Irish Proverb: “May you be in heaven 15 minutes before the devil knows you’re dead”

Text: “May you be in heaven 15 minutes before the devil knows you’re dead”

Background: M is an American of Irish ethnicity that, during her childhood, enjoyed the bountiful wisdom of her Irish grandmother. M was also raised in an Irish Catholic household.

Context:  M recalls this proverb being said by her grandmother when she would commit venial (small) sins. It means that you can commit these venial sins and enjoy your life to the fullest extent as long as you are cunning enough to slip past the devil on Judgement Day and make your way to heaven.

Analysis: Like many other Irish proverbs, this proverb takes on a more comedic perspective of the Catholic faith. Rather than taking Catholic doctrine seriously, it proposes an excuse for sinful behavior. Although based in and in reference to Catholic theology, the proverb advises sin if you are able to escape the ultimate punishment: hell. Such a perspective can be explained by a more modern and ethnic-approach to Catholicism. Since Irish Catholics have a long history of fighting for religious freedom against Protestant forces, present day Irish Catholics have implemented their religious history as part of their identity. Therefore, although many may no longer be truly devout in their faith, they still identify with Catholicism almost as an ethnicity of sorts.