How Are Birthdays Celebrated in Ireland? A Complete Guide.

It is rare to find a person that doesn’t enjoy their birthday. That’s because it is the one day of the year when everyone wants only the best for someone. Some people can even get away with some special treatment. But is this the same in, say, Ireland? Do people in Ireland celebrate their birthdays like most other people in the world do? And if they do, how similar is their way of commemorating birthdays to the different parts of the world? Let’s have a look.

Birthday celebrations in Ireland follow the same script as in many other countries. They are a gathering of family and friends with lots of traditional Irish food and different kinds of food, music and dancing. There is a cake for the birthday person, and the guests will offer them gifts for their big day.

Irish Flag with a cake with a happy birthday sign on it

Although birthday celebrations in Ireland are similar in some aspects to those of other parts of the world, there are some unique traditions seen nowhere else. So read on, since we are only starting on the uniqueness of birthday celebrations in Ireland and you don’t want to miss out on some other interesting facts.

Quick Fact Guide About Irish Birthdays

Irish Birthdays
ImportanceBirthdays are pretty important in Ireland. If they can afford it, Irish people throw lavish birthday parties for their friends or relatives no matter what age they will be turning.
Significant BirthdaysThe Irish place most significance on the 18th and 21st birthdays. Although some deem the 16th birthday important, it doesn’t come close to the 18th and 21st. That’s not to say other birthdays aren’t celebrated because all birthdays are deemed special and thus worthy of celebrating.
CakeIrish birthday parties also have cakes. The cake will usually have different decorations, but the most common are candles that the birthday person will blow as they make a wish.
FoodIf it is a children’s birthday party, party food revolves around sweet sugary foods that excite kids. Adults prefer the more popular Irish cuisine and dessert. It is also common for the food to be the birthday person’s favorite. The birthday person has the last say on the type of food to be eaten at their party.
Age on BirthdayIn Ireland, a baby is also zero at birth. Their age increases by one on their birthday, which is the anniversary of their birth.
Date of BirthdayFor an Irish person, their birthday is the day they were born. There might be differences with registration papers, though. If that happens then, most people decide to go with what’s on their papers.
When to celebrateIt isn’t a problem for Irish people to push a birthday to a more conducive day, especially if it falls on a weekday. The birthday will then be marked on the weekend or a more appropriate time as long as it’s as close as possible to the actual date.
How old are you?It is impolite to ask an adult Irish person their age, especially if you’re a stranger to them. Children, on the other hand, have no qualms about being asked their age.
GiftsIrish people love giving gifts and therefore when invited to an Irish birthday party it is obligatory to come with a gift. The gift need not be expensive, and more sentimental or thoughtful gifts are the best option.
SongThe happy birthday song is also sung in Ireland as the birthday person cuts the cake. The Irish version is the most popular, although some people prefer the English version of the song.


Do people in Ireland Celebrate their Birthdays?

two girls, a boy and a woman singing happy birthday

Yes, people in Ireland celebrate their birthdays. Birthdays are often a family event with a few close friends present and often involve music, song and dance. Irish birthdays are typical fun events since the Irish people love to party.

People eat all kinds of traditional Irish foods, and the music is always booming. On this day, the birthday boy or girl is given special treatment the whole day and might even get away with not doing things they are usually responsible for the entire day. The food eaten will often center around what the birthday person wants to eat.

A child’s first birthday is often made up of only family members and close family friends. However, there will be a cake even if the child can’t eat the cake. Also, if the child is of school-going age, the parents might arrange for goodies such as a cake, cupcakes or lolly bags to go to school for the birthday child to enjoy with school friends. Not all parents do this and it can sometimes depend on the rules of the school. Parents may also organize a party for their child and their school friends either at their home or a place that caters to children’s birthday parties such as an indoor playground, trampoline center or similar.

Adults usually celebrate their birthdays at restaurants or pubs. If they are of legal drinking age, then the beer will undoubtedly flow for their big day. That’s a common part for college attending adults, as well. Older adults might choose to celebrate the day with their family at home and not make a big deal of their passing of age.

Birthdays for the Irish are a time to make merry, and the joy can only be rivalled by other special days like St Patrick’s and Christmas day.

