Slainte is a Gaelic word which means “health,” and it is used in cheers to mean “good health” or “to your health.” In Scotland, you may hear people say “slainte mhath.” Many people associate this word specifically with Ireland and Irish culture, and thanks to a great interest in Gaelic and Ireland, “slainte” is a cheer often heard far from Irish shores. It is also familiar to many fans of Scottish culture.
Gaelic is an ancient language which has derived into a number of different forms spoken around the British Isles and in Ireland. Gaelic languages appear to have originated in Ireland. Gaelic continues to be used as a living language in some parts of Ireland and Scotland, with the Republic of Ireland considering it the country's second official language. As a result, Irish government documents are printed in both English and Irish Gaelic, and many Irish people are familiar with at least a little bit of Gaelic.
The spread of “slainte” outside of Ireland can probably be attributed to the pride that many people feel in their Irish and Scottish heritage. Immigrants from these regions have landed in varied and surprising places, and like many immigrants, they undoubtedly tried to retain some of their cultural values even as they assimilated into other regions. In the United States especially, people with Irish and Scots heritage like to celebrate it, and they may sprinkle Gaelic words in their speech or get involved with Irish events and celebrations, especially St. Patrick's Day. The celebration of Gaelic culture is part of an overall romanticization of Irish and Scottish languages and culture which can be observed in some regions of the world.
There are numerous circumstances in which slainte may be used. In bars, many people salute each other with a “slainte” before drinking, or after someone has purchased a drink for someone. It may also be said as a toast at the start of a meal or celebration, collectively welcoming all of the attendees and wishing them good health.
Bars with a Celtic theme may include “slainte” in their names, and this traditional toast is also used to christen Celtic musical groups, sports clubs, and social clubs. The use of “slainte” in a name is meant to imply fellowship, good cheer, and friendly associations.