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.
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!
IB4UD’s top fun Irish cultural festivals and practices
- “May Day” or “Bealtaine” is celebrated on May 1st and marks the arrival of summer. The celebration often involves people lighting bonfires, dancing around maypoles, and gathering wildflowers.
- One of Ireland’s oldest fairs, the “Puck Fair“, which is celebrated in Killorglin, County Kerry, takes place every August and involves the crowning of a wild mountain goat as the “King Puck.”
- “Pattern Days” are unique to Ireland and refer to days when certain towns and villages celebrate the feast day of their patron saint with market fairs and various festivities.
- “The Ould Lammas Fair”, which takes place in Ballycastle, County Antrim, dates back to the 17th century and originally started as a sheep market. Held on the last Monday and Tuesday of August, it features traditional music, dancing and horse trading.
- “The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival” takes place in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, every year and is the largest matchmaking event in Europe. At this event, singles meet potential partners through dances, music, and various social gatherings.
10. Irish sports – for all you gamers
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.
READ ALSO: Soccer V Hurling: Which is the best sport?
9. The pilgrimage of Croagh Patrick – an ancient custom for religious folk
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
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.
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
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
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 Potato 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.
5. Mythology – for the dreamers
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Your questions answered 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 laid-back 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 the 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.