20 Irish Writers on Being Irish


We’d like to interrupt your regularly scheduled St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with a few words of wisdom. Put down that green beer — you never really liked it anyway — and cozy up with these authors from the Emerald Isle that have shared poetic anecdotes on what it means to be Irish. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be glad you weren’t shamed into dressing like a leprechaun. Happy reading!

“I think being a woman is like being Irish… Everyone says you’re important and nice, but you take second place all the time.” — Iris Murdoch

“When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.” — Edna O’Brien

“I am troubled, I’m dissatisfied, I’m Irish.” — Marianne Moore

“When I die I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it served in all the pubs in Dublin.” — J. P. Donleavy

“If one could only teach the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, society here would be quite civilized.” — Oscar Wilde

“Everything that we inherit, the rain, the skies, the speech, and anybody who works in the English language in Ireland knows that there’s the dead ghost of Gaelic in the language we use and listen to and that those things will reflect our Irish identity.” — John McGahern

“There is an Irish way of paying compliments as though they were irresistible truths which makes what would otherwise be an impertinence delightful.” — Katharine Tynan Hinkson

“There is no language like the Irish for soothing and quieting.” — John Millington Synge

“Irish poets, learn your trade, sing whatever is well made, scorn the sort now growing up all out of shape from toe to top.” — W. B. Yeats

“Every St. Patrick’s Day every Irishman goes out to find another Irishman to make a speech to.” — Shane Leslie

“I was born on a storm-swept rock and hate the soft growth of sun-baked lands where there is no frost in men’s bones.” — Liam O’Flaherty

“I’m an Irish Catholic, and I have a long iceberg of guilt.” — Edna O’Brien

“Our Irish blunders are never blunders of the heart.” — Maria Edgeworth

“Put an Irishman on the spit and you can always get another Irishman to turn him.” — George Bernard Shaw

“My one claim to originality among Irishmen is that I have never made a speech.” — George Moore

“It’s not that the Irish are cynical. It’s rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.” — Brendan Behan

“I think there’s something about the Irish experience — that we had to have a sense of humor or die. That’s what kept us going — a sense of absurdity, rather than humor.” — Frank McCourt

“I showed my appreciation of my native land in the usual Irish way: by getting out of it as soon as I possibly could.” — George Bernard Shaw

“Ireland is a fruitful mother of genius, but a barren nurse.” — John Boyle O’Reilly

“In Ireland, the inevitable never happens, and the unexpected constantly occurs.” — John Pentland Mahaffy

“Irishness is not primarily a question of birth or blood or language; it is the condition of being involved in the Irish situation, and usually of being mauled by it.” — Conor Cruise O’Brien

“An Irishman’s heart is nothing but his imagination.” — George Bernard Shaw

“When the Irishman is found outside of Ireland in another environment, he very often becomes a respected man. The economic and intellectual conditions that prevail in his own country do not permit the development of individuality. No one who has any self-respect stays in Ireland, but flees afar as though from a country that has undergone the visitation of an angered Jove.” — James Joyce