Celtic spirituality evolved from pagan roots to a distinct form of Christianity influenced by Coptic monastics from Egypt. Ireland was notable in that there were no real ‘red martyrs’ in the conversion to Christianity. In the Ireland that venerated the triple goddess the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit could be accommodated without any stretch of the religious imagination. St. Patrick was the best known evangelist of Ireland although it is now thought that were other missionaries before him. However, he energetically advanced the spread of the new faith. The other two patron saints beloved by the Irish are St. Columcille and St. Brigit. St. Brigit is an interesting case for she took on all the associations of the pagan goddess of her own name.
In my A-Z of things to see in Ireland I have gotten round to one of the darkest parts of Irish History, the Great Hunger of 1845-1847. However, there were other crop failures over the following ten years which accounted for over one million Irish emigrating and at least as many perishing. When we come to Q it refers to Quaker Pots or Famine Pots.
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has long had a testimony to peace and social justice, dating back to the time of King Charles II. Quakers have earned a special footnote in Irish history due to their response to the greatest man made disaster that has affected Ireland.
In my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland I have to draw your attention to the thriving Organic sector in Irish agriculture. The development of organic agriculture in Ireland accounts for the rising standards in restaurant cuisine. Ireland does not always have a reputation for being on the itinerary of the epicurean. However, let me assure that Organic Ireland will offer not only real food but also many things to see and to inspire you when you get back home and look at your vegetable patch.
Organic Ireland is one way to begin to appreciate this country as a ecotourism destination.
County Leitrim is really the focus for much of the organic movement in Ireland. This is because the sole cattle market for organic cattle is held in Drumshambo, located at the southern tip of Lough Allen. County Leitrim has gone the extra mile to maintain the organic standard by declaring itself a GM (Genetically Modified) Free zone.
Organic food – whether vegetable, fruit or the meat from animals – is reared without aid of artificial, chemical herbicides or pesticides. Animals cannot be fed products that have been exposed to these and graze on meadows that have not been sprayed with chemicals. The organic salad leaves you buy in a Farmer’s Market has not been cleaned with a solution that include formaldehyde. And organic farmers favour planting many different seed varieties so your salad may be composed of rocket, purslane, butterhead lettuce, a lollo rosso lettuce or oak leaf. You may find baby beet leaf in the salad leaf mix. None of which has been exposed to chemicals. Truly, you can taste the difference.
In my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland I recommend archaeological evidence of Neolithic Ireland for the letter N. The fascination with such megalithic memorials to loved ones is hard to suppress. We have to take this in context. Newgrange in Co. Meath is as old as the Valley of the Kings Pyramids in Egypt. But it is also estimated that Newgrange, one of the greatest passage tombs of Neolithic Ireland, is older than Stonehenge! This is considered the stone age.
Let’s put this in context. Before Neolithic Ireland than was Mesolithic Ireland. These people were hunter gatherers who lived before 4,500 BCE. They used stone tools and treated their dead with reverence. The period that concerns Neolithic Ireland is roughly from 4,500 –2,500 BCE. During those two millennia the inhabitants of Ancient Ireland moved from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to introducing farming. By the end of the era they had discovered how to develop metal tools. The Bronze Age began.
I couldn’t just choose one thing for this letter L. I even had to edit out out certain things to see like linen, which was for many years a huge part of the Irish economy. But what Ireland does consistently export well is literature! While a book might be read in your armchair at home, a literature festival offers something more than just print as some thing to see in Ireland. You will see your writing heroes read from their books and give workshops and lectures. If books aren’t your bag I also have two other suggestions of things to see in Ireland beginning with L – like loughs and lace-making.
All art is collaboration, where the imagination of the people, and the language they use, is rich and living, it is possible for a a writer to be rich and copious in his words, and at the same time to give the reality, which is the root of all poetry, in a comprehensive and natural form.
- J.M. Synge
For those who fell in love with Ireland through the rich words of her writers a literature festival will probably be a magnet. Ireland has many different types of literary festivals. To make sure that you discover which one would be on your wish list to attend I’ll break them down into four categories. First there is the literature festival that is dedicated to all the literary art forms. The most famous in Ireland is Cuirt in Galway City between 24-29th April, 2012. Galway is also the home of the Western Writers Centre.
