When I was compiling my facts about Ireland, I realized early on it was going to be long. Very, very long. There are just so many intriguing aspects, from the misconceptions of the Irish to the history, just the basics, superstitions and the landscape. I’ve divided them into two, to try to catch the tricky bits of missing importance.
“To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”-Daniel Patrick Moynihan
We’ve fallen in love with Ireland, which, as a country, is just as compelling as its stunning, unforgettable and mystical landscape.
A Few Basic Facts about Ireland
Ireland has a wealth of names and nicknames, beyond its original Irish ‘Éire.’ Hibernia (Latin); the Auld Sod; Inis Fáil – ‘Island of Destiny’ ; the Land of Saints and Scholars; Shamrock Shore; the Emerald Isle; Dark Rosaleen (Róisín Dubh); the Old Woman of Beare; and Erin, to name a few.
The two languages of Ireland are Irish (not to be confused with Scottish or Manx Gaelic) and English. Some Irish people might wear a small gold lapel badge called a Fáinne to show they’re fluent and willing to speak Irish.
Irish surnames have meaning: ‘Mac’ is ‘son of’ and ‘O’’ is grandson of, which was new (for me).
Ireland is the only country to have a musical instrument as its national symbol. It’s tied to the Crusades, since the Celtic harp was the only instrument allowed and Henry the VIII declared it the official national symbol of the island. Since 1922, it’s been used on Irish passports. You’ll also find Guinness stout’s logo with a harp, but since it was the first to trademark the symbol in 1876, Ireland had to turn the symbol in reverse.
A country without a language is a country without a soul.”― Pádraic Pearse
Sports in Ireland are extremely popular, especially Gaelic football, hurling and camogie (a sort of female version of hurling). Hurling has been around for over 3,000 years and was likely used to keep up warriors’ sword skills. It’s called the ‘fastest game played on grass.’ Camogie is played by over 100,000 women worldwide, which is pretty cool.
If you love castles, then Ireland is a must. They haven’t all been counted, but the last estimate was 30,000 castles across the island. They’re in various states of disrepair or reconstruction and many were built by the Normans.
Ireland’s Geography & Nature
There are 6 National Parks Ireland, with the oldest being Killarney and the youngest being Ballycroy; marine habitats; and wetland areas.
The ‘magic hills’ of Ireland are either fairy magic or an optical illusion, but either way there are several spots in Ireland when after you’ve crested a hill you seem to be going uphill again, instead of downhill.
The third highest cliff in Europe and the highest in Ireland is Croaghaun on Achill Island. It’s 688m.
Ireland has recently been attracting top tier surfers for its magnificent waves: Aileen’s Wave in Co Clare; the Peak in Co Donegal; and Mullaghmore (said to be ‘the scariest’) in Co Sligo. Ireland has also had the largest wave in the world (19m or about 6 stories high) off of its shores.
Killary Harbour is the only genuine fjord in Ireland. It’s 45m at its deepest point and reaches almost 16km. It goes without saying it’s quite beautiful.
“Moderation, we find, is an extremely difficult thing to get in this country.”― Flann O’Brien
Ireland’s a hiker’s dream, with 43 long-distance hikes and loads of short distance hike and walk possibilities nearly everywhere you visit.
It’s a fairly diverse list of animals native to Ireland: deer, red fox, rabbits, seals, kingfishers, swans, jackdaws (my personal favorite), with dolphins and whales just skimming the island coasts. If you visit in March-September, you might even get to see puffins.
The strong Irish-American link can be made clear by 2 things: 22 U.S. Presidents have claimed Irish ancestry, and while the number of Irish living in the U.S. is listed at 156,000, the number of Americans claiming to be Irish are over 35 million.
The Weather in Ireland
Ireland is known for its greenery, and part of that is because of the rain. They don’t have seasons, they have ‘spells of summer/winter’ and a ‘pet day’ is a good day after several bad weather days in a row. “Soft day, thank God!” is a good thing.
In the summer of 2007, it rained for 40 days. Straight. So it’s no surprise that there are many, many terms for rain.
Here are just a few: grand soft day; mizzle (mist + drizzle); a squib (shower attempt); spitting; wetting; sun showers; pissing; threatening; teeming; hammering; bat pee (random drops); sideways; and scuttering it.
As for hot weather, I could only find a few: splitting the stones (hot enough to crack pavement); grand drying; and fierce mild.
Irish Music & Musicians
Enya is one of the best-selling Irish acts of all time, selling over 75 million copies of albums. Yet she’s never once performed a solo concert. Other female bands or singers include: Sinéad O’Connor, the Corrs, the Cranberries/Dolores O’Riordan, Mary Black, Mary Coughlan and Delores Keane.
“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.” – James Joyce
Half of U2 were born in England, not Ireland (the Edge, Adam Clayton); other significant Irish male bands or singers: Van Morrison, The Clancy Brothers, Boomtown Rats, Thin Lizzy, Christy Moore and Rory Gallagher.
