are a popular pastime in Ireland and although we play the international sports of soccer, rugby and basketball, we actually have our own sports that are unique to Ireland. These sporting Irish traditions have been around for centuries and are still an important part of life today in Ireland.
These sports that are unique to the Irish include Gaelic games which compromise of Gaelic & Ladies Football, Hurling, Camogie, Rounders and Handball. Statistically speaking, it is thought that every time the Irish go to a sporting event – one out of two will attend a GAA game.
That is pretty amazing considering both sports only have amateur status, but GAA sports have teams in every small village. Children are raised playing the match from ages 5 and up, and most continue playing into their late 20’s. There are also over 40’s and over 50’s teams to encourage people to stay fir.
The amateur status is testament to the passion of both players and fans alike, the Sport plays a huge part in our culture, from an international level with clubs found all over the world, to a grass roots level, with the GAA club often being an integral part of even the smallest of Irish communities. Weekends are spent watching your club play and great pride is taken following inter-county tams around the country.
The national stadium, Croke Park attracts over 60,000 people to hurling or Gaelic game finals. This shows just how proud the Irish are of their own sports and watching their fellow Irish men and women play. The games organised by the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) – are one of the strongest communities in Ireland.
Gaelic football & Ladies Football
Gaelic football in Ireland is often just referred to as ‘Gaelic’ and consists of a team of 15 men playing against another team on a grass pitch. The unique thing about this Irish sport is that you can use your hands just as well as your feet to move the ball. It is one of the most popular traditional activities in Ireland today.
Gaelic football is an Irish field invasion game. Field invasion sports are games in which each team tries to invade their opponents territory and score a goal. They are fast paced games, with multiple strategies such as defending, keeping possession of the ball, moving towards a goal scoring position and teamwork being utilised at all times.
Gaelic football has many distinguishing features that allow it to stand out from other field invasion games such as soccer, American football, basketball and so on.
The round ball can be kicked, caught in your hands, hand-passed and punched. The only thing the players can’t do is run with the ball in their hands for more than four steps.
A point is scored when the ball is kicked or punched over the crossbar and between the goal posts. A goal is worth 3 points and occurs when a player kicks the ball into the net.
Every four steps the ball must be bounced or soloed, by dropping the ball onto one’s foot and kicking back into their own hands. You cannot bounce twice in a row, and shoulder to shoulder contact is permitted.
Ladies football is very similar to Gaelic football, both are played on the same field with the same equipment, under the same general basic rules. One notable change in Ladies football is that players can pick up the ball directly off the ground. This is considered a foul in Gaelic football; male players must chip the ball off the ground using their foot before catching it in the hands
Watch the video below to see the sport in action, or check out the official GAA website for more information on getting involved! Or why not check out county jerseys at the official O’Neills website.
Hurling & Camogie
Another GAA game is Hurling which is widely considered a very skilful traditional Irish sport. The game of Hurling goes back thousands of years and has often featured heavily in Irish legends, such as the story of Setanta.
How you play the sport, including the number of players, scoring, and the rules are very similar to Gaelic football. The biggest difference is that it’s played with sticks known as a ‘Hurley’ or “Camán” in Irish and a small leather ball or “sliotar”.
The team consists of 15 players, playing a field invasion game, attempting to score a point or goal in the opponents “H” shaped goal. A “point” is worth one single score for the team and occurs when a sliotar is hit over the post. A goal, worth 3 scores occurs when the sliotar is hit under the bar and into the netted goal.
Camogie is considered the female version of hurling; they are almost identical to each other, played on the same field and under the same standard set of basic rules. One difference is that Camogie players may handpass the sliotar over the bar to score a point only, they are no longer permitted to handpass the ball into the goal.
Check out the hurling videos we have included to help you understand the sport better. Just like Gaelic, the aim is to score more than the opposing team. Many Hurling players wear a helmet as the sport can be very physical at times.
Irish Tradition: Handball & Rounders
GAA Handball is a fast paced, highly skilful singles’ or doubles’ game of hitting a ball against a wall. There are four codes of handball in Ireland: 40×20, One-Wall, 60×30 and Hardball. These codes vary by different requirements such as, the size of the court, the number of walls in the court and the type of ball used.
GAA Rounders is a bat and ball game that can be compared to baseball. It is actually believed that baseball derived from rounders as the sport has been played on the emerald isle for hundreds of years and was probably brought over to America by early Irish settlers.