Listowel, Co.Kerry, holds the famous Listowel Literary Week from May 30th this year. This festival was started by local son J.B. Keane and includes a competition, workshops and opportunities to meet writers.
West Cork holds a literary festival in Bantry in Co. Cork between 8-14 July 2012. This is the literary festival that is within a broader spectrum arts festival. It includes other artistic activities and is similar to the more heterogenous Arts Festivals that include a literature component with music, visual arts, and much more. Kilkenny and Boyle both host this sort of Arts Festival. Kilkenny kicks off between 10th and 19th August. Boyle, Co. Roscommon, holds its festival between 26th July and 4th August. But with Boyle you also have the opportunity to visit a lough! Lough Key is close by to the Roscommon town and could be a diversion for extra-artistic activities. Clifden in Galway hold an annual arts week each September with the festival running from 20th-30th September in 2012.
The other sort of literary festival held in Ireland is one that celebrates famous literary sons and daughters who lend their name to a festival. Patrick Kavanagh, Oliver Goldsmith, Kate O’Brien and Brian Merriman all have festivals named for them. For instance Oliver Goldsmith will be celebrated in Athlone over the weekend of 1-3rd June. Kate O’Brien is feted in Limerick over 24-26th February, 2012.
But what Ireland does really well – and several times a year is different parts of Ireland – is the international poetry festival. Poetry Now will occur over the weekend of March 22nd –24th, 2012 and is always held in DunLaoghaire, just south of Dublin on the coast. Strokestown, Co. Roscommon holds its annual International Poetry Competition finale and festival each May over the bank holiday weekend, 4-6th May in 2012. Cuisle is another internationally renowned poetry festival held 17th-20th October, 2012 in Limerick. Poetry Ireland will be able to inform you if there is a literary festival or poetry festival on during your visit to Ireland.
I have to remind you that in Ireland there is rarely three degrees of separation,so you have an excellent chance of meeting your literary hero. Did I not have the happy good fortune to have the wife of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney sit down beside me at a poetry reading in Manorhamilton? This is true! We chatted and got along famously and my companion and I were introduced after the reading to her husband.
Now, let’s look at loughs. Ireland’s Lakelands are in the north/central part of Ireland concentrating in Fermanagh and Cavan, said to have as many lakes as days in the year! But each county has it’s own lakes and legends surrounding them.
Lough Gill is famous for its Isle of Innisfree that inspired Yeats’ poem of the same name.
There is Lough Derg in Donegal that features as part of Seamus Heaney’s collection Station Island. Ireland’s largest lough, Lough Neagh, close by where Heaney’s wife Marie grew up provided much inspiration for other poems.
Loughs have a long and honourable connection with that other honourable Irish heritage – poetry. You may even be inspired to try your hand at writing yourself if you spend a bit of time in the lovely landscape.
You will not be short of choice of other things to see in Ireland if you head for a lough. There are plenty of activities like windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking. There are Adventure Centres such as the eponymously named Lough Allen Adventure Centre that can teach you these skills or rent you equipment for a day’s outing on the water.
Lastly we turn to lace making. This craft was taught to women by nuns as a way to create family income to combat unemployment and poverty. The craft has long been in Ireland. The Sheelin Irish Lace Museum in Bellanaleck, Co. Fermanagh within the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark can acquaint you with this craft that is part of Ireland’s heritage. You will also be able to buy samples in the shop to take home for those family and friends that will not be satisfied with signed copies of books as souvenirs!
Coursing towards the middle of the alphabet we now have two prospects in store for the letter M. For in my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark encompasses so many aspects of my essential list of things to see in Ireland. For visitors who crave the cultural heritage of Irish music then the Music Summer Schools are definitely needing to be on the itinerary if you can visit Ireland during the summer months.
Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark has the distinction of being the first international, cross border Geopark to ever win the UNESCO designation. Geoparks are treasure troves of natural heritage. While the designation implies national importance there is also an international distinction.
