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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Republic of Ireland.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Republic of Ireland.
Friday is a good excuse for a Guinness. St Patrick’s Day is the best excuse for Ireland’s biggest knees-up of the year.
The Feast of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s foremost patron saint, is held every year on the anniversary of his death, to commemorate his influence and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. Traditional Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking are relaxed for the day – hence the rush to the bar.
Expect to see lively street parades with marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organisations and others, often swathed in green. There are well-attended church services and day-long festivities with traditional Irish music and dancing sessions. It is customary to end the day by putting a shamrock in the bottom of your glass of beer or whiskey and toasting to the Saint, Ireland and those around you. Swallow the shamrock or toss it over your shoulder for good luck.
A symbol of royal and priestly power for over 1,000 years, this is one of Ireland’s most spectacular archeological sites. From the 5th century, it was the seat of the kings of Munster, whose kingdom extended over much of southern Ireland. In 1101, they handed Cashel over to the Church, and it flourished as a religious center until a siege by English troops in 1647 culminated in the massacre of its 3,000 occupants. The cathedral was finally abandoned in the late 18th century. A good proportion of the medieval complex is still standing, and Cormac’s Chapel is one of Ireland’s most outstanding examples of Romanesque architecture (search “Romanesque Style” article).
The 15th-century, two story Hall of Vicars Choral was once the residential quarters of the cathedral choristers and today displays copies of medieval artifacts and furnishings. Its lower level houses the Cashel Museum, which exhibits rare silverware, stone carvings and St. Patrick’s Cross, a 12th-century crutched cross with a crucifixion scene on one side and animals on the other. The cross stands on a supporting coronation stone dating from the 4th century. Tradition held that the kings of Cashel were crowned at the base of the cross.
The king of Munster, Cormac MacCarthy, donated this chapel to the Church in 1134, because it had helped to protect the Rock of Cashel from being invaded by the Eoghanachta clan. Romanesque style, the chapel was constructed in sandstone with a stone roof and two towers on either side of the nave and chancel. The interior is decorated with various motifs, some showing dragons and human heads. At the west end of the chapel is a stone sarcophagus embellished with serpent carvings. This is thought to have once contained the body of Cormac MacCarthy. The chancel is decorated with the only surviving Romanesque frescoes in Ireland, which include a depiction of the baptism of Christ.
Born in Wales in 385, St Patrick lived his early life as a pagan. At the age of 16, he was captured and sold as a slave to work in Ireland. During his captivity, he converted to Christianity and dedicated his life to God. He escaped and traveled to France, where he entered St. martin’s monastery to study the scriptures, under the guidance of St. Germain of Auxerre. He was appointed Bishop to Ireland in 432 and went on to found some 300 churches and baptize more than 120,000 people, including King Aenghus, when he visited Cashel in 450. Today, the life of St. Patrick , Ireland’s patron saint, is celebrated on March 17 all over the world with special religious services and the wearing of shamrocks – the three-tipped clover leaf that is the national emblem of Ireland.
Superb Romanesque carving adorns this chapel – the jewel of Cashel. The tympanum over the north door shows a centaur in a helmet aiming his bow and arrow at a lion.
Hall of the Vicars Choral
The Vicars Choral, a group of men appointed to sing during services, were housed in this building. The ceiling, a modern reconstruction based on medieval designs, features several decorative corbels.
Stone carvings and religious artifacts are displayed in this museum in the hall’s lower level, or undercroft.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The roofless Gothic cathedral has thick walls riddled with hidden passages; in the north transept these are seen emerging at the base of the windows.
The 17th-century tomb of Miler Magrath – who caused a scandal by being both a Protestant and a Catholic archbishop at the same time – is located here.
There are three 16th-centruy tombs here, decorated with remarkably fresh and intricate carvings. This one, against the north wall, features a vine-leaf design and strange stylized beasts.
The Rock’s oldest surviving building, this 92-ft (28m) free-standing bell tower enabled the inhabitants to scour the surrounding plain for potential attackers.
