When you’re visiting Ireland for the first time, you’re probably excited about all the places you’ll be seeing around the country. While you’re more focused on your itinerary, you’ll also want to know all the things not to do in Ireland as a tourist.
What can you not do in Ireland? Ireland has many things considered ‘rude’ or just plain ‘silly,’ but there are also some complicated rules for the country. The reason I’m writing this article is that, embarrassingly enough, I made many of these faux pas the first few times I visited Ireland. Luckily, my Irish friends were kind enough to gently correct me, and I remembered my lessons for future visits.
If it’s not your goal to stick out like a sore thumb while traipsing across this green country, I have some helpful tips about what not to do in Ireland. Avoid doing any of the following, and you’ll fit right in, but again, this does not make you Irish, so please don’t say you are.
This article is partly written in jest, but some of these general rules do apply, so read on to see what not to do in Ireland and feel more confident when you visit this beautiful country.
1. Don’t Drive on the Wrong (AKA Right) Side of the Road
Are you going on an Ireland road trip? Make sure you understand the Ireland laws to know before you go!
This is a big one because if you’ve never driven in Ireland before and you’re used to driving on the right side of the road, it could cause havoc. In fact, it’s one of the most important things to know before going to Ireland.
Ireland is one of the countries that drive on the left side of the road, and they also drive cars with right-side driver’s seats. Even if you’re not driving, it’s good to remember this because you need to look in the right (and left) direction as a pedestrian before crossing any road.
2. Don’t Smoke Inside
In May of 2007, Ireland’s government passed a law prohibiting smoking in enclosed public spaces, and this law applies to workplaces and even pubs around Dublin. Anyone found breaking the law will be issued a pretty hefty fine, which is not the kind of expense you want to add to your Irish trip.
So the only places people can now smoke indoors are their own homes or the houses of friends and family. To be safe, take your cigarettes outdoors, wherever you are.
3. Don’t Drink in Public
One of the most essential Ireland laws for tourists that brings down hefty fines for anyone who dares to disobey is drinking in public spaces. Of course, pubs and restaurants are fine, but no drinking is allowed on beaches, parks, or other areas shared with the public.
Although this law in Ireland for tourists (and locals) is not as strict in the Republic of Ireland as in Northern Ireland, it’s usually best to be safe rather than sorry. Other drinking issues that may land you in jail are underage drinking (for anyone under 18) and being extremely drunk in public.
4. Don’t Say That Ireland is Part of the British Isles
What should you not say in Ireland? The Irish are generally very warm and welcoming, but they do not kindly tolerate disrespect, even if it wasn’t entirely on purpose.
Even if geography wasn’t your strongest subject at school, this is an unforgivable one (learn all the fun facts about Ireland before you go). Firstly, it’s simply not true – Ireland is a full island on its own. But since the country fought for independence from British rule, they would rather you didn’t diminish that whole piece of history.
Also, don’t mistake an Irish person for a British person – they are as different as an Italian and a Portuguese. When in doubt, don’t bring up anything ‘British,’ just to be on the safe side. This is a big rule for what not to do in Ireland.
5. Don’t Call It St. Patty’s Day
Because it’s not. It’s ‘St. Patrick’s Day,‘ or if you really don’t have the energy to use the full name, you can shorten it to ‘St. Paddy’s Day.‘ There is a difference, and it may very well be pointed out to you if you get it wrong, as it’s one of the cultural dos and don’ts in Ireland.
Oh, and while we’re on this topic – St. Paddy’s Day celebrations are the best! But be warned that it can be an entire day of drinking. Try to pace yourself and enjoy the parades and festivities during the day, rather than at night, when things can get quite rowdy.
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6. Don’t Claim to Be Irish
Not that you can’t be proud to have bloodlines leading back to this fascinating country, but according to the Irish, if you weren’t born and bred in Ireland, you are not Irish. So just don’t come out and say, “Oh, I’m Irish because my great-great-grandparents were born in Ireland.”
You’re American, then, at least while you’re visiting. You can go back to bragging about your Irishness once you’re back home.
