Though the strife of its political conflict over the last half-century might suggest otherwise, Irish hospitality is warm and inviting, providing an excellent framework for touring the nation’s many attractions. Pubs occupy many a street corner, and the merry atmosphere is often accented by someone playing the fiddle, accordion or singing. Georgian-style houses line the streets in Dublin, but here the fundamental irony of modern-day Ireland is best exemplified: often, inside these historical houses, thriving computer and telecommunications industries operate. The simultaneous actions of treasuring the past and latching onto the current day’s competitive international market create an interesting tension, one which for the most part has not done Ireland any harm. Of course, the booming economy has pushed the standard of living up, with one negative side effect for the traveller: Ireland’s not a cheap destination.
Most of Ireland was covered with ice until the end of the last ice age over 9,000 years ago. Sea-levels were much lower and Ireland, and its neighbor Britain, were a part of continental Europe rather than being islands. Mesolithic stone age inhabitants arrived some time after 8,000 BC. Agriculture was introduced around 4,500 to 4,000 BC when sheep, goats, cattle and cereals were imported from the Iberian peninsula. The Chronicle of Ireland records that in 431 AD Bishop Palladius arrived in Ireland on a mission from Pope Celestine I to minister to the Irish “already believing in Christ.” The same chronicle records that Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, arrived a year later. There has always been a debate about these missions but it is likely that they actually both took place, causing the older druid traditions to collapse in the face of the new religion.
In the 7th century AD, a concept of national kingship gradually became articulated through the concept of a High King of Ireland. The High King was chosen amongst other lower kings, which still ruled their own little Kingdoms. In the 12th century the Norman invasions took place. The Norman rulers and the native Irish elites intermarried and the areas under Norman rule became Gaelicised. In 1199, John became the King of England and the Lord of Ireland. The Irish parliament passed the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1367. These were laws designed to prevent the assimilation of the Normans into Irish society by requiring English subjects in Ireland to speak English, follow English customs and abide by English law.
The English Crown control remained relatively unshaken in the area around Dublin known as The Pale. English rule of law was reinforced and expanded, however, in the sixteenth century leading to the Tudor reconquest of Ireland. A near complete conquest was achieved by the turn of the seventeenth century following the Nine Years’ War and the Flight of the Earls. This control was further consolidated during the seventeenth century. This century witnessed English and Scottish colonization in the Plantations of Ireland, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the Williamite War. The religious struggles of the 17th century left a deep sectarian division in Ireland. Religious allegiance now determined the perception in law of loyalty to the Irish King and Parliament.
The Great Famine of the 1840s caused the deaths of one million Irish people. Over a million more emigrated to escape it. By the end of the decade, half of all immigration to the United States was from Ireland. The 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of modern Irish nationalism, primarily among the Roman Catholic population. After a couple of failed attempts Ireland became independent in 1920, while at the same time Northern Ireland was created. Disagreements over the provisions of the treaty led to a split in the nationalist movement and a subsequent civil war. The civil war officially ended in May 1923.
Although being neutral in World War II, Ireland gave support to the Allies in many ways. In 1973 Ireland became a member of the EU, and it introduced the Euro (€) in 2002.
Ireland is an island in Western Europe, located directly west of the United Kingdom. It shares international borders with the United Kingdom because of Northern Ireland. It has a total area of 84,421 km2 (32,595 sq mi) and is separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea and from mainland Europe (France) by the Celtic Sea. Located in the northwest of Europe it also borders the Atlantic Ocean to the western coastlines. The main geographical features of Ireland are low central plains surrounded by a ring of coastal mountains. The highest peak is Carrauntoohil at 1,041 metres (3,415 feet) above sea level. The western coastline is rugged, with many islands, peninsulas, headlands and bays. The island is bisected by the River Shannon, which at 386 kilometres is the longest river in Ireland and flows south from County Cavan in Ulster to meet the Atlantic just south of Limerick. There are a number of sizeable lakes along Ireland’s rivers, of which Lough Neagh is the largest.
Ireland is divided into four main provinces. These in turn house the 32 counties of the island of Ireland (26 of which belong to the Republic of Ireland while the remaining 6 fall under Northern Ireland). This divide is formed in the province of Ulster. For this purpose the counties of the Republic and of the North are divided in the Ulster section below.
