Irish Words and Symbols of Love

irish words and symbols of love

irish words and symbols of love

“Love wasn’t like it was portrayed in the movies; I understood that now. It wasn’t an ethereal cloud of hearts and flowers and happy-ever-afters. It was a solid gritty living lump with sharp edges plunging around in my chest, a spiky ball of complex conflicting emotions all rolled into one indistinguishable, exquisite messy mass which extended feelers into every aspect, every layer of my being.”

This is how Cethlenn, the main protagonost of my latest WIP, Swanskin, describes the experience of falling in love.

Of course, it’s different for everyone. Here are some thoughts on love from some of Ireland’s more famous writers;

“Hearts are not to be had as a gift, hearts are to be earned.”

-William Butler Yeats

“You don’t love someone for their looks or their clothes or their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.”

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”

–  both by Oscar Wilde

If you want to tell someone special how much you care this Valentine, here are some things you could say in Irish…

Gráim thú

(pronounced graw-im hoo)

I love you

Is tú mo ghrá

is a more formal way to say I love you

mo chuisle

(pronounced muh khish-la)

my pulse


a chuisle mo chroí

pulse of my heart

grá mo chroí

love of my heart

Which reminds me, around this time last year, Jane Dougherty and I published some retellings of Irish love myths. You can get a free copy on Smashwords, but if you want to download from or, you’ll have to pay 99p/99c… they won’t let us permafree it, sadly. If you haven’t read it, get it… it’s free (on Smashwords) and it’s perfect for the season that’s in it!

GMCFinal version sml

Now for some poetry. I came across this, and thought it was quite sweet…

“The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white- rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.”

– John Boyle O’Reilly

“Love hath a language of his own – A voice, that goes
from heart to heart – whose mystic tone
love only knows.”

– Thomas Moore

Here are some old country Irish marriage proposals, which I quite liked…

  • Come live in my heart, and pay no rent.
  • Would you like to hang your washing next to mine? And the reply – Tis a lonely wash with no man’s shirt in it.
  • November is the time to wed, the harvest’s in and it’s cold in bed.

And some old Irish sayings about love…

  • If he/ she doesn’t hear poetry, they won’t hear anything at all.
  • Love is like stirabout (porridge); it must be made fresh every day.
  • A little fire that warms the heart is better than a big fire that burns.

According to tradition, Irish oysters are an aphrodisiac, especially when eaten with a pint of stout. It’s said to be more powerful magic than standing under the mistletoe at Christmas.

Finally, the Claddagh Ring is a symbol of Ireland that we all know and recognise. It is often used in place of a wedding ring, but in Ireland, it is just as often given and worn as a sign of friendship, as of love.

The design takes the form of a crowned heart nestled within two hands. It symbolises the intention, ‘let love and friendship reign’. It is thought that originally this ring was an heirloom belonging to a family from the fishing village of Clauddagh in Galway.

The Claddagh is a variation of a type of ring known as a fede. The fede dates back to Roman times, when the gesture of clasped hands was a symbol of pledging vows, and represented faith and trust.

Queen Victoria was said to have worn a Claddagh ring. It was only then that the crown was added to the design, and the ring gained popularity as a wedding ring.

There is a lovely story concerning the origins of the Claddagh ring. Richard Joyce, a silversmith from Galway was captured by Algerian Corsairs around 1675 while travelling to the West Indies. He was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft.

He was freed fourteen years later, when King William III sent an ambassador demanding the release of all British subjects who had been enslaved. Joyce then returned to Galway, taking the ring he had made while in captivity, which he gave to his sweetheart upon their marriage.

Tradition dictates that the ring must never be bought for oneself, but only given as a gift. The people of Clauddagh were said to have handed them down through the generations of their families as heirlooms.

The way the Claddagh is worn can reveal a lot about the wearer; if you are single, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing outward from your body. If you are in a relationship, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing inwards. If you are engaged, you should wear the ring on your left hand on the third finger with the heart pointing outwards, and if you are married, you should wear the ring on your left hand on the third finger with the heart pointing inwards.

Who knew the wearing of a ring could be so complicated! Only in Ireland…


44 Comments on “Irish Words and Symbols of Love

  1. Never knew you were such a romantic Mrs Isaac. Oysters and Stout sound just my kind of thing. However, I find a few glasses of the bubbly stuff also help.
    Hope you had a lovely Valentine’s Day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Mention in Dispatches – History, Irish for Love, Rats in the Rafters -blog posts in the community. | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

    • Thank you, Sally! What a wonderful way to promote your blogging community. You really are a kind and caring and supportive blogger. 😊😊😊


  3. This is a wonderful post. I love your own quotation at the start from you WIP and thank you for all the Irish sayings – I like learning how to say I love You in many languages and have a fair collection so far – lovely to add a new one. Never know when it will come in handy!!😀 so interesting to learn about the ring and its history too. Beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Annika! How romantic you are, learning how to say I love you in different languages! Glad I could help you add another to your list. 😊😁💕

