Wednesday, November 30, 2016

22. Dublin - The South Quays

A first date guide to the South Quays
Meet at the gates of Ireland’s foremost university, Trinity College. While this is not on the South Quays, it is by far the easiest place to meet on the southside – as long as no disgruntled pensioner is currently trying to ram his car through it. If you fancy your chances, head for the Book of Kells inside its grounds. Queuing to see it on a summer’s day is the relationship equivalent to six months backpacking together through South America. If you are still talking by the time you finally reach the top of the line, you’re as good as married.
 (If you’re coming from the northside, meet on O’Connell Street – at the Spire if your date has only moved to Ireland; under Clery’s clock if they are originally from the country; or at the GPO if you’re one of those people who hate it when others don’t stand up during the national anthem.)
Cultural you: Head first for cultural quarter of Temple Bar. Unless you want to give the impression that you have a small drinking problem, don’t suggest joining the English stag from Lancashire for a pint. Instead, save the €100 you would have spent on a round of drinks and bring your date to any of the myriad of cultural hot-spots surrounding you, from the IFI and Meeting House Square to the Project Arts Centre and the National Photographic Archive. To help impress, be on first-name terms with someone working in a shop at the far end of Temple Bar who you just happen to bump into, preferably one that sells books.
Historic you: Bring them up the river to Wood Quay, where one of the most extensive Vikings ruins in northern Europe was uncovered in the 1970s and then buried in concrete when Dublin Corporation built their headquarters here. Point out the half-buried Viking ship on the pavement just up from it, which they left out as a warning to others. Mumble under your breath something about ‘Charles Stuart Parnell’, ‘Romantic Ireland being dead and gone’, how ‘it eats you up every time’ and look emotional. Wave a fist at the building if you feel it appropriate and then lighten the atmosphere by heading up to grab some fish and chips in Leo Burdock’s before visiting Ireland’s oldest cathedral, Christ Church – because who doesn’t want to see a mummified cat chasing a mummified mouse? Good times!
Social you: Head down to your final stop, the Guinness Storehouse. Resist the urge to tell him/her that you brew your own craft beer. Instead, wander around the most-visited tourist destination in the country, getting to know each other and playing ‘What country do you think they are from?’. Finish it with a night out (for ‘night’, read ‘early evening out’), hanging with a group of really friendly American retirees from Utah in the Gravity Bar. Not only will your witty Irish ripostes make you seem like the friendliest person there, thus guaranteeing a second date, but you can be sure that most of those Americans are not going to drink their complimentary Guinness, which means there will be plenty of spare pints to go around. Word of warning: this only works the once before the barman get wise to your ways so choose that first date carefully.

23. Down - Titanic Belfast

On the Down side of the River Lagan lies Titanic Belfast. Located on the slipway where the boat was launched, it is the world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction. Built for £100 million, it is no surprise that, since its opening in 2012, it was an immediate success at home and abroad.
While the 150-year-old Harland & Wolff ship-building yard, characterised by the still standing H & W yellow shipbuilding gantry cranes nicknamed Samson and Goliath, built many, many ships that never sank, none of these struck an iceberg off the coast of Canada and then went on to star in a hugely successful Hollywood block-buster. If any had, then maybe that ship would be at the centre of one of the most-visited tourist attractions on this island.
Instead it was the Titanic, the so-called Unsinkable Ship, which sank in the early morning of 15 April 1912, having collided with that iceberg about 600 kilometres south of Newfoundland, that is at the heart of this exhibition. And it is the story of this ship – its construction, its voyage and the tales of those who travelled on her, including the 1,503 who died that fateful night (1,504 if you count Leonardo Di Caprio) – that is told with great detail and respect throughout its 12,000 square metres of informative space.

Monday, November 28, 2016

24. Roscommon - Oweynagat Cave

Oweynagat Cave
·         Creatures emerging from the ground to wreak havoc on the surrounding lands
·         A place where people live in fear, not knowing who the next victim will be
·         A difficult past with an uncertain future
No, we’re not talking again about cryptosporidiosis and the ‘boil water’ notices but Oweynagat Cave in central Roscommon, which plays host to Ireland’s ‘Gate to Hell’. The cave is situated in Rathcroghan, not far from Tulsk (the town, not the incorrectly-spelt 12th album from Fleetwood Mac). The idea of Roscommon being the mouth of Hell might come as a bit of shock to some people (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cast of Stargate and Joe Public for a start), but it shouldn’t, given the number of megalithic tombs dating back more than 5,000 years it contains and its history of rich Celtic myths and legends.
In Celtic mythology, warrior queen Medb of Connacht was said to have lived, ruled and watched over the area in which Oweynagat Cave sits. However, she might have overlooked this one among the many in the area, as what self-respecting warrior queen would allow a Hell Mouth open up in her backyard? While no-one knows exactly how many monsters use Oweynagat Cave to commute in and out from the underworld, one mythological being that definitely resides in it is the Morrígan, a goddess of death often associated with crows, ravens, Roscommon underachieving in the football and er ... death!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

