In this post we will explore what Ireland is famous for, exploring its food, drinks, culture, travel destinations, people, and products. It is impressive that such a small nation has given so much to the world, and it is widely recognized for so many things.
Ireland has increasingly turned into a favorite travel destination for a lot of people which has made it even more popular. Thus, we collected this list of things Ireland is famous for those of you who want to learn more about it and/or are planning to travel to Ireland.
For the purpose of this post, Ireland is the whole island, not the Republic of Ireland!
20 things Ireland is famous
#1 The Emerald island
The first thing Ireland is famous for is the island itself and its shades of green! Due to a really high rain rainfall, the whole island is covered in grass, bushes, and trees. The resplendent greenery of its rolling hills and vales of green earned it the nickname Emerald Island.
But you’ll notice throughout this post that the green hue appears in many of the other things Ireland is famous for. From the Shamrocks to Saint Patrick’s day and the color of the jerseys of the national team, the green color is everywhere.
Interestingly the first time that the term “emerald island” was printed was in the poem “When Erin First Rose” by William Drennan in 1795.
#2 Saint Patrick’s day
On the 17th of March of each year, the Irish celebrate Saint Patrick’s day, the foremost patron saint of Ireland. This originally religious holiday evolved into a celebration of the whole Irish culture with parades, special foods, dancing, music, drinking, and a lot’s, lots of green. Basically, much of which we will talk about here.
Saint Patrick’s day is considered the national festival celebrated in more countries. Besides Ireland and the UK, it’s widely celebrated in the US, Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil. The Irish diaspora made it a global festival and one of the things that remind us of the Irish culture.
A Shamrock is a young clover with 3 leaves, and it is one of the symbols of Ireland since the 18th century. Legend says that Saint Patrick used the 3 leaves of the shamrock as a metaphor for the doctrine of the Christian Holy Trinity. You will see plenty of shamrocks on St. Patrick’s parades, and in anything Irish really.
In fact, the shamrock is more than something Ireland is famous for, it symbolizes Ireland itself!
A Leprechaun is possibly the best well-known creature of Irish folklore. This supernatural being is usually portrayed as little bearded men, wearing a coat and hat (many times green or greenish), who partake in mischief. One of the main storylines where they appear is that they have a hidden one pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Another is that if you catch one they may grant you 3 wishes…
Again, you’ll see plenty of leprechauns during a Saint Patrick’s parade and have become an unofficial symbol of Ireland. There’s even a Leprechaun museum in Dublin.
Guinness is one of the most successful brands in the world, and it all started in 1759 in Dublin. This dark Irish dry stout originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness and it’s now available in 120 countries and produced in 50. It’s obviously very popular among Irish people, both in Ireland and abroad, but it’s also a favorite of many other people selling about 1 billion liters per year.
The typical flavor of the Guinness comes from the malted barley and roasted unmalted barley. It’s believed that aged brew was blended with fresh beer to give it a shard lactic acid flavor, but it’s not confirmed by the company. The draught beer’s thick, creamy head comes from mixing the beer with nitrogen and carbon dioxide
The Guinness Storehouse is also a very popular destination in Dublin, having received 20 million visitors since 2000 when it opened.
#6 Irish whiskey
Guinness may be the most popular alcoholic drink in Irish and the most famous worldwide, but Irish whiskey is a close second! In fact, Irish whiskey used to be the most popular spirit in the world. Though a long decline in the 20th century damaged the industry, which only recovered in the 1990s. From more than 30 in the 19th century, only 2 survived in 1967.
Irish whiskey is usually triple-distilled, smooth, slightly sweet, and warm. The most well-known, and popular brands are Jameson and Bushmills. While Jameson is the biggest seller in the world, Bushmills is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.
Today, whiskey is again one of the most famous products from Ireland, and the number of distilleries has grown to over 30 again.
#7 Irish coffee
For those who don’t know, and have never tried it, Irish coffee is a hot beverage made with hot coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar, and topped with cream. The coffee should be drunk through the cream.
There are several claims to who invented this cocktail, but the most famous is that it was created by Joe Sheridan, head chef at the restaurant in the Foynes Airbase, in Limerick country. He used to offer it to some disembarking passengers to help to warm up. This popular drink quickly became famous and spread throughout coffee shops and restaurants all over the world.
