Ireland has had a rich and varied history, evidence of which can be seen throughout the country. From Neolithic burial sites, to ancient monastic ruins and Viking artefacts to Norman castles, there is a wealth of tradition awaiting your arrival.
The island of Ireland has been inhabited for about seven thousand years. During this time it has experienced a number of invasions which have resulted in a unique mix of ancestry and traditions evidence of which can be seen throughout the country today. The first settlers were thought to have come from Britain and were mainly hunters and fishermen who settled along the island’s eastern coast. The next group didn’t arrive until 3000BC and were farmers who raised animals and cultivated the soil paving the way for the numerous generations of farmers which have inhabited the country since.
Following this, Ireland saw the arrival of its Neolithic ancestors around 2000BC. These settlers were responsible for building such structures as the one which remains fully intact at Newgrange, Co. Meath. The Gaels, a Celtic speaking people from western Europe and the group which have had the most lasting effect on the Irish people, didn’t arrive until sometime between 600 and 150BC.
Evidence of Ireland’s ancient Celtic origins can still be seen in the country’s culture. The arts still play a huge role in placing the Irish on a world stage and this is something which has descended directly from the ancient inhabitants of the country. Irish writers, artists, actors, film directors and musicians including William Butler Yeats and his brother Jack, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Pierce Brosnan, Brenda Fricker, Colm Meaney, Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan, U2, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor and Enya have ensured that Ireland maintains an enviable status in the world of arts and entertainment.
And, when it comes to entertainment it is also necessary to mention the latest cultural phenonmenon, Riverdance. A unique performance incorporating traditional Irish song, dance and music, it has now being shown to over eleven million people worldwide and includes numerous ancient Celtic airs and dance movements which have remained through the centuries.
After the influential Gaels, the next settlers to arrive on the island were those who introduced Christianity to the country. This occurred around the fifth century and although Saint Patrick usually receives all the credit for doing so, there is evidence that there were Christians in Ireland before his arrival. He did banish all the snakes from the country too though and gave the Irish a really good excuse to party every year so it is only fair to give him the credit he is due.
Like the Celts, the purveyors of the faith were also to play a lasting role in Ireland’s development. The sixth and seventh centuries saw a flowering of Irish art, learning and culture in the multitude of monasteries which grew up around the country. Like the Neolithic buildings, these centres of learning were to last through the centuries as were some of the works of art. Some of the better examples include the monasteries at Clonmacnoise in Co. Westmeath and Glendalough in Co. Wicklow and the world famous Book of Kells and Book of Durrow.
In the centuries that followed the arrival of Christianity, Ireland has undergone invasions by the Vikings during the ninth and tenth centuries and the Normans in the twelfth century. It has also come under English rule, suffered a famine in the nineteenth century which reduced the country’s population by a quarter through death and emigration and withstood a civil war in the twentieth century. Again all of these events have had lasting effects on the country’s development, the only difference in this case is that they weren’t as positive as those made by the Celts and the Christians.
Nevertheless, the country has always managed to pick itself back up after the numerous knocks it has got since the first settlers arrived over nine thousand years ago. And, when you get there you’ll soon see why ‘the land of saints and scholars’ became known as ‘Ireland of the thousand welcomes’. You won’t be disappointed.
No matter what part of the world you visit, you are guaranteed to find at least one Irish pub or restaurant serving traditional Irish food and drink. This is a good indication of how popular the native cuisine is but of course if you want the best there is, you really need to sample it in its true home.
Top of the list on any description of Irish cuisine is the full Irish breakfast. A greasy but extremely appetizing combination of bacon, sausages, eggs, black & white pudding etc. etc. that will probably keep you going for the entire day – good news for all those of you on a budget, bad for the vegetarians among you. Of course the locals will also try to convince you that a full Irish is also the best hangover cure there is but this is truly a matter of opinion. And if in doubt, don’t risk it.
Other favourites among locals and visitors alike are the traditional potato cake known as boxty. Well you could hardly read a description of traditional Irish cuisine without at least one reference to the humble spud. Irish stew is another specialty which a great deal of visitors to the country are familiar with. It is also an extremely popular choice on pub grub menus and like the Irish breakfast, you won’t have much room for desert left after eating a helping of this. Smoked salmon with traditional brown bread is also something which you really should try. In fact fish and seafood in general are of an excellent standard in Ireland.
