An essential guide for the first time traveller to Ireland

Pub Etiquette

The crucial thing here is the "round" system, in which each participant takes turns to "shout" an order. To the outsider, this may appear casual; you will not necessarily be told it's your round and other participants may appear only too happy to substitute for you. But make no mistake, your failure to "put your hand in your pocket" will be noticed. People will mention it the moment you leave the room. The reputation will follow you to the grave, where after it will attach to your offspring and possibly theirs as well. In some cases, it may become permanently enshrined in a family nickname.


Ireland has two time zones: (1) Greenwich Mean Time, GMT and (2) "Local" time.

Local time can be anything between ten minutes and three days behind GMT, depending on the position of the earth and the whereabouts of whoever has the keys. Again, the Irish concept of time has been influenced by the thinking of 20th century physicists, who hold that it can only be measured by reference to another body and can even be affected by factors like acceleration. For instance, a policeman entering a licensed premise in rural Ireland late at night is a good example of another body from whom it can be reliably inferred that it is fact closing time. When this happens, acceleration is the advised option; shockingly, the relativity argument is still not accepted as a valid defence in the Irish courts.


Visitors to Ireland in mid-March often ask: What clothes should I bring? The answer is: All of them!

Strangely enough the Irish rarely are found 'wearing the green'.   Irish people tend to wear everything except green, which is associated with too many national tragedies, including 1798, the Famine and many Irish sports teams team. It's possible that green just doesn't suit the Irish skin colour, which is generally pale blue (see Weather).

Woolly Jumpers

Ireland produces vast quantities of woollen knitwear and, under a US/Irish trade agreement, American visitors may not leave without a minimum of two sweaters, of which one at least must be predominantly green. Airline staff may check that you have the required documentation before you are allowed to disembark. Continental (that's Europe, not the airline) visitors are only required to have one woolly jumper, but must have a copy of "The Collected Works of Seamus Heaney" as well.
Note: under no circumstances will you see an Irish person wearing a woollen jumper. These jumpers are worn solely by Tourists to identify them.

Irish People and the Weather

It is often said that the Irish are a Mediterranean people who only come into their own when the sun shines on consecutive days (which it last did around the time of St Patrick). For this reason, Irish people dress for conditions in Palermo rather than Dublin; and it is not unusual in March to see young people sipping cool beer outside city pubs and cafes, enjoying the air and the soft caress of hailstones on their skin. The Irish attitude to weather is the ultimate triumph of optimism over experience: Every time it rains, we look up at the sky and are shocked and betrayed. Then we go out and buy a new umbrella.

Irish Traditional Music

Many visitors to Ireland make the mistake of thinking of traditional music as mere entertainment. In some parts of Ireland this may even be an accurate impression. However, in certain fundamentalist strongholds such as Clare, traditional music is founded in a strict belief system which has been handed on from generation to generation. This is overseen by bearded holy men, sometimes called "Mullahs", who ensure that the music is played in accordance with laws laid down in the 4th Century. Under this system, "bodhran players" are required to cover their faces in public. Other transgressions, such as attempting to play guitar in a traditional session, are punishable by the loss of one or both hands. A blind eye may be turned however to the misbehaviour of foreigners, but it's best not to push it.

Irish Dancing

There are two main kinds of Irish dancing: (1) Riverdance , which is now simultaneously running in every major city except Ulan Bater and which some economists believe is responsible for the Irish economic boom; and (2),Real Irish dancing, in which men do not wear frilly blouses and you still may not express yourself, except in a written note to the adjudicators.


Strangely enough, Irish people tend to wear everything except green, which is associated with too many national tragedies, including 1798, the Famine and the current Irish soccer team. It's possible that green just doesn't suit the Irish skin colour, which is generally pale blue.

Gaelic Games

St Patrick's Day brings the climax of the club championships in Gaelic games, which combine elements of the American sports of gridiron and baseball but are played with an intensity more associated with Mafia turf wars.

The two main games are "football" and "hurling", the chief difference being that in football, the fights are unarmed. There is also "camogie," which is like hurling, except that in fights the hair may be pulled as well.

