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A Visit to Ireland: Part 1) An overview of the Country and its People

I remember being in Wales several times and looking across the sea to the west, thinking that I needed to get to Ireland.  Well I finally made it, completing this journey with my brother on our annual "getaway trip"!  It was a trip we really enjoyed.  This is the first in a series of blog posts about the Emerald Isle, an overview and some observations on the country and its charming citizens.


The most western part of Ireland, Dingle Peninsula

(Western most part of Ireland, on the Dingle Peninsula)


Ireland's history is a turbulent one and its people have had to endure many hardships for centuries.  Victims of a devastating famine in the 19th century (the Great Hunger), occupied for almost a thousand years by foreigners (the Vikings and then the English), it's only in the past century that the Irish have enjoyed self-rule.  And this period of independence was plagued with significant sectarian violence, especially in the North, between "Republicans" (who favor Irish rule) and "Unionists" (who favor British rule).  This civil disagreement is especially an important topic in discussing Northern Ireland, which I'll do in a future blog post.  The good news is that during the past two decades most of these domestic issues have resolved themselves to the point where they won't interfere with any visitor's plans to see the island.  Today Ireland is slowly recovering from the bursting of its "Celtic Tiger" economic boom and besides economic problems is having to deal with a large influx of immigrants, especially from Poland and other Eastern European countries.


High Celtic Cross and Tower, Monasterboice, Ireland

(1200 year old high Celtic Cross and Round Tower, Monasterboice, Ireland)


 So why bother visiting Ireland?  It's a small country, not larger than most US states, and has no grand mountains (although some memorable scenery).  Its weather is typically wet and cold.  It's the most deforested nation in the European Union.  So what does Ireland offer a visitor? Quite simply Ireland's greatest asset is its people, their music, and relics of their interesting history.  You'll find yourself constantly charmed by the Irish, who are educated, engaging, witty and spunky.  They enjoy people and conversation, so never be shy about approaching someone and asking a question.  The Irish are as curious and interested in you and where you're from as you are in them.


Street musicians, Dublin, Ireland

 (Street musicians, Dublin)


The Irish are blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with the "Gift of Gab" -- they just l-o-v-e to chat and do so in a most entertaining way.  Oral traditions started here with ancient Celts, when laws and folklore were spoken and handed down from generation to generation before a written language was developed.  The Irish have their own language, Gaelic, but only about 5% of people still speak it and most of those are in the far western part of the country.


The Irish have a wonderful musical tradition and a genuine love of music, especially of sad songs.  You'll hear these sung frequently on street corners but especially in pubs where Irish music thrives and is actually growing in popularity and acceptance, especially among the young, something I find heartening.  So as part of any visit, you'll want to spend some time in the pubs even if you're a teetotaler, because it's here you'll get to know the local Irish people best, easily have conversations with them and also have the chance to enjoy their music and songs.  The Pubs are centers of social life in Ireland and are much more than a place to have a drink (although the Irish are proud of their beer -- Guinness (dark stout), Smithwicks (amber ale) and Harp (golden lager) -- and enjoy their triple distilled whiskey).  Pubs are a fun place to enjoy singing, entertainment, to people watch and to enjoy tasty and reasonably priced food.  Irish food, like English food, has greatly improved in the past decades and certainly has moved away from a potato based diet.


Staigue Fort, Ring of Kerry, Ireland(Staigue Fort, Ring of Kerry, Ireland)


A few interesting tidbits about Ireland and the Irish:

  • Ireland was never conquered by the Roman empire.
  • It has thousands of old stone circles and relics of stone forts and buildings, many dating back to the early days of Christianity.  These are well preserved and fascinating to see.
  • Christianity came early to Ireland and took hold during the time of St. Patrick.  Did you know that Irish monks keep writing and literature alive during the Dark Ages and later re-introduced it to the European continent?  You can still see some of the wonderfully crafted books from the Dark Ages, like the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin, arguable the greatest work of art of its time.
  • Before the great potato famine there were 8,000,000 residents in Ireland.  The country never recovered from the death and emigration this famine caused and today it has only 4.5 million people (not counting Northern Ireland).  But it's now a land for immigrants, rather than a country from which they leave, as hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans and other people have moved here.
  • Those many immigrants Ireland shared with the rest of the world had an disproportionate influence given their numbers, as many people of Irish descent rose to be Presidents, Prime Ministers and prominent leaders, especially in the USA and Canada.
  • Just as with their political influence, the Irish have had a disproportionate influence on the arts, especially in the fields of writing and acting.
  • Dublin is as farther north than most Canadian cities, but because of the Gulf Stream has a fairly mild climate.
  • The Republic of Ireland has a Corporate tax law only 12.5% (as opposed to USA's 35%).

So that's a brief overview which hopefully will give you a background for next posts, which will look at specific Irish travel destinations and their history.  To see a list of the series, please click on this link.


