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Fascinating Facts

Fascinating facts and snippets about Ireland

The very impressive Roadside Goddess sculpture in Co Galway.
One per cent of the cost of every new road built in Ireland has to fund a piece of art, up to a total of €64,000. Each local authority decides the theme of the art on their stretch of roads.

Image of the Roadside Goddess in Galway, Ireland. Copyright Ireland clling

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Co Wicklow man Tommy Kinsella was the world’s longest serving altar boy. He served at the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Bray for 81 years from 1917 to 1999. He held the Guinness World Record as the longest serving altar boy until Peter Staley from England claimed his record.

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Bram Stoker Dracula

Dracula was written in 1897 by Irishman Bram Stoker. It has never been out of print and has been translated into 50 different languages.

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Did You Know graphic - copyright Ireland Calling

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An old Irish folklore says that if you eat an apple pie on Christmas Eve you won’t suffer ill health the following year.

Irish superstition Goddess_if-you-eat-an-apple-pie-on-Christmas-Eve-you-wont-suffer-ill-health-the-following-year
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A rich man’s money can be described as ‘flúirseach’ (pronounced Flu-shirk) which literally means ‘profusely’ in Irish, although where money is concerned it has come to mean ‘plentiful’.

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The song ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ made famous by Nat King Cole was written by Co Tyrone man Jimmy Kennedy.

Red Sails in the Sunset
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The Irish used to have a saying – ‘Saturday’s flitting, a short sitting’. This meant that people wouldn’t take on anything major on the day before Sunday, the Holy Day. This included moving house, getting married or even travelling overnight.

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Check the price of a pint of Guinness when you were young!

Price of a pint of Guinness

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Did you know… Robbie Burns

Burn’s night is on 25 January – it is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns who was born on 25 January 1759.

He wrote Auld Lang Syne, which is traditionally sang at the start of each new year, but also at funerals and at the endings of other occasions. Boy Scouts often sing it at the end of jamborees.

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The Irish spend more money during the Christmas season than any other European country.

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Dunmore Cave was the site of a Viking massacre in 928. Important archæological discoveries have been made in the caves including large quantities of human remains in 1869. In 1999, 43 silver and bronze items were discovered which dated back to 970 AD.

Wild cats used to live in the Dunmore Caves in Co Kilkenny. The county has been associated with cats ever since. Dunmore Caves are underground limestone caves and are open to the public with a guided tour for a small charge. The temperature in the cave is about 9/10C degrees, and there are over 300 steps, down, and then up again! The cave is open to the public.

Dunmore_cave,_Co_Kilkenny photo Crispin-Purdye_CC2

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Irish Bull – A nonsensical statement in which the second part of the sentence makes the first part impossible – eg, “If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive.” (actually said by non-Irish man Samuel Goldwyn) – is known as an Irish bull.

Example of Irish-Bull_Samuel_Goldwyn_If-I-could
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American writer Edgar Allan Poe has Irish parents. However, he was abandoned by his father when he was a toddler after his mother died.

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Did You Know graphic - copyright Ireland Calling

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April 30th and May 1st are the best days to gather herbs for medicinal use according to Irish mythology. Beltane is the Gaelic May Day festival which falls on 1 May,

Beltane marked the beginning of summer. Special bonfires were lit, and their flames, smoke and ashes were thought to have protective powers. People and their cattle would walk around the bonfire. Then the cattle were driven out to the summer pastures.

Beltane_Bonfire
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The town of Cahirciveen in Co Kerry used to be so inaccessible from the rest of the country that Dubliners would send post via New York. The post would reach Cahirciveen quicker this way than sending it direct.

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The ‘Poison Glen’ was previously known as the ‘Heavenly Glen’. Regrettably, when the English cartographer was drawing the map, he mistakenly muddled the Gaelic word for Heaven (neamh) with the word for poison (neimhe).

Poison Glen Dunlewey, Donegal

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Druid looks out

The Druid is a large wooden statue, opposite Molly Gallivan’s cottage, Bonane, Kenmare. It is carved from the remains of a pine tree, which has stood there for hundreds of years. The carving represents the first settlers in the area over 6000 years ago. The Druid looks out over the valley to the highest point on Barra-Bui mountain where a Cairn burial on the summit marks the resting place of one of his ancient chieftains.

Druid looks out over Barra-Bui mountain

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The Irish world for ‘road’ is ‘Bothar’, while a narrow lane is called a ‘Boreen’.

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America’s first chocolate shop was opened in 1765 at Dorchester, Massachusetts by Irishman John Hannon.

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Did You Know graphic - copyright Ireland Calling

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Irish legend says that the souls of people who had rejected St Patrick’s teachings would come back as werewolves.

