20 Things You May Not Have Known About Ireland

On St. Patrick’s Day each year, millions of people from across the world celebrate Irish heritage, which begs the question, “How well do you know Ireland?”

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Brand Ireland has become so popular in the last few years that on March 17th, buildings in different countries turn green.

The initiative, known as “Global Greening,” was established by Tourism Ireland.

The Sydney Opera House was the first major world attraction to go green in 2010.

Since then, 470 major landmarks in 55 countries take part in this unique branding of Ireland.

Some of them include the Colosseum in Rome; China’s Great Wall; the Leaning Tower of Pisa; New York’s Empire State Building; the London Eye; Disneyland Paris; the famous I am Amsterdam sign; the Sky Tower in Auckland; the Sacré Coeur, also in Paris; the Cibeles Fountain in Madrid; the Niagara Fall; Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building in Dubai; and much more.

This is a major endorsement for a country that is about the size of the state of Indiana.
Kilmacduagh Monastery. Photo: Mustang_79, Getty Images.

It packs a big punch on the world stage in both its significance as an icon of rich heritage and culture.

But when it comes to knowing Ireland, how many people of Irish descent can say they are experts?

Here are 20 things you may not have known about Ireland

#1: While you may think that Guinness is the most popular drink in Ireland, craft beer consumption is growing, with approximately 100 microbreweries in operation in various parts of Ireland.

#2: The narrowest roads in rural Ireland are known as “boreens,” which translates to “a little road.” Among the 20 things that you may not have known about Ireland is the fact that many of these roads were built during the Great Irish Famine by workers employed by the British government’s Public Works Relief Program.
You'll see narrow roads like this throughout the Irish countryside. Photo courtesy of Emma Cowen,

The initiative, which went into effect in 1845, was viewed as a success since no worker died while engaged in the project.  It was disbanded a year later after British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel lost his re-election.

#3: The main source of fuel in Ireland over the years has been turf, which is cut every year by thousands of farmers across the country. This is especially true in rural areas of Ireland.
A typical stack of turf is shown on a peat bog in Ireland. Photo: Jamie Stamey.

While you’ll find turf fires in many of Ireland’s homes and pubs, Irish people today use additional sources of fuel such as gas and oil.

Many interesting discoveries have been made in peat bogs over the years, including a variety of Bronze Age jewelry, an oak barrel containing butter that was estimated to be 3,000 years old, as well as human remains, also thousands of years old.

If you're interested in discovering more about such bog remains, you'll love the Irish History Podcast, an excellent podcast from Irishman Fin Dwyer.
“Old Croghan Man” found near Croghan Hill in Co. Offaly. Photo courtesy of National Museum of Ireland.

His series of episodes titled, “The Road to Oldcrogher – Murder in a Land Time Forgot,” is fascinating and delves into the discovery of the Iron Age body known as “Old Croghan Man.”

The series of episodes also addresses the impact the discovery had on the local community and its role in the dwindling peat industry in Ireland's Midlands.
#4:  The Irish potato pancake dish called “Boxty” was a common one in Ireland from about 1700 onwards. Made entirely out of potatoes, flour, and milk, it was a staple among the lower classes who could not afford anything else.

food on a plate 20 things you may not have known about Ireland
Homemade Boxty Irish potato pancakes. Photo: bhofak2.

The only time it wasn’t consumed was during the Great Irish Famine from 1845 to 1849.

Today, it is not unusual to see it on several restaurant menus but dressed up with other ingredients to enhance the flavor.

Read more: The Best in Irish Food: Traveling through Mayo and Galway

#5: The one-time red-light district of Dublin, known as “Monto,” was immortalized by James Joyce in his novel, “Ulysses.” In the novel, Joyce referred to it as “Nighttown.”
A sculpture of James Joyce in Dublin. Photo: Failte Ireland.

Between 1860 and 1920, there were up to 1,600 prostitutes working in the area at any one time. It was known as the largest red-light district in Europe. It covered the area bounded by Talbot, Amiens, Gardiner, and Séan McDermott streets.

#6:   The oldest harp in existence is housed in the Long Room Library at Trinity College Dublin. It is known as “Brian Boru’s Harp.” It was reputedly once owned by Boru, the High King of Ireland during the early part of the 11th century.

a coin 20 things you may not have known about Ireland
An Irish Euro coin, Photo

The harp is a national symbol of Ireland that has been used on Irish coins since King Henry VIII’s reign.

#7:  Another one of the 20 things you may not have known about Ireland is the fairy tree, more commonly known as a hawthorn tree. It is often the lone tree in an Irish field, and it is bad luck to cut it down. In 1999, work was interrupted on the main road from Limerick to Galway because of a fairy tree that stood in the way.
A lone fairy tree in Killary Harbor, Galway. Photo: Chris Hill for Tourism Ireland.

The road was eventually rerouted, but it took 10 years to complete the project because of superstition.

#8: Green is associated with Ireland, not because of St. Patrick but because the clover emerged as a symbol of Irish nationalism during the 1798 Rebellion against the British.

#9: Ireland has the most golf courses per capita in the world. In fact, there are approximately 350 golf courses throughout the country, with new ones being constructed all the time.
The golf course at the Old Head of Kinsale. Photo: LC Lambrecht for Failte Ireland.

