Irish culture has many different meanings. There is no set definition of Irish culture but there are a few symbols which are unique to Ireland. Ireland is often called the ‘land of saints and scholars’ referring to the golden age of monastic learning, or ‘the emerald isle’ referring to the green landscape.
The flag was first introduced by Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848 who based it on the French tricolour. However, it was not until after the Easter Rising of 1916, when it was raised above the General Post Office in Dublin, that the tricolour came to be regarded as the national flag. The flag was adopted in 1919 by the Irish Republic during its war of independence and subsequently by the Irish Free State. It was given constitutional status under the 1937 Constitution, which established the Republic of Ireland.
The green section in the flag symbolises the older majority Gaelic tradition of Ireland, made up mainly of Roman Catholics. The orange represents the mainly Protestant minority. The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the two cultures and living together in peace.
Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Constitution of Ireland, is the basic law of Ireland. No law can be passed which does not agree with it. The Constitution can be changed only by a referendum in which every citizen of Ireland, over the age of 18, is entitled to vote. The Constitution was passed in a referendum on the 1st July 1937. The Constitution is available in English and Irish at: www.constitution.ie
Amhrán na bhFiann or The Soldier’s Song is the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland. The anthem was written in English by Peadar Kearney in 1907, and the Irish lyrics, were written by Liam Ó Rinn. The song became the official state anthem in 1926.
The song is regarded by some nationalists as the national anthem of the whole of Ireland, and it is therefore sung, for example, at Gaelic Athletic Association matches held anywhere on the island. The anthem consists of 3 verses and a chorus but generally only the chorus is sung.
Some Unionists however, reject this use of Amhrán na bhFiann, and at international games played by teams that represent both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland the song Ireland’s Call is sung instead of, or as well as, Amhrán na bhFiann.
Click here to read the lyrics of the song
An unofficial anthem which is sung at many sporting events is The Fields of Athenry. It tells the story of a man who is convicted of stealing food during the Great Famine who is convicted and transported to Australia.
Click here to read the lyrics of the song
The harp is a symbol of the Irish State. It is used by Government Departments and Offices. It also appears on all Irish coins. The harp is engraved on the seal of office of the President and it is also on the flag of the President of Ireland.
For more information on the flag, constitution, anthem and symbol of Ireland go to www.taoiseach.gov.ie.
March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day and it is the National Holiday in Ireland. St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and March 17th is the date that St. Patrick is said to have died. St. Patrick’s Day parades are held in most towns in Ireland and in a number of countries throughout the world to celebrate the national holiday. Many people wear a plant called ‘shamrock’ on St. Patrick’s Day. It is an unofficial but perhaps more recognised symbol of Ireland. It is said that St. Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to explain the Christian concept of the Trinity.
Popular culture in Ireland is very similar to many other Western countries in terms of TV, cinema and popular music and literature. However, one aspect of popular culture in Ireland that makes it somewhat different to other cultures is pub culture.
The term ‘pub’ refers to a ‘public house’ or bar. While there is a recognised issue of over-consumption of alcohol in Ireland, pub culture is about more than just drinking. Typically pubs are important meeting places, where people can gather and meet their neighbours and friends in a relaxed atmosphere. The character of pubs varies widely according to the customers they serve, and the area they are in. Since 2004 it is illegal to smoke in an enclosed place of work in Ireland, including pubs.
Many Irish people view themselves and others in terms of what part of Ireland they are from. Ireland is divided into 32 counties. This is most evident during inter-county GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) matches, where fans dress in the specific colours of their county. The Republic of Ireland consists of 26 counties, and Northern Ireland of six. It is also traditionally divided into the four provinces of Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. Ulster contains 9 counties, 6 of which are in Northern Ireland and 3 of which are in the Republic of Ireland.
A few important points about Ireland’s geography
Traditionally Irish society has been one of emigration. For hundreds of years more Irish people left Ireland than immigrated to Ireland. The most notable periods of emigration were following the famine in 1845 and more recently in the 1950s and 1980s when large numbers of Irish emigrated to look for a better life. This has changed since the late 1990s when the economy of Ireland improved dramatically. Since then many people have immigrated to Ireland. The Census in 2006 estimated that 1 in 10 people in Ireland were not Irish citizens; this figure included a significant proportion of UK citizens.
