Traveling in Ireland

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Brian Boru began life as the son of a minor regional king, but he ended it as the first High King of Ireland from outside the Uí Néill dynasty. 2014 marks the 1000th anniversary of his death, and a great many events and exhibitions are planned to commemorate the battle.

The Battle of Clontarf by Hugh Frazier, an example of the battle as nationalistic propaganda. (source: wikipedia commons)

The Battle of Clontarf by Hugh Frazier, an example of the battle as national propaganda. (Source: wikipedia commons)

 

Fin Dwyer, creator of the excellent Irish History Podcast, calls the Battle of Clontarf “the most-famous and most-misunderstood battle in Irish history.” It’s easy to see why. During the many centuries of rebellion and resentment against the English occupiers, the Battle of Clontarf was held up as a great example of the Irish throwing off their occupiers (in this reading, the sole enemy was the Vikings) — indeed, while I was at national school in the 1980’s it was very much the official line. (Witness High Frazier’s romantic depiction of the struggle above.) Modern historians have largely rejected this simplified interpretation. The Battle of Clontarf was fought to put down a rebellion against Brian’s authority, not expel invaders.  Read the rest of this entry »

A roundup of the major festivals and events going on around Ireland during April.

Map of April Festivals in Ireland

Where to go for the best craic in April?

Depending on who you listen to, April is either the cruelest month, the hopeful start of spring, a joyous season of rebirth, or a depressing wet period that must be endured in order to have a beautiful, lush summer. It’s not co-incidental that April is also the month that festival season kicks into high gear after the doldrums of winter. People need entertainment, companionship, and a bit of craic. There’s an incredible wealth and diversity of high-profile events and festivals going on around the country in April — particularly around Easter weekend, as Easter Monday is always a public holiday.

These are 15 of the biggest and best festivals and special events in April 2014 that both visitors and locals can get involved with and enjoy, everything from a celebration of great literature, to outstanding traditional music, testing physical races, and gourmet culinary experiences. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the start of Lent. In Ireland, it’s more popularly known as Pancake Day.

Nicely rolled Irish pancakes, and "The Flip" in action. Credits: PHPhoto/Pixabay, karpathi Gabor/Morguefile, StaffsLive/Flickr

Nicely rolled Irish pancakes, and “The Flip” in action. Credits: PHPhoto/Pixabay, Karpathi Gabor/Morguefile, StaffsLive/Flickr

In order to begin Lent in the right frame of mind and with your soul sufficiently pure, many Christians want to be shriven on Shrove Tuesday. They confess their sins, perform an act of contrition, and their soul is cleansed. To prepare the body, they consume the last of the rich foods that they will have to give up for Lent: milk, eggs, and butter. Read the rest of this entry »

While Ireland has a wealth of round towers surviving in various states of disrepair, only two can be climbed, and Kildare is the best of these. 

Kildare Round Tower

Kildare Round Tower
(Photo: atriptoireland.com)

The second tallest tower in the country (108 feet/33 meters), it is thought that the original round tower was constructed on the site in the 6th century. At some point, the upper two thirds of this tower seems to have collapsed — either as a consequence of assault or the forces of nature. The tower was rebuilt on the original base in the 12th century. You can see where the size and type of stones used changes as you examine the exterior of the tower. The elaborate doorway and windows are all from the 12th century. The doorway is constructed of red sandstone in the romanesque style, and is ornately carved (as always, some of the carvings are a bit weathered after 800 plus years) in four receding “steps.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Just outside Kildare town you’ll find not one but two wells sacred to St. Bridget.

Sr. Bridget's Well

St. Bridget’s Well (modern) Kildare, with clotties on the wishing tree behind. (Photo: atriptoIreland.com)

Holy wells were once common throughout Ireland. Before the invention of plumbing, fresh, clean water was of primary importance, so naturally spring-fed wells were valued, even revered. The water was thought to come directly from the underworld, courtesy of a god or, more commonly, a goddess. It’s thought that in pre-Christian times the wells each had their own deity, and over time these were replaced by the Christian saints. The number 3000 is bandied about as representing the historical total of holy wells in Ireland, although many of these are in disrepair or overgrown at this point, and many that are mentioned in ancient texts are now lost.  Read the rest of this entry »

The stories of the goddess Brigid and the later St. Bridget are so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable. The ancient feis of Imbolc was co-opted as St. Bridget’s Day, one of the most-popular saints days in Ireland and the Irish diaspora.