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In ancient Ireland, people were most scared of being abducted by fairies during the month of May.

Irish superstition fairies
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Connemara ponies come from the Connemara area in western Ireland – it has a very inhospitable landscape which has made these ponies resilient and strong.

Three theories of where the ponies originated;

1. The Vikings brought over ponies when they invaded Ireland from AD795 onwards, and the Connemara ponies developed from these animals.

2. Some believe the Connemara pony is believed to be a descendant of the Irish Hobby, which lived before the 13th century, but is now extinct

3. Some galleons from the Spanish Armada ran aground in the west of Ireland in 1588, and the Andalusian horses they carried were released on land. These horses are said to have inter-bred with native Irish ponies and became the Connemara ponies.

Connemara-ponies

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There are more dogs in Ireland per capita than any other country in the EU.

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The word hubbub is derived from the ancient Irish war cry abu! It came into the language in the 16th century from the Irish battle cries; ababú, abú.

Hubbub meant ‘confused noise of a shouting crowd’.

Did You Know graphic - copyright Ireland Calling

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During the American Revolutionary War up to 50% of the troops were of Irish descent.

Irish Soldiers in American Revolutnary War
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Did You Know… Fairytale

Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl is the most played song on Irish radio every year during the Christmas period.

Shane MacGowan and Kirsty McColl singing Fairytale of New York

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The official colour of Ireland is actually blue, not green.

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According to Irish folklore, families can prevent an argument over Christmas by placing their shoes side by side on Christmas Eve.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling

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In the 18th century, a Dubliner invented the word ’quiz’ as part of a bet. In order prove he could invent a word, he tagged the word ‘quiz’ around the walls of Dublin. Everyone was puzzled and questioned what it meant and it developed into a real word with the meaning it has today.

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Co Roscommon has a large Brazilian community with 10% of the population having links to the samba country.

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Billy_the_Kid's parents were Irish

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The Irish for ‘I love you’ is ‘Tá grá agam duit’. This is a formal way.

I love you = Tá grá agam duit
A more personal, colloquial way would be to say;

Irish_I-love-you_PERSONAL
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Where does the phrase 'Friday the thirteenth' originate? Copyright Ireland Calling

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In 1644 Athenry Priory became Ireland’s first university. Less than a decade later, in 1652, Cromwell’s soldiers arrived and wrecked the buildings, and threw out or murdered the Friars. To offend the Church even more, horses were kept in the Priory grounds soiling a place of great learning and devotion.

Ruins of Athenry Priory photo Margaret-Flannigan

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Did You Know… Wolfe Tone

Wolfe Tone Bantry Bay

A statue in Bantry town centre of Wolfe Tone, one of the leaders of the 1798 Irish Rebellion.

The people of Bantry erected the statue looking out to sea… it’s to be taken as symbolic of the hope for French help, rather than a literal portrayal of where Tone was at any precise moment.

(Wolfe Tone was on a French flotilla with thousands of French soldiers out at sea in 1796 looking in on Bantry Bay but it was too stormy to land, when 1798 rebellion broke out).

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USS_Daly

Daniel Joseph Daly (he had Irish ancestry) was a US Marine who was one of only 19 men to twice be awarded the Medal of Honor. He was 5’6″, 135lb and was fearless, he was very well respected by his colleagues. He had an American destroyer DD-519 named in his honour – the USS Daly. The Daly had 27 months of service in World War II.

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Kenmare Ireland's tidiest and Best kept town in 2000

On 11 September 2000, the charming town of Kenmare became the first town in Ireland to win both Ireland’s Tidiest Town and Ireland’s Best Kept Town.

However it’s bad news for the cyclists leaving Kenmare – all roads out of Kenmare are uphill!

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The Transport Workers Union of America was founded by Irishman Mike Quill who emigrated from Co Kerry.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling

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Thomas ‘Tommy’ Shaw was the last living Irish veteran of the Great War. He died in 2002 aged 102 and was buried with full military honours in Bangor, Co Down. The Last Post was sounded by a bugler from the Royal Irish Regiment.

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Irish superstition about headaches

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Central Park in New York was modelled on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green.

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People used to hammer coins into a holy tree on the Tyrone shore of Lough Neagh for good luck. Sadly, after several years, the tree died of metal poisoning.

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Bullaun_cure-or-curse-stones thought to have magical powers

‘Cure’ or Curse’ stones sit in a bullaun (Irish; bullán meaning ‘bowl’). Folklore says that the rainwater that collects in the bullaun has magical or healing properties. People would turn these stones over in their hands while praying, or ill-willing someone. Be careful though – if the curse was unfair, it would return to the person who  spoke the curse!

