The clink of glass, the raising of a tumbler, the clearing of the throat. They’re all part of that same ritual, the celebration of all that’s good and all that’s true. In Ireland, we pride ourselves on a good toast, we toast to love, to honour, to good health and full life. It’s all a part of our nation’s lilt for language, an art form tinged with that famous Irish wit and master of the verbal.
Many stories are told of the history of the toast; glasses being clinked to protect against fears of poisoning, a flavouring of ceremonial drinks with spiced bread or a ritualistic offerings of sacrificial liquid to the gods.
Perhaps the most famous Irish toast is the simplest. Sláinte, or ‘to your health’ in Irish Gaelic, is used as a common toast throughout Ireland. Even when we have master wordsmiths like Oscar Wilde constructing delicate drinking toasts packed with wit and dry humour, some of the time, a simple Sláinte will do.
One of our most famous toasts is the ‘Irish Blessing’, a specific toast popular at weddings and large family gatherings.
Once again, it’s history is unknown, some attribute it to St Patrick himself, but even trying to put a date on the Irish Blessing can be a thankless task. In Ireland, we have a thing called ‘blarney’. It’s a little piece of our culture that pokes a bit of fun at claims of originality. Blarney is the making up of history and facts to confuse and trick the people the story’s being told to, a little bit of light-hearted nonsense, a bit of banter playfully aimed at out-of-towners. Most of the time it’s the Irish humour seeping through, a friendly jibe, but it used to also be a way of preserving Irish culture from English authoritarianism – tell the English a lie and it won’t matter when they try to cover it up! So the history of the Irish Blessing could be a surviving relic of St Patrick’s time on this earth, or it could be a load of old blarney. I guess we’ll never know.
The Irish knack for turning a word for profit is world renowned, but then again, anyone who can use their tongue for good can also turn it for ill. Alongside the famous Irish blessing is also the Irish curse. Throughout Ireland this is the best known;
It may be ill will, but this Irish curse is really just an ode to friends – may we keep our friends close, and anyone who spites our friends, well spite them too!
Since most of our toasts, blessings and the odd curse have been passed down by word of mouth through generations of families, they usually come without a source. The odd author is cited once in a while, but most of the time, our toasts are known more for the laughs they bring to a table and the smiles they put on faces rather than the authors who wrote them, and glasses up to that!
Does your native country have any interesting customs or history to its toasting? Let us know in the comments!