Dreaming of pubs, sea breezes and open meadows? We are too. That’s why we’ve made a list of 25 things Ireland is known and famous for!
Ireland is famous for its marvelous views, both of the land and sea. Often referred to as the Emerald Isle, Ireland has vibrant cities tucked beside cozy bays and sheer cliffs. Ireland is where snug pubs, pints of Guinness and shots of Irish Whiskey go hand-in-hand with hearty Irish homestyle cooking. There’s also ancient and modern history, and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations!
We’ve barely even skimmed the surface, so let’s dive into the rest of what Ireland has to offer!
1. The Emerald Isle
It’s possible you’ve heard Ireland referred to as the Emerald Isle before now, and the reason is straightforward. Ireland is known for its passionate love affair with the color green, and its rolling hills and grassy landscape generously bolster Ireland’s reputation as a natural wonder.
Before you visit Ireland, it’s worth knowing a little bit about the geography to avoid awkward situations. The Emerald Isle refers to the whole island of Ireland, but the country Republic of Ireland refers only to the southern part. The northern part is still part of Great Britain, and called Northern Ireland. We’ve focused on the southern part for this article!
Naturally, the history is complex. These days, relations between Northern Irish and Irish people are better than they ever have been. But, just as an aside, here’s a quick tip. Don’t accidentally betray yourself and come across as ignorant. In both parts of the island, people take the separation of the nations very seriously.
Most people’s first visit to Ireland will undoubtedly be to the Irish capital, Dublin. Founded in 841 A.D, Dublin is a treasure trove that caters to all travellers’ desires. Don’t be fooled by its pebblestone pathways and historic buildings – this is the city where young people rule the roost.
And I mean that almost literally – it’s estimated that 50% of Dublin’s population are under 25. Ireland is famous for its nightlife and pub culture, and Dublin’s offerings are generous to the point of overwhelming. Take yourself on a tour (and tasting session) of The Guinness Storehouse before ordering a pint. The Temple Bar, whilst a very popular tourist destination, is just one of the pubs in the area. I strongly recommend you take the time to peruse the smaller venues for a more authentic Irish pub experience.
It’s also worth mentioning that Dublin is located alongside the Irish Sea and split in half by the river Liffey. Make the most of the water by taking a stroll over Ha’Penny Bridge, or heading to the cliffs of Moher to drink in those gorgeous cliff views. You’ll want plenty of time to explore Dublin, so don’t assume you’ll get it done in one weekend. Especially if you tour the brewery (you’ll need to sleep it off!).
You don’t need to know much about Ireland to know that it’s famous for its stout beer, Guinness. The thick, dark liquid covered in a few inches of foam is so iconic that it’s recognized the world over. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s only one contender for Ireland’s contribution to beer – and that’s Guinness.
Founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, the beginnings of Guinness were actually very humble. There are only four ingredients, malted barley, hops, yeast and water. Amazingly, Guinness has been reported to have “health benefits” – it’s apparently a great source of iron, and has fewer calories than a pint of orange juice!
Dublin’s answer to beer was an immediate success, and the beer brand has since celebrated its 250th birthday by inaugurating a submarine bar (seriously). Guinness is served in 49 countries worldwide, and astonishingly the country to consume the most Guinness isn’t actually Ireland – it’s Nigeria.
In my mind, there’s nothing as cozy as sipping a pint in great company in the warm atmosphere of an Irish pub. But where should you go to sample Irish pub culture? Well, you’re spoiled for choice. True Irish pubs have a few signatures that will show you how authentic it is.
Use your ears – if you hear Irish accents more than any other, the locals have given it their stamp of approval. Can you hear musicians singing a jaunty tune that makes you want to leave your drink and dance? If the answer is yes to both of these questions, then congrats. Another way to find out is by going to the bar. If you want to order a Guinness, you can ask the bar person for a “pint of the plain” or “your best”. If words aren’t your thing, raising your forefinger into the air will also result in a pint of Guinness in front of you.
