Difference between revisions of "Ireland"
Revision as of 02:41, 12 February 2013
Ulster directs to here. For other places with this name, see Ulster (disambiguation)
Ireland (Irish: Éire) is an island in north-western Europe which has been divided politically since 1920. Most of the island is made up of Ireland (Irish: Éire), a.k.a. Republic of Ireland (Irish: Poblacht na hÉireann) . The remainder is Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
The island of Ireland historically consists of 32 counties, of which six, collectively known as Northern Ireland, have remained as part of the United Kingdom since the rest of Ireland gained independence in 1922. The name "Ireland" applies to the island as a whole, but in English is also the official name of the independent state (i.e., the 26 counties which are not part of the United Kingdom), since 1921.
Celtic tribes settled on the island in the 4th century B.C. Invasions by Norsemen that began in the late 8th century were finally ended when King Brian Boru defeated the Danes in 1014. Norman invasions began in the early 12th century and set in place Ireland's uneasy position within England's sphere of influence. The Act of Union of 1800 - in which Catholics, 90% of the Irish population, were excluded from Parliament - saw Ireland joining the United Kingdom. In the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century the subject of Irish home rule was a major debate within the British parliament. After several failed attempts, a Home Rule bill finally passed through parliament in 1914 though the start of the first world war saw its indefinite postponement due to heavily armed unionist opposition. A failed rebellion on Easter Monday in 1916, (after which 15 of the surrendered leaders were shot by firing squad and 1 hanged) showed a hint of things to come with years of war to follow, beginning with the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and continuing with the Irish Civil War (1922-1923).
Eventually a somewhat stable situation emerged with the independence of 26 of Ireland's counties known as the Irish Free State; the remaining six, located in the north of the country comprising two-thirds of the ancient province of Ulster, remained part of the United Kingdom — a status that has continued to the present day. In 1949 the Irish Free State became "Ireland" (a.k.a. the Republic of Ireland) and withdrew from the British Commonwealth.
Ireland's history post-partition has been marked with violence, a period known as "The Troubles", generally regarded as beginning in the late 1960s, which saw large scale confrontation between opposing paramilitary groups seeking to either keep Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom or bring it into the Republic of Ireland as well as with the security forces. The Troubles saw many ups and downs in intensity of fighting and on many occasions they even spread to terrorist attacks in Britain and continental Europe. Both the government of the UK and Ireland were opposed to all terrorist groups. A peace settlement known as the Good Friday Agreement was finally approved in 1998 and is currently being implemented. All signs point to this agreement holding steady.
Though a relatively poor country for much of the 20th century, Ireland joined the European Community in 1973 (at the same time as the United Kingdom). Between the mid 1990s and late 2000s, Ireland saw massive economic boom (called 'The Celtic Tiger'), becoming one of the richest countries in Europe. However, the global banking crisis and subsequent recession have hit Ireland hard, and high levels of unemployment have returned.
For cities in Northern Ireland, see the separate article.
Ireland is a member of the European Union, but not a member of the Schengen Area. Therefore, separate immigration controls are maintained. The following rules generally apply:
The Republic of Ireland is served by 4 international airports, Dublin (IATA: DUB), Shannon (IATA: SNN) in County Clare, Cork (IATA: ORK) and Ireland West, Knock (IATA: NOC) in County Mayo. Dublin, the 8th largest airport in Europe, is by far the largest and most connected airport, with flights to many cities in the US, Canada, the UK, continental Europe and the Middle East. Shannon, close to the city of Limerick, also has flights to the US, Canada, Middle East, the UK and Europe. Cork has flights to most UK destinations and a wide variety of European cities. It is easily accessed from any of the major European hubs, including all of the London airports. Knock Airport has daily scheduled flights to several UK cities, as well as various chartered flights to (mostly) holiday destinations in Europe.
The City of Derry Airport, and both Belfast airports (both the City and International) are within a relatively short distance from the North/South border, especially the former. (These three airports being located within Northern Ireland).
Ireland's two major airlines Aer Lingus  and Ryanair  are low cost carriers. This means that passengers will be charged for every extra including airport check-in (Ryanair only), checking in baggage, food onboard, etc. Ryanair also charge for the privilege of being one of the first to board the plane. Comprehensive listings of airlines flying directly into Ireland, along with destinations and timetables, can be found on the Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Knock airport websites. A regional service is also provided by Aer Arann  which provides domestic flights within Ireland and international flights mainly to and from the United Kingdom.
A Rail-Sail Scheme is also available, linking Stena Line  or Irish Ferries  Ferry companies with Train Companies in Great Britain and Ireland. They mainly operate from UK cities across the various Irish and British Rail Network via the Dublin-Holyhead, Rosslare-Fishguard and Rosslare-Pembroke sailing routes.
Eurolines  operate services to Great Britain and beyond in conjunction with Bus Eireann and National Express (Great Britain). Bus Éireann also operates frequent services to and from Eastern Europe, in particular Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Additional private travel options are available from Eirebus  who offer car and coach travel for individuals and group transfers.