This ornate memorial, erected in 1870 by a local landowning family, suffered damage during the storm in 1976.
During the baptism ceremony of King Aenghus, St. Patrick accidentally stabbed him in the foot with his crozier and the king, thinking it was part of the initiation, bore the pain without complaint.
450: St. Patrick visits Cashel and converts King Aenghus to Christianity.
1101: Cashel is handed to the Church by King Muircheatach O’Brien.
1127-1134: King Cormac MacCarthy builds Cormac’s Chapel as a gift to the Church.
1230-1270: The large, aisleless, cruciform St. Patrick’s Cathedral is built.
1647: Cashel is invaded and besieged by an English army under Lord Inchiquin.
1975: The Hall of the Vicars Choral undergoes restoration work.
The castle that you visit today is actually the third to have been built there on the site. The first building was erected in the tenth century and was made of wood. Then around 1210 A.D. this was replaced by a stone structure which had the entrance some twenty feet above the ground on the north face. This building was subsequently demolished, leaving only the foundations. But in 1446, the castle was rebuilt by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster. And it is this, the third castle to be built here, that you can visit today.
Over the next 600 hundred years all sorts of illustrious visitors made their way to the famous castle. In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I of England sent the Earl of Leicester over to take possession of the castle. But whenever he tried to negotiate with the Munster King, McCarthy always suggested they discuss it over a sumptuous banquet. What was the Earl to do? It would have been rude not to.
So that when the queen asked him for progress reports, he sent her a series of long missives in which he carefully avoiding answering the key question, and at the end of which, the castle remained in Irish hands. The queen became so irritated that eventually she remarked that the earl’s reports were all ‘Blarney’.
So it is thanks to Elizabeth that Blarney became synonymous with eloquence, and that so many people flock there today to kiss its stone.
The English did eventually succeed in taking the castle, when Cromwell’s General, Lord Broghill blasted his way through the tower walls. But when he got inside, everyone within had somehow disappeared, making their way through the three secret passageways hidden in the caves below the battlements, known as the Badgers Caves. One leads to Cork, one to the lake, and the third, according to legend, goes all the way to Kerry.
At the beginning of the 18th century Sir James St. John Jefferyes built a Georgian gothic house up against the keep of the castle, which was then the custom all over Ireland. At the same time the Jefferyes family laid out a landscape garden known as the Rock Close with a remarkable collection of massive boulders and rocks arranged around what seems to have been druid remains from prehistoric times. Certainly, many of the yew trees and evergreen oaks there are extremely ancient.
In 1820 the house was accidentally destroyed by fire, and the wings that remained now form a picturesque adjunct to the keep. These were subsequently rearranged in the 1980s so as to give a better view of the castle’s keep.
Blarney Castle is a must for any visitor to Munster. And as you are hanging upside down, kissing its famous stone, think of Elizabeth. Like so many English before and after, she intended taking something away, but ended up enriching the local culture. Albeit unintentionally.
This year’s Blarney in Bloom Summer Garden Fair will take place on the grounds of the castle on 11th July between 10am and 5pm. Presented in association with Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, this year’s fair is bigger and better than ever. Serious gardeners can enjoy talks from internationally renowned expert speakers, while there will also be special plant nurseries, farmers markets and backyard vegetable growing and allotments. There will also be live music and children’s entertainment and games throughout the day. Yet another reason, as if one were needed, to visit Blarney Castle this summer.
The special magic of Christmas in Ireland will come alive at the end of November as Waterford’s Winterval Festival returns fora fifth consecutive year from 25 November. People of all ages can enjoy 30 different fun events and activities at Ireland’s biggest, brightest and best Christmas event, which saw over 500.000 people from at home and abroad attend last year.
The sparkling programme includes a multitude of free events as this year Winterval will shine brighter than ever with fun for families, couples and groups of friends looking to start their Christmas experience off in the best way possible.
Visitors can enjoy a horse drawn sleigh ride through the Mall, the Viking Triangle and John Robert’s Square or take the Winterval Express Train for a tour of all the festival’s attractions including the Carousel and the Giant Postbox – where those all-important letters to Santa can be dropped off.
