Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George’s Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles and the third-largest in Europe. The earliest evidence of humans in Ireland were Mesolithic people who arrived by boat from Britain between 8000 BC and 7000 BC, and since then Irish culture and heritage has developed to mold Ireland into the little gem it is today. Irish music and dance has always been a vitial part of Irish existance. Since 1700, between nine and ten million Irish people have emigrated, with over five million travelling to the United States, Irish people also emigrated to the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, this being the reason that so many people around the world claim to have Irish ancestry.
Ireland has thirty-two counties, with twenty-six in the Republic of Ireland and six counties in Northern Ireland. There are four provinces in Ireland being; Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. Ulster has nine counties in total, nine in total, six in the North and three in the Republic.
Irish music, dance, literature, folklore, language, cuisine, art and sports are all integral aspects of Irish customs and traditions.
Gaeilge is the native tongue of Ireland, it is a branch of the Celtic languages. Irish is spoken as a first language by a small minority of Irish people, and as a second language by a rather larger group of non-native speakers in the Gaeltacht regions. Gaeilge began in Ireland and extended to Dal Riata in the south-west of Scotland during the middle ages and with slight variations became dominantly spoken through out Scotland and the Isle of Man. In the second half of the 19th century the majority of Irish emigrants spoke Irish as a first language. However English is predominantly spoken in Ireland today.
Sean Nos singing is an old form of traditional Irish music and singing. Songs are often macaronic, meaning two languages are sung in one song, Sean Nos singing usually incorporates a mix of English and Irish. Sean Nos singing varies depending on the region, there are four prominent styles; Donegal, Conemarra, Gaeltachtai of west Munster and Connacht. No matter where you visit in Ireland you are going to hear traditional Irish music being played in peoples homes, pubs and festivals, just about anywhere, more commonly known as ‘trad sessions’. The tin whistle, flute, accordion, concertina, harp, bodhran and the harmonica are all examples of traditional instruments. The Fleadh Cheoil, is a huge traditional Irish music festival, ran by Comhaitas Ceoltoiri, it began in Mullinagar in 1951 and has grown into an international festival. Today over 20,000 musicians preform, the largest Fleadh occurred in Derry in 2013, it had a gathering of over 430,000 people. Ennis, Co. Clare held the 2016 Fleadh, 10,000 musicians and 400,000 people attended the Irish music festival over nine days. Ireland has many small-scale music festivals across the country on a regular basis, the ‘Cos Cos’ festival took place in Drumclliffe Co. Sligo in 2016, with many singers, dancers, musicians, poets and storytellers attending.
Ireland’s National Anthem, Amhran na bhFiann, is the islands national anthem, it translation is The Soldier’s Song and was written in 1907 by Peadar Kearney. It was first published in the newspaper, Irish Freedom in 1912, but was not widely known until it was sung at the GPO during the Easter Rising of 1916. Ireland’s Call, is also accepted as a national song as to not exclude Northern Ireland.
Damhsa ar an Sean Nos meaning old style dancing is a low to the ground footwork dance, with improvised steps that follows the music, it is seldom preformed by more than one dancer at a time due to the nature of the dance, it originates from Connemara in the West of Ireland. A Céilí, is a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering. In its most basic form, it simply means a social visit. But in contemporary usage, it usually involves playing Gaelic folk music and dancing, either at a house party or at a large social hall or community center. Cèili music is an arrangement of the fiddle, flute, tin whistle, accordion, bodhrán, hammered dulcimer and in more recent times also drums, guitar, mandolin and bouzouki. The Irish music is cheerful and lively, consisting of mainly jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas and slip-jigs. The steps are easily learnt. The Cèili has been internationalized by the Scottish and Irish diaspora in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, where local Cèilis and traditional music competitions are held. Riverdance is a theatrical show, of traditional Irish music and dance. Featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, and with a score composed by Bill Whelan, it originated as an interval performance act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. Shortly afterwards, husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty expanded it into a stage show, which opened in Dublin on 9 February 1995. Since then, the show has visited over 450 venues worldwide and been seen by over 25 million people, making it one of the most successful dance productions in the world.
Irish Food and Drink
Irish people take great pride in their food and tend to eat locally sourced ingredients, with a common saying being,
‘from farm to fork’, meaning the ingredients are naturally grown, fresh and can be traced back to its origin without trouble. Traditional Irish foods include; cabbage and bacon, Irish stew, boxty, potato, bread, pork, offal and fish. Today Irish people have a huge variety of choice when it comes to their meals, however Irish cuisine has not lost its rustic and homely charm. Fresh oysters, mussels, scallops, venison, grass fed free-range beef, Irish rared pork, duck, stake, soda bread, colcannan and champ, Atlantic salmon, and chicken, are eaten across the island on a daily basis. The Irish are known for enjoying their drink, it is a huge part of Irish culture. Irish people go to the pub (bar) for a session, which is playing music and or singing in the relaxed social setting of a local pub in which the music-making is intermingled with the consumption of ale, stout, and beer, good conversation and plenty of craic. For centuries, Ireland has produced world-renowned beverages, which are distributed globally. Ireland’s indigenous beverages offer a varied selection bound to suit everyone. Ireland is known worldwide for; Uisce Beatha, which is the Irish term for whiskey and it translates into “water of life”. Guinness is the most organic Irish beverage and according to the company, over 10 million glasses of Guinness are enjoyed daily around the world, it goes down particularly nicley while listening to some Irish music. An Irish Coffee is a coffee with a kick, it is a popular after-dinner drink that combines coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and freshly whipped cream. Bulmers original Irish Cider is made in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, outside Ireland it is more commonly known as Magners Irish Cider. Baileys is an Irish creamy liqueur, it combines the Irish tradition of distilling whiskey with another great tradition of dairy farming. Poitin is a lethal concoction which is usually made from remnants of barely or potatoes, the distillation of the spirit has been banned in Ireland since 1661 due to its high potency despite this, many people continue to distill the beverage for personal consumption.