The Gaeilge name for each county is given in brackets after the English.
|Connacht||County Galway (Gaelic: Gaillimh), County Leitrim (Liatroim), County Mayo (Maigh Eo), County Roscommon (Ros Comán), County Sligo (Sligeach)|
|Leinster||County Carlow (Ceatharlach), County Dublin (Baile Átha Cliath), County Kildare (Cill Dara), County Kilkenny (Cill Chainnigh), County Laois (Laois), County Longford (Longfort), County Louth (Lú), County Meath (Mí), County Offaly (Ua Fáilghe), County Westmeath (Iarmhí), County Wexford (Loch Garman), County Wicklow (Cill Mhantáin)|
|Munster||County Clare (Clár), County Cork (Corcaigh), Kerry (Ciarraí), County Limerick (Luimneach), County Tipperary (Tiobraid Arainn), County Waterford (Port Lairge)|
|Ulster||County Cavan (Cabhán), County Donegal (Dún na nGall), County Monaghan (Muineacháin)|
- Cork – the country’s second biggest city – on the banks of the River Lee. Founded c.600 by St Finbarre and known for great food (especially seafood), pubs, shopping and festivals. If you venture outside of the city along the coastline which borders the Atlantic Ocean, you will find long windy beaches, beautiful villages with history, castles and an array of outdoor activities to enjoy.
- Dingle – a small city on the Dingle Peninsula in the west;
- Dublin – the capital and largest city in Ireland. With excellent pubs, fine architecture and good shopping, Dublin is a very popular tourist destination and is the fourth most visited European capital.
- Galway – a city on the river Corrib on the west coast of Ireland. Famous for its festivals and its location on Galway Bay. Known as the City of Tribes, Galway’s summer is filled with festivals of music, food, Irish language and culture. Galway hosts over fifty festivals a year, including the Galway Oyster Festival. The locals seem to give off a positive Bohemian vibe. Galway is split between two types of beautiful landscape: the gorgeous mountains to the west, and the east’s farming valleys.
- Kilkenny – attractive medieval town, known as the Marble City — home to the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, held annually in early June.
- Killarney – Possibly, the most popular tourist destination in Ireland. A pleasant town in its own right, it is also the start of most Ring of Kerry trips.
- Letterkenny – Main town in County Donegal, designated gateway status and reputed to be the fastest growing town in Europe. Good base for travelling in Donegal.
- Limerick – a city strategically sited where the river Shannon broadens into its mighty estuary in the south-west of the country. First city to receive the designation of National City of Culture (2014).
- Sligo – Home to W.B. Yeats, internationally renowned poet. Mountains and beaches, scenery in general are the best points of Sligo.
- Waterford – Ireland’s oldest city. In the south-east and close to the ferry port at Rosslare. Waterford is a popular visit for those who want to learn more about the most ancient history of Ireland. It is quite possibly one of the best cities in the country as it is not too large and is full of history. Many festivals take place throughout the year including Spraoi. The food is good and the Granary Museum is the best for ancient Irish history in the country. Don’t forget to try a blaa before you leave (a floury bread bun peculiar to this area of Ireland).
Sights and Activities
It’s more than just a stereotype: Ireland’s highlights are indeed the stuff of knights’ tales. That’s at least true for its myriad of fascinating castles, dramatic cliff shores, lush rolling pastures and rugged hills. Many of the country’s main attractions are of a sturdy kind of beauty. There’s the megalithic tombs of Brú na Bóinne, older than the Egyptian pyramids and the inspiration for some of the famous Celtic symbols of later times. Of much later date is the beautiful Blarney Castle in County Cork, known for its “Blarney Stone.” According to tradition, kissing the Blarney Stone will bless a person with “the gift of the gab”, or a remarkable eloquence. Achieving it requires lying back while a castle employee holds you and a photographer captures the moment. Equally interesting is the Rock of Cashel, the remains of a majestic 12th century castle overlooking the green surrounding plains.