Ireland is served by numerous services from Great Britain and France:
Numerous companies now act as agents for the various ferry companies much like Expedia and Travelocity act as agents for airlines allowing the comparison of various companies and routes. Three well known brands are Ferryonline , AFerry  and FerrySavers .
From Great Britain and Northern Ireland
However, despite the lack of border controls, be keenly aware that you must possess a valid Irish visa if required for your nationality, or you risk being deported for illegal presence in Ireland. It is not uncommon that the Irish police (An Garda Siochána) check passports at the border occasionally - especially when traveling by bus or train.
If you are flying with Ryanair  - into Ireland from the UK you must be in possession of passport or equivalent national identity card. Ryanair will not accept a driver's licence although Irish Immigration (GNIB) do.
There are many car hire companies in Ireland and you can pick up in the cities or at the airports, though it may cost more to pick up at an airport. Note that most Irish car hire agencies will not accept third party collision damage insurance coverage (for example with credit card) when you rent a car.
Conventional wisdom suggests renting (hiring) a car that is an automatic transmission model. This is because many roads in Ireland are narrow, requiring the driver's full attention, so an automatic transmission allows the driver to focus on the road instead of the machine. However, selecting a manual transmission (stickshift) model will allow the driver to select a smaller vehicle which better fits the small roads and saves gas (petrol) without a noticeable loss of power. In addition, roundabouts are more common in Ireland than in many other countries. Navigating roundabouts is easier with a stickshift because you downshift for extra power to speed up coming out of the turn. It should be noted that traffic already on the roundabout has right of way over traffic entering it, in contrast to 'traffic circles' sometimes employed in the US. If you are coming to Ireland for a holiday, there is always the option of hiring a chauffeur driven vehicle for the duration with a number of companies offering chauffeur tours including Kennedy & Carr Custom Travel , TSI , CIE Tours  and Lynott Tours .
Holidaying using your own wheels is a popular and very enjoyable experience in Ireland. As the weather can change very rapidly, having the benefit of shelter whilst you drive caught on quickly in this corner of Europe. Unlike most of the rest of Europe, numerous free sites are available throughout the country for those on campervan style excursions across Ireland. However, finding these sites is not always easy- they are not documented on the web yet, although if you arrive in an area early, a simple query at the local council office will usually suffice. If you arrive into a town outside of office hours, normally the local person you ask will display typical Irish hospitality and point you in the right direction. Facilities vary, but fresh water and waste disposal are usually the required minimum. If facilities are poor, inform the local council, they will usually help.
It is highly recommended that you call ahead to book a taxi. The hotel, hostel, or bed and breakfast you are staying in will usually call the cab company they work closely with for your convenience. Taxis should be reasonably easy to pick up on the streets in Dublin, Belfast and Cork but may be harder to find cruising the streets in smaller cities and towns so it is often best to telephone for one. It is recommended to call the cab company in advance if possible and give them a time to be picked up, no matter if it's 4 hours in advance or 30 minutes in advance. Work with the same cab company your hotel does and let them know your final destination if there is more than one stop. You will also need to give them a contact phone number over the phone, so if calling from a pay phone, be prepared for them to deny your claim for a taxi cab. The average waiting time may be anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes depending on demand and time of day. All Taxis in Republic of Ireland operate on a National Fare basis, so the price should be relatively easy to calculate. For more information, see the Commission of Taxi Regulation website . Always ensure that the taxi you use has a meter, and that it is used for the duration of your journey.
Rules of the Road/Road User Etiquette
Driving and road rules in Ireland are similar to those of the United Kingdom - e.g. drive on the left and yield to the right on roundabout. The most noticeable difference is the fact that distances are displayed in kilometres and speed limits in kilometres per hour (km/h) in the Republic of Ireland. This can be confusing to anyone travelling across the border from Northern Ireland, which, like Britain, uses miles and miles per hour. The legal blood-alcohol limit is low, so it may be best to abstain. It is perfectly legal to temporarily use the hard shoulder to allow a faster moving vehicle overtake you, but remember that this maneouver is not allowed on a motorway. Drivers often 'thank' each other by flashing their hazard lights or waving - this is purely a convention. Road signs in the Republic are nominally bilingual, with place names displayed in Irish in italic font, with the corresponding English name in capitals immediately below. In the "Gaeltacht" areas (Irish-Speaking districts in the south-west (Kerry), west (Galway, Mayo), and north-west (Donegal), as well as other smaller gaeltacht areas in Meath and Waterford), road signs are written in Irish only. In Northern Ireland road signs are in English only and all distances are given in miles. There are five types of road classification:
Speed limits are defaults for the road classification only - if a lower speed limit is signed, it must be obeyed. Urban areas generally have a 50km/h speed limit.
