A selection of breads (Photo Source: Flickr)
Ireland has always done things differently, we have our own Irish traditions and customs that make us unique to anywhere else in the world. From our language, music, arts, literature, folklore, cuisine and sports are all special to Irish people.
Much of Irish traditions have been influenced by Angelo- Norman, Scottish & English Culture. But of course, the biggest influence on Irish traditions and customs have been Gaelic and Celtic culture.
Influence of Irish Traditions
In the 12th century, the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland, then further into the 16th/17th century saw the colonisation of Ireland with the arrival of Anglo-Irish and Scot-Irish (Ulster Scots.
In modern times there are many traditions that are different between the two communities Catholics and Protestants. As well as Irish traditions that differ between travellers and the settled population of Ireland.
However, due to the fact that many people of Ireland have emigrated to different parts of the world, Irish traditions and culture have reached a global audience. Festivals such as St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween are celebrated around the globe.
Although there are many unique Irish traditions some aspect of Irish culture is shared with other counties. This includes Britain, some English-speaking counties and manly catholic European and Celtic nations.
Let’s explore some of the interesting and unique Irish Traditions found here…
Traditional Irish Festival’s
Saint Patricks Day Traditions
One of the most famous and popular Irish traditions is the feast of Ireland’s Patron Saint, St.Patrick. The 17th of March is known and celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day, not just in Ireland but all around the world. He is one of the most famous figures to ever come from Ireland.
Although St.Patrick wasn’t Irish himself, as he was born in Roman-occupied Britain. When he was 16 years old he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and was forced into slavery in Ireland.
During his time as a slave, Patrick turned to God, praying often to him and his faith began to grow. Six years later he got a ‘calling from God’ telling him to head to a port over a hundred miles away and left Ireland. Although he returned to Ireland after a vision, convincing him to bring Christianity to the Irish people. From then onwards he became an iconic figure associated with Ireland.
Patrick passed away on the 17th of March 461 AD after a lifetime of preaching the word of Christ. The People of Ireland began to celebrate the day in remembrance of him. Also, during the 19th century when the Irish immigrated to American and other parts of the world, the celebration of St. Patrick followed. From that moment onwards, the patron Saint of Ireland became of a global celebration of Irish culture.
Irish traditions associated with Patrick’s Day include wearing the colour green, wearing a Shamrock as well as a day full of festivals and parades.
For those that don’t know the popular festival of Halloween originates from the Celtic pagan festival called ‘Samhain” (Ending of Summer) that took place in Celtic Ireland.
Over a thousand years ago, Irish Ancestors celebrated the beginning of winter with the Festival of Samhain on the 31st of October. They believed this was the best time to link between our world and the mortal world, allowing the dead to return to Ireland on this night.
Many of our Halloween traditions such as dressing up and pumpkin lights come from this Irish Celtic festival. During the festival of Samhain people would disguise themselves with animals to protect them from any evil spirits. They would also light fires to guide the good spirits during the Samhain. People would carve out scary faces on turnips and leave it their doors to ward of evil spirits.
Traditional Halloween customs in Ireland include – children disguised in many different costumes going from door to door in hopes of getting treats.
Many of these Irish traditions can still be seen in today’s celebration of Halloween. Of course, Halloween became a huge festival with parades and events happening all around the globe like St.Patricks day. You can thank the Celtic Irish for that!
Christmas Irish Traditions
In Ireland, Christmas is a very important celebration, just like it is in the UK and the United States. Christmas in Ireland usual runs from the Christmas Eve (24th of December) until the Feast of Epiphany (6th January) and comes with it many Irish traditions. Irish People have their own unique traditions and customs when it comes to Christmas.
There was an old tradition in some Irish homes at Christmas, a tall thick candle would be placed on the still of windows after sunset on Christmas Eve. The candle would be left all night as a welcoming symbol for Mary and Joseph. There are still people in Ireland that practice this tradition.
In the Irish language, Christmas is referred to as ‘Nollaig’ and Santa Clause is referred to as ‘San Nioclás’. Like most places, Irish children go to sleep on Christmas Eve and hope to wake up in the morning with presents left from Father Christmas.
In Ireland, the day after Christmas is called St.Stephens Day also known as Boxing Day in parts of the UK. It’s a day dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. However, the Irish celebration has very little to do with him. Historically it was a day about ‘Going on the Wren’ related to ancient Celtic Mythology that remembers the day after Christmas when the robin(representing the new year) killed the wren (presenting the old year).
In Modern Ireland, it’s a day where most will spend it with friends and family. There is usually a variety of horse racing events taking place on this day in Ireland.
One of the popular traditions of putting a ring of Holly around your door was started in Ireland. Holly was a plant that flourished at Christmas time in Ireland and was given to the poor population to decorate their homes.
