Monthly Archives: February 2011

Photo by James Byrum

A bookish affair

“When I die Dublin will be written in my heart.”  – James Joyce

The Irish are notorious writers – writers that have produced some of the most profound and beautiful works of literature, both in the English and Irish languages, and so it is, to me, befitting that Dublin finally holds a title for that honour.

Photo by James Byrum

Dublin Book Festival, 2011

I am convinced that, somewhere, at the very center of Dublin’s inner core, there is a book. Still clinging to her crown as UNESCO City of Literature 2010, Dublin has perhaps seen more than an average number of literary events in the past 6 months (though, really, literary events are about as ubiquitous in Dublin as pints of Guinness), culminating in next week’s Dublin Book Festival, taking place from March 2-6, 2011 in venues around Dublin.

Now in its fourth year, the Dublin Book Festival attracts some of the big wigs of the Irish publishing industry, as well as, of course, hordes of book nerds from all over the place who just want to get in on a little of that Irish literary magic. The Dublin Book Festival’s events range from book launches and readings to lectures (“Dublin, Its Place in Poetry” looks particularly interesting to me), workshops and lots of activities and readings for children and young adults – a growing fiction genre in Ireland and around the world.

To me, one of the main draws of attending the Dublin Book Festival – aside from getting an insider’s perspective on Irish literature, of course – is the chance to visit some of Dublin’s wonderful literary and historical sites, which serve as venues for the fest. For instance, the gorgeous National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street will host several discussions (including “Dublin, Its Place in Literature with Irish Times critic Eileen Battersby, poet Anthony Cronin and novelist Dermot Bolger), and historic Dublin City Hall. The charming Gutter Bookshop will also host a few discussions, as will Cube at the Project Arts Centre and the Mercantile Hotel.

 

Exploring Literary Dublin

If you’re going to miss out on the Dublin Book Festival this year, don’t worry, there are plenty of other bookish events going on in the city throughout the year. For instance, the Dublin Writers Festival 2011 takes place from May 23-29, 2011, with more a focus on Irish writers and less on the Book Festival’s industry take.

And even on any given week in Dublin, there is going to be some selection of readings and lectures going on around town – Dublin Tourism keeps a good list. Or you could opt to see a famous Irish play, of which there is bound to be one happening at one of the many cultural stage venues around the city. The Abbey Theatre is a great place to start, as is the Samuel Beckett Theatre at Trinity College.

And of course, don’t forget to visit the Dublin Writers Museum, which pays very appropriate homage to all of the amazing authors that have called Dublin home.

-Megan Eaves

Photo by William Murphy

Getting your green on

Photo by William Murphy

UPDATE: Check out our 2012 Guide to Planning for St. Patrick’s Day.

It’s that time of year again. Dare I say it? St. Patrick’s Day.

Yep. The St. Patrick’s Festival is right around the corner – just over a month away. It’s at this time of year, every year, that Ireland is positively overflowing with tourists and good cheer, and even if the locals begrudge all the festivities just a little bit, it doesn’t make spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland any less of a box to tick on most people’s “Before I Die” list.

If you’ve never encountered St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, you might be in for a bit of a shock. Sure, in the old days, there was one small parade in Dublin with a few school kids pulling red wagons and a badly costumed leprechaun, but these days? Well, these days, the festival spans beyond March 17 to a week-long series of events – most of them (though not all, anymore) hosted in and around Dublin. The parade is still a main event, but it’s now incredibly good – expect lots of colour and fanciful costuming and fairy-like dancing (accompanied of course by those same few schoolkids and lots of bravado music).

But the St. Patrick’s Festival is about a lot more than just marching bands and floats. The official 2011 St. Patrick’s Day Festival features a range of different events all over the city of Dublin (and one in Wexford), while each town and county organises its own set of to-dos, most of them including smaller parades and lots and lots of drinking.

