Top 10 Irish cultural traditions, customs, and their origins

Ireland boasts a characterful culture, full of beloved traditions, customs, and origins so synonymous with the Emerald Isle. From Irish dancing to a love for potatoes, here are the most celebrated quirks of Irish culture.

Located to the west of Ireland and Britain, Ireland is a small island nation of some 6.8 million people. Split into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, this island has a strong Irish identity through its popular culture.

Celebrated for its relentless charm, Irish tradition, national culture, and enchanting mysticism, Ireland is a popular destination for travellers worldwide, known for all its Irish culture and Irish traditions.

Most-known for its love of traditions, customs, and unique national identity, Ireland is rich in its patriotism and affinity for those things so quintessentially related to Celtic Culture.  

Whether the topic of debate is a pilgrimage or potatoes, Irish whiskey or pagan festivals, Irish culture thrives today. Here are the top ten customs you need to know!

10. Irish sports – for all you gamers

GAA is one of the top Irish culture touchstones.
croke park GAA Finals

In Ireland, popular sports account for much of the Irish cultural identity. Most citizens are avid supporters, and great pride is taken in donning the national colours and standing abreast with fellow fans on any given match day.

By means of preserving and promoting Irish sports, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was established in 1884. Popular sports played throughout history in Ireland include football (as far back as the 14th century), Gaelic football, Hurling, and Camogie.

Irish sports are an important national pastime across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Communities often come together to celebrate national sporting events, particularly to support their national football team.

The Irish national football team is backed by Irish people all across the country. The All-Ireland Football Final held in the capital city is one of the biggest events in Gaelic football and the Irish calendar.

9. The pilgrimage of Croagh Patrick – an ancient custom for religious folk

A visit to Croagh Patrick is another of the best Irish culture keystones.

Every year, thousands of people make the arduous, yet pious, journey to the peak of Croagh Patrick.

This mountain climb, which is in honour of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick, takes place annually on the last Sunday of July. Many aspects of Irish identity today are linked to pagan and Christian traditions of ancient Ireland and this is one of those.

As per Celtic history, the ancient Irish druids would make this pilgrimage each year to mark the pagan festival of Lughnasadh. In modern times, this remains a vital part of Irish culture, paying homage to the country’s cultural heritage.

8. Celtic pagan festivals – for ancient Irish advocacy

Irish culture wouldn't exist without Celtic pagan festivals.
Credit: Steven Earnshaw / Flickr

Pre-Christianity, the Emerald Isle was a pagan community and Irish customs reflected this. Paganism dictated key dates throughout the year; four events, in particular, divided the seasons. 

The pagan festival of Imbolc marks the beginning of spring, and Bealtaine, the beginning of summer. Lughnasadh heralds autumn, while Samhain welcomes winter.

Samhain is one of the most famous Celtic traditions as the Irish heritage of the modern-day Halloween. People would light fires and dress up to ward off evil spirits and back luck.

Today, these pagan festivals are still celebrated by many and are greatly attributed to Irish traditions. While the observance of many of these Irish customs have changed, Irish people still recognise these important dates from Irish tradition.

7. Literature and the arts – for the artists 

Irish culture is heavily-embedded with literaure and the arts, known for fame and fortune.

You can’t mention Irish traditions without mentioning literature. Ireland is celebrated for its wealth of artists, ranging from the fields of traditional music and film to Irish literature.

Some of the most iconic Irish writers on the world stage boast roots from the Emerald Isle, including 19th century and 20th century writers W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett, to name but a few. 

Irish women writers, such as Edna O’Brien, Anne Enright, and Sally Rooney have also made their mark. These artists have helped spread the national culture of Ireland around the world.

Burning fervently at the core of Irish culture are these and so many other great artists from the small island nation, honouring this beautiful tradition. With a rich history of Irish myths and legends, it is no surprise storytelling is in our bones.

6. Potatoes – the unofficial mascot of the Irish food scene

No Irish culture list would be complete without mentioning potatoes, a staple of the Irish diet.