When it comes to drink there are not many of you out there who even need to be told about the native tipple. But, while there are quite a few of you who think you have already tasted Guinness in your home country, the reality is that Guinness sold outside the country is not the same thing at all. And, as soon as sip your first pint on Irish soil, you’ll know exactly what we mean.
As well as Guinness, other traditional drinks include Murphy’s, a sweet stout brewed in Cork, Kilkenny Beer, Smithwicks ale and Harp lager. You should also be aware that the last two are primarily consumed by ‘oul lads’ or senior gentlemen to those of you who have yet to familiarize yourself with the local dialect. And, Irish liqueurs and whiskeys have also made their mark in the drinks world with delights such as Baileys, Sheridans, Irish Mist, Jameson, Paddys and Powers. The purveyors of these wonderful beverages are open until 12.30 but many pubs in the larger cities also have late licenses which allow them to serve alcohol until between 1.30am and 2.00pm.
Ireland is primarily accessed by air into one of its five major airports which are located in Dublin, Shannon, Cork, Knock and Belfast in Northern Ireland. The national airline is Aer Lingus which operates direct flights to the US, Britain and South Africa as well as several destinations on mainland Europe. Furthermore, if you do have to change flights in the UK, it is highly likely that Aer Lingus will take you from there to Ireland. The other major airline in the country is one a great deal of you are probably familiar with, Ryanair. Offering extremely cheap flights, if you’re quick enough to book them as soon as they become available, this is the ideal airline for the budget traveller and is adding new destinations to its itinerary all the time.
If you arrive in the country by plane, however, the other alternative is by ferry from either the UK or France. Irish ferries offer sea connections between Dublin and Holyhead in Wales and between Rosslare and Pembroke in Wales as well as Le Havre and Roscoff in France. The two French destinations are also served by sailings from Cork Harbour. The other major ferry company operating in Ireland is Stena Line and this has sailings between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, Rosslare and Fishguard in Wales and Belfast and Stranraer in Scotland. While the longest crossing to or from the UK takes about four hours, the journey between Ireland and France lasts up to twenty two hours so if you’re not a good sea traveller this one can be quite an ordeal.
The national train service in Ireland is operated by Iarnrod Eireann and the network connects all major towns and cities in the country. When it comes to the more rural areas, however, the service is limited and you will usually have to take a connecting bus to reach your destination. Rail travel is also expensive when compared to other European countries so to get the best value you should purchase a travel save stamp from any USIT office. This will cost you £8, is affixed to your ISIC and will get you discounts of up to 50% off all rail fares. It is also valid on the public bus service, decreasing fares by about 15%.
Bus tends to be the more popular form of transport in Ireland. Operated by Bus Eireann, it serves a great deal more destinations than the train system and is a lot cheaper. When travelling between any of the bigger towns or cities, ensure that you use the Express service which eliminates most of the stops between the two areas. Otherwise your journey time will considerably longer. Bus Eireann also offer Rambler tickets which offer unlimited travel for either three out of eight days, eight out of fifteen or fifteen out of thirty days and they cost £28, £68 and £98 respectively. They are an excellent idea if you don’t intend staying too long in any one place, otherwise they do mean that you have to move from town to town pretty quickly.
There are also numerous private tour operators who run excellent tours throughout Ireland. These range from three day to nine day trips and will take you to all the tourist highlights staying in a different town or city every night. They are a really good way to see the country and if you find that you tend to be slightly disorganised from time to time, then this is definitely the option for you. Furthermore they help make the most of the time you have in Ireland.
Cars may be hired from all major rental companies. You should note that the Irish drive on the left. Generally you do need to be over 25 to hire a car although some companies will rent to persons over 21. However, this is the exception rather than the rule.
Finally, cycling and hiking are also popular means of getting around and discovering the more rural tourist attractions. Bikes may be hired with ease in any urban area and can be brought (sometimes subject to a small fee) on public transport.
