Céad míle fáilte.

Welcome to our special St. Patrick’s Day edition of the Times. In these days of restricted travel and forced isolation, we thought it would be a nice idea to bring Ireland to you, some photographs, jokes, stories, and other Irish stuff.

Prepare for lots of green ink in this week’s Times: it’s our St. Patrick’s Day edition. As an Irishman, I’ve been quite amazed at how popular the day is around the world. World sites light up in green: the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the Golden Gate Bridge. Why this Irish national day, rather than some other country’s? Perhaps it’s because you find the Irish everywhere, Ireland is a country with a long and sad history of emigration, after all. Perhaps it’s the culture: music, writers, actors; in fact, storytellers in all forms. The Irish do love language, especially since their own was mainly lost to them through colonisation.

Ireland is both an ancient land, and a nation marking 100 years of political independence for the Republic this year. It is impossible to grow up in Ireland without being aware of history. Where I went to school, a 13th Century Norman castle stood on the grounds. Drimnagh Castle was built in the reign of King John (of Robin Hood fame), and throughout the centuries after was regularly attacked by Gaelic tribes from the nearby Wicklow mountains, the O’Tooles. My best friend in school was Chris O’Toole, from Wicklow. Both my father and grandfather served in the Home Guard in World War II, stationed in Drimnagh Castle: history is never far away.

Everywhere you go in Ireland, you’ll find ruins of castles and houses, from as far back as pre-Celtic times, right up to the 1916-1921 period, when much of central Dublin was destroyed by artillery, some British and some Irish.

Our songs, poetry, music and stories stem from a tradition millenia old. The oldest man-made structure in the world, they say, dating back 5,000 years, is called, with classic Irish understatement, Newgrange. It’s in the Boyne Valley, a place made infamous by a certain battle in 1790 and still remembered annually by the Orange Order on July 12.

Ireland, they say, has too much history and too little geography. But what geography! To travel through Ireland is to become almost numb, overwhelmed by the beauty you see around you. Yes, perhaps there are many reasons why the Irish national day is marked all over the world. That is the positive side of being Irish, and, for this week, that’s where the emphasis lies. Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

The great scourge of the Irish monasteries in the 7th and 8th centuries were the Viking longships that arrived suddenly, bringing death and destruction as they plundered the goods of the monks. In the margin of a manuscript from those days, an unknown monk noted with relief the storm winds blowing outside his cell.

There’s a wicker wind tonight,
Wild upheavals in the sea;
No fear now that the Viking hordes
Will terrify me.

Throughout the 18th century in Ireland, more and more of the old forests were cut down for settlements and farms. Once covering more than 90% of the island, the trees were mourned by one poet in Kilcash. An elegy to a world that was vanishing before him, where the Gaelic lords were patrons of poets and musicians:

Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad?
Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár;
níl trácht ar Chill Chais ná ar a teaghlach
is ní bainfear a cling go bráth.
An áit úd a gcónaíodh an deighbhean
fuair gradam is meidhir thar mhnáibh,
bhíodh iarlaí ag tarraingt tar toinn ann
is an t-aifreann binn á rá.

(Now what will we do for timber,
With the last of the woods laid low?
There’s no talk of Cill Chais or its household
And its bell will be struck no more.
That dwelling where lived the good lady
Most honoured and joyous of women
Earls made their way over wave there
And the sweet Mass once was said.)

Some cause happiness wherever they go;
others whenever they go.
– Oscar Wilde

Two Irishmen were working in the public works department. One would dig a hole and the other would follow behind him and fill the hole in. After a while, one amazed onlooker said: “Why do you dig a hole, only to have your partner follow behind and fill it up again?”
The hole digger wiped his brow and sighed, “Well, I suppose it probably looks odd because we’re normally a three-person team. But today the lad who plants the trees called in sick.”

Dublin City

River Liffey, Dublin
O'Connell Street 1897
O'Connell Street today
Shelbourne Hotel 1890's
Shelbourne Hotel 1890's
Shelbourne Hotel today
General Post Office after the 1916 Rising
Shelbourne Hotel today
Norman gate Dublin, dating from 1240
Grafton Street, Dublin

Ancient Ireland

Newgrange entrance

Newgrange is a Stone Age (Neolithic) monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, and was constructed about 5,200 years ago (3,200 B.C.). Newgrange is a large circular mound 85m (279ft) in diameter and 13m (43ft) high with a 19m (63ft) stone passageway and chambers inside. The mound is ringed by 97 large kerbstones, some of which are engraved with symbols called megalithic art.

Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. Above the entrance to the passage there is a opening called a roof-box. Its purpose is to allow sunlight to penetrate the chamber on the shortest days of the year, around December 21st, the winter solstice. At dawn, from December 19th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber, gradually extending to the rear of the chamber.

As the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. This event lasts for 17 minutes, beginning around 9am. The accuracy of Newgrange as a time-telling device is remarkable when one considers that it was built 500 years before the Great Pyramids and more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge.

The Tourist

A tourist stops to ask directions from a local. “Can you tell the quickest way to Donegal?”
The local replies: “Tell me, are you walking, or driving?”
“I’m driving”, says the tourist.
“Ah, that would be the quickest way then.”

Standing stone, Connemara
Newgrange Stone
Newgrange Stone

Poulnabrone is a portal tomb in the region known as the Burren, County Clare, and is the oldest dated megalithic monument in Ireland. Dated to c. 4200 BCE it stands 5.9 feet high (1.8 meters) and 12 feet (3.6 meters) long in a field surrounded by the karst stone formations which make up the Burren. Excavations in 1986 and 1988 found the remains of 22 people from the Neolithic Age buried in the dolmen: 16 adults, six children, and one newborn. Along with the skeletons were found a polished stone axe, beads, jewelry, arrowheads, pottery sherds, and other remains of personal possessions, all indicating a tomb for people of high standing in the community, most likely a chieftain and his family.