Pay a visit to Reginald’s Tower for some enchanting storytelling marvel at the beautiful Christmas market where you can savour top class food and find unique gifts for family and friends, and take a ride on the spectacular Vintage Ferris Wheel.
Winterval Illuminates in Cathedral Square is another unmissable stop on the Christmas adventure. The now famous light show projects onto the Deanery Building and will see the Square burst into life and light. This year promises to be better than ever thanks to a whole host of new features and 3D animation which will transform the area into a magical place of light and colour. This spectacular show is absolutely free and is sure to be one of the highlights of the festival.
Ireland’s oldest city also plays host to Waterford on Ice, the National Reptile Zoo and twice daily screenings of How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Movies at The Reg.
Of course, the man himself will be in attendance throughout the festival. Santa’s Grotto at the Medieval Museum is a real treat for all the family with the awestruck amazement in every child’s eye a thing of pure magic. En route to see Santa Claus, families will be able to explore the Enchanted Gardens and the elves’ living quarters before they visit the jolly man in red who will have a chat, present a gift and pose for a photo that will live long in the memory.
The free Toy Museum is always worth a visit at Winterval. This year’s theme is “Gaming Through the Ages” where visitors will be able to see and play some of the first video games ever invented. It’s a journey back to where gaming started and offers a chance to see up close how gaming has evolved over the years – fascinating for children and sure to be a fun trip down memory lane for their parents.
There’s so much to see and do for everyone at Winterval and Waterford is once again the place to be this Christmas. We recommend booking tickets in advance so weekends can be spent exploring this interactive medieval city to the fullest. The Winterval Festival takes place from 25-27 November, 2-4 December, 8-11 December and 15-23 December.
Munster is the most southerly of the four provinces of Ireland and stretches from Tipperary in the South Midlands to Waterford in the South East, and from Clare, Limerick and Kerry down to Cork (above) in the South. The entire area is famed for Irish traditional music, song and dance. There are many ancient castles and monasteries in the province, and coupled with the vast green countryside and its three cities (Limerick, Cork and Waterford) Munster is a must see destination for tourists.
Bunratty Castle in County Clare is the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland. Built in 1425 it was restored in 1954 to its former medieval splendour and now contains mainly 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art which capture the mood of those times.
Travelling down the coast, Limerick is the next port of call which this year has been designated as Ireland’s first City of Culture. From theatres to outdoor music events, museums to festivals, Limerick has an eclectic mix of sights and sounds to suit all tastes.
County Limerick also incorporates the Foynes Estuary with its world famous Foynes Flying Boat Museum. The museum tells the story of the Pan Am Clipper aircraft which brought commercial flights from America to our shores, landing in the estuary itself. It includes the only full-scale model of a Boeing B-314 Flying Boat anywhere in the world.
A cemetery may be the last place anyone would think of as being a tourist attraction but the concept may not be so strange after all. Paris has Pere Lachaise, Rome has its catacombs, Vienna its ZentraIfriedhof, Washington has Arlington and London presents spooky Highgate Cemetery. Dublin’s necropolis, Glasnevin Cemetery is a ‘must see’ for anyone visiting the city with a little time to spare. But always remember, while such visits are primarily to see the final resting places of the famous or indeed the infamous, cemeteries demand respect, especially towards those visiting who are still raw with recent loss.
Cemeteries have only been around in Ireland for a couple of centuries. Previous to that the deceased were buried in small churchyards attached to local churches. After the 18th century, with the massive growth in urbanisation and the population increase due to improved medical advances, traditional burial grounds proved to be inadequate. From the 1800s larger burial grounds, unattached to churches, were established but, like the church graveyards, these were initially Protestant-run. Catholics had a right to be buried but prayers and ceremonies of that religion were severely curtailed.
