- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Go to Ireland
Castles, Castles Everywhere
There’s hardly a thing that inspires more wistfulness or historical nostalgia than a castle. Ireland has enough castles that they could probably export them to countries sadly devoid of them. You’ll be heading down some tiny road in a tiny town, and beside the local Inn and general store will sit a castle just hanging out, being all castley. Jokes aside, there are more than 340 castles in Ireland. That’s an incredible amount. Because of its tumultuous history, castles were built by the Irish, the British, and the Scottish all during different eras of conflict. Some must-see castles include Cahir Castle in county Tipperary, Blarney Castle in county Cork, and Kilkenny Castle above the River Nore, which is one of the most visited historical sites in all of Ireland. If you have any heart in you for the childhood wonder associated with castles, this is reason enough to go. You could spend an entire trip just on the magnificent castles of Ireland.
The History and The Culture
Ireland is a country that just oozes its cultural background and history in every corner of the island. Given that the island has long been isolated from almost everyone other than its island neighbor in Britain, and some Viking raids in early history, the cultural identity of the country is fairly untouched by external influences. From early druidic culture, to the fringe influence of Roman civilization (the Roman conquests never made it to the island itself), the people of Ireland today are very much the descendants of a purely Celtic culture. Trinity College in Dublin still holds the Book Of Kells, an incredible piece of Irish heritage that was written by Celtic monks in the 9th century. Non-written nodes of Celtic history can also be found all across the island from burial mounds to ancient monasteries. As for modern day culture, the great part is most of the traditions involve celebrations, and the music and dance is downright infectious!
The Pubs and the Local Breweries
One can easily say that the largest part of Irish culture today is pub culture. This is where everyone goes to kick back, drink some delicious local beverages, and cut loose with old friends and complete strangers. Given the popularity of Ireland as a place to visit, most everyone in Ireland from small town pubs to the city bars are warm and welcoming to visitors. They’re happy to shoot the breeze with you (though be warned, the more everyone drinks the harder they are to understand), whether it be about their country or anything else in the world (Ireland has become pretty forward thinking in recent years), and thank you for visiting before heading off into the proverbial sunset. There’s hardly a place in the world more supportive of getting festively drunk with strangers just for the sake of having a good time.
Speaking of Galway, they have the Galway International Oyster Festival every year in September. Don’t like oysters? How about the Dublin Writer’s festival? or dance festival? Or the Battle for the Bay, or the Gourmet Food Festival in Kinsale. There are more festivals than you can shake a stick at, covering nearly everything you could want to go see in a festival. And then there’s the Puck Fair, a festival that’s over 400 years old, in Killogrlin. It’s decidedly Irish– a few days in August where people fill the streets with live music playing, plenty of drinking, domesticated animals for a cattle fair, and the rest of the fanfare you might expect. And of course, as you might also expect, the St. Patrick’s day festivals in Ireland are jubilant occasions that occur in many towns across the country. There’s just too many great festivals to miss out while you're there.
One could argue that this isn’t for everyone. That person would be wrong. Irish music is positively energizing, melodic, and sometimes slow and haunting. Probably one of the best parts of going to Ireland is pub crawling in major cities, just to listen to all the amazing live music performed in every dimly lit, beer-soaked corner of drinking establishments around the country. More than just traditional Irish music, the well travelled, multicultural musical stylings of plenty of Irish artists may surprise you as well– whether it be a steel string guitarist singing the down-country American blues, or a rock-indy hybrid local band tearing it up. Music is alive and thriving in Ireland, and it’s worth poking your head in a few different doors as you go along just to see what is out there. Oh yeah, and there’s festivals and plenty of street performers as well. Just don’t expect a lot of bucket drummers like in the subways of NYC.