ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

Amusing Irish Expressions Translated into English

The Irish are well known for their colorful proverbs, idioms, and figures of speech. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, here are 9 of the best Irish expressions along with their English translations.


is minic a bhris béal duine a shrón.


Translation: “Many a time a man’s mouth broke his nose.” 

Perhaps you know someone whose “mouth has broken his nose” before. If not, you surely know someone whose nose is only intact by virtue of sheer luck.


Giorraíonn beirt bóthar.


Translation: Two people shorten a road.

A long trip is always more fun when you’re with good company.  A side note: Did you know the Irish language uses a different set of numerals when you’re counting people? It’s true- in this sentence, “beirt” means “two people.” Two objects would be “a dó.”


Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.


Translation: “Under the shelter of each other, people survive” or “We live protected under each other’s shadow.”

This heartwarming proverb reminds us how important it is to take care of each other.


Cuir síoda ar ghabhar ach is gabhar i gcónaí é. 


Translation: "A goat dressed in silk is still a goat."

This idiom is the Irish equivalent  of "You can't make a purse out of a sow's ear" or "You can't put lipstick on a pig." 


nuair a bhíonn an cat amuigh, bíonn an luch ag rince.


Translation: When the cat is outside, the mouse is dancing.

This is a more joyful version of the English proverb, “When the cat is away, the mice will play.”


go ndeine an diabhal dréimire de cnámh do dhroma ag piocadh úll i ngairdín Ifrinn.


Translation: May the devil make a ladder of your backbone and pluck apples in the garden of hell.

That stereotypical Irish fighting spirit comes through beautifully in this traditional curse.  It sounds like something out of Bosch’s famous painting The Garden of Earthly Delights.


go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat.


Translation:  May the cat eat you, and the devil eat the cat. 

The Irish have the best curses, don’t they?


níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.


Translation: “There’s no hearth like your own hearth.”

Put on your ruby slippers; this is the Irish equivalent of "There's no place like home."


is fearr gaeilge bhriste, ná béarla cliste.


Translation: Broken Irish is better than clever English.

Around the world, people appreciate it when you try to communicate with them in their language, even if you make mistakes. The Irish are no exception.

This particular proverb applies to individual people more than businesses or other organizations. People have higher expectations for companies, and they may perceive language and translation errors as unprofessional.


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