Other Irish traditions of Christmas include putting up festival decorations, although usually taken down on the 6th of January. It’s considered bad luck to remove the decorations before this.
The Irish people have a whole day dedicated to James Joyce who is considered as one of the most famous literary masters from Ireland. Bloomsday takes place on the 16th of June, its reference to one of Joyce’s novels “Ulysses” where the day takes place. Bloomsday was first celebrated in Ireland in 1954.
However, it has now turned into a global event with people celebrating the incredible writer far and wide. In Dublin, where James Joyce was from, they hold a variety of events leading up and on the day of Bloomsday at the James Joyce Centre.
Traditional Irish Music and Dance
Irish Traditions – Music
Traditional Irish Music is the most popular form of music to come from Ireland. Music has always played a huge part of Irish life. In past centuries when there was no electricity; music and storytelling was the main form of entertainment.
People would gather at the pubs to hear stories and play music from local musicians. Of course, people would also be dancing which is where Irish dancing traditions came from. Back all those centuries ago is when the popular Irish traditions of music became such a vital part of Irish life.
If you ever visit Ireland, an important experience you’ll find in many of the pubs are sessions of traditional music being played. These music sessions usually include a variety of musicians playing folk songs on instruments such as the Fiddle, Tin Whistles, Flutes and more traditional Irish instruments. The style of music played would go on to be recognised around the world as distinctively Irish.
Check out the Ulster Fleadh video below that is a festival celebrating traditional Irish music, songs and dance.
The Main Instruments Associated with Traditional Irish Music Include:
The Bodhran – a simple handheld old drum used as a percussion instrument. It’s always played vertically, sitting on the musician’s knee. It’s referred to as the heartbeat of traditional music providing the music with a great beat.
The Bodhrán is always played vertically, resting on the musician’s knee. They will place their ‘free’ hand on various parts of the interior of the drum to control the pitch and timbre.
The Celtic Harp: This is one of the iconic instruments played in Irish music and even appears on the national flag of Ireland. In Ireland its a wire-string instrument that requires great skill and long practice.
Fiddle: The Irish fiddle is an essential Irish traditional instrument that looks very much like the violin. It offers a unique playing style and sound that sets it apart from the Violin. In traditional Irish music, the fiddle is usually heard above all other instruments.
Irish Traditions – Dance
One of the most famous Irish traditions is known as ‘Irish Dancing’ it’s a phenomenon not just in Ireland, but around the world. Irish dancing is a variety of traditional dances that compromise of solo and group dances.
It’s a huge part of Irish culture & heritage and over the last decade, the tradition has grown in popularity with new generations. The newfound revival can be related to the success of Riverdance.
Irish Dancing- Irish Traditions (photo source: Flickr)
However Irish dancing was around long before Riverdance was ever a thing. For many people in Ireland, they took up Irish dancing as a fun activity as children and continued to enjoy it as adults. Irish dance has always been a huge feature in Irish themed events such as St. Patrick’s Day.
What makes Irish dance so special is it’s completely different from modern dancing – it has its own unique form of dancing that’s captivated people for decades. Even today, young and old are still learning the different steps involved in Irish dance routines. These dancing routines include jigs, reels, ceilis and step dancing.
Find out more about the Irish dancing traditions here.
Irish Traditions – Food
One of our favourite Irish traditions is all the amazing unique food that comes from Ireland. If you plan on visiting Ireland anytime soon make sure to try some of these traditional Irish foods.
This is one of must loved classical Irish food dishes, thought of as the national dish of Ireland. It’s also very popular to have Irish Stew on St. Patrick’s Day. The most common ingredients you would find in Stew are Lamb, Mutton, Potatoes and Onions.
When the Irish started immigrating to American they brought their food traditions with them. It started to adapt and evolve over time to include local offerings. You’ll find a lot of places around Ireland keep to the traditional style of stew, its a must try next time you’re at a pub or restaurant.
This dish has been around for many centuries; the dish is more popular in winter as well. Irish stew is a warming dish and tastes more delicious when you add rosemary and thyme.
A second much loved Irish food tradition is the Irish Soda Bread. A simple classic where nearly every family in Ireland have their own recipe.
The history of soda bread began more for practical purposes. The first people to actually use soda were the American Indians. Although the Irish were the once that replicated what they did and earned its worldwide reputation.
Irish Soda Bread was first created during the late 1830s when the first process of baking soda was introduced in the UK. Ireland was going through financial strife and had little access to ingredients, soda bread was considered a necessity as you didn’t need expensive ingredients to make it.
