Ireland is an island comprising the countries of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the latter of which is part of the United Kingdom.
People all over the world have pictures of Ireland that live in their imaginations. When they think of the Emerald Isle, it is of rolling green farmlands outlined by snaking lines of grey stone walls, tidy white thatched cottages with bright painted doors, whitecapped waves crashing against the impressive Cliffs of Moher, or the brick houses of Belfast with sectarian slogans printed on them and British soldiers patrolling the rubble-strewn streets. All these images are equally valid, and none of them are quite correct.
Ireland is seductive, a picture postcard of a lost way of life that is uncluttered and nostalgic. She calls to her expatriates, beckoning them still to take up her causes, sing her praises, was poetic about her triumphs, and honor her achievements. Once a year, they do so, indulging in the “wearin’ o’ the green” and marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades, but few ever return to her.
Centuries of conflict and biter hatreds have taken their toll. In modern times, tourism has depleted much of the magic that once held sway in this island of bittersweet glories. The last bastion of Europe, this westernmost island country (and province) exercises an allure and enduring sentiment far beyond what its size would suggest. So ingrained is the image of lush green fields, so inspiring her many struggles for freedom, so enticing the popular notion of Irish charm and hospitality, that thousands of people the world over claim Irish ancestry, even when it isn’t true.
Thousands of visitors flock to Ireland’s many castles and historic sites every year to kiss the Blarney Stone, drink Guinness in a real Irish pub, sleep in an Irish castle, walk upon the Giant’s Causeway, and photograph the Celtic crosses, ruined monasteries, and other landmarks that have become the stock-and-trade of the tourist industry. They bring their dreams of an Ireland of their own creation, but leave Banality in their wake as they seek to grasp that elusive “something” they are searching for… something they believe Ireland will give them.
The real Ireland may be impossible to find, even for her natives. The history of this “island of saints and scholars” is a never-ending series of battles and invasions. Her legacy is a wealth of sad songs, merry jigs, witty writers, brilliant poets, and imaginative storytellers. It is also one of grim repression, the sundering of families, wasted chances, martyrs to “the cause” of Irish freedom, economic hardships, and ongoing violence in the name of patriotism. Ireland’s sons and daughters have been forced to emigrate in search of a better future, leaving in waves since the Great Famine and scattering around the world.
There are now far more people of Irish ancestry who live in the United States than populating the whole of modern Ireland. Nor are the Catholic Irish the only ones who have fled. The Scot-Irish of Ulster were among those who became the American pioneers. But the energy and talents both groups brought to America were lost to those left at home. History and religion have created a divided island, with the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland adamantly opposed to reuniting the island, and a Catholic majority in the Republic of Ireland which is uncertain it could shoulder the burdens that would fall to it should there actually be a reunification.
Ireland is one of the wettest countries of Europe, though the temperature is mild due to the Atlantic Gulf Stream, which softens and warms the westerly winds. No point on the island is further than 70 miles from the ocean, giving the whole of it a temperate climate that rarely falls below 40 degrees F in the winter or rises above the low to mid-60s in summer. Rain is more plentiful in the West, while the southeast is the driest part of the island. Snow is rare, usually falling only in the higher elevations, and never lasts for long.
Most of Ireland is subject to the grey, overcast days of light, drizzling rain, which the Irish refer to as “soft weather.” Most days, though, have at least partial sunshine. The West gets heavy rainstorms, and frightening squalls blow in off the ocean. The weather is notorious for its capriciousness, changing in the space of a few minutes or hours from grey and rainy to sunny and clear. It is not unusual on a day that has been heavily overcast to suddenly have the clouds open and spotlight portions of the land with brilliant shafts of sunlight, or for the clouds to disappear entirely in time for a rosy sunset. The humidity of the island sets the stage for spectacular rainbows, which are most frequently seen in the Southwest.
Fewer people live in the whole of Ireland than live in the city of London. With a population of just over 5 million (of which 3.5 million reside in the Republic and 1.5 million in Northern Ireland), it constitutes one of the most sparsely populated areas of Europe. At one time, Ireland claimed over 8 million people. The Great Famine in the 1840s, and its attendant disease and emigration, reduced this by half. Emigration since that time further reduced the number in the Republic to less than 3 million by the 1960s. That number has now climbed over the 3 million mark again.
Approximately one-third of the population of the republic lives in the capital of Dublin, and one third of the people of Northern Ireland reside in its capital of Belfast. While the North has always been more industrialized, this constitutes a major shift for the people of the Republic who were more agrarian in the past.
