10 MAD Donegal Words (And What They Mean in English)


Who knew Donegal words could be so mad?

Ireland is a small country of just under 5 million people, and whilst driving from North to South takes no time at all (and East to West even less), it seems that each county of Ireland has firmly established its own way of doing things.

Whether you’re in Dublin, Cork, Galway or Donegal, it is not only the accent that’ll make you stand out but the slang, which is so unique to each county.

Whilst some tourists may assume that – seeing as Ireland is such a small place – Irish people are going to understand other Irish folk, regardless of location, they are wrong.

In fact, Irish citizens can definitely feel like tourists in their own country when they come in contact with mad local phrases, unique to a different area or county.

For all you soon to take a trip to Donegal, or are keen to get an insight into Ireland’s largely Irish-speaking, Northerly county, here are 10 mad words that will leave you mind-boggled.


This one is globally recognized as a form of greeting, shortened from the word “hello”. However, in Donegal, the word “hi” takes on a whole new meaning and boy, it can get confusing.

Essentially, “hi” in Donegal is placed at the beginning and/or the end of a sentence, and means absolutely nothing.

Word: hi
Meaning: nothing
Example: “hi, some fine day out there, hi.”


Now, most out-of-towners may come across this word and immediately think of our beloved furry friends, but Donegalers mean something completely different.

Word: cat
Meaning: terrible or awful
Example: “there’s a cat storm coming, hi.”


In the rest of the country, the word “rare” would mean something unique, uncommon or exceptional. It is also a way of describing the cooking-style of a piece of meat (i.e. meat which has been cooked for a short time and is still pink or “bloody”). Yet in Donegal, it means some different altogether.

Word: rare
Meaning: strange
Example: “he’s a rare aul boy, hi.”


The first thing that springs to mind on this one is the male name Wayne; however, this isn’t what Donegalers are referring to. Two spellings of this word can be spotted about town, although they share the same meaning, locally.

Word: wane/wain
Meaning: a child, infant or baby
Example: “Will you be bringing the wanes/wains with ya, hi.”

Wee uns / We’ans

This is another one that is popular in Donegal. Although it probably would be considered a fair bit more decipherable in comparison to #7, we feel it deserves a mention.

Word: wee uns / we’ans
Meaning: a child, infant or baby
Example: “Those wee uns / we’ans are rare, hi.”

Fanad Lighthouse, Donegal


This word is definitely recognisable in the English language, but those who hail from the region of Donegal have a whole other meaning for it. In fact, it means nothing you would imagine. It does not relate to some “handle with care” sticker that accompanies a fragile parcel if that’s what you were thinking.

Word: handlin’
Meaning: an awful or very bad experience
Example: “last night was handlin’ I tell ya, hi.”


This is not the incorrect spelling of “will” nor is it a local spelling of the name “Will” or “Willie”. Instead, this Donegal word is used to mean something different altogether.

Word: wile
Meaning: very/strongly/a lot (note: this word has negative connotations)
Example: “wile winds blowing last night, hi.”


This word has absolutely nothing to do with the following words: “founder”, “founded”, “founding” or “found”. In fact, it means something different altogether and is commonly used by Donegalers.

Word: foundered
Meaning: very cold or bloody freezin’ (as the majority of Irish would put it)
Example: “I was foundered out there lads, hi.”


This does not refer to a football manoeuvre where you bounce the ball off your head. It has absolutely nothing to do with football or sports at all, as matters would have it. This Donegal word is used often to describe someone who is the life of the party.

Word: header
Meaning: someone who is a lot of fun
Example: “Yer mate is some header, hi.”


This word is commonly thrown around in Donegal. Although out-of-towners may consider this word to have some affiliation with a lock (a lock on a door, for example), it, in fact, means something completely different.

Word: lock
Meaning: a quantity of something
Example: “Throw me a lock of those coins there, hi.”

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Paris Donnatella is an avid writer and traveller. From a young age, nomadic parents placed a strong emphasis on education in real experience and the outdoors - a trait which has carried through her life and into her career. She has travelled Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Australia and still claims that wanderlust tempts her daily. Saying that she believes Ireland - her homeland - is the most enchanting place she has ever been and is passionate about documenting the Emerald Isle. Chances are, you can find her drinking coffee in some hidden gem cafe in Dublin, planning her next big trip.