20 Things to Know Before a Trip to Ireland
Whether you’re already packing or still drafting the itinerary for your luxury self catering holiday in Ireland, know what to expect with our favourite facts about Ireland.
1. As of 2022, There Were Almost as Many Sheep in Ireland as There Were People
The census recorded 4.1 million sheep – just shy of the 5 or so million people who call Ireland home.
2. Ireland is No Stranger to Winning Eurovision
Alongside Sweden, Ireland is the world’s most successful Eurovision entrant. Those who tuned in during the 90s will remember Ireland’s incredible hat trick, which ran from Linda Martin’s Why Me? in 1992 to Niamh Kavanagh’s In Your Eyes and, finally, Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids in 1994.
Remember that when you take your first Irish pub quiz…
3. How you drink your first Guinness matters
Most people agree that Guinness is the national drink of Ireland, and even more people agree that there’s a very specific way you need to drink Guinness if you’re to get the full experience worthy of a postcard home.
The best glasses of Guinness come straight from the draught. They’re poured at a perfect 45° angle, with a creamy head just thick enough to give you the slightest hint of a moustache.
Don’t take on the canned or bottled Guinness until you’ve experienced it from the source – a chilled tap in a traditional Irish pub.
3. Cork is Ireland’s Largest County
It’s 1,300km2 larger than Ireland’s second largest county, Galway.
4. Gaelic isn’t the rare language you might think
A large portion of the Irish population – just over 50%, in fact – still speak Gaelic. Some parts of the country feature a lot more speakers than others. Galway is a great place to go if you want to see this ancient language in action, but there are a lot of Gaeltacht areas (meaning areas where Irish is recognised as the primary language spoken by locals).
Cape Clear in southwest County Cork still offers courses for Irish students looking to keep Gaelic alive. It’s a beautiful language that carries Ireland’s unique and complex history in every syllable.
5. The First Settlers are Thought to Have Arrived in Ireland in 10,500 BC
So, while it’s impossible to trace, it’s likely that some of Ireland’s families may be part of trees that stem back more than 12,000 years.
6. Ireland’s Culinary Scene is About More Than Irish Stew
Most would consider a good, steaming hot Irish Stew served as the rain lashes the window and the light fades across the wind-swept fields to be the country’s national dish, but keep an open mind. If you’re passing through any of the bigger cities, then you’ll encounter a rich and exciting foody scene that puts new twists on Ireland’s best staples – and a few from further afield, too.
7. The Irish Hare is Ireland’s National Animal
There are no other hares or rabbits (collectively known as lagomorphs) native to Ireland. They’re relatively common sights in the wild, but they’re also pretty fast, so keep your eyes peeled.
8. Many Americans are Linked to Irish Families
These people have spread across the United States over generations and gathered rich stories passed down along the way. The majority of these families have put down roots in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, but, each year, Ireland welcomes travellers from across the world looking to connect with histories that are hundreds – if not thousands – of years in the making.
9. The National Symbol of Ireland isn’t What You’d Think…
Who hasn’t seen a shamrock and instantly thought of Ireland’s emerald isles, its vibrant St Patrick’s Day celebrations, river dance, Irish Stew, and sheep grazing in the misty rain? Well, however recognisable that four-leafed clover may be, it’s not the ultimate symbol of Ireland.
The harp – which, interestingly, is the only musical instrument to represent a country – has been a part of Ireland’s history for hundreds of years and dates back to the 13th century.
10. Gaelic Football is Nothing Like the Football You Know
Whether football means a spherical ball, two goals, a strict handball ruling, and a 105m pitch– or, if you’re from across the pond, an oblong ball and 100 yards – Gaelic football is like nothing else. Try to catch a match while you’re here and experience the unbridled passion for yourself.
11. Ireland is Home to the World’s Largest Tea Towel
It was made by Poplar Linens and measures 15m by 10.5m. It even earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
12. Yes, Ireland Has the Highest Red-Haired Population in the World
This one is relatively common knowledge, but it might interest you to know that only 10% of the Irish population is a natural redhead. It’s the result of two recessive genes, which is one of the reasons why it’s such an uncommon hair colour around the world.
13. You Won’t Run Out of Castles During Your Trip to Ireland
While nobody’s sure of the exact number, Ireland is thought to be home to around 30,000 castles. The country has a long and complicated history, which means plenty of fortified castles and ruins across the landscape. They make for some pretty romantic scenes against the dramatic, cloud-filled sky.
14. You’ve never really known weather like this
Irish weather is its own punchline, its own legend, and its own law. It can turn from bright sunshine to buckets of rain on a dime. The clouds can draw in like a heavy duvet before the sun rips them away. Visitors to the country call it unpredictable, but, really, a day of peace from the elements is a lot less predictable.
There’s a very good reason why Ireland’s climate is so impulsive: the Atlantic Ocean. Ireland’s weather – and particularly the weather in West Cork – is really just what washes up on our shores from that wild, unruly pond between us and the States.
Our best advice for your trip to Ireland? Pack like a meteorologist. Waterproofs, short-sleeves, long-sleeves, sunglasses and woolly socks – and maybe a swimsuit.
15. St Patrick Wasn’t Born in Ireland
In fact, he was born in Wales – despite the fact that he’s the Patron Saint of Ireland!
16. We Love Our Tea
While Guinness may be the first drink you think of when Ireland comes into your head – and, if you’ve spent any St Patrick’s Days in the US, the Shamrock Shake will be a familiar favourite – it may interest you to know that Ireland is the world’s second most prolific consumer of tea.
This little country comes in ahead of the UK – and second only to Turkey – so you can always be sure of a good brew after a blustery walk.
17. We’re Famous All Around the World For Our Friendliness
Arrive a stranger, feel welcomed like a part of the family. In fact, Ireland was voted the friendliest country in Europe just last year, and it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone!
18. Most Irish People Don’t Live in Ireland
As a result of mass immigration during the Great Famine, there are tens of millions of people of Irish descent living in countries all around the world, and many of them are American.
19. The Guinness Brewery isn’t Going Anywhere for the Time Being
In 1759, the brewery was leased to Arthur Guinness for the modest sum (by today’s standards) of £45 a year. How long was the lease? Not one year, not two…but 9,000 years.
Since then, Guinness have outright bought the property, but it makes for a fun story anyway.
20. It Doesn’t Take Long to Feel Like Home
One of the most beautiful things about Ireland – more than any castle or mountain – is its ability to welcome weary travellers with open arms and say goodbye like a dear friend who is already looking forward to the next time