If you have ever wondered what is Ireland known for or famous for, then here you will find the ultimate list of famous things in Ireland and what the Irish people are known for all over the world. You will find interesting facts about Ireland, about famous Irish people, and might even get an idea of the best places to visit in Ireland and what to do in Ireland. So why don’t you just take this list as a travel inspiration to visit Ireland soon? The Emerald Isle is waiting for you!
Here is one interesting fact: Nope, not everyone in Ireland is a redhead. Only approximately 10% of all Irish people have red hair. Yet, according to some statistics, this is the highest percentage in the world.
The iconic black and white pint of Guinness stout is possibly the most recognisable Irish brand in the world, thanks to its worldwide popularity and excellent marketing strategies.
When Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease in 1759 for the St. James’s Gate premises in Dublin, he was aiming for great things. But even in his wildest dreams, he could not have imagined the extent and far reaching effect that Guinness would have worldwide. To put that in context, roughly 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed each day!
Guinness is still brewed today at the St. James’s Gate Brewery on the banks of the River Liffey in Dublin. While it is not possible to have a guided tour of the brewery itself, you can visit the Guinness Storehouse, which just happens to be Ireland’s most visited tourist attraction. At the Guinness Storehouse, you learn all about the history of Guinness, how it is produced and even have the opportunity to pull your own pint at the Guinness Academy. Btw: Did you know that the harp on the specially designed Guinness glasses acts as a marker in the two-step pour process ensuring that each pint of the “Black stuff” is perfectly poured?
Interestingly, there is a long story to the symbol of the Irish harp. In the mid-19th century, Guinness was the first to register the harp as trademark. When the Irish State wanted to register the harp as the state emblem, it ran into difficulty. That is why you will only see the Guinness harp facing right (flat board side on the left) and the Irish State harp emblem facing left (flat board side on the right). Just check out any Irish Euro coins to see!
Guinness has also become a household name through its famous Guinness World Records, which was originally designed to settle pub arguments! The Guinness Book of Records (as it was known then), was first published in 1954 and immediately became a bestseller.
2. St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day, the national holiday of Ireland, falls on March 17th and is celebrated as both a religious and cultural event. Traditionally, this feast day was to mark the memory of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to the island in the 5th century. As a boy, he was captured by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave to shepherd sheep. After about six years he managed to escape and returned home to Britain, but later decided to travel to Ireland once again and bring Christianity to the land.
Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with parades of technicolor floats, marching bands and lots more not only in Ireland, but also in the United States and many other countries around the world. There are roughly 80 million people world-wide who claim to have Irish heritage and many of them use this day to celebrate Irish culture. In Ireland, the largest parade takes place in Dublin City and is part of the St. Patrick’s Day Festival which runs over a few days.
The most appropriate day of the year for people to wear green, is of course St. Patrick’s Day! Legend has it that the green “shamrock” was used as a tool to help St. Patrick to demonstrate the Christian Holy Trinity. This is why people wear sprigs of green, leafy decorations on St. Patrick’s Day.
However, from a botanical point of view, there is no individual plant called shamrock. What most people consider to be “shamrock” is likely to be young clover (Trifolium dubium) or even wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella). Regardless, the tradition of Irish political leaders giving gifts of crystal bowls of “shamrock” to the President of the United States and other world dignitaries continues each year!
3. World-Class Literature:
James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, W. B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Maeve Binchy, Cecelia Ahern
Ireland definitely has its name firmly on the world stage when it comes to literature. Since 2010, Dublin has been designated as a UNESCO City of Literature and boasts four Nobel laureates in literature (W. B. Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Seamus Heaney (1995)). Not bad for such a small country on the edge of Europe. And I guess you can say that there is some truth about the Irish being good storytellers!
James Joyce is one of the best known and his name will ring a bell with many for his masterpiece “Ulysses”, which details the lives of several characters on a single day in June 1904. Each year on June 16th, Bloomsday, Dublin comes alive with people in costume dress reenacting scenes from this book.
