Ireland is one of a long list of island nations around the globe. Ranking 20th in size land wise, the small nation is only about as big as the U.S. state of South Carolina. Despite its size, the island of Ireland is famous around the world rivaling the island of Madagascar in popularity with travelers. The reasons are clear. Ireland has a magical landscape with frequent rains keeping the grasslands so verdant it earned the name of the Emerald Isle. Unusual geological formations, craggy cliffs, and 2,000 miles of coastline add the finishing touches to Ireland’s beauty. The country’s culture is reflected in lively folklore from leprechauns that chase rainbows and pots of gold to the patron Saint Patrick who is said to have chased all the snakes from the island.
In 2017, Ireland won a nomination as Europe’s leading destination, and that same year, the city of Donegal earned the title as “the coolest place on Earth by National Geographic. Enhance your trip to Ireland by learning about what makes the tiny Emerald Isle so popular.
Ireland’s history begins with the Celts who migrated from Austria westward to Britain and Ireland. From 750 to 12 BC, the Celts were considered to be the world’s most influential society. The history to follow would include famine and a revolution. You’ll find remnants from Ireland’s past around the countryside including forts, monuments, and artifacts in museums dating back to various ages. Be sure to visit Newgrange, a grand passage tomb dating back to the Neolithic Period, making it older than Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids. History buffs will also want to add the Aonghasa Fort, a prehistoric hill fort on the Aran Island to their itinerary.
Remember getting pinched at school for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day? The Irish-born holiday is celebrated around the world from Dublin to Tokyo. Mega parades are held in major U.S. cities with a large population of Irish descendants such as NYC, Chicago, and Savannah, GA. Parades with marching bands and floats became an American tradition after Irish emigrants introduced St.Patrick’s Day. But the original holiday in Ireland was a somber one to commemorate the death of the patron St. Patrick on March 17, 461 AD.
The shamrock is a three-leaf clover, an important symbol in Ireland, and to the Irish Catholic faith. While St. Patrick was preaching Christianity throughout Ireland, he used the three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each year in March, shelves around the world are stocked with shamrock novelties, and you can get a Shamrock Shake made with mint ice cream at McDonald’s.
Hundreds of castles are scatted about the countryside in Ireland. Many of them are now in ruins, but with a little imagination, grandeur, as well as a sense of historical importance, comes to mind. A good example of one such castle is the Dumanase Castle in County Laois. Cahir Castle in the town of the same name is well-preserved and has a working drawbridge and moat. And if you’re still looking for accommodations in Ireland check out the castle hotels in Lough Eske Castle in County Donegal or Ashford Castle in the County Mayo.
The Irish have the gift of gab, and it is said that you can also if you kiss the famous Blarney Stone. The legendary stone of eloquence can be found at the top of Blarney Castle, one of Ireland’s best. The block of Carboniferous limestone was built into the castle in 1446. Millions of visitors flock to the castle each year, and many celebrities have kissed the Blarney Stone. In 2010, the castle’s owner told the Irish Times that to his knowledge, no one had ever gotten sick from kissing the stone. Nevertheless, Blarney Stone aside, the castle and gardens are a lovely place to visit.
Irish food is hearty, tasty, and comforting. Dishes like Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage, and Irish soda bread are popular around the world. Black pudding and blood sausage are regional foods originating in Ireland and the UK. Potatoes have long been a staple for the Irish and are included in many traditional dishes including Irish stew and coddle made with sausage, bacon, and potatoes. When the potato blight hit crops hard in the mid-18th century, the widespread famine led to massive emigration with hundreds of thousands landing at the port of New York just in time to be recruited into the Civil War.
Irish pubs have been replicated around the world, but to experience the real thing, stop in an Irish pub for a pint. The laidback atmosphere and lively banter are unique to the nation and conversations with strange come easily. Most feature Irish music and céilí dancing. In addition to Irish beer, many serve samples of Irish cuisine. The pubs in County Clare are said to have the best music, and if you want to visit the oldest Irish pub in the country, go to Sean’s Bar in Athlone.
The Irish have a long history of brewing beer tracing back to at least 300 years ago. The most popular beer in the country is Guinness, often referred to as “the black stuff.” The beer is actually a dark ruby red stout that has a distinct taste and a thick creamy head. It was first brewed in Dublin at the St. James’ Gate Brewery in Dublin. Historical records suggest the recipe was brought to Ireland by a Welshman named Authur Price. It is said that Price employed Richard Guinness as a servant and somehow, his beer recipe fell into the hands of Richard’s son Authur. Authur Guinness signed a 9000-year lease on the St. James’ Gate Brewery!
