Its capital, Dublin, is the birthplace of writers like Oscar Wilde, and home of Guinness beer. But there’s much more than that to Ireland.
You might have heard….
The history of Ireland is so vast. But one of the most notable and more commonly known historical events in Ireland’s history, is the potato famine. In 1845 a large part of the Irish population lived on potatoes and buttermilk. It was an adequate diet but if anything happened to the potato crop there would be disaster. In 1845 that very thing happened. The potato blight fungus hit Ireland and many people died of starvation and disease. To avoid the famine, many people fled aboard and the population of Ireland fell dramatically from over 8 million in 1841 to roughly 6 1/2 million in 1851 and it continued to fall for years after. It is estimated that 1 million people died during the famine.
Everyone loves St. Patrick’s Day! It is of course, synonymous with Ireland. St. Patrick himself is the beloved patron saint of Ireland. The Irish are known for spinning exaggerated tall tales so despite the infamous stories traditionally attributed to St. Patrick, quite little is actually known about his life. We do know that St. Patrick was born in Britain and that at the age of 16 was captured by Irish raiders who attacked his family’s estate. He was then sent to Ireland where he was held captive for six years, living life as a shepherd who later became an Irish priest. And believe it or not, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York City on March 17, 1762, not Ireland. However, Irish families have traditionally celebrated the feast of St. Patrick as a religious holiday for thousands of years during the Christian season of Lent when prohibitions were lifted for one day of dancing, drinking and feasting on meat. If you are able to be in Ireland during St. Patrick’s Day, do it! It is a huge celebration and there is no doubt it would be an experience of a lifetime.
Those who love castles have a lot to choose from. The tiny island is home to some of the most romantic, oldest and most stunningly restored castles in the world. Escape to one every weekend if you want….thousands of them, including ruins, are dotted around the country. That is not an exaggeration if this list is any indication.
One of the most famous is Blarney Castle and those who visit can kiss the Blarney Stone or the Stone of Eloquence, which is believed to bestow the gift of eternal eloquence, according to local legend. Stop and see Dunlace Castle with its extremely steep drops on either side, which may have been an important factor to the early Christians and Vikings who were drawn to this place where an early Irish fort once stood.
Kilkenny is often referred to as Ireland’s most beautiful historic city with numerous historic sites located in the city center. It’s actually both medieval and modern, with narrow, winding streets and ancient buildings combined with the progressiveness of a lively city and a hub for Ireland’s arts and culture. Here you’ll find The Black Abbey, founded in 1225 and features gorgeous stained glass windows and is surrounded by the old city walls, while Kilkenny Castle, dominates the city skyline, overlooking the River Nore.
Don’t let the unassuming name fool you, the Rock of Cashel is no mere rock. Standing proudly on a green hill rising from County Tipperary’s plains, it’s a historic treasure trove of ancient religious structures including a 12th century Romanesque chapel and a 13th century Gothic cathedral. But its history dates back much further. For more than 1,000 years it was a symbol of power and the seat of kings and churchmen who ruled over the region.
Predating Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, Brú Na Bóinne in Meath is a mind boggling testament to the achievements of prehistoric humans. This extraordinary necropolis includes the passage tomb Newgrange, designed during the Stone Age in 3,200 BC.
Ireland’s mighty Cliffs of Moher reign strong as one of the country’s most visited natural attractions. Carved out by a gigantic river delta around 320 million years ago, the imposing cliffs also offer incredible views, stretching over Galway Bay, the distant Twelve Pins mountain range and the northern Maum Turk Mountains.
Connemara is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled destinations in all of Europe. It stretches west from Galway city to Ireland’s west coast, filled with a wide array of colors and beautiful wilderness areas that include everything from bogs and lakes in the south to golden beaches and mountain views in the north and west, like the rugged Twelve Bens Mountain Range. There are a number of incredible sights to behold in this region, including magnificent Kylemore Abbey, Connemara National Park, the charming town of Clifden and Clifden Castle.
Dunmore East, one of Europe’s best secret villages. Packed with all the traditional charm you’d expect of a small Irish fishing village….thatched roofs, seaside cliffs, and sheltered coves, Dunmore East harbors another secret. It’s a sweet spot for scuba divers and snorkelers in search of World War I era wrecks. Or if you’d rather stay land bound, tie on some hiking boots and explore Dunmore East’s moody clifftop rambles. Another nature worthy trip is along the coastline to some of Europe’s highest cliffs at Slieve League….forget the Cliffs of Moher, although equally stunning, it is at Slieve League where you can truly take in the natural beauty and feel as though you have the whole place all to yourself.
Take a scenic drive along the Ring of Kerry and catch glimpses into the country’s ancient heritage, which can be seen through the Iron Age forts, old monasteries and scenic views that emerged from the natural changes that occurred during the last Ice Age. Ireland’s highest mountains are located in Kerry and Carrauntouhil, which can be seen along the way. There is a stop at the Kerry Bog Village Museum where you can gain insight into the livelihood of people of rural Ireland in the 18th century. Along the way, there are fantastic views of the Skellig Islands, where some scenes from the most recent Star Wars movie was filmed.
