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Customs & traditions in Ireland

Ireland boasts culture, full of unique traditions, customs, and origins so equivalent with the Emerald Isle.
From Irish dancing to the love for potatoes, here are the most celebrated of Irish culture.

General Etiquette

  • People always say ‘please' and ‘thank you' For example, when getting off a bus, most people will thank the driver.

  • If there is a line for something, always queue and wait for your turn.

  • Irish people tend to keep an arm's length's distance between themselves and others while speaking.

  • Irish always shake hands with people when they first see them and again when they are leaving.

  • When ending a conversation on the phone, the Irish will usually say ‘bye’ multiple times before they hang up.

  • It is rude not to take off your hat when entering a home, church, or pub.

  • The Irish are relatively flexible with their time, so it is generally acceptable to arrive 15 minutes later.

  • Sometimes, an Irish person may nod or jerk their head or chin in the direction of what is discussed rather than a point with their finger.

  • The use of hand gestures is not common, but neither do the Irish keep their hands entirely still when conversing. Some older Irish people who are Catholic will often make the sign of the cross when passing a church, funeral procession, graveyards, or when an ambulance passes with its sirens on.



Family

  • For most Irish, the nuclear family plays a major role in their day-to-day lives.

  • The extended family continues to be an essential part of Irish society.

  • In the past, extended families would live near one another, but this is becoming less common today due to the ongoing impacts of urbanization.

  • Nonetheless, the family remains fundamentally important to the individual.

  • Indeed, the unique personal relationships that family members share and the support they receive from one another are highly valued.

  • The Irish are encouraged to be independent and self-reliant as they grow up.

  • Children will live with their parents until they leave to attend university, to move in with their partner, or once they have become financially independent.

  • In rural areas, children will usually leave home at around the age of 18 to 19 to attend university or to look for jobs in larger cities.

  • Family cohesiveness remains a focal point for many of the Irish. For example, when study or work takes a relative away from the family to larger cities or abroad, it is common to find their ties to home still quite strong. Many will make great efforts to return home periodically, especially for Christmas.



Naming

  • Most people have a given name, followed by a surname (e.g. Siobhan MURPHY).

  • Some people will have Irish Gaelic given names (e.g. Ciarán O'Sullivan), while some given names are anglicized (e.g. Kieran O'Sullivan).

  • First names are often chosen to honor an ancestor or to honor a Catholic saint (e.g. Patrick, Peter, Mary, Anne, etc.).

  • Surnames are often patronymic (e.g. MacDonald meaning "son of Donald"), but these are no longer literal and are simply passed down through generations.

  • Children usually take on their father’s surnames.



Meeting & Greeting:

  • The most common greeting is shaking hands. The Irish usually shake hands when being introduced or when greeting a friend or work colleague.

  • In formal situations or with people of higher status, titles and last names are used.

  • Among close friends and family, the Irish may hug and kiss each other on the cheek.

  • Women will kiss both male and female friends, while men kiss only female friends.

  • When addressing friends, family, and acquaintances, the Irish will generally use first names.

  • In more rural areas, people will greet each other when passing on the street.

  • People in urban areas reserve such greetings for neighbors and people they know.

  • Common phrases that accompany greetings are, ‘Hello,’ ‘How are you?’ and ‘What’s the craic?’ (‘craic’ refers to news, gossip, and conversation).

  • The Irish usually maintain eye contact when greeting someone, eye contact reflects trust and engagement.

  • When being introduced to a family, it is customary to shake hands with older children as with adults.

  • The basic greeting is a handshake and a hello.


Visiting a home

  • You have to arrange a visit before going to an Irish house.

  • Visiting people is most common during holidays, especially on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

  • If invited to an Irish home, try to be punctual. If you will be late, let your host know. 

  • If you are visiting for a meal, offer to help the host clean up after the meal.

  • Bring a box of good chocolates, a good bottle of wine for the host.


Giving gifts

  • Generally, Irish people exchange gifts on birthdays and Christmas.

  • Gifts are usually opened when received.

  • A gift need not be expensive. They generally thought of giving something personal that counts.

  • If giving flowers, do not give lilies or white flowers as they are used at religious festivities and funerals.



Dining & Food:

  • The main meal is dinner, which is in the evening.

  • When possible, a family will sit together to share their dinner.

  • Table manners are quite informal and relaxed. However, there are a couple of etiquette customs to follow:

  • The fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.

  • Avoid putting your elbows on the table although your hands should remain visible.

  • Loud noises while eating, such as slurping, are not acceptable at the dining table.

  • It is considered polite to finish all the food on your plate.

  • To say cheers, most Irish will say ‘sláinte’ (pronounced ‘slan-cha’).

Communication style:

  • In Ireland, how you talk reflects a lot about you.

  • Telling stories, jokes, or being smart is very common for the Irish.

  • On the other hand, public displays of emotion are common.

  • Irish people are modest.

  • They did not trust people who bragging themselves or constantly exaggerating.

  • The Irish tend to be indirect communicators; they often try to avoid creating conflict and will remain polite throughout the discussion. For example, if you offer to buy your Irish friend a drink, he may say ‘ah, no' despite wanting to accept. Thus, you may have to offer a couple of times before they will accept.

  • The Irish may also avoid expressing dissatisfaction or disagreement. Instead, they will give subtle cues, such as changing the subject or using humor or sarcasm.

  • In Ireland, humor is used for various purposes. Generally, humor is used to create laughs and a warm spirit among people.

  • It may be used as a defense mechanism, or as a way to show a sense of acceptance and attachment between those engaged in the conversation.

  • The Irish tend to speak in softer tones, being overly loud is considered poor etiquette.

  • Some Irish people may inhale or inject short breaths while saying "yes" during a conversation to show agreement.



Tipping Etiquette

  • It's normal to leave between 10-15% of your bill as a tip after dining in Irish restaurants, bistros, cafés or pubs.

  • Leaving at higher than 15% of your bill is only given for outstanding service.

  • Don't tip unless you enjoyed the service.


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