Ok, you’ve either decided to visit Ireland or it’s on your bucket list of places to visit. Congratulations, you’ve made a good choice. It’s a lovely little country, all on its own at the very edge of the world. We don’t bother anybody and very few bother us. We’re a friendly race of people, yes a bit quaint — some would say a bit odd. But we’re known all over the world as being a welcoming people; the land of a thousand welcomes. Also known as the Island of saints and scholars, Ireland has a rich culture and heritage, a complicated history, and the Irish love a good joke.
But as I said we have our little ways about us. So if you really really want to enjoy your visit there are a few things you should know. In this feature, journalist Ger Leddin takes a not too serious look at ten things the visitor to the Emerald Isle should never do or say — you wouldn’t want to annoy us now, would you?
10. Don’t drive on the wrong side of the road!
You’ve arrived at the airport or ferry port, whichever. You have picked up your hired car, put your luggage in the boot — you might call it the trunk, we don’t — and you suddenly notice that some idiot has put the steering wheel on the wrong side. They haven’t, you see in Ireland we drive on the left-hand side of the road — note; the left hand is the one you wear your wedding ring on, not the one you bless yourself with.
Don’t blame us, it wasn’t our idea. Actually, the blame lies with the French. You see years ago in France only the nobility were allowed to drive their carriages on the left-hand side of the road.
After the revolution and when Napoleon came to power, he decreed that everyone should drive on the right. The English not being too enamoured with Napoleon, gave him a not so diplomatic two finger salute and said: “you do what you want; we’re driving on the left.” At the time Ireland was under British rule — that’s another story — so we got stuck with the same system.
9. Don’t mention the civil war.
While this war ended nearly a hundred years ago and set brother against brother. It can still break out in pubs late at night as pints are downed. Don’t worry it never gets to the pitched-battle stage, more handbags at dawn, but as a visitor to the country, you’d be best to stay out of it. However, if you do get embroiled in hostilities, remember that peace will break out quickly if you start-up a sing-song.
8. Never forget to buy your round.
The Irish have a weird and funny relationship with alcohol. They use the round system, which basically means if someone buys you a drink you’re obligated to buy them one in return. This custom is taken quite seriously in Irish pubs, in point of fact the most defamatory comment one Irishman can say about another is, “That fella never buys his round.” This, as I said, is a sacrosanct rule. What normally happens is, and be forewarned, you’re sitting in an Irish pub sipping a pint — the Irish never drink half-pints.
An Irishman sits beside you and puts his talk on you, as they do. You offer to buy him a drink, he accepts. You both chat for a while, he buys you one and you chat some more. Now is the critical juncture, you’re enjoying the conversation, so you buy him “one more for the road.” He, of course, is then obligated to get you one in return. You reciprocate, twelve hours latter and you missed your flight, your wife has left you, you’ve forgotten your name but what the hell, you’ve made a new friend.
7. Don’t say you love Irish politicians.
There are certain parts of Dublin where the visitor shouldn’t go. While most of the city is exceptionally safe, the area around Leinster House, the Irish Parliament building, is notorious for a group of people most Irish dislike. Irish people refer to them as politicians. For the visitor to Ireland who wishes to make friends and influence people, try this simple trick — start every conversation with “bloody politicians look what they’ve done now.” Believe me, it works.
6. Never ever ask for directions in Kerry.
It’s a well-known fact that Kerry people can’t answer a straight question without asking another one. Seriously this is true, imagine the scene. There you are driving your rental car through the Kingdom of Kerry — yes that’s how they refer to the county, the jumped-up shower. You stop and ask for Directions to, let’s say Tralee. “And why would you want to go to Tralee?” is the reply you’ll receive. “‘Sur you’d be far better off going to Listowel, me brother has a guest house there and he’d put you up for a few nights, a lovely little spot, to be sure, to be sure.”
You insist on going on with your plans and availing of your pre-booked hotel in Tralee. The Kerry man reluctantly gives you directions, thirty minutes and twenty miles of bog roads latter you mysteriously arrive at the brother’s guesthouse in Listowel and end up spending a week there. Ah well, that’s the Kingdom for you, learn to live with it.