Want to drink Guinness 150 feet off the ground? You can! Go to the highest bar and point in Dublin Gravity Bar to get views of the entire city. Probably best to start rather than end up here – you don’t want to feel queasy or risk getting lost on your way down!
5. Irish food
After you’ve been entertained and fallen out of enough bars, you’ll probably hear a familiar growl from your stomach. Food from this part of the world doesn’t come with the best reputation, but rest assured, there are some impeccable dishes to try. Irish food combines the love that goes into your mom’s cooking with high-quality home-grown produce. What better hangover cure is there?
Ireland isn’t somewhere you want to visit if you’re on a diet. “Hearty” sums up the cuisine pretty well, and not just because carbs are basically always on the menu. Typical Irish dishes involve everything from Irish stew – beef, potatoes and root veggies – to the adorably named boxty, potato pancakes.
Forget calorie-counting for a while and indulge in pleasures for the soul. I recommend you sample some Fish n’ Chips if you find yourself by the coast. It’s sinful and saintly in equal regard. Something else you should try in Ireland is Coddle, but I strongly advise you to do this on an empty stomach after a long hike. Coddle is a heavy stew of meat and veggies stewed in Guinness or cider. You’ll want to be hungry before it’s put in front of you!
6. Sense of humor
Don’t be alarmed if you think Irish people talk about “crack” a lot. What they’re actually saying is “craic”, and if someone asks you “what’s the craic?” they’re basically saying “what’s up?”. No need to worry the building or sidewalk is crumbling around you…or, anything else.
A stereotype the Irish can be proud of is that they are super friendly. Expect warm greetings in Ireland, though never “top o’the mornin’” and you’d be well advised to never say it yourself. Don’t be that person. Anyway, there’s plenty of actually funny stuff in Ireland to keep you away from awkward encounters. Remember though, Irish humor can come across as a bit abrasive to some because it often involves self-deprecation and sarcasm. Don’t be put off, give as good as you get! An Irish friend is likely to give you a minor insult as a way of showing you affection. It’s just how it is.
Well known comedic figures to fire our bellies with laughter include Graham Norton, Dara O Brien and Aisling Bea. A quick search on Youtube of any of these people on a bad day is almost guaranteed to cheer you up!
7. Irish Whiskey
Moving on, here’s some more advice. Coffee in Ireland isn’t called Irish coffee, unless you want your espresso with a shot of whiskey in it. I have it on good authority (hi, dad!) that no dinner party is complete without a mug of Irish coffee with its characteristic swirl of whipped cream on top. You don’t need to get your whiskey combined with coffee in Ireland, however. Ireland is famous for its own methods and type of whiskey, known around the world (funnily enough) as Irish whiskey.
But what’s different about it? Well, Irish whiskey is blended, triple (rather than single or double) distilled, and is made with untoasted barley. This means that Irish whiskey contains fewer impurities. This, according to reliable sources, means it tastes smoother.
The most famous brand of Irish whiskey is undoubtedly Jamesons, which accounts for 70% of the whiskey sales in the U.S. Jamesons wasn’t sound by the bottle until 1968, and if you look really hard at your bottle you’ll see a banner with “SINE METU” written on it. This motto means “without fear”, and was reportedly awarded to the Jameson family after they battled pirates in the 16th century. Cool, right? Swing by Dublin’s Whiskey Museum to learn more about the Irish favorite spirit!
While the Irish coffee has gained fame abroad, it’s tea that has captured Irish hearts most. There’s only one place that drinks more tea than Ireland, and that’s Turkey. Fact. Ireland is famous for its love of tea, and after a visit you’ll be inviting everyone over for a “cuppa”.
The adoration for a cup of tea isn’t unique to the British Isles, but it’s certainly a trademark. No house in Ireland is complete without a kettle, biscuit (cookie) tin and enough mugs to provide a small village with a hot drink. If you’re visiting friends in Ireland, the first thing you’ll be asked on entering their homes is “would you like a cuppa?”
