Over this past weekend I had the pleasure of experiencing the luck of the Irish and visiting the beautifully green Ireland! Everyone has heard about leprechauns, shamrocks, and other touristy Irish experiences, but I am very happy that I got a traditional Irish trip. My group and I decided to take a bus tour out of Dublin, and we learned a lot of the history of Ireland, along with the religious tensions that have divided the land into Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland (the South).
Our bus driver helped explain the tensions and background information that has plagued the country over the years and still continues today. To begin with, Northern Ireland is dominantly Protestant, and is considered to be part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is composed of six provinces, with Belfast being the capital city. These six provinces are under rule of the Monarch, and this creates more tensions between the Nationalists (aka Republicans, or Catholics in Northern Ireland that want to be free of British rule) and the Unionists (or the Loyalists, mostly Protestants who differ in opinion). The rest of Ireland to the South (the other 26 provinces), The Republic of Ireland, is predominantly Catholic. This division stems from the early conquests of Ireland, and it was officially divided in May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act (“Northern Ireland: The Troubles). This tensions between the two groups were apparent in listening to the Irish people we met talk about the North, especially mimicking the Belfast accent. The religious tensions can also be seen in the symbolism behind the flag. The orange part is for the Protestant population, namely for the supporters of William of Orange, the green is for the Catholic population that is native, and the white in the middle is to symbolize peace between the two groups. However, many realize that this symbolism is better in idea than in practice.
Along the way we were able to have a traditional Irish meal at a pub, which I could not have been more excited for! Potatoes were seen all over the menu, in any form you could possibly think of: mashed, boiled, baked, anything! We ate at McGann’s pub and the insides were completely made of wood panels, with Irish tokens along the walls. It was decked with Irish placards and small trinkets. Three of us, including me, ordered a traditional Irish beef stew with mashed potatoes, while the other person ordered traditional bacon and cabbage. We also learned we were eating it in the traditional Irish fashion by having a large dinner in the middle of the day, and a smaller supper later at night. It was one of the best meals I have had on this trip, and the small town in the middle of the Irish countryside only enhanced the experience. Even though the pub was full of people mostly from the bus tour, there were some locals eating outside. The small town component in this town was visible as all the locals seemed to know each other and know everything about anyone in town.
My entire group fell in love with our tour guide because he tried to explain to us as many Irish traditions as possible. Everyone associates leprechauns with the Irish, however, he informed us that the Irish are very superstitious people and have other types of myths and fairies that they believe in. However, the leprechauns are the most famous of the fairies. We actually drove by a fairy ring, which is a ring of trees and stones where fairies supposedly live. By legend it is bad luck to destroy these rings, and therefore, many natives are vehemently against removing and destroying these areas. It also seems as if everyone in Ireland can sing! Our guide sang us numerous songs that are central to their culture such as “Molly Malone” and “Galway Girl”.
Behind the beautiful green landscapes and the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, religious tensions are apparent. Not only are the northern and southern portions of Ireland separated by law but by religion also. Surprisingly, the Irish are not only religious, but very superstitious. Their history is composed of myths about fairies and the land in which they inhabit. Many of these myths are passed from generations to generations by song. This adventure to Ireland was finished perfectly by sampling a traditional Irish dinner, of course accompanied with a potato.
“Northern Ireland: The Troubles.” BBC History. 1 February 2007. Accessed 22 July 2012.