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ali, the poetry and sayings are so beautiful. I’m partial to “a chuisle mo chroí.” How lovely is that? The opening, your Swanskin WIP, is richly written. Great imagery and how true about love. It’s the “gritty living lump with sharp edges” and the “pulse of our hearts,” all at once 🙂


  5. I love this post, Ali! Well, I wear my claddagh ring correctly for a single woman, but didn’t know about the tradition of not buying it for myself. (Oops.) 🙂 Unto myself as it were, I suppose. I love all those sayings about love and marriage, I hope you have a joyful Valentine’s weekend! Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Éilis… hope you have a good one, too! Its hardly surprising anyone would get confused, with so many rules just about wearing a ring! It is a lovely tradition, though. Hope you are well, I’ve not seen you around much lately.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hey Ali, I’ve got this pretty intense weekend away starting tonight, and because of that I’m needing to have three job applications done by tonight. I already turned one in and am scrambling with the other two. And there have been other things… some ongoing shadow work I was up to a week ago… the main issue over all being that I’m unnaturally fatigued, wake up exhausted, have trouble focusing… with the amount of stress I’ve been under it might be adrenal fatigue or something like that. Okay I’ll knock off the not so pleasant details of me trying to live my life, lol. I’ve been really missing writing for the bblog and my blogging community, whatever I do for a living it is clear I’ll need some time for it and to keep up with you all! How are you and Carys?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well take care of yourself, Éilis. Save some energy for Ireland! I’m sorry to hear you’re going through so much stress, I hope it soon passes. Sounds like you could do with some Reiki. Well I am only level 1 so I can’t do distance healing, but you should find someone who can give you a treatment. You will feel so much better.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Ali! Interestingly, my daughter and her boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) wore Claddagh rings when they were together. So it was interesting to learn the history of the Claddagh rings. I also liked the thoughts on love and poetry from other writers that you included.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Rachele, something a little different for the blog, I thought. Yes, Claddagh rings are popular all over the world, I think, although funnily enough, I don’t see many people wearing them over here! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice post Ali, I must remember that chat-up line ‘Come live in my heart and pay no rent’. Didn’t realise that about the Moorish origins of the Claddagh Ring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Roy, yes, its quite a cool one, isn’t it? We all think the Claddagh ring is so Irish, don’t we? Yet even Queen Victoria had her part to play. We can never take anything at face value, things are rarely what they seem.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the story and idea of Claddagh Ring! It sounds so romantic. Is it popularly worn by modern Irish people?
    The ways of wearing a Claddagh Ring are also very interesting! I love detailed rules about traditional clothes and other fashion items. The more complicated, the better! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Hari! I actually don’t know many people over here who wear a Claddagh ring. I think it has become a symbol of Irishness taken up by people of Irish heritage living elsewhere in the world. Its nice to think that something like that can connect them with their homeland. You’re right, it is complicated, but probably not anywhere near as complicated as the rules around clothing you must have in China!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love all of the this from the history of the Claddagh ring to the Gaelic phrases. I seek out phrases in other languages to caress my Teddy verbally. My Nana taught me my Gaelic numbers years ago but I have long since forgotten them. I should have married in November instead of July… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a lovely post. Love those Irish sayings about love, and the Oscar Wilde quotes are fabulous. I don’t really ‘do’ Valentine’s Day because I think it’s so horribly commercial but might just have to use a couple of those in a card this year. My husband’s in for a shock – don’t think I’ve ever bought him a Valentine’s card 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really? That’s wonderful! 😀😍 I have to admit, I see the whole card industry as one big con. But I do always give my hubby a Valentine card. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I love the old marriage proposals and the saying and how interesting the ways a Claddagh should be worn. I always think an Island has a more concentrated history in folk memory, Ireland seems to hold that true for me. I’m so glad people like you make sure it’s not forgotten Ali.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those marriage proposals are great, aren’t they? I imagine Wales must also have a wealth of similar lore. I always feel guilty that I concentrate only on the Irish stuff and know so little of Welsh, Greek, far eastern mythology, but the truth is, there’s so much just just within Ireland own, I don’t think I will ever be able to learn it all! 😊 Hugh hugs to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Aww what a soppy ‘LOVEly’ post!! :p hehe. I liked the translations, now I know what your book title is!! 🙂 ❤ I think I had one of those rings as a child.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol! Got to have a bit of soppy romance at this time of year, Sacha! Pulse of my heart just seems such a gorgeous way to describe your feelings for someone, dont you think? I’d have melted if some guy had said that to me when I was young, and I’m not really a slushy kind of person! 😍


  13. Love this whole post. (Really…no pun intended.) It’s beautiful and I always find these posts fascinating even when I think I know a lot about something, turns out I had more to learn. 💕 The marriage proposals are a hoot!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Those marriage proposals are so cool, aren’t they? I know, I feel the same as you. The more I learn about our ancient ancestors the more I realise how far they really were from primitive, unsophisticated societies, as we have been led to believe.

      Liked by 1 person

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