Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
February 27, 2024 ·  4 min read

What Is an “Irish Exit”—and Is It Considered Rude?

We’ve all been there: you’re making small talk with people at a party when you start to feel tired and want to leave more. The host is talking, and a small group of people are getting together to say goodbye. You think it would be so much easier to sneak out without being seen. Though it seems rude, saying goodbye this way would save you a lot of trouble and get you home faster. The Irish leave, also known as the Irish goodbye, is a name for it. But what precisely is an Irish exit, and is it a bad way to behave at a party?

Many social situations have their own set of rules. For example, there are rules for how to act at a business meeting, a wedding, and a death. What does an Irish exit have to do with it? Folks at Readers Digest spoke with Irish author Judith McLoughlin to learn more about this social norm and where it came from.

The Art of the Stealthy Farewell: On the Receiving End of an Irish Exit

An Irish exit refers in the context of social events to leaving a party or a get-together without wishing goodbye to the host or other guests. An Irish-woman recounts:

This is how I see the Irish border from their side. It was some years ago, when my husband and I purchased our first property, that we had a party in the garden to invite our friends. The whole day long, there was constant traffic through my garden of people carrying mouth-watering potluck dishes and gifts for the new owners. While some just dropped by for an hour, others stayed for even several. I would be lying if I said I said goodbye to everyone who came by that day. A few people seemed to disappear as the afternoon went on. They had apparently left my party and were on with their day.

From Famine to Fiesta: The Origins of the “Irish Goodbye”

It may have come from more than one place, but one thing is for sure: “We wouldn’t use that phrase in Ireland, so it’s definitely an American one,” says McLoughlin. But McLoughlin says that the Irish Potato Famine in the 1800s and the resulting migration of Irish people to the United States could be where the phrase “blooming stateside” comes from. She says, “It was a very sad time, and the Irish goodbye might have come from that: the sadness of leaving Ireland and never being able to see your loved ones again.

There is, of course, another idea. There may be some truth to the idea that the phrase comes from Irish Americans who like to party hard. “People say that Irish people drink a lot, which is true, but this has more of an Irish American twist to it.” The idea behind this is that someone would have drunk so much that they just wanted to leave the party quickly to avoid being embarrassed about how much they had drunk.

Honestly, there isn’t much of one besides the place where the phrase is native. “Irish exit” is a phrase you’ll hear in the United States. But in Great Britain, “French leave” or “French exit” means the same thing: leaving a meeting without saying goodbye. The term is “leaving the English way” in France, Russia, and Poland, and it is the “Polish exit” in Germany.

The Bottom Line: The Art of the Irish Adieu

McLoughlin remarks that the Irish are always welcome and friendly which is also true in saying goodbye. This implies that a person without a bidding would show rudeness in Ireland. She adds, “The irredeemable ability of the Irish to say goodbye for long is the one thing that the Irish are infamous for.

For the US, the tricky part of leaving a party silently is probably not as rude as one would think if it’s in accord with the situation. You need to say goodbye to your host at host gaver events such as weddings or small dinner parties with you, and bring a hostess gift. Then what about bigger, more informal events such as backyard parties or barbecues where RSVP is not required? Check out the room: If your host is with many people or there are people waiting to say bye to the visitors, it might be better to sneak away quietly.

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