Ireland has an extensive motorway network which centers around Dublin. The main motorways are:
Note that most motorways in the Republic have some tolled sections. Tolls are low by French or Italian standards, and vary from €1.90 upwards, depending on which motorway you are traveling on. Tolls are displayed a few kilometers from the plaza. For the visitor, it's important to note that the only tolled road that accepts credit cards is the M4 between Kilcock and Kinnegad. All others (except the M50) are Euro cash only, so take care if you're arriving from the North via the M1. The M50 is barrier free and accepts no cash. Cameras are located on overhead gantries between J6 & J7 which read your number plate. If you have registered before online or by phone €2.50 will be taken from your credit card. If you have not registered, you must go to a Payzone branded outlet and pay the toll there. This option costs €3.
For 2010, the tolled sections and their charges (for private cars) are as follows:
There are numerous routes of high quality dual carriageway, which are very near motorway standard; Dublin-Wicklow, Sligo-Collooney (Sligo), Mullingar-Athlone, and Cork-Middleton (Waterford).
Lesser roads, are, in many parts, poorly signposted, the only indication of what route to take often being a finger-sign at the junction itself. The road surfaces can be very poor on the lesser used R- & L- numbered routes.
Driving on regional and local roads in Ireland requires etiquette, courtesy and nerves of steel. Roads are generally narrow with little to no shoulder or room for error. Sight lines can be limited or non-existent until you are partway into the road. Caution should be taken when entering onto the roadway as well as when driving along it, with the understanding that around the next turn may be another motorist partway into the road. This is especially true in rural areas. Parking along the road, farm animals, as well as large lorries or machinery may also appear around the bend and be the cause for quick thinking or braking. It is not unusual for oncoming cars to navigate to a wide spot in the road to pass each other. On the other hand, when driving slower than following cars, it is common for drivers to allow others to pass or signal if the way is clear. Calculating driving time can be slower than expectations, due to the large increase in motorists and road conditions/hazards.
As mentioned above, speed limits in the Republic of Ireland (but not in Northern Ireland) are in kilometres per hour. The general maximum speed limits are as follows:
Local Councils may apply other limits in specific areas as required. Also when roads are being maintained or worked upon in some way, the limit may be temporarily changed.
Car rental companies
There is no shortage of car rental companies in Ireland with all of the major airports and cities throughout Ireland being well catered for, while the ports of Rosslare and Dún Laoghaire are served by Hertz and Dan Dooley respectively. Renting a car in Ireland is very similar to the processes elsewhere in that you need a credit card in your own name and a full driver's license for a minimum of two years without endorsement. Most car rental companies in Ireland apply a minimum age of 25 in order to rent a car, but in many cases you will need to be 28 in order to rent a full-size car. Car rentals in Ireland comes with the minimum insurance which will cover the car, but leave you with an excess deductible in the case of an accident. Additional insurance, known as Collision Damage Waiver, can be purchased to protect yourself against this excess when picking up the car.
It is also possible to rent a campervan, and there are quite a number of companies offering campervans for hire.
With improvements to the Motorway network, Domestic flights in Ireland have been reduced drastically, and are now only available between Dublin and Kerry and Donegal.
See also Rail travel in Ireland
Most trains in Ireland (all operated by the state-run Irish Rail  also known by their Irish name, Iarnród Éireann) operate to and from Dublin. Enormous expenditure on modernising the state-owned Irish Rail system is ongoing, including the introduction of many new trains. The frequency and speed of services is being considerably increased, especially on the Dublin-Cork line. If you book on-line for Intercity travel, be aware that there may be a cheaper fare option available to you at the office in the station itself. Not all special rates, e.g., for families, are available on line.
Advance booking can result in big savings and booking can be made a month in advance, e.g. an adult return between Kerry and Dublin can cost €75 if booked for the next day but can cost as little as €20 - €30 if booked well in advance. Trains nearly always book out for major sporting events in Dublin such the GAA Semi-Finals and Finals and Major Rugby and Soccer Internationals. Pay notice to this if planning to travel on weekends during August and September. The 1st and 3rd Sunday of September see both All-Ireland finals held and buses and trains see a massive upsurge in Travel as well the main roads to the counties participating.
Note that there are two main stations in Dublin - Connolly Station (for trains to Belfast, Sligo and Rosslare) and Heuston Station (for trains to Cork, Limerick, Ennis, Tralee, Killarney, Galway, Westport, Kilkenny and Waterford.)
In the Northern Ireland , almost all services are operated by NIR  (Northern Ireland Railways).
In the Dublin city area the electrified DART  (acronym for Dublin Area Rapid transit) coastal railway travels from Malahide and the Howth peninsula in the North to Bray and Greystones in Co. Wicklow via Dún Laoghaire and Dublin city center. An interchange with main line services and the Luas Red line is available at Dublin Connolly.
