The country of Ireland has become an extremely popular tourist destination recently, with approximately 9 million visitors a year. That’s around 1.8 times the regions total population. With all that activity, can you be assured of a warm and friendly reception when you visit the country? In this article, we will find out if Irish people are as friendly and welcoming to their visitors as their reputation suggests.
Are Irish people friendly? The short answer is YES, and some even say to a fault. On arrival, visitors to Ireland will typically be greeted by the words Céad míle fáilte; which means ‘a hundred thousand welcomes.’ in Irish Gaelic.
It’s the second largest island of the British Isles and third largest in Europe. Known for ancient history and lush vegetation, dramatic cliffs, and changeable weather. Irish culture and literature have had an impact all over the world and the country of Ireland is a place like no other. Irish people strive to be polite and welcoming to visitors and tourists. Going out of their way to assist where they can make you feel like one of the locals.
Whether it’s their relaxed upbringing, inherent kindness, or just the popular Irish belief that ‘to make a friend, you must be a friend’, visitors to Ireland can be assured of being accepted and included by the local people.
So, what is it that creates such a warm and welcoming nature in the Irish people?
Irish Culture of Hospitality
Known as the ‘Emerald Isle’ or sometimes the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’. We can trace the roots of the legendary Irish Hospitality all the way back to what’s known as the Brehon Laws. A code of law and behaviour that was observed in Ireland for over 1000 years. It has been instilled and passed from generation to generation and is now inherent in Irish culture.
The law obliged the Irish to provide some form of hospitality or ‘oigidecht’ to visitors, travellers and guests. To not abide by the law was illegal and one could be fined for not meeting the requirements. It could also damage a family’s reputation beyond repair. The law applied to all Irish folk, regardless of their economic or social status.
Here are some typical customary traits, or expected behaviours, you may encounter when visiting Ireland.
- Politeness – Irish people are inherently polite. Go to a pub, they will offer to buy you a pint. Stand at an event they will offer you a chair. Always accept, to not do so will be viewed as rude or ungrateful which is undoubtedly the worst of all transgressions in Irish culture.
- Praise your hosts – should you be lucky enough to be invited to a traditional Irish home you are expected to bestow lavish praise on your hosts. It’s a tradition that dates back many years and is a somewhat expected practice within the country.
- Drink Guinness – originating in 1759 and these days synonymous with Ireland. Even if its not to your taste drink it anyway. Many aficionados and ale drinkers insist it tastes better and ‘the way it supposed to’ when imbibed on the Emerald Isle, and it would be rude not to.
- Pay for Drinks – the pub culture in Ireland is far reaching and a part of daily life. Meeting family or engaging in social occasions is frequently done in the pubs and taverns. If invited, make sure you pay for drinks when it’s your round – which it always is, by the way, and it will usually be Guinness.
- Eat – if you are in an Irish home you may be presented with fare that you are not used to. Mikado’s, Fig rolls, whatever is produced. Eat it anyway. It will be a snub to your hosts if you don’t.
- Irish Music and Dancing – unique to Ireland and a large part of the culture the music and dance of Ireland is well worth experiencing. Dances are made up of reels and jigs and the music features instruments you may have never seen before; Uilleann pipes, bodhran drum and harps all feature strongly.
- Drinking – in Ireland the pub culture is rife and all-encompassing. The legendary Irish pubs are a place to meet, socialize, catch up with family or just relax for a few hours. It is seen as a warm and friendly place and acts as an unofficial ‘hub’ of Irish life.
The Gift of The Blarney
Another reason for the famed warmth and kindness of the Irish people may be due to the legend of the “Blarney Stone”. The famous stone made from the same rock as Stonehenge is said to bestow the gift of the gab or “Blarney” on the people who kiss it. Located on the grounds of Blarney Castle near Cork it was set into the castle’s tower in 1446. Since then writers, playwrights, poets, and authors have all lined up to ‘Kiss the Blarney stone” and be rewarded with the power of eloquent speech.
It is not an uncommon to hear an Irish person comment that “He’s kissed the Blarney Stone, that one” in response to perceived false flattery or insincere compliments.
The process of kissing the stone is not as simple as it sounds. The ‘kisser’ must get to the top of the castle on the parapet then lean backwards over the edge, usually with the aide of a helper, then from an almost upside-down position press their lips to the Blarney Stone to achieve the desired result. Not quite as easy as it seems.
It is estimated that the ritual has been performed by millions of people from the world over, including writers, authors, actors, poets and musicians.
Famous People of Ireland
Renowned for producing eloquent speakers, (perhaps due to the Blarney Stone ritual!), Ireland has spawned some of the world’s most famous poets, playwrights, authors and musicians throughout history. Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, Bob Geldof and Bono of popular band U2, all come from Irish roots.
Well-known actors that hail from the Emerald Isle include names like – Peter O’Toole, Liam Neeson, Fionnula Flannigan, Cillian Murphy, Pierce Brosnan, Brenda Fricker and Colin Farrell. Ireland has also spawned its fair share of dignitaries, politicians and religious leaders.
With a list of such notable people, so well versed in acting and the spoken or written word, it is no wonder that the Irish folk just seem to have a warmth and kindness about them that’s hard to find anywhere else on the planet.
Along with the culture of hospitality, music and dancing, Ireland also has its own folklore and legends that differ from those you might be used to. Leprechauns, Banshees and Faeries are all well-known figures in Irish culture.
Leprechauns or ‘the little people’ love to collect and hoard gold which, according to the legend they hide at the end of a rainbow. They usually appear as an old man. If a Leprechaun is ever caught by a human, he must grant the human 3 wishes before he can be released.
Banshees were the harbinger of death. A female spirit that warns of impending doom by wailing or “keening” there are variations in how she looks when she appears; wearing a grey cloak, or dressed in white, long hair, red eyes, representations differ greatly. But however she looks, if you ever see or hear a Banshee, you can be assured its not good news.
Faeries or ‘the fae’ are nature spirits known for their playfulness and connection to the earth, plants, and flowers. They have influenced the works of many authors and poets over the years, Tolkien, Yeats, and Swift to name a few.
Shamrocks and Shillelaghs
Nothing to do with hospitality as such but no article on Ireland would be complete without a mention of these 2 items that have become synonymous with, and symbols of the country. When visiting Ireland you are bound to see these 2 items in evidence.
Shamrock – A shamrock (or clover) is a green 3 leafed plant with links to St Patrick the patron Saint of Ireland. The 3 leaves are said to represent the Holy Trinity and references to the plant can be traced back as far as the 1500s.
Shillelagh (pronounced shill-lay-lee) – is a club or walking stick typically made from oak or blackthorn wood, usually weighing about 2 pounds, and was originally used as a fighting stick. A shillelagh is about the length of a standard walking stick with a round knob handle.
Is Ireland Friendly to American Tourists?
Considering that many Americans have a traceable lineage to the Emerald Isle, it’s no surprise that many want to visit the county and discover more about their ancestral roots. Typically, Irish people are friendly, accommodating and welcoming to Americans, going out of their way to engage in conversation and offer information on the local area or places to visit. Don’t be surprised if the locals offer to get you a pint at the local pub.
How Not to Look Like a Tourist in Ireland.
Blending in to the surroundings may not be that easy but some simple steps make it possible. Try and dress like a local, that means losing the Converse sneakers and American flag shirt. Try and buy clothes at local store and look around to see how the native Irish are dressed.
Don’t walk around waving a map and try and learn about the local area so you don’t appear completely out of your element. Research a few popular customs and the culture and try and behave accordingly.