The Guinness Brewery, Dublin
The manufacturing home of Guinness for over 200 hundred years, it has now been turned into a museum detailing the history of Guinness. Here you can purchase much sought after Guinness souvenirs and taste a complimentary pint of Guinness.
The Ring of Kerry
This beautiful peninsula stretches from Killorglen to Killarney and is one of the most visited regions in the country. Offering breath taking coastal scenery as well as attractions which include the renowned Muckross House and Kate Kearney’s Cottage it is a tour well worth including on your visit to Ireland.
The Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
Nearly 100 square miles of Karst region spanning nearly one third of the Clare coastline. Further down the coast you will find the magnificent Cliffs of Moher, standing at some 700 feet, you will definitely feel dizzy.
Within close proximity to Dublin, Wicklow, also known as the Garden of Ireland, is a county dominated by mountains, rivers, and lakes making it the perfect stop off for all of you who want to see the real Ireland outside the capital. It is also home to several of the country’s top tourist attractions including the famous monastery at Glendalough, Powerscourt House and Gardens and the meeting of the waters at Avoca.
Aran Islands, Co. Galway
The three Aran Islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer are about 15 miles west of the Galway/Clare Coast. A visit to the Aran Islands will be a rare chance to experience rural life and sheer raw beauty.
Trinity College, Dublin
Another of Dublin’s must see attractions, Trinity College is renowned world wide primarily because of the contents of The Old Library. Home to the eighth century Book of Kells and the seventh century Book of Durrow, the college attracts thousands of visitors every year just to see two pages of the priceless Irish manuscripts.
Ireland’s student capital, Galway is also the country’s party capital. The city comes to life after dark with traditional music emanating from every corner. It is also the friendliest city in the country attracting backpackers in their thousands every year. A particularly good time to visit is when the Arts festival (See Entertainment Section) is taking place.
Blarney Stone, Co. Cork
Situated five miles north west of Cork city, this little village is home to the Blarney Castle which was built in 1446. And, on the top storey is the world famous Blarney Stone said to give the ‘gift of the gab’ (eloquence) to all who kiss it. So, if you feel you don’t have enough to say or can’t think of the right way to say it, head to Cork and do as hundreds of thousands have done before you.
Newgrange, Co. Meath
Even older than the pyramids, Newgrange is one of the world’s finest examples of a Neolithic Passage Tomb. Unique in that the only day sunlight shines into the main chamber is on the shortest day of the year, the tomb offers the visitor a fascinating display of the artistic abilities of Neolithic man. Located nearby is the Hill of Tara the residence of the ancient kings of Ireland and also worth visiting while you are in the region.
Yeats County, Co. Sligo
Whether you’re a fan of his poetry or not, a visit to the region which inspired a great deal of W.B. Yeats’ work is a memorable experience. A melange of mountain, lake and coastal scenery bring you rural Ireland at its best and you get to visit the lake-isle of Inisfree, the island made famous by the poem of the same name. The county also has some of Ireland’s best beaches and is particular popular with the surfers among you.
St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations
Rapidly becoming a worldwide event, Ireland is still the best place to spend ‘Paddy’s Day’. In the bigger cities, and in Dublin in particular, the festival is now a three-day event which culminates with a huge fireworks display on the final night. The highlight of the celebrations for many is the parade on the actual day and of course this is also the more traditional aspect of the whole event. For most, however, it is the general party atmosphere that descends on the entire country which features among their reasons for being there. Whatever the reason, one thing you can be sure of is that you will have a truly memorable stay if you visit the country for March 17th.
Murphy’s Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, Kilkenny
Although it has only been around since 1995, this event rapidly established itself as one of the best comedy festivals on the continent. Attracting a host of the best national and international stand-up comedians and comedy improvisers, the Cat Laughs is simply an excuse to have fun. It’s also pretty unique thanks to an intimacy which allows performers to mingle with audiences at ease and a complete lack of any television cameras. Everyone is there to have a good time and enjoy the event and this is exactly what happens. The 2001 festival takes place between May 31st and June 5th.