#8 Irish pubs and temple tar
We have talked about the famous Irish drinks, let’s explore the place we drink them – the pubs. The Irish pubs are an institution, both in Ireland and abroad. I don’t think there’s one big touristic city in the world without one or several Irish bars. Pubs are spread throughout all of Ireland, including the rural areas, so it’s very easy to explore the Irish pub culture. We do recommend you to try a small venue for a more local experience, and if going to Dublin going to Temple Bar to check the most popular and tourist area.
Many pubs feature music and céili dancing in addition to Irish beer, sample dishes of the Irish cuisine, and obviously have a pint. Yet, it’s a laidback atmosphere and the lively and easy conversations with locals are really unprecedented.
It’s difficult to say what is Ireland most known for, but the music needs to be high on the list! Ireland has produced a plethora of worldwide known music artists and bands. From traditional folk music, to rock bands there’s a little bit of everything in Ireland’s music scene. A simple example of this musical talent is that Ireland won the Eurovision song contest seven times and is the only country to ever win three times in a row.
In a hindsight, it’s almost impossible that you have never heard Irish music, either one other huge pop-rock hits or some popular folk music.
After winning the contest in 1993, Ireland hosted the festival in 1994, and in the 7-minute interval act it was introduced one of the most striking music and dance shows ever produced – Riverdance.
This breakthrough performance of Irish dance and music was an instant global hit and quickly became a show of its own. The combination of traditional and modern music, the Irish dance style, and choirs was spot on making the audience fell in love with Ireland’s culture. The show is still performed today.
#11 Genious authors
We have talked about the famous music artists but if there’s something more impressive than all the great music that comes from Ireland is the literary genius of its authors.
With no more than 5 million people, Ireland has had 4 Nobel prize laureates – W. B. Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969), and Seamus Heaney (1995). Plus, Dublin has been considered a UNESCO city of literature.
Yet, besides these acclaimed authors there are plenty of other popular like:
- Jonathan Swift – who wrote Gulliver’s Travels
- James Joyce – author of “Ulysses”;
- Oscar Wilde – author of the “Picture of Dorian Gray”
- and so many others, Bram Stoker, Roddy Doyle, Cecelia Ahern, Anne Enright, Brendan Behan…
#12 Famous Irish people
The list of famous Irish people is quite long as there are prominent Irish in almost every field, from science to arts and sports. We have talked about all the famous writers (George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce) and the famous musicians (Bono from U2, Enya, Van Morrison and so on) above, but there are plenty of others.
The list of actors who came from Ireland is also pretty impressive, with plenty of oscar nominees and A-listers like:
- Liam Neeson
- Colin Farrell
- Saoirse Ronan
- Cillian Murphy
- Pierce Brosnan
- Brendan Gleeson
- Michael Gambon
- Gabriel Byrne
As for sports the list is also pretty big but we need to mention a few like:
- Conor McGregor – Mixed martial arts featherweight and lightweight champion;
- George Best – flamboyant winger of Northern Ireland and Manchester United.
- Roy Keane – Legendary Defense midfielder of Manchester United;
- Pádraig Harrington – Golf;
- Sonia O’Sullivan – field and track runner;
- Brian O’Driscoll – one of the greatest rugby players of all time;
A few other famous Irish people include Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael Collins (one of the central figures of the Ireland independence fight), and scientist Francis Beaufort who invented the Beaufort Scale.
#13 Red Heads
One other thing most people relate to Ireland and the Irish is having red hair. Though, if you think a majority of the Irish are naturally red-haired, you’ll be surprised to know that only about 10% of the Irish have red hair. Yet, there’s a reason for this being one of the most famous things about Ireland as it’s one of the countries with the highest number of red-haired people per capita. Only Scotland has a higher percentage with 13% of the people being red-haired.
Around the world, only 1 to 2 % of the people have red hair, with red hair varying tremendously in hue from a deep burgundy or bright copper, to burnt orange and strawberry blond. So, people with naturally red hair are rare, but if you are fond of them, Ireland and Scotland are the best places to go!
#14 Famous Landmarks
Besides all the fun cultural and historic traits of Ireland and the Irish, the emerald island is blessed with amazing scenic beauty and several famous landmarks, both natural and manmade.
