Castles, standing stones, high crosses, holy sites, Georgian mansions, rolling hills, mountains, cliffs at seaside, and sandy beaches. Pubs, story tellers, leprechauns, shamrocks, history, tea, cheese, bannocks, soda bread, Guinness, sunrises, murals, poetry, music, theater, dance. Newgrange, Knowth, The Jennie Johnston emigration ship, the walls of Derry, stone houses on the Blaskets, the English Market in Cork, the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, Temple Bar in Dublin, Johnny Benny’s Pub in Dingle… all these are just tasters of all there is to do and see and experience in Ireland.
There is one best thing to do, though, and you are able to do it in any of these places, and the many others you will come to explore.
The one best thing to do in Ireland is: listen.
Listen to the cadences of speech. Across the island of Ireland, there are regional accents and turns of phrase that give character to each place. As a first time — or repeat — visitor, perhaps all the accents sound unfamiliar. As you travel, though, tune in and listen, and you’ll begin to hear differences.
Listen for the Irish language. Many of the rhythms and patterns of English spoken by Irish people have — years ago, true — come over from Irish. The language itself — which, no, does not sound anything like English, it comes from a different linguistic realm — is the first language in many parts of the west, especially in west Kerry and in Donegal. There are Irish speakers in every part of Ireland, though (it is a required subject in schools). They are served by Irish language television network TG4 and radio programming in Irish on Radio na Gaeltachta, both of which you will find easy to access in Ireland, and you may listen to radio programs online before and after your travels. BBC Northern Ireland also offers programming in Irish, including an archived series called Giota Beag,which is helpful for getting a taste of learning and speaking Irish and is available through the internet.
Listen to the stories, and strike up conversations, if you choose. Many Irish people love the art of conversation, both the telling and the listening.
Listen to the music. Just as accents vary, so does the range of music. You will find all the sort of chart music as there is in other countries, done, at times, with an Irish twist. There is a flourishing classical music scene, and country music has found an audience in Ireland, for both international and homegrown artists. Traditional music and contemporary music which arises from Irish tradition, songs in English and Irish, tunes (the ones without words) for dancing and for listening: listen for these, listen for the heart of the traditional music of Ireland. Even if you are not that inclined toward music in other parts of your life and your travels, it is so deeply woven into the life and story of Ireland (the harp, for example, appears on Euro coins minted in Ireland and on official documents and Irish passports) that you will want to listen as part of your experience of the country. Music can also be a way to prepare, remember, and share part of your experience of Ireland.
Listen to to the waters. Ireland is an island, a water born country. Hearing the waters will add to your understanding. Take the time to listen to the waves as you go along the coast, the sound of the rivers and lochs that you come across, the rhythm and music of the rain and snow.
Listen to the quiet. Even in the midst of the busiest towns and cities, even at the most heavily tourist thronged sites, there is a core of quiet in Ireland. At more silent places, in times that naturally lend themselves to space and stillness, listen in these places as well, in the dark starry nights and the bright sunny days. Listen, and let Ireland speak to you.
Photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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