For an island that’s only 32,600 square miles of land, Ireland accommodates roughly 6 million residents and 8 million tourists a year. Tourism is one of Ireland’s biggest industries and with its rolling green hills, lively cities, and renowned charm, it’s easy to see why Ireland attracts so many visitors. The little island perched at the edge of Europe has been voted Favorite Holiday Destination and World’s Friendliest Country by travel guidebook companies Frommer’s and Lonely Planet, respectively.
Many citizens of former British colonies claim Irish heritage—33 million US, 7 million Aussies, and 5 million from Canada—and pilgrimage to their ancestral homeland is the reason countless travel to Ireland. Most tourists in Ireland come from North America and Europe, and even if they aren’t in search of Irish roots, the island offers a myriad of cultural and natural attractions. With a collective modern outlook, tourists will have no problem navigating the country and connecting with locals, even if traveling alone.
If you’re thinking about visiting Ireland, do it, and expect beautiful scenery, world-famous hospitality, and a vibrant history. However, no matter where you’re from, the people of Ireland do things a little different (and are incredibly proud of themselves for it), so you’re certain to have a few thoughts about them and their emerald-hued island.
20 Yes, It's Very Green
Long before you first step out of the airport, you’ll hear about Ireland’s expansive green landscape. Its many fields are broken up by stone walls into hundreds of patches of every shade of green, likely spotted with a white herd of sheep every hundred feet or so. As you’ll see as the plane begins its descent, this is true, and the grass and other plants remain green all year round due to Ireland’s mild, wet climate.
The island is covered with hills and low mountains that have this emerald carpet, but the greenest corner of Ireland is County Wicklow, known as “The Garden of Ireland.”
19 Yes, It Rains As Much As Everyone Says It Does
Another dominant color you’ll notice is grey. The sky is almost always filled with heavy, steely clouds, threatening to pour down on you at any second. Truthfully, it probably already is raining. Ireland is awfully rainy, but it gives you an excuse to pop into one of its many (free!) museums.
The weather is a popular topic of conversation, especially when it isn’t raining, because a visible sun is a national event and cause to drop whatever you’re doing and lie in a field somewhere. This is only fair—it’s impossible to ignore good weather in Ireland.
18 Ireland is a musical nation
There's no doubt that the people of Ireland love music in all forms, whether they’re playing it or listening to it. Most Irish have an extensive knowledge of music, and if you’re looking for conversation with someone, ask them what kind of music they like.
Many people of all ages make a living by busking, playing music on the street. Walking down the main streets in any city, you’re sure to hear every genre every couple of meters. Just remember that if you stop and listen, throw them a euro. You can also hear free shows or listen in on trad sessions at pubs every night of the week.
17 Where Are All The Redheads?
Some people come to Ireland with the expectation that everyone will have flaming red hair, and leave finding that the truth in this rumor is played up. Most of them aren’t redheads, in fact you’ll find more people with black hair than red.
With 10% of the population having red hair, however, more people do have red hair than in most other countries. The only other country with this high of redheaded concentration is Scotland. It’s usually thought that the Celts carried this gene, but it’s also highly possible that red hair was brought to the British Isles by Viking traders, as there’s a large population of Scandinavian redheads.
16 What Sport Is That?
Sports are a unifying pastime in Ireland, and people who normally would have nothing in common will gather together to watch any match. And while some sports are familiar like soccer and rugby, Ireland has developed its own strain of sport, namely hurling.
Hurling is a sport with ancient origins native to Ireland and is played by trying to score goals with a stick, called the hurley, and a ball. As you aren’t from Ireland, you won’t entirely understand this cultural phenomenon, but you will enjoy the liveliness of the match atmosphere, even between bitter rivals.
15 It's Not Part Of The United Kingdom?
Ireland and Britain make up the British Isles, so it’s a common misconception that Ireland is part of the UK. Ireland became a fully independent state in 1937, and with its recognition as a republic in 1949, it even left the British Commonwealth.
It wasn’t a smooth transition, however, and after a long conflict with England, Ireland was partitioned so six counties in the north remained part of the UK, and still do today. People on both sides of the border are sensitive about this, so try not to mistake Ireland as English run, especially in the republic.
14 They Really Do Love Potatoes
We’ve all heard the stereotype about people in Ireland eating nothing but potatoes and cabbage, and there’s some truth in it. Potatoes are wildly popular in Ireland, so much so that you might find yourself eating them three times a day. But when you have the extensive local knowledge on the many ways to prepare them, you’ll see why they’re so dearly loved.
It’s not uncommon to hear a debate on the best way to eat a potato, from chips to mash to roasties, and the locals know this. They get the humor in the potato stereotype, but a famine joke probably won’t go over well.
13 Every Night Is A Good Night To Go Out
Everyone, local or foreign, wants to have fun in Ireland. And with its nightlife being the stuff of legends, there’s a scene for everyone. Unlike North America, where nights out are typically restrained to weekends, you’ll find that pubs and other venues are busy seven days a week.
The best place to socialize is in at the local pub, and here you’ll see why the people of Ireland are known for their friendliness. Most people, even bartenders and wait staff, will have a conversation with you, especially because you’re foreign. They’ll want to know where you’re from, what you’re doing in Ireland, what you think of it, etc.
12 What Does That Sign Say?
If you use the roads at all, you’ll notice odd italicized words written in conjunction with English ones. These are the Irish translations, and since Irish and English are the two official languages, it’s only fitting that both are included in anything written that’s government funded.
For example, you might see Áth Cliath for Dublin, Corcaigh for Cork, or Gaillimh for Galway in addition to traffic indications. Though it’s a beautiful language, Irish can be confusing to read or hear for English speakers since we aren’t often exposed to Celtic languages. Thankfully, everything written in Irish will have an English translation to go along with it.
