Culture and Customs of the Emerald Isle

Ireland is proud of its heritage and language. The Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Minister passed regulations that decree only the Gaelic versions of place names and street signs are to be used in the regions where the Irish language is officially the major language.

Ireland is legendary for its festivals and fairs (craic and fleadhs). They are a big part of Irish cultural life whether it’s the gastronomic delights of the Kinsale Gourmet Festival or the high-brow Dublin Theatre Festival. At Puck Fair in Kerry, a goat is crowned king.

The pub is the heart of Irish culture. It's a place to socialize as well as relax or grab a meal. They provide a place for poetry readings, political talks, and music.

Music and dancing are at the heart of many of Ireland's traditions. Irish folk music is known worldwide. More recently, in the middle of the 20th century, as Ireland was attempting to modernize, traditional music tended to fall out of favor, especially in urban areas. During the 1960s, inspired by the American folk music movement, there was a revival of interest in the Irish tradition. This revival was led by such groups as The Dubliners, The Chieftains, Emmet Spiceland, The Wolfe Tones, the Clancy Brothers, Sweeney's Men, and individuals like Seán Ó Riada and Christy Moore.

Before too long, groups and musicians including Horslips, Van Morrison, and Thin Lizzy were incorporating elements of traditional music into a rock idiom to form a unique new sound. During the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of artists like U2, Enya, Flogging Molly, Moya Brennan, The Saw Doctors, Bell X1, Damien Rice, The Corrs, Aslan, Sinéad O'Connor, Clannad, The Cranberries, Rory Gallagher, Westlife, B*witched, BoyZone, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Black 47, VNV Nation, Rob Smith, Ash, The Thrills, Stars of Heaven, Something Happens, A House, Sharon Shannon, Damien Dempsey, Declan O' Rourke, The Frames and The Pogues.

During the 1990s, a subgenre of folk metal emerged in Ireland that fused heavy metal music with Irish and Celtic music. The pioneers of this subgenre were Cruachan, Primordial and Waylander.

Irish music has shown an immense increase in popularity with many attempting to return to their roots. Some contemporary music groups stick closer to a "traditional" sound, including Altan, Téada, Danú, Dervish, Lúnasa, and Solas. Others incorporate multiple cultures in a fusion of styles, such as Afro Celt Sound System and Kíla.


St. Patrick's Day in Ireland

Although celebrated worldwide today with parades, green beer, and corned beef and cabbage, the celebration of St. Patrick in old Ireland was more of an emphasis on spirituality, as well as a break from Lent. Families attended church and "the wearing of the green" didn't mean one was supposed to dress in green clothes, but that they wore a shamrock as a symbol of the Trinity. Children wore St. Patrick's crosses they usually handmade the week before the festival. On the day of the festival, all restrictions for Lent were set aside for feasting and merriment.

St. Patrick's Day was regarded as the middle of spring. St. Patrick promised improved weather on the days after March 17, so Irish farmers planted their potato crop around this time. Delaying this work for long after the festival was looked upon as lazy, but no work was expected on St. Patrick's Day.

After church mass, the women and children would begin preparing the feast while the men headed to the pubs to drink the "Pota Pádraig" or St. Patrick's Pot. Afterwards, the men hurried home to eat. The meal we think of as being traditional, corned beef and cabbage, was actually started by Irish American immigrants, so it's not at all traditional to the Irish. Instead they would eat cured pork, potatoes, and soda bread.

The rest of the evening was spent singing, dancing, telling stories, and of course drinking. One final custom at the end of the day was "Drowning the Shamrock." A leaf that had been worn was placed into the bottom of the final glass. When everyone's health had been toasted, the shamrock was taken from the bottom of the glass and was thrown over the left shoulder. Of course, no one forgot to toast St. Patrick:

St. Patrick was a gentleman
Who through strategy and stealth
Drove all the snakes from Ireland,
Here's a toasting to his health;
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good St. Patrick
And see all those snakes again!


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