Dublin has a tram system, known as Luas  (the Irish word for 'speed'). There are two lines. One (the red-line) operates from Dublin's Docklands starting at The Point (beside the O2 Arena) and the city centre (Connolly Station) to a large suburb south-west of the City (Tallaght) and the other (the green line) runs south-east (to Bride's Glen) from St Stephen's Green. Tickets must be puchased from machines before boarding the tram. Tickets are checked in the Luas at random by guards but generally ticketing works on a trust system. Thus free rides are possible, although not advisable, as the fines for fare-dodging can be quite high. The Luas tram provides a very useful link between Dublin's Connolly and Heuston railway stations.
A number of privately-owned companies also provide intercity services. These include:
Ireland is beautiful for biking, but have a good touring bike with solid tires as road conditions are not always excellent. Biking along the south and west coasts you can be prepared for variable terrain, lots of hills and often into the wind. There are plenty of campgrounds along the way for long distance cyclists.
The planned Eurovelo  cycle route in Ireland will connect Belfast to Dublin via Galway, and Dublin to Rosslare via Galway and Cork. Visit their website for updates on the status of the path.
Dublin has some marked bicycle lanes and a few non-road cycle tracks. Traffic is fairly busy, but a cyclist confident with road cycling in other countries should have no special difficulties (except maybe for getting used to riding on the left). Note that, in Ireland, left turning cars have right of way over cyclists to their left. Cyclists have no special right of way over cars, particularly when using shared use paths by the side of a road, but share and get equal priority when in the traffic lane. Helmets are not legally required, but widely available for those who wish to use them. On the 13th of September 2009, Dublin Bikes was officially opened, making 400 bikes available to the public in around 40 stations across the city centre. The bikes are free to take for the first half hour, although a payment of €150 is required in case of the bike being stolen or damaged. When finished riding simply bring the bike back to any station and get your payment back.
Overall, Ireland has a mild but changeable oceanic climate with few extremes. In Ireland you may indeed experience 'four seasons in one day', so pack accordingly and keep up-to-date with the lastest weather forecast. No matter the weather, expect it to be a topic of conversation amongst the locals.
You may notice slight differences in temperature between the north and south of the country, and more rain in the west compared with the east.
Mean daily winter temperatures vary from 4°C to 7°C, and mean daily summer temperatures vary from 14.5°C to 16°C. Temperatures will rarely exceed 25°C and will rarely fall below -5°C.
Regardless of when you visit Ireland, even in middle of the summer, you will more than likely experience rain, so if you intend being outdoors, a waterproof coat is recommended.
English is spoken everywhere but Irish or Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) is the first official language. It is part of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic family of languages.
Most people have some understanding of Irish but it is used as a first language by only about 30,000 people, most of whom live in rural areas known as the Gaeltachts. About 40% (c. 1,500,000) of people in the Republic claim to understand and speak the language, although some people will exaggerate their fluency in Irish when discussing the matter with foreigners.
As the Gaeltachts are generally scenic areas it is likely that visitors will go there. Tourists will not be expected to speak Irish but it will be noticeable on road signs, etc. For instance, a law was recently passed that changes the name of Dingle, County Kerry to An Daingean, the Irish version. This should not confuse visitors, as almost all recent maps carry placenames in both languages in Gaeltacht districts.
In order to enter certain Irish Universities, it is necessary for Irish citizens to have taken Irish to Leaving Certificate (Examinations taken on leaving secondary or high school) level, and passed. Indeed it is a compulsory language at school in the Republic, although its method of teaching has come under criticism. Nevertheless, although it has come under threat, and some resent being forced to learn the language, others see use of the language as an expression of national pride.
There is some Irish language broadcasting on TV and radio. Irish is related and very similar (but not identical) to Scots Gaelic. Of the four provinces, only one (Leinster) does not have its own dialect in the language. The Ulster dialect has most in common with Scots Gaelic. However, some Irish people may take offense if you call Irish "Gaelic" as this is seen as being an incorrect term and refers to the entire family of languages that includes Irish, Manx, and Scots Gaelic. Referring to it simply as "Irish" is a fine alternative. It is not necessary to know any Irish in order to get around in Ireland. See also: Irish phrasebook
Tourist keen to learn a few words of the Irish language often fall for a prank where they are taught swearing in Irish but told they are learning a greeting or other similar phrase. This can cause embarrassment when this is later pointed out to them.
The Irish love their sport. It is a country with many sports. The largest sporting organisation in Ireland, and the largest amateur sporting organisation in the world, is the Gaelic Athletic Association, more commonly referred to as the GAA. The GAA governs Ireland's two national sports which are Gaelic Football and Hurling. To those that have never seen it, Gaelic Football could at its simplest be described as a cross between soccer and rugby, but there is much more to it than that. Hurling is the fastest field game in the world. If it could be categorised into a group of sports, then it would be closest to the field hockey family, but Hurling is unique. No visit to Ireland, especially during the summer months, would be complete without seeing a Gaelic Football or Hurling match, ideally live but at least on the TV. The biggest matches of the year take place during summer culminating in the two finals which are both in September, on two separate Sundays. The All-Ireland Hurling Final is normally on the first Sunday of September and the All-Ireland Football final is on the third Sunday of September. These are the two largest individual sporting events in Ireland, so tickets are like gold dust. Croke Park, the venue for the two finals, has a capacity of 82,300 people, making it one of the largest stadiums in Europe. Those that can't get tickets will crowd around televisions and radios, and around the world Irish people will be watching or listening to the finals.