11 Chippers Are A Very Important Part Of Local Culture
Ireland has a collective fondness for its chip shops, probably thanks to its potato craze. Stopping at your local chipper on your way home at night is almost religious business, as there is nothing better than curling up in bed with a bag of chips.
While chips aren’t all they sell, these are a staple. Not your average fast food fries, chips are thickly cut, and at the best chip shops, homemade. Usually seasoned with salt and vinegar, you can get them drenched in curry, garlic mayonnaise, cheese, or whatever else the shop has to offer.
10 There Are Lots Of Sheep
According to a livestock census from 2016, there are just under 4 million sheep in the Republic of Ireland, compared to just under 5 million people. Sheep farming is most common in counties Donegal, Mayo, and Galway, where most of Ireland’s sheep are concentrated. Driving through the Connemara region in Galway and Mayo, stopping for sheep crossings is a regular occurrence.
While sheep are seen in fields in the midlands, most are in the grassy mountains. Some grazing land crosses into public land, like in national parks, so don’t be alarmed if you run into a flock of sheep while hiking.
9 A Catholic History Influences Modern Ireland
The population of Ireland is about 80% Catholic, and though the influence of the Church is declining, the traditions are deeply rooted in 1500 years of Catholicism. England tried to enforce Protestantism on Ireland during the Reformation in the 16th century, but the people of Ireland held tightly to their faith and practiced in secret.
In the 20th century, the Church gained power with the expulsion of England's rule, as Ireland's identity revolved around the rejection of Protestantism. Tensions between the North and South remain due to conflicting religious beliefs between Catholics and Protestants, though most on both sides of the border have moderate views.
8 Younger Generations Aren't Learning How To Drive
Ireland is a very small country, about the size of the US state of Indiana. Add the fact that it’s isolated by water and it’s perfect for a thorough public transportation system. Ireland’s rail system connects all the major cities via smaller towns, as does the (somewhat slower) intercity public bus.
Younger generations are getting their driver’s licenses later in life, if at all. It’s not uncommon to meet a 25-year-old who can’t drive. Usually a car is only necessary if you live in rural areas, where the nearest bus or train station may be a half an hour’s drive away.
7 "Craic" Is Required, Not Optional
The folk of Ireland are mad about “craic,” that’s not to say “crack,” but the Irish word meaning “fun.” “What’s the craic?” is used in place of “What’s up?” Craic can mean just about anything and is often used for making plans. Many pubs market themselves with the phrase “ceol agus craic,” meaning “music and fun.”
Don’t think about any negative connotations to the way the word sounds, because it’s always one of the highest compliments to be called good craic by an local. Being fun and a good laugh is of great value to them.
6 I Have To Decide How I Like My Tea
Tea alone is a cultural affair, and if you’re a coffee drinker, you might have to compromise. Coffee at home is usually instant coffee and, in a café, an Americano is equivalent to a normal cup of coffee. If you’re offered tea, make sure you know how much sugar and milk you take, if at all.
Tea can be used as an excuse to make plans, and it’s sometimes a sign of affection if someone invites you for tea, because it’s a gesture of friendship, hospitality, and conversation. Don’t worry if you really dislike tea though, where there’s tea, there’s usually coffee nearby.
5 Paddy's Day Is Serious Business
The most important holiday isn’t Christmas like you might expect—it’s St. Patrick’s Day. If you think people go crazy for Paddy’s Day in your corner of the world, you’ve never seen the week-long festivities that take place across Ireland. The time to visit Ireland is of course in March but be prepared for everyone to be out celebrating and half the world on holiday here to witness Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day.
You’ll find people wearing the Tricolour and dressed as leprechauns, the shamrock becomes everyone's tattoo for the day, and every town has its own parade. You will not find, however, green-colored food or corned beef and cabbage.
4 Why Do People Take Off Work The First Monday Of Every Month?
Ireland and the UK like to reward workers and students every now and again by giving them a day off work. The first Monday of certain months are known as “Bank Holiday Mondays,” meaning that banks and many other establishments are closed. Unless a holiday falls during the previous weekend, these Mondays are known just as an excuse to have an extended weekend.
Though government offices will be closed on these days, most shops stay open, possibly with shorter hours. If you’re working in Ireland, don’t bother asking questions and just enjoy the free day off.
3 Why Is The Water Cold?
If you stay anywhere other than a hotel while in Ireland, you will almost certainly have to deal with the hot water goblin, also known as the immersion heater. You will have to turn this on when you want to have a shower, so familiarize yourself with your immersion switch, locked away in the closet called the hot press.
Learn how to use yours so you don’t go three months wondering why your showers are always cold. And remember you have to turn it off lest you accumulate hundreds of euros worth of an electricity bill.
2 I Can't Understand A Word They're Saying
Oh Ireland, your accent is loved all over the world, but it’s hard to tell exactly which accent. Ireland’s accents change every 10 miles or so and can go from sounding vaguely like you're from Britain or America to being completely unintelligible.
Some regions are associated with soft lilts, like Mayo and Roscommon, and others can be heavy brogues that even other people in Ireland sometimes can’t understand. You can ask them to repeat themselves, but it might take a few tries. It’ll give you more time to soak in all that lovely accent and learn how to decipher it.
1 The People Of Ireland Embrace Their Stereotypes
For all their famous stereotypes, the locals tend to embrace their labels and have a laugh about them. They’re fond of potatoes, their skin doesn’t take well to sunlight, and there’s something just magical enough about Ireland and its people that you might believe there are leprechauns living in the hills.
And for the strange ways of life in Ireland that you’ll find confusing as a foreigner, it all adds to the charm. It’s certainly a quirkier place than you might think, but the locals would rather help you understand than make you feel isolated.
References: telegraph.co.uk, farmersjournal.ie