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Did You Know… St Patrick’s burial

Legend has it that after St Patrick’s death, his followers couldn’t agree on where he should be buried. They placed Patrick’s body in a cart and harnessed the cart to two untamed oxen. They agreed to bury Patrick wherever the oxen stopped.

The Oxen stopped at Dun Lethglaisse which is now the site of the Church of Ireland Cathedral, Downpatrick.

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Valentia_Island_Feast Day of St. Darerca_Terryballard_CC3

22 March is the Feast Day of St. Darerca. She is the patroness of Valentia Island. Her history is interwoven with legend. She was the sister of St Patrick of Ireland. Darerca was married twice and had 19 children.

John Colgan, (Irish Franciscan friar and historian) recorded that she had two daughters who became saints – Saint Eiche of Kilglass and Saint Lalloc of Senlis.Colgan also recorded that she had 17 sons, all of whom became bishops. However, according to Breton history one of her sons became Gradlon the Great, King of Brittany.

Four of her sons became saints – Saint Mel of Ardagh, Saint Rioc of Inisboffin, Saint Muinis of Forgney, County Longford, and Saint Maelchu.

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Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was of Irish descent. His ancestors came from Co Fermanagh.
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Dublin poet Nahum Tate wrote the Christmas carol ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night’.

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There are fewer calories in a pint of Guinness than in a pint of Orange Juice or a pint of milk.

Guinness and milk
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The majority of the world’s population of Greenland Whitefronted geese fly to Ireland for the winter.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling
Snowy day in 2002 - Mountjoy Square

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During the 15th-17th centuries Coliemore, a tiny harbour on the south side of Dalkey was the main harbour for Dublin.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling

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Slieve Gullion Calliagh Berras Lough, on Slieve Gullion, is the highest lough in Northern Ireland. The lough got its name after the woman who bewitched the giant Finn McCool into swimming in the lough (according to folklore). She encouraged him to dive into the lough, and when he emerged from the water, his blonde hair had turned completely white.

Legend has it that the same misfortune will happen to anyone who swims in the lough today.

Irish legend turning grey overnight
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Did You Know… George Washington

George Washington’s troops used the password ‘St Patrick’ when they forced the British out of Boston on March 17th 1776.

George Washington's troops used the password 'St Patrick' copyright Ireland Calling

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The most Catholic town in the Republic of Ireland is Buncrana, Co Donegal with 94.3% of the population Catholics. The most Protestant town is Greystones, Co Wicklow with 13.3% of the people belonging to the Church of Ireland.

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Old Irish folklore says that it is bad luck to take down your Christmas decorations before January 6th.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling

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Guinness Draught was launched in 1989. Since then over 800 million cans have been sold in over 70 countries.

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An old bee-keepers’ saying dating from the 17th century. The earlier the bees swarm, the more time there will be for the pollination of the plants. Later in the year it is leaves less time for bees to collect pollen from flowers in blossom.

A swarm of bees in May supertition

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Mallow, Co Cork is home to the world’s most northerly vineyard.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling* * *

In medieval Ireland the Chieftains of Ulster would look to marry into Scottish families. They would receive up to 10,000 soldiers as part of a dowry when marrying a Scottish Lady.

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MGM used Lion-cubs-from-Dublin-zoo
The roaring lion used in the MGM films logo is called Cairbre and he was born on 20th march 1927 in Dublin Zoo.

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Annie Moore statue at Cobh

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Did You Know… Holly

In ancient Ireland people would put holly leaves and branches in their homes during winter. This was so the supernatural forest people would be able to come in and shelter from the cold.

The custom predates Christianity although it is now a well-known Christmas tradition.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling

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Marxist revolutionary leader Che Guevara has Irish ancestry. He is descended from Ana Lynch y Oritz who left Galway for Argentina in the 18th century.

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Grand_Canal,_Tullamore_Kieran-Campbell_CC_2

On 10 May 1785, Tullamore had the world’s first known aviation disaster when a hot air balloon crashed and caused a fire that destroyed 130 homes.

The town shield has a phoenix rising from the ashes. Tullamore holds the Phoenix Festival each year (which began in 2000) which commemorates this accident. Events include hot air balloons, sky diving, concerts, street entertainers, fire parade and fireworks.

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To prevent bad luck to you and your family follow this advice from an old Irish superstition.

Irish superstition

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The West-Link Bridge lanes in Dublin are the busiest in Europe. Each lane is used by 20,700 vehicles every day. This is nearly double the amount of vehicles that use each lane of the George Washington Bridge in New York.