The island’s rough coast line is one of its main tourist attractions. The stunning 230m high Cliffs of Moher are a spectacular place and the most popular of the cliffs to visit. It’s surely among the most dramatic spots, but only one of many scenic parts of the Irish coast. Head to Achill Island to see the Croaghaun, the highest of them all, as well as the lovely Keem Bay and other beaches. Visit the beautiful Aran Islands, where local culture has survived the test of time and green pastures are dotted with castles and churches. Drive the Wild Atlantic Way to take in more of the scenic shores, stopping for breaks in charming coastal towns. More inland there are a number of national parks worth exploring, including the limestone karst landscapes of the rest of the Burren (of which the Cliffs of Moher are part). The vast peatlands of Ballycroy National Park offer another great place for hikes, as do the lakes and forests of Killarney National Park. The pleasant town of Killarney itself is home to Ross Castle but also serves as a popular starting point for the Ring of Kerry.
Kilkenny, an old city which once served as a capital, is easy to reach from Dublin and one of the country’s favourite tourist spots. Its beautiful buildings and imposing Norman castle – not to mention the numerous festivals including the Arts Festival and Rhythm and Roots Festival — make Kilkenny a most desirable location. If you have or can rent your own vehicle, explore the amazing area of Co. Donegal. Expect to see plenty of low stone walls, thatched roof houses, rugged hills, cliffs and golden sand beaches in this traditional region. Best visited during Spring or summer, it offers plenty of hill walks and photo opportunities.
Limerick has the majestic King John’s Castle, but Cork and Galway also make for popular summer destinations full of lively nightlife and historic heritage. And then… there is of course Dublin. Quintessentially Irish and a fine place to sample the country’s famous beer culture, it’s also home to some excellent sights. Dublin Castle is a fine choice, and Trinity College has a wonderful library where you can see one of the oldest manuscripts in the world, the Book of Kells. While any sightseeing may be topped off with a pint, many beer lovers do so at the Guinness Storehouse.
The Aran Islands are located off the central western coast of Ireland and are an absolute highlight of any trip to the country. The islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, can be reached by by plane or ferry from Ireland’s ‘mainland’ and are a pure look into Ireland’s past, with great pubs, people and some fantastic landscapes and hiking.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are located at the southwestern edge of The Burren area near Doolin, which is located in County Clare. The cliffs are one of the most spectacular places to visit in the country and tower above the Atlantic Ocean, in some places above 200 metres above sea level. Together with the Ring of Kerry, they are probably the most visited tourist destination in the country, but still they never loose anything of their beautiful character. One of the best ways to view the awesome nature of these cliffs is from sea level. Several companies offer cruise trips out of Doolin. Try Cliffs of Moher Cruises to check the options.
Connemara is another beautiful landscape in Ireland and can match itself with the two mentioned above. They barren landscape is located in the northwest of the County of Galway. The fantastic green rolling hills and (if you are lucky) the blue skies with grey and white clouds are a fantastic thing to see. Driving around Connemara is easily doable in a day but for some better idea of this magnificent landscape, try and visit for some more days and add a few of the small communities, one of the castles (Kylemore Abbey is of special interest) or just walk around at some beaches and soak up the atmosphere. It really feels as the western edge of Europe here.
Ring of Kerry
Slea Head – Dingle Peninsula
The Ring of Kerry probably is one the most scenic routes in Ireland, if not Europe. It is a route best done by car (or bike if you wish) in the County of Kerry in the southwestern corner of the country. Kerry has a dramatic landscape with beaches, cliffs, rolling green hills, rocky semi moutainous areas and some lovely colourful (fishing) villages. Although the route mostly runs along the coastline, it is worth getting more into the interior as well, as these areas are less visited and therefore much quieter. Although technically the route can be done in a day, it is best to spend the night somewhere in between.
Other sights and activities
- Irish pubs – of course
- Celtic music – again, of course
- Skelligs – including Skellig Michael, rocky islands off the coast of Kerry, on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- Wicklow Mountains – near Dublin, popular weekend retreat with great walks and views.
- Blarney Castle – near Cork
- The Burren – a fantastic landscape in Ireland’s west
- Dingle Peninsula – one of the lesser known peninsulas in the west, but maybe the most beautiful with spectacular rides, views and beaches.
