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
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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.