Us Irish are very proud of our culture and heritage. While there a lot of aspects of Irish culture you may be familiar with, what better way to experience the real Ireland, than with these authentic cultural experiences across the country.
To experience the real Ireland and soak in the culture and traditions, ditch the tourist sites. It’s having a pint in a local pub, keeping up with local news while you’re there and
Folklore – An Important Part of Irish Culture and Heritage
For centuries, Irish people have been gifted storytellers. From heroes and warriors, fairies to banshees, leprechauns and everything in between, stories and mythology play a key role in Irish culture, and these tales have been passed through the generations.
Various locations around the country inspired a lot of these captivating stories and you can experience these places for yourself. The very popular “Giants Causeway” is one such place, inspiring a tale about how it was formed.
Legends tell that the causeway was erected by Fin Mac Cool (the leader of Irish Warriors), who wanted to venture to Scotland to fight Bennandonnar the giant. However after Bennandonnar arrives in Ireland, he worries about the size of Finn Ma Cool and to save himself, he rushes back to Scotland, ripping up parts of the causeway on the way.
Ruins – Ancient Ruins in Ireland
Stone Castles have had a huge significance on Irish culture, because these fortresses determined the location of towns across the country. Castles were home for some, but for the rest, they were a gathering point. There are over 30,000 ruins dotted around Ireland, so visiting ruins is an experience you shouldn’t miss. It is said that there is a story under every stone and Ireland has interesting legends to be discovered across the land.
A lot of the ruins are on private property but you will find others that are free of charge and open to visitors. Try Menlo Castle, Clifden Castle, Augnanure Castle, or ruins of monasteries such as Fore Abbey.
Please be respectful at these sites, and leave no trace.
Hikes – Cultural traditions in Ireland
Pilgrimage hikes are hugely important in Ireland. Croagh Patrick is one such mountain in County Mayo. Over 100,000 people climb Croagh Patrick each year – some barefoot! This is a real authentic Irish experience you can undertake for yourself.
While I don’t recommend that you do it barefoot, “Reek Sunday” is the last Sunday in July and the most popular day for the climb. This is when the pilgrimage starts and over 20,000 people take part in the hike on this day each year to honor St Patrick.
Irish Dancing – Cultural Traditions: Traditional Irish Dancing
Michael Flately and Jean Butler introduced River Dance to the world in 1994 at the Eurovision, but Irish dancing has been part of Irish culture for centuries, with some children learning this traditional dance at a young age and some continuing it professionally into adulthood.
To experience a bit of Ireland’s Irish Dancing culture, you can enjoy a show on your trip. An Irish dance show is pretty easy to find in Ireland’s cities and bigger tourist towns – such as “Trad on the prom” in Galway – which is noted as the best place to see Irish dancing in Ireland and “Celtic Nights” or “The Irish Dance Party Experience” in Dublin.
Drinking – Do the Irish Really Drink a lot? Irish Drink Culture
The Irish really do strive to live up to our drinking stereotype. Yes, the stereotype is true. Drinking is BIG here. And there are a few ways to experience this for yourself.
While Ireland is famous for the “Guinness Storehouse” and the “Jameson distillery” – which both teach you the significance and history behind these drinks, you can discover why the Irish love drinking in a much more enjoyable way – just go to the pub!
While you might be tempted to head to “The Temple Bar”, the well-known tourist trap, head to a real Irish Bar. If you want to learn about the real Ireland, head to the bar and strike up a conversation with an old man. He’ll be happy to tell you all about how he walked to school barefoot and spent his childhood footing turf.
Religion in Ireland – Irish Culture and Traditions
For hundreds of years, religion played a great role in Irish society. The church had a powerful influence over the people, laws and traditions of the Irish. While not as severe today, you can still see the dedication to religion across the country. Particularly by visiting the impressive cathedrals and ruins of monasteries dappled across the countryside.
