On March 17, people all over the world celebrate being Irish.
Why? Because March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day!
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by going to church, holding parades and—in some places—lots of drinking. It’s a fun and happy holiday that remembers St. Patrick, the patron saint (or protector) of Ireland.
In many places, especially in America, St. Patrick’s Day is all about being proud to be Irish, and celebrating the nation of Ireland and its people. It’s a chance to have fun, drink and enjoy yourself—even if you’re not Irish.
So you can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day no matter where you’re from! Start by learning these St. Patrick’s Day sayings, blessings and quotes.
Who Was St. Patrick, Anyway?
St. Patrick is a saint, which is a person accepted by Christianity to be a very holy and good person.
St. Patrick was born in Britain, and came to Ireland in the 5th century as a missionary—someone who wanted to convert (turn) Irish people into Christians. There are many legends and stories told about him, but the most famous is about St. Patrick and the snakes.
According to the legend, when St. Patrick came to Ireland, he took a 40 day fast (a period of time when you don’t eat). When some snakes attacked him during his fast, St. Patrick scared them away into the surrounding waters. Some say that’s why Ireland today has no wild snakes!
Ireland really doesn’t have any snakes—but it’s probably not thanks to St. Patrick (it just never had them at all!). Still, people like to tell this and other stories about St. Patrick on March 17.
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Why Learn English for an Irish Holiday?
Even though St. Patrick is strongly linked to Ireland, the St. Patrick’s Day celebration is not actually just an Irish event. The day is an international celebration, which means it’s celebrated all over the world.
Plus, the two main languages in Ireland are Irish and English. So in English-speaking countries, people use many Irish and English words and phrases on St. Patrick’s Day.
Some sayings are based on stereotypes, which are commonly held beliefs about a certain group of people that might not actually be true. Because of that, some of the common St. Patrick’s Day sayings are old Irish sayings that are not actually used in Ireland anymore.
St. Patrick’s Day is not just about being Irish, it’s about celebrating Ireland and everything about it—and you don’t have to be Irish to do that!
21 St. Patrick’s Day Words, Sayings, Proverbs and Quotes
Words and Sayings
You might hear these words and sayings on St. Patrick’s Day:
1. St. Paddy
This is a shortened way of saying “St. Patrick” (like calling someone named Richard, “Rich”).
A shamrock is a grass-like plant that’s also called a clover, which typically has three heart-shaped leaves. Shamrocks are not the official symbol of Ireland (that’s the harp, in case you’re wondering), but they are often used to represent the country.
3. Four-leaf clover
Clovers (or shamrocks) usually have three leaves, but once in a while you can find a clover with four leaves. Because four-leaf clovers are so rare, they’ve become a symbol of extremely good luck. You’re pretty lucky if you can find one!
4. Blarney / Gift of the gab
On top of Blarney Castle in Ireland is a stone. This stone, called the Blarney Stone, is said to be very special. If you kiss it, you will get the “gift of the gab.”
The gift of gab is the ability to speak very persuasively and eloquently. In other words, you’ll be able to speak very well and easily talk people into doing things.
5. Kiss me, I’m Irish
Maybe the gift of the gab is contagious (can be transferred from one person to another), because the phrase “Kiss me, I’m Irish” is one of the most popular St. Patrick’s Day sayings.
Even if you manage to lock lips (which is a conversational way of saying “kiss”) with an Irish person, keep studying those vocabulary words, just in case.
6. Luck of the Irish
Irish people are born lucky! At least, that’s what this phrase is saying. Being lucky means that good things happen to you by chance.
There are many ideas about why Irish people are considered more lucky than others, but it might have something to do with their ability to get through difficult situations.
7. A pint of Guinness
There’s no better way to celebrate being Irish than by drinking Irish beer. Guinness is an Irish brand of beer that’s over 250 years old, and is sold all over the world.
We hope you know how to hold your drink (not get too drunk too quickly), because Guinness should be drunk by the pint—which is equal to about two cups. Finish it all, or as the English phrase says, “Bottoms up!”
A leprechaun is an Irish mythical (fantasy) creature. According to legends, the leprechaun is a short man with a red beard, dressed entirely in green. The leprechaun guards a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If you’re lucky enough to catch a leprechaun, he’ll give you three wishes. Start looking!
Leprechauns are also known as troublemakers who like to play tricks on people, like sneaking up and pinching them. According to one legend, people who wear green are invisible to leprechauns. That’s why in America, it’s a tradition to wear green clothes on St. Patrick’s Day. If you forget, someone might pinch you!
