The Secrets of the Irish Communication Style

When most people think of our tiny island, they think of the colo(u)r green or the Guinness. But it’s not the rain, the shamrocks, or Bono (well especially not Bono) that people remember when they visit. It is our world renowned Irish communication style. We call it the gift of the gab, having a way with words or simply, a love of the chats. And I’ll admit, it helps with a brogue, a lilt, or a tenor. We have plenty of words for everything and some for nothing at all; we’ve myths and legends that would give the Greeks or Romans a run for their money; and no nation loves a good story, a song, or a debate more than we do.

What tourists take back from the emerald isle is not their time at the Blarney Stone or the Cliffs of Moher (although the Cliffs are definitely worth a visit); it’s the encounter with the farmer who gave them directions using crumbling walls and hills as landmarks or the chat with the taxi driver they only half understood. In honor of everyone’s favorite holiday, here are a few insights into the ways the Irish communicate:

Storytelling:

  • In most countries the history books begin with the facts, with the prehistoric era and the dinosaurs. In Ireland, we start the way we mean to continue, with the legend of Cu Chulainn and Fionn mac Cumhaill, and tales of a nation of underdogs and warriors. This manifests in every facet of Irish society from phone calls that never end, to speeches at weddings that go on for so long that they turn into drinking games and a few bets. Meet a stranger in the pub? You’ll likely not get a word in edge ways, but the quickest way to an Irish friendship is by listening to their stories over several (read umpteen) drinks.

Sincerity:

  • “Waffle,” “tripe,” or my dad’s personal favorite “unadulterated shite,” we have a lot of ways for calling BS on someone or something at home. We joke around a lot, but saying what you mean is as important as a good story. Finding the sweet spot where the two can meet takes years of practice and self-denial (the ultimate Catholic trope).

Self-Depreciation

  • Speaking of denial, nothing puts an Irish person on edge like a compliment. Americans are mad for the praise, which is great, but literally, trying to say anything other than, “are you having a laugh?” “shut up, not at all,” or ““don’t be silly,” in response still leaves me in a shambles. Self-seriousness isn’t tolerated. On the flipside, the more we like someone the more we make fun of them (or take the piss out of them, if you will).

I don’t know if it’s the drink (but it probably helps), our inferiority complex, or the Kerrygold butter, but for a small nation, we’ve birthed a long list celebrated writers and orators – Joyce, Yeats or Wilde to name a few. Planning a visit sometime soon, keep the above in mind and you’ll be just grand.

Rachel Murphy