These ingredients include wheat flour, baking soda, sourced milk and salt. To make soda bread soft wheat flour was the ideal method and the Irish climate was considered as the only place suitable for growing soft wheat.
From then onwards soda bread became a perfect Irish recipe that families could make at home as it was a simple and filling dish. Many of the lower class homes would cook the bread in Iron pots or on griddles over open hearths. This is how the bread got is signature texture; hard crust and a slight sourness that it’s now famous for.
It’s one of those Irish traditions that will never go away, soda bread is part of every Irish family life.
An Irish Breakfast
There’s no denying that the Irish love their food, around the world many people would usually enjoy ready meals for breakfast. But there has been a long Irish tradition of having a fried breakfast also referred to as a ‘Fry’. It’s a meal that will fill you up and give you energy for the day ahead.
A traditional Irish breakfast includes a variety of meats; bacon, sausages, possibly pudding, as well as eggs and fried tomatoes. The hearty breakfast is also served with homemade Irish soda bread and potato bread and a strong cup of tea and a glass of orange juice.
It was originally a tradition to help prepare people for a full day of work on the farm but into today’s modern world it’s not possible to have most working mornings. However, the traditions of a full Irish breakfast serves a staple treat in many households in Ireland, usually prepared on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It’s also a meal that you can have for your evening dinner, many Irish people enjoy doing this.
Shepherd’s Pie is a staple of any Irish dinner table. The filling is rich with lamb, vegetables and gravy, and topped with, of course, mashed potatoes. The dish is considered a comfort food that Irish love to have especially during the winter months.
Shepherd pie was first introduced by housewives in the late 1700s and early 1800s who were looking for ways to incorporated leftover into their meals. Even though it was created out of leftovers it soon became a delicious and much loved Irish dish.
As time has gone on Irish people have loved to put there own spin on the dish with different seasonings and vegetables. Just like everyone makes their own version of mash potatoes, so depending on where you having it, it can be a very diverse experience.
You will find shepherds pie in most Irish pubs and you’ll be sure to notice different tastes depending on what part of Ireland you’re in.
Irish Traditions – Sports
Sports is a big thing in Ireland although we play the popular sports of soccer, rugby Ireland has its own sports that are unique to them. These sporting Irish traditions have been around for centuries and still an important part of life today in Ireland.
These sports unique to the Irish include Gaelic games that compromise of Gaelic Football, Hurling and Camogie. Its thought that every time the Irish go to a sporting event- one out of every two will attend a Gaelic game or hurling match. Which is pretty amazing considering both sports only have amateur status.
The national stadium, Croke Park would attract over 60,000 people to either a hurling or Gaelic game. This shows just how proud the Irish are of their own sports and watching their fellow Irish men and women play. The games are organised by the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Associations – one of the strongest communities in Ireland.
Gaelic football in Ireland is often just referred to as ‘Gaelic’ which consists of 15 men playing against 15 men on a grass pitch. The unique thing about this Irish sport is that you can use your hands just as much as your feet.
The ball can be kicked, caught in your hands, hand-passed and punched. The only thing the players can’t do is run with the ball in their hands for more than three steps.
However, they can move the ball up the pitch by ‘soloing’. This is the skill of running and repeatedly kicking the ball with your hands and then dropping it to your feet. It sounds more complicated than it actually is. Watch the video below to see the sport in action.
Irish Sporting Traditions
Another GAA game is Hurling that is considered a very skilful traditional Irish sports. The game of Hurling goes back thousands of years and has often featured heavily in Irish legends.
How you play the sport including the number of players, scoring and rules are very similar to Gaelic football. The biggest difference is that it’s played with sticks known as a ‘Hurley’ and a small leather ball – similar to a tennis ball.
Camogie is considered the female version of hurling. Check out the video below of a game of hurling, hopefully, that will help you understand the sport better. Just like Gaelic, the aim is to score more than your opponent’s team. Many Hurling players were a helmet as the sport can be very physical at times.
Other traditional Irish sports include horse-racing, handball, fishing and golf. Rugby and soccer would be considered as the most popular sports. Soccer in Ireland is played to a semi-professional whereas rugby is known as professional sports with players playing at national and international levels.
Irish Traditions – The History of GAA
GAA is celebrated as one of the greatest amateur sporting associations in the world that plays a huge part in Irish society. The sport was first founded in 1884 in County Tipperary by a ground of Irishmen who saw the importance of creating a national organisation to revive and nurture traditional sports. Also, a way for Irish athletics to become better seen by the masses.
Six months after the first GAA meeting, GAA clubs started being formed around Ireland and saw the beginning of people playing hurling and Gaelic Football. With pride, Irish people started taking part in GAA events around the country.