Do Irish people celebrate any special or specific Birthdays?

Yes, the Irish have several special birthdays. These birthdays have significance thanks to their symbolic meanings.

The Irish 16th Birthday

This birthday is special for the Irish because a teen is now old enough to get a driving license. It, however, doesn’t come close to some American sweet sixteen birthdays in lavishness although some parents who have the means do try to emulate these parties for their kids. Some parents might celebrate their child’s birthday by buying them a car as soon as they’ve learned how to drive.

For some, other than being now able to get a license the day isn’t that big a deal for and others might even pass it by waiting instead to celebrate big at another age.

The Irish 18th Birthday

This is the official coming of age birthday since, at this time, a person is considered old enough to legally drink alcohol or vote. Therefore, many teens look forward to their 18th birthday party, maybe more so than their parents. This birthday celebration has a lot more to do with the new freedoms the birthday person is receiving rather than celebrating a new year alive.

The Irish 21st Birthday

This is one of the biggest of all significant Irish birthdays. That’s because it is seen like in many other cultures as the coming of age birthday. As a result, celebrations for this birthday are usually quite big. 

An outdated tradition for a 21st birthday is the giving of a key to the family home, basically signifying the birthday person no longer needs to tell their parents or carers when they are coming or going as they are now considered a responsible adult capable of looking after themselves.

What Food is Eaten at a typical Irish Birthday Party?

The Irish people have no specific meal to be eaten on birthdays other than the usual party foods. Birthdays will have foods such as pizza or finger foods. Pizza is a favorite of many people, and it’s common to see people have it at Irish birthdays.

Mini Frozen Pizzas that have been cooked

A children’s birthday might have mini pizzas with some fun toppings to excite the kids into eating them, or sausage rolls, pigs in a blanket and other finger foods. That’s beside the many sugary foods that children are sure to want at their parties. Candy, cupcakes and sugary drinks are popular options for many Irish people.

Adults may sometimes prefer a roast beef dish with a bottle of beer or wine. Beef stew or potato soup are also typical Irish dishes, but if they are not favorites of the birthday persons then they may not be served. The central theme of the food is for the birthday person to enjoy themselves.

Therefore, it will be a common sight to see the cuisine centre on what they love.

Bowl of Irish Stew - Beef, Potatoes, carrots & Onions

Do people have birthday cakes at their parties in Ireland?

Yes, the Irish have the birthday cake at their celebrations. The cake is often decorated with candles, and the birthday person will blow it out while making a wish. The type of cake doesn’t have to be unique, and any cake type is ideal for most people.

Irish people have different cakes they use at various celebratory events. They even have a tradition where the wedding cake is preserved to be smeared on their first child’s head when they are born. Although there are many types of cakes they can prepare, most of them are usually sponge cakes.

The sponge cake might be made with chocolate or beetroot and chocolate. Buttercream sponge cakes are also quite popular. 

Layered Sponge cake with candles held by one hand on a blue background

It is common to see someone buy a cake for their birthday, however, some will insist on baking their own cake if they have the time or ask a friend or relative to do so. It depends on the kind of detail the birthday person wants to put into their day. What matters is that a cake is present and has candles to blow out.

Do People in Ireland Give Gifts at Birthday Parties?

Irish people give each other gifts at birthday parties. In fact, they have a robust gift-giving tradition for most other events and not only birthdays. Since a birthday is a celebratory event where someone’s new year is being celebrated, it is obligatory to give a birthday gift, especially if invited to a party.

If the birthday person is 21, they are most likely given money. However, this could be the last time they are given such a gift by many friends and relatives, as most people will only provide them with birthday cards in the future since they are now adults and should be earning their own money!

For other birthdays the type of gift to give at birthday parties doesn’t have to be expensive. And although money and gift cards are fine it is more of a tradition to give a gift that conveys your sentiment towards the person. 

So most Irish people would appreciate it if you took the time to select a gift that means something to them. It could be a book; it could be second-hand jewelry if there was a meaning behind the gift, clothes, a belt, or even a gift basket. It could be as extravagant as a piece of land if you knew it would resonate with them. 