Other traditional Irish sports include horse-racing, fishing and golf. Rugby and soccer would be considered as very popular sports. Soccer in Ireland is played to a semi-professional level whereas rugby is known as a professional sport with players playing at national and international levels to great success.
Irish Traditions – The History of GAA
GAA is celebrated as one of the greatest amateur sporting associations in the world that plays a huge part in Irish society. The sport was first founded in 1884 in County Tipperary by a ground of Irishmen who saw the importance of creating a national organisation to revive and nurture traditional sports. Also, it a way for Irish athletics to become better seen by the masses.
Six months after the first GAA meeting, GAA clubs started being formed around Ireland and this time period saw the beginning of people playing hurling and Gaelic Football for the first time in years. With pride Irish people started taking part in GAA events around the country.
From its beginning, all the sports under GAA have remained as amateur sports. Even players at the highest level of GAA don’t get paid for playing, despite a demanding and intense training schedule. However, one of the most important aspects of GAA is its volunteer ethos. Players aspire to reach inter-county level for the pride of representing their family and community parish.
Of course in recent years sponsorships as well as travel and general expenses have made the commitment more viable.
The GAA organisation is usually based around the traditional parish and county structures of Ireland.
It has a strong emphasis on community and there are over 2,000 clubs around the 32 counties of Ireland. Every summer in Ireland there are inter-county All-Ireland Championships in hurling, Gaelic and Camogie that draws out the Irish public.
With Irish Diaspora, the GAA sports continued to develop around the world, as emigrants took their familiar Irish sports to their new homes in the USA, Australia, Europe among many other places. There is believed to be over 400 GAA clubs around the world which is very impressive for an amateur sport.
Traditional Irish Language
Although English is the main language spoken in Ireland, Ireland also has its own unique language known as ‘Gaeilge’. The Irish language along with its sister languages Welsh and Breton are some of the oldest living languages in Europe.
The Irish language is taught in schools across the country and the Gaeltacht has its own festivals. The Gaeltacht is the regions of Ireland where Irish is the primary language. If you visit anywhere in Ireland you’ll be introduced to the language on road and street signs in the Republic as well as certain areas of the North of Ireland.
The Gaeilge Language is recognised as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland and a minority language in Northern Ireland. The Irish language is also one of the official languages of the European Union. In reality however, the majority of people in Ireland speak English.
Irish Tradition: The Gaeltacht
Gaeilge as we have just mentioned, is only spoken as a first language in certain parts of the country such as areas in Galway, Kerry, Cork and Donegal. Whether or not you learn the Irish language can come from your family traditions, as it’s often passed down from generations.
People may speak Irish inside their homes and English in their wider community. Irish is taught in all schools throughout the Republic of Ireland but it faces criticism as student spend over 10 years learning the language but are rarely fluent.
The locations where Irish is spoken as the primary language is known as the Gaeltacht regions.
Irish primary school teachers (who teach students aged 4-13) are required to spend time at the Gaeltacht to ensure their proficiency at the language. It shows how we as people want future generations to have a genuine understanding and appreciation of the Irish language, even if we primarily speak English
Popular Gaeltacht regions include Conamara in Co. Galway, Corca Dhuibne in Co. Kerry, Acaill Co. Mayo, and the many Gaeltacht towns in Co. Donegal, such as Gleann Domhain and Ard an Rátha.
The Gaelatchts are also recognised for their natural beauty and the heritage sites found along the Wild Atlantic Way. The Western coast of Ireland that has been shaped by the Atlantic Ocean and is a popular tourist attraction.
The Gaeltacht regions offer many traditional Irish experiences, from GAA clubs, to Irish dancing and Ceilis, to live traditional Irish music in Pubs.
How to say common Irish Phrases
Most people in Ireland will know how to speak a few Irish phrases and sayings, but over time there has been a huge decline in people learning and speaking the language. However, the Irish language will always be an important part of Irish traditions and culture.
Check out some of the most popular Irish phrases and sayings below:
- Is fearr Gaeilge briste, ná Béarla clíste – ‘Broken Irish is Better than clever English.’
- Sláinte – ‘Cheers’ (pronounced “slawn-che”) (literally means “health”)
- Dia Duit – ‘Hello’ (pronounced “jee-a-gwitch”) (literal meaning is “god be with you)
- Fáilte -‘Welcome’ (pronounced “fawl-chuh”)
- Is Mise…. – ‘My Name is’ (pronounced “mis-shah”)
- Conas atá tú – ‘How are you’(pronounced “cun-iss a-taw tu”)
Irish Myths and Legends Tradition
Traditions of storytelling in Ireland has been around since the beginning of time, providing some of the richest mythology and legends in all of Western Europe. Some of these Irish myths and legends have become famous figures around the world.
