Origin of "Top o' the morning to you"?

There are still some people who think this term is actually used in Ireland.
Can this supposedly Irish greeting be traced by to a specific work of fiction, or other origin?

It’s in Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Treasure Island”, so the phrase dates back to at least the 1880s.

It’s also in the 1850s novel “The Adventures of Verdant Green”

And also in the 1850s “Hutchings’ Illustrated California Magazine”, in a story told by an Irishman, in dialect:

Googlebooks has “Halloo! You toney,” cried one, “the top of the morning to you. Have you seen pass a tall chap, in a light blue coat, with striped trousers.”

That’s from Theodore Cyphon: or, The Benevolent Jew, by George Walker, from 1796, page 21. Without reading the whole thing, I’m not sure, but the line seems to be spoken by a rough character from Essex (so: not Irish).

Ha! I’ve scooped the OED (well, in the phrase’s use as a greeting). Their earliest is Walter Scott in 1815.

That’s interesting. I’m curious, was it ever actually current in any English-speaking vernacular?
I know that old-style terms seem to last longer in Ireland but to the best of my knowledge that particular term was never used here but is all-but mandatory for foreign sterotyping of the Irish.

Well, remember that the people mostly responsible for caricaturing the Irish were the English (either as the stereotypers or as the audience for stage Irish shenanigans*). Many of them only experienced the Irish as members of the servant class in London and other English cities, so servants’ slang or provincial expressions used among the servants might come across as typically Irish even if the Irish in Ireland had never used them.

*So to speak.

An Gadaí, according to the OED it was indeed an expression used in some English-speaking countries. Indeed, it implies that it was particularly frequently used in Ireland. It may have died out in Ireland (and everywhere else that it was used) long ago. The examples given in the OED are all from the nineteenth century, so perhaps it died out more than a hundred years ago. The fact that you’ve never heard it may mean that it’s no longer used (or is at least quite rare), but it doesn’t mean that it was never used.

I have heard more than one Irishman using it ironically.

But it is in the knowledge that no one says it unironically or at least haven’t within my lifetime or that of my parents.

A Ghadaí, aontaím leat. I agree. It is not a term that is used in Ireland. I have always considered it a Hollywoodism - an Oirishism as spoken by that true Celt Bing O’Crosby playing Father O’ Whatsisname roles. About as echt as ersatz can be.

And while I’m about it: May the road rise before you is a gross literal translation of an Irish language idiom. A better translation would be: may you have success on your journey. Who the hell wants an ever rising road. downhill is easier!

Again, the OED says that it was once reasonably common in Ireland. It may indeed have died out over a hundred years ago there, but that doesn’t mean that it was never used there. It’s possible that it continued to be popular among Irish communities in the U.S. after it died out in Ireland itself. It doesn’t appear though that it was created by Hollywood.

I’ve never heard “top of the morning to you” but I did hear “to be sure” from a Cork woman a couple of weeks ago, and my ex father-in-law from Carlow did once say “begorrah” in earnest. It was in the context of examining a particularly overcooked piece of beef his wife served up to him for dinner:

“Begorrah! Was it dead before you killed it?”


I think you’re missing the point. The OED reports geographical context of usage, but it does not attempt to report dialect. Whether it was used in Ireland is a separate question from whether it was used in Irish English. That in turn is a separate question from why it is a stereotypically Irish expression.

So the questions:

  1. Where did the expression “top o’ the mornin’” come from?
    England. It is expressed even in Middle English. (Documented, solved.)

  2. Was it ever used in Ireland?
    Yes. It was a reasonably common expression at one time in Ireland as well as England and presumably elsewhere. (Documented, solved.)

  3. Why is it stereotypically Irish?
    No answer.

Dr. Drake’s hypothesis: Because the creators and promulgators of stereotypes are not terribly concerned with linguistic accuracy. An archaic or provincial expression was associated with the Irish in a music hall or mass-media context and the expression stuck.

Wendell Wagner’s hypothesis: The expression continued to be used among Irish immigrants, and the association with the Irish arose outside of Ireland.

Dr. Drake, thanks for that post, it really does help clear up what still remains to be answered and thanks to everyone else for your responses. Interestingly my American GF has noticed that a number of the terms I use in my particular flavour of Hiberno-English would be considered old-fashioned or archaic in the US.

I used to work with a Kildare woman who said “to be sure, to be sure” all the time.

Everyone knows that “top o the morning to you” is commenly used only by the little people.

May the saints protect ye-
An’ sorrow neglect ye,
An’ bad luck to the one
That doesn’t respect ye
t’ all that belong to ye,
An long life t’ yer honor-
That’s the end of my song t’ ye!