Dublin St. Patrick’s Festival 2011

Photo by William Murphy

Dublin's St. Patrick's Day Parade is a colourful affair

This year, the festival organisers have split the events into several categories so that you can easily pick and choose which ones to attend: Family, Spectacle, Comedy, Cultúr and Craic, Film, Music and Visual Arts.

In the “Film” slot, there’ll be the debut showing of the film Between the Canals at the Irish Film Institute. The movie is described as “a gritty, energetic urban tale of St Patrick’s Day in Dublin” and seems to feature the same reckless-but-lovable drug dealer that stars in every good film set in Dublin.

Other interesting events lined up include an “In the Footsteps of Patrick Walking Tour” which, for a lean €10, leads visitors to some of Dublin’s most iconic sights associated with the saint himself. The Literary Treasure Hunt also promises a delightful round of clue-hunting at some of Dublin’s main cultural venues, and is, unbelievably, free. There will also be plenty of traditional Irish music, including the celebrated Kilfenora Céilí Band and trad music star Sharon Shannon.

And if you’re the type of person that just can’t stomach all that cultural hoo-ha, there will be plenty of mischief making to be done. St. Patrick’s Day is, after all, a celebration of all things Irish and what is more Irish than some good, old fashioned pub-going?

Stay tuned to IrishJaunt for a rundown of the best pubs in Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the coming weeks!

-Megan Eaves

Photo by Konstantinos Papakonstantinou

Lá Fhéle Vailintín: An Irish Valentine’s Day

Photo by Konstantinos Papakonstantinou

It’s that time of year again when everyone goes all lovey dovey (or gets a bit pukey), and if its romance you’re after, there is really no better place than Ireland for a green and red Valetine’s Day. After all, we’re home to a selection of the remains of St. Valentine himself (stored in the Whitefriar Church in Dublin) – a donated gift from Pope Gregory XVI in 1836.

Even if paying homage to a deceased saint’s relics aren’t you’re idea of romance (I actually think it’s quite sweet), there is plenty to see and do around Ireland for Valentine’s Day 2011. Here’s our selection of some of the best.

Get Away for the Weekend

A number of hotels and inns around the country are offering wonderful Valentine’s weekend packages, and in many cases it’s still not too late to book. Especially if you are hoping to save a little money this year, opting to spend a Sunday night or even Monday night on a romantic adventure out-of-town can really bring the cost down.

For instance, the Sandymount Hotel has an amazing Valentine’s deal going: an overnight stay (including chocolate dipped strawberries and a glass of sparkling wine) plus a 6-course dinner (oh my!) for only €59.50 per person, which works out to only €119 per couple for a weekend of bliss. What’s better is that they are located right in Dublin 4, which means city dwellers don’t have far to go, while people from other parts of Ireland can enjoy the romance of the Fair City for the weekend.

If you prefer to literally get out of town, the options reach far and wide. Ireland’s Blue Book has a good list of Valentine’s Day specials at manors and castles in Ireland, including the likes of Hayfield Manor in Cork City and the gorgeous Cashel House Hotel in Connemara (I can’t think of a more ruggedly romantic place to spend the weekend).

Those looking for a nice dinner out might want to head to Weir’s Bar and Restaurant in Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath. They are hosting a weekend of Valentine’s Day festivities and dinners, including a draw for a €100 voucher on Monday evening.

And backpackers hitting the town should consider a stay at one of the A*Hostels three properties, Abraham House, Ashfield House and Abigail’s Hostel, who are giving away bottles of sparkling wine in two separate contests in each hostel (plus glasses!), so even if you aren’t traveling with a sweetie, you can still upgrade your drinking habits for the night.

A Little Pampering

Sometimes what you need is just some good, old fashioned relaxation, and what is more sensual and romantic than a spa treatment with your lover? Luckily, Celtic Tours has a fantastic rundown of some of the best spas in Ireland, both south and north. Among the better looking options are stays at places like Temple Country Retreat in , which offers a fully inclusive spa weekend including gourmet meals and several outlandishly decadent treatments like “VinoTherapy” and “ChocoTherapy”. You’re going to cover me in chocolate and wine in the name of good health? Where do I sign up!