Schools rugby

St Patrick's Day also brings the finals in schools rugby, a game based around the skills of wrestling, kicking, gouging, ear biting, and assaults on other vulnerable body parts. The game is much prized in Ireland's better schools, where it's seen as an ideal grounding for careers in business and the law.


In most countries, road signs are used to help motorists get from one place to another. In Ireland, it's not so simple. Signposting here is heavily influenced by Einstein's theories (either that or the other way round) of space/time, and works on the basis that there is no fixed reference point in the universe, or not west of Mullingar anyway. Instead, location and distance may be different for every observer and, frequently, for neighbouring road-signs. Ireland is officially bilingual, a fact which is reflected in the road-signs. This allows you to get lost in both Irish and English.


Ireland is officially bilingual, a fact which is reflected in the road-signs. This allows you to get lost in both Irish and English. Useful phrases include "Pog mo Thon" (pronounced Poge mu hone ) which translates to "You are very welcome" and Amadán ( Pronounced Om-a-dawn) which is a shortened version of Thank You.


Indicators will give away your next move so a  real Irish driver never uses them.  Under no circumstances do Irish drivers leave a safe distance between their car and the one in front, for fear that the space will be filled in by somebody else putting them in an even more dangerous situation.   The faster you drive through a red light, the smaller the chance you have of getting hit.  Electronic traffic warning signs are not there to provide useful information. They are only there to make Ireland look high-tech, and to distract you from seeing the Garda with the radar gear parked on the verge.   Speed limits are arbitrary figures, given only as suggestions, and are apparently not enforceable during rush hour.  Throwing litter on the roads adds colour to the landscape and gives County Council crews something to clean up.   Never, never look for street signs. If you do find one, it has probably been turned around.   All roads are repaired once every 20 years, whether they need it or not.  Remember that the goal of every Irish driver is to get there first, by whatever means necessary.


Ireland remains a deeply religious country, with the two main denominations being "us" and "them". In the unlikely event you are asked which group you belong to, the correct answer is:   "I'm an atheist, thank God", then change the subject.

Irish fauna

It is well-known that St Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland. Less publicised is that he also banished kangaroos, polar bears and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, all of which were regarded as nuisances by the early Irish Christians.


Almost all the monuments in Dublin are old, very old. This is because the local politicos have found that their poor taste combined with the mordant wit of the Jackeen can make erecting any monument a source of perpetual embarrassment. For example, the statue of Molly Malone came to be known as the "tart with the cart," no doubt due to her pulchritude and low neckline, the statue of Ana Liva recumbent in a fountain was variously know as the "floozie in the jacuzzi" or, as rubbish collected in the fountain "the hoor in the sewer, until the politicos decided to shift her somewhere else," while an aul clock to commemorating the supposed thousandth year of Dublin's existence of a city (it's older surely) which was placed in the bed of the Liffey was known as the "time in the slime." However, recently in a fit of bravado, the city politicos have decided to erect a millennium column, spike or spire in the middle of the city . . . .words may fail you, they won't fail the jackeens . . .

Varieties of Irishmen

Irishmen come in an infinite array of varieties, the phlegmatic midlander, the cute Cork hoor, the mean (pronounced "mayne") Cavan bastard (pronounced "bawshtawrd") and the Dublin jackeen, or less politely, gurrier, and the endlessly disputatious Taigs and Jaffas (it's not recommended to use the latter two terms in the presence of a Jaffa or Taig). The cute Cork hoor is driven by a deeply rooted, but mistaken belief that he is more devious than the rest of us -- which is why he ends up standing the most rounds -- this makes him a useful person to have around when your not sure whose "shout" it is, unfortunately too many shouts tend to lead to his singing my "oownnnn lowvely Lee" -- promises to sing another song are usually in vain, as this is the only one the cute hoor really knows, for example he may sing "gerushalem, gerushalem by the banks of my own lovely Lee . . . . ." The truth, of course, is that it is the Dubs that are the cute hoors, hence their well known ability to enter a revolving door behind a Corkman and come out in front, unless there's a gang of Kerry men, Jaffas or Taigs in waiting beyond. However, the suggestion that the definition of an Irishman is any man who will "crawl across twenty naked women to get to a pint of Guinness" is a vile cultural slur; sure we'd have them bring us the pint.

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Updated: Thursday August 12, 2004