Events and Festivals
- Saint Patrick’s Day (Irish: Lá ’le Pádraig or Lá Fhéile Pádraig) is Ireland’s famous national holiday, celebrating one of Ireland’s patron saints, Saint Patrick.
- The Willie Clancy Summer School and festival is a traditional Irish music summer school held in Miltown Malbay in County Clare. It was set up in 1973 in memory of the famous local piper Willie Clancy and now attracts almost 1,000 students from around the world. It is held during the first week of July, which is referred to as the Willie Week.
- The West Cork Literary Festival has been running for almost 15 years now in the quaint quay-side town of Bantry straddling the Beara and Mizen peninsulas. The festival runs from the first Sunday of July each year – for a week – and sees some of the most respected names in world literature take to the podiums and stages of Bantry and also mingling with the people in the towns wonderful bars and restaurants. Each year the festival hosts numerous 3 day and 5 day workshops; given under the tutelage of highly-respected and household names in their various fields of expertise – from the short story, poetry, writing for radio to travel writing and food writing. West Cork Literary Festival has it all.
- Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival – Foodies on vacation in September should head for Galway City, the heart of Ireland’s oyster industry for a delicious few days of feasting on the finest seafood. All the city’s restaurants set up a food village serving delights. There’s an oyster-shucking contest and boat trips to the oyster beds to enjoy. The Tales by the Sea features highlights and history of the fishing industry in Galway, and a Mardi-Gras parade, musical event and kids’ day make sure everyone has a great time.
- Cork Folk Festival – The Cork Folk Festival takes place over a weekend in October, attracting the stars of traditional Irish music for performances in concert halls, open-air venues, pubs and bars. Set dancing, lectures and workshops complement the musical events and the festival draws audiences from all over the world.
- Waterford Harvest Festival – Another great foodie event with original twists, the Waterford Harvest Festival kicks off every September in a riot of delicious treats, Irish heritage and culture. Its first day sees the Ballybricken Fair, a traditional 19th century-style re-creation of a typical Irish market. A highlight of the event is the Fulach Fia experience, a historic demonstration of Bronze Age cooking methods by a local Druid chief. Wine and whiskey tastings, a beer tent, street vendors and cooking demos are enlivened by music and other performances.
- Wexford Fringe Festival – A multi-disciplinary arts festival, the Wexford Fringe runs from late September to early October and features live gigs, theatre performances, art shows, literary recitals and the best of Irish and international music, both classical and traditional. Over 250 events take place all over the city in diverse venues, and over 16,000 visitors attend every year.
Ireland has a typical maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. June to September is summer season with temperatures between 16 °C and 20 °C and nights around 10 °C. Winters are still above zero, even at night. The highest and lowest temperatures possible are just above 30 °C and just below -10 °C. The east and south are somewhat warmer during summer compared to the north and west, while the west and southwest is even milder during winter. Also, temperatures more inland can be a bit higher in summer and a bit colder in winter.
Precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, with autumn and winter being the wettest time and spring being the driest month. The west is the wettest part of the country. May is the driest and most sunny month of the year.
Unless you’re coming from Northern Ireland, the options for getting to Ireland are limited to air and sea.
Dublin Airport (external link: Dublin Airport, IATA: DUB), located 10 kilometres north of Dublin, remains the main gateway to Ireland despite the increasing number international flights flying into two other international airports, Shannon International Airport (IATA: SNN) in Shannon, Cork Airport (IATA: ORK) in Cork and Knock Airport (IATA: NOC) in the West of the Country.
The national carrier, Aer Lingus, has flights to many European destinations and many major US cities such as New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Ireland-based Ryanair is the main low-cost carrier in Europe with many connections across the region.
There is a cross-border intercity train service between Belfast and Dublin, called the Enterprise. The journey takes just over two hours and is jointly operated by the Irish Rail and NI Railways.
The drive from Northern Ireland to Ireland is between Belfast and Dublin along Ireland’s M1 motorway. There is neither border control nor signpost in between the journey to tell you that you have crossed the border. However, one may noticed that the road signs in Northern Ireland are only in English unlike Ireland’s bilingual signs (English and Irish). Also note that while Ireland uses kilometers, Northern Ireland uses miles.
