We all have the same images come into mind when someone asks what Ireland is known for.
The leprechauns, the shamrock, and Saint Patrick are all associated with Ireland, some as stereotypical folklore beings, others as national symbols.
But even though the three might have a link to Ireland, they are not exactly what put Ireland on the map.
So, what are the things Ireland is known for? Certain food products, such as the soda bread and the shepherd’s pie, are famous beyond the Emerald Isle. Everyone knows about Guinness, a type of beer that comes from Ireland, and Irish whiskey has a reputation too. You can’t forget about Irish cultural products such as music, dance, and written works when speaking about the things that made Ireland famous.
Of course, there’s more to Ireland than just some bread, beer, and Bono.
Everything that makes Ireland famous has a reason why it’s so important to Ireland and its history. So let’s dig into it a bit deeper, shall we?
The Irish Soda Bread
What are the most beloved and best-known national dishes you can remember? Pizza is arguably the most famous Italian dish. The fish and chips are as a potent symbol of the UK as Big Ben is, even though another — macaroni and cheese — might have a much broader fan base.
And then there’s the Canadian poutine and various stews and pies from various national and local cuisines.
What all these dishes have in common is that they are the people’s food. Many of them have originated in poor countries, or among the poorer members of society. And the Irish soda bread is not an exception.
You don’t need a lot of ingredients to make Irish soda bread — just some salt, flour, baking soda, and a type of soured milk. That’s what people would use every day to make bread hundreds of years ago in Ireland. They would also cut in a cross on top of the bread for good measure and as a sort of protection against evil.
Of course, different parts of Ireland, and even different families can have their own way to prepare soda bread. Some might use only white flour, others would use wholegrain flour, and some recipes call for both.
Some would use buttermilk, but live yogurt would also do in its stead. Those who really like stout can use it to activate the soda — if it can kickstart the leavening, it’s a good substitute.
The shapes of the bread would change, too, depending on the part of Ireland where it’s from. And you might also find sweet soda bread with raisins — some recipes will allow that.
You can find all these varieties of soda bread across the world even though Ireland is not the only country that has a tradition of making soda bread.
The Shepherd’s Pie
And speaking of finding creative ways to feed a whole family, is there anything more common than finding new and exciting ways to prepare leftovers?
It’s an experience that many people share today, even in rich countries. But you can probably appreciate how important it was not to waste any food in the Ireland of a couple of hundred years ago.
That’s how you get a dish like the Shepherd’s Pie. It’s one of those dishes where you can throw in anything you have in your fridge, cellar, or larder. The dish might change its name based on the key ingredient, so a Shepherd’s Pie with beef is what people call a Cottage Pie, but the structure of the dish remains the same.
And the structure is very simple. All you need to do is simmer lamb or mutton with vegetables including onions, peas, and carrots, top it with mashed potatoes, and bake it. That’s all it takes to create a dish that will bring fond memories of home.
People who visit Ireland will notice that the Irish will eat Shepherd’s Pie in pubs. They’ll often have a draft beer with it. And different pubs will have their own twists on the Shepherd’s Pie recipe. But when you’re eating leftover lamb with veggies covered by mashed potatoes, you should know you’re eating something essentially Irish.
Guinness a.k.aThe Black Stuff
Some brands grow in popularity so much that they become a weird kind of a national symbol. Those are your IKEAs, or BMWs, or the Twining’s Earl Grey.
Not only are these brands popular for the quality of their product, but they also have something in them that might speak for the country they are from. IKEA has long been a sort of ambassador of Swedish values, for example.
Well, Ireland’s most beloved and most famous ambassador is dark, dry, and it should be served at 6 °C. It is, of course, a pint of Guinness, a beer known for its dark color, creamy head, and unique taste.
The brewery that first brew Guinness was established in Dublin in 1759 by a man called Arthur Guinness. For the first forty years of its existence, the brewery created ales.