I’ll be honest: I heard this and was hesitant because my grandfather was actually born in Donegal, and sure enough, I tried telling a few locals I was Irish and could see them restraining themselves from rolling their eyes. However, when I mentioned the very small town that my grandfather was from, only then did they want to have a conversation about it.
7. Don’t Talk About the Civil War
The Civil War in Ireland was heartbreaking for those who lived through it, and it’s still very much a sore topic. Bringing it up will only result in very lengthy (and sometimes heated) conversations, which no one will enjoy.
It’s generally best to make a note not to be insensitive about the country’s shaky past. There have been many troubles that Ireland has gone through, and they are still somewhat sensitive topics. This includes saying you work at a bank or in finance, thanks to the terrible economic crash.
While we’re at it, don’t make any potato jokes to an Irish person, either.
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8. Don’t Take Offense to the Banter or Swearing
The Irish like to “take the piss,” which really isn’t as disturbing as it sounds, and it’s simply their way of “making fun” of each other amicably. This includes a clever combination of humor, sarcasm, wit, and a pretty thick skin if you’re on the receiving end.
This banter is often found in pubs and gatherings, so if you find yourself on the receiving end of what seems like a roast, it’s probably not. You can give it straight back, too; just keep your tone lighthearted. You’ll make tons of friends with this attitude instead of starting a fight about it, so keep in mind one of the essential dos and don’ts in Ireland.
And another thing that is considered natural in Ireland, but perhaps not where you come from, is the amount of swearing you’ll hear in conversation. Again, this is not meant to offend anyone, and it’s best not to take it personally; instead, enjoy the Irish ways and know the things not to say in Ireland.
9. Don’t Leave a Tip at the Pub
The pubs are great places to relax, laugh, and enjoy a meal with new friends. Although they are probably different from what you’re used to back home. However, it’s essential to know one of the more important things not to do in Ireland when in one.
Pubs in Ireland don’t offer table service, so you’ll need to order everything at the bar, food included.
However, it’s also not customary to tip at pubs, as you would in similar places in America and other countries. You won’t be stopped if you really want to leave a small token of gratitude, but you may get a few sideways glances.
10. Don’t Confuse the Use of the Word ‘Sorry’ and Its Many Meanings
In Ireland, the word “sorry” means more than just “I apologize.” It’s also used to indicate that the person you’re speaking to has not heard or understood what you’re saying. One of the do’s and don’ts in Ireland includes understanding how to use this correctly.
You: “I left a 10% tip for our bartender last night.”
New Irish friend: “Sorry?”
Translation: “I don’t understand; what did you do that for?”
11. Don’t Travel the Typical Tourist Route
When you think of Ireland, do you immediately envision Dublin City? Most people do, whether they want to stop for a day in Dublin or spend a longer time there.
That’s one of the biggest annoyances that Irish people have over tourists and one of the things not to do in Ireland. There is so much more to this island than just visiting Dublin for 3 days, and if you never go off the beaten track, you’ll miss out on so much (but feel free to read about all the Dublin fun trivia to learn more about the city!).
Make sure that when you’re planning your itinerary, you include places like the Cliffs of Moher (yes, a bit touristy but worth it for a half-day trip), Belfast, and Galway, and definitely spend some time in Killarney. You’ll also love finding things to do in Donegal as well as what to do in Dingle (and make sure to book your Dingle hotel in advance).
12. Don’t Have Bad Road Etiquette
There is a lot to know about driving in Ireland, besides which side of the road you’re meant to be on. While you may be focused on your beautiful drive around Ireland, you’ll also want to know how to fit in.
A big part of Ireland etiquette is that drivers will almost always acknowledge each other when on the road. This is custom; even if you don’t know the person in the car passing you, there should be a polite greeting.
Often, this greeting is done with a simple ‘finger twitch,’ which you’ll see as just one finger moving slightly while the rest of the hand grips the steering wheel. In general, it’s best to be polite; don’t bring your road rage from home, and share the road with everyone. Being friendly is an important thing to know before traveling to Ireland.