If you have a rental car and want to drive it in both countries, be sure to let the rental agency know, as there might be an extra fee on this service.
Translink provides services between Dublin and Belfast and also stop at the international airports of both cities. Bus Eireann also operates hourly bus service between the two capital cities, 24 hours a day. Aircoach runs hourly during the day between Dublin Airport to Belfast, and connection to Dublin city is possible with a change of bus at the airport.
There are quite a few connections to and from Ireland, mainly to the UK and France.
Isle of Man
Numerous companies now act as agents for the various ferry companies much like Expedia and Travelocity act as agents for airlines allowing the comparison of various companies and routes. Two well known brands are:
My advice, as an Irish person, would be to come to Ireland for the sights, the people, the culture and the history, but NOT for the transport system.
TP member jessieanne in the forums
Although Ireland is relatively small, there are several carriers offering domestic flights. These include Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Aer Arann. Airports that are served include Dublin, Cork, Galway, the Aran Islands, Sligo and Kerry.
Irish Rail runs a number of rail links across the country. There are two classes and sometimes there is a restaurant car. There is a so-called Expressway coach network which complements rail services.
With the public transport being somewhat limited regarding frequency and network, renting a car is a wise decision if you want to see a lot of the country in a short period of time and if you are with 2 or 3, the cost is reasonable as small cars can be rented from around €30 a day. There are many companies to choose from, but Hertz and Europcar have the largest networks. Driving is on the left and renting an a car with automatic gearbox is recommended because of the winding roads in many parts of the country. You have to be 25 and have a national driver’s licence. If you want to visit Northern Ireland, arrange this when renting the car in advance. If bringing your own car, be sure to have international insurance (green card).
If you are looking to rent a car, Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports offer a wide range of international brands such as CARHIRE , Europcar, Car Rental Ireland as well as local brands like Dan Dooley and NewWay Car Hire.
Areas away from the airports are less well served although CARHIRE.ie and Europcar offer very central locations near Trinity College Dublin. Be aware that when renting a car in Ireland, cars come with basic CDW insurance that includes an excess liability should the car be damaged although full insurance can also be purchased.
Bus Eireann offers a wide range of connections between Dublin and many major cities and towns, although frequencies to remote areas might be low. There is a so-called Expressway coach network which complements rail services.
There are several buses (sometimes combined with rail) passes. The Irish Rambler offers unlimited travel for three, eight or 15 days. The Irish Explorer offers unlimited rail travel between cities and suburban rail networks as well as unlimited use of the Bus Eireann Expressway and local and city services. The Emerald Card offers rail and expressway coach services in Northern Ireland as well as in the Republic of Ireland.
There are several services to islands off the coast of Ireland, especially to the Aran Islands:
- Aran Direct – Aran Direct ferries are owned and operated by islanders, and leave from Rossaveal. They have one ferry going to Inishmore and one ferry going to both Inishmaan and Inisheer.
- Island Ferries – Island Ferries also leave from Rossaveal, and have one ferry going to Inishmore and one ferry going to both Inishmaan and Inisheer. Their schedules usually match that of Aran Direct.
- Doolin Ferries – Doolin Ferries operate out of Doolin, which makes it more accessible to Inisheer. A word of advice, they tend to be a tad unreliable, and will often cancel the ferry if they believe they will have bad weather.
The United Kingdom and Ireland maintain a Common Travel Area with no border controls, which effectively means that if you are coming in from the UK it means you do not need any visa to enter Ireland. However, photo identification document such as a passport or National Identity Card (EU citizens only) is still required to board flights and ferry. If you’re not entering from the UK, you may need to obtain a visa.
Citizens from the following countries do not require a visa to enter Ireland. (Source: Department of Foreign Affairs – Who needs a visa?)
- Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region), Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kiribati, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau (Special Administrative Region), Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom & Dependent Territories (* noted below), United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela.