Although the potato was imported in the 17th century, it is a symbol of Ireland and its undisputed hospitality. In addition to this, as a staple of the Irish diet, it has been considered the unofficial mascot of the Irish food scene throughout history. 

This is mostly due to its role during the Great Famine in Ireland, during the 19th century (1845 to 1849), when the potato crop failed, leading to widespread plight and mass emigration among the Irish community. 

Irish people use the potato in many famous recipes, such as Irish stew, potato bread, and, of course, the famous Tayto crisps. The potato is a central food of Irish life.

5. Mythology – for the dreamers

Irish culture is built around Irish mythology and folklore.

Mythology plays a key role in Irish culture and Irish society. Indeed, Ireland is known as a mystic country laden with legends and tall tales of fairies and leprechauns, goddesses, and heroes.

Ancient folklore remains today a celebrated aspect of Irish traditions and has emboldened cultural identity throughout history. This beautiful tradition of Irish myths and legends is one of the biggest Irish customs.

Irish legends from the Republic and Northern Ireland are still passed down through generations by Irish people to this day. These Irish legends play a huge role in the island’s national identity.

4. Dancing – for the love of Riverdance

Riverdance is one of the top Irish traditions known all across the country.

Irish dancing is an age-old art form. However, it was popularised in contemporary culture during the 1990s, as a result of shows such as Riverdance and Irish dancer Michael Flatley.

Jigs, reels, step dancing, and ceili dances all make up this inherently Irish dancing tradition, and its unique form and fashion are known worldwide today. It’s truly one of the top Irish traditions.

Irish dancing is popular across both the Republic and Northern Ireland, with many parents enrolling their children in lessons from a young age.

3. Trad music – a beacon of Irish national culture

One of the top traditions in Ireland is traditional music.

People travel from the far stretches of the globe to visit the Emerald Isle and enjoy trad music and Irish bands – one of the most thrilling traditions in Ireland.

Spanning generations, this Irish music genre sees instruments such as fiddle, piano, and acoustic guitar take centre stage. Songs are often sang in both the English and Irish language, the official language of Ireland.

Native instruments, including the bouzoukis, uilleann pipes, and the Celtic harp further celebrate the culture of Ireland. Plenty of Irish language songs help to keep the official language of Ireland alive to this day.

2. Pub Culture – one of the top country-defining Irish customs

Pub culture is a country-defining custom, one of the top traditions in Ireland.
Credit: @theparlourbar / Facebook

Whether you’re in the Republic or Northern Ireland, pub culture is one of the country’s defining customs and characteristics. 

Whether you’re in a small town or big city, you’ll be spoiled for choice – from lively bars to quiet locals. Some of the most authentic local experiences can be had in an Irish pub. 

Guinness and Irish whiskey play a lead role in the pub scene and are some of the top undisputed Irish customs in themselves. 

1. Saint Patrick’s Day – the annual, global celebration

Another of the top traditions in Ireland is Saint Patrick's Day.

Each year, millions of people around the globe come together on the 17 March to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s truly one of the top traditions in Ireland, especially in the capital city where you can enjoy lots of festivities.

Across Dublin and Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland, as well as various other towns and cities across Ireland, you can expect lots of fun festivities to take place.

As Ireland’s annual holiday, the day in question celebrates national culture, and its global observance is a humbling reminder of the impact of the culture of Ireland across the world. Expect all things green: green costumes, green beer, green decorations, and more.

FAQs about Irish culture

What is considered disrespectful in Irish culture?

There aren’t too many things considered disrespectful in Ireland, as the Irish are a pretty laidback bunch. However, it is best to avoid conversations about politics. Overall, just polite and friendly, and you’re more than likely to get on with most Irish people.

What is important in Irish culture?

In the past, religion was an important aspect of Irish culture. However, this has declined in recent years. Now, some of the most important aspects of Irish culture surround having good ‘craic’, national festivities, and delving into Irish cultural activities, such as music.

What are Irish famous for?

The Irish are famous for many things, including our friendly locals, traditional music, great food and drinks, and historic traditions and customs.

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