25. Donegal - Glenveagh National Park

As a national park, while it might not be our largest (the Wicklow Mountains) or smallest (the Burren), our wettest (Connemara) or even our most renowned (Killarney), Glenveagh National Park is certainly one of our most beautiful.
Set over 170 square kilometres of remarkably wild Irish countryside, Glenveagh is a wonderful place to wander around, trekking any of its umpteen walks from the Derrylahan Nature Trail to the Lough Inshagh Walk, the Lakeside Track to the famed and fabulous Bridle Path to choose from. With as much chance of catching a glimpse of a red deer or a golden eagle as you do of being bombarded by midges as big as your fist, Glenveagh National Park is real slice of adventure in a ‘paradiscally’ untamed corner of Ireland. (And yes, I made that word up.)
Perhaps the most awe-inspiring chunk of Glenveagh is where it extends into the ice-carved corrie (hollow) infamously known as the Poisoned Glen. Like a setting for a high fantasy movie, the Glen sits at the foot of a real mountain-lovers’ mountain, Mount Errigal. With the eye-catching Old Church of Dunlewey also holding court here, hewn from locally-sourced white marble and blue quartzite, it is no wonder that the whole area is one of the most treasured spots in Donegal.
But why then is such an awe-inspiring location named the Poisoned Glen? Thankfully, it’s not the result of a disastrous oil spillage here but is instead attributed to two possible events.
The first is the legendary murder of Balor of the Evil Eye, that ancient one-eyed giant king of Tory, by his grandson, Lugh. Balor’s Evil Eye was so destructive it had to be covered by seven curtains and, when revealed, would set the whole land alight, making him the least popular guest at a birthday party ever. Legend has it that during the Battle of Mag Tuired, Lugh threw a spear or a sling or a scissors or another of those things your mother is always warning you not to run with, and it hit Balor square in the eye. It killed him, but not before he first spun round in pain, setting fire to his own army (hate that) before collapsing onto the ground, Evil Eye still open, splitting a rock and poisoning the glen forever! Forever! Foreverrrr!!!
Then there is the second story, that locals wanted to call the place An Gleann Neamhe, meaning ‘The Heavenly Glen’, but the English cartographer in charge of the process replaced the ‘a’ with an ‘i’, An Gleann Nimhe, meaning ‘The Poisoned Glen’. Twat.

26. Derry - The Walls of Derry

Four metres high, over ten metres wide and running approximately a kilometre and a half long, the Walls of Derry make Derry not only the sole remaining intact walled city on the island of Ireland but also one of the finest examples of a fortified town in Europe.
With a distinctive central diamond at its centre, the city was the first planned city in Ireland and was built between 1613 and 1619 by The Honourable The Irish Society (no, that’s not a misprint – that’s what they actually called themselves). Its distinctive city walls were constructed to help defend the city from Irish insurgents who opposed the plantation.
So formidable were these defences that they managed to withstand several sieges, including one in 1689 that lasted for more than a hundred days, earning Derry its nickname, the Maiden City. This nickname is not to be mixed up with its other nickname, Stroke City, which originates not from the town’s proud history of heavy petting but due to the political correctness of calling the place Derry-stroke-Londonderry for much of its troubled history. Fortunately, with the Troubles falling away into the past, the Walls of Derry, once closed to the public due to the ideal vantage point over the city they would provide for more than just tourists, have long since reopened. Today, they now constitute Derry’s most-visited sites and one of Northern Ireland’s favourite short walks.
If you like the Walls of Derry, here are some other walls in and outside Ireland you might also enjoy:
  • Hadrian’s Wall: Pretty ineffective wall spanning northern England that failed to keep out the Scots.
  • The Walls: Irish rock band, coming soon to play a local summer festival near you.
  • The Wall Street Journal: Business newspaper that has everything you need to know about stocks and shares but lacks a good horoscope and the TV listings.
  • Great Wall of China: Hugely impressive Chinese construction that used to be known as the only man-made object visible from space, until everyone realised that it was only as wide as the length of their semi-detached house, which is definitely not visible from space.
  • The Wall: 11th studio album from Pink Floyd. A classic.
  • The Walls of Limerick: Traditional Irish dance that’s a particular favourite of aunts and visiting tourists.
  • The Wailing Wall: Fun-loving peaceful place in the middle of Jerusalem. Very hard to miss.
  • The Berlin Wall: Used to separate the part of Berlin where you could find McDonald’s and the part where you couldn’t.
  • Wall-E: Hugely successful and critically-acclaimed science-fiction robot-love-story animation movie. What’s not to like? 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