Following the 1824 ‘Act of Easement of Burial’, multi and non-denominational cemeteries were allowed. Daniel O’Connell, famed in Ireland as the Liberator on account of achieving Roman Catholic Emancipation in 1829 from the dreaded anti-Catholic Penal Laws, determined to open a cemetery where all religions and none could carry out burials in their own traditions. His Catholic Association opened Goldenbridge Cemetery in Inchicore in 1828. A larger cemetery at Prospect, in Glasnevin on Dublin’s northside, was opened in February 1832. Never one to be thwarted by the establishment, O’Connell bypassed the then tolls applicable on the roads approaching the cemetery by simply cutting a new road between them. His outwitting of the toll gatherers led to his reputation of being able to “drive a coach and six (horses) through Acts of Parliament.”
Sadly, and perhaps reflecting the high infant and child mortality of the time, the first internment was that of eleven-year old Michael Carey from Francis Street in the inner city. He was, of course, quickly followed by many more until today, over one and a half million people lie in repose in Glasnevin thus equalling the total living population!
The National Museum of Ireland has a long history of exhibitions relating to the 1916 Rising and this year, to mark the centenary of the event, they have put together an exhibition of one of the largest collections of materials from the period. The Museum of Decorative Arts and History Collins Barracks is a fitting home for this collection as it was not far from the barracks that some of the fighting took place, in locations such as the Four Court and the GPO. Visitors to Proclaiming A Republic will have a unique opportunity to experience the physical proximity to the people and event of the Rising through everyday intimate and personal belongings, some of which have never been on display before.
The exhibition explores the background to the event that led up to the 1916 Rising. Visitors can delve into the nuances of the political event of the time and learn how the political climate became more militaristic in the lead up to the Rising. The rise of the Catholic elite and the push for Home Rule are explored, as well as the counter moves from unionists. Irish arts and culture movement of the time also played a part in the growing popularity of republican nationalism.
Personal belongings and memorabilia tell the story of the Rising itself. Visitors can follow the rebels as they set up garrisons around Dublin, with the limited action outside of the city also explored. The story is told through artefacts such as the clothing worn by the rebels and the British Army watches used to time rebel dispatches, bullets, homemade bombs and bayonets, and unique items such as the razor used by Thomas Clarke and Padraig Pearse’s spectacles.
The horrors and casualties of war are also explored using artefact from the time. Smelling salt used to revive the wounded and first aid kit used to treat the injured and the dying will be on display giving an insight into the experiences of the soldiers fighting the battles. Civilians were also caught up in the fighting and their personal stories are told through poignant artefacts, such as a crucifix perforated by a stray bullet.
The Rising was a short and brutal affair that led to the destruction of many areas of the city centre. Scenes of that destruction greet the visitor as they move from the battlegrounds to the surrender of the rebels and the subsequent introduction of martial law. It is in this sombre area of the exhibition that visitors can view the last letters of those who had been sentenced to death for their part in the Rising. Written in their own handwriting, these are the last thoughts and emotions of the rebel leaders. Visitors can read these moving words and also listen to dramatic, modern day readings of these touching letters. Many more people were imprisoned for their part in the Rising and their experiences are explored through the arts and crafts of the internment camps, as well as prison badges and caps.
Artefacts and accounts from the time also help the visitor to understand the plight of the families of the rebels, learning how those families coped with courts martial, imprisonment and execution of their loved ones.
Proclaiming A Republic offers a comprehensive and fascinating insight into the 1916 Rising, exploring the event from all sides through the use of a staggering number of artefacts from the era. It reflects on 100 years of collecting and commemorating the last tangible links to the men, women and children of the time and is an essential stop for anyone with an interest in the pivotal event that was the 1916 Rising.
The Winding Stair
This bookshop and restaurant is a local institution, inside a rickety townhouse by the Liffey. Riffle through its new and second-hand titles over a coffee or head upstairs for home cooking of seasonal local produce, the likes of 28-day-aged Irish beef, Dingle Bay crab and chocolate torte.
Ireland’s famously literary capital is an excellent place to catch a play. Head to the Gate Theatre, whose elegant 18th-century surrounds have hosted many a historic debut. Irish, European and American classics make up the bill, and you might even catch a movie star sharpening their craft, as Orson Welles and many others did before them.