Galway Arts Festival
Widely regarded as the country’s most popular celebration of the arts, the Galway Arts festival is an international extravaganza of the performing and visual arts. Among the activities which take place are street parades, music, dance, film exhibitions, comedy and theatre and if there’s anything else you can think off, well that’s there too. Featuring performers from all over the world the festival is a rare mix of local, national and international culture, and for two weeks only the city leaves itself completely at the mercy at the hundreds of thousands who flock there for the celebrations. This year’s festival takes place from July 17th to the 29th so book your accommodation early or you’ll be left wandering the streets.
All Ireland Fleadh Ceol, Listowel, Co. Kerry
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Fleadh Ceol na hEireann, the biggest gathering of traditional Irish musicians on the planet. Taking place in a different town every year, this year the honour has gone to Listowel in County Kerry. Having already hosted the event on twelve previous occasions, the locals certainly know how to put on a good show and this year’s Fleadh promises to be a weekend of non-stop entertainment with ceilidh, concerts, sessions and street entertainment. Over four thousand musicians will take part in the numerous competitions but more than ten thousand will be performing at various venues throughout the town. If you’re looking for a traditional Irish festival you won’t any better than this so ensure that you keep add Listowel from the 24th to the 26th of August to your itinerary.
Cork Jazz Festival
Taking place on the October bank holiday weekend, the Guinness Jazz Festival is now in its 24th year and is one of Ireland’s biggest annual events. With over one hundred bands and seven hundred musicians from twenty-five different countries performing at various venues throughout the city and with free admission to 90% of the gigs, this is definitely one you don’t want to miss. Forty thousand visitors descend upon the city for the event and the atmosphere for the four days of the festival is indescribable.
All that Australian, Canadian, EU, New Zealand and US residents need to visit the country for a period of three months or under is a valid passport. If you intend staying longer you must prove that you can support yourself for this time and a medical examination is often required. It is also worth noting that if you are resident outside the EU, this does not include the right to work. If you do wish to work in the country, you should contact your nearest Irish diplomatic office. This is also where you need to go if you not resident in any of the aforementioned regions or are in any doubt as to whether you need a visa to enter the country. UK residents do not need a passport to travel to Ireland.
The currency used in Ireland is the Euro which is made up of 100 Cent. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, 0.50C, 0.20C, 0.10C, 0.05C, 0.02C and 0.01C.
According to the State, the first official language in Ireland is Gaelic, known colloquially as Irish. Despite this, English is language spoken by everyone in the country and although there are still some Gaeltacht regions (areas where Gaelic is widely spoken) remaining, particularly along the west coast, most residents in these areas also speak English. Despite this all road signs right throughout the country display information in both English and Irish.
It’s extremely difficult to generalise when talking about the Irish weather, even the professional forecasters don’t get it right most of the time. The one thing that can be said without any doubt is that the country has the most changeable climate you are ever likely to encounter. Sunny one second, torrential rain the next or blizzard like weather in one area and in the next town or village, which might be no more than a couple of kilometres away, they probably haven’t seen one snowflake.
But, because this is a general overview, here goes. The coldest months are January and February which bring widespread frost throughout the country as well as snow on occasion. Snow is not that common in Ireland, however, but when it does arrive, the country literally comes to a standstill. The warmest months are July and August but they are by no means hot. Average temperatures usually range between 16 and 20 degrees although recent summers have scored well into the 20s.
Basically what you need to do when packing for a trip to Ireland is bring something to cover all eventualities. A rain-coat is essential, you are guaranteed to need it at least once during your stay as well as a couple of warm sweaters irregardless of the time of year you visit. Realistically the weather in Ireland is neither a reason to visit nor a reason to stay away. In fact if you have a strong sense of humour, the changeability of the weather can become quite amusing after a while – and remember you are only visiting.
Ireland operates on Greenwich Mean Time from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March. For the rest of the year it observes daylight saving time which places it one hour ahead of GMT.
In general, shops are open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Saturday. In the bigger towns and cities, however, they also open from midday until 6.00pm on Sundays as well as opening late on Thursdays until 8.00 pm or 9.00pm. It is also worth noting that some smaller country towns also take a half-day when shops close at 1.00pm but this is an age-old tradition which is not at all common anymore. Office hours are open from 9.00am until 5.00/5.30pm from Monday to Friday but many are closed during lunch-time which can be for one hour any time between midday and two o’clock.
