Irish – The swollen people

In honour of St. Patrick’s day we’re going to have a look at what it means to be ‘Irish’, the word anyway.

Irish, to refer to the people from Ireland, was first used in the 13th century. Believe it or not, it came from Norse; when the Vikings invaded in the 10th century they called the Irish ‘irar’. It’s actually a corruption of the old Irish word ‘Eriu’. ‘Eriu’ has its roots in the old Celtic word ‘Iveriu’, and in case you missed it, ‘has its roots in’ is a brilliant old Irish language joke as it was first written on trees and, rather than being written left to right as we do now, it followed the growth of the tree .

‘Iveriu’ meant ‘fertile people’ and was applied to the Irish by the Celts when they arrived from Europe – it was actually meant to be quite offensive, but the Irish embraced it and it’s a stereotype that still persists to this day.

If we look back even further, ‘Iveriu’ comes from the Proto-Indo-European word ‘Pi’wer’ meaning ‘fat’ or ‘swollen’. Perhaps we should have stopped at the Celts…

Remember, on St.Patrick’s day, everyone is Irish!

If you have a word (or words) that you would like examined, email it to me at

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