27. Cork

If Ireland were ever invaded, Cork would likely be the last place to fall. Instead of Battle: Los Angeles, it would be Battle: Youghal and you can be sure that local resistance would be tough. Cork is the original rebel county, holding out against the shampoo-loving Vikings when everywhere else in the country fell.
On the flipside, if ever a county were to secede from the Republic and declare independence, it would also most likely be Cork – feasibility studies on how it would sustain itself financially are rumoured to have already been carried out. But that’s Cork for you and that’s why we love them. Or part love, part hate, anyway. And the feeling is mutual.
The thing about Cork is that they often consider themselves quite different from everywhere else. As one of their patron saints, Roy Keane, once said, ‘Corkman first, Irishman second’. And to be fair, you can sometimes understand why. I mean, Cork city is about as far away from Dublin as you can get. And the wild, rugged and really quite wonderful west Cork is nearly as far away from Cork city as you can get. So that’s pretty far away! And while it might not be the most populous county in Ireland, it sure is the biggest, so no wonder its people sometimes view the place as less a county and more a sovereign region in its own right, the People’s Republic of Cork. But we let them go on this; after all, this is the first place in Ireland the potato was planted. That has to be worth something.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

28 Clare

The following dialogue should be spoken like John Cleese aka Reg from the Monty Python classic The Life of Brian
Reg:What has Clare ever done for Ireland?
Crowd: (Silence)
Crowd member 1: The Cliffs of Moher.
Crowd member 1:The Cliffs of Moher.
Reg:Oh yeah, yeah, they did give us that, that’s true.’
Crowd member 2:And the Burren.
Reg’s colleague:Oh yeah, the Burren, Reg, remember what the countryside used to be like.
Reg:Ok, right, alright, I grant you the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher but aside from those two things, what has Clare ever done for Ireland?
Crowd member 3:The Aillwee and Doolin Caves.’
Reg:Obviously the caves, I mean the caves go without saying, don’t they? But apart from the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and the caves …
Crowd member 4:Poulnabrone Dolmen.
Crowd member 5:Bunratty Castle.’
Crowd member 6:The beaches of Lahinch.
Reg:Yeah, alright, fair enough.
Crowd member 7:And the likes of Brian Boru, Michael Cusack, Edna O’Brien and Keith Wood.
Reg’s other colleague:Yeah, Reg, they’re people we’d really have missed if Clare had left.
Crowd member 8:Shannon Airport.
Crowd member 9:Ardnacrusha Dam.
Crowd member 10:The festivals of Lisdoonvarna, Miltown Malbay and Ennis.
Reg’s colleague:It is great craic in the summer.
Reg’s other colleague:They certainly know how to have fun.’
Reg:Alright, but apart from the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, the caves, the dolmen, the castle, the beaches, the noteworthy people, the dam, the airports and the festivals, what has Clare ever done for us?!
Crowd: (Silence)
Crowd member 11:A Clareman invented the submarine?
Reg:Oh submarine! Shut up!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

29. Cavan - The Cavan Burren

The Cavan Burren
The Cavan Burren is a limestone plateau on the slopes of the Cuilcagh Mountains of west Cavan. Not to be mixed up with its distant relative the Clare Burren, the Cavan Burren is probably Ireland’s finest relict landscape or, put more simply, our best outdoor rock museum.
Its stony attractions range from embedded fossils of a 350 million-year-old tropical sea to glacial erratics (enormous boulders) left behind during the last Ice Age, from the megalithic wedge tombs of the Bronze Age to 19th-century shelter walls. Basically, if it involved rocks and it happened in Ireland, you’ll probably find an example of it here.
While many of these sights might escape the average untrained eye, one of the most interesting features, for the amateurs amongst us, is the Calf House Dolmen. Part-megalithic monument, part-farm animal shelter, the Calf House Dolmen is what looks like it would have been a hugely impressive portal tomb, had it been finished. Instead, either due to an accident or an industrial dispute, the final wall is missing and the roof has been left leaning up from the ground.
Though seemingly incomplete as a portal tomb, its design did provide the opportunity to some local farmer, many centuries later, who used its angle to threw a few blocks up inside it to make it into a very inviting shelter for farm animals. So while it might not now be visually as inspiring as its Clare Burren cousin, the Poulnabrone Dolmen, it is every bit as cute.

