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Ireland - Emerald Isle a fantasy of castles, cathedrals, and crystals

by John Keegan, '02

 
Dublin—The Emerald Isle, greener even than O‘ahu, a place of lush forests and peaceful countryside. Ireland is one of the most beautiful and charming nations of the world. A nation younger than most of the grandparents of HPU students, with traditions older than most of the world. Everyone should experience this unforgettable isle at least once in their life. With beautiful countryside, friendly people, great beer, and magnificent castles and cathedrals, Ireland is a fairytale setting in a modern world. Where else can a freshly brewed pint be enjoyed in a pub with walls more than 800 years old, or would three kegs in the parking lot of a 1,000 year old Roman Catholic cathedral not be surprising?
 

Gaelic
Dun Laoghaire, in Gaelic, is more commonly known as Dublin. Gaelic is the language of the Irish, but only about 3.5 percent of the nation speak it as a primary language, and only about 35 percent speak any at all. English is used for the most part in Ireland, but every road sign in Ireland is in Gaelic and English. The people of this nation take great pride in their heritage, and even more pride in who they are.

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Trinity College
Trinity College, one of the most notable educational institutions in the world, is located in the hub of Dublin. Trinity houses an extensive library famous for its antique volumes, including the Book of Kells—actually four books in all, one of the oldest known copies of the four gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. More than 1,500 years old, the book is considered one of the greatest works of art in Irish and European history and thought by some to be the most beautiful book in the world. Amazingly it is still in incredibly good condition, even after a history of being stolen, discarded in a ditch, and damaged by water. It is said that it took two monks their whole lives to complete it, and no errors or distinctions between letters can be seen even with a magnifying glass. For hundreds of years it was believed that the book was written by the angels themselves.

 

Guinness
One of Ireland’s most prized destinations is the Guinness Brewery in the heart of Dublin. Since 1759 Guinness has been brewing Ireland’s favorite draught. Arthur Guinness, the founder of the brewery, discovered the secret Guinness trademark, the falling bubbles and chocolaty taste, by accident, by letting one of the ingredients burn instead of dry out during brewing. Over the years Guinness has grown to be a worldwide beer giant and a sort of big brother to Dublin. Guinness has opened numerous

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homeless shelters in Dublin, most of which are better than university housing almost anywhere. The Guinness family has also built some of Ireland’s most beautiful parks and donated tens of millions of pounds toward neighborhood cleanup and city beautification projects. Visitors to the Guinness Brewery get a tour, complete with a history lesson and a free pint of beer that was by far the best beer this writer has ever consumed.

 

Castles and Countryside
Waterford—Throughout Ireland ancient castles, a few of which are more than a thousand years old, dot the countryside. For the wealthier traveler, a select few of the castles are hotels. The cathedrals are even more numerous and just as old as the castles. The Irish are a very religious people who worship, to this day, in ancient cathedrals that are as majestic and beautiful today as when they were new, with stained-glass windows, arched ceilings 90 feet off the ground, organs, and surrounding cemeteries with headstones carved in Gaelic, some that hold the title “Saint,” or “Canon.” In Waterford one cathedral takes up several city blocks and the acoustics are so good that a pin-drop anywhere inside can be heard.

Ireland is also well known for its green countryside and pastures. If Orson Wells’ time machine had really existed, upon a trip to Ireland’s countryside, he might have sworn that it had taken him back to the 17th or 18th century. The country is where some of Ireland’s oldest traditions still flourish. Farmers still herd their flocks of sheep by foot, and wear clothes almost straight out of history. There are no cinder block walls or even tractor trailers, only Irish families, their cottages, and flocks of sheep. Cobblestone walls and roads wind through the green rolling hills. The only tractors in the country are the ones that are paving the rarely more than two lane “country roads.” Few highways or freeways exist even in the busier cities such as Dublin

 

Festivals and People
Attending a traditional Irish festival, complete with kilts, bagpipes, flat dancing, and of course, potatoes with dinner, is a must. The bagpipes and kilts are reminiscent of the Scottish, and indeed the Scottish and the Irish are similar in traditions and culture. These days finding a festival can be a little hard, as with time the practice has declined. Consult the Dublin tourist board for more information.

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The people in Ireland are some of the nicest on earth. The Irish are so thoughtful that, when driving on the streets, drivers will merge into the emergency lane to let others pass, and when anyone passes they just about always give a wave and a smile and flash their hazard lights to say “thank you.” No road rage in this nation.

The police (or Garda as they are called) do not even carry guns, pepper spray, or batons, and they rarely use hand cuffs. The Garda act more as traffic enforcement than law enforcement, as law enforcement is almost unneeded.

Ireland is a neutral country that takes pleasure in avoiding war. However, last year Ireland did increase its air force by an amazing 12.5 percent—they bought two new planes. The air force is 18 planes strong with only one military airstrip in the entire nation. Ireland spends more money every year on education than it does on its military.