In the Republic of Ireland, Catholics comprise 95% of the population, with Protestants representing only a little over 3%. In Northern Ireland, Protestants have a 55% majority, and Catholics are a large minority with 40% of the population. While there is supposed to be no discrimination, in actual fact, it was unavoidable because of the division of the island. The percentage of Protestants has declined in the Republic, while in the North, disenfranchisement of Catholics was built into the province at its inception. And preference for Protestants has existed for centuries. Ironically, while the Catholics of the North were discriminated against by the Protestants, the Protestants themselves (Presbyterians and others) were (and continue to be) looked down upon by the established Church of England. Religions is still an important part of life in Ireland, and has had a profound effect on its political, economic, and social development.
In both the North and the South, almost half the population consists of young people under 25 years of age. Most are well-educated, though the high unemployment rate in both the Republic and the North have left many with few choices other than emigration. Recently there has been a shift away from large families due to the availability of contraceptives, and to leaving the traditional farming life which required many children to work the land.
Usually characterized as being amiable, helpful, goodhearted, and eloquent, the Irish people (both North and South), are generally friendly and talkative, as is evidenced by the profusion of local pubs that serve as centers of social life. There, people gather to engage in craic, which is basically a rousing good time involving lots of humorous talk, drink, good fellowship, and debates on everything. Their speech is flavored by the cadences of Irish Gaelic, and their love of storytelling harks back to the oral traditions of the Celtic bards. The Irish are noted both for their wit and love of gossip, and visitors are treated with great hospitality, warmth, and generosity, all of which help make strangers relax and feel at home.
On the other hand, the Irish are also seen as melancholy dreamers holding onto vain hopes and bygone glories. That they are given to introspection is not unusual in the light of the sorrows which have afflicted this small island throughout its history. There are few Irish who cannot relate at least some of the sad past in either story or song.
All too often, the people of the South are dismissed as being quaint, uncultured, and superstitious, while those of the North are perceived to be dour, stubborn, and unforgiving. Better descriptions of both might emphasize their charm, resilience, and resourcefulness throughout a history brimming with conflict. Too often, though, today’s decisions are based on glorious yesterdays that never were or terrible wrongs that should have never been. Myth and history have become political weapons wielded by both sides in the ongoing Troubles in Northern Ireland, where warring dreams clash in violent conflict.
The picturesque peasant cottages so dear to the imagination of tourists held grinding poverty within them until quite recently. While still a very poor place compared with most of their European neighbors, Ireland has begun the move into the modern age. Since joining the EU (European Union) in 1973, the Republic has acquired new industries and foreign investments. In the West, traditionally the part of Ireland most dependent on agriculture, farms have been forced to modernize, foreign industry has arrived, and forestry is a developing business. Ireland’s denuded hills have been reforested in many places, but the trend toward planting conifers rather than hardwoods has led to lines of dreary, dark trees that conflict with, rather than contribute to the wild beauty of the rural West.
Once one of the greatest industrial cities in the British Isles, Belfast has been in decline, its industries outdated, most of its linen mills now closed. Newer, more modern industry has been recently introduced, though, and has begun to make inroads. Cross-community initiatives that hire both Protestants and Catholics bring hope in areas where unemployment reaches 80%. The city of Derry has begun an economic recovery as well, but only by an almost total segregation of Catholics and Protestants.
Both parts of Ireland are plagued by the problems that beset most modern urban societies: a rising crime rate, drug use, and high unemployment rates. Nonetheless, they are beginning to edge toward greater prosperity, and some of the worst slum areas have been replaced by better housing. In both North and South, tourism has become the industry of the moment. Despite the Troubles, the confusing exchange rate, and the exasperating delays and difficulties inherent to Ireland, the tourists grow more numerous every year.
Travelling Around Ireland Edit
Air Travel Edit
The Republic of Ireland has four international airports (Dublin, Shannon, Cork, and Knock). In Northern Ireland, Aldergrove Airport near Belfast is the only international airport of the province. Regional airports exist in Galway, Killarney, Sligo, and Waterford in the Republic, and in Derry (Londonderry) in Northern Ireland. Aer Lingus serves not only as international transport, but has several flights per day from Dublin to Cork, Shannon, and Galway. Smaller airlines provide domestic flights, with Aer Arann flying from Carnmore airport near Galway to the Aran Islands.
Flights from many English airports as well as from Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland are available to Dublin, Shannon (near Limerick), Waterford, and Cork. From the United States, Flights aboard Aer Lingus are direct from New York or Boston to Shannon and Dublin airports. Most air travel from Europe goes to Great Britain first. From there a flight to Ireland takes about an hour. Dublin is the usual entry point to Ireland, though Shannon’s famous duty-free shopping attracts thousands of visitors a year. Getting from the airport to the city can be done via bus service or taxi in all the main airports.