* British Dependent Territories: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory (South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands),
British Indian Ocean Territories (Chagos Archipelago, Peros Banos, Diego Garcia, Danger Island), Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands and Dependencies, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn (Henderson, Ducie And Oneno Islands), St. Helena and Dependencies (Ascension Island, Tristan Da Cunha), The Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekila, Turks and Caicos Island, British Virgin Islands
Please note that both Ireland and the UK are not full Schengen member states, and therefore Schengen travel visa is not valid for entry to these countries.
See also: Money Matters
Ireland has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
The cost of living in Ireland is quite high. Dublin, in particular, is an expensive city, though cities and towns throughout the rest of Ireland are markedly cheaper. Within Dublin, prices also vary based on where you are. Areas such as Phibsborough and Dublin 15 are generally cheaper, for example.
Visa and Mastercard are generally accepted, though American Express can be a bit harder.
If you have an ATM card, bring it. It’s much easier to withdraw money from the wall than to exchange currencies and it generally gives you a much better rate as well. Of course, chances are that your bank will charge a withdrawal fee, so it’s generally advisable to withdraw larger sums of money at a time.
Ireland is part of the European Union/European Economic Area and, as such, any EU/EEA (excepting Bulgarian and Romanian) or Swiss national has an automatic right to take up employment in Ireland. Non EU/EEA citizens will generally require a work permit and visa.
Ireland has internationally-respected universities, including the venerable Trinity College Dublin (the only college of the University of Dublin). The National University of Ireland has constituent colleges in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Maynooth. Other colleges/universities include Dublin City University (DCU), University of Limerick (UL), Institutes of Technology in the larger towns/cities around the country and other higher education colleges.
Almost everyone speaks English as their first language, though often in a way that reflects the influence of Irish. Irish or Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) is the first official language according to the constitution. It belongs to the Goidelic branch of the Celtic family of languages and is strikingly different to English.
The main dialects of Irish are those of the provinces of Ulster, Munster and Connacht (with the last being historically a central dialect which stretched eastwards into Leinster). The Ulster dialect has most in common with Scottish Gaelic. Some Irish people may take offence if you call Irish “Gaelic,” as this really refers to an entire branch of the Celtic languages including Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic. Refer to it simply as “Irish” or “the Irish language”.
There are still thousands of fluent Irish speakers, all of them bilingual. Some of them are traditional native speakers in remote (and usually scenic) rural areas known as Gaeltachtaí. They are now outnumbered by urban Irish speakers, who are especially numerous in Dublin, and are often young, middle-class and well educated. Irish speakers are served by a number of radio stations, an online newspaper, numerous blogs and an innovative television station (TG4). They have an impressive modern literature and a popular annual arts festival known as the Oireachtas.
Irish is a compulsory language in mainstream English-speaking schools in the Republic, and is required in order to enter certain Irish universities. About 40% (c. 1,500,000) of people in the Republic claim some knowledge of the language as a result, but the real number of proficient speakers is probably closer to 300,000 (about 7% of the population).
Notwithstanding this, English is the only language you are likely to encounter while travelling in Ireland. This means that visitors are often unaware that habitual Irish speakers can be found throughout the country, with a thriving (though not so obvious) culture of their own. Such speakers usually use English in the presence of strangers, but most Irish people see the language as an integral part of their culture.
As many place names and personal names are in Irish, some knowledge of Irish pronunciation can be useful for foreigners, and even locals who are not fluent in Irish typically know how to pronounce Irish words.
Tourists keen to learn a few words of the Irish language can fall for a prank whereby they are taught to swear while being assured that they are learning a greeting or similar phrase.
Both Irish and English are spoken in Ireland with several different accents, and it is easy to distinguish the accent of someone from Northern Ireland from that of someone from the Republic. You can often even distinguish between different cities within the Republic of Ireland (e.g. Dublin vs Cork). Accents also vary by social class, and in the city of Dublin in particular you will notice distinct upper-class and working-class accents.
It is important to remember that many Irish speak English quite rapidly compared to speakers from the UK or North America. In Ireland some words are different, and may have different meanings. For example, “deadly” in Hiberno-English usually means “cool” or “awesome”, (e.g. “That’s deadly” means “That’s wonderful”) instead of “dangerous”. Irish loanwords and idioms are also common in Hiberno-English.