9. Lucky Charms
A lucky charm is an item that is believed to bring its owner luck. Lucky Charms is a brand of cereal sold in America that has a leprechaun on the box and has marshmallows of “lucky” things, which links it to Ireland (although it’s not actually sold there!).
10. Top o’ the mornin’
This phrase simply means “Good morning,” although no one seems sure why. The phrase is not used that commonly in Ireland anymore, but traditionally the correct response is “And the rest of the day to you,” which means “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Proverbs and Blessings
A proverb is an old saying that gives smart advice or states a truth. A blessing is something positive you wish for someone to have. Ireland has lots of both! Here are a few you can use for your St. Patrick’s Day celebration:
11. It is often a man’s mouth that broke his nose.
Watch what you say, because it could get you into trouble! Saying offensive (hurtful) or mean things to people is not a good idea, because one of them might get angry enough to break your nose with a punch.
The message is similar to an English saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Or, even more simply, “Think before you speak!”
12. May you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.
Many Irish blessings are funny and tongue in cheek. That means they sound serious, but are meant as a joke. This blessing seems serious because it’s talking about death.
However, it’s funny because it suggests the person being spoken to needs to sneak into heaven. In other words, continue to enjoy yourself after death, even if you don’t deserve it!
13. May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live.
This well-known blessing uses two different meanings of the word “want.” In the first half of the saying, the word “want” means to desire something. In the second half it means to lack something that you desire.
The blessing means you should live a long life and always have what you desire.
14. May the roof above your head never fall in, and those gathered beneath it never fall out.
Here’s another blessing that uses a double meaning. In this case, the phrases “fall in” and “fall out” mean two different things.
“Fall in” means, literally, to collapse or fall inside. “Fall out” means to argue or stop being friends with someone. So the blessing means you should always have a good roof over your head, and be surrounded by a loving family and friends.
15. Experience is the comb that life gives a bald man.
Experience is something you can only get when you actually live through or come in contact with events. People studying to be doctors read a lot of books about medicine, but they can only get experience when they actually start working with real people.
This proverb points out that sometimes, by the time you finally get enough experience with something, you can no longer use that knowledge—just like a bald man (a man who has no hair) doesn’t need a comb.
16. May the most you wish for be the least you get.
The most is the greatest amount possible, and the least is the smallest amount possible. This blessing is saying “I hope you get way more than what you want.”
Many Irish sayings have fun with words. Understanding these quotes by and about Irish people and St. Patrick can help you better understand English. Some are pretty smart, too!
17. “He drove the snakes out of the minds of men, snakes of superstition and brutality and cruelty.” —Arthur Brisbane
In the stories, St. Patrick drove away (forced to leave) all the snakes in Ireland. This quote by American newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane says that St. Patrick didn’t just scare away actual snakes, but he also scared away the imaginary snakes in people’s minds.
Superstition is the belief in magical or supernatural beings like ghosts, brutality is physical violence and cruelty is causing pain to others for your pleasure.
18. “A best friend is like a four leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have.” —Unknown
This great Irish quote about friends means that finding a very close friend is not easy, just like finding a four-leaf clover. If you do manage to find one, you must be pretty lucky!
19. “The list of Irish saints is past counting; but in it all no other figure is so human, friendly, and lovable as St. Patrick—who was an Irishman only by adoption.” —Stephen Gwynn
In this quote, Irish journalist Stephen Qwynn is saying that there are many Irish saints, but only St. Patrick is so widely known and loved.
Adoption is when you take something—a child or an idea—and you make it yours. Being “an Irishman by adoption” means that St. Patrick was not actually born in Ireland, but he’s been accepted as Irish anyway.
20. “It is better to spend money like there’s no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there’s no money.” —P.J. O’Rourke
American journalist P.J. O’Rourke had the right idea when he said this quote. He means it’s better to enjoy the moment and not worry too much about the future.
Tomorrow you might feel bad for spending all that money on drinks. But tonight… just have fun!
21. “St. Patrick—one of the few saints whose feast day presents the opportunity to get determinedly whacked and make a fool of oneself all under the guise of acting Irish.” —Charles M. Madigan
American teacher and journalist Charles M. Madigan uses much more conversational English in this quote. Some words you might not know: “Whacked” is a common way to say “get drunk,” “opportunity” means chance, “determinedly” is an uncommonly used word that means “with a strong desire,” and “guise” means pretense or disguise.
In plainer English, Madigan is saying that St. Patrick’s day is used by some people as an excuse to drink a lot and act silly, by saying that they’re being “Irish.”
Now you’re ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in English! We’ll leave you with one final traditional Irish blessing:
May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.
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