What Makes Ireland So Special?
Ireland is one of those dramatic places that captures the imagination and excites a sense of adventure. For the traveler planning to visit the Emerald Isle’s verdant shores, it always helps to have some background on the places you are considering for your itinerary. Ireland is full of little nooks and crannies far off the beaten path, as well as famous tourist sites that cannot be missed. Those journeying to this magical place should research until their fingers fail; there’s nothing worse than coming back from a trip and realizing the most important things were missed.
How Legends Began
Wouldn’t you like to know when Ireland’s famous places had their beginnings? Who made them famous, why, and how? It’s always interesting to discover new and vital information about travel destinations. We all know the Blarney Stone is an imperative part of Ireland’s history, but what made it such a staple of visiting the country? And what exactly is the story behind fairies and leprechauns? Does it always rain in Ireland? All are questions for which the Ireland enthusiast would love to have answers, although Irish mysticism makes it difficult to ascertain exactly where legend ends and truth begins.
Nice Weather, Isn’t It? Not in Ireland
First of all, the weather. *Does* it always rain in Erin? Judging from people’s personal experiences and the abundance of sharp photographs, there is proof that rain doesn’t fall every single hour in the country. While it rains quite often, many “rainy” days may just be overcast or damp. Keep in mind that London also has a reputation for dark, rainy days, so it may be a pattern that covers the British Isles in general. The good thing about Ireland’s damp weather is that it helps to upkeep the beautiful green streets and valleys for which the country is famous.
Tiny folk; Lepre-what?
What are leprechauns? The word alone is enough to fascinate us. The tiny Irish folk may very well have had their beginning in the pre-Christian days of Ireland, when the land was saturated with Druid legend. Many have heard of the connection between leprechauns and that proverbial “pot of gold,” but was is the connection? Actually, hundreds of years ago (which in ancient Ireland most likely seems like a few days!) the Vikings caused great havoc in certain parts of the country and left a trail of gold and goodies when they dispersed. The leprechauns were supposedly given the responsibility over caches of treasure, hence their designation as treasure-keepers.
What most people don’t know is that there are actually a few different kinds of these tiny creatures known are leprechauns; the group mostly lost to history are called “Cluricaun.” These are crafty creatures who don’t mind taking something that doesn’t belong to them, and causing general mischief while the humans sleep. The Irish mind is saturated with fairies and magic, so it’s easy to imagine how these tales were passed down from generation to generation, from immigrant to immigrant, until they became a staple of American culture as well. The word leprechaun has two possible derivations: “luacharma’n,” a word meaning “pygmy,” or “leath bhrogan,” “one who works with shoes.” One has to wonder if “bhrogan” is where the familiar kind of shoe called Brogan came from.
That’s A Load of Blarney
Another term that Ireland is famous for is “Blarney Stone.” Why is it so famous? Ireland has countless legends but for some reason this is one of the most enduring. The setting of the Blarney Stone probably helped to further travelers’ interest; this old stone castle dominates the Irish countryside around quaintly-named Blarney Village. It is located near Cork. The story goes that if you plant a kiss on this stone (and, granted, this is not easy to do, as you have to lean backward to reach the stone)
you will never fail to impress anyone with your charming conversational habits. (It is not known if anyone actually manifested these talents).
Other names for this Irish legend exist in local lore. Biblical accounts tell of a certain “Jacob’s Pillow” that is rumored to be the same as the Blarney Stone, although the validity is highly doubted. Some believe it was connected with the Crusaders, a more believable story, but its origins are still shrouded in intigue. One thing is for certain: Going to Ireland and not kissing the Blarney Stone is like spending a week in Paris and never once noticing the Eiffel Tower!
Ireland’s Most Famous Man
There is one man who has received much attention from the people of Ireland over the centuries; you may recognize the name of Sucat. No? How about his adopted name . . . Saint Patrick? If any one person could be called the most famous in the annals of Ireland’s history, it would be this enigmatic saint. So much legend has sprouted about this man that it’s hard to distinguish between reality and myth. Many stories say that it’s probable he was captured as a young boy and became a slave. During these terrible times he turned to Christianity and began to teach the Irish Celts about his new faith. Almost everywhere you go in Ireland, you will find some reference to St. Patrick or the propagation of the Christian religion.
St. Patrick was credited with ridding Ireland of pesky reptiles, but it’s disputed that snakes actually lived in Ireland at that time. He’s also been said to have gone head to head with Druids only to come out the victor, and while he most likely did come face to face with many Druids, it is not known what happened in these particular instances.
The Intrigue of Tara
The Hill of Tara is another Irish place full of legend and mystery. This odd geographical wonder has been hailed since ancient times as an important refuge of Ireland’s high kings. Myth states that it was connected to the Firbolg, one of the races of prehistoric beings who inhabited the country, and that the Hill of Tara was their most important city in Ireland. The curious visitor can find Tara in County Meath, and much of the country can be seen from this vantage point. One can only imagine the photographic opportunities. Ireland is full of beauty and legend, but there are few spots as beautiful as this.
One mythological story about the Hill of Tara that may be grounded in truth involves St. Patrick. He made a fire to commemorate a day of Christian celebration, which called attention to his activities and put him up against the Druid authority and the local king. Whether or not this story is true, there are real attributes of the Hill of Tara that will send chills down the spines of any who visit. Countless tombs can be found near the spot, and Tara was believed to be a place where the dead could communicate with the living. Some think the tombs are home to another Irish legend; the Tuatha de Danann, a deified clan of which many ancient stories were told.
A Crash Course in Irish Mythology
So who were the Tuatha de Danann? A little-known Irish mythological woman known as Danu is rumored to be the founder of the race. After traveling to Ireland, the Tuatha de Danann found themselves in pitched combat with another legendary group, the Firbolg. Another race they are said to have gone up against are the Fomorians; huge creatures who had lived in Ireland since extremely ancient times. The legend of the Tuatha de Danann is important in Irish mythology not only for the battles they won and lands they gained, but for the gods and goddesses they are said to have created. The Dagda, a famous Irish god who was considered to be one of the most important, came from this group, as well as the famous Brigid who is thought to be a possible ancient counterpart to the Christian Saint Bridget.