Irish Insults and Fun Facts for St. Patrick’s Day

The Irish are well-known for taking an insult and finding a way to turn it back on the insulter. If you tell an Irish person an Irish joke, more than likely they’ll turn around and tell you six more. In 1998, the late Sen. John McCain (of Scots-Irish descent) declared that “there’s only one ethnic joke that can be told in American politics, and that’s an Irish joke.”

When the British disparagingly called a person “as Irish as Paddy’s pig,” the independent rebels adopted the phrase as a badge of honor.

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, here are six colorful Irish insults from Merriam-Webster dictionary.

  1. Bosthoonboor, dolt. From the Gaelic word bastūn, meaning a weak or spiritless person.
  2. Jackeenan ill-mannered, obnoxious fellow. This dates back at least to the 1600s when Shakespeare used the insult in The Taming of the Shrew: “A mad-cap ruffian and a swearing Jacke.”
  3. Kernkern is an English insult toward the Irish and Scottish that refers to social class. From the 15th century, it meant a foot soldier, who generally came from the lower strata of society.
  4. Sassenach – turning the tables, the Irish use this insult against the English or to things that are typical of the English. In James Joyce’s Ulysses, “…the Sassenach tried to starve the nation at home while the land was full of crops that the British hyenas bought and sold in Rio de Janeiro.”
  5. Bodachchurl, lout, low-life, pig. A variation became “boogyman,”  the mythical creature who frightens children.
  6. Slob – the word originally referred to mud in a 1780 account of a tour of Ireland, by Arthur Young: “Under the slob or sea ooze he dug some very fine blue marle.” This all-purpose insult means dull, lazy, slovenly. Its meaning has been expanded as an expression of sympathy for a hapless person in an unfortunate situation: “poor slob.”

Here are a couple of fun facts about Irish food and drink:

Corned beef  actually originated in the US, not Ireland. According to

“Many Irish settled in large cities near Jewish communities and found that the Jewish corned beef or brisket had a similar taste and texture to the Irish bacon. And so the tradition began … in America.”

Guinness is one of the few beers that can’t be turned green with food coloring.

I close with the Irish blessing: “May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”


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7 Responses to Irish Insults and Fun Facts for St. Patrick’s Day

  1. Steve Hooley says:

    Fun facts and insults, Debbie. Great blog.

    Happy St. Patty’s day!

  2. Steve Hooley says:

    Fun facts and insults, Debbie. Great blog.

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  3. Kay DiBianca says:

    These are great! I especially like that closing Irish blessing.

  4. Janet Fisher says:

    Fun info, Debbie. Thanks for the smiles.

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