From its beginning, all the sports under GAA have remained as amateur sports. Even, players at the highest level don’t get paid for playing. One of the most important aspects of GAA is its volunteer ethos.
It has a strong emphasis on community and there are over 2,000 clubs around the 32 counties of Ireland. Every summer in Ireland there are inter-county All-Ireland Championships in hurling, Gaelic and camogie that draws out the Irish public.
With Irish Diaspora, the GAA sports continued to develop around the world, as they took their Irish sports to their new homes in the USA, Australia, Europe and many other places. There is believed to be over 400 GAA clubs around the world which is very impressive for an amateur sport.
Irish Traditions – Irish Language
Although English is the main language spoken in Ireland, Ireland also has its own unique language known as the ‘Gaeilge’. The Irish language along with its sister languages Welsh and Breton are some of the oldest living languages in Europe.
However, it’s only spoken as a first language in certain parts of the country such as areas in Galway, Kerry, Cork and Donegal. Moreso whether you learn the Irish language or not can come from your family traditions, as it’s often passed down from generations.
The Gaeilge Language is recognised as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland and a minority language in Northern Ireland. The Irish language is also one of the official languages of the European Union.
The Irish language is taught in schools across the country and has its own festivals in the Gaeltacht. If you visit Ireland you’ll be introduced to the language on all road and street signs in the Republic of Ireland and certain areas of the North of Ireland.
Most people in Ireland will know how to speak a few Irish phrases and sayings, but over time there has been a huge decline in people learning and speaking the language. However, the Irish language will always be an important part of Irish traditions and culture.
Check out some of the most popular Irish phrases and sayings below:
1. Is fearr Gaeilge briste, ná Béarla clíste – ‘Broken Irish is Better than broken English.’
2. Slainte – ‘Cheers’
3. Dia Duit – ‘Hello’
3. Failte -‘Welcome’
3. Is Mise…. – ‘My Name is’
4. Conas atá tú – ‘How are you’
Irish Myths and Legends Tradition
Traditions of storytelling in Ireland has been around since the beginning of time, providing some of the richest mythology and legends in all of Western Europe. Some of these Irish myths and legends have become famous figures around the world.
Here are some of the most famous Irish Myths and Legends:
The Children of Lir is a very old Irish myth that goes back to the ancient tribes of Ireland. It has also been considered as the inspiration behind the world famous ballet Swan Lake. Check out our blog the Children on Lir to find out more about the fascinating story.
One of the most famous Irish legends in the mythological giant known as Finn Mac Cool that appears in many Irish stories. Finn MacCool has long been connected to the ‘Giant’s Causeway‘ along the north coast of Ireland.
Irish legend states that a Scottish giant called Benandonner ripped up the causeway so he wouldn’t have to fight the fierce Finn MacCool. So for many centuries, legend has it this is the reason why the Giant’s Causeway exists but of course we know there is an actual geological explanation.
Another Irish tradition of legends is the mythical creatures known as Leprechaun, that has become iconic all around the world. The small mischievous spirit is the most widely known type of fairy suggested to live in Ireland. Irish legends suggest that they love to collect gold, which they would store in a pot and hide at the end of a rainbow.
The iconic three leaves of the Shamrock has undeniably become the unofficial symbol of Ireland. In Irish traditions, The Shamrock has played an important role in one of Ireland historic cultures.
The ‘Druids’ believed that the Shamrock was a very sacred plant that could chase away evil. The Celtic culture also believed that three was also a sacred number. Furthermore, Irish Christians believed The Shamrock has a special meaning – its three leaves represented the Holy Trinity.
Throughout much of mythology all around the world, faeries have always been heavily featured but they do hold an important meaning to the Irish. There is a fairy society in Ireland that even to this day still exists but its far from what you would imagine in fairytales.
It’s believed that Irish fairies can take many forms but often choosing a human form. Faeries are said to be very powerful and beautiful however most fairies in Ireland are said to enjoy bringing misfortune and bad luck to people they are near.
Pub Culture – Irish Traditions
Another famous Irish tradition relates to pub culture which is a huge aspect in Irish society, across all cultural divides. It refers to the Irish habit of frequently spending time in pubs and bars.
Traditional in Ireland pub culture is more than just about drinking. Irish people love to head to the pub for social gatherings. It’s suggested as an important meeting place where friends and family can meet in a relaxing atmosphere.
Each place you visit in Ireland will have their own pub that is popular among the locals in the area. Tourists visiting Ireland are a fan of the traditional pub with traditional Irish music and the welcoming atmosphere.
There are many Irish traditions and customs that are unique to Ireland, and these traditions are known all around the world. I hope you enjoyed the guide to some famous Irish traditions and their origins.
Do you have any favourite Irish traditions? Please share with us in the comments below
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