30. Carlow - Brownshill Dolmen

Brownshill Dolmen
1. A megalithic tomb with a large horizontal stone laid on upright ones.
Idiot’s guide to building a dolmen
Step 1: Gather a number of boulders (not to be mixed up with rocks) and stand them close to each other to make what will be the legs.
Step 2: Gather a really big boulder and with a few mates, rest it on top of the legs to form a capstone.
Idiot’s guide to building Brownshill Dolmen
Step 1: Gather a number of boulders (not to be mixed up with rocks) and stand them close to each other to make what will be the legs.
Step 2: Gather the biggest feckin’ boulder you’ve ever seen and with every man, woman and child in the community, place it on top of the legs to form the mother of all capstones!
While Brownshill Dolmen (or the Kernanstown Cromlech as it’s sometimes known) may not be as immediately recognisable or as stately as the likes of Poulnabrone Dolmen in County Clare, it is every bit as fascinating. Beautiful in that ‘only his mother could love him’ sort of way, Brownshill Dolmen is the colossus of Irish portal tombs – or any portal tombs for that matter. What makes Brownshill unique is its capstone, which, at over 103 metric tonnes, is the heaviest capstone in Europe.
Visiting Brownshill Dolmen often leaves a tourist with two questions. The first: where on earth do you find a 103-tonne boulder? It’s not usually something you dig out of your back garden with a stick. The second: how on earth did a group of farmers about 5,000 or 6,000 years ago find the time and ability to lift a 103-tonne capstone – a weight roughly similar to that of a Boeing 757?! Whatever the answers, I just really hope they kept their backs straight and bent their knees while they were doing it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

31. Antrim - The Giant's Causeway

The story goes that Irish giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Scottish giant Benandonner were having a spat over social media or something when Benandonner challenged Fionn to a fight, to which Fionn agreed.
However, as Benandonner was travelling across from Scotland on the causeway that is supposed to have joined both countries in those days, Fionn realised that Benandonner was a lot bigger than his profile picture had led him to believe and that he was in over his head. Thinking quickly, Fionn climbed into a cradle and persuaded his wife Oonagh to disguise him as a baby. When Benandonner arrived, he was first introduced to Fionn’s ‘baby son’.
Benandonner, being all brawn and less brain, realised that if this was the size of Fionn’s baby, then Fionn must be absolutely massive! Offering his condolences to Oonagh on what obviously must have been a tough pregnancy, he ran off, destroying the causeway behind him.
And that is how the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, whose strange hexagonal shape have made them one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions and one of our few UNESCO-listed sites, became known as the Giant’s Causeway.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

32. Armagh - Navan Centre and Fort

Not to be confused with Navan Shopping Centre in County Meath, Navan Centre and Fort in Armagh is one of Ireland’s most famous archaeological sites, where myth and reality meet.
Located in the heart of the county, Navan Centre and Fort was one of the great royal sites of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland and the capital of the ancient province of Ulaid. The history of Navan Fort is a veritable Who’s Who of Irish myths and legends with the likes of Cú Chulainn, King Conchobar MacNessa, Queen Mebh, Deirdre of the Sorrows and teenage heart-throbs the Red Branch Warriors all hanging around the fort at various points in its history.
Nowadays, an interpretive centre on the site of Navan Centre and Fort offers visitors a unique interpretation of this history with exhibitions packed full of facts and fables, artefacts and activities, as well as recreations of many of the dwellings of the time along with demonstrations of their old ways of weaving, cooking and farming. So much effort has gone in to recreate the exact ancient experience, the only real criticism you could make is that the Fort doesn’t have the severed heads of enemies hanging from its walls.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

And on the 32nd day of Christmas my true love said to me...

…let’s go visit Leitrim, where do we start?

So in the lead up to the festive season, which officially begun with the release of the annual John Lewis advert that is good but not as good as the Lidl one (just sayin’) we here at Irishography HQ are releasing some brand new content from our own latest release, Irishography – Connemara, Croagh Patrick, Coppers and Everywhere Else We Love in Ireland available in all good book-shops and also here

For those who missed it, the book is a light-hearted and humorous guide to all 32 counties of Ireland, yes, even Longford! With 160 entries, five for every country on this fair isle it jam-packed with places to discover, visit and learn about. Every day I will release one entry per county to give a taste of how great each place is and to warn you that if you don’t buy the book the other county entries will get it!