Whisper Sweet Nothings

And if all you want to do is say a few romantic words to your honey, why not do it with a little Irish flair? As in, in Irish, the most passionate of all languages. Create a romantic getaway in Donegal by enrolling in an Irish language course at Oideas Gael and learn to say I love you in Irish.

If you’re too lazy for all of that (or Donegal’s icy wind in February does not entice), you can always just check out this fantastic list of romance words in Irish courtesy of Irish Culture and Customs.

However you choose to celebrate (or not), Beannachtaí na Fhéle Vailintín!

by Megan Eaves

Father Ted festival

Down with this sort of thing

It was bound to happen and five years ago it did: a Father Ted fan convention.

If you’re already lost, you probably don’t care about TedFest… but you should. Why? Well, only because the mid-’90s sit-com around which TedFest is based is widely considered to be the best and most humourous insight into Irish culture that has ever been created to date, bar none, end of story.

If you don’t get Father Ted, you don’t get the Irish. Period

Now, if you’ve never seen the series, that’s ok. It’s available from Netflix and other such rental agencies, so you’d better go out and rent it straight away.

The basic premise of Father Ted was the story of three Irish priests (and one hardened housekeeper) who are exiled to the remote (and fictional) Craggy Island, where they live in a parochial house together and generally get up to no good. A family-style comedy, it centers around the title character, Father Ted Crilly, who generally feels surrounded by idiots, especially one Father Dougal McGuire, a young but very impish priest that Ted considers to be his penance for some past wrongdoing (to which we, the viewers, are never made fully privy). Father Jack is the third priest that joins them generally from a withered arm chair, where he spends most of his days downing too much whiskey and shouting barely intelligible obscenities at anyone who comes near him.

Attribution: Peter Craine, Wikimedia Commons

The Craggy Island parochial house

The outside shots of the priests’ parochial house were actually done at McCormack’s at Glenquin in County Clare.

Ironically, the series was rejected by Irish television and consequently aired only on British Channel 4 through the entirety of its three seasons. Nonetheless, the Irish take a great pride in Father Ted, which was incidentally acted by some of the finest comedic Irish actors ever.

So, what then, is this TedFest?

A fan convention created in 2007, TedFest celebrates all things Father Ted through a weekend-long series of strange events that include “Ted’s Got Talent” (a play on the pop show Britain’s Got Talent), a virtual confession box, a Craggy Island Kill Bill Festival, Matchmaking with Nellie, a Pirate Cruise and a Walking Tour to the Amish Community.

If you really want to know what any of that means, I suppose you will have to make the trek out to TedFest, which is held on Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland (meant to be a nod to the fictional Craggy Island). The event runs from February 24-27, 2011.

It’s not too difficult to reach Inis Mór from Galway via the Aran Island Ferries, or alternately Aer Arann Islands services Kilronan (the largest city on “Craggy Island”) from the Irish mainland.

by Megan Eaves

Photo by Brian Douglas

On the road in Ireland

Photo by Brian Douglas

If you are anything like me (or some of my relatives), your first experience driving on Irish roads is a generally hair raising one. Coming from Europe or the U.S., just handling a right-hand steering wheel on the left side of the road can be a challenge, not to mention shifting with the other hand while dodging rain puddles, big buses, sheep and tractors on the tiny narrow roads, and trying to put on the windshield wipers, only to find that you’ve inadvertently used the turn signal instead.

Your Irish rental car doesn’t have to be a mistake. Really. It’s just that most tourists hop of the plane at Dublin Airport and straight into their rental car without thinking things over or learning a little bit about the Irish driving system. The fact of the matter is that Irish roads are a little bit manic and use a hotchpotch system of signage and rules, half of which were adopted from the English and the rest were probably just made up. Irish drivers themselves are no good at driving – up until a couple of years ago, half of the people on the road weren’t even licensed and nowadays most people don’t pass their driving tests the first time around, largely because the system is so manic that it takes two tries for even the most competent of drivers to get it.