One worth visiting is the Longford Cathedral which burned to the ground on Christmas day 2009, but has been restored to its former glory – while welcoming some modern features. Some monastery ruins in good condition include Fore Abbey between Mullingar and Kells , or the Friary of Ross just outside Headford in Galway.
Food – Ireland Food Culture – What food is Ireland known for?
Food has long had an impact on Irish culture, whether it be our reliance on the humble potato, or our seafood diet which evolved as we explored our coastal waters.
Explore and enjoy Irish cuisine with Irish Beef and Guinness Strew which will be bursting with flavour, or Seafood Chowder. I have heard from so many people that Irish Chowder is the best they have ever tasted.Irish Soda bread is also a staple on the Emerald Isle, and bread and butter is basically considered a meal here. But please, do not leave the country without having a Tayto sandwich. Ahh, the beloved Tayto sandwich. Two slices of buttered white bread, with a whole bag of cheese and onion crisps crushed inside. This might sound unusual but believe me, any Irish person will defend this creation.
Sports – Irish Indigenous Sports
Have you ever wanted to watch two grown men beat each other with sticks while wearing zero padding? Then Irish sports are for you! Ireland has its own unique sports which are deeply embedded in Irish culture. The two most popular indigenous sports are Gaelic football and hurling.
Gaelic is very similar to soccer, except handling the ball is allowed. Hurling is a warrior sport and holds the record as the fastest sport in the world. Both sports are played to stadiums of 60,000 people. Incredibly, the games are considered to be amateur sports, and the players do not get paid.
If you want to see this cultural phenomenon, there are a whopping 2200 clubs throughout this small country, where you can drop in to watch a match for free.
Stay at a BNB – Immerse yourself in Irish Family Life
A BNB is not just a place to sleep, but will be the centre of your unique Irish Experience. There is no better way to learn about the real Ireland than stay with an Irish family. Especially in the Gaeltacht region. You will receive the warmest of Irish welcomes and can immerse yourself in the real Irish culture. Learn about Irish traditions, local knowledge, language and family life.
You might also get to experience some of the hearty meals mentioned in the food section!
Watch some Popular Irish TV Shows – Culture in Ireland
Watching some Irish TV shows will give you an insight into Irish culture. You won’t find a household in Ireland that is not obsessed with the following TV shows: Father Ted and Derry Girls.
Father Ted although first aired in 1995, is still at the heart of Irish Culture. Memes, and phrases from this show are used and recognised by every member of the Irish population. It has developed a cult status which was likely due to the show making constant jabs at religion when no one else was. It is also hilarious. There’s nothing like seeing our accents or sense of humour on screen.
Similarly, “Derry Girls” will give you an insight into Northern Ireland during the Troubles of the 1990s, which is when the show is set.
I invite you to binge-watch these shows (I’d class it as an authentic Irish Experience!) before you visit.
Irish Festivals – Celebrating Irish Culture
The Irish are known for throwing a good festival. There are a variety of festivals year-round. Galway alone has 13 major festivals in the summer alone.
Planning your visit around some festivals is a great way to culturally enrich your trip.
One fun festival to try is the world-famous “Matchmaking Festival” in Lisdoonvarna – perfect for my single ladies and gents. This festival runs through September and was traditionally the time that single farmers would look for a wife. Matchmaker “Willie Daly” will be available to help singles meet their match and the town will be alive with Irish country music and dancing all month long. The festival has been running for over 150 years now and draws in ~60,000 people each year.
Learn about the Aran Jumper – Irish Family Traditions
Myths state that Aran jumpers were knitted for husbands and sons in the specific family knit. That way, if a man was lost at sea, the body could be identified by the jumper. While there is no real evidence to this, Aran jumper stitches do have meanings. From the Cable Stitch which promised fishermen safety and luck while out at sea, and the Irish Moss stitch – for a good harvest.
These rough waterproof wool jumpers were inspired by the tough Atlantic Ocean and were used from the 1800s to protect fishermen from the wind and cold conditions of the ocean. They were first created on the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, which is where the Aran jumper found its name.