While Gaelic Football and Hurling are the two biggest sports, Ireland has much else to offer in terms of sport. Ireland is a world leader in breeding and training race horses. There are many race tracks around the country and many big racing festivals throughout the year.
Golf is another huge sport in Ireland. Ireland has many great professionals, but for the visitor there are many golf courses around the country. Golfing holidays are popular.
Soccer and Rugby are also popular in Ireland. Ireland's rugby team in particular is amongst the best in the world. There are also many soccer clubs around Ireland and both sports have many competitions.
Being an island, Ireland has many water sports. Sailing is big in Ireland. On the west coast in particular Ireland has very high seas, ideal for surfing, even if the weather isn't always great.
Ireland has all these and many other sports. So if you want a sporting holiday, you could do worse than going to Ireland.
Ireland has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
Along border areas, as the UK pound sterling is currency in Northern Ireland, it is common for UK pounds to be accepted as payment, with change given in Euro. Some outlets, notably border petrol stations will give change in sterling if requested. (Fuel is now generally cheaper in the South, resulting in many Northern motorists purchasing their fuel South of the border.)
Recent differences in prices of goods between the Irish Euro and the British Pound have resulted in increasing numbers of Irish shoppers crossing the border to purchase goods which are a lot cheaper in Northern Ireland than in the Republic. A November 2008 article in a Northern Newpaper highlighted how up to €350 can be saved by buying your Christmas shopping in Derry & Belfast in the North than in the likes of Letterkenny in Donegal.
Only a few years ago when the Celtic Tiger was still very much alive and well the economic situation was reversed.
ATMs are widely available throughout Ireland. Even in small towns it is unlikely that you will be unable to find an ATM. Many shops and pubs will have an ATM in store, and unlike the UK, they cost the same to use as 'regular' ATMs on the street. Though in-shop ATMs are slightly more likely to run out of cash and be 'Out of Service'.
Mastercard, Maestro and Visa are accepted virtually everywhere. American Express and Diners Club are now also fairly widely accepted. Discover card is very rarely accepted and it would not be wise to rely on this alone. Most ATM's allow cash withdrawals on major credit cards and internationally branded debit cards.
Tax Free Shopping
If you are a tourist from a non-EU country, you may be able to receive a partial refund of VAT tax (which currently stands at 23%.) However, unlike some other countries, there is no unified scheme under which a tourist can claim this refund back. The method of refund depends solely on the particular retailer and so tourists should ask the retailer before they make a purchase if they wish to receive a VAT refund.
One scheme retailers who are popular with tourists operate is private (ie. non-governmental) VAT refund agents. Using this scheme, the shopper receives a magnetic stripe card which records the amount of purchases and VAT paid every time a purchase is made and then claims the VAT back at the airport, minus commission to the VAT refund agent, which is often quite substantial. There are multiple such VAT refund agents and so you may need to carry multiple cards and make multiple claims at the airport. However, note that there may NOT be a VAT refund agent representative at the airport or specific terminal where you will be departing from, or it may not be open at the time you depart. In which case, getting a refund back could become more cumbersome as you may need to communicate with the VAT refund agent from your home country.
If the retailer does not operate the VAT refund agent scheme, they may tell you that you all you have to do is take the receipt they produce to the airport and claim the refund at the VAT refund office at the airport. However, this is incorrect. Irish Revenue does not make any VAT refunds directly to tourists. Tourists are responsible for having receipts stamped by customs, either in Ireland upon departure or at their home country upon arrival and then send these receipts as proof of export directly to the Irish retailer which is obligated to make a VAT refund directly to the tourist. Therefore, for example, if you have made 10 different purchases at 10 different retailers, you will need to make 10 separate claims for refunds with every single retailer. Note, however, that some retailers do not participate in the scheme all together and so you may not be able to get any VAT refund from some retailers. Therefore, if you plan on receiving VAT tourist refund on your purchases in Ireland, you should be careful where you shop and which refund scheme they operate, if any.
Further details on VAT tourist refunds can be found in the document Retail Export Scheme (Tax-Free Shopping for Tourists) .
Food is expensive in Ireland, although quality has improved enormously in the last ten years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers' market. The cheapest option for eating out is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a carvery lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value. Selection for vegetarians is limited outside the main cities. The small town of Kinsale near Cork has become internationally famous for its many excellent restaurants, especially fish restaurants. In the northwest of the country Donegal Town is fast becoming the seafood capital of Ireland.
