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11 Irish Traditions + Customs (From Weird to Wonderful)

11 Irish Traditions + Customs (From Weird to Wonderful)

Growing up in Ireland, I encountered most if not all of the Irish traditions at one point or another.

Some Irish customs, like Kerry’s Puck Fair (yes, the one where a goat is crowned king!) started in ancient Ireland.

Other traditions in Ireland, like Nollaig na mBan (AKA ‘Women’s Little Christmas’) are more recent additions.

Below, you’ll get an insight into some very Irish things, from farming and the GAA to mythology and more. Enjoy!

Old Irish traditions and customs

Now, it’s worth noting from the start that there aren’t many Irish customs that are practised consistently across the country.

You’ll often find that traditions in Ireland are practised in certain areas more than in others. In many cases, families tend to pass traditions from one generation to the next.

1. Farming

Ceide Fields

Photo left and bottom right: Michael Mc Laughlin. Top right: Alison Crummy. Via Failte Ireland

Farming is one of the old Irish traditions and people have been skilfully farming our little island since the Neolithic period over 6,000 years ago.

Arguably the most prolific evidence of this can be found in a corner of County Mayo known as the ‘Céide Fields‘.

These are the most extensive Neolithic site on the island of Ireland and they are the oldest field system in the world.

Fast-forward 6,000 or so years and beef and milk production account for roughly 66% of Ireland’s agricultural output (2018) with exports hitting a hefty €1bn per month.

In 2016, there were 137,500 farms in operation in Ireland, many of which will have been in the same family for generations. 

2. Halloween

Halloween traditions in Ireland

Photos courtesy Ste Murray_ Púca Festival via Failte Ireland

Believe it or not, Halloween originated in ancient Ireland and it all began with the pagan celebration of Samhain, which took place every November.

The origins of Halloween date back 2,000 years to the time of the Celts. The Celtic festival of Samhain saw people gather around enormous bonfires which were used to scare off the Puca (ghost).

Many years later, in the 8th century, the Pope at the time decided that November 1st would be known as ‘All Saints Day’ and it would be used as a day to honour the many Christian Saints that had passed.

The evening before soon became known as ‘All Hallows Eve’ which went on to be nicknamed ‘Hallows Eve’ which then became ‘Halloween’.

There are a number of Irish traditions and celebrations that take place at Halloween in Ireland:

  • Kids dress up and go trick-or-treating
  • People (usually those with kids or those expecting visiting children) decorate their homes
  • Pumpkins are carved and placed in the window with a candle burning inside
  • Fancy dress parties take place in schools and pubs

3. St. Patrick’s Day

green buildings dublin

Photos via Shutterstock

The celebration of St. Patrick, Ireland’s Patron Saint, is one of the most famous traditions in Ireland and amongst those with Irish heritage looking to celebrate Irish culture.

The very first St. Patrick’s Day event began with a lad named Luke Wadding, an Irish Franciscan friar from County Waterford.

It was Wadding who helped turn March 17th into a celebration for St. Patrick, after he managed to get the power of the Church behind the idea

At its foundations, March 17th is a celebration of the life of Ireland’s Patron Saint. People attend parades, hold parties and some drink Irish beer and Irish whiskies.

4. Craic and the use of humour

funny short irish sayings

Like many countries, Ireland’s home to a fairly unique type of humour. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not radically different to anywhere else, but it is uniquely Irish.

In some countries, two life long friends throwing insults at each other could be construed as a bad thing… not in Ireland, oh no.

This is known as ‘Slagging’ (see these Irish insults for examples) and it’s generally not meant to truly offend.

If you read our guide to 30 brilliant (and crap) Irish jokes, you’ll get a bit of a sense of the type of humour that you’ll encounter in Ireland.

5. Traditional music sessions

trad music

Photos via Shutterstock

One of the better-known Irish customs revolves around music and dance. Now, many trad sessions that take place in Ireland these days aren’t really traditional in the sense that they’ve been happening for years.

They’re ‘traditional’ in the sense that they exclusively feature traditional Irish music that’s played using iconic Irish instruments.

Now, note that I said many. There are some traditional sessions that have been taking place in Ireland for years, and they’re traditional in every sense.

For example, Clancy’s pub in the town of Athy in County Kildare is home to Ireland’s longest-running trad sessions. It’s been taking place regularly for over 50 years.

6. Slang

Another of the Irish customs is the use of slang. Now, Irish slang tends to vary greatly depending on the county that you’re in along with the age of the person that’s speaking and their background.

For example, some slang from Belfast will sound like French to a person from North Dublin. Here’s a handful of examples of Irish slang (you can find loads more here):

  • I’m grand/it’s grand = I’m OK/it’s OK
  • Gobsh*te = a silly person

7. Christmas

Christmas is widely celebrated across the island of Ireland and we have our fair share of Irish Christmas traditions that range from nice and normal to pretty unusual.

Some of the most common festive traditions in Ireland are the likes up sticking up decorations and making Christmas cake (7 to 8 weeks before Christmas).

