“Top of the morning to you”, or more casually “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya”, is a well-known traditional Irish greeting that Irish people don’t really use any more – at least not without irony, in my experience. Essentially it means “The best part of the morning to you”; a typical response would be “And the rest of the day to you.”
In his much-loved book English As We Speak It In Ireland (1910), P. W. Joyce reported that the expression was used throughout the country; a century later, this is no longer the case. It may once have been a common salutation used at either end of some small talk, but I’ve only heard it used ironically or jocularly by Irish people.
“Top of the morning to you” would, like begorra(h) (a minced form of by God), be considered an Oirishism or a Paddyism, something popularly associated with stereotypes of Irishness but which is seldom or never used by Irish people themselves. As a recognisable caricature it has a certain commercial value, so it occasionally appears in marketing campaigns as a shorthand for Irishness and whatever else that’s intended to convey.
I mentioned the traditional response, “And the rest of the day to you”, but the last word would be just as likely to take the form yourself. Reflexive pronouns are very common in Irish English, often used for slight emphasis, e.g., “Good man/woman yourself”, “Ah, ‘tis yourself!” There are a few examples at the foot of this page:
“An’ is it yourself that’s there, Mikee Noonan?” said the one first introduced to the reader.
“Indeed it’s myself and nobody else,” said Noonan
(Samuel Lover, The Burial of the Tithe)
“You know yourself ‘tisn’t lucky to postpone a wedding.”
“’Tis herself was picked, so no other’ll do.”
(M.J. Molloy, The King of Friday’s Men)
As well as being used this way, herself and himself also serve as informal terms for “the wife” or “the woman of the house”, and “the husband” or “the man of the house”, respectively. It’s a colloquial way of mentioning someone casually, respectfully, and perhaps with a little mild, affectionate mockery. A character in The Irish Twins says, “Come along to my house this afternoon, and listen to Himself telling about the States!” You can imagine eyes rolled or eyebrows raised in knowing amusement in the delivery of that line.Email this Post