Irish customs and traditions have preserved our ancient love of storytelling, and allowed us to share the stories that shape our mythos to each new generation.
Old Irish traditions were passed dwon from generation to generation by seanchaí, or storytellers who preserved a rich mythological world by word of mouth, before we ever had the means to record them.
Here are some of the most famous Irish Myths and Legends:
The Children of Lir
The Children of Lir is a very old Irish myth that goes back to the ancient tribes of Ireland. It has also been considered as the inspiration behind the world famous ballet Swan Lake. Check out our blog the Children on Lir to find out more about the fascinating story of love, jealously and betrayal.
Finn Mac Cool and the Giant’s Causeway
One of the most famous Irish legends in the mythological giant known as Finn Mac Cool that appears in many Irish stories. Finn MacCool has long been connected to the ‘Giant’s Causeway‘ along the north coast of Ireland.
Irish legend states that a Scottish giant called Benandonner ripped up the causeway so he wouldn’t have to fight the fierce Finn MacCool. So for many centuries, legend had it that this is the reason why the Giant’s Causeway exists. Of course we know there is an actual geological explanation, but giants are a bit more exciting!
Nevertheless the video below explains how the causeway formed geographically.
Another Irish tradition of legends is the mythical creatures known as Leprechaun; they have become iconic and synonymous with Ireland all around the world. The small mischievous spirit is the most widely known type of fairy suggested to live in Ireland. Irish legends suggest that they love to collect gold, which they would store in a pot and hide at the end of a rainbow.
If you would like to read more about Ireland’s connection with fairies we have you covered. We will explore how to find fairy trees, fairy origins, the types of good and evil fairies and much more!
Irish Tradition and Symbols: The Shamrock
The iconic three leaves of the Shamrock has undeniably become the unofficial symbol of Ireland. In Irish traditions, The Shamrock has played an important role in our historic cultures.
The ‘Druids’ believed that the Shamrock was a very sacred plant that could chase away evil. The Celtic culture also believed that three was also a sacred number. Furthermore, Irish Christians believed The Shamrock has a special meaning – its three leaves represented the Holy Trinity; The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
A four leaf Clover is a type of shamrock that is considered to be very lucky. This is because they are said to be a rare mutation of the White leaf clover (the traditional shamrock we all know of) and are very hard to find. The chances are believed to be over 1 in 10,000! So if you find a four leaf clover, the luck of the Irish is on the way!
The above graphic is a Seanfhocail or Irish proverb which means that ‘rare things are beautiful’, which perfectly describes the four leaf clover!
The Shamrock is one of the most common symbols of the Irish world wide, especially on March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) as it is customary to pin fresh shamrock on your clothes. people wear shamrock throughout the day, from St. Patrick’s day mass to the parade and late night celebrations that ensue.
Throughout much of mythology all around the world, faeries have always been heavily featured but they do hold an important meaning to the Irish. There is a fairy society in Ireland that even to this day still exists but it’s far from what you would imagine in fairy tales.
It’s believed that Irish fairies can take many forms but often choose a human form. Faeries are said to be very powerful and beautiful however most fairies in Ireland are said to enjoy bringing misfortune and bad luck to people they are near.
Pub Culture – Irish Traditions
Another famous Irish tradition relates to pub culture which is a huge aspect of life in Irish society across all cultural divides. It refers to the Irish habit of frequently spending time in pubs and bars.
Traditional in Ireland, pub culture is more than just about drinking. Irish people love to head to the pub for social gatherings. It’s an important meeting place where friends and family can congregate in a relaxing atmosphere.
Each place you visit in Ireland will have their own pub that is popular among the locals in the area. Tourists visiting Ireland are a fan of the traditional pub with traditional Irish music and the welcoming atmosphere.
Ireland traditions: Final Thoughts
There are many Irish traditions and customs that are unique to Ireland, some of these traditions are known all around the world. I hope you enjoyed the guide to some famous Irish traditions and their origins.
Do you have any favorite Irish traditions? Please share with us in the comments below 🙂
Check out some other blogs that might interest you:
Irish Wedding Traditions| Irish Food Traditions| Insight into an Irish Wake and Superstitious Associated with it| The Curious Case of Irish Curses| The Superstitious Fairy Trees in Ireland|