Growing up in Australia means that I’m pretty used to English spoken with a bit of character. Nevertheless, my first weeks studying abroad in Dublin featured fairly common mid-conversation double-takes, partly a result of the Irish accent and partly due to the slang sprinkled here and there.
I studied abroad in Ireland for two semesters, 2019-2020. Although the whole affair ended in an abrupt flurry of messy flights and a muted city due to pandemic restrictions, I had enough time to experience daily life in Dublin as a student. During my truncated time in Ireland, this is what I learned about the country from the people around me: they love being on the drink (or at least hanging out in pubs with good company), touting their weather-resistance and, most importantly, they’re all about good craic.
Although much of the talk in college has been infiltrated by wider internet culture, many Irish students have retained some idiomatic expressions that give their casual conversations a distinct twang. Here are some notable Irish phrases to know before studying abroad -- to help you get immersed and experience Irish culture from day one.
In case you're wondering: yes, you can still study abroad in Ireland this year. You'll need to apply for a visa and comply with other health regulations to visit Ireland, but Ireland is open to students and it's possible to study abroad there in 2021 and beyond.
Photo credit: Marita C., IES Abroad
Drinking and pub culture is big in Ireland, if you hadn’t already gathered. Although in the summer and during the pandemic restrictions most people would casually crack open cans (of beer) along the canal without much fanfare, the Irish word for ‘cheers’ seems like an appropriate term to toast this list of phrases.
Even if you’re not big into drinking during your time studying abroad in Ireland, this is a phrase you’re likely to hear and should embrace!
Craic is a term that can only really be defined when it's contextualised. If you ask an Irish person outright what it means, they’ll probably respond with a vague “I don’t know,” and just rattle off a list of ways they would use it.
If someone is ‘great craic’ it means they’re fun to be around, and either implicitly or explicitly, fun to drink with. If last night was good craic, it means there was a good atmosphere and that it was a fun time. It can also be used negatively, too. If something was sh*t craic, it probably wasn’t very enjoyable, and quite disappointing. A bonus usage, and one that I’ve heard less is ‘What’s the craic’ which refers to ‘what’s up’ or ‘how’s it going’?
It’s okay if you get a bit confused with this one, but by the end of you semester or summer in Ireland, you won’t be an eejit when it comes to using it! (More on that one later…)
3. "It’s Grand"
Photo credit: Sarah C., FIE
If you thank a friend for a favor, they might reply, ‘It’s grand’ to tell you it wasn’t a problem. A close approximation would be ‘all good’ or ‘no worries’, although it can also occasionally morph into a substitute for more superlative positive expressions.
You would have to infer the exact meaning of this phrase from the context, but due to its range of use, it’s also an easy one to adopt ahead of time, to make the Irish believe in their slang diaspora.
4. Give Out
If you haven’t gotten it yet, most of the Irish phrases on this list don’t have direct translations – their meanings are highly dependent on the way they’re used. ‘Give out’ is one of those idioms that is never used in a way that makes grammatical sense.
Give out usually refers to scolding, or telling someone off angrily. Your friend would never ‘give out’ to you, but in a college context, the professor might ‘give out’ to students for talking loudly in the lectures.
5. The Jacks
Photo credit: Becky F., FIE
Here’s a handy one: ‘the Jacks’ is an Irish word for the toilets, or restroom. Don’t be surprised if you hear that while out with friends and classmates at the pub (once they re-open), or at other events where public toilets are available.
At least now you’ll know nobody’s speaking of the kids’ game when they ask where the Jacks are!
I thought my ears were going blunt when I first heard this. “Eejit” is not just a different pronunciation of ‘idiot’ but a whole other word, that carries the same meaning and use… although (supposedly) a bit friendlier. In any event, you probably don’t want to earn the title too often (or ever, if possible!).
If it helps, you’d call a friend an eejit for getting the directions wrong, but you’d call a stray cyclist an idiot.
7. "That’s Gas!"
Photo credit: Hannah S., IES Abroad
Picture this: you’re out with fellow classmates, enjoying an afternoon break from studying, and someone tells a hilarious joke. Don’t be surprised if one of your Irish classmates suddenly exclaims “that’s gas!”
I’ve heard this one too many times to count, and it was probably the first and last piece of Irish slang I was exposed to. It also took me much longer than I’d like to admit to infer its meaning, which has nothing to do with states of matter or bodily function.
As you might be able to guess, you’d call someone or a situation "gas" if you find them or it funny. Don’t be surprised if using it makes the situation even funnier!
Although the accent might take some getting used to depending on your English level and where you are, at the very least, navigating day-to-day life poses few problems for us anglophones. Nevertheless, the idioms that get sprinkled into everyday conversation are an insightful look into Irish culture that you'll experience while studying abroad in Ireland.