Home / Irish curses – heaping misfortune on misfortune

Irish curses – heaping misfortune on misfortune

Considering the Irish are generally such friendly people, their curses can explode with a lot of anger and vitriol, although they can also contain a lot of humour and clever wordplay.

Most of the best curses date back centuries and may have been translated from the Irish. They tend to follow familiar themes of God and the Devil, bad luck and misfortune, unpleasant ailments, impoverishment and worse.

Many Irish curses share the technique of piling misfortune upon misfortune so the unfortunate victim gets a double or triple dose of misery. For example, there’s a curse willing an enemy to develop an unpleasant itch. That might be enough itself for most cultures but the Irish are very thorough so they add an extra element, as in;

“May you be plagued by a powerful itch and never have the nails to scratch it.”

The reference to having no nails drives the message home and adds a clever twist of humour. You will see this approach used all the time in Irish curses, as shown in some of the examples below.

Peig Sayer quote on Irish swearing. Image copyright Ireland Calling

It should be remembered that curses or cursing can have two meanings in Ireland. One is the use of specific sayings to wish ill upon someone; the other simply refers to swearing as in everyday bad language. And it has to be admitted, the Irish are very free with swear words in a way that people in other English speaking countries find quite alarming.

Even native Irish people returning from long spells abroad in the United States or the UK are often surprised at the casual use of the f word and others in everyday Irish speech. In fact, it’s used so casually and so often that it has little shock value in Ireland and is seen mainly as a way of punctuating speech, as storyteller Peig Sayers explains in the picture.

* * *
May you marry in haste and repent at leisure.
* * *
May you go to hell and never have even a drop of porter to quench your eternal thirst.
Porter is a strong black beer that was popular all over Ireland until the early 20th century when it gave way to Guinness and other stouts.
* * *

Irish curse. May the divil take your last shilling. Image copyright Ireland Calling

* * *
May you get the runs on your wedding night.
Supposedly the best night of your life, but not if you’ve been cursed with the ‘runs’ (diarrhoea).
* * *
Curse a God on you altogether.
It’s one thing to curse someone yourself; invoking a curse from God Himself invokes far greater power. This is an old curse but is still used in Ireland today in extreme moments.
* * *

Oscar Wilde quote. Work is the curse of the drinking classes. Image copyright Ireland Calling

* * *
May you die in a town with no priest.
This dates back many years to a time when Ireland was more religious than it is now. Everyone wanted to die with a priest in attendance to perform the Last Rites. Dying without the Last Rites meant it would be more difficult to get into heaven.
* * *
May the cat eat you and may the divil eat the cat.
(Eaten twice and still find yourself in hell)
* * *
Bad cess to you.
This is another old curse. Cess is an old slang word for luck. You may recognise the phrase from the popular song, Black Velvet Band, where the man curses the woman who betrayed him – bad cess to the Black Velvet Band.
* * *

Irish curse. May those who love us love us. Image copyright Ireland Calling

* * *
May you have a little skillet,
May you have little in it,
May you have to break it,
To find the little bit in it.
(A skillet is a little cooking pot)
* * *
May you find the bees but not the honey!
In other words, may you suffer the frustration of being so close to what you want but still not be able to find it.
* * *

Irish curse. May you never have a hearth to call your own. Image copyright Ireland Calling

* * *
May your livestock wither and die.
May your chickens become infected with lice
And your cows go mad,
May your calves be still born
And fit food for the wolves!
* * *
If your crop is tall,
May your meitheal be small.
The Irish word meitheal describes a community of people who banded together in rural Ireland to harvest each other’s crops of tackle some other large task that required lots of hands. The clever thing about this curse, and what makes it typically Irish, is that it doesn’t just wish that the victim has few friends or helpers, it wishes that he has no friends just when he needs them most, when his crop is tall and ready for harvesting.
* * *

Irish wisdom. You're as greedy as a leprechaun. Image copyright Ireland Calling
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