Electrical Current is standard 220v A.C.
The postal system in Ireland is operated by An Post and there are offices in almost every town and village in the country. While some of the smaller offices have closed down in recent years, you will never have to travel too far to find one which is still open. They are also pretty easy to find with their trademark green signs and are usually located in the town centre. Incidentally, all post boxes are also painted green and can be found throughout the country, even in the most rural areas.
The Irish government tourist authority is called Bórd Fáilte which translates as board of welcome. Its main office is located in a beautifully restored church in Dublin’s city centre and you should be able to find information here pertaining to any part of the country to which you wish to travel. If it is not possible to get to the Dublin Tourism Centre, however, there are Bórd Fáilte offices in all the bigger towns and villages throughout the country. Like the post offices, they too are easy to locate thanks to their prominent signs which feature a shamrock contained within a circle – very imaginative.
In Ireland the value added tax (VAT) ranges from 0% on food to 17% in restaurants to 21% on certain goods including clothing and electrical equipment. For non-EU residents, however, the good news is that you can get the tax back on any item for which you pay over £200. This is only applicable in shops which display the ‘Cashback’ sticker so if you don’t see one it is worth asking. In order to avail of this incentive, you need to obtain a Europe Tax-Free Shopping Cheque when you purchase the item. When you are leaving the country, you present both the item and the cheque at customs, the officials will stamp it for you and you can then cash your cheque at any of the booths with the Tax-Free logo and Cash Refund sign. In some cases you may receive your refund by post and this can take anything between six and eight weeks to come through. All refunds are only applicable to those leaving the country within three months of purchase.
The best place to change any foreign cash when you are in Ireland is at the exchange bureaux located in the various banks. They open between 10.00am and 4.00pm from Monday to Friday with late opening until 5.00pm on Thursdays. If you are heading to a particularly rural area it is a good idea to change cash in one of the bigger towns before you go. The other alternative location in which to change cash or traveller’s cheques is in some of the bigger tourist offices.
All major credit cards and Eurocard are widely accepted and if you have the PIN they can also be used to obtain cash advances from ATMs or banks. You can also use regular bankcards which are members of the bigger international networks including Cirrus, Plus and Link in machines which bear the symbol.
The country code for Ireland is 353 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 353, the local area code and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country. It is also worth nothing that you need to drop the zero from the local area code when dialling. A list of Irish regional codes and International direct dialling codes can be found in the front pages of any telephone directory. For directory enquiries, dial 1190 for numbers within Ireland, 1197 for numbers within Great Britain, 1198 for international numbers. For operator assisted calls dial 10 for Ireland or the UK and 114 for all other countries.
There are plenty of public telephones dotted throughout most cities and towns. You will usually find a Cardphone and a coin phone side by side. Cards in 10, 20, 50 and 100 unit denominations can be purchased in Telecentres, post offices and shops which display the Callcard sign. As well as the aforementioned, prepaid calling cards are now extremely popular with visitors to the country. These can be used on any type of phone, are available in all newsagents and convenience shops and offer excellent value for international calls. It is worth shopping around, however, as there are numerous different types and the value you get for your money differs greatly from one to another.
Visitors from EU countries are entitled to medical treatment under the EU Reciprocal Medical Treatment agreement. Before you travel you should collect a form, E111, from your local social security office. Check that the doctor or dentist that you use is registered with the Irish Health Board and inform him or her that you want to be treated under the EU’s social security arrangements. In the event of an emergency, visitors may telephone or go directly to the casualty department of the major hospitals.
Quite a few restaurants and hotels in Ireland are now adding a service charge of between 12 and 15% to their bill and where this is the case you should not feel obliged to leave a tip. If you feel that the service merits something extra, however, 5% is sufficient. Where the service charge is not included, a tip of between 10 and 15% is adequate. Remember at no time is tipping compulsory; it is entirely at your own discretion.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Ireland they take place on January 1st, March 17th, Good Friday, Easter Monday, the first Monday in May, June and August, the last Monday in October and December 25th and 26th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.