With its wood-panelled walls and well-trodden floorboards, the Cobblestone is an old-school boozer that’s well off the tourist trail in one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. Billing itself as a ‘a drinking pub with a music problem’, the convivial spot hosts nightly music sessions where traditional musicians and new folk talents let rip-settle in with a good pint.
The origins of Newgrange, one of the most important passage graves in Europe, are steeped in mystery. According to Celtic lore, the legendary kings of Tara were buried here, but Newgrange predates them. The grave was left untouched by all invaders except the Danish, who raided its burial chambers in the 9th century. In 1699, it was rediscovered by a local landowner, Charles Campbell Scott. When it was excavated in the 1960s, archeologist Professor M. J. O’Kelly discovered that on the winter solstice, December 21, rays of sunlight enter the tomb and light up the burial chamber – making in the world’s oldest solar observatory.
A site of mythical importance, Tara was the political and spiritual center of Celtic Ireland and the seat of the High Kings until the 11th century. Whoever ruled Tara could claim supremacy over the country. It is thought that many of Tara’s kings were buried in pagan ceremonies at Newgrange. Tara’s importance as a spiritual center diminished as Christianity flourished. Legend says that Tafra’s most famous king, Cormac Mac Art, who ruled in the 3rd century, did not want to be buried at the Newgrange among pagan kings. His kinsmen, disregarding his wish, tried to cross the Boyne River to Newgrange but failed due to the huge waves and so he was buried elsewhere.
The shortest day and the longest night occurs each year on December 21 and is known as the winter solstice. At Newgrange, on the morning of December 21, rays of sunlight shine into the roof box of the passage, illuminating the north recess of the cruciform burial chamber. At all other times of the year, the tomb is shrouded in darkness. Newgrange is the only passage grave currently excavated that has this characteristic – temples tend to be the usual locations for this type of event. Many believe that because of this, Newgrange was originally used as a place of worship, and only later as a burial ground for pagan kings.
Described as the “cradle of Irish civilization”, the Boyne valley contains two other prehistoric burial sites not far from Newgrange. The closest is Knowth, which is just 1 mile (1.6 km) away. Excavation of this site began in 1962 and it was found Excavation of this site began in 1962 and it 1was found to contain two tomb passages and the greatest concentration of megalithic art in Europe. Archeologists also found evidence that the site was occupied from the Neolithic period and weas used for habitation as well as for burials up until about 1400. Dowth, another passage grave 2 miles (3km) from Newgrange, is less spectacular. Its tombs are smaller and most of its artifacts were stolen by Victorian souvenir hunters.
The burial chamber’s intricate corbelled ceiling, which reaches a height of 20ft (6m) above the floor, has survived intact. The overlapping slabs from a conical hollow, topped by a single capstone.
There are three recesses, or side chambers: the north recess is the one struck by sunlight on the winter solstice.
The chiseled stones found in each recess would once have contained funerary offerings and the bones of the dead.
The passage contains slab of slate, which would have been collected locally.
At dawn on December 21, a beam of sunlight shines through the roof box (a feature unique to Newgrange), travels along the 62-ft (19-m) passage and hits the central recess in the burial chamber.
The opening was originally blocked by the stone standing to its right. Newgrange’s most elaborately carved curbstone is in front, part of the curb of huge slabs around the cairn.
Located on a low ridge north Boyne River, Newgrange took more than 70 years to build. Between 1962 and 1975, the passage grave and mound were restored as closely as possible to their original state.
White quartz and granite stones found scattered around the site during excavations were used to rebuild this wall around the front of the cairn.
Newgrange was designed by people with exceptional artistic and engineering skills. Without the use of the wheel or mental tools, they transported about 200,000 tons of loose stones to build the mound, or cairn, that protects the passage grave. Larger slabs were used to make the circle around the cairn (12 out of a probable 35 stones have survived), the curb, and the tomb itself. Many of the curbstones and the slabs lining the passage, the chamber, and its recesses are motifs. The corbelled ceiling consists of smaller, unadorned slabs.