Land & Sea Travel Edit
Ireland and Britain are linked by several ferry routes. The most frequent used is the ferry to Dún Laoghaire (pronounced Dunleary) and Dublin. Ferries also run to Cork, Rosslare Harbor, and Belfast. The shortest trip is about two hours (from Holyhead to Dún Leoghaire), while the longest (about 11 hours) runs from Liverpool to Belfast. Further travel is available through connections to the Irish Rail service and various private and national bus companies.
DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) is an electric rail service that runs between Howth in County Dublin and Bray in County Wicklow. It stops at 25 stations along the way, many of them in Dublin. One DART station is located at Dún Laoghaire where the ferry lands and provides a 10-15-minute ride to downtown Dublin.
Getting Around in Ireland Edit
All of Ireland’s large cities can be reached via air travel, bus, or train. Many package tours also take visitors to smaller towns and notable tourist attractions. One of the best ways to see Ireland, though, is by car.
There are major highways only in the Dublin and Belfast areas. The rest of the island is served by major roads, which generally connect the larger cities, and small local roads, which are usually not very well maintained. Traffic is relatively heavy on the major routes, while the minor ones often have obstacles such as wondering cows and sheep blocking them. Although nowhere is very far from anywhere else in Ireland, many of the island’s most beautiful attractions are in rural areas where the roads are narrow, public transportation is virtually nil, and the pace of life is slow. Patience is a requirement when travelling the island.
Signposts on major routes are usually well-maintained, but those on minor routes can be difficult to interpret. Ireland is slowly changing to the metric system, though it isn’t always apparent where. Older signposts are white with black writing in Gaelic or both Gaelic and English. These may list distances in either miles or kilometers. Newer signs have white lettering on green or blue backgrounds, and are written in both Gaelic and English with the distances in kilometers. In Northern Ireland, signposts are only in English and distance is measured in miles. It should be noted that speed limits are noted in miles throughout Ireland, though gasoline is sold in liters rather than gallons.
When crossing into Northern Ireland, travelers are advised to stay on the main roads and cross via the border posts that are marked on most maps. In Northern Ireland (particularly in Belfast), there are areas marked as “Control Zones,” where no parking is allowed. Vehicles parked within those areas will attract police attention due to the North’s history of car bombings.
Other Methods Edit
Other options for travel include bicycling and renting horse-drawn caravans. Irelands many quiet roads and light traffic make bicycling a pleasure, though the winds, rains, and many, many hills require a lot of stamina. Caravans are replicas of the round-topped wagons favored by the Irish travelingfolk (tinkers). Capable of housing up to four people, the wagons are driven by caravan operators. The horses must be fed oats and turned out for pasturing each evening, making this a leisurely way to travel (usually no more than 10 miles a day or so) to fixed itineraries.
Travel by water is possible on the Shannon River and the lakes and canals that connect to it. These form a web of inland waterways. Cabin cruisers with up to eight berths may be rented for a cruise on the waterways.
Lastly, there is always the option of walking. Although it is more usual for those who want to hike to find a central location and make day-trips around it, it is possible to hike from one town to the next in less than a day in many parts of Ireland. Since 1978, over 600 miles of footpaths and designated hiking trails have been developed and marked, including some interesting paths through the island’s peat bogs.
Tourism has become a huge industry in Ireland. In the West, farming communities are now running tours of their local sites, whether historical or ecological in nature. In the North, those who were once intimidated by the Troubles have poured into the province since the cease-fire of 1994. Throughout the island, castles have been converted into luxury hotels, and small bed-and-breakfasts have sprung up almost overnight. Standing stones and earth mounds that the locals ignored (or plowed around) for years have acquired historical significance and sport new signs or spiffy new visitor centers.
While one of the main attractions for visitors in undoubtedly the presence of many, many historical sites, these have never been the only draws. Ireland’s reputation as a paradise for fishers and golfers is well-deserved. Unfortunately, the popularity of golf has led to the creation of so many golf courses (about 250 of them) that it is almost impossible to travel for more than a few miles without running across yet another of the pesky things. Amazing, and perhaps a little excessive in a place slightly smaller than the state of Maine!
Many visitors come for the sports. Hurling and Gaelic football attract thousands of fans, as does soccer (which they call football) in the North. Horse and greyhound racing are well-established pastimes, as are various equestrian pursuits such as trail riding and hunting. Sailing a swimming have their adherents, and eco-tours involving hiking and birdwatching are gaining popularity. For the less physically inclined, Ireland’s many festivals showcase Irish music, dance, theatre, and literature.