Waterford Crystal
Ireland is also well known for its famous Waterford Crystal. Located in Waterford in the southernmost part of Ireland, Waterford Crystal has been around since the 18th century. Each of the glass blowers, engravers, and cutters go through intensive training spending five years as an apprentice, then five more to become a master. Their work is flawless. Over one-third of the pieces these artists create are destroyed due to microscopic flaws. If so much as one grain of sand has not melted properly, or if a cut is too deep by as much as a sixteenth of an inch, the piece is destroyed and the artist must start over. Each and every piece must go through more than three dozen processes and inspections; the result is no less than perfect. None of the artists use templates or tracings. They fashion their masterpieces—entirely from memory—and make more than 26,000 cuts and shapes for the glass, and all of the pieces must look 100 percent identical.

Irish Politics
Northern Ireland and Ireland are technically two separate countries, although some Irish want them reunited. Ireland is a republic. A president is elected, as well as city officials. There are differences of opinion between the political parties as with any country, but corruption seems to be nonexistent. The Irish, even in power, appear to remain honest and fair.

Northern Ireland is under the rule of Great Britain, but there is little difference otherwise. The accents sound a little more Scottish in Northern Ireland, and the street signs are only in English. Pounds, not euros are accepted at businesses, but that is about where the differences end. The people are just as nice, and the countryside is just as amazing.

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is predominantly Protestant while Ireland is mostly Catholic. The frequent “disputes” between the nations have created tensions, and while the disputes are more political than anything, religion seems to determine political viewpoints. To avoid arguments or even the rare chance of harassment, just avoid the topic all together.

The IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) are two of the main opposition groups in Belfast, the capitol, which are constantly fighting each other. The IRA is Irish extremists, and the UFF is the English extremists. Each still identify themselves by their political ideologies, yet over the past few years the factions have declined as political activists and have become more criminal. They spend more time racketeering and selling drugs than fighting political wars.

The Irish have become so sick of the fighting over the years that now they seem to not care anymore. Peace is rapidly spreading between the two nations, and over about the past two years, there has been no regulation of people passing between them. There are no longer road blocks, no longer soldiers in the city, and anyone who is not a local would never even know that they had passed over the border. There are no signs, and no restrictions. It seems as though peace has finally come to the English and the Irish.

Travelers should not worry about these minor troubles. Belfast is a very safe city. There are no bullet shell casings in the streets any more, no bullet or bomb damage as one would have expected about 20 years ago. Children can be seen playing in the streets, business people are hustling to and from meetings, and the extremists are growing fewer and fewer every day.

Saint Patrick
Every year the Irish pay homage to one of their greatest figures in history, Saint Patrick. On March 17, the date of Saint Patrick’s death, the Irish celebrate his life, and what he did for Ireland. According to Irish history, Patrick was captured at a young age in what is now Britain sometime in the fifth century. He was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. Patrick was said to have such a strong faith that he prayed over a hundred times a day and just as much at night. After a few years the praying worked and he escaped to France where he began studies to become a priest, and years later eventually a bishop. In his writings Patrick describes how the Lord came to him in a dream calling him to return to Ireland and to establish Christianity there. Patrick was successful after many years of preaching and avoiding capture and murder.

The myth says that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland; this is more of a metaphor than a myth. It is true that there are no snakes in Ireland, but what the myth is referring to is how Saint Patrick drove out the evil serpents of the devil, sin. After his death Patrick was canonized, which means recognized as a saint. To this day Saint Patrick’s remains rest outside Down Cathedral in Northern Ireland under a boulder with nothing more than a Celtic cross and one word, Patrick.

Saint Patrick’s burial site can be seen to this day, along with those of two other saints, Saint Bridget and Saint Columba, who are buried in the same courtyard. Recently the Saint Patrick Centre was opened to the public in Downpatrick, County Down, just below the hill where Saint Patrick rests. The Centre offers a number of videos about the saint, along with computer-aided, interactive learning for students and tourists alike. Audio recordings of Saint Patrick’s writings accompany a walking tour of his life, journeys, and teachings. The Centre is open year-round typically from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to March and with extended hours for the tourist season. For more information check out the Web site at www.saintpatrickcentre.com.

 

Interesting Facts of Emerald Isle ¨

One of 51 Guinness breweries throughout world, the Dublin brewery at St. James Gate turns out more than two million pints of beer a day, one-fifth of the ten million pints consumed around the world daily. ¨

In 1930, 10 percent of all the men in Dublin relied on Guinness for their livelihoods. ¨

Ireland consumes 60 percent of all the beer turned out by the St. James Gate Brewery. ¨

The population of Ireland is 3.6 million, Northern Ireland is 1.6 million ¨

For Saint Patrick’s Day, more than two million people turn out for festivities in Dublin alone. ¨

There are more Irish Americans than there are Irish, primarily due to the mass exodus to the United States in the 19th century during Ireland’s Great Potato Famine. ¨

Americans celebrate March 17 as a day of drinking, while the Irish celebrate it as a religious holiday and discourage drinking. ¨

It rarely ever snows in Ireland, and it has never been below zero or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit

Guinness has a 9,999 year lease on its brewery.

©2003, Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.
 
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