Although emigration has been a constant feature of Irish society, the late 1990s also saw a trend of Irish emigrants returning home to live in Ireland. Many millions of people around the world particularly in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand claim Irish ancestry. For many generations most Irish people have had family that live in other countries, something that is now also characteristic of immigrants to Ireland.
Like any other country there are customs and traditions which are particular to Ireland.
Irish people have the reputation of being very friendly. Generally people will shake hands when they meet for the first time. Friends will hug or just say hello. Sometimes people will kiss on the cheek if they know each other well. People generally make eye contact because it is a sign of trust and that you are interested in what they are saying.
Sometimes it may seem as if time keeping is not very important in Ireland. Generally when someone arranges to meet you at 8pm this will usually mean 8.15pm or later. Irish people, in general, are very relaxed about time.
People will generally say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, for example, when getting off a bus most people will thank the bus driver.
People also usually queue in line and wait their turn, for example, in a shop.
Travellers are an indigenous group who have been part of Irish society for centuries. Travellers have distinct cultural values and traditions as well as their own language, Cant. Historically, Travellers played a role as bearers of culture including music and storytelling. There are approximately 25,000 Travellers in Ireland with many others along with their descendents living in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Traditionally, Travellers lived by the road side and moved from place to place. Travellers are involved in scrap metal recycling, market trading and horse dealing. Gradually a number of Travellers settled in housing estates but many more continue to live a nomadic life. In 2002 the Irish government made camping on public or private grounds a criminal offence which has impacted on Traveller life.
Travellers have and continue to experience a high level of prejudice and discrimination in Irish society. There are a number of Traveller organisations who campaign for Travellers’ rights in Ireland:
Crosscare Traveller Inclusion
Red House, Clonliffe Road, Dublin 3
Telephone: 01 8360011
There are four main television channels in Ireland: RTE1, RTE2, TV3 and TG4 (Irish language).
There are a number of national radio stations including:
RTE Radio 1, 2FM, Lyric FM, Newstalk, Today FM.
There are 3 national broadsheet papers:
The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner
Ireland Chinese News
The following meals are considered to be traditionally Irish:
A House was a band from the 1980s and 1990s. They are best known for their single ‘Endless Art’.
Aslan is a very popular Irish rock band.
Brendan Behan was an Irish poet, writer and playwright.
Blarney Stone – If you kiss the Blarney Stone you will get ‘the gift of the gab (talk)’.
Bodhrán is an Irish frame drum made from goatskin played with the hand or with a piece of wood called a ‘tipper’.
Bosco was a popular children’s puppet in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He had red hair and wore a green and white striped shirt and lived in a yellow box.
Boyzone is the original Irish boyband.
The Brown Bull of Cooley tells the story of Queen Maeve and her husband Ailill. Ailill owned the White Bull of Connaght so Maeve stole the Brown Bull of Cooley.
Gay Byrne is one of the most recognised faces on Irish television. He presented the Late Late Show and is now chairperson of the Road Safety Authority.
Céilí is a social gathering for dancing. Popular Irish dances include: The Walls of Limerick, Siege of Ennis
The Children of Lir is an Irish legend about Lir who had four children, Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn who were turned into swans by their stepmother. The spell was only broken when they heard the bell of a new God toll in their country.
Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring which is worn as a sign of love or friendship. The design consists of a pair of hands holding a heart with a crown on it.
Michael Collins was a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising and a very important figure in the War of Independence. He signed the Treaty which created the Irish Free State and enabled Northern Ireland to become a part of the United Kingdom.
The Corrs are a band made up of three sisters and one brother from Dundalk, Co. Louth.
The Cranberries were a popular band from Limerick in the 1990s.
Cúchulainn, originally called Setanta, is an Irish mythical figure who got his name when he hit a ball into Culann’s guard dog’s mouth.
Deirdre of the Sorrows is the most tragic character in Irish mythology. When she was born druids foresaw that she would cause great tragedy and heartache.
Roddy Doyle is a well known writer from Dublin. Many of his books have been made into films, for example, The Commitments.
Dracula is a novel written in 1897 by the Irish author Bram Stoker.
The Dubliners are an Irish folk band which formed in 1962.
Dustin is a popular children’s puppet who first appeared on The Den and went on to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Enya is a singer and composer from Co. Donegal.
Eurovision Song Contest: Ireland has won the Eurovision Song Contest more than any other country.
Fair City is a soap opera set in a Dublin suburb and has been broadcast since 1989.