On the plus side, the influx of tourists and the need to accommodate them, entertain them, sell them souvenirs, and (hopefully) lure them back, has led to the creation of new jobs, to increased sensitivity to the needs of the disabled, and to a new era of palatable cuisine designed to appeal to world travelers. While it has undoubtedly made many more sites more accessible to those who wish to visit them, government sponsorship and “improvements” to some historic places have rendered them inconsequential by trivializing them. Such is the case with the meticulously engineered megalithic site of Newgrange. No longer must visitors to Newgrange await the winter solstice to see a shaft of sunlight illuminate the interior chamber. Now, this amazing moment is recreated for visitors by the “magic” of modern, scientific showmanship several times a day. And while the Giant’s Causeway is devoid of some of the worst excesses, like ice cream vendors, it has been so widely publicized that it is often difficult to take a photograph of it without catching dozens of strangers in the picture.
Events & Festivals Edit
Aside from the legal holidays observed in the Republic and Northern Ireland, there are well over 125 special events and festivals well-known enough to considered either famous or international in scope. Many feature the arts, with traditional singing, dancing, literary readings, drama, and art exhibitions topping the list. A significant number feature horse racing and trading. Some have religious connotations, and others celebrate local culture. A few of the best known, most interesting, or just plain strange are listed below.
- Point-to-Point Season: Opens in January. These are small steeplechases (a sport invented in Ireland) held in different places each Sunday until May.
- Dublin Film Festival: 10 days of the best international cinema, with lectures and seminars on film-making.
- Punchestown Bloodstock Sales: One of the most important racehorse auctions in Ireland, Nass, co. Kildare.
- Horse Plowing and Heavy Horse Show: An old-time plowing competition, the show has been held for over 100 years at Fair Head, Ballycastle.
- St. Patrick’s Day: A national holiday in the Republic, parades all over the country are featured. In Dublin, the parade features guest bands from the US. A festival of traditional Irish music called the Dublin Feis Ceoil takes place as well. It is a time-honored tradition for the taoiseach (Ireland’s prime minister) to travel to Washington, D.C. and present a Waterford crystal dish filled with shamrocks to the US president on St. Patrick’s Day.
- Belfast Civic Festival & Lord Mayor’s Show: 21 days of concerts, competitions, and exhibitions with floats and bands.
- “Bloomsday” (June 16th) in Dublin: Celebration of Joyce’s Ulysses with readings, dramatizations, costumed breakfasts, and pilgrimages.
- Sheep & Wool Festival: Sheep-shearing demos, wool spinning, and dances in Connemara.
- City of Belfast International Rose Trails: Over 100,000 roses vying for the honor to be accorded official status.
- Galway Arts Festival: The largest in Ireland; 10 days of theatre, music (all kinds including rock), readings, parades, street events, films, children’s shows, art exhibitions, and comedy.
- Galway Races: A week of horse racing in the week following the Arts Festival. These are the famous races celebrated in song.
- O’Carolan Harp & Traditional Irish Music Festival, Keadue, co. Roscommon
- Street Entertainers’ & Buskers’ Championships, Enniskillen
- Clifden Community Arts Week, Clifden, co. Galway: Concerts, exhibitions, and readings are featured; top literary and musical names usually attend.
- Gaelic Football & Hurling Finals, Croke Park, Dublin
- Ireland’s Harvest Matchmaking Festival, Lisdoonvarna, co. Clare: Traditionally farmers went to Lisdoonvarna to look for a wife once the hay and crops were in. This has become a week of dances and events in which single people have a chance to meet each other.
- Oyster Festivals: At the beginning of September is the Clarinbridge Festival, co. Galway, the original Oyster Festival. At the end of the month is the Galway City Oyster Festival. Lots of oysters and smoked salmon are consumed, accompanied by competitions, music, dancing, and drinking.
- Ballinasloe Great Fair & Festival: One of the biggest and oldest horse and cattle fairs in Europe.
- Dublin Theatre Festival: Two weeks of drama with up to 40 international and Irish productions.
- New Year Viennese Ball, Belfast City Hall: The Ulster Symphony Orchestra performs music by Johann Strauss.
- St. Stephen’s Day: When traditional Wren Boys in masks, straw suits, and motley sing in the streets and demand money (which goes to charity).
Ireland’s Legal Holidays Edit
The Republic Edit
- January 1st
- March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day)
- Good Friday (Widely observed, but not official)
- Easter Monday
- First Monday in June (Bank Holiday)
- First Monday in August (August Weekend)
- Last Monday in October (Autumn Bank Holiday)
- December 25th (Christmas Day)
- December 26th (St. Stephen’s Day)
Northern Ireland Edit
- January 1st
- Good Friday (Widely observed, but not official)
- Easter Monday
- May Day (May 1st) or First Sunday in May (Spring Holiday)
- Last Monday in May or First Monday in June (Bank Holiday)
- July 12th (Orange Day, anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, 1690)
- Last Monday in August (August Bank Holiday)
- December 25th (Christmas Day)
- December 26th (Boxing Day)
Things Irish Edit
Irish traditional music and song, played by such masters as the Chieftains, are known and celebrated the world over. So are exports such as U2, Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, Clannad, Enya, Mary Black, Dé Dannann, Sinéad O’Connor, Planxty, the Hothouse Flowers, the Pogues, and the Cranberries. There are a few instruments and practices, though, that may not be as familiar.
