Those Quotable Irish

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

John Millington Synge, W.B. Yeats, and others

Compiled by David Johnson, Ann Marie Imbornoni, and Borgna Brunner

The Irish have always been recognized as having the gift of gab, so it should come as no surprise that a relatively small country has produced so many great writers, orators, and just plain ordinary folk with a lot to say. As Oscar Wilde put it, "If one could only teach the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, society would be quite civilized." Here are a few sayings by those quotable Irish.

"There is no language like the Irish for soothing and quieting."

John Millington Synge (1871–1909)
The Aran Islands (1907)

"Eternal is the fact that the human creature born in Ireland and brought up in its air is Irish. I have lived for twenty years in Ireland and for seventy-two in England; but the twenty came first, and in Britain I am still a foreigner and shall die one."

George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950 )
quoted in Ireland in Mind, Alice Leccese Powers, ed. (2000)

"We . . . are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence."

W. B. Yeats (1865–1939)
speech in the Irish Senate, June 11, 1925

"Women are wiser than men because they know less and understand more."

James Stephens (1882–1950)
The Crock of Gold (1912)

"Why should Ireland be treated as a geographical fragment of England . . . Ireland is not a geographical fragment, but a nation."

Charles Stewart Parnell (1846—1891)
in the House of Commons, April 26, 1875

"Nothing is funnier than unhappiness."

Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)
Endgame (1958)

"Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own."

Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
The Battle of the Books (1704)

"The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails."

James Joyce (1882 – 1941)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

Oscar Wilde (1854–1932)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

"The Augustinian doctrine of the damnation of unbaptized infants and the Calvinistic doctrine of reprobation . . . surpass in atrocity any tenets that have ever been admitted into any pagan creed."

William Lecky (1838–1903)
History of European Morals (1869)

"All government—indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act—is founded on compromise and barter."

Edmund Burke (1729–1797)
Second Speech on Conciliation with America (1775)

"I am still of opinion that only two topics can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mood—sex and the dead."

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)
The Letters of W .B. Yeats

"The whole worl's in a state o' chassis."

Sean O.Casey (1884–1964)
Juno and the Paycock (1924)

"Books, the children of the brain."

Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
A Tale of a Tub (1704)

"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."

Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)
Lady Windemere's Fan (1892)

"The man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery."

James Joyce (1882–1941)
Ulysses (1922)

"When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious."

Edna O'Brien (1932– )

"Some are born mad. Some remain so."

Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)
Waiting for Godot (1952)

"Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity."

George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)
Maxims for Revolutionists

"The only thing for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Edmund Burke (attributed) (1729– 1797)

May those who love us love us.And those that don't love us,May God turn their hearts,And if He doesn't turn their hearts,May he turn their ankles,So we'll know them by their limping.

Irish curse

May your glass be ever full,May the roof over your head be always strong,And may you be in heavenHalf an hour before the devil knows you're dead.

Irish drinking toast

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