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Learning the Customs and Superstitions of Ireland

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Two practical pieces of knowledge about moving to Ireland are understanding, or at least being aware of, customs and superstitions.

Customs:

When greeting someone, the Irish use general English phrases, like “Hi” “Hello” or “How’s it going?” You’ll often hear people greet each other with “Dia dhuit” meaning “God be with you.” Eye contact denotes trust, and is kept during a meeting. If you are invited to an Irish home, make sure to show up on time. The Irish often have pride in their sense of humor and tease their friends, so if you are teased, make sure to take it lightly.

In terms of business customs, be sure to shake hands with everyone at a meeting, both at the beginning and the end. Many business people don’t have business cards, so if you give someone your card and don’t get one in return, don’t be offended. It is common to conduct business meetings in casual places like restaurants and pubs. It is also customary to participate a lot during the conversations, as these meetings are supposed to be very engaged. Irish business culture is known to be more relaxed than many other places in Europe.

Superstitions

Many of us are familiar with the cliches of Luck of the Irish, Pots of Gold or Four-Leaf Clovers, but not all of us know practical information for moving to Ireland. Some interesting examples are that dropping coins over the side of a ship causes storms, and that water that feet is washed in is never thrown out at night. When there is an electrical storm, make sure to cover all the mirrors in your house or turn them around. When someone buys a new car, you should give them money.

When in Ireland, behold the almighty power of the potato. If you have tonsillitis, you should place a stocking filled with hot potatoes against your throat to cure it. To cure a wart, rub a fresh-cut potato on it, and then bury the potato in the garden.

As for bad luck, the Irish may have traditions wary of putting shoes on a table or chair, bring lilac into the house, cut your nails on Sunday or give a knife as a gift. If you decide to move into an Irish house, be aware that it is considered unlucky to build an extension on the rear of your house.

Comments

6 thoughts on “Learning the Customs and Superstitions of Ireland

  1. Can I please echo the above comment – these are all alien to me too! I am Irish to and have never heard of the above.

    In fact, if you show up at an Irish person’s house on time, they’ll think you did so becuase you’re not Irish. In Ireland, it is considered more polite to show up about 15-20 minutes late when visitng in case your host is still preparing to see you.

    Finally, I have never, ever (thankfully) had a business meeting in a pub.

  2. I am also Irish and although I have heard of many of the superstitions listed, they are historical rather than current and there are thousands of other examples. The only one of the above I’ve seen in practice is that someone will usually object to you putting shoes on a table, especially new shoes. Other superstitions you might encounter are common to other English speaking countries, for example seeing a lone magpie is unlucky. As in most modern cultures, some people take superstition very seriously, others do not.

    You are very unlikely to hear ‘Dia dhuit’ outside of a Gaeltacht area. Some people do like to use Irish expressions, especially if they went to an Irish-speaking school, but anyone I know will only use them if they are quite sure it will be understood by the person they’re talking to.

    So what is true here? Teasing is more or less obligatory in a social setting. Business cards are not ubiquitous. Not participating in a conversation will make you seem stand-offish. As Caoileann says above, you’re better off to be slightly late than early to someone’s house.

    One last thing – actually, building an extension on the rear of your house is common as it usually does not require planning permission.

  3. I must say I laughed when I read that one must be early when arriving at ones home,as a person from N Ireland in my experience Dublin is a big city with a village mentality.I have lived here for 5 years now and most people are late and this is normal,they are so layed back it is unreal.

  4. I agree. Im also Irish. Some of these superstitions I have never heard of. Generally If you are invited to someones house you would be ten- fifteen mins late. I have never had a business meeting in a pub. I wouldnt say dia is muire dhuit to a stranger because I wouldnt assume they believe in God although I would say Slán which means Good bye. People here can be superstitious in other ways. If I saw one magpie on its own I would salute it as its a bad omen but if there are more than one its a diferent story:
    One for sorrow
    Two for joy
    Three for a girl
    Four for a boy
    Five for silver
    Six for gold
    and seven for a secret never to be told.

  5. Sounds like Board Failte marketing literature to me.
    They forgot to mention that rainbow sprouting pots of gold litter the countryside and the mysterious lack of snakes.

    One thing I’ve noticed some visitors find hard is that we reply to ‘How’s it going?’ with ‘How’s it going?’ or ‘How are you’. We don’t really expect an answer.

    See Kyerins comments above for useful info.

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