- Step Dancing: a form of traditional dance in which participants leap high into the air and execute a number of complex patterns with their feet, all while holding the upper half of their bodies rigid with their arms straight down at their sides.
- Sean Nós singing: Features a very old style in which an unaccompanied singer performs a song with several verses, with each successive verse showing variation as the song is developed. The singing is in Irish, and the emphasis is on ornamentation, rhythm, and melody.
- Traditional instruments: Instruments such as the fiddle, flute, and tin whistle (also called a penny whistle) are the mainstays of Irish traditional music. Less familiar are the uillean pipes, which are similar to bagpipes except that they are pumped by bellows squeezed by the player’s right arm against their side. Bones from sheep or goats (each about 4-6 inches long) are held in one hand and knocked together to produce the complex “clickety-clickety” rhythms (somewhat like spoons are played in a jug band). The bodhran (pronounced bo-rann) is a small drum with only one head. Traditionally made of goatskin stretched over a wooden frame, it is played with a small, double-headed stick or tapped with the hand. Its rhythms provide the steady beat over which the interweaving patterns of the other instruments are laid. The Celtic harp has been around since the time of the Gaels. It was played by the great poets, and is undergoing a revival of popularity for the delicacy and intricacy it brings to traditional music. The best-known compositions for harp were composed in the 18th century by the master harpist Turlough O’Carolan. The Celtic harp is recognized the world over as the symbol of Ireland.
- Irish Wakes: Wakes have achieved a reputation that they probably deserved at one time. Until the end of the last century, they were common in Ireland. Some still follow the practice, but do so more discreetly and quietly. The purpose of the wake was to allow relatives, friends, and neighbors to gather together the night before the funeral and pray for the deceased. At one time, it was also used to make certain that the person was actually dead. To this end, the wake was a “waking of the dead” in which the corpse was treated as if it were still alive. Drinks were placed on the dead person’s coffin (or nearby on a table), card hands were dealt to them, and occasionally, someone who was really far gone with drink would grab the corpse and dance a few steps with them. In general, wakes usually turned into wild parties given in the dead person’s honor. Though there would be keening and solemn prayers, eventually the gathered crowd would tell amusing stories or relate stirring examples taught them by the dead person’s exemplary (or not so noble) life. Games, drinking (often of the illegal whiskey known as poteen), eating, drinking, storytelling, and more drinking were the mainstays of a rousing Irish wake. Frowned upon by the clergy, wakes were a community ritual designed both to reaffirm those left behind and to make a final farewell to cherished friends and family members.
Ranging from elegant and expensive converted castles and country houses to smaller, comfortable, and friendly hotels, to unpretentious youth hostels, Ireland’s selection of accommodations is truly vast. The choice depends on what you want, how much you can afford, and where you are going. Prices range from $6 for hostels, to $20 or so for a decent room in a small hotel, up to $200 for exclusive lodgings in an island castle. Bed-and-breakfasts are popular (and seemingly ubiquitous), as they allow tourists to meet natives (and other travelers) in a more intimate setting, usually a private home with a little extra space. B&Bs serve a full Irish breakfast of eggs, sausage, bread, cereal, bacon, orange juice, and coffee or tea. For the adventurous, there are campsites, though many of these are intended for use by caravans rather than tent-users. Designated campgrounds have toilets, running water, and showers, and occasionally they have kitchens, laundries, and shops as well. Camping is not allowed in state forests and national parks, and those making a bed for themselves in the boglands should remember that peat is highly flammable.
General Informaton Edit
Public Services Edit
Both the Republic and Northern Ireland have local and international phone service and mail. Medical services for visitors can be obtained through arranging for insurance to cover the cost of emergency care and specialists’ fees. Some pharmacies are called chemists, and some are identified only with the symbol of an old-fashioned serpent entwined around a goblet.
In the Republic, the police are called the Gardaí (pronounced Gordee), while in Northern Ireland, they are known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Despite the popular belief that Northern Ireland is a constant war zone, neither the Republic nor the North have much personal crime. The Gardaí are friendly and helpful. Their Northern counterparts are somewhat less approachable, having been the target of bullets and bombs for so long.