In 1799 Guinness decided to switch to brewing porters, starting more than two hundred years of constant improvement, refining, experimentation that got Ireland, and the world, the Guinness we so love.
How much does the world love Guinness? They brew the beer in close to 50 countries for a market of over 100 countries that soaks up more than 1.8 billion of pints of the Black Stuff. The biggest markets for Guinness are Great Britain, Ireland, Nigeria, the United States, and Cameroon.
Guinness owes its renown to several traits, but its dry and creamy taste is probably what makes it so popular. And it has a lot of quirks that make it interesting, too.
For example, it’s called ‘the Black Stuff’ even though it’s not black, it’s dark ruby red. And it has a whole procedure for proper pouring that depends on the vessel of the stout.
The company that owns the brand today is British, but Guinness still proudly displays its Irishness. The brand’s logo displays the harp — the same symbol Ireland uses as its national symbol. And it’s Guinness that trademarked the logo first, leaving Ireland to cope by turning their harp the other way around.
The world’s premier stout isn’t the only alcoholic beverage that was born in Ireland and conquered parts of the planet. Just a century and a half ago, Irish whiskey was a big export with a strong reputation and demand. After a century of decline, however, this drink lost its primacy to its Scottish and American cousins.
The origin of whiskey is a bit fuzzy. We know that we owe the whiskey we have today to Celtic peoples. Which Celtic peoples, however, is a matter of much dispute because both the Irish and the Scots lay claim to be the first to develop whiskey. As far as the Irish Whiskey Museum is concerned, we have a definitive answer.
No one will dispute, however, that the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world is the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland. It got its first license to distill Irish whiskey in 1608. Ireland has a long tradition of production, consumption, and exporting the fermented grain beverage.
It would also be hard to view the history of whiskey in Ireland as separate from the history of the country and its neighbors. The events that shaped the rise and the fall of Irish whiskey shaped the history of Ireland, Scotland, England, and the United States.
Those events got us to where we are today — a time when American and Scottish brands of whiskey seem more popular than the Irish ones.
Still, Irish whiskey has been making a comeback in the last couple of years. People who appreciate the drink probably know of the more popular Irish whiskey brands such as Jameson or Tullamore D.E.W. Everyone knows that Irish coffee is coffee with whiskey. And even Baileys Irish Cream did its part in keeping the link between Ireland and whiskey alive in people’s minds.
There are two ways you can look at the music that’s come from Ireland. You can start in the present and go back into the past until you get to the roots of Irish folk music.
Or you can go the other way around, start in the past, and see how the Irish musical expression built along with the changing times. Either way, you’ll get to the same place — the Irish and music go together like Guinness and Shepherd’s Pie.
And the whole world knows it. One of the biggest rock bands of the past forty years, U2, originated in Dublin and consists mostly of Irish musicians.
A quarter of the current lineup of One Direction, Niall Horan, is from Mullingar, a country town in the Irish midlands. Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known as Hozier, achieved international success recently with his hit ‘Take Me to Church.’
Then you have Enya, the new-age music megastar who also sang in Clannad, her family’s band that performs folk and traditional music. Van Morison is a Northern Irish singer-songwriter who wrote and performed across various genres to worldwide fame. The Cranberries achieved stellar heights fronted by the late Dolores O’Riordan.
And then there’s Sinéad O’Connor with her beautiful voice, Kevin Shields with his glide guitar, Glen Hansard with the honest and raw emotions, Garry Moore with his weeping guitar solos, and Phil Lynott with his distinct bass playing and vocal delivery. And the list of Irish people who used to supply the world with awesome music and those who do it to this day could go on and on.
When you think about it, a people that chose a musical instrument for a national symbol should be able to appreciate music. Plus, they live in a country with so many pubs that organize a traditional music session, so they should be able to stay in touch with their musical roots. And people who come to Ireland easily fall in love with the sounds of the Irish fiddle.
