Top 10 mad Donegal words (and what they mean in English)

You may assume that, due to Ireland’s small size, people all across the country would understand one another but that is not always the case. Here are ten mad Donegal words and what they mean in English.

Ireland is a small country of just under 6.8 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 also 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.

If you are soon to take a trip to Donegal, or are keen to get an insight into Ireland’s most northerly county, here are ten mad Donegal words that will leave you mind-boggled.

10. Hi – and we don’t mean the greeting

We don't mean hello when we say hi.
Credit: / @idefixgallier

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.”

9. Cat – and we don’t mean the household pet

Cat is next on our list of mad Donegal words.
Credit: / @STVIOD

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.”

8. Rare – and we don’t mean something that is uncommon

Rare means strange.
Credit: / @RyanMcGuire

Throughout the rest of Ireland, 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.”

7. Wane/wain – and we haven’t misspelt Wayne

Wane and wain are more mad Donegal words.
Credit: / @Bessi

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.”

6. Wee uns/We’ans – another variation of above

Wee uns or we'ans are two more ways to refer to children.
Credit: / @StartupStockPhotos

This is another one of our mad Donegal words and even though it would probably be considered a fair bit more decipherable in comparison to number seven, 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.”

5. Handlin’ – and we don’t mean “handle with care”

Next on our list of mad Donegal words is handlin'.
Credit: / @Clker-Free-Vector-Images

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.”

4. Wile – and we haven’t misspelt will

Wile means wild.
Credit: / @Comfreak

This is not the incorrect spelling of “will”, nor is it a local spelling of the name “Will” or “Willie”. Instead, this is another of our mad Donegal words that 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.”

3. Foundered – this has nothing to do with finding something

One of the most popular Donegal words is foundered.
Credit: / @Pexels

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.”

2. Header – and we aren’t referring to football

A header is the life of the party.
Credit: / @RyanMcGuire

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.”

1. Lock – and we don’t mean the one on your door

Topping our list of Donegal words is lock.
Credit: / @KRiemer

Topping our list of mad Donegal words is lock.

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 actually 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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