Despite the recent ceasefire in the North (particularly since the apparent cancellation of the ceasefire in early February of 1996), visitors should not leave packages unattended, as this may cause concern in an area that until recently was targeted by both package and car bombs. Some shops may ask customers to reveal the contents of packages brought into the store as a routine precaution. In general, even in the height of the Troubles, tourists were rarely in danger.
Other difficulties can usually be handled either through travelers’ package tour operators, Bord Fáilte, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, or through the various embassies in Dublin.
One service which had garnered much attention in modern times is genealogical research. Those seeking to trace their roots can find help at the Registrar General, the Public Records Office, Registry of Deeds, and the National Library, all in Dublin. Local parishes also keep old records. In Northern Ireland, the Public Records Office in Belfast serves the same function.
Passports & Customs Edit
British citizens do not need a passport to travel to Northern Ireland or to enter the republic if they travel directly from Britain. All others require a passport or national identity card to enter either the Republic or Northern Ireland. Visas are not required of visitors from the EU, US, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.
Currency & Banking Edit
Northern Ireland uses the Northern Ireland pound sterling as its currency while the Republic uses the punt (also called the Irish pound). The punt is divided into 100 pence. The two currencies are not interchangeable. Money from the United Kingdom is accepted in the Republic at the value of its Irish equivalents (about 98%). In the North, the Northern Ireland pound has the same value as the British pound and both are accepted. Strangely, although British pounds are accepted in both North and South, the South does not accept the Northern Irish pound, nor does the North take the Irish punt.
Money can be exchanged at international airports, bureaus of exchange, several banks, and at the General Post Office in Dublin. An Irish punt is worth approximately $1.60 US currency, while the pound is worth about $1.55. Travelers’ checks and credit cards are widely accepted in the larger cities and towns.
Ireland is served by two television channels, RTE (Radio Telefis Eireann) 1 and Network 2. Additionally, the four British television channels are available in most parts of the island. Cable TV has become common in the Republic, with many hotels offering the service. There are three national radio stations, one of which is in the Irish Gaelic language, in addition to many local stations.
Six national daily newspapers and five Sunday papers are available, with the Irish Times being noted for its excellence. The Belfast Telegraph, which goes on sale in the afternoon, is Northern Ireland’s top paper. The Times and other British papers are available in large towns, and magazines such as Newsweek and Time can be found in major cities. Local and regional papers have good sections on events, performances, and celebrations in their areas. Gay Community News has comprehensive listings of gay locales including pubs and nightlife.
All Ireland is on Greenwich Mean Time, which is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (New York). From March through October, Ireland observes Summer Time, which is one hour in advance of GMT.
Openings & Shopping Edit
Shopping is usually a leisurely affair. Dublin and Belfast have main shopping areas where stores are within easy walking distance of each other. Those displaying an overabundance of Irish symbols (leprechauns, shamrocks, and harps) are tourist traps with their “Irish” goods made in Singapore. Shops with fine quality Irish-made goods usually display a Guaranteed Irish symbol.
Among the most popular goods bought in Ireland are Waterford crystal, tweeds from Donegal and Connemara, jewelry with small pieces on Connemara marble in them, Aran sweaters, Belleek porcelain, reproductions of Celtic brooches, linen tablecloths, and claddagh rings. Northern Ireland is famous for its linen goods. Several small craft workshops are located throughout rural Ireland, many which welcome visitors to demonstrations of their art from leatherworking to sculpting thousand-year-old bogwood.
Many of the landmark buildings, castles, and sites that are of interest to tourists have variable opening times depending on the time of year and local whim. A general rule of thumb is that most sites open at 10 am and close at 5 pm. Some few are open later, depending on the season; others close for lunch. Many are closed on Sunday and Monday. During the summer, all attractions are open, but are inundated with tourists. In winter, many are closed except for certain days of the week (unless they’re closed for the entire winter). Some open for holidays such as Easter, then close again until summer.
The official language of the Irish Republic is Irish Gaelic. Should you be unfamiliar with the language, don’t despair. Most of the Irish don’t speak it either; everyone speaks English. Though there has been a campaign to save the old language, and it is taught in schools and posted on many signs, it is dying out. Of course, Irish has almost died out before only to be rescued by W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Edward Martyn, who formed the Abbey Theatre, creating a demand for plays and literature written in the language. It has also served in the past as a rallying-point for those who wished to throw off Britain’s grip on the island, and many Republicans use it in political slogans.
Only in the Gaeltacht, areas where Irish is spoken daily, does it really survive. Most of those places are in the West of Ireland, far from the cosmopolitan East. Even when Irish Gaelic is written and spoken, there are variations in the spelling and the pronunciation. Ask two Irish speakers from different areas how to pronounce Bord Fáilte (which literally means “the welcome board”, and one will tell you it’s pronounced Bord Falt-sche while the other will say it’s actually Bord Foil-tshe. This is made all the more difficult because many of the letters in Irish Gaelic words are not pronounced at all, a state of affairs that prompted a revision of their spelling earlier in the 20th century. Not everyone agrees on the new versus the old, though.
