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 later 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.
5. Never go out for a weekend night out wearing the wrong colours.
Now, I’m not talking about dressing for the Artic-like weather conditions that Ireland is plagued with for three-hundred and eighty-five days of the year —yes I know, we have a few extra days in Ireland, and we’re slow learners — I’m talking about wearing the correct team colours. Irish people love their sport and are immensely proud of both their local and national sporting teams.
If you really want to be accepted in Ireland, join in the tribal celebrations of sport. In Limerick, if the Munster Rugby Team are playing or Kilkenny and Tipperary on hurling championship days. Every town, city, and county has its teams, find out who they are and invest in a vest.
4. Never go looking for Leprechauns.
Leprechauns have been grossly misrepresented by Hollywood. They are not the sweet and jovial little people that have been depicted in countless films. Believe me they can be nasty, especially if disturbed while burying their pot of gold. Be very aware of unscrupulous strangers who might approach you in the street and offer to sell you a Leprechaun to take home with you.
Yes while the Leprechaun might be the genuine article, Ireland has very strict controls which prohibit the unlicensed export of The Little People. You’ll never get them past customs and this results in hundreds of abandoned Leprechauns roaming the streets and again falling prey to the unscrupulous dealers and the whole pattern repeats itself.
The foregoing are only some of the dos and don’ts you should be aware of if planning a trip to our lovely little island. When you do come and visit, enjoy yourself and remember to bring an umbrella.
3. Never ever refer to Ireland as being part of the British Isles.
While technically speaking we are, it’s not something we’d write home about. We have a funny old relationship with our nearest neighbours England. We speak their language, granted with our own particular twist to it. We watch their soaps on TV. We religiously follow their football teams and in all honesty, we built most of their motorways and infrastructure.
But that’s as far as it goes, we’re a bit like cousins — we tolerate each other as long as we don’t meet that often. There were plans at one stage to move the island of Ireland a bit more to the west, halfway out in the Atlantic and a bit closer to America, but they never really got past the drawing board stage.
2. Don’t debate with taxi drivers.
Not many people know this, but all Irish taxi drivers hold doctorates in philosophy, economics, and political science. Therefore are an expert in every academic subject that you can think of.
This is grand in theory but the problem is that they all also suffer from a rare genetic disorder which compels them to voice their opinion on every subject under the sun.
If you are fortunate enough to find a taxi, just sit back, listen to the inevitable lecture and relax. Better still bring ear plugs, but whatever you do, for God’s sake don’t engage; it’s never worth it.
1. Never say you’re 100% Irish.
We’ll only laugh at you. Seriously even if your great-grandfather and great-grandmother came from a few hundred yards up the road, if you were born in the USA or Australia you can’t be one-hundred percent Irish.
Even the Irish don’t admit to being one-hundred percent, Irish. Come to think about it, no one in their right mind would.