The Republic of Ireland, a nation of roughly 4.7 million people on Europe's west coast, is similar in size to other EU countries such as Portugal, Austria and Greece. It is also known as Eire (originally the name of a Celtic goddess) and in poetic terms as 'the Emerald Isle'. Ireland has been a tourist destination for many decades. However, it is only over the past two decades that it has become a destination in which foreigners typically come to in order to work and live. This is due to several factors, with the one factor that links them all being that we are an English speaking country.
Ireland has become a popular place for non-native English speakers to do English language courses. Since we share a common language with America, Irish cities such as Dublin and Cork also serve as the European headquarters for many American giant tech enterprises such as Apple and Google, though this is also due to our corporate tax rates, it must be said. The fact that we have so much foreign-direct investment means that there is a lot of inward migration from elsewhere in Europe, as well as globally. Many university students from around the world also choose to spend their study abroad year in Ireland due to the opportunity this offers them to improve their English language skills.
For the benefit of anyone who is totally unfamiliar with Ireland or only vaguely aware of it as a European country, let me introduce you briefly to my country of birth by dispelling some common myths and stereotypes.
Myth 1: A high proportion of the Irish population has red hair
The percentage of Irish people with red hair is estimated to be around 10%, a figure that is matched only in Scotland, the 'ginger gene' having emerged in parts of Europe over the millennia where there was a lack of sunlight, according to researchers (1). Nonetheless, don't expect to be over-awed by the quantity of red-haired people to be spotted if you visit Ireland, as the most common hair colours found in the country are in fact different shades of brown (from light to dark), as well as black.
Myth 2: Irish people are generally quite good at Irish dancing
Just as a majority of Spanish people are not competent flamenco dancers, most people in Ireland are not particularly au fait with the steps involved in performing Irish dance routines. Traditionally, Irish dance has been fairly popular in rural Irish communities. Nowadays though, particularly in the cities, it faces stiff competition from many types of dance forms from around the world such as zumba, salsa and tango. This is not to suggest that Irish dancing as an art is likely to disappear in the future, however. Far from it.
The following myths, which I will proceed to break, are intended mainly for those who have some knowledge of Ireland but who have never visited the country as of yet.
Myth 3: Winters are very cold in Ireland
When used in colloquial fashion, the definition of 'very cold' depends on where you come from and what type of weather you are most accustomed to. Someone from a warm climate that either has very mild winters or no winter at all will find it necessary to adjust themselves to the winter season in Ireland, undoubtedly. That said, however, the cold of Ireland is not of the extreme variety that you would normally expect to find in a country of such a northerly latitude. This is due to the effects of the Gulf Stream, which are warm ocean currents that pass by Irish shores (and make it as far as Iceland, incidentally) en route from the Mexican Gulf. This helps to prevent the onset of very cold weather (and by that I mean somewhere in the region of -20˚C!), meaning that Ireland experiences milder winters than many of its northern European neighbours.
Myth 4: Irish people spend a lot of time drinking alcohol in pubs
Although traditionally the local pub was the main focal point where members of small communities in Ireland would meet (Ireland having typically been presented to outsiders as a rural country), the fact is that many pubs, both in the countryside and in the cities, are not so confident of being able to fill their venues with crowds of people every night of the week any longer. Young Irish people in particular prefer drinking alcohol at home with their friends at weekends, engaging in house parties that can go on until the early hours of the morning if people do not fancy going out to go to a nightclub.
Myth 5: The Irish language is quite similar to Welsh
The Irish and Welsh languages are both Celtic in origin but have nonetheless been developing separately for thousands of years. The Irish language is of the Goidelic (or Gaelic) variety, whereas Welsh is a Brythonic Celtic language. Some similarities in term of vocabulary do appear without a doubt, but they are by no means mutually intelligible. The Irish language is far more closely related to Scots Gaelic (spoken in areas of the Scottish Highlands and western Scotland) and Manx (the original language of the Isle of Man, which lies between Ireland and Britain).
Myth 6: Irish sports are only played in Ireland
While traditional Irish sports like hurling, camogie and Gaelic football all originate in Ireland and continue to be mainly mainly practised in Ireland, they are also practised by Irish people living abroad, those of other nationalities who are of Irish descent, and even non-Irish people with no historical connection to Ireland. Initially, clubs promoting Gaelic games (or GAA, as they are also known) sprang up in countries to which the Irish traditionally emigrated, i.e. the United Kingdom, the US, Canada, Australia and France. Since 2008, however, with Irish people migrating to all corners of the globe in the aftermath of Ireland's recession (2), GAA clubs are now also to be found elsewhere in Europe, in the Middle East, as well as East Asian countries like Japan, China, South Korea and Malaysia.
Hopefully you are feeling a little bit more informed about facts relating to Ireland after reading this blog. If you are someone who has an interest in Irish culture, perhaps it will inspire you to find out more about the history behind its traditions and even visit Ireland in the near future. It is an example of a country that has become increasingly well-known on the world stage due to both the emigration of its citizens and the immigration of foreign nationals to its shores.