A study in shades of green
One of Ireland’s distinctive qualities is that if you arrive here from a European or American city, you will come into contact with its cultural life (at least in gastronomic terms) even before you get on the plane: in almost any major airport, the bottle-green sign for an Irish pub will pop up, and inside, a foamy pint of Guinness or Kilkenny. But it must be said that if not so long ago, Irish pubs in airports were the most “sacred” of locations, now, tastes are changing. Today, ordering an Irish coffee is pretty much like asking the barman for a Sex on the Beach cocktail; nothing terrible, but you’re at risk of looking a bit old-fashioned.
On the other hand, Ireland is about tradition, not fashion; but first things first. Any fears you may have that Irish accents will be difficult to understand will prove unfounded.
Dublin: taxi drivers, pubs, and U2
You will, in all likelihood, master all these simple linguistic inferences right on arrival, on the road from the airport, when you start talking to your taxi driver. Keep in mind that even if you have no intention of starting a conversation, the driver will decide this problem for you with disarming ease — Dublin taxi drivers love to chat, and will definitely tell you a couple of stories in the jaunty manner of a stand-up comedian (“We behave in such a hospitable and friendly way because we need to find out where you have come from and how rich you are!” the first taxi driver tells me, laughing contentedly into his ginger moustache).
One of these stories will most definitely be about Bono or someone else from U2, a group which has long ago turned into a national institution and Ireland’s main musical export; in general, be prepared to hear about U2 and their songs dozens of times. I’ll tell you the most interesting story that I heard in full. “My friend’s daughter went to the pub with her friends,” the taxi driver announced, manoeuvring deftly between double decker buses that resemble huge yellow beetles. “They were enjoying themselves, having a drink, and then suddenly they see that Bono is sitting with some friend of his, two tables across.
“The girls, of course, ask him straight away: ‘Can we take a photo with you?’ Bono says, ‘Sure, no problem.’ The girls turn towards his friend, and ask him, ‘Can you take our photo?’ And they offer him a mobile phone. He starts laughing, takes a photo of Bono with the girls, and gives back the phone. Everything’s great, everyone’s happy.
“The delighted girls turn back to their table, carry on drinking, and when in a couple of hours they prepare to leave, the barman tells them that their bill is already paid — they don’t need to do anything. The girls say, ‘Oh, wow, Bono, has paid for our drinks!’ And the barman laughs, ‘That wasn’t Bono, it was his mate.’ The girls don’t get it. ‘Oh! You don’t know who he was, do you?’ And the barman tells them, ‘Of course! It was Bruce Springsteen.’”
Incidentally, all Dublin taxi drivers will tell you about how safe their city is with obvious pride: the exceptionally low level of crime attracts tourists as much as Guinness or the natural beauty of Ireland, and that is in spite of the stereotype that Ireland is a poor country. However, social benefits are certainly less generous than in neighbouring England.
You can test whether the city is as safe as locals say it is the first evening you arrive (you will be particularly lucky if that means a Friday or a Saturday evening), if you visit the main drinking area of Dublin, Temple Bar. There are many legendary stories about Dublin’s bars, although, despite the deafening shrieks and frenzied clinking of glasses which can be heard outside every single door in Temple Bar, it will not occur to you that some unpleasantness might befall you — only, perhaps, that in the atmosphere of general enthusiasm you might risk overdoing it with the spirits. The Irish clearly don’t make a big deal of this, though: alcohol here is a magical way in which to even out any differences between different social and age groups, and closer to midnight both guffawing groups of students and respectable middle-aged ladies in trouser suits bump into each other on the street as they zigzag elaborately along.
The Irish have a word, craic (pronounced “crack”, but don’t look for drug-related connotations), which can mean a state of happiness that one experiences in large, noisy groups. Temple Bar regulars have no hang-ups in terms of communication, and the idea that you don’t talk to strangers is completely alien to them. The main feature of Irish pub culture is singing songs together, including famous rock hits (usually the entire back catalogue of Oasis, Blur, and, surprise, U2), as well as folk songs. It is amazing how harmoniously and passionately these songs are bellowed out; clearly they would not sound so good were singing not in everyone’s genes.
Well then, Ireland has strong traditions — if you care little for ultra-fashionable fads, then this is the place for you. The Irish cultural frame of reference is still located somewhere between Celtic sagas and James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is best to make a closer acquaintance with the author on Bloomsday, marked on 16 June, when, together with the festive crowd, you can retrace the route of Leopold Bloom, the main protagonist of Joyce’s magnum opus. Don’t be too shy to dress up in period costume and recharge with the kind of food mentioned in Ulysses — fried mutton kidneys, Gorgonzola sandwiches, and a generous swig of Burgundy.
By the way, on the topic of food: the locals joke that Irish lunch consists of seven dishes: six pints of beer and potatoes. This old joke is, even today, not so far from the truth, although a glass of Guinness and a thick stew (the world-famous Irish stew, Friedrich Engels’ favourite food, a filling mixture of stewed beef, onion and those same potatoes) is a surprisingly good and inexpensive way to send your stomach into a state of delight. There’s no formality or fine dining, though the Irish view their main stout, Guinness, with an almost religious piety: the Guinness Storehouse brewery is considered an essential stop for any visitor.