Other famous Irish writers include the witty and flamboyant Oscar Wilde known for his short stories, plays and novels (e.g. “The Picture of Dorian Gray”), Bram Stoker who captured imaginations with “Dracula”, Jonathan Swift for his creative “Gulliver’s Travels”, Maeve Binchy for her take on life in Ireland in novels such as “Circle of Friends” and “Copper Beech”, Sebastian Barry for his award winning fiction including “The Secret Scripture”, Frank McCourt’s heartbreaking “Angela’s Ashes”, Roddy Doyle with his funny “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” and Cecelia Ahern whose novel “P.S. I love you” became an international bestseller to mention just a few! Btw: You could easily continue this list of great Irish writers… Anne Enright, Brendan Behan, William Trevor, J. M. Synge, Tana French, John Banville, Hugo Hamilton…
While authors from the 19th and 20th century are most famous and known, Ireland has a rich history of literature and book crafts dating back centuries. It is worth mentioning that the Book of Kells, dating from the 8th or 9th century, is an exquisite example of the impressive craftsmanship involved in the illumination of the four Gospels.
4. Irish Pubs
While you may not encounter many Irish restaurants world wide, you definitely will find Irish pubs! However, it is worth remembering that although you can visit Irish pubs all over the world, you will have to come to Ireland to sample the real thing. Visiting Irish pubs in Ireland is definitely one of these things to do in Ireland that you have to try. The easy-going atmosphere, craic (fun) and lively banter in an original traditional Irish pub is completely unique and will leave you craving for more. Conversations with strangers flow easily over the lively traditional Irish music.
If you are lucky, you might even get the chance to join in some traditional céilí dancing! Check out the pubs in County Clare on the Wild Atlantic Way for some of the best music. Next to different sorts of Irish beer, often you can also taste the Irish cuisine in Irish pubs. By the way: According the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest pub in Ireland is Sean’s Bar in Athlone.
5. Irish Castles
Dotted around Ireland’s landscape are hundreds of castles and some of them are included in the top Ireland tourist attractions. Arguably, Blarney Castle with its famous Blarney Stone has one of the most internationally recognizable names. An Irish legend has it that when you kiss this particular stone you gain the gift of eloquence.
Many Irish castles are in ruins and only with imagination can you get a sense of the grandeur and importance that these historic fortresses once held (Dunamase Castle in County Laois is a fine example of this). Other castles, such as the castle hotels of Ashford Castle in County Mayo and Lough Eske Castle in County Donegal are truly fit for modern day kings (and offer guests luxurious stays in magnificent surroundings).
The strategic, and often very scenic, locations of many of Irish castles set them apart. Just think of Ross Castle on the banks of the Lakes of Killarney or Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland, which is literally perched on a clifftop. Cahir Castle is one of my favourites, as it not only offers a great tour, but is also very well preserved and has a working drawbridge gate (portcullis) and moat. There are lots of other castles that are also worth visiting such as the 15th century historic Bunratty Castle in Co. Clare (with 19th century Folk Park) or if sampling a medieval banquet tickles your fancy then stop by Dunguaire Castle, County Galway.
Other great castles are Kilkenny Castle, Trim Castle (County Meath), Ballynahinch Castle (County Galway), Leap Castle (County Offaly), Tullynally Castle (County Westmeath) and Dunguaire Castle (County Galway).
GAA, Rugby and Horse Racing
Ireland has a very proud sporting tradition, particularly when it comes to its native Gaelic games.
GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) is a sporting organisation that primarily promotes Gaelic sports including camogie, hurling, and mens and ladies Gaelic football, but also focuses on Irish culture, such as music and dance. This amateur sporting organization is popular in Ireland as well as with Irish diaspora abroad and thus has more than 500,000 members worldwide. Each year, all of the 32 counties on the island of Ireland battle each other for the glory of winning the All Ireland Final in camogie, hurling, and ladies and mens gaelic football. The All Ireland Finals, which are held in Croke Park, Dublin, in September every year, are some of the biggest sporting fixtures in the Irish calendar year.
In recent years, Irish rugby has surged in popularity and before a big match the whole country seems to gain a particular buzz. Ireland has won the annual Six Nations Championship, which takes place between Scotland, France, England, Wales, Italy and Ireland, 14 times in total. Three of these are even grand slams (1948, 2009 and 2018). A grand slam means that a team has not lost a single game in the tournament.
