Coming Up The Liffey On A Bicycle

When I was preparing my post last week about Dublin and the River Liffey, I remembered one of my teachers in Ireland and a very funny expression she used all the time. Credit

Back in the late 70’s and early ’80’s many of our teachers were nuns.  I remember one sister in particular, and her favorite expression.

She was from County Cork and taught chemistry to all the Dublin girls in our class.  She was a wonderful teacher – great fun, and easy to listen to with her lilting Cork accent.

Whenever anyone tried to pull the wool over her eyes by making up a story about forgetting homework, she would see right through every paltry excuse.  She always answered with the same hilarious expression.

“I didn’t come up the Liffey on a bicycle.”


Everyone in the class inevitably broke down laughing whenever she said it.  I think we all had visions of her pedaling her bicycle down the middle of the river, with her veil blowing in the wind. Credit


This expression is a substitute for asking:


“Do you think I’m stupid or what?”


Lets face it, you would have to be a few shillings short of a pound, to attempt to ride a bicycle on water.

I think I will save this saying and adapt it when my kids are teenagers.  When they try to pull a fast one on their Irish mom, I’ll just tell them:


“I didn’t come up the Ohio on a bicycle?”


Can’t you just imagine their teenage brow raising, eye rolling and tongue-tutting responses.  I better not say it in front of their friends.  They’ll probably explain me away with:


“Don’t mind her – she’s Irish!” Credit


And so, to all you parents of teenagers, please feel free to adapt this lovely Irish expression, by using the name of your local river.  Our New Yorkers can say:

“I didn’t came up the Hudson on a bicycle.”

Bostonians can say:

“I didn’t come up the Charles on a bicycle.”


The possibilities are endless.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)



Irish American Mom


  1. My Dad used to say this about our river in Cork. “I didn’t come up the Lee on a bicycle”. Thanks for reminding me of this. Brought a smile…..

  2. Hi Mairead, sorry no river quotes, but my grandfather’s saying when things didn’t go quite right was,– “it’s too bad she died she made good doughnuts” — Enjoy Independence day, Cheers,Brian

  3. Love that first picture, Mairead! Guess I would have to say “didn’t come up the Verdigris on a bicycle” :) Fun expression!

  4. Hi, I found your blog post via a web search for “liffey bicycle”, as I was curious to see what people have written about this expression.

    Stan Carey (from Galway) recently wrote about this and related expressions, and I speculated in the comments about how exactly they should be interpreted.

    My analysis was that it refers to a mythological archetype in which only creatures of this world are bound by the physics of this world, and suggests I might be a newcomer to the realm of physical reality, having dropped in from a land of magic and fairies in which cycling on water is a common occurrence.

    Your analysis — that it refers to the stupidity of attempting such a feat — is simpler, although arguably less satisfying. (The expression presupposes, does it not, that the bicycle journey was successful?)

    I have no stake here, not living in a part of the world where these expressions are used (I’m Australian, though I spent some time in Scotland as a child). But I wanted to see if other people have written much about them, and if so, whether there’s a consensus on exactly how they work.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    • Adrian – I like your other-worldly, mythological explanation of this saying. I always took the meaning of this saying as a direct reference to being too smart to attempt an impossible feat, but I suspect there may be some validity in your thought process. Many old Irish sayings and expressions originated in the Irish language, and we may have lost some of their deeper meanings with translation, especially their connections to the spiritual and mythological worlds of our ancestors.
      Thanks for stopping by and joining in this discussion.
      All the best,

  5. Tom Porter says:

    Both my parents went to the same Catholic school as kids.
    My mother had a favorite Nun/Teacher but she didn’t care much for my wise-ass father nor him for her.
    Whenever my mother would bring up her name my father would reply; “Oh! You mean Sister Mary Suffering Bastard?”

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