Complete Glossary Of Irish Medical Terms


HIRING additional doctors and nurses to shore up our ailing health service in Ireland isn’t just as simple as diverting public funding to health; even if you could attract employees from around the world to come to Ireland and work in our hospitals, they’d still have to contend with the medical language barrier.

Ireland boasts a bespoke glossary of terms for dealing with illnesses, so if you’re a new doctor or nurse working in one of the nation’s hospitals, prepare to hear a lot of the following.


As with any time an Irish person says they’re grand, you should not take this as a sign that they are good, or well. Anyone who was showing symptoms of illness in the morning but claims to be ‘grand’ by evening is almost certainly as sick as they were – perhaps worse – but has just sensed that they’re being a bit of a burden and they don’t want to cause any more fuss. Insist on medical intervention when you hear ‘I’m grand’ or worse, ‘I’ll be grand’.

“They’re not well at the minute”

Irish people will rarely comment on the wellbeing of a neighbour, friend, co-worker, or close family member; it’s not their place to say anything about someone else’s business, and they don’t want to be seen as gossipers. The one exception to this is when they describe someone as ‘not well’; this is almost always a recurrence of some previous illness, which has now almost certainly entered a terminal stage. Irish people tend to use ‘ah they’re not well, so they’re not’ when they are eager to change the subject and not talk about how someone close to them is about to die. Can’t be feeling feelings! Must downplay terminal illness!

“They took a turn”

Generic explanation for some sudden illness – usually stroke related but can also refer to things such as blacking out on a crowded train, or reacting badly to ecstasy, epilepsy, brain haemorrhages, pretty much anything that isn’t a heart attack or a broken leg really. Not to be confused with ‘a funny turn’ (which refers to turns taken by people not usually prone to turns) or ‘a bad turn’ (referring to people who have taken turns many many times but this one is bigger than anything seen thus far).

“They had their troubles”

Any mention of ‘they had their troubles’ or ‘they had a bit of trouble’ refers to a previous mental health episode that someone suffered, and that’s as far as the conversation usually goes. Normally, anytime someone ‘has a bit of trouble’ it is never mentioned, except maybe to explain why that person went on to do something terrible. As Irish people will tell you, mental health illness is not preventable, but it can be explained with a curt remark at a wake, allowing people to go on with their lives happy that they did all they could do, even if they did nothing.

“The nerves do be at them”

This term covers all sections of mental health in Ireland and can be used to describe a vast majority of the population. This all-4-one phrase is perfect for letting people know that the person has anxiety issues, but not enough to actually go to a doctor and get them diagnosed issues, but significant issues all the same. It is usually used to excuse shy, nervous, or sober family members.