in ,


Definition: A public riot – usually alcohol fuelled.

Pronunciation: Say it like you see it. Donny-Brook.

Origin: A word that originated in Dublin, Ireland, in the 19th century.

Why this word?

Donnybrook is a very affluent suburb of Dublin. It is home to many well-to-do professionals and is home to the Irish national broadcaster, RTE. It is not uncommon to hear the phrase Donnybrook English, referring to the ‘proper’ register of English in Ireland. I find it, therefore, ironic that the word Donnybrook has entered the English language to mean the opposite of everything that is proper.

The Donnybrook Fair was held in Donnybrook annually from 1204 to 1855. It was a two-week alcohol fuelled chaos of dancing, imbibing and rioting. By the time the Victorians came along – famed as they were for their instance on expressing emotions through the medium of repression (research, for example, Victorian Flower Language as a very weird example of how to communicate feelings without words), it was only a matter of time before they turned their attentions to the Donnybrook Fair. The rather unimaginatively-titled ‘Committee for the Abolition of Donnybrook Fair’ was established to see to the problem – but, by then, the word ‘Donnybrook’ was already in use to describe public brawls on both sides of the Atlantic. By 1855, they had raised enough money to buy the rights to the fair and bring it to an end. It is wonderful to know that the men behind the committee had so much time to devote to the Donnybrook problem. After all, it’s not as if there were other major social issues to attend to around this time – no potato famines or anything like that …

How to use this word

A simple one to use, I would think.

“That riot last night – it was a real Donnybrook – a free-for-all”. I think it gets the point across pretty well even for those who have never before heard the word.


What do you think?

1000 points
Upvote Downvote

Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


Leave a Reply