Some of the more unusual traditions, like the ‘Wren Boys‘ and ‘Nollaig na mBan‘, are more unique and, unfortunately, being practised less and less.

8. The GAA

the gaa

Photos via Shutterstock

Sport has played a significant part in Irish culture for many years and the most popular traditional sports to come out of Ireland are Hurling, Football and Camogie.

Many old Irish traditions are intertwined with sport. Gaelic games take centre stage in many families across Ireland and traditions of playing sport and watching it is present in many households.

The biggest event in the sporting calendar is the All Ireland Final, which is like the Champion’s League Final of football in Ireland.

This is an annual tournament that debuted in 1887 and it has taken place every single year since 1889.

9. Ancient (and unusual) festivals


Photos via Shutterstock

So, the likes of St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween are fairly bog-standard Irish festivals. Don’t get me wrong, they’re part of Ireland traditions, but there’s nothing too unique about them.

It’s when someone tells you about the Puck Fair and the Matchmaking festivals that you start to get a sense of the more unusual side of some Irish customs.

The Puck Fair, which takes place over three days in Killorglin in Kerry, is said to be the oldest festival in Ireland. The Puck Fair kicks off when a group from the village go up into the mountains a catch a wild goat.

The goat is then brought back to Killorglin and crowed ‘King Puck’. It’s then placed in a small cage and put up on a high stand in the town for three days.

During this time, plenty of festivities take place. On the final day, he’s led back up into the mountains.

Another unique festival that showcases old Irish customs is the 100+ year-old Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. The festival is run by Willie Daly and he’s said to have arranged around 3,000 marriages.

10. Watching The Late Late Toy Show

The Late Late Show (an Irish TV show) first aired many years ago, in 1962. It’s now the longest-running talk show in Europe and the second longest-running talk show in the world.

In the 1970s, the Late Late Toy show first aired and, over the years, it has become a tradition for people in Ireland, old and young, to sit down and watch it.

The show features all of the latest kids toys that are set to be ‘the next big thing’ that year. It also features interviews and performances from musicians.

When I was a kid, I always saw the arrival of the Toy Show as the start of Christmas. A mighty show that’s stood the test of time.

11. Storytelling


Photos via Shutterstock

One of the most notable Irish traditions revolves around the art of storytelling. Now, back in the day, one could get a full-time job as a storyteller. During medieval times, a ‘Bard’ was a professional storyteller.

The bard was employed by a patron and was tasked with telling tales of the patron’s (or their ancestors) activities.

The Irish custom of storytelling dates back to the arrival of the Celts in Ireland. Back then, over 2,000 years ago, history and events weren’t recorded in writing – they were passed from one generation to the next via the spoken word.

Over the years, Irish mythology and Irish folklore were born and both blossomed, with incredible tales of love, loss and battle gripping listeners across Ireland for centuries.

Many of us that grew up in Ireland were told tales of Irish legends that featured the mighty warriors Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Cu Chulainn and the many battles that they fought in.

Other stories were a little bit creepier. I’m talking, of course, about tales of the Banshee, the Abhartach (the Irish Vampire) and the Puca.

What Irish customs have we missed?

irish traditions and culture

Irish culture benefits greatly from the many rich traditions that still take place in Ireland to this day. Have we covered all of them in this guide? Of course not!

Which is where you come in. Do you know of any Irish traditions that we need to add in sharpish?

They can be anything from mini traditions that are practised in your home or big, weird and wonderful traditions that take place in your town or village.

FAQs about traditions in Ireland

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are some weird Irish traditions?’ to ‘Which Irish customs are still practised?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What is the most popular Irish tradition?

The celebration of St. Patrick’s day is arguably the most popular tradition in Ireland and amongst those with Irish roots living abroad. It’s celebrated on March 17th.

What are special traditions in Ireland?

Christmas is a big one with many towns and villages lit up in advance of the big day. Halloween, which originated in ancient Ireland is another.

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Friday 3rd of February 2023

These days you find a ring in the Halloween brack - friut bread -, if you get it in a slice it means you'll get married ! When I was a child the brack contained a ring - marriage, dried peas or bean- you'll be poor, small stick - you'll be beaten , a 6 penny piece (coin)- you'll be rich. It's a wonder we didn't choke on a slice.!

Pancake Tuesday- was the day before Ash Wednesday, pancake batter made with milk, eggs and flour, fried in batches and served with sugar and maybe lemon juice. It signified in olden times using up the richness of milk and eggs before the Lenten fasting, which translated into 'giving up' something you like eg biscuits or sweets for kids for the 7 weeks of Lent up to Easter Sunday .


Sunday 9th of October 2022

Hey Keith,

Researching about Ireland for a project and absolutely adored your blog. Thanks for all your work!

Cornelius ( Conor ) Blessing

Friday 29th of July 2022

This site is very very informative. Thanks so much . From a third generation Irishman in the USA Also it’s a fun read.

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