Dublin, Ireland’s capital, is alive with music, pubs, and a great street culture. A visit to Ireland just wouldn’t be complete without spending the weekend in the capital. Be sure to visit St. Stephen’s Green, the Guinness Storehouse, and Grafton street for shopping and live buskers on the streets. While bustling among the cobblestone streets, shops and pubs, take part in a seisiun (“session”). You’ll thoroughly enjoy this informal gathering where people sing and play traditional Irish music and is still to this day, an integral part of Irish life. So much Irish culture, history, and heritage shines through in the music, and experiencing it with a pint in hand at a pub or a small town festival is one way to encounter the hidden beauty of Ireland without advance planning or lacing up your hiking boots for a ramble through the rolling green hills. Ask around and you’re sure to find one.
Or, there’s always the simple, yet beautiful Irish countryside. Just. Get. Lost.
Fill your belly…..
The cuisine in Ireland can be described as hearty. They could be thought of as comfort meals you’d normally eat during colder weather. There’s no complex levels of spices. It’s isn’t ornate or complicated and it doesn’t need to be. It’s flavorful, filling and delicious without any frills.
Irish stew has been considered the national dish for at least two centuries. A poem from the early 1800s praised the stew for satisfying the hunger of anyone who ate it….”then hurrah for an Irish Stew, that will stick to your belly like glue”. You will find a lot of stews in Ireland. You will also find a great deal of soda bread, which also could be considered a national dish. Another older, traditional dish, Dublin Coddle, is a truly filling meal of bacon, sausage, potatos, and onion soup.
Fishing villages like Howth offer some of the freshest fish and chips around! Order yourself a freshly battered batch of cod with chips and when they ask if you want it with salt and vinegar, nod emphatically. Eat on a bench overlooking the sea…but mind the seagulls looking for a nibble!
Potato dumplings, potato pancake and potato bread are all ways used to describe “boxty” and some say the name originates from the Irish phrase, arán bocht tí, meaning “poor house bread”. Whichever way you choose to have it, it’ll end up in a pan of bubbling butter, and can be teamed with just about anything, from humble bacon and eggs to fresh Irish smoked salmon.
In the US, we typically only eat this in March, and it could be to us, the most popular Irish dish, but it’s not exactly authentic. It’s as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs is Irish. The dish was originally made with Irish bacon but as pork was expensive in America, the Irish immigrants began making the dish with beef, the staple of the American diet. And so was created, corned beef and cabbage.
The word “whiskey” is a phrase from a Gaelic branch of languages meaning “water of life”. In fact, Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world and has seen a great resurgence, now being the fastest growing spirit in the world every year since 1999.
And don’t forget the Guinness. Or Beamish. Or Murphy’s. Or stick with a shot of that water of life!
Speak and be heard…..
Irish, or what Americans often call “Gaelic”, is the national and official language of Ireland, the second being English. Since it isn’t imperative to learn Irish, it’s still fun to learn a few key words and
Hello: dia duit
What is your name?: cad is ainm duit?
My name is: ainm dom
Good morning: maidin mhaith
How are you?: conas ata tu?
What time is it?: cen t’ame e
Good evening: trathnona maith
Please: le do tholl
Thank you: go raibh maith agat
Another thing to hone up on, is the slang. Ireland definitely has its share of slang and it would suit you well to learn a few words now to avoid looking out of place.
Craic — a good time/fun
Foddered — eaten
Noodle — your head
The jacks — restroom
Hatchet — brilliant
Zonk — one pound coin
Biscuits to a bear — a waste of time
Racked — tired
Living life on the island…..
Everyday life in Ireland is not that different from life in the United Kingdom or the United States, and for the most part, those moving to Ireland from a Western culture are unlikely to experience any serious culture shock.
Ireland has, according to Travel and Leisure magazine, some of the friendliest cities in the world. That’s some accolades. And many people would agree. Many people who have visited or lived in Ireland can attest to the Irish being some of the most down to earth, friendliest people they’ve encountered. If you ask a native for directions, don’t be surprised if they take you to your destination themselves. If an Irish man or woman asks you if you were here for the game, they will follow up with questions about how you enjoyed your experience. They want you to have a good time. They are proud to call Ireland home. More importantly, they want this to feel like home to you! To the Irish, it’s all about the connections and experiences made with others, that make life rich.
Ireland has an impressive outdoors lifestyle that will improve the health and well-being of all who call its green landscape, home. It helps that the climate is temperate, so while it doesn’t have stifling summers, it doesn’t have harsh winters either. The country is, as a result, you guessed it – a lush, green and pleasant place to be. Because the whole country is so green and gets plenty of rain, it means they have some of the best farming and dairy which in turn means the meat and dairy taste way better than anything you’ll get in other countries.
If golf is your cup of tee, then you’ll be more than happy on the Island. Ireland has some of the best golf courses in the world which helped us produce a whole host of golfers, including one of the best player of his generation, Rory McIlroy. And until you’ve seen 30 men stomping on each other in front of 82,000 screaming fans, you haven’t seen a real sport. So, catch a Rugby match, or two. It’s almost certain you will become addicted to the thrill of the sport. Hiking the hills, a meal at a pub, castle hopping, or a stimulating rugby match….no matter how you occupy your time, you will be more than satisfied!
With an economy that is taking off, breathtaking scenery and some of the friendliest people in the world, this is one of the best places to call home. While the landscape is incredible, it is without a doubt the people who make Ireland what it is. Genuine, helpful, funny and full of wit. No matter where you live in Ireland, you will be sure to receive, cead mile failte…“one hundred thousand welcomes”!
May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.