Difference between Irish and Scottish | 7 Basic Facts

difference between irish and scottish

People often get confused about Irish and Scottish and think these two are the same. But they are absolutely not. Irish and Scottish are two individual ethnicities and nationalities. To put it simply, Irish refers to the people, culture, and language of Ireland. And the people, culture, and language from Scotland are known as Scottish (or scots).

When we say Irish and Scottish people, we mean these peoples’ linguistic, cultural, and ancestral identities rooted in Ireland and Scotland. 

Ireland and Scotland are two separate countries from Europe, and their languages and cultures are both derived from the Celtic. The geographical distance is not even large between them. Still, the range of difference between Irish and Scottish is markedly wide.

Ireland: generally indicating the republic of Ireland ( a sovereign country with a parliamentary government system), but Northern Ireland is still a province of Great Britain. Oppositely, Scotland, a country covering the second largest part of the United Kingdom. However, Northern and the Republic of Ireland’s people are both identified as Irish (although, Northern Irish people are also known as Northern Irish or British), where Scotland’s people are known as Scottish or British.

To differentiate between Irish and Scottish, we usually mean to mention the difference between their language and accent. Along with their linguistic and accentual distinctions, this article will also give an effort to demonstrate other areas where these two ethnicities differ from each other.

Comparison chart

Belong toIrelandScotland
LanguageIrish Scottish Gaelic
DialectsMunster-Leinster,Donegal, ConnachtUlster-Scots, Insular scots, Northern scots, Southern scots, etc
AccentRhythmic and mildRough and slower
Major religionRoman CatholicProtestant (the church of Scotland)
Popular instrumentsFiddle, Harp, BagpipesThe bagpipe is the most popular instrument among Scottish people
Bagpipeshave three dronesHave two drones
Whiskey spellingWhiskeyWhisky

Irish and Scottish Languages

To a large extent, the Irish and Scottish languages sound similar. That’s the reason many people around the world think they are the same. But, if you listen to them closely, you’ll discover a great range of variety.

Both Irish and Scottish sprouted from the same ancient family of language: The Goidelic, a branch of the Celtic language. So, it’s natural that they’ll have similarities. But they are very recognizable to trained ears when it comes to dissimilarities. They differ from each other in the way of using vowels and consonants, emphasizing special letters, pace, strength to pronounce words, vocabularies, etc. 

The official language of Ireland is Irish (aka Irish Gaelic or Erse) and English. On the other hand, the official language of Scotland is Scottish Gaelic and English. Like other lands, Ireland and Scotland have many linguistic differences within their countries. There are three major dialects in Irish, 

  • Munster-Leinster (spoken in Southern Ireland) 
  • Donegal (spoken in Ulster, Northern Ireland) 
  • Connacht (spoken in Western Ireland) 

These dialects have noticeable differences between them. Similarly, the major Scottish dialects like Ulster scots, Insular scots, Northern scots, Southern scots, and Central scots have considerable variations too. 

For many, Scottish accents are considered a bit rough and slower, while the Irish Gaelic accents are generally rhythmic and mild . The major difference between the Irish and Scottish is in phonetics and pronunciations. For most of the Irish people, it’s hard to understand Scottish Gaelic as for the way they are pronounced. But for geographical proximity, the scots can connect more with the Northern Irish accents.

However, apart from accents, the written form of Scottish and Irish Gaelic also differs from each other. You can take the accent mark as an example. In Irish Gaelic, the mark is used in the right direction, while in the Scottish, the same accent mark is used left-directly above the vowels.

Irish and Scottish religions

The major Irish population is Roman Catholic. Although, a small number of people follow other denominations of Christianity like the Protestant, Anglicans, Methodist, etc. More than a hundred thousand people follow Islam in the Republic of Ireland, and it is assumed that by 2043, Islam will become the second-largest religion in Ireland. A small percentage of Irish are Jews, and around 10% of Irish follow no religion. 

Contrarily, most Scottish people follow the church of Scotland, which is a mainstream protestant church. However, a big part of the Scottish population follows the catholic church and other denominations of Christianity. As a whole, more than 53% of Scottish people follow Christianity, and a large number of Scottish don’t possess a belief in any religion.

The key differences between Irish and Scottish

  1. The Irish belong to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, while the Scots belong to Scotland. 
  2. The primary language of most Irish is Irish Gaelic or Irish. On the other hand, the primary language for most Scottish is Scottish Gaelic. 
  3. The accent mark used above the vowels in Irish is right-slanting, while the Scottish one is left-slanting.
  4. A large number of Irish phonetics and vocabularies differ from Scottish.
  5. Most Irish people follow the Roman Catholic Church, while most of the Scottish follow the Church of Scotland, a protestant church. 
  6. The most popular musical instruments among the Irish are the fiddle and the harp. On the other hand, bagpipes are the most popular instrument among Scottish.
  7. ‘Whiskey’ is an Irish spelling, while ‘Whisky’ is a Scottish spelling.

Irish vs. Scottish: Bagpipes

Naturally, two Celtic-rooted cultures will share many things. When it comes to musical instruments, the Bagpipe is one of the popular instruments among both cultures. But, in Scotland, the bagpipes are the most popular instrument, while among the Irish, the most familiar instruments are the fiddle and harp. Although the bagpiper is a popular one in Ireland, there are still considerable differences between Irish and Scottish bagpipes

Unlike the Irish Bagpipes, the Scottish one has a regulator and three drones. On the flip side, the Irish bagpipes have two drones. 

Scottish bagpipes sound louder than the Irish ones and generally have a Mixolydian scale, while the Irish bagpipes have multiple scales.

Whiskey vs. Whisky

Whiskey is from Ireland, and Whisky is from Scotland. Does that make any difference? Apart from the spelling or pronunciation, the difference between Irish and Scottish whiskey is that the Irish whiskey is made from a malted and unmalted barley combination and has a smooth taste. And, the Scotch whiskey is produced from Malted barley and is comparatively stronger and heavier in taste. 

Scottish whiskey is stronger because it’s traditionally distilled twice. On the other hand, Irish whiskey tastes a bit neutral because it goes through three distillations.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs):

Why are Scottish and Irish so similar?

The Scottish and Irish are similar because they belong to the same cultural and linguistic root: the Celtic. The Scottish and Irish languages both emerged from the Goidelic family, a branch of the Celtic language. As for a reason, many things are common between them.

Can Irish speakers understand Scots Gaelic?

For most Irish speakers, it’s quite difficult to understand Scots Gaelic. But for the Northern Irish people, it’s easier to understand the Scots Gaelic because they have geographic proximity.

What is the oldest clan in Scotland?

Among all the Scottish clans, the Clan Donnachaidh (or the Clan Robertson) is considered one of the oldest ones. Some other oldest clans from Scotland include Clan Campbell, Clan Macleod, Clan Sinclair, Clan Macdonald, etc.


From kilts to languages, many things confuse people when it comes to Irish and Scottish. Many think they both belong to the same nationality and ethnicity, while many assume that their cultures are the same. But, if you go deeper, the difference between Irish and Scottish are not that subtle. They differ in cultures, languages, religions, and many other areas.

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