Ireland’s love of tea spreads warmth and joy to any traveler, even if you’re not a fan of it yourself. How can you not be endured to Irish culture when the most common way of showing hospitality is to warm you up and offer you refreshment? Adorable!
County Cork is the largest of all counties in Ireland, and takes up a big chunk of the south and southwest of the country. The locals say the “true” capital of Ireland is Cork, and you might just believe them if you pay them a visit.
If you’re into history, Cork is for you. You can explore the infamous Cork City Gaol, where Irish rebels were housed during the Irish War of Independence. Kick it up a notch and head to Blarney Castle where you can tour the dungeons, gardens and even caves. There’s also a famous stone there which you’re encouraged to give a little kiss. Seriously! Supposedly, pressing your lips to this stone will give you the gift of persuasiveness.
In Cork, pubs and cozy corners for snuggling up to keep out of Ireland’s notoriously bad weather are everywhere. If you’re a foodie, you’ll definitely want to check out Cork’s English Market, where you can grab craft beers if you’re sick of Guinness, as well as delicious fresh foods straight from the fields and dairy farms of nearby towns and villages.
Even if you don’t find time to give the stone at Blarney Castle a smooch, you’ll notice that you’re surrounded by castles in Ireland. There are around 30,000 Irish castles to choose from, so it makes sense that Ireland is famous for having great examples of well preserved history!
Not all castles survived Ireland’s perilous history. Ruins border meadows in the unlikeliest of places, but that doesn’t make them less interesting. Whether the building has been restored or it’s merely a crumbling pile of rocks, there’s plenty of information available to tell you more about who might have lived there once upon a time – and what they got up to. The best-preserved medieval castle in Ireland is Bunratty Castle, which will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Tapestries, softly lit corridors and chamber rooms are all for the taking.
Some Irish castles even offer overnight accommodation if you feel like living as a Lord or Lady for the night. Ashford Castle was purchased by the Guinness family back in the 1850s, and now you can sleep in one of its ivy-bearded towers. Alternatively, you can visit the Castle of Cashel, where supposedly the King of Munster was converted to Christianity by St. Patrick.
11. St Patrick’s Day
Speaking of Saint Patrick, did you know that as well as being an excellent excuse to go wild in March, he’s also the patron saint of Ireland? Ireland is famous for its vast and vibrantly green celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day, and you’ll want to know exactly what it’s all about before you join in yourself on 17 March.
St. Patrick was captured as a slave from Britain and taken to Ireland in the 4th Century. He managed to escape but returned to Ireland with Christianity, which is now the religion of 82% of the country, mostly Roman Catholic. Over time, new traditions have been added. The tradition of wearing green stems from an old belief that green is the only color leprechauns (more about them later) can’t see. Those pesky leprechauns like to pinch and cause mischief, so wearing green means you won’t be bothered by them.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival, mainly because of high levels of Irish immigration over the past few centuries. Many attend parades, some attend church services, but mostly people just have a good time. Because St. Patrick’s day falls during the Lenten period where many abstain from eating certain foods or consuming alcohol, many exploit the temporary lifting of these rules on St. Patrick’s day to party to their heart’s content!
12. Famous Irish people
But Saint Paddy isn’t the only famous Irish figure we recognize today. From actors to musicians, Ireland is known for giving the world plenty of heroes who ignite the fan-girl/boy sparks in all of us.
You’ll have seen Irish movie stars playing characters without their distinct accents that you might not even know they’re from Ireland. Firstly, there’s the only Irish James Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Colin Farrell, who appeared in the movie Miami Vice (2006). Saoirse Ronan, who has been nominated for four Oscars (you probably recognize her from Brooklyn, or Lady Bird). And Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series.
