Top 10 most memorable Irish proverbs

The Irish are renowned for their words of wisdom. So, here are the top ten most memorable Irish proverbs.

Ireland’s beautiful native language has several sayings to suit daily situations.

These proverbs, or ‘seanfhocail’ (old words), are common in Ireland, whether you’ve heard them during your childhood or seen them printed on t-shirts.

Half the fun of learning Irish proverbs is translating them directly into English because the translation is never quite as profound as the original.

Consider your interest piqued as we dive into our countdown of the top ten most memorable Irish proverbs.

10. Tús maith leath na hoibre – a good start is half the work

Tús maith leath na hoibre means "A good start is half the work."
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Anyone who has studied Irish at school will have heard this proverb from their teacher many times.

Apparently, a good start is half the work. However, this is hard to believe when you’re a teenager who doesn’t want to do their homework.

9. Is minic a bhris béal duine a shrón – a valuable lesson to learn

Is minic a bhris béal duine a shrón is one of the most memorable Irish proverbs.
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We cannot think of any English proverb that can compare with this one. The above sentence translates as “A person’s mouth would often break their nose”.

The idea here is that you should be careful about what you say. If you treat people poorly with nasty words, they might punch you in the nose.

8. Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile – one of the most memorable Irish proverbs

Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile means "A beetle recognises another beetle".
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This Irish proverb is a delight to translate. It means, ‘A beetle recognises another beetle’, or else it’s a more creative way to say, ‘it takes one to know one’.

7. Giorraíonn beirt bóthar – time flies when you’re having fun

Giorraíonn beirt bóthar is one of the most memorable Irish proverbs.
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This simple Irish proverb states that two people shorten the road.

This is comparable to the English saying, “Two heads are better than one”, except that the Irish version emphasises how time goes faster when you’re having fun with a friend.

6. Aithnítear cara i gcruatán – a line about friendship

Aithnítear cara i gcruatán is a line about friendship.
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Here’s a heartwarming pick on our list of the top ten most memorable Irish proverbs.

It tells us that a friend is recognised in hardship, a statement that rings true no matter what country you’re in or what language you speak.

5. Ní mar a shíltear a bítear – a rhyming proverb

Ní mar a shíltear a bítear is one of the most memorable Irish proverbs.
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“What you assume is not how it is” or, to put it more clearly, “All is not what it seems”.

This proverb earns a spot on our collection of the top ten most memorable Irish proverbs because of the rhyme.

The accented ‘i’ (í) has an ‘eee’ sound that lets the sentence roll off the tongue nicely.

4. Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin – there’s no place like home

Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin means "There's no place like home".
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Who said it first, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz or an anonymous Irish person from centuries ago?  It seems we’ll never know.

What’s more, the Irish version of this saying is a little different from the English equivalent.

The word ‘tinteán’ means ‘fireplace’, so the above proverb translates as, “There’s no fireplace like your own fireplace”.

3. Ní hé lá na báistí lá na bpáistí – an interesting play on words

Ní hé lá na báistí lá na bpáistí is one of the most memorable Irish proverbs.
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Calling all fans of puns, this one’s for you. In English, it means, “A rainy day is not a day for children”.

To fully appreciate this proverb, you must pay attention to the play on words in Irish. Here, ‘báistí’ (rain) and ‘bpáistí’ (children) are pronounced the same way.

An Irish person who hears this proverb for the first time might misunderstand it as, “A rainy day is not a rainy day” or “A day for children is not a day for children”, thus creating an inside joke for Irish speakers that you can now be a part of!

2. Marbh le tae agus marbh gan é – reinforcing Ireland’s love of tea

Marbh le tae agus marbh gan é emphasises Ireland's love of tea.
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Not only is it memorable, but this proverb is also one of the most Irish proverbs you will ever come across. It translates as, “Dead with tea and dead without tea”.

This is a profound truth, reminding us that whether we drink tea or avoid it, we will still die. It’s morbid, yes, but that’s not the intention here.

Think of it as an Irish way to say, “live your life”, “seize your moment”, etc., only that it’s in relation to tea.

1. Ar scath a chéile a mhaireann na daoine – one of the most memorable Irish proverbs

One of the most memorable Irish proverbs is about the people around us.
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This Irish proverb tells us that people live in each other’s shadows. It has become a type of mantra for Ireland during the pandemic.

Even when we are apart, we rely on each other and protect those around us – an Irish sentiment that holds true worldwide.