What “bye” actually means in Ireland

“Goodbye? Duh!” That’s the conclusion that a typical grammar clever-clogs might reach. Not quite, though. I mean, literally speaking, this grammar clever-clog is certainly correct in his or her judgement, but if you’re Irish-ly speaking, then they are quite a significantly far distance away from being right. Read on to find out the truth behind the real meaning of expressing the word “goodbye” in an Irish conversation. 

Irish improvisation

Not to be mistaken with the “Irish goodbye”, verbally expressing the word bye in Ireland is, to me anyway, very dangerous indeed. Trying to politely end a conversation by saying goodbye to the majority of Irish people, whether it be in person or by phone, can be quite the tricky task. 

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Irish improvisation will more often than not be the saviour for many to intelligently but sneakily find their way out of the conversation. Nine times out of ten and a “oh Jesus, it’s almost six, I’ve a leg of lamb in the ovenwill do the trick, but for those who have pulled out all the stops and have still come up short (where no escape from the conversation was achieved), I just have the one question for you: how did you manage to get away in the end?

Saying bye may start a whole new conversation

I doubt that any other country in the world is like our Éire. Is our culture the odd one out in the sense that telling someone “bye” may actually result in a whole new conversation being started? I would hazard a yes guess to be honest. We learn from a very early age that saying “goodbye” means stopping whatever form of social interaction with a person or a group of people. 

Although not directly taught to us in school, us Irish quickly learn that this is not always (mostly not) the case. If you’re in Ireland, you’ll need far more of a substantial tricks to get me out of here arsenal to end a conversation without literally having to kill the person who interprets (Irish-ly) you’re “ok, bye, talk to you soon” as a “ah, Jesus come ‘ere, before I letcha go, did you hear about Mary?”


Being Irish = biting the ear off of others

Not literally, of course (unless you’re a little low on the aul income), but we, the mighty Irish, certainly have what we might label a fondness to “bite the ear off” of everyone or almost everyone we talk to. This is due to two simple facts: that we are a nation simply addicted to the scea (Gaeilge for gossip/news) and that the Irish civilization are said to have what is called the gift of the gab. In other words, we Irish love, love, love to talk. And talk. And also, talk. To the point where the person we’re engaging in speech with is distressedly seeking a quick but polite way of escaping. It wouldn’t be Irish of course if it wasn’t polite, right? 

Saying goodbye on the phone versus in person

I never quite know for sure when the conversation with my dad is going to end on the phone. Yeah, sure, I’ll get the regular Irish dad hints such as “I’ll leave ya with it so” or “I’ll let ya go have your dinner now so” (even though it’s like 3pm) but until that red button is pressed, both parties are fully aware that even though these hints are dropped quite early on in the conversation, the phone call simply can’t end unless a certain topic is discussed: the weather. 

What is it about the Irish that we simply just can’t let a phone conversation finish without a hundred thousand bye’s and bye bye now’s coming from each side of the line? It’s culturally-defining. Beautiful. Charming. Like Irish humour, an Irish attempt to end a phone call stands us apart from any other. Commonly, at least a minute is spent telling the other “ok, bye-bye, take care now, tell Joey (Mary/Aoife/Michael) I said hey”. A minute! 

Something that is common knowledge at this stage is that saying bye on the phone if you’re Irish talking to another fellow Irishman or lady does not mean that you’re going to hang up the phone right there and then. Rather, it means that you actually do have to and want to end the conversation, but you’re simply too Irish to hang up. In other words, you won’t necessarily mind too much if saying goodbye means stirring up a whole new juicy gossip-based conversation. Or you’re just too polite to abruptly hang up. This is what it means to be Irish. 

Having a face to face conversation is no different, if you’re in Ireland or if you’re Irish (lucky you!) of course. Despite your best efforts to get away, your Irishness wraps a chain around you, leaving you to hurriedly ponder up every possible excuse to end your part in the conversation. 

It’s pretty much impossible being Irish sometimes, no more so in situations like these. Situations where you find yourself getting tied up in the bye back-and-forth new conversation started all of a sudden scenario. From a “bye-bye, Mary, take care now! And Jesus, wish Eamon the very best of luck in the Leavin’ now won’t ya” to a “oh stop the lights, Jesus, Mary and holy Saint Joseph, I have him up until eleven each night for the past two weeks, so I do”. New conversation is born. Oh, how amazing it is to be Irish!

Conor Lynch
Conor Lynch

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