Ireland is a major player on the international horse racing scene as well and has a long tradition of producing excellent thoroughbred horses for horse racing. In Ireland, horse racing is a much enjoyed spectator sport with numerous race meetings and festivals taking place across the country on an annual basis.
The Curragh Racecourse in County Kildare is one of the best known flat racecourses (without obstacles or jumps for the horses) and is where the five Irish Classics (Irish 1,000 Guineas, Irish 2,000 Guineas, Irish Derby, Irish Oaks and Irish St. Ledger) take place.
National hunt racing, in which the horses must jump over obstacles such as hurdles or fences, originates from Ireland. Punchestown Irish National Hunt Festival usually takes place in April and is one main of the highlights in the Irish racing year.
Traditional Irish music, U2, Sinéad O’Connor, The Cranberries, Van Morrison, Enya, Boyzone, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, Eurovision Song Contest and Riverdance
For a small island, with a population of roughly 5 million, Ireland has produced some astounding homegrown music talent. Credit must be given to The Dubliners and The Chieftains for their respective roles in popularizing Irish music on an international stage over the last few decades. Btw: this kind of traditional irish music or Irish folk can be heard almost anywhere in Ireland, for example in a good Irish pub.
Ireland has also dominated charts with popular music from the likes of the massively successful band U2, the unforgettable Sinéad O’Connor, the unique voice of the late singer Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, the songwriting genius “Van The Man” Van Morrison, Enya’s haunting melodies, Boyzone’s boy band pop songs, the Dublin hard-rock band Thin Lizzy or the greatest guitarist in the world (according to Jimi Hendrix), Rory Gallagher.
The Eurovision Song Contest has changed a lot since the early 1990s when Ireland dominated the winner board for four out of five years. In total, Ireland won the Eurovision seven times since the show began in 1956 and come first in the eternal ranking list of this competition.
One of the most successful acts to ever come out of the Eurovision was the interval act of the 1994 Eurovision: Riverdance. The groundbreaking performance of Irish dancing and music went on to be a global phenomenon and is still being performed today.
8. Irish Whiskey
The word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, which means “the water of life”. And it has certainly been the water of life for many generations in Ireland, as the oldest known document mentioning whiskey, the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise, dates back to 1405. Technically, Irish whiskey thus beats Scotch, at least when it comes to age.
Apart from the century old rivalry between the Irish and the Scottish, there is more than just an “e” that distinguishes Irish whiskey from Scottish whisky. The Scottish distillers only use malted barley (when grain that has been soaked for some days, begins to sprout) in the pot still phase, whereas the Irish may also use a mix of malted and unmalted barley.
Nowadays, there are a variety of Irish whiskeys on the market:
-Single Malt Irish Whiskey, which is completely from malted barley distilled in one pot still within one distillery. Bushmills’ 10, 12, 16 or 21 year old single malt whiskey, Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey, Connemara Peated Malt (Regular, Cask Strength and 12 years) or Tullamore Dew Single Malt are perfect examples of this.
-Single Pot Still Whiskey is created by a mix of malted and unmalted barley distilled in one pot still within a particular distillery. Green Spot, Powers Gold or Redbreast are fine examples for single pot still whiskey.
-Blended Irish Whiskey is a mix of the above mentioned styles. Examples are Black Bush, Jameson and Writers Tears.
-Single Grain Whiskey is distilled from a column or Coffey still, not a pot still. Teeling’s Single Grain is a great example of this type of spirit.
By the way, if you happen to travel to Ireland, then make sure to visit some of the fabulous distilleries first hand. As of 2019, there are 25 Irish whiskey distilleries in operation. Some of the newer ones include Slane Distillery (est. 2018) or Ballykeefe Distillery (est. 2017). The distillery with the worldwide oldest licence to distil whiskey (from 1608!) is the Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland.
Some of the best whiskey tour experiences can be found at the Teeling Distillery, which is a Dublin Liberties Distillery, and at the Old Midleton Distillery in County Cork, where you can see Jameson being distilled first hand. In some of the distilleries, you may even be able to taste other spirits such as whiskey liqueur, vodka or gin (for example in the Dingle Distillery).
You see, there is something for (almost) everybody, who would love to sample a drop of the pure, as the Irish like to say. If you want to be inspired by the fascinating history of Irish whiskey, I recommend listening to the podcast “A Story of Irish Whiskey”.