As for musicians, the list is just enormous. Suffice to say that whatever genre you’re into, Ireland has contributed their fair share to your favorites. To name but a few: Bono, U2, Van Morrison, Enya, The Cranberries, Niall Horan of One Direction, and The Dubliners. We’ll talk more about traditional Irish music later on, but surely a few of these artists have appeared somewhere on your Spotify playlists!
Tourist trap or beloved fairytale creature, that is the question that Irish people have been grappling with for centuries now. Ireland is famous for its mythical, mischievous creatures called leprechauns, and they’re now an unofficial symbol of all things Irish.
Leprechauns have been around in Irish folktales since the 8th century. If you’re on the lookout for one, make sure he’s (and he always is a he, sadly) the size of a fairy, bearded and wearing a hat and coat. Supposedly, they wear green in keeping with the Irish favorite, but the earliest images of them showed leprechauns wearing red. The name leprechaun comes from the Irish words “leath bhrogan”, meaning shoemaker, because that’s what they’re said to work as.
Stories abound including leprechauns. You might find one at the end of the rainbow with a pot of gold, for instance. If you do happen to see one, make sure you try to catch him before he gets away from you. If you manage it, there’s a reward of 3 wishes available. Be warned, though. Bartering and bargaining with a leprechaun can do a lot of damage if you’re too greedy or he decides you’re unworthy of your wishes!
Leprechauns or not, if you like the mystical and the magical, Kinsale, County Cork is for you. Ireland is famous for its rich maritime history, and some of its best examples can be found in the smallest of places.
There are barely over 5,000 people living in Kinsale, but visiting the small tight-knit community will give you the most aesthetically pleasing Instagram feed of all time. The buildings are all brightly colored, real life gingerbread houses, complete with dormers and tinkling bells above shop doors. Shopping, beaches and seaside life is all on offer to you in this remote part of the world – did I mention it’s been nicknamed Ireland’s Riviera?
No snobbery here, though. Kinsale is a historic medieval port that has been fishing for centuries. The locals are as comfortable on land as they are in the water, and it’s a popular destination for scuba divers. It was also named Ireland’s Gourmet Capital because of its three Michelin star restaurants, two of which specialize in seafood.
15. Great authors
An abundance of beauty does not mean there’s a lack of brains. I’ll be amazed if you haven’t at least heard of some of Ireland’s famous writers – and believe me, there are many of them.
George Bernard Shaw was the most prolific Irish writer, enough to earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature! He was an active socialis, and Shaw also managed to revolutionize the comedic drama genre. You’ve undoubtedly come across his work either through his play Pygmalion, or the adaptation of that same play into the Broadway production of My Fair Lady.
Perhaps next in line for Ireland’s most famous writer is Oscar Wilde, author of the Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). He caused much controversy when he was alive because of his notorious wit and flouting of laws regarding homosexuality. Other names you might know include James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and the poet, Seamus Heaney.
16. Irish/Gaelic language
Ireland is famous for its difficult to pronounce but beautiful language of Irish, also sometimes called Gaelic. It is spoken by 1.77 million people and has traveled all over the world. In Australia, for instance, you can do a degree in Irish at the University of Sydney.
Spoken or written Irish Gaelic is pretty rare to find outside of the Emerald Isle, however. Whilst some people of Irish descent in the U.S or Canada for instance use it with their families or in community, it remains a minority language. There are three main dialects of Irish Gaelic: Munster (Mhumhain), Connacht (Connachta) and Ulster (Ulaidh). The Irish Gaelic taught in most schools today follows the Connacht pronunciation, though of course it varies.
Irish people abroad have a hard time educating people on how to spell and say their names. Niamh, for example, is pronounced “Neev”. Sioban becomes “Shiv-awn”. Caoimhe aloud is “key-vah” and Tadhg is “tag”. Luckily, signs in Ireland are written both in English and in Irish Gaelic.
The largest Irish-speaking community in Ireland can be found in the country’s second largest county, Galway. Located on the western side of Ireland, Galway is home to beaches, picturesque promenades and of course, the city of Galway.