Oscar Wilde statue, Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland

 (Oscar Wilde Statue, Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland)



Images (23)
  • Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland: A popular pedestrian lane, extremely busy at night
  • Feeding the swans, St. Stephens Green, Dublin, Ireland
  • "Long Room", Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland: An elegant and beautiful building, with thousands of very old books
  • Small gold boat, National Museum -- Archaeology, Dublin, Ireland: Thought to have been crafted in the 1st century A.D.
  • Oscar Wilde statue, Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland: I think this piece captures Wilde's quirky spirit very nicely
  • Ha'Penny Bridge, Liffey River, Dublin, Ireland: Photographed at dusk.  You had to pay a half penny toll to cross in the old days, hence the name.
  • Pint of Guiness, Guiness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland: Over 3,000,000 pints a day are brewed here.
  • Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland: A lively and busy place that comes to life when the sun goes down
  • Pub music, Guiness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland: One of the greatest Irish tradition is their music
  • Street musicians, Dublin, Ireland: Believe this was a father and his two children.  They were quite good
  • Newgrange Passage Tomb, Valley of the Boyne, Ireland: A 5200 year old passage tomb
  • Knowth Burial Mounds, Valley of the Boyne, Ireland
  • High Celtic Cross and Tower, Monasterboice, Ireland: The tall Celtic cross is over 1000 years old and decorated with Biblical scenes -- to educate the illiterate masses. The rounded tower in the back was built mostly as a shelter from Viking raiders
  • High Celtic Cross, Monasterboice, Ireland
  • Old Mellifont Abbey, Valley of the Boyne, Ireland: The octagonal ruins of this Cistercian abbey was the place monks ritualistically washed their hands. Superb craftsmanship, though little remains
  • Rock of Cashel, Ireland
  • Small River in Steem, Ring of Kerry, Ireland
  • Staigue Fort, Ring of Kerry, Ireland: Hundreds of years old, remarkably well preserved
  • Colorful Dingle Town, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
  • Beehive huts, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland: Well over a thousand years old, there are many of these dwellings on the Dingle Penisula
  • Scenic views, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
  • The most western part of Ireland, Dingle Peninsula
  • Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland: Steep, sheer cliffs dropping up to 700 feet to the ocean. The structure on the cliff top is O'Brien's Tower

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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Comments (7)

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To say that Ireland is typically wet and cold is true of Winter.

The Summers are often pleasant and warm but when you get to the West Coast then the wind blows in of a cold Atlantic Ocean.

But the weather can change 4 times a day - so there's something there to please everyone. Ireland has wonderful fresh food. Fresh from the sea and farm.

Try a locally produced Vintage Cheddar Cheese or an 18 year old Jamesons Whiskey.

Soda bread is a local speciality. But stay away from the home made Potheen (illicit) Whiskey !

Thanks for your comments, Garry!


We actually had very nice weather during our visit, GarryRF.  It was windy and rainy at times, but being from Canada that was no great hardship.  Still, good for people to be forewarned and prepared.  Always pack in layers and let one layer be a rain shell.  


It was one of your fellow countryman who said, "There's no bad weather, just bad clothing" or something to that affect, but I can't remember who that was.


Didn't try the "moonshine" (no one offered!), but my brother got addicted to Guinness draft (I'm more partial to a good wheat ale, but the Irish Guinness in Ireland is infinitely better than that Guinness you get in North America -- doesn't ship too well I guess)

Last edited by DrFumblefinger

The American addiction for "Ice Cold Beer" should not be applied to Guinness!

Its a Stout  - full of flavour - to be savoured - cool as the Pubs Cellar!

Billy Connelly is the Scottish comedian who's observations of life have had us in stitches for years now. But like many Brits - he's felt the warm winters of LA and is reluctant to come back ! Is it uniquely British to actually enjoy cool weather? Perhaps the way we've been bred ! I do get odd looks in the Autumn when many North Americans are wearing jackets and hats. And those crisp sunny mornings in Canada when you can see your breath. Love it !

Last edited by GarryRF

I'm more partial to the lighter beer, wheat ales specifically.  But the Guinness was good.  Had one other stout there, the name of which eludes me, and we enjoyed it, too.


Like women, cars, food, etc. beer is very much an individual taste.  I actually like my beer cool, but not ice cold.  Also a matter of taste.


What's your favorite English brew?

When I go to my local Pub in Liverpool I'll have a choice of Beers.

Heineken Dutch Lager - San Miguel Spanish - Carlsberg Danish - Stella Belgian -  Fosters Australian - Sagres Portuguese.  Plus many local brews. Old Speckled Hen, Bishops Finger and my favourite Newcastle Brown Ale.

Served in a Pint - 20 ounce - Bottle. With a half pint glass. It keeps cooler in the bottle !

Liquid Toffee ! Not a light Beer. Lots of Flavour and quite potent.

I've found bars around Ocean City Maryland who serve it on draught and it really goes down well with the locals there. But you cant get a draught "Newky" in the UK !!


Did you know that Liverpool is often called the Capital of Ireland ?

Because more Irish live here than at home !


Last edited by GarryRF
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