In everyday interactions Irish friends and relations engage in a style of conversation surprising (if not alarming) to unprepared tourists. The insult, putdown or sideswipe, known as ‘banter,’ is a highly nuanced art-form aimed at showing affection. It’s all in the timing and tone and not to be attempted unless you are visibly in a good mood. High-spirited and friendly teasing is also known as craic and is generally inseparable from the consumption of alcohol.
In the 20th century, the usual modern selection of foods common to Western culture has been adopted in Ireland. Europe’s dishes have influenced the country, along with other world dishes introduced in a similar fashion to the rest of the western world. Common meals include pizza, curry, Chinese food, and lately, some West African dishes have been making an appearance. Supermarket shelves now contain ingredients for traditional, European, American (Mexican/Tex-Mex), Indian, Chinese, and other dishes.
The proliferation of fast food has led to increasing public health problems including obesity, and one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. Traditional Irish food and diet is also somewhat to blame, with a large emphasis on meat and butter. Government efforts to combat this have included television advertising campaigns and education programmes in schools.
In tandem with these developments, the last quarter of the 20th century saw the emergence of a new Irish cuisine based on traditional ingredients handled in new ways. This cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish, especially salmon and trout, oysters, mussels and other shellfish, traditional soda bread, the wide range of hand-made cheeses that are now being made across the country, and, of course, the potato. Traditional dishes, such as the Irish stew, coddle, the Irish breakfast, and potato bread, have enjoyed a resurgence. Schools like the Ballymaloe Cookery School have emerged to cater for the associated increased interest in cooking.
Food is expensive in Ireland, although quality has improved enormously in the last ten years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers’ market. The cheapest option for eating out is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a carvery lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value. Selection for vegetarians is limited outside the main cities. The small town of Kinsale near Cork has become internationally famous for its many excellent restaurants, especially fish restaurants. In the northwest of the country Donegal Town is fast becoming the seafood capital of Ireland.
At restaurants with table service, some diners might expect the bill to be presented automatically after the last course, but in Ireland it seems to be the custom that you must affirmatively ask for it to be delivered. Usually coffee and tea are offered at the end of the meal when removing dishes, and if you don’t want any, the best response would be “No thank you, just the bill, please.” Otherwise the staff will assume you wish to linger until you specifically hail them and ask for the bill.
There are hotels of all standards including some very luxurious. Bed and Breakfast is widely available. These are usually very friendly, quite often family-run and good value. There are independent hostels which are marketed as Independent Holiday Hostels of Ireland, which are all tourist board approved. There is also an official youth hostel association – An Óige (Irish for The Youth). These hostels are often in remote and beautiful places, designed mainly for the outdoors. There are official campsites although fewer than many countries (given the climate). Wild camping is tolerated but try and seek permission – especially where you’ll be visible from the landowner’s house. Never camp in a field in which livestock are present. There are also specialist places to stay such as lighthouses, castles and ring forts.
Ireland is the home of some of the world’s greatest whiskey, having a rich tradition going back hundreds if not thousands of years. With around fifty popular brands today these are exported around the world and symbolise everything that is pure about Ireland and where a visit to an Irish distillery is considered very worthwhile.
Another one of Ireland’s most famous exports is stout, a dark, dry beer. The strong taste can be initially off-putting but perseverance is well-rewarded! The most famous variety is Guinness, brewed in Dublin and available throughout the country. Murphy’s and Beamish stout are brewed in Cork and available mainly in the south of the country. Several micro-breweries are now producing their own interesting varieties of stout, including O’Hara’s in Carlow, the Porter House in Dublin and the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork. Ales such as Smithwick’s are also popular, particularly in rural areas. Bulmers Cider (known outside the Republic as ‘Magners Cider’) is also a popular and widely available Irish drink. It is brewed in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
Nearly all pubs in Ireland are ‘free houses’, i.e. they can sell drink from any brewery and are not tied to one brewery (unlike the UK). You can get the same brands of drink in all pubs in Ireland across the country.
