Irish culture has many different meanings. There are some 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.
To find out more about Irish music, culture, arts and heritage go to:
- Culture Ireland: www.cultureireland.ie
- Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht: www.chg.gov.ie
The Irish Flag
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 1 July 1937. The Constitution is available in English and Irish at: http://archive.constitution.ie/
The National Anthem
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.
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.
The national symbol
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.
The national holiday
March 17 is Saint Patrick’s Day and it is the national holiday in Ireland. Saint Patrick (St. Patrick) is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and March 17 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 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 wear the 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:
- Ireland’s highest mountain is Carrantuohill in County Kerry
- Ireland’s longest river is the Shannon
- Ireland’s largest lake is Lough Neagh in Ulster
Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is the largest amateur sports association in Ireland. The main aim of the organisation is to promote the Gaelic games of hurling, camogie, Gaelic football, handball and rounders. The most popular of these games are Gaelic football, hurling and camogie. There are approximately 2,500 GAA clubs in Ireland. For more information on the history of Gaelic games, the GAA, the rules of games go to: www.gaa.ie.
Irish society and migration
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.
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 migrants to Ireland.
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 descendants 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 were 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.
In 2017 Travellers were recognised as a distinct ethnic group in Ireland.
There are a number of Traveller organisations who campaign for Travellers’ rights in Ireland:
- Pavee Point: www.paveepoint.ie
- Irish Traveller Movement: www.itmtrav.ie
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.
Irish people will generally say ‘thank you’, for example, when getting off a bus most people will thank the bus driver.