Irish Culture: Slainte to New Friends

There are only two kinds of people in the world: the Irish, And those who wish they were. –Irish Saying

What do you think of when you hear or read IRELAND? And, don’t say potatoes! You read “potatoes” with an Irish accent just now, didn’t you? Regardless of what first pops into your head, truth be told that Irish culture is not only well known and celebrated around the world, it’s darn right positive and uplifting, and sure to bring a smile to your face and a spring to your step.

Ireland recently surpassed Switzerland for second in the world after Norway for quality of life, according to a study from the United Nations. This 2019 UN Human Index report measured a total of 189 countries and found Ireland to be near the top for human development, based on health, life expectancy, education and income.

Four-leafed clovers and upturned horseshoes may be considered lucky in Ireland, but it’s our zest for life and and sense of humor that bring joy and keeps us on our toes! As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Life is what you make it, and here in Ireland we like to believe that “it’ll be grand.” Here’s a window into Irish culture and a few of the things that make us proud!

There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met. –William Butler Yeats

Irish village of Doolin
Image of friendly Galway street scene

Ireland is brewing with small town charm: Storybook lanes of whitewashed thatched cottages and flowering baskets lead to bustling cobble-stone alleys and colorful clay buildings housing eateries, cozy pubs and quirky shops proudly bearing the family name. Whether driving, cycling or hiking through, our guests are always enchanted by the quaint architecture, picturesque surroundings, yacht-filled harbours and how each village has a story and personality all its own.

And certainly not limited to aesthetic, the charm applies to locals as well! The Irish are some of the most genuine and kind people you will ever meet in your life. Even the most populated city of Dublin, at a half million people, exudes a small town vibe. Everyone smiles and says hello to one another, regardless of whether they’ve met. The Irish are cheerful, friendly and ever-so welcoming – as if you’re their own personal guest.

Travellers who breeze through Ireland often miss out on the hidden gems. However, we pride ourselves in showcasing the off-the-beaten-track areas that give Ireland its heartbeat. All of our tours at Ireland Walk Hike Bike include some of Ireland’s lesser-known villages.

Kinsale, Co. Cork is one of the most picturesque and historic towns in Ireland. It’s also the gateway to scenic Beara Peninsula and has been coined the ‘Gourmet Capital of Ireland’. The rugged seaside village of Dingle in County Kerry is surrounded by stunning scenery and offers a lively atmosphere with superb seafood restaurants and traditional bars. A few other noteworthy small towns include Galway, Kenmare, Adare and West Cork… and many more! Photo: Doolin, Co. Clare

Castles were built a stone at a time

Ireland Dungaire Castle
image of blarney castle

Do you know how many castles are found on the Emerald Isle? According to a recent study, there are approximately 30,000 castles in Ireland – an incredible number for such a small country! Some are now luxury hotels, others are tourist attractions, while several others sit in ruins.

Ireland has been home to a variety of peoples and cultures over the centuries, and each left a legacy of architectural style behind with its own medieval story to tell.

For some of our favorite castles around Ireland, click here.

Also dotting the Irish landscape are a number of megaliths from times gone by. These prehistoric monuments are a source of great intrigue and mysticism. There are more than 180 stone circles (or henges) in Ireland, most of which are found in County Cork, with some in County Kerry and County Mayo. While the intended purposes these stone circles are uncertain, most experts believe they served as gathering places for rituals and ceremonies.

Most of our self guided and self drive tours include the option to visit one or more castle or stone circle. And, as part of our custom tours, we design and tailor your experience to reflect your interests, preferences and timeframe. Photo: Dunguaire Castle, Co. Galway

The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.

Guinness and whiskey may run in our veins, but it’s music that fuels our spirit. In Ireland, a simple and slow life is a rich life, and music often sits at the center. In a land that has historically seen great hardship and little material wealth, community and simple pleasures were the keys to survival and hope, and everyone was expected to contribute. Simple joys like playing music and Irish dancing never required much more than time. A cheerful song, inspiring poem, entertaining story or quick-witted joke was the only currency one needed for good company and uplifted spirits. Self-expression and light-hearted banter was a welcome release and escape from the challenges of everyday life. Children grew up with music and instruments in their home, and songs were learned by ear and memorized to enjoy and share at any time.