Father Ted was a television comedy programme about three priests and their housekeeper who live on Craggy Island off the coast of Ireland.
Glenroe was a television drama series set in rural Ireland and was broadcast from 1983 to 2001.
Granuaile or Grace O’Malley was a seafarer and rebel in 16th century Ireland. She was notorious for her leadership on land and on the sea.
Horse training and racing have very important roles in Irish life. The Dublin Horse Show is an annual event which is one of the world’s top international equestrian events: www.dublinhorseshow.com. Horse racing is a popular pastime and many people enjoy betting on the races. Ireland produces some of the world’s greatest racing horses.
Irish coffee consists of hot coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and cream.
James Joyce is an Irish writer and Nobel Laureate best known for his novel, Ulysses: www.jamesjoyce.ie
Patrick Kavanagh was an Irish poet and novelist. Tarry Flynn is one of his best known novels.
Book of Kells is the most famous illustrated manuscript which was created by monks in Ireland. It is located at Trinity College in Dublin.
Pat Kenny is a well known radio and television broadcaster. He presented Kenny Live and the Late Late Show.
Late Late Show is the longest running talk show in the world. It was first broadcast in 1962 and has been presented by four people: Gay Byrne, Frank Hall, Pat Kenny and Ryan Tubridy.
Matchmaking was a popular way of finding a husband or wife. Professional matchmakers arranged marriages in traditional Ireland. Every September and October a matchmaking festival takes place in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare.
Molly Malone was a Dublin fishmonger. There is a statue of her outside Trinity College, Dublin.
Christy Moore is a popular folk singer and songwriter.
Nobel Prize Winners: Ten people have won a Nobel prize for Ireland. Four for literature: William Butler Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Seamus Heaney (1995), one for physics: Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton (1951) and five for Peace: Sean MacBride (1974), Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams (1976) and John Hume and David Trimble (1998).
Olympic medals: Ireland has won 8 gold medals, 8 silver medals and 10 bronze medals in the Summer Olympic Games.
Paralympic medals: Ireland has won 50 gold medals in the Paralympic Games
Peig Sayers was an author and seanachaí (story teller). She lived on the Blasket Islands off Co. Kerry. She dictated her autobiography to her son because she was illiterate. It is one of the most read pieces of Irish literature.
Poitín is a drink distilled from potatoes or malted barley. It is one of the strongest alcoholic drinks in the world.
Pope’s visit: Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979 drawing huge crowds to see him.
Questions and Answers was a popular debate programme broadcast on RTE where panellists discussed current affairs and topical issues.
The Quiet Man is a film starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara about an Irish-American who comes to Ireland to take back his family’s farm.
The Riordans was Ireland’s first rural soap opera. It was broadcast from 1965 to 1979. The series was ground breaking because it used outside broadcast cameras on a real farm.
Riverdance was one of the highlights of Eurovision 1994. It became a global success.
The Salmon of Knowledge was a magical fish. Legend goes that the first person to taste the salmon would be the wisest person in Ireland.
Scrap Saturday was a radio sketch show in the late 1980s and early 1990s which made fun of politicians and other public figures.
Something Happens was an Irish pop-rock band in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Tir na nÓg is the land of eternal youth in Celtic mythology.
Tolka Row was Ireland’s first soap opera which was broadcast from 1964 to 1968.
U2 are one of the most popular bands in the world.
Van Morrison is a Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, author, poet and multi-instrumentalist. He has written over 150 songs.
Eamon De Valera is an important political figure in Ireland. He founded the Fianna Fáil party and he was Taoiseach and President of Ireland of Ireland.
Westlife is an Irish boyband.
Whiskey or Uisce Beatha (meaning water of life) is an alcoholic drink made in Ireland.
Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet, playwright and author. His most famous work is The Importance of Being Earnest.
Ireland reached its first football World Cup in 1990 in Italy and went all the way to the quarter finals.
Xmas is another spelling of Christmas. Ireland was once a very religious society but Christmas has become a commercial rather than a religious event in recent times.
William Butler Yeats is probably Ireland’s best known poet and a founder of the Abbey Theatre.
Zig and Zag are puppets from the planet Zog who first appeared on Irish television in 1987. Zig is beige and Zag is purple with green spots. They have a dog called Zuppy who is blue.
This project is co-financed by the European Commission under the European Integration Fund and is supported by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration in the Dept of Justice & Equality & Pobal.