 


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Okay, now that I’ve sufficiently scared you, lets go through a few things you need to know, including some signage that typically trips up tourist drivers.

 

Photo by Flickr user vavva_92

Reminder to tourist drivers: stay to the left!

First and foremost:

*Driving is done on the left. This one is key, and it means that, if you’re not accustomed to this system, everything will be backwards. You exit the motorway on the left and a left-hand turn is like a right-hand turn where you’re from (hugging the curb).

*The car’s controls are backwards, too. You’ll need to be able to drive a stick shift (some rental car agencies in Ireland do offer automatics) with your left hand and remember that the windshield (known as a “windscreen” in Ireland) wipers are on the left side and the turn signal is on the right – this is easy to mix up thanks to basic muscle memory that will tell you otherwise.

* Get a GPS system. Even if you’re like me and never get lost, you will need a GPS in Ireland. This is largely because, in the city, most streets are one-ways that go in completely convoluted routes, never in the direction you need to get; and in the countryside, the signs point the wrong way and often the maps are just plain wrong (really).

There are a few other basic vocabulary terms you need, especially for the Americans in the audience:

motorway = freeway or major interstate
overtake = pass
junction = intersection
roundabout = rotary
sat nav = GPS system
dual carraigeway = divided highway
give way = yield
roadworks = construction zone
traffic diversion = detour
zebra crossing = pedestrian crossing

Rules of the Road

You’ll also need to know these few basic rules of the road (don’t assume they’re the same as at home):

Irish speed limit sign

Irish speed limit signs are round

* There are speed limits and you should follow them. Speeds are posted in kilometers/hour, and your car’s speedometer also reads in km/hr.

* The fast lane is on the right. If you are going slower than other cars, they will not thank you for staying to the right.

* With that in mind, you should also bear in mind that it’s illegal to pass on the left.

* There is also no left on red, something that differs from American road rules. Otherwise, left turns are just like right turns.

* At roundabouts, yield to traffic coming from the right. Make sure to use your turn signal.  Unless you are exiting at the first left, move to the inside. If you get flustered, keep going around – that’s why its a roundabout.

* There are also an inordinately high number of strange road markings. I don’t have time to go through them all, so you should take a careful look at this website, which explains them. You will get confused otherwise.

Now, perhaps the strangest thing about driving in Ireland for tourists are the abundance of traffic signs, many of which are unfamiliar and difficult to interpret. First, you should know that many Irish road signs are written in both English and Irish – so don’t let that confuse you.

Occasionally, when you are driving through extremely rural parts of Ireland known as the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking areas), you will find road signs that are only in Irish, but they are few and far between and usually aren’t difficult to interpret.

Photo by Tag Christof

Gaeltacht "yield" sign written in Irish

Below are just a few of the road signs that most often confuse tourist driving in Ireland for the first time. There are a whole host of these examples, and luckily there is a very comprehensive Wikipedia entry on the subject of Irish road signs.

Confusing Irish Road Signs

1. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsThis first example very commonly trips up tourist drivers in Ireland. This sign indicates that there is a roundabout ahead. The three arrows indicate that there are three turns off the roundabout, and the labels around the arrows indicate to where those roads go and their numbers. So, at this roundabout, the arrow going up (which would be the second left off the roundabout) is the R639 to Johnstown. Notice the Irish language listed above the English.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

2. Blue signs indicate that you are on a motorway, in this case, the M8. This particular sign lists the arrow going straight ahead to Cork (stay on the motorway) or to exit left for the R639 to Fermoy. Typically, motorway exits are short ramps that lead to either small roundabouts or stop signs, so be sure to stay alert as you exit and look for a sign like #1 list above, which will probably follow this blue fellow.