The people who were watching the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Ireland, had little idea that, by the end of the program, historic events would have unfolded in front of their eyes. And it’s not because of the satellite voting, or the fact that Ireland won for the third time in a row, even though both were firsts.
April 30th, 1994 will go down in history as the date when the whole world, or at least the part of the world that watches Eurovision, saw for the very first time the music and dance show known as Riverdance.
Led by two Americans — Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, the performance got a standing ovation that launched the modernized version of traditional Irish dance into the global consciousness, and the lead performers into stardom.
Of course, both Butler and Flatley were already master dancers of Irish traditional dances. The song and performance that became Riverdance have been in the making for some time, and both Irish traditional music and traditional dance had a degree of fame beyond the country’s borders.
But the incredible reception that original performance got was a clear signal that Irish traditional dancing can go up to a whole different level, both artistically and commercially. And it did, first in Riverdance, and then in Lord of the Dance and many other productions.
Some things in the music and the dance needed to change. The Irish stepdance, which is the type of dance Riverdance and similar productions use, doesn’t use the upper half of the body.
Adding upper-body movements gave much more room for flair to the performance, even though it took the performance further away from the traditional.
But the flashier version of traditional Irish stepdance did spark a worldwide interest in the original, though. Riverdance and the productions that followed were true ambassadors of the Irish spirit and culture, and it’s largely because of them that dance is one of the things that come into mind when thinking about Ireland.
There’s no way around this: some of the most accomplished works of Western literature, particularly the part of it written in English, were created by Irish writers. And everyone who appreciates the written word should understand how poorer the world would be without them.
The Irish have a legend that might help explain their seemingly natural and effortless flow and charm when using words. The Blarney Castle has a special stone in its wall. This stone, called appropriately the Blarney Stone, gives everyone who kisses it the ‘gift of the gab,’ or a way with words.
Some might say that the gift manifests itself in eloquence, while others will say it’s all about flattery. In practice, however, the gift is equal parts a sharp wit, a strong and often dirty sense of humor, and irresistible charm. And it translates very well into the written form.
So a single country can boast that it was the place of birth of Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, and Samuel Becket. It can also count Molly Keane, Elizabeth Bowen, and Maeve Binchy among its foremost writers.
And then you have the contemporary greats such as Edna O’Brien and Colm Tóibín. It doesn’t seem that Ireland is done with producing people whose words will resonate with readers around the globe. And as much as their accomplishments are their own, they also serve to fortify Ireland’s place as one of the most significant places of the literary world.
What are the national symbols of Ireland?
The national symbols of Ireland most people are familiar with are the shamrock and the harp. Shamrock is the official flower of Ireland, and the harp was a staple of Irish coats of arms throughout history. Most official insignia and seals in Ireland have the harp symbol.
Saint Patrick isn’t exactly a national symbol of Ireland, but he is the country’s patron saint. The figure of Saint Patrick is present in many Irish folk tales, and in some cases, he presents an important step from pre-Christian beliefs and culture to Christian culture.
Do Irish like sports?
Ireland is a country in Europe, and as such it’s mad about football, or soccer. Rugby union, boxing, and even golf are also popular in Ireland. Recently, with the success of Conor McGregor, mixed martial arts have caught the attention of the Irish.
The Irish have games of their own they like to play. These are the Gaelic games, and they include Gaelic football, hurling, and camogie. These games are a part of the Irish cultural heritage.
What are some things that were invented in Ireland?
Even though it was technically invented in the United States, the submarine was invented by John Phillip Holland, an immigrant from Ireland. John Joly, an Irish physicist, invented a device for measuring the intensity of light, the photometer, but also the first process for getting color photography, and radiotherapy.
The list could easily go on. The induction coil was invented
by Nicholas Callan, an Irish priest. And then there are a hypodermic syringe and the binaural stethoscope,
as well as the potato chips, chocolate milk, and soda water, all invented by
Irish people or in Ireland.