Still today, Irish music is a social and communal affair. People may start as strangers but walk away as friends. Singing and playing various instruments is a normal part of daily life so, naturally, live music is quite common. Pubs with live traditional music are never hard to find. For example, the Crane Bar in Galway is very popular. In small towns and villages, pub windows and sandwich boards display the weekly music schedule.

While traditional Irish music is easily found, so too is popular and chart music. Many world renowned musicians such as U2, Enya, Sinead O’Connor, The Cranberries, The Pogues and Hozier were home-grown in Ireland. There are a variety of Irish music festivals of different genres, such as the Guinness Jazz festival, Folk Fest Killarney, West Cork Music Festival (Traditional), Willie Clancy Festival (Traditional) and Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Busking is legal and very common throughout Ireland, ranging from a young lad with a tin whistle to a large group and amp. Videos: Dolan’s Pub; Limerick, Ireland / Emma O’Sullivan and Fergal Scahill in Galway

Sláinte is táinte!

Flanagans Pub sea bass dinner
Photo of Irish dinner by Sherry Ott

James Joyce once called Guinness stout “the wine of Ireland.” More than just an alcoholic beverage, Guiness is synonymous with Ireland around the world. And, studies have found a “pint of gat” actually tastes better in its homeland!

With over 7,000 watering holes nationwide, pubs are very much the centre of social life, where the motto “eat, drink and be merry” is celebrated morning and night. Mix with locals and travellers, sample brews or Irish whiskey, and settle in by a nice, warm fire and toe-tapping music – the perfect way to wind down after rewarding day on the trails.

Pubs also take their food quite seriously and rival most smaller restaurants. Ever want to know how many ways you can use Guinness to cook, just head to the local pub – from hearty stews and cottage pies to fish and chips and cabbage dishes.

Unbeknownst to many, Irish food has made great strides in recent years in both quality and flavor. Irish grass-fed beef and dairy is considered amongst the best in the world. Lobster, mussels and crab feature alongside other daily specials fresh off the boat in many restaurants. Local farm to table producers, along with the Irish food authority, work hard to ensure a high standard of quality for all Irish made products in supermarkets and local shops.
Keep an eye out for the McKennas Guide plaque on shops and eateries for award-winning food. Find an impressive array of cheeses to suit every palate at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, and enjoy a refreshing ice cream from Murphy’s in Dingle. Call into Nancys Seafood Bar in Ardara to experience a traditional Irish pub with antiques and award-winning seafood. Visit St. Tolas sustainable goat farm for a cheese production demonstration, and satisfy your sweet tooth at Issies Handmade Chocolate in Cork! Photo: Flanagan’s Gastro Pub, Brickens, Co. Mayo

Time is a great storyteller.

Traditional oral storytelling is woven deep into the fabric of Irish life, originating in ancient Celtic society before the written word was commonplace. The early High Kings of Ireland had bards or poets who were expected to remember all pertinent information from the clan’s existence. These stories have been passed down through generations.

Storytelling was also very important for local communities to pass news and stories along by word of mouth. This was especially true during a time when children left school early to work on the farm and illiteracy levels were high.

Irish folklore and legends are strongly linked to Ireland’s spectacular landscape. The Giant’s Causeway and story of Irish giant Finn MacCool is one of the more famous legends. Magical places such as this are found all over Ireland, the stories for which are fused into our tours.

Seanchaí Irish storytellers were masters of Irish folklore, myth, and legend. Though rare, they are still around Ireland today. The late Eamon Kelly is considered a national treasure. You can find a clip of Eamon Kelly, “How To Tell A Story – The Seanachaí,” on our Traditional Ireland and Irish Heritage post.

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