The Irish culture has taken thousands of years to develop, so cherish every moment of your cultural discovery
Did you know? The Irish love traditions. So much so, in fact, that the country is full of them – from eating colcannon (a mixture of cabbage and mashed potatoes) on Hallowe’en to wearing something green on St Patrick’s Day. Two of the most enduring and internationally famed, however, are traditional music and Irish dancing. Traditional music can be heard all over the country from city centre pubs to rural festivals.
The bodhrán, which is like a hand-held drum, is one of the most popular instruments in Irish music, along with the fiddle and the tin whistle. Irish dancing is fiercely competitive and taken very seriously with provincial, national and international championships. If you want to have a go yourself, catch a céili, where everyone joins in together.
Northern Ireland also has its own unique Ulster-Scots culture, which is prevalent throughout the counties and is often expressed through music and dance. The Lambeg Drum, fiddle, fife and flute are just some of the melodic accompaniments to sessions of Highland Dancing, Scottish Country Dancing, Ulster-Scots Square and Country Dancing. And with Ulster-Scots cultural events springing up all over the place, you can watch from the sidelines or give it a whirl yourself.
The Irish like a good laugh. Joke-telling and high-brow teasing is part of daily life in Ireland, so it’s no wonder that a new generation of Irish comedians is gaining an international reputation. Watch out for names like Dylan Moran, Ed Byrne, Ardal O’Hanlon, Dara O’Briain, Tommy Tiernan and Kevin Gildea. For a pure comedy-fest, check out the Smithwicks Cat Laughs Comedy Festival in Kilkenny or the Bulmers Comedy Festival in Dublin.
The Irish excel at the one-liner.
From comedians to playwrights everyone’s got something to say:
- "True friends stab you in the front" Oscar Wilde, author
- "If it was raining soup, the Irish would go out with forks" Brendan Behan, author
- "Do not do unto others as they should do unto you; their tastes may not be the same" George Bernard Shaw, playwright
- "Being Irish I, have an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustains me through temporary periods of joy" W B Yeats, poet
Irish history is rich with myths and legends. From romantic tales of warriors to ancient saints to fairy lore, the Celtic myths are at the very core of Irish culture. Some of Ireland’s most famous tales centre around the Children of Lir, who were turned into swans by their stepmother; the great warrior Cú Chulainn; and one of the greatest Celtic heroes, Finn McCool, who gained wisdom when he was young by tasting the salmon of knowledge and, as an adult, triumphed over giants.
The pub lies at the heart of cultural, social and musical life in Ireland. Not just places to have a drink, in an Irish pub you can philosophise on the meaning of life, ruminate on global politics, listen to a poetry reading, tap your feet to a traditional session, feast on delicious food or just enjoy the quiet settling of a pint of Guinness in front of a crackling fire. Sit at the bar if you fancy chatting to the locals, or hole yourself up in one of the old snugs – private little spaces, which were historically designed just for the ladies. Irish pub etiquette: Pints are also known as “jars” and “scoops”, but always ask for a pint, NEVER a scoop. Instead, scoop is used conversationally as in “do you fancy a few scoops?” or “would you like another jar?” Guinness takes a few minutes longer than beer to settle, so your barman isn’t just being slow, he’s actually doing things properly. And when you get your pint, make sure to leave it to settle for a few minutes, too. It’ll taste all the better for the wait.