Its official name is “St. James’s Gate Brewery”, and it houses a museum, a beer hall, and the home of the brewery’s founder, Arthur Guinness. A legendary liberal and philanthropist, he was also father to 21 children, three of whom continued his business. Many Dubliners, by the way, also recommend visiting the Guinness Storehouse because of its viewing platform: it has a first-class panoramic view of the city, and if you look very hard, you can see beyond it, and that is well worth the effort.
Outside Dublin: rain, Howth, and the Cliffs of Moher
Before starting on recommendations on how to investigate the surrounding landscapes, a word about the weather. If you associate holidays with warm sea and sun, then you may not enjoy Ireland. There are plenty of spa experiences to be had, but they are a little different from the usual kind. It drizzles, say the Irish when talking about their rain, although half the time it’s more like a tropical storm. The value of any weather forecasts here is resolutely close to zero: elderly ladies like to repeat that if you want to know what the weather will be like in Ireland, you just have to wait ten minutes. It’s true — bright sun constantly takes the place of rain, before once again disappearing behind clouds which puff up in a second. The best advice for travellers to Ireland is to take an umbrella, and better still a light raincoat.
One way or another, if you would like to exhale after the chaotic, but unfailingly benign, jollity which prevails in the green interiors of Temple Bar, then you should take a drive to the Howth Head peninsula, about 20 minutes from the centre of Dublin. The same route takes around an hour by bicycle, and despite the constant drizzle, Dubliners pedal on heroically.
Howth could quite easily, it seems, be called Ireland in miniature: it has the inevitable chowder, fish and chips, medieval castles inhabited by the heirs of wealthy families, golf courses, exceptionally picturesque lighthouses, and folk artefacts covered by the forest’s undergrowth, like the grave of Étaín, one of the chief heroines in Irish mythology. This is where the wealthy have their mansions: drummer Larry Mullen (from guess which band) lives in Howth, as does Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries. The most appealing local “attraction” is to walk along the paths that stretch out along the rocky coastline, where, apparently through no will of your own, you begin to imagine that you are either a character in Game of Thrones or the red-bearded protagonist of a bleak Irish myth. The heather swaying around and the salty waves crashing against the rocks serves as protection — any minute now you’ll stumble upon a dragon sitting in wait on the next bend of the coast. But even this breathtaking beauty fades into the background somewhat in comparison with the main picture-postcard view of Ireland: the Cliffs of Moher, which every year dazzle around a million tourists with their majestic forms.
Let the word “opposite” not muddle you: a car journey from the eastern coast to the western one takes barely more than three or four hours, and as a bonus, you can drop by the town that’s a household name, Limerick, on the way (and at the same time you can spend some time composing jokey, absurd pentastichs, or five-line poems, thanks to which the town’s name of “Limerick” is known the world over).
It should be said that it’s better not to linger here; you need to reach the cliffs before dark. At the same time, be prepared for the powerful Atlantic wind: from time to time, it turns into a real hurricane, forcing one to instinctively grab hold of nearby stone ledges for fear of being carried away into the ocean.
If you manage, however, to treat this discomfort with at least something resembling the Olympic calm with which the cows chew the grass here, you will be rewarded by fantastic scenery, including a succession of cliffs with a vertical drop into the abyss of water below, and the haughty O’Brien’s Tower (on a clear day you also have every chance of seeing the Aran Islands). A promenade along the Cliffs of Moher and a struggle with the strong northern wind are guaranteed to stir your appetite. You may satisfy this in local cafes, but better to visit the nearest village and seek out the StoneCutters Kitchen, a family restaurant painted a cheerful yellow, with its pared-down menu (look out in particular for the extraordinarily delicious carrot cake).
Several hours later, after travelling across fields and sleepy villages as they disappear into the horizon, and you arrive at the airport, which is as cosy and friendly as everything else in this green land. The Irish people hold on to aesthetics right to the end, down to the old-fashioned wooden panels of the passport control booths, where a cheerful border guard may well say goodbye with the following words, “Hope you found what you were looking for” — a slightly rephrased quote from the song by the band whose name there is no point in reminding you of.
Book of Kells, Trinity College
This book is considered to be one of the oldest manuscripts in Ireland, dating back to approximately 800 AD. You will need to queue up to view its stunning miniatures, but the line moves quickly. Afterwards, it is well worth visiting the college’s Long Room, which looks like a classic example of an old library – so classic that some believe it was the prototype for the Jedi archives in Star Wars.
The Irish round towers
Tall stone structures, almost like minarets. It is unclear what their purpose was during the Middle Ages: perhaps they were bell towers, or a refuge from enemy raids. The highest tower is preserved in the half-ruined Kilmacduagh Monastery in County Galway. Here one may walk among the ruins of churches and watch the cows graze in the sunset; the abbey looks truly impressive at this time of day.
Теxt: Anna Semida
Published on: July 20, 2018