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Ireland for Beginners

Traditional music

Many visitors to Ireland make the mistake of thinking of traditional music as mere entertainment. In some parts of Ireland this may even be an accurate impression. However, in certain fundamentalist strongholds such as Clare, traditional music is founded in a strict belief system which has been handed on from generation to generation. This is overseen by bearded holy men, sometimes called "Mullahs", who ensure that the music is played in accordance with laws laid down in the 5th century. Under this system, "bodhran players" are required to cover their faces in public. If more than one bodhran is present at a session, the extra player may be asked to accompany the beat by using a Stanley Knife.

Other transgressions, such as attempting to play guitar in a traditional session, are punishable by the loss of one or both hands. A blind eye may be turned to the misbehaviour of foreigners, but it's best not to push it.

However, massed groupings of accordians, drums and upright pianos are virtually encouraged in Clare. These are known as ceili bands, the most popular species called "The Kinfenora".

Note:- in summertime it may be very hard to meet genuine Irish musicians in the west as the pubs are generally swamped by hoards of highly talented non native`Vossindeulins'.(i.e. when asked where they learnt to play so well, they will answer 'I was in Doolin for 6 months').

Folk Music

Quite differerent to traditional music as no instruments are required other than seven -ten pints of guinness. All Irish songs revolve around a lament of one type or another. Typically Boy meets girl, boy and girl get it on (once), boy/girl immediately proceeds to emigrate/get deported/drop dead of consumption, drown, starvation, STD etc. Remaining partner devotes their life to devout celibacy.

Irish Dancing

There are two main kinds of Irish dancing:

(1) Riverdance, which is now simultaneously running in every major city in the world except Ulan Bator and which some economists believe is responsible for the Irish economic boom; and

(2) real Irish dancing, in which men do not wear frilly blouses but bobby socks, blazers and skirts instead. One may not express ones self, except in a written note to the adjudicators.

The wearing of the green

Strangely enough, Irish people tend to wear everything except green, which is associated with too many national tragedies, including 1798, the Famine and the current Irish rugby team. It's possible that green just doesn't suit the Irish skin colour, which is generally pale blue (see Weather).

Gaelic games

St Patrick's Day brings the climax of the club championships in Gaelic games, which combine elements of the American sports of gridiron and baseball but are played with an intensity more associated with Mafia turf wars or ANC/Inkata faction fighting. The two main games are "football" and "hurling", the chief differences being that in football, the fights are unarmed and what rules exist change every season. There is also "camogie," which is like hurling, except that in fights hair may be pulled as well.


In most countries, road signs are used to help motorists get from one place to another. In Ireland, it's not so simple. The older signposts show the distance in miles. The newer ones don't show any distance at all or occasionally in kilometres. The speed limits are shown also in miles. Visitors are encouraged to progress the upgrading of our signposting system by removing the older signposts with a spanner and taking the signs home with them.

The good news is Language

Ireland is officially bilingual, a fact which is reflected in the road-signs. This allows you to get lost in both Irish and English.

Irish people and the weather

It is often said that the Irish are a Mediterranean people who only come into their own when the sun shines on consecutive days (which it last did around 1977). For this reason, Irish people dress for conditions in Palermo rather than Dublin; and it is not unusual in March to see young people sipping cool beer outside city pubs and cafes, enjoying the air and the soft caress of hailstones pummelling on their skin. The Irish attitude to weather is the ultimate triumph of optimism over experience: Every time it rains, we look up at the sky and are shocked and betrayed. Then we go out and buy a new umbrella.


Much related to the above topic, in that in certain parts of the country, the weather is so consistantly inclement there is little else to do other than get hammered. Do not however attempt to match an Irishman pint for pint. First, He has two millenia of practise ahead of you in knowing how to handle the stuff. Secondly Irish Brewerys do produce BEER as versus pale yellow dishwater (This may explain why microbrewerys have not yet caught on here). These differences be seen by observing their impact on visiting english stag parties.

Pub etiquette

The crucial thing here is the "round" system, in which each participant takes turns to "shout" an order. To the outsider, this may appear casual; you will not necessarily be told it's your round and other participants may appear only too happy to substitute for you. But make no mistake, your failure to "put your hand in your pocket" will be noticed. People will mention it the moment you leave the room. The reputation will follow you to the grave, whereafter it will attach to your offspring and possibly theirs as well. In some cases, it may become permanently enshrined in a family nickname. Some German and french families have earned some very elegant nicknames over the last 20-30 years.

Ireland has two time-zones

(1) Greenwich Mean Time and (2) "local" time. Local time can be anything between ten minutes and three days behind GMT, depending on the position of the earth and the whereabouts of the man with the keys to the hall. The Irish concept of time has been influenced by the thinking of 20th century physicists, who hold that it can only be measured by reference to another body and can even be affected by factors like acceleration. This is not a joke. Ask any physisist about Lorentz Fitzgerald time contraction!

For instance, a policeman entering a licensed premises in rural Ireland late at night is a good example of another body from whom it can be reliably inferred that it is fact closing time. When this happens, acceleration is the advised option; shockingly, the relativity argument is still not accepted as a valid defence in the Irish courts.


Ireland remains a deeply religious country, with the two main denominations being "us" and "them". In the unlikely event you are asked which group you belong to, the correct answer is: "I'm an atheist, thank God". Then change the subject. Do not insult the Church to an Irishman's face, we're aware of the inconsistancies, hypocracy and moral cant. We have the church, americans have their foreign policy...

Woolly jumpers

Ireland produces vast quantities of woollen knitwear which our american friends gladely purchase at knock down prices via duty free. The only way we could sell them to ourselves was by slapping on a french label and charging three times the cost. This has proved to be one the great commercial success stories of the `80s.

Legends and Myths

Ireland has a wide and diverse range of legends. Inquiries about leprechauns will usually only be treated seriously if requested from retired Pittsburghians in green polyester and bluerinse.

Inquiries about ringforts and where the faeries dance should be directed to Sir Henry's, Cork City on selected club nights.

The most popular legends at the moment are the Dublin Airport Taxi `Service', the equality of the Irish Tax system and the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Irish Humour

Irish humour appears to be gentle, profound and subtle. It is none of these. It is cynical, bitter, deeply sarcastic and venomous and is generally a reaction to the above Legends and Myths.

What you the visitor, laugh at on Father Ted is not typical irish humour. Observe instead what we laugh at on Father Ted. If you are lost at this point, good. You should be.

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