Steeped in the mist of history and woven into a rich tapestry of arts and literature, Ireland offers magnificent landscapes of vibrant mossy hills and dramatic coast strewn with castles, prehistoric monuments and manor houses, as well as a fascinating Celtic heritage. Follow in the footsteps of Irish writers in Dublin, see the wind-swept Cliffs of Moher, the rock-encrusted Burren, the translucent Killarney lakes, the spectacular Ring of Kerry seascapes, then join in a singalong in a local pub.
Some 8,000 years ago after the retreat of the glaciers, the first people arrived on the Emerald Island. They are the ones responsible for the large stone monuments and megaliths that dot the Irish countryside to this day. The most famous of those is Newgrange in County Meath, built in the 4th millennium BCE, 1,000 years before Stonehenge. This spectacular passage tomb (a narrow passage made of large stones with a covered burial chamber) was so carefully constructed that during the winter solstice, the rays of the rising sun still strike a small opening above the doorway and illuminate the sacred chamber within.
Castles, stone towers, walls, and other fortifications are an integral part of the Irish countryside and can be found all over Ireland. The Irish castles were not elaborate dwellings of royalty. Most of them were owned by the heads of clans, kings, or titled English gentry. Since the time of the Vikings, there were fortified dwellings for protection against raids and invaders including towered walls around towns and entire villages. The castle are usually small and dark, as windows are few and only large enough to see who might be approaching. The small rooms allow for a smaller fire to be adequate for cold and damp at bay.
Book of Kells
One of the top sights in Dublin and Ireland's finest national treasure is the Book of Kells, on display at the Trinity College Library. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament transcribed by Celtic monks in about 800AD, when the rest of Europe was in the midst of the Dark Ages. The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its home for centuries. It is widely regarded as a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. The lettering is in iron-gall ink an the colors were made from a variety of substances, some of which were imported form distant lands.
Irish history is rich with myths and legends, and the realms of Irish mythology and folklore are both universal in theme and timeless in appeal. The Irish legends capture the spirit and essence of the Irish psyche: brave, honorable, compassionate and strong. The heroes of Irish myths and legends remain a powerfully strong symbol of the Irish national pride. Before the conversion to Christianity, Celts were a polytheistic religion. The leader of the Irish gods' pantheon was the Dagda. Because of his embodiment of the ideal Irish traits, it is believed that male humans and other gods were based on him.
Music and Dance
Music is an integral part of Irish culture and has been as potent a force in the lives of the Irish people. The ancient Celts relied on oral tradition, where religion, legend, and history were passed from one generation to the next by way of epic poems, stories and songs. Conquered by the English and forbidden to speak their own language, the Irish turned to music to help them remember important events and hold on to their heritage and history. "Rebel Music" has existed for as long as the conflicts in Ireland have existed. Various rebellions have inspired songs recounting the lives of heroes, such as Sean South of Garryowen or Roddy McCorley, and were used to rouse passions.
Irish food gets little or no respect. A well-poured Guinness does not count as food, but Irish food is more than meat and boiled potatoes. Traditional Irish dishes include such "feel good" foods as scallion and potato pancakes, Guinness-braised pot roast, bacon, cabbage, boxty, coddle, and colcannon. Guinness cupcakes: Unsalted butter, melted, for coating the muffin pans (optional): 1 (11.2-ounce) bottle Guinness stout, 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 3 large eggs, 3/4 cup sour cream, 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups granulated sugar, 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon fine salt...