Irish cuisine can charitably be described as hearty: virtually all traditional meals involve meat (especially lamb and pork), potatoes, and cabbage. Long cooking times are the norm and spices are limited to salt and pepper. Classic Irish dishes include:
Note that the first four listed dishes (and their names) vary regionally, and are not common throughout the entire country.
But the days when potatoes were the only thing on the menu are long past, and modern Irish cuisine emphasizes fresh local ingredients, simply prepared and presented (sometimes with some Mediterranean-style twists). Meat (especially lamb), seafood and dairy produce is mostly of an extremely high quality.
Try some gorgeous soda bread, made with buttermilk and leavened with bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast. It is heavy, tasty and almost a meal in itself!
Only basic table manners are considered necessary when eating out, unless you're with company that has a more specific definition of what is appropriate. As a general rule, so long as you don't make a show of yourself by disturbing other diners there's little else to worry about. It's common to see other customers using their mobile phones - this sometimes attracts the odd frown or two but goes largely ignored. If you do need to take a call, keep it short and try not to raise your voice. The only other issue to be concerned about is noise - a baby crying might be forgivable if it's resolved fairly quickly, a contingent of adults laughing very loudly every couple of minutes or continuously talking out loud may attract negative attention. However, these rules are largely ignored in fast-food restaurants, pubs and some more informal restaurants.
Traditionally, tipping was never considered to be a necessity and was entirely optional. However, recently it has become common to tip up to 10% of the bill total. Some establishments will add a 10-15% service charge on top of the obligatory 13.5% Government VAT charge, especially for larger groups. If a service charge is levied, a tip would not normally be left, unless to reward exceptional service.
If you were unhappy with the service, then you would normally leave no tip.
Alcohol is very expensive in the republic. Pints of Guinness start at €3.60 per pint, can get as high as €7.50 in Dublin, and does not become less expensive until you reach Northern Ireland. While in the North, pints of Guinness instantly become cheaper by €1.50 euro on average. Ireland is the home of some of the world's greatest whiskey, having a rich tradition going back hundreds if not thousands of years. With around fifty popular brands today these are exported around the world and symbolise everything that is pure about Ireland and where a visit to an Irish distillery is considered very worthwhile.
Another one of Ireland's most famous exports is stout, a dark, dry beer. The strong taste can be initially off-putting but perseverance is well-rewarded! The most famous variety is Guinness, brewed in Dublin and available throughout the country. Murphy's and Beamish stout are brewed in Cork and available mainly in the south of the country. Murphy's is slightly sweeter and creamier-tasting than Guinness, while Beamish has a strong, almost burnt taste. Several micro-breweries are now producing their own interesting varieties of stout, including O'Hara's in Carlow, the Porter House in Dublin and the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork. Ales such as Smithwick's are also popular, particularly in rural areas. Bulmers Cider (known outside the Republic as 'Magners Cider') is also a popular and widely available Irish drink. It is brewed in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
Nearly all the pubs in Ireland are 'free houses', i.e. they can sell drink from any brewery and are not tied to one brewery (unlike the UK). You can get the same brands of drink in all pubs in Ireland across the country.
There are a small number of 'microbreweries' in Ireland, pubs which brew their own speciality drinks. They are a recent occurrence and can mostly be found in Dublin.
Despite the (sometimes negative) reputation about Irish people loving their drink, most pubs in Ireland will have the same small collection of drinks.
All pubs (and nightclubs) in Ireland by law have to close by a certain time, depending on venue and the day. This varies from 11:30pm to 1:30am, to 3:30am. The owners will flash the lights (or less commonly sometimes ring a bell) to signal that it is almost 'closing time', this is 'last orders' and is your last chance to get a drink. When the pub (or club) wants to close, they will frequently turn on all the lights as a signal for people to finish up and leave.
It is important to note that it is illegal to smoke in all pubs and indeed places of work in Ireland. Many pubs and restaurants have provided 'smoking areas' outside their premises where space has allowed them to.
The other competitor for national drink of Ireland is tea. The Irish drink more tea per capita than any other people in the world. Cork, Dublin and Galway abound with slick, stylish coffee bars, but if you visit any Irish home you will probably be offered a cup of tea (usually served with milk, unless you explicitly state otherwise!). Coffee is also widely drunk in Ireland. (If you don't drink tea, you drink coffee!)
There are hotels of all standards including some very luxurious. Bed and Breakfast is widely available and a wide selection of Tourist Board Approved bed and breakfasts can be found on the B&B Ireland website . These are usually very friendly, quite often family-run and good value. There are independent hostels which are marketed as Independent Holiday Hostels of Ireland , which are all tourist board approved. There is also an official youth hostel association - An Óige  (Irish for The Youth). These hostels are often in remote and beautiful places, designed mainly for the outdoors. There are official campsites although fewer than many countries (given the climate). Wild camping is tolerated, although you should seek permission if it is directly within eye shot of the landowners house. Never camp in a field in which livestock are present. There are also specialist places to stay such as lighthouses, castles and ringforts.