Ireland’s history is riddled with ancient mythology and folklore, Irish children grow up listening to tales and stories of legends. Ireland’s ancient societies, the Druids and the Celtics, believed in the power of magic and many of these beliefs spread to modern day legends told again and again across the country. Stories of warriors with all the knowledge of the world, fairies playing pranks on farm owners and leprechauns hiding their gold at the end of a rainbow add to the mysterious appeal of Ireland, examples include; The Banshee, The Children of Lir, Finn MacCool, Tir Na N-og, The Salmon of Knowledge and Cúchulainn to name a few.
Irish literature and writing is an integral part of Irish culture and dates way back to the monks of Ireland who recorded both poetry and mythological tales. Writers such as Lawrence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith and RichardcBrinsley Sheridan are often claimed for Ireland, though their lives and their works were essentially English. The same can be said of Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoke and C.S. Lewis, prominent writers who left Ireland to make a life in London. More recognizable Irish writers included Louis McNeice, George Bernard Shaw, Catilin Maude and W.B. Yeats. More modern Irish writers include; Seamus Heaney and Patrick Kavanagh . Ireland is home to many theaters, The Irish Literary Theater was founded by Yeats, Lady Gregory, George Moore and Edward Martyn in Co. Dublin 1899. Others include, The Abbey Theater, Gaitey Theater, The Olympia Theater, An Taibhdhearc Gaillimhe and Queens Theater.
The many sports played and followed in Ireland include Gaelic games such as hurling and Gaelic football which are our native sports, horse racing, show jumping, greyhound racing, basketball, fishing, handball, motor sport, tennis, golfing, rugby, UFC boxing, hockey, golf, rowing, cricket, rugby union and Olympic target shooting are organised in an all-island basis, with a single team representing the whole of Ireland in international competitions. Other sports, such as soccer and netball, have separate organizing bodies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Gaelic hurling is an out door team game, it has prehistoric origins, and has been played for 3,000 years. The objective of the game is for players to use a wooden stick called a hurley (in Irish a camán) to hit a small ball called a sliotar between the opponents’ goalposts either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for one goal, which is equivalent to three points, No protective padding is worn by players. A plastic protective helmet with a face-guard is mandatory for all age groups, including senior level, as of 2010. Gaelic football or Peil Ghaelach, is an Irish team sport. It is played between two teams of 15 players on a rectangular grass pitch. The objective of the sport is to score by kicking or punching the ball into the other team’s goals for three points or between two upright posts above the goals and over a crossbar for one point. Gaelic football is the most popular sport in Ireland in terms of attendance, and the final of the All-Ireland Senior Championship, held annually at Croke Park, Dublin, draws crowds of more than 80,000 people. Outside Ireland, Gaelic football is mainly played among members of the Irish diaspora. Gaelic Park in New York City is the largest purpose-built Gaelic sports venue outside Ireland. Most recent Irish sporting achievements include the Irish Rugby team beating the All Blacks in Chicago in November 2016 for the first time in 111 years. Dublin born UFC fighter Conor McGregor won titles in two different weight classes at the same time in November 2016 for the first time in twenty-three years in UFC history. Irish fans are praised world wide for their up-beat attitude, good sportsman ship and having a laugh, check out Irish fans at the Soccer World Cup in France during summer 2016 on YouTube.
- The traditional symbol of Ireland is the harp, it is said to reflect the immortality of the soul. The musicians of ancient chieftains played the harp, and it remains one of the most popular Celtic instruments today. You’ll find the harp everywhere in Ireland, from coins, uniforms, in Irish music and the state seal to the Guinness pint glass.
- The shamrock is a single-stemmed plant with three leaves and grows on the hills of Ireland. The shamrock is everywhere: postcards, t-shirts, cereal boxes. The shamrock was made famous by St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland. Legend tells that he used the shamrock’s three leaves to help explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans during his mission to bring Christianity Ireland.
- The Claddagh, the heart represents timeless love, the crown represents loyalty and fidelity, and the hands represent friendship. The Claddagh is mostly found on jewelry.
- The Celtic Cross, is a symbol for Celtic Christianity that combines the traditional Christian cross with a ring through the cross’s intersection. Also referred to as the High Cross, the Irish Cross and the Cross of Iona. The ring is considered a solar symbol of energy, a life source.
- Irish Ogham Alphabet is a gift from the Celtic god Ogimos, or the god of eloquence. The true origin of the alphabet remains a complete mystery.
- Triquetra/Trinity Knot, is the most common knot. Unity and trinity of soul, heart and mind. It represents three distinct yet interlocked levels: physical, mental and spiritual.
- The Irish flag, was constructed during the war of Independence in 1919. The tricolor flag symbolizes; the older majority Gaelic traditions of Ireland, mainly consisting of Romin Catholics, represented by green, the orange color represents mainly protestants and the white signifies a lasting truce between the two, both living in peace.