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Enya is Ireland’s most successful solo artist. She has won several awards and sold over 75 million albums worldwide. The only Irish musicians to sell more albums than Enya are U2.

More about Enya here

Eithne Ní Bhraonáin is anglicised to Enya Brennan

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Mosse founded the Totunda Hopital DublinThe Rotunda in Dublin is Europe’s oldest maternity hospital, founded in 1745.

It was originally known as the Dublin Lying-In Hospital.

Bartholomew Mosse, who was a surgeon and midwife, founded the hospital to improve conditions for pregnant women which were appalling by today’s standards.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling

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Dublin buses get their numbers starting in the city centre and moving outwards in a clockwise direction from south to north.. It is the same system used back in the days of horse drawn trams.

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old Irish suprstition In medieval Ireland

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St Patrick is said to be the first person in history to speak out against slavery. The Irish stopped slave trading around the time of Patrick’s death in AD 460 and never started again.

Slemish_mountain_County_Antrimwhere-St-Patrick-is-said-to-have-works-as-a-slave

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Did You Know… Oliver Plunkett

St Oliver Plunket

In 1975, Oliver Plunkett was canonised as a saint. He was the first Irishman in over 700 years to receive the honour. He was made a patron saint for peace and reconciliation in Ireland in 1997.
There were 17 more Irish martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling
Dracula is written as a series of documents – letters, diary entries, and ships’ log entries. The settings are England and Transylvania during 1893.

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St Patrick’s jawbone was preserved in a silver shine. Women often requested it during childbirth. It was also used to help people who suffered epileptic fits and would protect them from the ‘evil eye’.

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Louis Henry Sullivan, born 3 September 1856, was an American architect. He is considered the “’father of skyscrapers’ – he was the creator of the modern skyscraper. He was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, and influenced the Chicago group of architects (Prairie School).

Sullivan, Henry Hobson Richardson and Frank Lloyd Wright are “the recognized trinity of American architecture”.

Louis Henry Sullivan invented the sky scraper

“Form follows function” is one of the fundamental beliefs of modern architects. It comes from a poem Louis Sullivan wrote in In 1896;

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human, and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.

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A mummy was put on display in Belfast in 1824 and is still there today. It was the first time a mummy had been publicly displayed outside Egypt.

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Did You Know fact copyright Ireland Calling
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In medieval Ireland it was thought that having breakfast by candlelight on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day would bring you luck.

In medieval Ireland it was thought that having breakfast by candlelight on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day would bring you luck.

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Dublin got its name from two Irish words, ‘Dubh’ and ‘Linn’ meaning Black Pool. The pool it refers to is now part of Dublin Zoo and is the centre piece of the penguin enclosure. It is the oldest known pool in Northern Europe.

Where Dublin got its name
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A rich man’s money can be described as ‘flúirseach’ (pronounced Flu-shirk) which literally means ‘profusely’ in Irish, although where money is concerned it has come to mean ‘plentiful’.

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Did You Know… Emerald Isle

The first person to refer to Ireland as the ‘Emerald Isle’ was William Drennan in 1795. Drennan was a doctor and poet from Belfast. He used the phrase in his poem, When Erin First Rose.

Read the whole poem, ‘When Erin First Rose’ here.

‘Emerald Isle’ by William Drennan

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The only town in the world to be named St. Patrick is in Missouri, USA. The community was founded in 1833 and is named after Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling
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The Scottish capital, Edinburgh is thought to be named after a 6th century Irish nun called Edana who had founded a convent in the area.

Edinburgh, showing Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of the group of hills in Scotland, and is one of the earliest known sites of human habitation in the area.

Arthur's Seat , Edinburgh

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Did You Know graphic copyright Ireland Calling

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The 19th-century Smith’s Stocking Mill was located in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. This factory made stockings and men’s ‘long-Johns’ – these came to be known as ‘balbriggans’. In John Wayne movies, he often refers to them; “He put his balbriggans on’. Queen Victoria and the Czarina of Russia are also said to have worn balbriggans.

Balbriggan_beach-PD

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An old Irish belief says that people should wear something new on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday or they will not have new clothes for the following year.

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Legend has it that the trout in Lough Melvin were turned from ‘fowl to fish’ by St Patrick. When they were cooked they tasted like chicken.

Lough Melvin legend

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At St Matthew’s Church in Belfast there is a stone called the ‘Bullaun Stone’. It is said to get rid of acne, warts and spots if you rub the effected area on the stone.

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A donkey’s hooves made them a very useful animal in Ireland. The pattern in which they put down their hooves as they walked made them capable of travelling across bog land. Horses found it far more difficult to walk on such a surface.

Donkeys and cross bogland
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