No stay in Ireland is complete without sampling its magnificent language, first language to thousands across the island. A few common phrases are easy to pick up and go a long way in the pubs!
You can learn many interesting facts about Ireland's history and culture. One of the things Ireland is most famous for is Irish dancing. (Riverdance, a popular show centered on Irish step dancing, started in Ireland.) Irish traditional music is also popular throughout.
Ireland has internationally-respected universities, including the venerable Trinity College Dublin (the only college of the University of Dublin). The National University of Ireland has constituent colleges in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Maynooth. Other colleges/universities include Dublin City University (DCU), University of Limerick (UL), Institues of Technology in the larger towns/cities around the country and other higher education colleges.
Literature has many great Irish authors (writing in both Irish and in English), including James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan and Oliver Goldsmith. The writer of Gulliver's Travels, Dean Jonathan Swift, was from Dublin, and poets W. B. Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh also hailed from Ireland. There are many literary tourist attractions and tours in Dublin, especially.
Ireland is part of the European Union/European Economic Area, and as such any EU/EEA or Swiss national has an automatic right to take up employment in Ireland. Non EU/EEA citizens will generally require a work permit and visa. Further information can be found on Citizens Information , the Irish government's public services information website.
The police force is known as An Garda Síochána (or just "Garda"), and police officers as Garda (singular) and Gardaí (plural, pronounced Gar-dee), though informally the English term Guard(s) is usual. The term Police is rarely used, but is of course understood. Regardless of what you call them, they are courteous and approachable. Uniformed members of the Garda Síochána do not, unlike the Police force in Northern Ireland, carry firearms. Firearms are, however, carried by detectives and officers assigned to Regional Support Units and the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), a tactical unit similar to SWAT. Police security checks at Shannon Airport can be tough if you are a solo-traveller.
Crime is relatively low by most European standards but not very different. Late night streets in larger towns and cities can be dangerous, as anywhere. If you need Gardaí, ambulance, fire service, coast guard or mountain rescue dial 999 or 112 as the emergency number; both work from landlines and mobile phones.
Road safety is well maintained, and Ireland has a reputation for having some of the safest roads in Europe. However, most of the roads in the country are very narrow and winding, and there has been a recent increase in traffic density. Drive safely.
Since March 2004 almost all enclosed places of work, including bars, restaurants, cafés, etc., in Ireland have been designated as smoke-free. Rooms in Hotels and Bed & Breakfast establishments are not required by law to be smoke-free. Even though they are not obliged to enforce the ban, owners of these establishments are, however, free to do so if they wish. Most hotels have designated some bedrooms or floors as smoking and some as non-smoking, so you should specify at the time of booking if you have a preference either way. The smoking ban also applies to common areas within buildings. This means for example that corridors, lobby areas and reception areas of buildings such as apartment blocks and hotels are also covered under the law.
Most larger bars and cafés will have a (covered) outdoor smoking area, often with heating. If one does not exist be aware that it is illegal to consume alcohol on the street so you may have to leave your drink at the bar.
Any person found guilty of breaching the ban on smoking in the workplace may be subject to a fine of up to €3,000.
Visitors to Ireland will find the Irish one of the nicest nationalities in the world. It is not uncommon for locals to approach confused looking visitors and offer their help.
Often, in smaller towns and villages and especially on a country road, if you walk past somebody it is customary to say hello. They may also ask you "how are you?", or another similar variation. It is polite to respond to this greeting but it is not expected that you would give any detail on how you really are, if the person is a stranger - a simple hello or "how are you?" or a simple comment on the weather will suffice! In this regard, try something like "Grand day!" - if it isn't raining, of course. To which the response will generally be "It is indeed, thank God".
When driving on rural roads, particularly where a driver has to pull in to allow you to pass, it is customary to wave a thanks to the other driver, by raising your hand from the steering wheel. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas of the West of Ireland where many drivers will automatically wave at everyone who drives past them. A polite hand wave (or even with just the index finger raised from the steering wheel) is customary and will be appreciated.
When accepting gifts, a polite refusal (such as, "no really you shouldn't") is common after the first offer of the item. Usually, this is followed with an insistence that the gift or offer is accepted, at which point your answer is likely to become more recognized. However, some people can be very persuasive - this isn't meant to be over-bearing, just courteous.
One thing which some visitors may find disconcerting is the response an Irish person may give to a "thank you". Most Irish people will respond with something along the lines of "It was nothing" or "not at all". This does not mean that they didn't try hard to please, but rather it is meant to suggest "I was happy to do it for you, so it was not any great difficulty" (even though it may have been!).