Galway city was named European Capital of Culture 2020, and it’s true to say that this tucked away corner of Ireland is highly underrated. Hungry? Good! Local Galway fishermen will provide you with delicious, fresh seafood, and everything from expert chocolatiers to craft beer breweries are there waiting to be sampled.
If you want a break from city life, do as the Galwegians do and go on a traditional seaside jaunt to Salthill. The promenade there is perfect for walking down as you drink in the view of the lapping Atlantic shoreline. Make some marine mammal friends by heading to the Aran islands for some seal and otter spotting in Galway’s bay. Whatever pace of life you’re looking for, you can find it in Galway.
18. Irish sports
Spend any amount of time in Ireland, and you’ll quickly learn why your local sports bar has an Irish theme. Ireland is famous for its unique sports, and trust me, you haven’t seen anything like them. You might want to catch a match on your visit, so here’s a run down on what you might see.
The most played and watched sport in Ireland is Gaelic football (soccer). Think of it as soccer’s distant Irish cousin. Sure, there’s a likeness to soccer, but fans will be surprised to see players using their hands more than their feet! The pitch is also larger than a usual soccer pitch, and there are 15 players on each side. Players attempt to score goals – and depending how they score they earn either two or one point.
Other popular sports include hurling, which looks like hockey gone whacky. Hurling has been played for 2,000 years in Ireland and remains one of the most loved sports in the country. There’s also a female equivalent to hurling, called Camogie. Rugby, snooker and billiards are also popular in Ireland. Well, the latter would be, as you can play it at the pub!
19. Wild Atlantic Way
One way to explore Ireland is by following the increasingly popular mega-trail of the Wild Atlantic Way. If you’ve been to Dublin and you’re ready to start exploring the rest of the country, this could be exactly what you need.
Starting in County Donegal in the north, ending in County Cork in the south, the Wild Atlantic Way makes it possible for you to experience all of Ireland’s magical scenery for yourself. Misty mountains, rugged turquoise coastline, or green meadows with grazing cattle: which is your idea of paradise? Whichever element your soul feels inclined to most, be it air, water, or earth, you’ll find it on the Wild Atlantic Way. Hike, swim, or sail – it’s not how you get there that matters.
On it, you’ll pass through eight of Ireland’s counties on the western side of the island. Notice regional differences in dialect and customs, and be sure to snap a few pictures of Ireland’s bountiful wildlife and seabirds.
Ireland is highly underrated when it comes to recognizing its achievements in world-changing inventions. Many know that The Titanic was built by Irishmen, but few recognize that Ireland is famous for giving us stuff today that we could barely live without.
The Potato Famine of 1845-1849 is still regarded as one of Ireland’s most prominent times of struggle today. But did you know that it was an Irishman, Joseph ‘Spud’ Murphy who invented the flavored potato chip? In the 1950s, Murphy grew tired of just salted chips and invented the first cheese and onion flavored chip. He was a millionaire by the time the 1960s rolled around because the rest of the world loved them as much as him.
But that’s not all. John Phillip Holland invented the submarine in 1878. As early as 1894, John Joly from County Down had invented the first way to produce color photography. Hans Sloane found a way of mixing chocolate powder with milk rather than water, giving us the chocolate milkshake. Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton was the first person to split an atom. To name but a few.
If your favorite celebration is the Jack-O-Lantern filled festivities of fall, you can thank the Irish. Ireland is famous for being the original celebrators of Halloween, and many of the traditions that have spread all over the world originated on the Emerald Isle.
In Ireland, Halloween is celebrated a little differently, however. For dinner, Irish kids will often have the dish Colcannon. Colcannon is a dish made up of boiled potatoes and curly kale (cabbage), mashed together with raw onions. As an added bonus, parents hide coins inside wrapped in baking paper for kids to find!
