How much do you know about the history, the culture and the people of the Emerald Isle? Here are 10 Strange Facts About Ireland that you might not have known.
Ireland has a rich history and culture that most of us learn about from an early age. The Irish people potentially have a history that spans back as far as 12,000 years ago, when the first evidence of human life was found in some remains in Ireland. From all the way back then to today, Irish folklore, traditions, language and society have developed to form the Ireland we know today.
Ireland is the birthplace of many internationally recognised traditions and symbols, such as St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness and the shamrock, which constitute a big part of how others view the country. However, there are many things about Ireland that aren’t widely known, such as the meaning of the Irish flag or the country’s official national symbol. Want to find out more about the Emerald Isle? Here are 10 Strange Facts About Ireland that we bet you never knew:
Most Irish people don’t speak the first language of Ireland.
The majority of the Irish population speak English as their first language, although officially, English is the second language of Ireland. The first language of Ireland is Gaeilge (Irish), which was the dominant language of the country until around the 18th century. Since then, certain factors such as the British rule of Ireland and the Catholic Church’s preference for English pushed Gaeilge back to become a minority language.
Currently, around 40% of Irish people say they can speak Gaeilge, but only 2% say they speak Gaeilge on a daily basis, outside of an educational setting.
The Irish flag took some inspiration from the French flag.
Like the French ‘Tricolore’ flag, the flag of the Republic of Ireland has 3 block colours in vertical stripes, although the Irish flag uses green, white and orange, as opposed to the French blue, white and red. The reason for the similarity between the flags of the two nations is due to the fact that the modern Irish flag was designed by a group of French women who supported the Irish Nationalist Movement.
The colours of the flag are symbolic of the people of Ireland. The white in the middle of the flag is said to represent the truce between the Protestants of Ireland, symbolised by orange, and Catholics of Ireland, symbolised by green.
Europe’s longest-running TV show comes from Ireland.
The Late Late Show is considered the flagship TV show for Ireland’s public broadcast service RTÉ. It’s a late-night talk show that airs live on Friday nights for 2 hours, usually between May and September. It originally started airing in 1962 and has been continued ever since, making it the second longest-running evening talk show in the world, after the American programme The Tonight Show. This also makes it Europe’s longest-running TV show, cementing Ireland as a pioneer of modern television.
Halloween originated in Ireland.
With Halloween as an incredibly popular event that people celebrate around the globe, this one may seem difficult to believe, but it’s actually true! Halloween as we know it today is very different from its roots, but some of the fundamentals of the celebration are the same. The celebration that Halloween is based on is called Samhain, which is an ancient festival that was celebrated by the Celtic people. The name translates to mean ‘darker-half’ which is symbolic of the purpose of the celebration: to welcome the beginning of winter.
You can see similarities between Samhain and Halloween in the way that people would mark these events. For Samhain, people would light bonfires and dress in spooky costumes in order to scare away evil spirits and disguise themselves for protection. Sound familiar?
There’s an Irish festival that crowns a goat king each year.
The Puck Fair is an old festival that takes place every year in County Kerry between the 10th and 12th of August. The fair is said to be ancient, although there are only records of it as far back as the 1600s. The origins of the Puck Fair are unknown, but one story says that the fair honours a goat who broke from its herd to warn the inhabitants of Killorglin in County Kerry that the ‘Roundheads’ were on their way to pillage the town.
Every year, those who celebrate the fair trek into the mountains to catch a wild goat. They bring the goat back to the fair, where he’s crowned as ‘King Puck’ by the ‘Queen of Puck’, who is usually a local schoolgirl. After the 3 days of the fair are over, the goat is taken back into the mountains and released.
There have never been any snakes living in Ireland.
Most of us know that you won’t find snakes living on the island of Ireland. In fact, there’s a whole story explaining the absence of snakes in Ireland, as St. Patrick drove them away to protect the Irish people. More recently, though, we have evidence to suggest that this may not be the reason for the lack of snakes. Archaeologists are yet to find any remains of snakes in Ireland, nor are they surprised by this. At the time that snakes were said to roam the island, scientists estimate that the Irish climate would have been far too cold to be habitable for these cold-blooded reptiles.
The story of St. Patrick may have been more metaphorical than literal. In Christianity, the snake is a symbol of evil, so the snakes that the patron saint drove away from Ireland might not have been reptiles, but rather non-Christian people.
There’s an Irish island that’s home to wallabies.
Lambay Island is a relatively small 600-acre island that lies just off the East coast of Ireland in County Dublin. It’s a privately owned island that has a very small number of permanent residents. Visitors are occasionally welcomed to the island to see its natural beauty, as well as the unusual attraction of a wild population of wallabies. A small population of 8 wallabies were released on the island, which were a surplus from Dublin Zoo. Currently, it’s estimated that there are around 60 to 80 wallabies living on the island. We aren’t entirely sure what diet they live on, but they’ve been seen eating blackberry leaves, shrubs and even the hay that farmers have left out for their cattle.
There are more than 900 pubs in County Cork.
While you might assume that Dublin is home to the most pubs in Ireland, County Cork outnumbers Dublin’s pubs by far. With the most licenced premises of all the counties in Ireland, County Cork currently has 955 pubs, which is roughly equal to one pub for every 543 people. If we want to talk in terms of pubs per people, though, we have to look elsewhere. County Mayo only has 373 pubs, but this works out at around one pub per 323 people. That should be plenty of local pubs to go round!
The harp is Ireland’s national symbol.
We know what you might be thinking, but no, the shamrock isn’t actually the official national symbol of Ireland – it’s the harp. The Celtic harp, which the country’s symbol is based on, is a traditional instrument played by the ancient Celtic people of Ireland. The actual specific harp that the symbol is based on can be found in Trinity College Library in Dublin, and dates back as far as the 15th century. Ireland is the only country in the world to have a musical instrument as its official national symbol.
There are more Irish people outside of Ireland than in.
Currently, the population of the Republic of Ireland is just under 5 million people. However, it’s estimated that as many as 80 million people who live elsewhere in the world identify as Irish or have Irish roots or passports. A significant chunk of the Australian population claim to have Irish heritage, along with around 39 million Americans. Emigration from Ireland in previous centuries has scattered those with Irish roots all across the globe, many of whom still consider themselves to be Irish or of Irish heritage and connect to Irish culture.
We hope you enjoyed learning about these 10 Strange Facts About Ireland!