Managing in Ireland

Traditional Customs in a Modern Economy

Managing in Ireland - Traditional Customs in a Modern Economy

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Modern, dynamic Ireland: holding on to traditions and losing the cliches.

The Irish are a people with a strong national identity built on rich tradition and culture, and, with a global diaspora, they have one of the most celebrated cultures, too.

However, as a result, they are often heavily and inaccurately stereotyped as rural, twee, traditional folk who enjoy a Guinness® or two.

Ireland joined the European Community in 1973 and quickly liberalized its economy, enjoying rapid growth from 1995 until 2007. So, what's present-day Ireland like to work in?

The Country

Ireland is in north-west Europe and occupies about 80 percent of the island of Ireland. The other 20 percent is Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. To Ireland's west is the Atlantic Ocean and to its east is the Irish Sea. Its climate is characterized by mild winters, cool summers and plenty of rain.

Ireland has a population of 4.8 million people, most of whom live in Dublin, the country's capital. Its currency has been the Euro since 1999.


Preparing for the elements is essential in Ireland, a country that can experience all four seasons in one day! Whether you're exploring city life or the beautiful hills, lakes and coastline, ensure you bring a good mix of clothes, so you don't get caught out.

Ireland is in north-west Europe and occupies about 80 percent of the island of Ireland. The other 20 percent is Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Ireland and Northern Ireland

Ireland and Northern Ireland are separate countries; it is important not to confuse the two. The Irish republic that we know today was formed after centuries of rule by England over the entire island. In 1801, a political agreement came into effect that united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. However, by 1880 rebellion was brewing. In 1921, the island was split into the largely pro-Union, Protestant Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom, and the Nationalist, Catholic Irish Free State. Ireland became fully independent in 1949.

From the 1960s until the late 1990s, the violent "Troubles" mostly occurred in Northern Ireland and the mainland U.K., but people south and west of the border were affected too. A peace settlement known as the Good Friday Agreement was reached in 1998 and has been implemented, albeit with difficulties.

The nation's history is sensitive, and it is best not to talk about it unless it is brought up by your host. Take his or her lead on the subject and, instead, listen, learn and understand.


The Irish are a people steeped in history and tradition, but they will expect you to treat them as the modern Europeans that they are. They are aware of the many clichés that are portrayed about them, and you're more likely to win their affection and respect if you avoid using these.

The influence of the church is not as strong as it was, but many people still hold the socially conservative views that come with their religion. With such a difficult history, it's best not to bring up religion in conversation, as it can offend.

The family remains an important social structure in Ireland, despite the population fragmenting as a result of mass emigration and growing urbanization. Many businesses are family owned and run; loyalty is essential and nepotism is not uncommon.

Ireland's pub culture is thriving, and the ale is only one of the draws of a good Irish pub. People meet up here to enjoy live music, good food and one another's company. Don't be surprised if you're invited along to the pub for lunch, in the same way you may go to a coffee shop at home. On average, people in Ireland (just like in many European countries) consume more alcohol than people in the United States do but, at around 25 percent, Ireland has one of the highest rates of abstinence in the Western world.

When you do go to the pub with your work colleagues, a "round" system operates, in which one person will buy drinks for the group, and then another person, and so on. It is bad form to accept drinks and then leave before it is your turn to buy.

Useful Phrases

Although English is the dominant and most widely used language, Gaelic is the official national language. You will see it alongside English on road signs and in state literature. The government is midway through a 20-year plan to make Ireland a fully bilingual country. Forty percent of the population have a competent grasp of Gaelic, and it is spoken as a first language by about 100,000 people, particularly by "Gaeltacht" communities on the west coast.

English Gaelic Pronounced
Hello Dia duit Dee-ah gwit
Goodbye Slán leat Slawn lat
What is your name? Cad is ainm duit? Cod iss anim gwit?
... is my name ... is ainm dom ... iss anim dum
Please Más é do thoil é Maws aye duh hull aye
Thank you Go raibh maith agat Guh rev mah ah-gut
I don't understand Ní thuigim Nee hig-im
Cheers Sláinte Slawn-che
Excuse me Gabh mo leithscéal Gov muh leh-scale
How are you? Conas atá tú? Kun-ass a-taw to?
I am well Tá me go maith Taw may guh maw

Irish-English has plenty of colloquialisms and regional slang that, tied in with an accent that can be hard to pick up, may make it seem like people are not speaking English at all!