The Jack-O-Lantern tradition started as a superstition. The story goes that Jack, an Irish blacksmith, had dealings with the devil. He wasn’t allowed into heaven but was condemned to walk on earth forever. The devil gave him a piece of burning coal, which Jack put in a turnip. Irish people do the same to keep Jack away from their homes and families. When Irish people arrived in America, they found that turnips were uncommon but pumpkins were abundant – hence why we carve pumpkins not turnips today!
I mentioned earlier that the Irish are extremely polite. It’s true – but there’s another caveat. Those playful insults might sound colorful to your ears if you aren’t used to hearing curse words, and despite being a deeply religious country, Ireland is famous for having some…unsavory uses of language.
While you might notice that if an Irish person can’t hear you, they’re likely to say “sorry?” rather than “huh?” or “what?” you’re also likely to hear some words that might have earned you a lecture from grandma back in the day (or still would). They can’t be accused of being unoriginal, however.
In defence of the Irish, their differently spelled version of the f-word isn’t a direct translation of how it’s used elsewhere in the world. While you may find some words offensive, you’ll observe that the same words don’t pack the same punch as how you might interpret them. This cultural habit is intrinsically linked to the self-deprecating humor we discussed earlier. If it bothers you, temporarily close your ears off when walking past crowds!
23. Ancient history
Ireland is famous for being a floating time capsule, at least when it comes to ancient history. All over the island, you can find sites that are as old – some even older – than the Ancient Egyptian pyramids.
Many are located within driving distance of big cities, and if you’re staying in Dublin it’s worth the one hour drive north to see the Hill of Tara. Located in County Meath, the Hill of Tara is an archeological complex. There are ancient monuments scattered all around the area, so at least a few hours exploration should be reserved purely for this.
Also in County Meath is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Brú na Bóinne. Human settlement has existed there for 6,000 years, and its picturesque location in the valley of the Boyne river makes it a must-see. Down in County Cork, you’ll find the Drombeg stone circle, Ireland’s very own and equally impressive Stonehenge. The only difference is, the stones have been placed in accordance with the winter solstice position of the sun.
The Eurovision song contest is as polarizing as it is mesmerizing. If you’ve no idea what it is, you’re missing out. Ireland is famous for being the crowned winners of Eurovision no fewer than seven times, and they (proudly) are the only nation to win three years in a row!
Euro-what, you ask? Eurovision is an extravaganza of over-the-top outfits, quirky entrants and, of course, music. Each participating nation sends their chosen singer or group to represent them in the contest, and in true Eurovision style, things escalate pretty quickly. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, European nations took it pretty seriously.
Ireland’s winners are still famous to this day, and include Dana with “All Kinds of Everything” (1970), Niamh Kavanagh with “In Your Eyes” (1993) and Linda Martin with “Why Me” (1992). Bad news for Ireland, though. Since adding a semifinal round in 2004, Ireland has only managed to reach the final seven times. In 2011, Irish twins “Jedward” represented Ireland and caused a particular stir in the competition. And yes, that’s them in the picture – maybe you can see why!
25. Traditional music
Lastly, before you let the Guinness flow too freely, make sure you keep an ear out when you find a pub that suits you. Ireland is famous for its traditional music, and it’s more than worth putting your glass down for.
Irish folk music takes the form of stories told along to the tune of music. Some are amusing and a little on the cheeky side, others are heart-wrenching and will have you ordering another pint just to put your tears in. Give the musicians their due and hear what they’re singing – the tunes are so catchy you’ll soon be joining in, too!
What began as an oral tradition of storytelling in Ireland, handed down through generations, is now a reason of its own to visit the Emerald Isle. Before you go, here are a few favorites to get you in the mood or to soundtrack your road trip.
That concludes this article on just 25 things Ireland is known and famous for. Irish expert? Let us know in the comments below what to look out for on our next trip. And, if you’re heading over to nearby U.K, why not check out what London and Manchester are famous for?