You can visit the “Aran Sweater Market” on the Aran Island of “Inishmore” where, not only can you purchase a little bit of Ireland to bring home with you, you can also learn all about the heritage of the Aran sweater through the audio-visual exhibition there. While you might be wondering why you would want a rough, itchy wool jumper. Today, Aran jumpers are treated to come in various colours and are thankfully, more soft to touch – while still fighting the bitter cold.
Trad Session – An Authentic Irish Experience
A Trad Session is traditionally an impromptu traditional musical performance, which usually took place in the pub. We’ve talked about how the Irish are great storytellers, and music is just another way of expressing some mythical and exciting tales.
You may be lucky to come across a trad session because they’re not always an organised event. BUT if you want to make sure you experience this lively practice, there are a few places that regularly hold such events. Doolin in County Clare is well-known for Irish Traditional music. Particularly O’Connor’s and McDermotts, where sessions normally start from 9.30 pm. In Galway, you can try “The Crane Bar”. In the East of the country, “The Cobblestone” in Dublin is known to hold sessions.
The Fleadh Cheoil is a festival dedicated to Irish music and has been going for 60 years. I told you we love a good festival.
Farming – Farming plays a Key Role in Irish Society
Get yourself, or your kids out in the fresh country air, to learn about Irish country life.
With our temperate climate and buckets of rain, the Irish have embraced farming as a way of life for centuries. In fact, farming has been dated back over 6000 years here. In fact, the Irish for “road” is “bothar” which directly translates as “cattle-way” – showing just how roads evolved here. First as a method of moving cattle.
This has continued through time with milk production and beef being two of the most important sectors in Irish farming today.
You can experience this for yourself at some of Ireland’s working farms such as Causey Farm in Meath. Here visitors are welcome to milk a cow or bake some brown bread. You can also live every Irish child’s most dreaded summer activity, which is cutting turf.
Similarly, at Killary Sheep Farm in Galway, you can enjoy a traditional Irish working mountain farm – from Sheepdog demonstrations and sheep sheering, to turf-cutting demonstrations.
Markets & Farmers markets – Which are only growing in popularity
Markets in Ireland have an ancient origin. Originally, it was a meeting place a couple of times a week to exchange goods and socialise. Today, they are pretty much the same. An array of local farmhouse cheeses, fresh fish, hot authentic Irish street food as well as local paintings and crafts and jewelry.
This form of shopping experience is one you won’t want to miss.
Some markets to try and visit would include the Howth Market, Cork cities “English Market and of course, the “Galway Christmas Markets“.
Visit Irish UNESCO Sites – Areas protected due to their cultural significance
Multiple sites in Ireland have been given UNESCO status due to their outstanding value.
One such location you can visit is The Burren. Here, you will see the unusual geology of the area and unique flora. You will also see Portal Dolmens. These mystical megalithic tombs are composed of a huge capstone and two supporting slender stones, and with over 2,700 monuments, the area is a memorial to past cultures.
Irish Poet Oscar Wilde described Galway as a “Savage Beauty” and ya know, I couldn’t describe it better myself. The Connemara region is known for its desolate but inspiring and wild scenery, beaches and colourful small towns. Discover the allure of Connemara yourself with my list of the best things to do in Connemara.
Can you Travel Ireland on the Cheap? Ireland is expensive. I’m Irish-born and raised so I can say that honestly. How expensive? Well to give ya some perspective, Ireland was voted the 13th most expensive country in the world. For such a small country, that’s an impressive score.
When you think of Cliffs in Ireland, I bet the Cliffs of Moher are what comes to mind. But I have to tell you that the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal are equally as impressive. They are located much further north, in Donegal near Ardara and Donegal town. Although not a clean sheer drop like the cliffs of Moher, these vast cliffs expand out into the Atlantic towards the horizon and are actually taller, at a whopping 601 m above sea level.