Poulnabrone,- The Burren
Jadeitite Axeheads, National Museum, Dublin

It might be thought that an island on the far edges of Europe would have been isolated and out of the mainstream of culture and commerce in ancient times. But, in fact, Ireland was part of a complex network of trading routes, as these axeheads show. They date from between 4,000 and 3,800 B.C., and are made from jadeitite which was quarried in the northern Italian Alps. They were most likely had a ceremonial function, as they show no sign of being used.

Early Ireland

The Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry contains the largest concentration of archaeological sites per square mile than anywhere else in Europe.

Cathar Dargan, Dingle Peninsula.

A fort/homestead from early Christian Ireland, likely the home of a ruling family in the region. It is surrounded by a wall around 9 feet high, and 9 feet thick. As with all buildings from the period, no mortar or cement was used, the stones are carefully placed and form a stable structure.

This collection of buildings, known as beehive cells, are located at Fahan on the Dingle Peninsula. It is thought that they were part of a pilgrimage route that stretched from Spain all the way to Mount Brandon on the Peninsula in the early Sixth Century and later. This settlement may have been a stop on the way along the Saints Road to Brandon on the other side of the peninsula.

Fahan, Dingle Peninsula
Fahan Beehive Cells

Gallarus Oratory. This small chapel, also on the Dingle Peninsula, remains watertight and stable, even after centuries of Atlantic wind and rain. Its precise age is unknown. Local poet, Mícheál ó Fionnáin, wrote in Irish of this site.

Gallarus Oratory
A boat turned upside down
I walk loudly on the stones.
The Tears of God are washing the footpath
I am sitting in front of the Oratory
Content, patient, breathing ornate hymns,
full of grace, listening to the melodious music of the blackbird
in the heather.
The miracle of the stones beside me.
[Translated from the Irish by David Shanahan]

Ardfert Abbey: This was a Franciscan friary built on the site of an older monastery which burned down around 1089 A.D. The tower was built in the 15th Century as a residence, with five floors and offers a wide view of the surrounding countryside. The nave and choir of the church is pictured from that vantage point.

The Irish Millionaire

Mick, from Dublin , appeared on ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ and towards the end of the program had already won 500,000 euros.
“You’ve done very well so far,” said the show’s presenter, “but for a million euros, you’ve only got one life-line left, phone a friend. Everything is riding on this question. Will you go for it?”
“Sure,” said Mick. “I’ll have a go!”
“Which of the following birds does NOT build its own nest? a) Sparrow b) Thrush, c) Magpie, d) Cuckoo?”
“I haven’t got a clue.” said Mick, ”So I’ll use my last lifeline and phone my friend Paddy back home in Dublin …”
Mick called up his mate, and told him the circumstances and repeated the question to him. “Well, Mick!” cried Paddy. “Dat’s simple it’s a cuckoo.” “Are you sure?” “I’m sure.”
Mick hung up the phone and told Chris, “I’ll go with cuckoo as my answer.”
“Is that your final answer?” asked Chris. “That it is.” There was a long, long pause and then the presenter screamed, “Cuckoo is the correct answer! Mick, you’ve won 1 million euros!”
The next night, Mick invited Paddy to their local pub to buy him a drink. “Tell me, Paddy? How in Heaven’s name did you know it was the Cuckoo that doesn’t build its own nest?”
“Because he lives in a bloomin’ clock!”

Ardfert Abbey, County Kerry
Ardfert Abbey section

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures.

Grandchildren are gifts of God. It is God’s way of compensating us for growing old

The best things in life are the people we love, the places we have been and the memories
we have made along the way.

Do not resent growing old. Many are denied the privilege.

Main gate, Glendalough, Wicklow

Ireland has a very great number of monastic ruins. Wherever you go, you will find sites, some more preserved than others.

In County Wicklow is the famous Glendalough, the Valley of Two Lakes, where a monastic city, famed throughout Europe, was founded by Kevin and was a major centre of learning and spirituality from around 6th Century. The ‘City’ consists of a number of monastic remains, and the most impressive being the Round Tower which stands 30m high. The main group of monastic buildings lies downstream near the Round Tower. The grounds were entered through the Gateway, which has two round headed granite arches. The monastery in its heyday included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for both the monks and a large lay population.

The buildings which survive probably date from between the 10th and 12th centuries. The destruction of the settlement by English forces in 1398 left it a ruin but it continued as a church of local importance and a place of pilgrimage.

Ross-Errilly Friary is in County Galway at Headfort.

Founded in 1351 as a Franciscan foundation, it is well-preserved and a fascinating place to visit. Aside from the usual cloister and chapel, the site also contains the kitchen, complete with oven and a water tank for fish (fresh fish on the menu!). The monks were actually expelled from the site seven times, once by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in 1656, but always returned. They finally abandoned the site in 1753 and it fell into its current ruinous state.

Ross Errily Abbey
Ross Abbey interior
Ross Abbey, Co. Galway

The Rock of Cashel was once the home of the Kings of Munster, and later the High Kings of Ireland. It is located in County Tipperary, and is also known as Cashel of the Kings. Cashel was an Irish term for a castle or stone fortress. It stands in an imposing position on a hilltop, and the Round Tower dates from around 1100 A.D., when the site was presented to the church by the last king to live there following the invasion of the Normans.

Rock of Cashel


W. B. Yeats
Seamus Heaney
Samuel Beckett
Oscar Wilde plaque


James Galway
Sinead O'Connor
Van Morrison
The Corrs
The Chieftains