The Irish language is a rich and historical language that has been native to the Irish tongue for thousands of years.
Over this time, the language has developed many “Seanfhocal” (simply meaning “old word”), or proverbs, guiding you through life in Ireland an beyond with their infinite meanings and teachings.
Here are 20 of the best Irish proverbs and their meanings, filled with humour, wisdom, and knowledge that you can take with you anywhere you go.
20. “Aithníonn ciaróg, ciaróg eile”
We start off nice and simple. This Irish saying translates to: “It takes one to know one.”
19. “Ní dhéanfadh an saol capall rása d’asal ”
Irish people love a bit of humour to keep you going. This proverb means: “You can’t make a racehorse out of a donkey!”
18. “Fillean an feall ar an bhfeallaire”
This proverb acts as a warning for the reader and means: “The bad deed returns on the bad deed-doer.”
17. “Tús maith leath na hoibre”
Everyone has faced a task that seems almost impossible, but the Irish language becomes a motivator here, telling us, “A good start is half the work.”
This is one of the most well-known Irish proverbs and sayings.
16. “Níl saoi gan locht”
“There’s not a wise man without fault.” Everyone has their faults no matter how perfect they may seem—even you!
15. “An rud is annamh is iontach”
“The thing that is seldom is wonderful.” Much like Ireland’s landscape, this Irish proverb tells us that the rare things in life are best.
14. “Is treise an dúchas ná an oiliúint”
“Nature is stronger than nurture.” No matter how much people are taught, the Irish language informs us that nothing is as good as a brush with nature.
13. “Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán fhéin”
Translating to “There’s no fireplace like your own”, this proverb means there is no place like home. We can all appreciate that.
12. “Ní bhíonn an rath ach mar a mbíonn an smacht”
To fully excel at something, you must be fully committed; “There is no prosperity without discipline.”
11. “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang”
“The well-fed does not understand the lean.” This proverb is telling us that those who have may not understand the concerns of those who don’t have, and that you may need to lose a little to understand what it is like to have nothing.
10. “Ní neart go cur le chéile”
When it comes to Irish proverbs and their meanings, this is one of the most heart-warming: “There is strength in unity” or “we are better together.” It is telling us that we can do more if we work together.
9. “An té a bhíonn siúlach, bíonn scéalach”
A trip across the Emerald Isle will leave you with a bucket full of memories to pass on, and the Irish language recognises this, telling us, “He who travels has stories to tell.”
This is one of the most uplifting Irish proverbs and sayings.
8. “Níor bhris focal maith fiacail riamh”
“A good word never broke a tooth.” This proverb proclaims that saying a kind word never did anyone any harm.
7. “Is fearr an tsláinte ná na táinte”
“Health is better than wealth.” Don’t worry about the money; look after yourself first, and you’ll be happier!
6. “Is minic a bhris béal duine a shrón”
“Many a time a man’s mouth broke his nose.” Back with a bit of humour, this proverb warns that a misspoken word will have a consequence or two for your face!
5. “Nuair a bhíonn an fíon istigh, bíonn an chiall amuigh”
“When the wine is in, sense is out.” One we can all relate to!
4. “An té a luíonn le madaí, éireoidh sé le dearnaid”
This proverb explains to us the dangers of mixing with the wrong people: “He who lies down with dogs comes up with fleas.”
3. “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”
“Under the shelter of each other, people survive.” A very Irish tradition is to look after one another, and this proverb champions this idea.
2. “Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí”
“Encourage young people and they will get there.” A famous saying across Ireland, this is a visionary message that tells us our young people, who are the future, will do well, so long as we do our bit to help them along the way.
1. “Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste, ná Béarla cliste”
You may have heard this famous saying, which translates to “Broken Irish is better than clever English.” It is a call to maintain the Irish heritage and language, and a cry to everyone to speak Irish whenever they can, no matter how well they can speak the language.
Ireland has a lot to offer, from the friendly Irish people to its landscape and cities to its sports and history, and its native language is no exception. In just a single sentence, Irish proverbs and their meanings can teach you a lot, and you are sure to come away wiser.
Some bonus Irish proverbs and sayings
“Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb” means “a windy day is not a day for thatching.” This metaphorical saying warns the listener against future planning in times of uncertainty.
“A misty winter brings a pleasant spring, a pleasant winter a misty spring” is a poignant reflection on the nature of life’s periods of ups and downs.
“Show the fatted calf, but not the thing that fattened him” warns against giving away the secrets of your success.
“An old broom knows the dirty corners best” reflects on experience and those with more experience having more knowledge of the situation.
“Níl luibh ná leigheas in aghaidh an bháis” translates to “there is no remedy or cure against death.”
“Ní thuigeann an sách an seang” translates to “the well-fed does not understand the lean.”
FAQs about Irish proverbs
What is an Irish proverb?
An Irish proverb is a well used phrase or saying, passed down through generations, and used as encouragement in difficult situations or as a lighthearted well wish.
What is the most famous Irish blessing?
“May the road rise up to meet you” is one of the most famous Irish blessings.
What’s a good Irish greeting?
Many people in Ireland may greet you by asking, “What’s the craic”. Alternatively, the Irish word for “Welcome” is “Fáilte”, which is pronounced FAHL-cha.