10 Irish traditions the rest of the world might find weird

From fairy trees to magpie salutes, here are 10 Irish traditions that people outside Ireland may find a bit odd.

10 Irish traditions the rest of the world might find weird

Ireland is famous for its weird and wonderful culture. Although you may find variations of Irish traditions in other places, most visitors to the Emerald Isle are left feeling a bit confused by the strange customs and superstitions they encounter here.

Here are 10 Irish traditions the rest of the world might find a bit odd.

10. Believing an itchy nose is the sign of a fight to come

There is a superstition in Ireland about an itchy nose

Still commonly quoted across the island is the superstition that an itchy nose can only mean one thing—it won’t be long before a fight comes your way.

In a similar vein, burning ears traditionally denote that someone is talking behind your back. Not a great combination of omens!

9. Making a Brigid’s cross

Making a Brigid's cross is one of 10 Irish traditions the rest of the world might find weird

The ancient Celtic year was marked by four major celebrations that have all survived in some shape or form in modern Ireland, long after the pagan traditions were replaced with their Christian equivalents: Beltane (May 1), Lughnasadh (August 1), Samhain (November 1), and Imbolc (February 1).

Originally celebrating Brigid, a pagan goddess of spring, Imbolc was so loved by Irish people that the Christian Church chose that day as the feast day of Saint Brigid.

To this day, Irish people of all ages mark the celebration by crafting an intricate cross, traditionally made out of rushes. This cross is then hung above doors to guard homes from evil.

8. Thanking the bus driver

Thanking the bus driver is an Irish tradition
Credit: www.bigbustours.com

The people of Ireland are known to be some of the friendliest in the world. Although this custom isn’t completely unique to the Emerald Isle, many a visitor has expressed confusion when they see thirty Irish folks departing a bus, each thanking the driver as they do.

According to Dublin Bus research in 2015, 90% of passengers always say thank you to their driver.

7. Attending funerals of people you literally do not know

Attending strangers' funerals is an Irish tradition
Credit: sinclairfuneraldirectors.ie

The tradition of the “wake” is still very much alive in Ireland, where family and friends, and people who have never even met you, can turn up to pay their respects at your wake and funeral.

While this is one of those Irish traditions that many in the rest of the world will find weird, it’s not unusual to find your mother’s uncle’s hairdresser’s son popping into a pew to bid the departed goodbye or visiting your house for a cup of tea and a sandwich.

6. Irish dancing

Irish dancing is a unique branch of Ireland's culture

Maybe it is the hypnotising footwork, or the elaborate, colourful costumes and coil-tight ringlets, but visitors to Ireland who haven’t yet been exposed to the nation’s traditional dance may find it a little unusual.

Despite the fact that Riverdance has become an international success, many are still new to this unique branch of Irish culture.

5. Saluting magpies

Saluting mapies is an Irish tradition

Ireland has a lot of bird-related superstitions, some relating to the crow (a common antagonist for farmers) and the beloved robin (if you harm one, it is life-long bad luck for you). But it is the fear of seeing a lone magpie that is the most widespread across the country.

Don’t worry, though; as long as you salute the creature, or maybe even tell it the time, this should be enough to avoid the misfortune this solo bird is said to represent.

4. Being obsessed with Halloween

The Irish are obsessed with Halloween

Ireland is well known as the birth place of Halloween. As previously mentioned, it has been celebrated for thousands of years, previously known as Samhain (pronounced Sow-een).

On the night of this ancient festival, flames of old fires were extinguished, and new ones re-lit as a symbol of rebirth. It was also a time when the veils between the dead and the living were said to be thinnest, and souls of loved ones could return once again.

The celebration exists in full force today, with places like Derry and Dublin bursting with spooky festivities.

3. The Irish Fry

The Irish fry is a traditional breakfast

While a variation of the traditional fry-up breakfast exists in many countries, nothing quite beats the Irish fry.

Complete with fresh soda bread, black pudding, and real butter, this salty start to your day is all you will need to feel more human again after a heavy night out.

2. Making a sign of the cross when seeing an ambulance

Traditionally people in rural Ireland make a sign of the cross when seeing an ambulance
Credit: Instagram / @iesfleetphotos

Although there are a multitude of faiths practiced in Ireland, Catholicism remains the predominant religion here. You will see this clearly if a flashing ambulance speeds passed you in rural Ireland.

The odds are that someone around you will make with a sign of the cross—a form of prayer for whomever the vehicle is heading to. The same can be seen when a person passes by a Catholic church.

1. Never disturbing a “fairy tree”

Never disturbing a fairy tree is an Irish tradition
Credit: Instagram / @shigure_natsu

The belief in the “small people” was once widespread across Ireland, and superstitions involving these mischievous creatures remain. Older generations will tell of the perils of disturbing a singular hawthorn tree, growing in a field.

This lone tree is said to be the home of fairies, and to cut one down would bring life-long bad luck. Stories circulate of houses built upon the site where the tree once stood burning to the ground, and premature deaths abound.

Disturbing such a tree on the night of Beltane is said to be even more dangerous, as supposedly this is when the small folk are at their most active.

Facebook Comments

Note: our travel articles should be used only to plan future trips. Please stay at home until the government has advised otherwise.

Born in County Down, Lewis Sloan is a writer who has a passion for Irish travel and history. While studying toward a Master's in English Literary Studies at Queen's University Belfast, he held the role of Features Editor for The Gown, Belfast's largest independent student newspaper. When not writing, he can be found practicing yoga or petting every cat he meets on the street.