There are about a million other smaller signs that you will see and probably be able to interpret with no problem. But just in case:

Motorway EndNo StoppingWrong WayPhoto courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

1.Motorway ends in 500 meters
2. No stopping
3. Wrong way
4. One Way

by Megan Eaves

Photo by kelly taylor

A beginner’s guide to traditional Irish music

Photo by kelly taylor

If you’re planning a trip to or around Ireland (or maybe just dreaming about one), one of the first things you’ll likely hope to experience is one of those elusively magical pub sessions where the music flows as freely as the pints and the craic is on.

Ireland’s incredible musical tradition dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, when singers, chanters and harpists were employed by the main chieftains as entertainers in their courts. The intersection of music, lyric and art is not a difficult one to imagine in Irish terms, and even hundreds of years ago, these were valued aspects of society – values that have carried on to today.

Although you aren’t likely to run into too many harpists anymore (sadly), musicians abound in Ireland, some of them clinging to the ancient sounds and others exploring ways to branch those typically Irish sounds into mainstream music. It’s not difficult to think of a list of famous Irish music stars, from Thin Lizzy to Damien Rice, and no matter what your preferences about Bono may be, it’s impossible to deny that the Irish just have a knack for music.

Traditional Irish Music, or trad as it is most simply known in musical circles, comprises a combination of instruments and sounds that were easy to produce in a social setting; namely, the pub. Songs about drinking, as well as laments and ballads were a common form of social expression in Ireland, and still are today. Historically, trad music has gone through several revivals, including one near the turn of the 20th century and one during the 1940s and 50s that significantly informed what modern trad music has become.

Traditional music performances, more commonly known simply as sessions, are meant to be spontaneous affairs during which any number of musicians may arrive or depart and the audience (typically a group of drunken pub-goers) actively participates. While films often portray a rowdy side to Irish music, most trad sessions are incredibly respectful, delightful scenes where locals tap and clap to the music, sing along (in the case where lyrics are present) or dance – and there are numerous styles and types of dances that go along with the traditional music (but that is for another article).

Most trad sessions today involve two or more of the following instruments:

  • fiddle
  • flute or tin whistle
  • Uilleann pipes (pronounced ill-un) – a type of Irish bag pipe played with the elbow
  • accordion
  • concertina – sometimes referred to as just “music box”
  • banjo
  • guitar – this was a modern addition to the roundup of instruments
  • bodhrán (pronounced bow-ron) – traditional Irish wood-framed, goat skin drum
  • spoons – it is rare to see spoons played anymore, but a musician who is really good on the spoons can truly enliven a good trad session

A true trad session is an acoustic performance, meaning the instruments are never plugged in or attached to microphones. There is also a strict pecking order for an traditional session, wherein one person will be recognised (but not directly stated as) the leader of the group, while others may chime in by starting to play a song they have in mind once the previous one is finished. The older and most accomplished players might also hang back in modesty, waiting to be nudged into the session by the younger or newer players.

The musicians also nearly always play from memory, rather than by sheet music. This goes hand-in-hand with the Irish tradition of storytelling, where like the stories, the music was passed down in the musicians’ heads and rarely written down. So, in order to learn a trad song, you had to go and sit in on a trad session. With that in mind, more experienced trad players are always welcoming of new players into the group. As well, the music itself is conveniently structured around repetitive musical stanzas that were easy to remember.

Many variations on this theme exist around Ireland today, from full on trad sessions to smaller, more cohesive groups that typically play together in pre-scheduled performances, to all-out commercialised music, which may maintain the sound of trad, but perhaps less so the spirit.

To experience a real trad session, you’ll want to get away from the city centre (of any Irish city) and either out into the suburban pubs or into the countryside. Avoid areas you’ve heard about and instead look for hole-in-the-wall pubs that look inviting and perhaps intimidatingly local. If you see a notice for a live music session posted, it’s probably not going to be as authentic as a spontaneous one, although most barmen and publicans have some idea of the days and times at which their trad sessions start, so asking is never a bad idea.

