Happy St. Patrick's Day! Celebrating Irish Wit and Wisdom

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a roundup of quotable remarks from famous sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle.
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Catherine McHugh
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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a roundup of quotable remarks from famous sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle.

May the road rise to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.


May the sun shine warm upon your face,
 and rains fall soft upon your fields.


And until we meet again,


May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

No matter where you come from, this particular traditional Irish blessing has a certain lyrical quality that most can appreciate. (I may be a bit biased and a cross-stitched version of it made by one of my sisters may be hanging on my wall.) Regardless, the Irish indisputably have a way with language, as countless phrases and sayings born on the Emerald Island have been quoted across the world.

So, on this feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, which has exploded across the world into more of a cultural than religious holiday, let’s celebrate a selection of attributable witticisms and kernels of wisdom from the mouths of famous Irish writers, politicians and entertainers. Slainte!

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde Photo By Napoleon Sarony via Wikimedia Commons

Oscar Wilde (Photo: Napoleon Sarony [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Author, playwright and celebrated raconteur Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. 

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”

“The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

“Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.”

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw Photo By Davart Company via Wikimedia Commons

George Bernard Shaw (Photo: By Davart Company, New York City, USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who was born July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland, wrote more than 60 plays during his lifetime and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925.

“Youth is wasted on the young.”

“A government which robs Peter to pay Paul, can always count on the support of Paul.”

“Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get."

"Ireland, sir, for good or evil, is like no other place under heaven, and no man can touch its sod or breathe its air without becoming better or worse."

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift Painting By Charles Jervas via Wikimedia Commons

Jonathan Swift (Painting by Charles Jervas [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland on November 30, 1667. Today, he is best known for writing Gulliver's Travels.

“May you live all the days of your life.”

“A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.”

Edna O’Brien

Know as the "doyenne" of Irish literature, award-winning novelist, short-story writer, and screenwriter Edna O’Brien was born on December 15, 1930 in Tuamgraney, County Clare, Ireland.

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

“History is said to be written by the victors. Fiction, by contrast, is largely the work of injured bystanders.”

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats Photo By Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons

William Butler Yeat (Photo: Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

William Butler Yeats was born on June 13, 1865, in Dublin, Ireland. The celebrated writer became a political figure in the new Irish Free State and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. 

“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven't yet met." 

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

James Joyce 

James Joyce Photo By C. Ruf, Cornell Joyce Collection via Wikimedia Commons

James Joyce, circa 1918. (Photo: C. Ruf, Cornell Joyce Collection, via Wikimedia Commons)

Born February 2, 1882 in Rathgar, Republic of Ireland, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet who is widely regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. 

“A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”

Katharine Tynan Hinkson 

Poet and novelist Katharine Tynan Hinkson was born on January 23, 1861, Dublin, Ireland. Her works are dominated by the combined influences of Roman Catholicism and Irish patriotism.

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

Sean O’Casey

Born on March 30, 1880, in Dublin, Ireland, nationalist and playwright Sean O’Casey wrote about life in the slums of Dublin, in plays like The Shadow of a Gunman and The Plough and the Stars.

“The world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”

“Money does not make you happy but it quiets the nerves.”

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson Photo By World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Robinson (Photo: World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Robinson, born Mary Teresa Winifred Bourke on May 21, 1944, in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland), is an Irish lawyer, politician and diplomat who served as the first woman president of Ireland (1990–97) and as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR; 1997–2002).

“I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”


Gerry Adams

Born on October 6, 1948, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, prolific author Gerry Adams is the head of Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland's second biggest political party, who helped secure the Belfast Agreement with John Hume in 1998, which brought unification to Ireland. 

“One man's transparency is another's humiliation.”

"Making peace, I have found, is much harder than making war."

Mary McAleese

Born Mary Patricia Leneghan on June 27, 1951 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Mary McAleese served as president of Ireland from 1997 to 2011. She was Ireland’s second female president and its first president from Northern Ireland.

“Apart from a shamrock, the President should not wear emblems or symbols of any kind.”

“The extent to which all people in our society are made to count, and believe that they count, is not just a measure of decency; it makes sound economic sense.”

Peter O’Toole 

Legendary actor Peter O'Toole was born in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, on August 2, 1932. He was best known for playing T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, among many other acclaimed roles. 

“My favorite food from my homeland is Guinness. My second choice in Guinness. My third choice—would have to be Guinness.”

Dave Allen

Dave Allen Photo Courtesy CBS Television via Wikimedia Commons

Dave Allen (Photo: CBS Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

David Tynan O'Mahony, aka Dave Allen, was born on July 6, 1936 in Firhouse, Republic of Ireland. A comedian and TV actor , he starred in his own shows in Australia and the UK: Tonight with Dave Allen and Dave Allen at Large.

“A good storyteller never lets facts get in the way.” 

George Best

Born in Belfast, Ireland on May 22, 1946, George Best played football (AKA soccer) for Manchester United and was named 1968’s European Footballer of the year.

"In 1969, I gave up women and alcohol. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life."

Fiona Shaw

Actress and theatre and opera director Fiona Mary Shaw was born on July 10, 1958 in County Cork, Republic of Ireland. She is perhaps best known for her film role as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films. 

“Even when they have nothing, the Irish emit a kind of happiness, a joy.” 

If you are planning to join in any of the festivities this St. Patrick’s Day, we’ll leave you with this Irish saying: “May you have the hindsight to know where you have been, the foresight to know where you are going and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”