The Pogues were originally called ‘Póg mo thóin,’ which is Irish for ‘Kiss My Ar*e.’
Ireland’s famous for its ’40 Shades of Green’ thanks to the man in black, Johnny Cash. He fell in love with the country and penned an album as an ode.
Famous Irish People (Some You Might Not Know)
Peig Sayers lived on The Blasket Islands and her life story was captured by a folklorist in a book called ‘Peig.’ Many Irish children/adults know her story. However, in true Irish fashion, she is immortalized by being herself. No one outside of Ireland knows her so well.
James Barry (aka Margaret Ann Balkley) is now renowned as the first British woman doctor and British general, though she kept up a male ruse all the way from her medical studies to her life as a doctor. They discovered her on her death.
Henry McCarthy cured cholera after studying it assiduously, and probably more famously introduced cannibas sativa in 1841 to Western medicine.
“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” ― W.B. Yeats
Tattoos are thanks to Samuel O’Reilly, because in 1891 he used what was then called ‘stenciling’ as a permanent art. Tattos speak of worlds, so I can’t say any is not cool. I’m ‘pure,’ but Armando has a novel.
I’ll bet you never knew the fastest fiddle player in the world was Frankie Gavin of De Dannen (same as Dolores Keane’s first band). Very cool.
The strangest claim to fame would be the uni-cyclist that solved 28 Rubik’s cubes while riding. Adrian Leonard, well done.
Celebrities Who Were or Are Irish
I think I’ll just list here, because most Irish know and I’ll miss people, no matter what. My simple best is: Seamus Heaney (please Google and find his words); Katie Taylor, a heck* of a boxer (I forget how many titles she holds beyond ‘World’ ‘Olympic’ ‘Irish’ any tidbits that she hasn’t conquered – she’s kind of a wow, holy.
John Ford. Oscar Wilde. Bram Stoker. Maureen O’Hara. W.B. Yeats. Katharine Tynon. Maeve Binchy. Michael Gambon. James Joyce, etcet for ages, because no way can a bit of a name in a post reflect brilliance. Tell us in the comments, or be stum. Grin. I’m happy with mentioning some favorites. I hope you’ll do the same. (Yes, Jonathan and Cillian and Liam and all of the pretty, talented boys… Perhaps tell us who we’ve forgot, as far as artistry. It’s easier.)
Misconceptions about Ireland and the Irish
When someone says ‘Irish,’ your first thought will probably be the tiresome trope of a red-haired country maid in green trilling ‘Top o’ the mornin’ to ye!’
“A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said.” ― Samuel Beckett
Irish, I feel for you. I can’t imagine the irritation you have to quell every time you’re faced with some of these misconceptions. These are a few of the main ones:
- Depending on the source, redheads in Ireland (9%-10%) and Scotland (5%-13%) are higher than other countries, but it’s still relatively rare.
New studies of historical DNA have linked red hair to indigenous Basques and Welsh, though there might be a Northern Africa connection, too.
- Please take the following phrases out of your vocab when you visit Ireland. No one says them.
Top o’ the mornin’ to ye!
I’m Irish! (Unless born in Ireland, you’re probably of Irish descent)
Bejaysus! /Begorra begosh!
Yer a corker!
And, surprising to some of you maybe, ‘Erin go braugh!’ This last one is a distortion of ‘Éirinn go Brách,’ which doesn’t mean ‘Luck of the Irish,’ but ‘Ireland till doomsday.’ You might also not want to try your hand at an Irish accent, because even professionals can’t pull it off.
- Leprechauns are just one of many of the Good People, not very important in Irish culture and are little old men in red suits that cobble a shoe (never a pair). Known for their cunning, anti-social and generally unpleasant behavior, you wouldn’t want to come across one.
The green suit, red hair and gold at the end of the rainbow were added later for a morality story (the folly of free money without work). Strangely enough, they’ve been a protected species under EU law since 2009.
- Corned beef and cabbage isn’t an Irish dish, it’s an American-Irish dish. Bacon or ham and cabbage is the traditional fare, but the new emigres to the States found corned beef similar yet more affordable.
- Many Irish don’t wear head-to-toe green, even on Paddy’s Day. It’s more common to wear a shamrock sprig. A side note on that: it’s not St. Patty’s, because that would mean Saint Patricia, not Patrick/Padraigh.
An Irish Phrase for the Visitor, from a Local:
“Dia Dhuit!” God be with you…to this day that is how people greet each other in Irish!
I realized I’ve missed so many important Irish things, but I think it’ll have to be for the next post. To include the amazing mythologies like Cú Chulain or the Milesians versus the Sidhe and the unbelievable history.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our extremely long list of facts about Ireland and please let us know what you liked, what we’ve missed – or what we got wrong. We don’t mind. Big grin. Safe travels, Mel, Armando, Ziggy & Mork