13. Don’t Mock or Make Fun of the Irish Language
If your goal is to meet local people and have a good time, make a serious effort not to mock their accents. Just speak in your usual accent, and never try to imitate what you think the Irish sound like. Nobody wants to hear your impression of an Irish person, trust us.
Also, remember that the Gaelic language is a proud heritage of the Irish people. If you don’t know it or understand it, don’t butcher the language; rather, stick to English.
Another thing to avoid is the ‘typical Irish sayings’ that you’ve heard in the movies. Nobody is actually saying “Top of the mornin’ to ya” or any of those phrases that Hollywood has made popular, so know what not to do in Dublin or other big cities.
14. Don’t Miss Your Chance to Buy a Round
If you’re lucky enough to be invited to join a group of locals at a pub, you’ll want to pay attention to this Irish etiquette rule. In Ireland, everybody goes by a ’rounds’ buying system. So when you’re out drinking with friends, everyone will take a turn to buy the whole round of drinks, whether it’s 3 or 13.
Going up to the bar and buying a drink for yourself and no one else is considered rude. Believe me – I did this the first time I visited friends in Ireland and didn’t realize this was one of the ultimate things not to do in Ireland. I went up to order another Guinness, and my Irish friends had their jaws drop that I only had one beer in my hand (lesson learned!).
Whether you’re in a pub in Galway or in a small one in the countryside, keep this in mind. This is one of the more popular winter activities in Dublin, so make sure you’re polite about it.
Also, if you’ve had your Irish drinks bought for you all night and you don’t make an effort to buy at least one round, you’ll also look rude – and cheap. Remember one of the most important Irish etiquette do’s and don’ts if you want to visit the pub.
15. Don’t Make Fun of Irish Sports
One of the most crucial things to know about Ireland is that the country loves its sports. There are many types of sports, some that we know of, like horse racing, basketball, and boxing, among others. But some of the games that the Irish play will seem extremely foreign to someone who has never played them before.
One of these is hurling, which is of ancient Gaelic Irish origin and a very popular sport. It may not appeal to anyone who doesn’t live in Ireland, but it’s important not to mock the sport. The Irish take pride in their heritage, and they don’t want to hear you compare their hurling games to primitive hockey and other awkward conversation starters.
Since sports are such a big part of Irish culture, you should definitely try to catch one of the Gaelic games while you’re visiting. I did this during my 10-day Ireland trip and had so much fun drinking beer with the locals and then cheering on the home team.
This is an Irish bucket list experience, for sure. Just make sure that if you step out in sporting colors, you’ve chosen the right ones to be seen in (otherwise, you’ll make one of the embarrassing tourist mistakes in Ireland you want to avoid).
16. Don’t Expect Everyone to Be Obsessed with Leprechauns
The story goes that if you manage to capture a leprechaun, you’ll be granted a ‘wee bit of luck’ along with three wishes. There is also a story about leprechauns and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
These creatures have become somewhat of a mascot for Ireland, but many people here are not really that interested in them – some don’t even believe in leprechauns. Plus, Ireland has many other legends and folklore, and it’s not all about the little green men, so one of the Ireland do’s and don’ts includes not mentioning them.
So don’t be surprised if you are ignored when asking about leprechauns in Ireland. Keeping this thing to know when traveling to Ireland in mind will keep you from embarrassing yourself when remembering what not to say in Ireland (even though it is a fun story to keep going if traveling in Ireland with kids).
17. Don’t Order Corned Beef and Cabbage
This is another Hollywood thing: everyone eats corned beef and hash. It’s often depicted as Ireland’s traditional dish, but if you ask an Irish person if they’ve had this, the answer is likely to be no. It’s not something that is eaten as a staple in Irish culture, and many restaurants and pubs won’t actually make it.
Order an Irish stew if you really want to try Ireland’s national dish. Or better yet, find a friendly local who is willing to make it for you – there is no beating homemade.
Have you made any of these mistakes of things not to do in Ireland if you’ve visited before? Let me know in the comments!