They range from the very expensive to the more budget-conscious courses. The oldest golf club is the Royal Curragh Golf Club, which was built in 1853.

#10: The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest driving route in the world, measuring 2,500 kilometers (over 1,500 miles).

a coast road how to plan a trip along the wild atlantic way
The Slea Head Drive on the Wild Atlantic Way. Photo: JanMiko.

It starts in County Donegal and ends in County Cork.

#11: The head of the slain 17th-century saint, Oliver Plunkett, can be found on display within a gold shrine at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Drogheda, Co. Louth. The Irish martyr, who became a Catholic priest in the 1650s, was found guilty of treason for “promoting the Roman faith” and sentenced to death.

a church 20 things you may not have known about Ireland
St. Peter's Church in Drogheda, Co. Louth, where the severed head of Saint Oliver Plunkett is enshrined. This is among the 20 things you may not have known about Ireland. Photo courtesy Failte Ireland.

He was brutally hanged, drawn, and quartered on July 1, 1681. Parts of his body were buried in England and Italy. His head was returned to Ireland in 1929.

Read more: Exploring Viking History in these 6 Irish Cities

#12: Before it was under the control of Great Britain, Ireland was ruled by several kings who were constantly raging war against each other. To make matters more interesting, everything operated under Celtic rules, not the feudal system that was prevalent in Europe at the time.

#13: Prior to the Reformation, the Irish practiced Medieval Catholicism, where the mass was said in Gaelic, not Latin as was common in other parts of Europe.
Among the 20 things that you may not have known about Ireland is the fact that the renowned Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, established in 1745, is the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world.

a building discovering early 20th century Dublin
The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. Photo: Leonid Andronov for Getty Images.

#15: The Ceide Fields in Co. Mayo is the most extensive Stone Age site in the world, evidence of field systems that are 6,000 years old!

Something unusual was first noticed in the bogs of this windswept part of Co. Mayo in the 1930s when a local farmer noticed an unusual formation of stones in the bog as he was cutting turf.

a building in a field 20 things you may not have known about Ireland
The Ceide Fields in Co. Mayo. Photo: Peter McCabe for Tourism Ireland/Failte Ireland.

Forty years later, his son, an archaeologist, delved further and discovered evidence of cultivated fields, houses, and tombs that had been hidden for centuries. Today, the Ceide Fields Visitor Center explains the importance of this fossilized landscape.

#16: Ireland played a major role in early long-distance communication between it and North America. The first permanent transatlantic radio station was established in a bog near Clifden in Co. Galway for that very reason.

mountain and lake 20 things you may not have known about Ireland
The Derrigimlagh Bog in Co. Galway where the first transatlantic radio station was established. Photo: Kelvin Gillmor for Tourism Ireland/Failte Ireland.

The Derrigimlagh blanket bog is where you will find the remnants of that station built more than a century ago by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who transmitted the first radio signal from there in 1907.

While it burned to the ground during the Irish War of Independence, you can still see the foundations of many of the buildings that made up the site, as well as workers' houses.

A white memorial in the shape of an airplane wing is also on the site. It marks the place where aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown crashed (safely, I might add).

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#17: The Phoenix Park is the third largest walled city park in Europe (after La Mandria in northern Italy and Richmond Park in London). It is also twice the size of New York’s Central Park! I'll bet that's one of the 20 things that you may not have known about Ireland.

deer in a field 20 things you may not have known about Ireland
Deers in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photo: alexadrumagurean.

As far back as the 12th century, the land now known as Phoenix Park was an open space. In 1662, a royal hunting park was established there, with fallow deer and pheasants. At that time, a wall was built around it.

It was open to the people of Dublin in 1745.
Ratra House, which was once the home of a young Winston Churchill. Photo: Guliolopez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Fun fact: Winston Churchill spent his early years in Ratra House located on the grounds of Phoenix Park. Churchill’s father was the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and was stationed in Dublin for several years. In his biography, Churchill wrote that the happiest years of his life were spent in Phoenix Park, Dublin.tqlkg
The novel, “Dracula,” was written by Irishman Bram Stoker, who was born in Clontarf, Dublin, in 1847. Stoker got the idea for the macabre novel after listening to stories that his mother told him about her native Sligo and the horrible outbreak of cholera that occurred there.

#19: You can thank the Irish for Halloween. It can be traced to the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced “Sow-on”), which traditionally took place between Oct. 31st and Nov. 1st.

people with face masks 20 things you may not have known about Ireland
Ghoulish characters can be found in Belfast for Halloween. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland.

Often celebrated with great fires, Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.

The ancient people of Ireland believed that the spirits could more easily pass through to the mortal world during Samhain, which is why they often wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves since they didn’t want any contact with them.

Read more: Halloween in Ireland: 10 Spooky Celebrations to Enjoy Across the Emerald Isle

#20: Ireland is indeed snake-free. Whether St. Patrick drove them out or not is speculation. Perhaps it’s because the island is isolated from the rest of the European continent.

Let me know if there is something else you discovered about Ireland that is not mentioned in this post. And always, feel free to subscribe to my e-newsletter by signing up below.


Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

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