The odd language construction so familiar as stereotypical “stage Irishisms” actually came about due to Irish speakers only speaking English and adapting Gaelic grammar into English sentences. So, many otherwise unstereotypical Irish may still say such things as, “I’m after going to the store,” or “It won’t do at all, says he,” or “I’ll be thanking you not to track mud into the house.” Though less frequent now than in the past, some of these are still in evidence, especially in more remote areas. Oddly, while Irish Gaelic is dying in the Republic, there is a renewed interest in the language in Northern Ireland; not only, as might be expected, among those with Republican sympathies, but among Protestant young people who wish to explore their ties to an Irish heritage they may not have been exposed to before. Translations of some Irish words, particularly those related to place names, can be found in any good travel guide to Ireland.
Changeling: The DreamingEdit
Among the Fae, Ireland is known as the Kingdom of Hibernia.
And what of those changelings? They bask in the dreams and creativity to be found throughout Ireland, but they also live in the shadows engendered by banal tourist traps and the poisoned Glamour of The Troubles. For a time, during the recent cease-fire observed by both the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the Protestant Loyalist groups, there had been hope of a new beginning. But the cease-fire has proven to be a broken dream, and Winter once again looms on the horizon.
Fading Glamour Edit
While it is still possible to enjoy a leisurely tour of out-of-the-way scenic spots, such idyllic getaways are becoming scarcer as movie stars and the glitterati have discovered the unpretentious charm of Ireland. And in their wake come tour buses filled with camera-wielding vacationers bent on “discovering Ireland” in five days or less. The Banality they bring with them hangs over whatever sites they visit, stripping them of their Glamour, and leaving them devoid of the very magic they sought to find there.
As more and more historic sites are turned into tourist traps, changelings find themselves faced with the prospect of losing most of their ancient freeholds. Those that were claimed by the commoners during the Interregnum were mostly the poorer, more isolated sites since the sidhe often closed off access to their fine palaces before leaving. When they returned, the sidhe found themselves in the awkward position of having to search for suitable spots to rebuild. Most of their cherished castles and holdings had long since crumbled under the onslaught of Banality brought about by centuries of conflict and modern marauders clad in khaki and brandishing video cameras. While some of their ancient strongholds survive, these are now castles under siege.
Changeling Festivals Edit
In each of the four great kingdoms, the ruler’s birthday is celebrated. The Leinster Court holds a grand ball and bardic festival on King Bran’s birthday (July 22nd). Munster has a moodier celebration with poetry sessions, chimeric sculpture competitions, and a great feast in honor of Queen Nuala’s September 22nd natal day. Connaught’s court is much more practical. King Fiachra likes all sorts of machinery, so on his birthday (May 6th), there is a mechanics’ fair featuring new inventions, interesting gadgets, and train rides. King Finn’s November 20th birthday is celebrated by a gathering of all who owe fealty to him to pledge their loyalty and drink to his health. The Ulster court usually manages to arrange some sort of extravaganza to entertain the visitors, but these change from year to year.
Irish Kithain also acknowledge the following holidays: Samhain, the Winter Solstice, Imbolc, Beltaine Eve, Midsummer Night, and Lammas. Not all changelings celebrate each festival, but many do. There has recently been some talk of instituting a festival to commemorate the Cattle Raid of Cooley and the triumph over Balor of the Evil Eye and his Fomorians, but dates have yet to be set.
Mood & Atmosphere Edit
Ireland is the natural home of changelings. They glean Glamour from the thousands of tourists who come to Ireland with dreams of an emerald paradise. Willing to suspend their disbelief, tourists kiss the Blarney Stone to become eloquent and buy “lucky” shamrocks by the score. They attend medieval feasts in Bunratty Castle, and search for great grandma’s grave with sentimental tears. They are willing to let Ireland’s magic work on them and forget their mundane cares.
Ironically, though they provide changelings with much-needed Glamour, when they converge on historic sites and landmarks, or arrive en masse at a pub rumored to feature the best in local talent, their lust for sensation, to cram as much of Ireland into their itineraries as possible, strips all the Glamour away, leaving the changelings bereft and sealing the taint of Banality to the area. Often, the tourists themselves feel it, leaving unsatisfied and vaguely troubled that highly recommended attractions failed to move them.