Irish English US English
Aye Yes
Wee Small
Your man The person who I am referring to (I see your man Steve has just walked in)
What about yer? How are you?
Grand Good (I thought your presentation was grand)
Jacks Bathroom
Craic (pronounced crack) Fun/Happenings (He's a good craic/What's the craic?)
Gaff House
Brutal Terrible, Awful
Deadly Fantastic, Wonderful

The Working Week and Vacations

Ireland has one of the shortest working weeks in Europe, at 39.7 hours, on average, for a full-time employee. This can vary, but regulations state that it must not exceed 48 hours. Employees are entitled to four weeks' paid annual leave, and there are nine public holidays as follows:

  • New Year's Day – January 1.
  • St Patrick's Day – March 17.
  • Easter Monday – Date changes each year (April 2 in 2018.)
  • May Day – May 2.
  • June Bank Holiday – Date changes each year (June 4 in 2018.)
  • August Bank Holiday – Date changes each year (August 6 in 2018.)
  • October Bank Holiday – Date changes each year (October 29 in 2018).
  • Christmas Day – December 25.
  • St Stephen's Day – December 26.

Though workers have no right to be paid while on sick leave, your employer may include sick pay in your contract. If you are a woman, you will be entitled to 26 weeks' paid, and 16 weeks' unpaid, maternity leave.


See the Citizens Information website for an up-to-date list of Ireland's public holidays. You can also visit and for current information on international holiday dates and time zones.


The Irish are a modest people, whether you are mixing professionally or socially. They do not appreciate boastfulness, arrogance, pretentiousness, or those who flaunt their wealth. They are distrustful of authority and can be cautious of those who consider themselves superior to others. So remain humble and modest, and treat your colleagues with good grace.

Also, you'll notice that the more familiar you become with your Irish co-workers, the more you will find that you are the target of teasing. Do not be alarmed or offended. In fact, being "slagged" means that you are liked and trusted. Humor is a huge part of Irish culture but, due to its ironic, sarcastic and self-deprecating nature, it can be misunderstood by visitors.

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You will be expected to turn up to meetings at the agreed time, as not doing so is considered impolite and inconsiderate. However, do not be surprised if your Irish hosts are not so punctual.

Dress Code

Standard business dress is smart and conservative. If you're a man, formal suits are expected. If you are a woman, suits or dresses and blazers are recommended.


A handshake when saying hello and goodbye is the norm. Ensure that your handshake is firm, but not too strong, and that you make eye contact.

Personal Space

Maintain an arm's length distance when speaking to your Irish team mates. You should respect their personal space.


Gifts are not expected in Irish business culture. However, if you are invited to someone's home for dinner, it is polite to bring a gift with you. Flowers (not white, as this is associated with funerals), chocolates, dessert, or a bottle of wine will be accepted graciously by your host.

In the Workplace

The Irish have a more relaxed attitude to workplace hierarchy than you may find in other countries.

You should expect the possibility of a reduced workforce in the months of July and August, when Ireland's schools are closed for their summer break. For colleagues with families, this is a popular time to take a vacation. Other vacation periods are the first week of May, Christmas, Easter, and New Year.

You must build up trust before you can start to negotiate with Irish colleagues or customers. The importance of small talk at the beginning of the meeting cannot be over-emphasized.

There is a cultural tendency in Ireland for people to think politeness is more important than the truth, which means you may not receive negative feedback. The Irish prefer to avoid confrontation, and instead use humor and manners to defuse any awkward situations. It's important to listen closely, read between the lines of what is being said, and to think carefully about how you deliver criticism.

Key Points

Ireland is a dynamic, modern economy, whose people are welcoming, social, modest, savvy, and proud.

If you avoid the sensitive subjects of history and religion, are humble, and treat everyone with equal good grace, you will be able to work successfully in the country. And if you dispense with the well-worn stereotypes about Irish people, you will get to know your team members for who they really are.