The Republic of Ireland and Britain undoubtedly have notable similarities, but Irish people generally take great pride in the cultural differences that also exist between Ireland and Britain. Locals can be quite offended by tourists who do not acknowledge or show respect to these differences. Indeed, it is not uncommon for foreigners (both before and after arrival into the country) to foolishly assume that Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom (like Scotland or Wales). This incorrect assumption will generally cause great offense to locals, who take pride in the Republic of Ireland's status as a state independent of the United Kingdom.
Following from this may lead to curiosity about the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Public or semi-public discussions about religious differences, political views and 20th century troubles are generally avoided by locals on both sides of the border. This is because opinions between individuals are so vastly divided and unyielding, that most Irish people (of moderate views) have grown accustomed to simply avoiding the topics in polite conversation. Most Irish are moderate in their view but it is wise to avoid any political or religious discussion unless it is mentioned to you. Tourists (who are often fascinated by the history of the division) would be advised to show respect and caution if they choose to discuss the differences of opinion that still exist on historical matters.
The Irish are renowned for their upbeat sense of humor, but their humor can sometimes be difficult to understand for more unfamiliar tourists. Joking on almost any topic will be welcomed, although even mild racism is not appreciated by the majority. Most Irish people are quite happy for friendly jibes regarding the Irish love of potatoes and drinking alcohol. However, any jokes regarding the potato famine of the 19th Century in which over a million people died, could in many instances cause a similar amount of offense as joking about the September 11, 2001 attacks would in the United States.
LGBT visitors will find the vast majority of Irish accepting of Same-Sex couples. Ireland has recently enacted civil unions and opinion polls show a large majority of Irish in favor of same sex marriage. Care should be taken outside cities and large towns. Conservative values still hold dear in rural Ireland but most rural people will follow a "if you don't annoy us we won't annoy you" attitude. Ireland has very strong anti-discrimination laws and any breach should be notified to the Equality Authority. Most cities have a strong gay scene but gay people will be welcomed in all clubs and bars. Common sense should prevail in all areas but particular care should be taken in poorer areas. Some gay visitors may find themselves the butt of mild homophobia in more working class areas. However this is normally the Irish sense of humor at its most intolerant. If one feels this is not the case then common sense should prevail and if they feel in danger the Garda should be called.
Phone numbers in this guide are given in the form that you would dial them from within Ireland. This form in general is a two- or three-digit area code (always begins with a 0), and the local number, which may be from five to seven digits long. When dialling a land line number from another land line within the same area (i.e., the same area code) the area code can be ignored, and the local number only is required.
There are more mobile phones than people in the Republic of Ireland, and the majority of these are prepaid. Phone credit is available in very many retailers, usually in denominations from €5 to €40. Be aware, that some retailers charge a small commission on this credit, while many others don't, so it does pay to shop around.
All mobile numbers begin with 087, 086, 085 or 083 (this code must be dialled regardless of location or operator of dialler). Mobiles are cheap by European standards to buy, and if staying for more than 2 months, it could be cheaper to buy a phone than phone cards.
A tri- or quad-band GSM phone will work, but you should check that your operator has a roaming agreement. It can be expensive to receive and make phone calls while roaming.
You can also buy a cheap prepay SIM card if you have an unlocked handset. This can be considerably cheaper as it means that you will be assigned an Irish number which you can be called at during your trip and your outgoing calls are charged at normal Irish mobile rates.
If you do not have an unlocked tri- or quad-band GSM phone then is possible to buy a mobile phone in Ireland from any of the cell phone companies. If you need a cell phone number before you travel, you can rent a phone from - Rentaphone Ireland .
Phones that have the 1800MHz band but not 900MHz will work but coverage is extremely poor outside urban areas.
Ireland has 4 mobile networks (prefix code in brackets.) Additional virtual networks such as Tesco mobile exit which piggy-back on the infrastructure of another network
Non-geographic numbers are those which are not specific to a geographical region and are technically charged at the same rate regardless of where the caller is located.
Pay phones are fairly widely available (but becoming less so) and most take euro coins, prepaid calling cards and major credit cards. You can also reverse charges/call collect or use your calling card by following the instructions on the display.
for dial internationally: 00 + country code + area code + local number
To dial Northern Ireland from Ireland a special code exists; drop the 028 area code from the local Northern Ireland and replace it with 048. This is then charged at the cheaper National Irish rate, instead of an international rate.
To dial an Irish number from within Ireland: Simply dial all of the digits including the area code. You can, optionally, drop the area code if you're calling from within that area, but it makes no difference to the cost or routing.
Fixed line numbers have the following area codes:
Operator service is unavailable from pay phones or mobile phones.
Emergency Service dial 999 or 112 (Pan European code that runs in parallel). This is the equivilant of 911 in the US/Canada and is free from any phone.
Directory information is provided by competing operators through the following codes (call charges vary depending on what they're offering and you'll see 118 codes advertised heavily):
These companies will usually offer call completion, but at a very high price, and all of them will send the number by SMS to your mobile if you're calling from it.