In Irish mythology, Aenghus Mac Oc was the God of Love, who tricked his way into owning Newgrange. It is said that he was away when the magical places of Ireland were being divided up. On his return, he asked to borrow Newgrange for the day and night, but refused to give it back, claiming it was his, since all of time can be divided by day and night.
c. 3200 BC: Construction of the tomb at Newgrange by Neolithic farmers.
c. 860: Danish invaders raid the burial chamber and remove most of its treasures.
c. 1140: Newgrange is used as farmland for grazing cattle until the 14th century.
1962-75: Newgrange is restored and the roof box is discovered.
1967: Archeologist learn that rays of sunlight shine up the chamber on the winter solstice, December 21.
1993: Newgrange is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Population: 6.4 million(4.59 million in the million in Northern Ireland)
Foreign visitors per year: 7.5 million
Languages: English, Irish
Major industry: exports, mainly textiles, machinery and food items
Unit of currency: euro (€)
Cost index: pint of Guinness €5-6 (US$6.90-8.27), midrange hotel double €60-120 (US$83-165), daily midsize car rental €45 (US$62), round of golf at a top course €80-150 (US$110-206).
Separating blarney from bunkum. You know the songs – hell, you probably sang some of them after drinking a few beers and declaring yourself part-Irish on 17 March. Ireland is small, but it packs a big punch, thanks to those millions of emigrants who left to earn a crust so they wouldn’t have to subsist on one. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when that absence stretches across the generations, well… there’s a whole lot of love for the old country Which carries with it a burden of expectation, invariably skewed towards the sheep-on-the-road, thatched-roof-on-the-cottage variety. An image that is slightly at odds with the modern Ireland of motorways and macchiatos that the Irish themselves have worked hard to develop. There aren’t that many folk songs about broadband speed on the Aran Islands, but there’s plenty of debate about it.
But the Irish know which side their tourist bread is buttered and it’s all about scenery, tradition and the warm welcome – 100,000 of them, if you believe the spiel. Beneath the touristic tomfoolery, though, is the real deal: Ireland is stunningly scenic, its traditions – music, dance, whiskey and beer – firmly intact and the cosmopolitan, contemporary Irish are just as friendly and welcoming as their forebears were known to be.
March 17 — St Patrick’s Day — is now such a big deal that it’s become St Patrick’s Festival and it’s spread over three or four days. Fireworks, gigs and parades for the kids, a long day’s ‘celebrating’ for the adults.
Summertime in Galway is festival madness — kicking off in July with the Galway Arts Festival, following on with the film festival and race week in August and the oyster festival in September.
All-Ireland Finals: the second and fourth Sundays of September are the biggest sporting days of the year, as the finals of the Gaelic football and hurling championships take place at Croke Park stadium in Dublin.
To keep the winter blues at bay, catch the best of the country’s traditional music and dance at the Ennis Trad Festival, five days of sessions, master classes, CD launches and a ceili (party), held in November in Ennis, County Clare.
The Irish themselves are inevitably at the heart of the best the country has to offer. Attend a traditional music session in a small pub in County Clare. Hook up with a walking club and do a little cross-country ambling on a soft Sunday afternoon. Go surfing at Rossnowlagh Beach in County Donegal. Or just strike up a conversation over a pint with the gang sitting next to you in the pub. It’s these connections that will make you want to come back.
The economy, stupid. And holding those who ruined it to account. The global financial crisis decimated the Irish economy, forcing it into an onerous bailout program it only exited last year. As the country reels from five years of body blows, it’s trying to figure out why, how and, especially, who.
Halloween comes from the Irish harvest festival called Samhain.
America’s White House was designed by Irish architect James Hoban, who drew inspiration from Leinster House in Dublin, now the Irish Parliament.
The expression ‘by hook or by crook’, as in ‘by any means necessary’, refers to Oliver Cromwell’s attempts to capture Waterford in the 17th century, by Hook Head or the village of Crook.
A goat is crowned king and everybody drinks for three days – it’s just another edition of August’s Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry – Ireland’s quirkiest festival.