Tourists are not the only source of Banality, though. Centuries of strife, sorrows, and the diaspora of the Irish people have engendered Banaltiy as dreams were crushed, dreamers were executed or fled, and old hatreds were allowed to fester into violence. In the North, the hard men of the IRA and the Protestant terrorist organizations, the stubborn extremists on both sides, and the terror and angry reprisals of the British have created a pall of tainted Glamour that threatens to overwhelm any changeling coming into contact with it and wrench them into the deepest throes of their Unseelie nature.
Nonetheless, there is still a sense of timelessness and magic in the land. As the people re-evaluate their feelings and look forward to a more prosperous future, they dream new dreams. And while the ceasefire has held, new changelings have emerged in Northern Ireland, as last able to climb out from under Banality and contact the Dreaming that lies hidden beneath the surface.
- Prehistory - Garou begin the Impergium. With Fianna support, Druid Verbena mages of Ireland help to enforce the Impergium through human sacrifice.
- 2000s BCE - Likely time of the first War of Rage. Fianna wipe out the Nagah in Ireland and kill every single snake there. 
- 300s BCE- Life of Fionn mac Cumhail, Fianna Kinfolk. He had adventures with a band of mercenaries called The Fianna Eireann, after the Garou tribe. His spirit and those of his comrades were eventually bound into the Sword of Fionn, a powerful Fianna Fetish.
- 57 BCE - Fianna Garou Cinvortrix battled Elim of the Fierce Ones for the high kingship of Tara. Elim won and proclaimed himself Ard Righ or high king of all the Fianna, although this claim was not be recognized by most Fianna outside of Ireland for some time.
- Around 500 CE - Settlers from Ireland found Dalriada. Fianna capture two Caerns just prior to the initial landings.
- 960s CE - The first packs of Northern Fenrir land in Ireland with an interest in taking some Fianna Caerns, but fail to do so.
- 1100s - A band of insane mages lay waste to the Hermetic Covenant of Fuat Drochit in Ireland, turning stones to flowers and setting fire to wells. An account mentions "ravaging marauds like unto the mad, strewing storms like flour in a baker's hovel." When word of the attack reaches House Criamon, the term "Maraud" sticks.
- 1169 - Irish Fianna and Silver Fangs reach an accord as to Ireland itself; the Silver Fangs swear that they shall take no caerns in Ireland, and in return the Fianna would stay out of the way of the Silver Fangs' Norman Kinfolk.
- 1191 - The Toreador-backed Archbishop of Dublin begins constructing St. Patrick's Cathedral outside Dublin's city walls.
- 1400s - By this time, there are branches of the Knights of St. George and the Dragon as far apart as Ireland and India.
- 1442 - End of Wyndgarde's March. Christopher Wyndgarde sweeps Britain until an ambush outside Newry, Ireland, leaves his forces frozen solid. He dies at Nightshade's hands.
- 1452 - Minor Tribunal held in the Gediz Caves. The Primi formally dedicate their Crays to Horizon. Primary Crays include the floating tip of Lyonesse (France); Stonehenge, Chalice Hill and Glastonbury Tor (Britain); Loch Neagh (Ireland); Nemi Lake and San Lorenzo in Lucina (Italy); the Dragons of Guilin (China); Arches National Park (Utah, USA); Gediz Caves (Turkey); Artaxerxes' Court, the Canyon of Qu'Dali (Persia); and the Library of Alexandria.
- 1507 - Calida, the Toreador Methuselah who had reached Golconda long ago, leaves Aix-la-Chapelle with Einhard, the Ventrue chronicler of Charlemagne, before finally leaving Germany altogether in order to move to Ireland.
- 1649 - During Cromwell's campaign in Ireland, a small, mysterious army attacks the Silver Tara in the Second Battle of Tara. Though their uniforms resembled that of English soldiers, their firearms were unusually advanced for the time, and held swords that were unusually painful to the Fianna (burning like silver). Though they are defeated, their identity and motives are never uncovered.
- 1700s - Maeve McKinnon, an Irish witch, creates a Grimoire, the Book of Shadows of Maeve McKinnon.
- 1845-1849 - The Potato Famine strikes in Ireland; Fianna Kinfolk are among the many who flee Ireland to escape the famine and suffering there. In addition, the virulent spread of the blight is accompanied by a thick miasma in the Umbra that would cast spirits into Slumber should they come upon it. The exact nature of this Umbral fog is still a mystery.
- October 31, 1885- Benjamen Holmscroft invites some friends and acquaintances to discuss the formation of a society dedicated to the scholarly pursuit of the occult, away from the delusions of the Hermetic Order of the Rising Day. Among those invited are Winthrop Murray, French occultist Etienne DuLac, Reverend Jebediah Spector Brown, American thanatologist Jonathan Kelvin, and the Irish poet Liam McPhee.