If the birthday celebration is for a girl or a lady, you can bring chocolate or flowers for the birthday person. However, be careful when selecting the flower to get the birthday person. Lilies wouldn’t be an appropriate choice since most church going Irish people consider they should be used purely for religious purposes.

Lilies work better at a baptism than at a birthday. Also, avoid white flowers since some Irish people associate them with death, and they are given at funerals. Imagine the shock people would have if you showed up with white flowers to a birthday party!

For many Irish people, when you bring a gift to the birthday party, the birthday person is expected to open it in front of you. 

It can be a tradition for the birthday person to at first, refuse the gift, allowing you to insist they take it. They might refuse it two or three times, and you’re supposed to insist each time till they finally accept the gift.

Is the Birthday Song or ‘Happy Birthday to You’ sung in Ireland?

The Irish sing the happy birthday song. However, the English version isn’t as popular as the Irish Gaelic version below, which follows the same tune as the English Happy Birthday song. 

Lá breithe shona duit, 

Lá breithe shona duit,

 lá breithe shona,

 lá breithe shona, 

lá breithe shona duit!

The translation:

Happy Birthday to you

Happy birthday

Happy birthday to you

Happy Birthday!


There are so many other interesting traditions about birthdays in Ireland. Look at our list and tell us which one you identify with or have ever seen somewhere else.

Bumping the Birthday Person

It is an Irish birthday tradition to hold the birthday person upside down and bump their head on the ground. They have to do this each time for the number of years the person is turning. So, if a person is turning 20, their head will get bumped on the ground twenty times! And then another one time to ensure they have good luck through their new year!

If it’s a baby, an adult will hold them upside down then gently bump their head on the floor for the number of times equivalent to their age. Well, at least babies only get a bump and an extra one for luck. Imagine someone who’s turning 50.

We can only imagine how painful the bumping could be for them. That’s unless the people bumping the person are considerate and won’t do it won’t too vigorously. Otherwise, the birthday person would end up having multiple bump wounds on their head once the birthday celebrations are over.

The Giving of the Key

The 21st birthday is a coming of age birthday, so an Irish birthday person turning 21 will receive a key to the house to signify their coming of age. They can now come and go as they please hence the reason they have the key. So, if you’re 21 and over in Ireland, you get your key to the house, and you can come home even in the wee hours of the night, and no one will bat an eyelid.

Nose Buttering

Another tradition that might surprise you with Irish birthdays is the buttering of the nose of the birthday person. The birthday person gets their nose buttered either with butter or cake frosting. Everyone smears some on your nose or face to wish you a happy birthday.

Well, this one’s better than someone bumping your head on the floor for each year!

Toasts and Blessings

Another tradition in Ireland is giving a toast or a blessing to the birthday person. The difference between them is a blessing usually has some kind of religious connection. Both are usually given with a drink in hand after which everyone takes a sip. Some Irish birthday toasts are:

May you have a long life, a wet mouth, and may you be buried in Ireland.

May the doctor never earn a pound out of you.

May your glass be ever full
May the roof over your head be always strong
And may you be in heaven half an hour before
the devil knows you’re dead.

We drink to your coffin. May it be built from the wood of a hundred-year-old oak tree that I shall plant tomorrow.


The Irish love a party, and although the birthdays are usually a family event, some families invite over a few close friends to the birthday party. Their birthday parties are characterized by loud music, dancing, and eating lots of traditional Irish food and foods from different cuisines such as pizza.

They also have a few traditions that would raise a few eyebrows from people across the world. We found the bumping of the birthday person’s head on the floor for each year of their life a bit different.

Either way, it only shows that an Irish birthday is an event full of fun or merrymaking. They sing the Irish Gaelic version of the birthday song and the birthday person cuts a cake after they have blown out all the candles that decorate it.

Surprise your Irish friends with a few of the facts you have learned here on their birthday and watch their faces melt with joy or maybe horror thinking you are going to bump their head that comes with someone taking the time to learn something meaningful to them.



Samantha Bellerose

Samantha Bellerose is the creator and main writer for The Birthday Party Website. She is a mother to four kids and she loves preparing and planning birthday parties for her family and friends. Samantha is also the writer, creator and owner of several other websites and has found a passion for sharing her knowledge and experience as an educator online!

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