Irish banter-based humour: What makes it so unique?

Dark and unapologetic in nature, the banter-based Irish sense of humour is, well, simply quite special. Add a splash of self-deprecation and slagging into the mix and voilá. Irish banter-based humour is certainly unique. Rest assured you will scarcely find a kind of humour like it. A humour that defines a nation the way the Irish humour defines the mighty Ireland.

There’s no doubt that the Irish see the humorous side of every situation. Uncomfortable and emotionally difficult moments are quickly transformed into light-hearted, humorous banter. We’re born with it: the innately built-in Irish-natured ability to find our way out of trouble, shall we say, through pulling a joke out of our Irish humour repertoire. Unique. Culturally-defining. Beautiful. 

Making it in Ireland: How to understand Irish banter

Any Irish person will tell you the same thing: you simply haven’t made it in Ireland (at work, in a romantic relationship with an Irish-born, or amongst friends) if you haven’t received your fair share of slagging. The Irish culture stands out from the crowd in this regard: insults are our way of showing affection and acceptance. 

A good aul insult, whether received from or directed towards someone else, is, for the Irish, like giving this said person a pat on the back with an accompanied “congratulations, you’ve made it.” Confusing for some it might seem, especially if you didn’t grow up experiencing Éire for all its humorous worth. 


For many people who weren’t raised within Irish culture, the harshness of our insult-inspired slagging may come as a shock to the system at first glance. Some, understandably, would misinterpret a “oh jaysus Sarah, the face on ya this morning” as a direct, fully-intentional insult. Someone is telling you that you don’t quite look your best, right? Not the case (for the majority of Irish people anyway.) Unless it’s your constantly-criticising-you Mother nagging you about how late you go to bed at night, that is. At the end of the day, context and tone of voice, of course, play a significant part in the (mis)interpretation of the banter of the Irish. 

An important message to all those who have just started settling into a new life in Ireland or who are considering moving to our beautiful island: Irish people will slag you more and more the more you impress them or how quickly you gain their approval and trust. In other words, don’t give it too much thought if your boss (sarcastically of course) tells you to “get more rest” or to “not work too hard”. In the majority of cases, this is classic sarcastic Irish banter, so no need to fret. 

Having the craic

The root of Irish banter, having the craic in Ireland is like cats chasing mice: it’s deeply embedded in our culture. It defines us. It separates us from every other nation in the world. We are like no other. We stand alone on our own two feet when it comes to, well, having the craic! Any time, any place, the craic can be had if you know how to dish it out. 

That feeling when you have to expertly and proudly explain to people from other English-speaking countries the difference between crack (in both its senses) and craic. “Having the craic?”, they will ask, confused. “I’m just having the craic like, ya know, messin’ around,” is our typical response as we see their admiration toward our uniqueness heighten. 

“I was just having the craic” can mean anything from pushing your sibling down the stairs to insulting your best friend’s look. If an angry or offended response ensues hereafter, no panic. The “it was only for the craic” card can work in your favour here. This is what makes the Irish so charming and innocent. We never take ourselves too seriously, and we make sure to sprinkle everyone around us with that light-hearted, let’s-see-the-funny-side-of-this-situation, charm-of-the-Irish dust. 

Jennifer Zamparelli: perfect example of Irish witty sarcasm

Current RTÉ 2FM radio talk-show host and former Republic of Telly presenter, Jennifer Zamparelli has undoubtedly been the Queen of Irish humour ever since she first burst onto the Irish comedic scene back in 2008. Her delivery of sarcastic, insult-soaked witty jokes is devastatingly unapologetic. Always looking to poke a joke at her interviewees or fellow radio co-hosts, Mrs Zamparelli certainly wears her Irish humour heart on her sleeve. 

Although we find a far more toned down Jennifer on her daily 2FM talk show these days, the underlying sarcasm remains. “Do you not want to gauge your eyes out on a Sunday evening after the show,” she once brutally asked The All Ireland Talent Show host Gráinne Seoige. A self-deprecating tone lies beneath Zamparelli’s good-natured slagging style of whipping her natural humour out. Jennifer: thank you for representing, girl!

Bridget & Eamon

A prime example of this humble, self-effacing Irish humour can be seen in Zamparelli’s very own Bridget & Eamon, which she co-wrote with Jason Butler and Bernard O’Shea. A hilarious mocking of our 80’s selves, the cleverly-written comedy series takes the piss out of the Irish stereotypes during that time. 

The mother with the cigarette in her mouth 24/7, the “six to eight” children, the fear of Northern Ireland and the TV licence inspector, the hated sister living in the States, the husband dealing with his children’s complaints and whining with a “go ask your mother”, the series, which first aired on RTÉ Two back in February of 2016, is the epitome of Irish banter-based humour. 

Check out a hilarious clip of it here. 

Irish humour, whatever way you look at it, is one of a kind. Not only do we very much enjoy taking the piss out of ourselves, as individuals and as a nation, but we also have a distinct way of expressing it. Without banter and slagging, we have plenty of missing puzzle pieces to make up our Irish humour puzzle.

Conor Lynch
Conor Lynch

One comment

  1. So true, everything just said! Irish humour is unique, I love Irish people. Thank you for the article, Conor!

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