Favorite Things About Irish Culture:
1) Live Music:
I have no shame in admitting that nothing excites me more than walking into a bar on a Friday night and finding a cover band. I like them all: countryish acoustic players, traditional Irish acts, and the requisite “bar music” cover bands, whether they be good or cheesey. Live music gives anywhere a jolt of energy.
Even the Irish scenery had a soundtrack. This is “Lady’s View”, a popular stop on the Ring of Kerry.
Being in Ireland and all, traditional Irish music sessions, or Trads, seemed were the most popular. Many bars prided themselves on having “live Irish music 7 nights a week.” Some of the Irish bands were strictly traditional, while some mixed it up. Johnny Cash and Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” were popular additions to the Irish repertoires.
We also saw a number of good, old fashioned top 40-esque cover bands geared towards the younger set. And, as you’ll read below, everyone participated.
While finding live acts here at home is always a pleasant surprise, it was the norm in Ireland. This wasn’t just a weekend phenomena. Two of the better bands we saw were on Sundays.
In Dublin, we saw several Irish performances and a lot of “American Pie.” Galway was my favorite non-Irish band of the trip, Naked Bear, who were big with The Killers and an excellent/weird version of Florence and the Machines “Dog Days Are Over.”
Killarney was the most eclectic mix. We saw several Irish sessions, a bluesy band who did a slowed down “Teenage Wasteland, and a younger cover band who killed Flo Rida’s “Wild One.” I’m always impressed when skinny white guys could rap.
“Call Me Maybe” on a Monday in Killarney. I’m not even ashamed over how much I like this song.
My favorite musical night was at Fibber McGee’s in Belfast. A two man band conducted the best and livliest Irish music session I experienced since being there. From “Dirty Old Town,” to “The Moonshiner”, and even some Kenny Chesney, they seemed to read the crowd and play appropriately.
A great cover of “The Night Pat Murphy Died” in Belfast.
I could go back to Ireland and solely pub crawl from one singer to the next. I might just do that.
2) Lack of Political Correctness:
The Irish have no filter. They aren’t afraid to come across as lewd, racist, sexist, or chauvinistic. In America’s age of uber political correctness I found this to be refreshing. And the best part, was no one got offended or threatened to suit them!
3) Imitation of Americans:
The Irish did hilarious imitations of Americans, mostly based I’m assuming on television shows set in California during the 90’s. “That’s so totally awesome” or “wow, that’s like bitchin'” were just some of their “Yank” impersonations.
They did however, have pretty spot-on American stereotypes. Our bus drivers made note that it was always Americans who wanted to climb fences and take pictures with sheep (which I wanted to do) and during a whiskey tasting session at the Jamison Distillery, our tour guide warned any Americans to taste the whiskey and “not do it like a shot.” Both times, they called out exactly what I was thinking.
4) Irish Breakfast:
I had my complaints about Irish cuisine, but they know how to do breakfast.
Almost every restaurant and pub had a “mini” and “full” Irish breakfast available. The Irish breakfast included a rasher (Irish bacon, more fatty than ours), sausage, fried egg, toast and jelly, and soda bread if you were lucky. Sometimes tea was included, other times you had to get your own. The mini breakfasts would have one bacon, one egg, etc, while the full usually doubled the portions. Most of the time the full breakfast was available for no more than five Euro, and sometimes for an extra you could add a pint.
They also had “black pudding”, which I avoided. I just read that it’s a blood based “sausage”, so I’m glad I was wary.
An added bonus was that many bars did an all day breakfast. I’m a big believer in eggs, toast, and sausage at anytime of day (it’s 10:10 now and I’ve just came from frying up two eggs with toast).
Northern Ireland introduced us to the Ulster Fry: their version of the breakfast which typically would also add a fried tomato, beans, or mushrooms. They also grilled their soda bread and added a lot of butter. I was a big fan.
5) Singing and Dancing Encouraged:
I feel like here at home, if you’re out at a bar, there might be a fun group dancing and singing to the jukebox, or standing in front of the band, but in general the majority of the crowd just watches (unless you’re at a Sunday Jam in SIC). In Ireland it was weird if you just sat and talked while good music was on. Everyone was up, everyone was singing, and if they didn’t know the words, they would just clap and whoop along.
I’m a big believer in every successful night out ending in a drunken dance party or sing-a-long. Ireland agrees.
6) Tea and Cider are Manly:
Not much to explain here. I feel like I’d get made fun of for drinking tea with lunch. Everyone in Ireland drinks tea. Possibly more than coffee. Cider was also a viable option at the bars: Bulmers in Ireland, Magners up north.
Cheers may just be the Irish Aloha. It can be used as a greeting, a farewell, or a thank-you, and sounds infinitely cooler than any of those. It isn’t used for cheers. Slainte is the correct salutation before downing an adult beverage.
8) Regional Sports:
The GAA, Gaelic Athletic Association is in charge of Hurling and Gaelic football, the two biggest spectator sports in Ireland. What I liked about these sports ist that the GAA is an all amateur association.
Most large enough towns have their own Hurling, Gaelic Football, and sometimes Rugby Clubs. The games are played on Sunday so that no one misses work, and towns take tremendous pride in their teams. It makes sense, since the teams are made up of people the spectators run into on a day to day basis.
9) Rampant Swearing:
See number two. The Irish swear. A lot. I don’t know if it’s the accents, but it doesn’t sound nearly as trashy as it does here. Maybe because they’re creative with it.
10) General Interest:
What I mean here is that most of the Irish people I encountered were generally interested in life in the US and in our culture. They weren’t judgey, they weren’t ignorant, they were just curious. And most of them were happy to answer any questions I had. I began my trip prefacing many questions with “sorry if this makes me sound stupid” or “I don’t mean to offend”, but realized I didn’t need that. The openness to discuss each other’s cultures in a relaxed manner was nice and helped me learn a lot.