The Cliffs of Moher are probably the most popular landmark, receiving about 1.5 million visitors per year, but UNESCO heritage sites of Newgrange, Skellig Islands, and the Giant’s Causeway are also well-known and worth a visit.
Other iconic areas include the Burren, Killarney National Park, and the Ring of Kerry. Besides these, there’s also a huge range of manmade monuments such as the Blarney Castle, Glendalough, the rock of Cashel, and the trinity colleague library.
#15 Book of Kells
We have talked about the famous writers but we didn’t mention a famous book, the book of Kells. Considered the world’s oldest surviving book, the book of kells is an illuminated manuscript gospel book, with gospels of the new testament with several prefatory texts and tables. Written in Latin, it was created around 800 AD in a Columban monastery.
It is considered the pinnacle of insular illumination and a masterwork of Western calligraphy. It’s easy to understand why it’s regarded as both a holy relic and one of Ireland’s national treasures. It’s possible to see the book of Kells in the Trinity College Library in Dublin as two of the four volumes are on display, showcasing an illustration and a typical text page.
#16 Filming locations
The scenic beauty of Ireland has been used by filmmakers as a setting in some of the most famous films and tv series. In fact, it’s almost impossible that you haven’t seen the natural beauty of the emerald isle and its landmarks in many of these shows:
- Star wars (VIII and IX) – the astonishing Skellig Michael is the refuge of Luke Skywalker.
- Harry Potter – Skellig Islands and the cliffs of Moher.
- Game of Thrones – was shot in several locations across Northern Ireland
- Saving Private Ryan
- Moby Dick
- Normal people – filmed in Sligo as its where most of the series takes place
#17 One of the Celtic nations
Many of Ireland’s most famous features come from or are related to its Celtic origins. Ireland is one of the few Celtic nations in Europe and possibly the most famous one, as it’s the biggest and with more native speakers. Gaelic (Irish) is also considered a Celtic language, similarly to Scottish, Bretton, and Welsh.
#18 The Two Irelands
One of the things Ireland is famous for is that it’s divided between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. The Republic of Ireland occupies 5/6 of the Island and has a much larger population.
In simple terms, in the 1920s the UK divided the island into a southern area that was largely Catholic, and a northern area that had a protestant majority (Government of Ireland Act 1920). The southern area became the republic of Ireland and the northern area is still part of the UK.
This religious division caused multiple problems, civil arrest, and even terrorism. All of these events were permanently on the news during the majority of the 20th century, creating a very negative image of the Irish people. Thankfully, that’s mostly in the past.
IRA, the Irish Republican Army, was an Irish paramilitary organization that wants to end the British rule in Northern Ireland and ultimately reunite Ireland into an independent republic. They were also known as the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and informally as the “Provos”. It was the most active group during the troubles and considered a terrorist organization in the UK.
IRA’s armed campaign killed more than 1700 people (about 1000 members of the British armed forces, and up to 650 civilians), and up to 300 members of IRA also died. In 1997 it was declared the final cease-fire, and its political wing was accepted into the peace talks which resulted in the 1998 good Friday agreement and the end of the armed campaign in 2005.
So, for about 40 years the Provisional IRA was possibly the most mentioned Ireland organization and the main reason why Ireland appeared on the international news almost every day.
#20 The great famine
The Irish great famine was a time of mass starvation and illness in Ireland from 1845 to 1849. During these 4 years, about 1 million people died and another million migrated, causing the population to fall by about 25%, from 8.4 million in 1844 to 6.6 million by 1851. The population continues to decrease due to emigration and lower birth rates, and when 1921 when Ireland became independent from the UK it was roughly half it had been in 1840. Even today, 150 years later Ireland’s population is smaller than before the famine – that’s how influential it was.
This crisis is usually called the potato famine, as it’s traced to a potato crop failure for several years. This crop failure was caused by a late blight which destroys the leaves and the edible roots of the plant. The Irish were completely dependent on the potatoes due to several economic reasons and the UK’s government simply didn’t act. In the end, it’s considered the worse famine in Europe in the 19th century.
Maybe this isn’t the main thing Ireland is famous for, but it’s so significant that needs to be in every Ireland facts list even if it’s a very sad one.
Enjoyed this post? Maybe you’ll also like to read:
- 50 things you need to know before traveling to Ireland
- Best day trips from Dublin
- 25 Famous landmarks in Ireland
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