Irish writers’ quotations: 20 of their best lines

From Brendan Behan on sex to Elizabeth Bowen on Anglo-Irish relations, authors could always be relied on for a pithy turn of phrase

 

All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.
Sean O’Casey

I could wish that the English kept history in mind more, that the Irish kept it in mind less.
Elizabeth Bowen

James Joyce was a synthesiser, trying to bring in as much as he could. I am an analyser, trying to leave out as much as I can.
Samuel Beckett

The big difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less.
Brendan Behan

I had a very happy childhood, which is unsuitable if you are going to be an Irish writer.
Maeve Binchy

Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.
William Butler Yeats

Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.
Oliver Goldsmith

We think we’re living in the present, but we’re really living in the past.
John Banville

It’s a good thing to be able to take your money in your hand and to think no more of it when it slips away from you than you would with a trout that would slip back into the stream.
Lady Gregory

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul, can always depend on the support of Paul.
George Bernard Shaw

Only a blockhead says “Je ne regrette rien”. Regrets are part of the experience of thought and reflection, of learning and correcting, of drawing lessons from failure, and of the strange, bittersweet sentiment of ruefulness.
Mary Kenny

Ireland is a peculiar society in the sense that it was a nineteenth-century society up to about 1970 and then it almost bypassed the twentieth century.
John McGahern

The problem with Ireland is that it’s a country full of genius, but absolutely no talent.
Hugh Leonard

We are all born mad. Some remain so.
Samuel Beckett

Surely it is more generous to forgive and remember than to forgive and forget.
Maria Edgeworth

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw

A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.
Jonathan Swift

Ulysses could have done with a good editor. You know people are always putting Ulysses in the top ten books ever written, but I doubt that any of those people were really moved by it.
Roddy Doyle

Sometimes being Irish feels like a job you never applied for. I don’t mind being Irish, but I’m not a fan of nationalism.
Anne Enright

I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.
George Bernard Shaw
The Irish Writers’ Quotation Book is published by Somerville Press, at €4.99

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