Saint Bridget  (Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Saint Bridget
(Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Bridget’s Early Life

Born c.451 near Faughart in Co. Louth, Bridget was the daughter of Dubtacht, a druid, and Brocca, who was either his wife or a slave, and possibly a Christian.  Bridget eventually became a Christian (probably after absorbing druidic teaching from her father) and founded a number of monasteries, including the famous one at Kildare. It’s possible she entered religious life after losing the sight in one eye (although some stories hold that she put her own eye out rather than enter into an unwelcome marriage, and once the marriage had been called off — Celtic tradition would not allow one to marry somebody disfigured — she put it back in and was miraculously healed).  Read the rest of this entry »

Vikings, the History Channel’s entertaining rival to Game of Thrones, returns to our screens in late February. This is another show filmed in Ireland and displaying the country to good affect.

Vikings LogoPerhaps surprisingly, both seasons of Vikings have been almost entirely shot in Ireland. I say surprisingly because one doesn’t necessarily think of Ireland when one thinks of immense mountain vistas. However, the producers found some awesome locations in the Wicklow Mountains that didn’t take much camera trickery to make look enormous and majestic. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site is made up of three major passage grave sites: Newgrange, Dowth, and Knowth. I’ve written about the first two already, so it’s time to explore the most-complicated of them all, Knowth: quite literally, a city of the dead.

Knowth passage grave

One of the satellite tombs at Knowth.
(Photo by Photolifer/Marc Gautier via cc license/Flickr)

Constructed contemporaneously with Newgrange, the Knowth site consists of a cluster of 18 smaller tombs around one huge central tomb. When I was a child, I used to peer through the gate to the site at the huge network of rectangular pits that marked the excavation that continued for decades before the site was finally open to visitors. It took the archaeologists five years of digging to discover the entrance to the first passage, and then another year before they found the second one. Eventually, archaeologists would spend over 40 years excavating Knowth, and the story they discovered was extremely complex.  Read the rest of this entry »

What is an age-worn statue of the Duke of Wellington doing atop a pillar in the small town of Trim, in the County Meath countryside?

View of Trim with the statue of Wellington keeping watch. (Credit: Diego's Sideburns/Flickr)

View of Trim with the statue of Wellington keeping watch.
(Credit: Diego’s Sideburns/Flickr)

Many visitors to the small town of Trim in Co. Meath do a double-take when they first realize the statue on top of the huge plinth near the center of town is none other than Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, Vanquisher of Napoleon and symbol of a British Empire on which the sun never set. They plaintively cry, “Oh, you poor oppressed simpletons, do you not know who that man was?” Some take to the letters pages of the local or even national newspapers and vent their spleen: “How can the Irish literally put a British aristocrat on a pedestal in this way?” Read the rest of this entry »

Since the turn of the millienium, love locks have become frequent sights around the world. In Dublin, you’ll find them all over the Ha’penny Bridge.

Love Lock on the Ha'Penny Bridge (photo by Sean O'Donnell, via cc license from Flickr)

Early stage love lock infestation on the Ha’Penny Bridge (2011). (photo by Sean O’Donnell, via cc license from Flickr)

What is a love lock?

Well basically, courting couples write their names or initials on a padlock and attach it to an immovable object, before throwing away the key, and thus (they hope) making their love affair as enduring as the building to which it is now securely attached. (Altogether now: “Awwww!”)

Where did the idea for love locks come from?

The origin of the trend is contested, but it appears to have started in the Far East, in China or Korea, before being spread by travelers — a bit like the bird flu. (And, as far as Dublin City Council are concerned, about as welcome.) Read the rest of this entry »

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