7 Irish Proverbs Adopted Into Pop Culture

7 Irish Proverbs Adopted Into Pop Culture
Updated on 17 March 2015

When Saint Patrick’s Day rolls around, everyone embraces a little Irish spirit. Sporting shamrocks and shillelaghs and wearing a bit o’ green, friends come together to celebrate this most Celtic tradition — and no one celebrates like the Irish!

Given the enthusiasm with which America endorses this holiday, perhaps it’s no surprise that Irish culture has blended so happily with American pop culture. In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, here are a few examples of Irish wisdom and sayings that have come to be part of modern culture.

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You

Image via Flickr by jpmpinmontreal

Chances are you’ve seen this famous blessing stitched on a pillow at your Irish granny’s house or emblazoned on a plaque hung near her door. This blessing is a nod to the Celtic fondness for using symbols from nature to illustrate God’s relationship with man. Historians believe that invoking imagery, such as a welcome breeze or the warm sun, made the concept of an all-powerful Christian god more easily understood by common folk.

It Is Often That a Person’s Mouth Broke His Nose

Sure, this one plays into the stereotype of an Irishman’s passion for brawling, but this good advice applies to everyone equally. If you don’t want a punch in the nose, don’t shoot off your mouth. Words to live by, Erin go bragh.

A Son Is a Son ‘Til He Takes Him a Wife. A Daughter’s a Daughter All of Her Life

This nugget of wisdom — that any mother of sons will understand — comes from the New Testament in the Gospel of Mark: For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife…and they shall be as one flesh. It took the Irish, however, to turn it into a snappy little rhyme.

The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune

This charming sentiment has several subtle variations, but most recognize it to mean that most things improve over time, or that the best things in life are worth waiting for. This powerful idiom was immortalized in popular culture by Gus McCrae, the feisty hero of Larry McMurtry’s novel “Lonesome Dove.”


Pronounced slahn-sha, this classic Irish toast means “your health.” From the Gaelic word for “safe,” this pithy exclamation stands in for the wordier, “I drink to your good health.” To endear yourself to your Irish friends this St. Patty’s Day, grab a pint of Guinness at your local pub, clink bottles with your mates, and shout out a hearty, “Slainte!”

May the Cat Eat You and the Devil Eat the Cat

The Irish are masters of the elaborate curse, and you’ll really feel the burn if your Celtic acquaintance says this to you. Most save this double-barreled insult for the worst of characters. This one is considered worse than “May you have an itch and no nails to scratch it,” but not quite as bad as “May you be a load for four before the year is out,” with four referring to pall bearers at a funeral.

You’ll Never Plow a Field By Turning It Over in Your Mind

Many cultures have proverbs admonishing one that nothing gets done by just thinking about it. In fact, the Irish like this sentiment so much, they have several variations on the theme. Another popular Irish proverb along the same line is “There’s no use boiling your cabbage twice.”

There’s no denying the Irish have some of the most colorful idioms for imparting everyday folk wisdom and lore. This St. Patrick’s Day, celebrate Irish heritage — even if you can’t claim Irish ancestry — with a liberal sprinkling of common Celtic proverbs.

Do you have a favorite Irish proverb, prayer, or curse?

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