We have arrived at the letter K in this ABC series of Things to See in Ireland. The letter K is one for the tourist seeking a way of combining outdoor activity with seeing many of the other items on this A-Z list. The Kingfisher Cycle trail combines Ecotourism with totting off many of the items of things to see – ancient sites, beaches, castles, dolmens, glens, the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and much, much more!
Have I got you interested? Then don your cycle helmet and let me tell you how you can see so many things in Ireland by simply following the Kingfisher Cycle Trail. This is a 240 mile trail that takes your through counties Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and Donegal, West Cavan, Leitrim and south-western Monaghan.
In this series “An A-Z of Things to See in Ireland“ I am now forging towards the middle of the alphabet. If it is ‘I’ and you are thinking of things to see in Ireland than you’d be hard pushed to not consider islands. Here is my rationale for making a visit to one of Ireland’s off shore islands. But let us also not forget that Ireland has many islands inside the country, too.
Ireland is, of course, an island in itself. You have only to land in Ireland and there you are already on a very large island facing the North Atlantic to the west and the Irish and Celtic Seas to the east. Lawrence Durrell noted in Reflections on a Marine Venus that there are some people who suffer from islomania. He defines them as people who find islands “somehow irresistible”. These “little worlds surrounded by the sea” – or a lough – “fills them with indescribable intoxication.”
For spiritual tourists an island has an especial allure.
In this article series of my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland H has got to stand for Holy Wells. For anyone interested in the spirituality of this island then you need to visit holy wells. The Celtic spiritual consciousness is deeply respectful of nature. Water is, of course, essential to our health and well being. Both pre-and early-Christian Celts knew that water – all water- was sacred. Before the conversion to Christianity the many springs were sacred to a local deity or goddess. With the coming of Christianity the matronage or patronage of the holy well passed from a god or goddess to a saint.
St. Brigid’s Holy Well, Kildare
Of course, you cannot see James Joyce since he died in Zurich in 1941. However that his books were banned in his homeland for many years and tried for obscenity in other countries,or that he lived in self-imposed exile from Ireland for the last thirty-six years of life – today, James Joyce has given his land a rich legacy. Today there are many things to see in Ireland that are about all things James Joyce. For lovers of the literature that he made there can be much pleasure in allowing his writing guide your around his home city of Dublin. So in my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland J is for James Joyce, genius!
Joyce met his wife Nora Barnacle on 16th June 1904. He used the date 16th June in his masterpiece Ulysses. A prophet may not be loved in his own land but belatedly Dubliners honour their local literary hero each 16th June with Bloomsday celebrations, taking the name from the book’s protagonist Leopold Bloom.
Dublin will offer many walks and things to see that are all very much James Joyce and Dublin. Local public transport will take you to see the famous Martello Tower at Sandycove, which is a feature Ulysses. It is now the home of the James Joyce Museum, so it is an excellent first stop on the trail of tracing the literary footsteps mapped in Joyce’s literary works.
Back in Dublin City Centre you can begin your walking tours in earnest. A visit to the James Joyce Centre on North Great George Street will be illuminating. Walking tours are scheduled each Saturday but private groups can make arrangements through the James Joyce Centre. They offer a general circular walk around a number of Joyce iconic locations, including the home of Leopold and Molly Bloom as well as the James Joyce statue that locals jocularly refer to as the ‘Prick with the Stick.’ For those diehard bookworms there are more specialised walks with special regard to the text of The Dubliners.For anyone who struggled with Ulysses in college you may want to take the Walking in the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom trail and suddenly all will be made clear!
James Joyce graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) in 1903. On Bloomsday 2011 his alma mater conferred honourary degrees upon an array of the brightest and best literary talent of Ireland. This particular year noted that Joyce started out writing as a poet. As Michael Longley says in this clip, “Prose is for sissies!” If you want to keep up with the great literary talent that is alive, well and writing in Ireland today then watch this clip and read their work. It may not be strictly Joyce….but it is everything to do with his literary legacy to Ireland and the world.
James Joyce’ progressive blindness is well known. Lesser known about him is that he was an accomplished tenor. The problems of reading the sheet music put paid to his continuing practice of music. He is known to composed music and here is a the only known composition sung by tenor Kevin McDermott.