Alongside the indigenous beers and spirits of Ireland, many bars, particularly in tourist areas, will carry a selection of the most popular international brands (Budweiser, Heineken, Tuborg) as well as a selection of ‘world beers’ such as Belgium’s Duval, Italy’s Peroni, America’s Sam Adams, Australia’s Coopers and a selection of Eastern European beers such as Tyskie, Zywiec, Utenos, Budvar and Staropramen.
Alcohol can be relatively expensive in Ireland, particularly in tourist areas. However local weekly events magazines will carry information on ‘Happy Hours’ when some bars loss lead with €3 beers or offer two for the price of one. Happy Hours can start as early as 15:00 and go on until 21:00. Some bars may offer pitchers of beer which typically hold just over three pints, for €10-€11.
Bars must serve their last drinks at 23:30 Sunday to Thursday and 00:30 on Friday and Saturday, usually followed by a half hour ‘drinking up’ time. Nightclubs serve until 02:00.
It is illegal to smoke in all pubs in Ireland. Some pubs have beer gardens, usually a heated outdoor area where smoking is allowed.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Ireland. The country has a relatively good public health infrastucture, with hospitals, generally good doctors and widely available medicins etc.
See also: Travel Safety
Crime is relatively low by most European standards but not absent. Take normal precautions in bigger cities, crowded places and late at night and at quiet streets. Take a taxi instead of walking at those times.
Many roads in the country are narrow and winding, and there has been a recent increase in traffic density. Ireland is currently upgrading their roads, but due to financial constraints many potholes do not get mended in a timely manner.
National Police Service – An Garda Síochána
The police force in the Republic of Ireland are called An Garda Síochána – more commonly referred to as “the Gardaí” or just simply “the Guards”. Members of the force can be identified on the street usually by the green florescent jackets they wear with the word “GARDA” written on the back and front.
The Gardaí in Dublin police an area known as The Dublin Metropolitan Region which incorporates the city and County of Dublin as well as small portions of adjacent counties – Kildare (to the west) and Wicklow (to the South). The current headquarters of An Garda Síochána is located in the Phoenix Park – the largest municipal park in the World, to the west of Dublin City.
Public WiFi services are available in many cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels. They are also available on most Irish long-distance Intercity trains, some commuter trains and buses. Internet cafes are available in major urban areas, but are not as common as they once were, due to the growth of 3G data services and public WiFi. However, you will still find them in areas popular with tourists.
See also: International Telephone Calls
There are currently four main mobile phone operators dominating the Irish market:
- Vodafone (prefix 087 – GSM900/1800 – 3G 2100)
- O2 (prefix 086 – GSM900/1800 – 3G 2100)
- eir (prefix 085 – GSM900/1800)
- Three (prefix 083 – GSM900/1800 – 3G 2100)
Most European phones and operators will allow you to roam on Irish networks, however you should ensure before arrival that your phone can operate on the GSM900/1800 network and that your service provider has set you up to allow roaming. This is especially true for visitors from outside the Eurozone. You can also buy a cheap prepay SIM card if you have an unlocked handset. This can be considerably cheaper as it means that you will be assigned an Irish number which you can be called at during your trip and your outgoing calls are charged at normal Irish mobile rates.
Pay phones are fairly widely available (but becoming less so) and most take euro coins, prepaid calling cards and major credit cards.
The police service (An Garda Síochána) and fire services can be contacted by dialling 999 or 112 on any phone or mobile phone throughout the country.
An Post is the national postal service provider. They’re generally open Monday to Friday, between 9:00am to 5:30pm or 6:00pm, and smaller post offices would also impose lunch-time closure. Half-day service is available on Saturday, from 9:00am to 1:00pm. The General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street in Dublin is the main post office in Dublin, and it is open Monday to Saturday, from 8:00am to 8:00pm. The post offices are closed on Sunday and Bank Holiday. If you want to use private courier services for sending packages you can also use companies like DHL, UPS or TNT.
Ireland does not currently have a nationwide postal code system and in Dublin, certain areas have postal areas, given as Dublin XX with XX being numbers 1 to 24. Areas to the northside of Dublin have odd numbers, while areas to the southside of Dublin have even numbers (except the official residence of the President of Ireland – Áras an Uachtaráin – which is designated Dublin 8 despite being located in Phoenix Park on the northside).