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Last Saturday was the annual (River) Liffey Descent race in Ireland, the biggest canoe and kayak event in the country, and one I know intimately.

liffey descent 2014In my teenage years, I was a keen white-water kayaker. [Jargon alert: in the US, people tend to refer to the sport as kayaking, in Ireland they refer to it as canoeing.] I paddled several times a week and competed around the country on my school team. The highlight of the year was the School’s Liffey Descent, which takes place a week before the “real thing,” the adult race. Over the years, I’ve paddled the Liffey several times, and the river still holds a certain mystique.  Read the rest of this entry »

October sees a variety of festivals celebrating Irish food, world-class opera, and great jazz, as well as two of the most popular participatory sporting events in the country. (Can you guess what they are?)

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Dromineer Literary Festivaldlf-logo-web

Dromineer, Co. Tipperary – 2-5 October, 2014

The Dromineer Literary Festival is an intimate event held in a beautiful lakeside village in Co. Tipperary. This year’s authors include Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Booker Prize-nominee Donal Ryan and celebrated newcomer Liz Nugent.  Read the rest of this entry »

One of the biggest tourist attractions in Ireland is Tayto Park, but it’s one that many overseas visitors skip because they haven’t the faintest idea what it is.

Tayto Park Bus

Tayto Park is Ireland’s answer to Six Flags or Disneyworld. It’s primarily a theme park, but it also involves a small zoo, and was conceived as a marketing stunt for a potato crisp company. (In America, they’re called potato chips, but in Ireland they’re crisps.) Consequently, nobody but Irish residents know what the heck Tayto Park is… After bringing my two kids there this summer, we can all vouch for the fact that Tayto Park is tremendous fun! Read the rest of this entry »

Wicklow is a great corner of Ireland if what you love is rugged scenery and outdoor pursuits. The mountains are picturesque, windswept, and just crying out to be the backdrop for your own romantic adventure. Helen Fairbairn’s Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide will ensure you don’t get lost on your trek, nor (if you follow her advice) will you find yourself hopelessly out of your depth.

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Beginning in Dublin, the routes Fairbairn details take you more-or-less gradually further and further into Wicklow, which is useful if you intend to follow the Wicklow Way for several days, or string a couple of paths together for a longer hiking experience. (Note on jargon: Americans go hiking, the Irish go walking. I use them interchangeably.) Each walk is graded for difficulty, so you can quickly find hikes appropriate for your party’s fitness level. Read the rest of this entry »

Dublin has many famous landmarks, but one that should be more famous is the “Hungry Tree,” which is slowly digesting a park bench.

Hungry Tree 1In the grounds of the King’s Inns, the training ground of centuries of Irish lawyers and barristers, stands a vast London Plane tree of unknown age. Although listed as one of Ireland’s Heritage Trees by the Tree Council of Ireland, but its real claim to fame is the park bench it’s been slowly swallowing up over time.  Read the rest of this entry »

As we enter the “decade of centenaries” that marks 100 years since many of the founding events of the Irish Republic, a whole slew of books focusing on the revolution and subsequent civil war are being published.

Fergal Tobin’s The Irish Revolution: An Illustrated History 1912-1925 is an excellent one-volume introduction to this contentious corner of Irish history. The great strength of the book is, perhaps surprisingly, not the pictures and maps — although they are extensive and very well integrated into the text — but the clear way the author sets out the shifting political world views of Irish people at the time. One of the remarkable things about this time is that the population moved from a point where the partition of Ireland was not even conceivable in 1912, to becoming the only possible solution a decade later.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bloomsday is the annual celebration of all things James Joyce, but mostly his love-it or loathe-it masterpiece, Ulysses.

James Joyce Bloomsday 2014

James Joyce, author of Ulysses

When I lived in Dublin many years ago, I noticed an annual upsurge of American grad students hanging out in the pubs around Trinity, boasting unpublished manuscripts analyzing Ulysses, and claiming to be in town for some conference or other and hoping to find a publisher. If half of them really had a book completed, it would have taken half the Amazon rain forest to print them. But, I suppose it was a measure of the cultural impact Joyce’s relatively difficult novel has had across the world.

Apparently, there were super-fans and students of the novel quite early, as Joyce mentioned a group celebrating “Bloom’s Day” in a 1924 letter. The novel had been serialized between 1918 and 1920, and the first complete edition was only published in 1922. It’s all the more remarkable that people were already acting it out because copies had to be smuggled into Ireland. Though never actually banned in Joyce’s homeland, that was only because the novel was initially not offered for sale openly.  Read the rest of this entry »

May is a very good month to visit Ireland. The average temperature is in the low 50s, with occasional highs into the 60s (F). Spring is turning into summer, so the magnificent landscape is dotted with new-born lambs, at least 35 of the 40 recognized shades of green are in evidence, and wildflowers are blooming in abundance. Ah, it’s grand, so ‘tis.

 

Ireland May Festival MapTo launch the summer in the best way possible, the first weekend in May is a bank holiday weekend (meaning most businesses and schools are closed on the Monday) in celebration of May Day or the ancient feast of Bealtaine.

Here are the best of the festivals and major events taking place in Ireland during May 2014. Enjoy!  Read the rest of this entry »

Ireland has an active rail network between major cities, and taking the train can be a very enjoyable and comfortable way to see the country.  However, if you do your homework, you can also take a journey into the past on a vintage stream locomotive, in company of many people who share a passion for Irish history and rail travel.

#171 "Slieve Gullion." This star of the film Michael Collins is currently being restored. (Credit: E Friel/streamtrainsireland.com)

#171 “Slieve Gullion.” This star of the film Michael Collins is currently being restored. (Credit: E Friel/streamtrainsireland.com)

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland restores and maintains steam-powered locomotives from the golden age of Irish railways. Some are fully operational and used for mainline excursions throughout the year, a couple are used for shunting and short journeys, and many others are actively being repaired and restored to their former glory. Their museum in Whitehead (near Carrickfergus) is an old train depot, where all the engines and vintage rolling stock are stored and restoration work is carried out — open by appointment only apart from “summer steam” open days in the summer months.  Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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