 

 

 

by Megan Eaves

Photo by Allan Henderson

5 Scenic Treasures of Ireland

Ireland is one of the most lush, beautiful countries in the world. It’s quiet pace and the warm, friendly manner of the Irish people are sure to draw you in. Whether you are travelling with your family, a solo backpacker or a couple on a romantic getaway, there is no place like Ireland to captivate your fancy. Filled with ancient mystique and bright green landscape, these hidden treasures are some of Ireland’s most unique, unspoilt places.

Connemara

Photo by Raphael Schön

Perhaps Ireland’s most starkly beautiful place, Connemara is full of bluff landscapes and rocky beaches. Situated on the northwest coast of Ireland, in County Galway, Connemara is a “Gaeltacht” area where the Irish language is still spoken by the locals. In the town of Clifden, you can experience traditional Irish food and purchase hand knitted jumpers made from the wool of Connemara sheep! Kylemore Abbey, near Letterfrack, is a Benedictine monastery and one of Ireland’s most ornate architectural gems, while Killary Fjord is Ireland’s only natural fjord and offers spectacular views. The best time to visit is in early summer before the tourist crowds start, or in late autumn when the leaves are turning brilliant colours!

Curracloe Beach

Photo by Michael Osmenda

Set in County Wexford beyond sloping sand dunes is the majestic Curracloe Strand, voted one of the best beaches in Ireland. The Irish Sea meets land at Curracloe Beach with crashing waves along the lengthy, sandy shore. In the summertime, families and friends go sunning and swimming here, while the winter is more desolate and striking. The far end of Curracloe Beach was the filming site for the Normandy scene in the film Saving Private Ryan, and it takes no imagination to see how this outstanding shoreline has been a regular winner of the Blue Flag Beach award.

Cliffs of Moher

Photo by Allan Henderson

The Cliffs of Moher are quite simply awe-inspiring. When we imagine the rugged West Coast of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare are exactly what come to mind. Sheer rock drops from windy heights into the craggy, unforgiving sea below. There is no best time of year to view the Cliffs of Moher, as the newly built Cliffs of Moher Visitors Centre and viewing platform that makes them accessible year-round. Summertime is the busiest, and you may find yourself shoving for the best views, while winter is quieter but often features very high winds, rain and low visibility. The price of one car offers unlimited entry for everyone in the vehicle. The visitors’ centre, which is carved into the hillside, is worth a look and tickets can be purchased for an extra fee.

Strandhill Beach

Photo by Flickr user atomicpuppy68

County Sligo might receive less international tourism than some of Ireland’s other well-known spots, but it is no less scenic. The rural countryside of Sligo has an untamed feel, and its coastline is as breathtaking as any in the world. Strandhill Beach is the most prominent of Sligo’s beaches, as well as the most dangerous. Extreme tides and the rough waves of the Atlantic Ocean make Strandhill Beach a favourite with surfers and ocean-admirers. Strandhill Beach is stuck out at the end of a peninsula south of Sligo Town, and the charming Strandhill Village, where you can find cute beachy shops and quaint pubs for a pint of Guinness and warm, hearty food, encloses the beach itself. The best time to visit is summer when the weather is more reliable and the water is more alluring.

The Burren

Photo by Flickr user fhwrdh

Perhaps the most unique place in all of Ireland is The Burren, a rocky Karst landscape in County Clare that overlooks Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The countryside is made up of rocky limestone fields that have an austere, almost lunar look to them. Although devoid of the greenery that Ireland is famous for, The Burren has an appeal all its own. It is home to dozens of megalithic tombs, cave sites and unusual plant species, and the plethora of traditional Irish music in the area make it a great place to spend a few days exploring. The Burren is viewable all year round, but it is most spectacular at sunset, when the low rays of the sun across the Atlantic Ocean cast an eerie atmosphere over The Burren’s smooth, black rocks.

by Megan Eaves