Ireland is just as popular for its whiskey as its beer. The whiskey rivals Scottish whiskey for world popularity, but Irish whiskey is thought to be the oldest. This is because the first known document to mention the spirit is the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise dating back to 1405. The Scottish use only malted barley that has begun to sprout while the Irish use a mix of both. While in Ireland, visit one of at least 25 breweries around the country where taste tours are offered. Some brands of Irish Whiskey to look for include Black Bush, Jameson, Teelings, and Writers Tears.
Irish rugby has gained in popularity in recent years, and the whole country gets excited over a big match. The Irish have won the Six Nations Championship for a total of 14 times so far. Three of them were grand slams meaning no matches lost for any game in the tournament. The games take place between England, France, Scotland, Wales, Italy, and Ireland. Brian O’Driscall, a Dublin native, is said to be the country’s best-ever rugby player.
Horse racing is a wildly popular spectator sport in Ireland and has been part of the culture for centuries. The country also produced one of the greatest jockeys of all time. Anthony Peter McCoy from the small village of Moneyglass in County Antrim has won over 4,000 major races. If you want to get in on the excitement while in Ireland, County Kildare’s racecourse is the best with no obstacles and where the Five Irish Classics take place.
With its long history of Celtic ballads and traditional Irish music, the Emerald Isle has produced a plethora of musical talent. Bono’s U2 is popular around the world for songs like “With or With Out You” and “Beautiful Day” used in the U.S. Republican primary campaign. Sinead O’Connor, a Dublin native, became a famous singer-songwriter in the 1980s. Songstress Enya grew up in a musical family in the Gaeltacht region of Dore, Gweedore. Her style mixes new age with Celtic folk music. The Irish Rovers, Van Morrison, the Cranberries….the list goes on and on.
The Irish have long had a penchant for literature and have given the world some of its best poets, playwrights, and novelists. Irishman James Joyce wrote the modernist novel, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, a work of Menippean satire. Other literary greats include Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats, and Brendan Behan. Irish writers continue to emerge in modern times. Look for books by Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright, and Iris Murdock.
Ireland’s stunning landscape, old castles, and ancient ruins are popular for shooting movies and T.V. shows. You’ll recognize the landscape in movies like “Moby Dick”, “Saving Private Ryan”, and “Braveheart.”A large part of the hit T.V. series “Normal People” was mostly filmed in Sligo near the Ben Bulben mountain. The secluded rocky outcrop on Skellig Michael off County Kerry’s coast formed the set for “Star Wars VIII”. And the biggie, “Game of Thrones” was shot across Northern Ireland. Game of Throne Tours are available that will take you to several filming sites.
Ireland’s West Coast is famous or its wild and rugged beauty. The development of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s first long-distance scenic highway makes it much more accessible. The highway runs for close to 1500 miles from Malin Head in Donegal, the island’s most northern point, southward to Kinsale in West Cork. The landscapes are breathtaking and include sandy beaches, miles of stone fencing, lots of sheep, and the wild waves of the Atlantic. The Aurora Borealis can be seen from the night sky at Malin Head.
Ireland has several national parks. Burren National Park is the smallest one and the most fascinating to visit. Covering 1500 hectares on a section of the glacio-karst landscape, geographic features include hazel scrub, limestone pavement, woodland, lakes, petrifying springs, cliffs, and turlough, a type of drying lake. Located in North County Clare, the area was formed around 350 million years ago.
Located in County Meath, the Newgrange passage grave is Ireland’s most popular prehistoric monument. The site originated during the Neolithic or New Stone Age period around 3200 BC making it older than the Egyptian pyramids. Be sure to take note of the roof box above the passageway entrance. It was built to align with the morning sun on the winter solstice so more light could fill the tomb’s chamber. Those chosen to view the winter solstice event from the inside are picked by lottery, but the grassy exterior itself is intriguing.
The giant’s Causeway in County Atrim is a national nature reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The thousands and thousands of interconnected stone columns were formed from cooling volcanic basalt. The legend-loving Irish came up with a story to explain the geological wonder. The legend claims that a mythical Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill built the causeway for crossing the North Channel into Scotland.
At an age of five and a half millennia, the Céide Fields are the world’s oldest known field systems. The remains of megalithic tombs, houses, and stone field walls create a unique site in a landscape of blanket bog, coastline, and dramatic cliffs. Located in the north of County Mayo, the site tells the story of a farming society’s way of life long ago. The visitor’s center is award-winning, and a professional guide will show you how to discover a buried wall.
The Irish are happy people and among the friendliest in the world. As descendants of mass emigration, acceptance is in their DNA. The long list of literary and musical figures along with their penchant for legends prove they are a creative bunch. They love to talk and will discuss everything from politics to the weather. Perhaps they all have kissed the Blarney Stone. Contrary to popular belief, less than two percent are redheads. But if you spot a ginger in the U.K, the U.S., Scotland, or Australia, it’s a safe bet they are descendants of the potato famine emigrants.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.