In my November 11, 2010 post, “The Emerald Isle: Worth a visit and a return,” I tried to make a strong case for teachers to take their students to Ireland. I went on a walking tour of Ireland last month and I remain steadfast in my support of Ireland as a wonderful travel destination. Now I’m going to try to convince students to badger their teachers into taking them to Ireland.
1. Come for the “craic”: It’s a Gaelic word that is pronounced “crack” and the closest meaning is “fun.” Gaelic, by the way, is one of the oldest written languages in the world and it is experiencing a revival in Ireland as its national language. When you go to Ireland, you can see the bilingual road signs and you can even tune in to a Gaelic television station in your hotel room. You can aggravate your parents when you phone home from Ireland by telling them you have been enjoying the “craic.”
2. The ties that bind: According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2010, 34.7 million Americans claimed to have Irish ancestry, an amazing number when you consider that the population of Ireland is only 4.58 million. There were three Irish-born signers of the Declaration of Independence and four who signed the Constitution. Twenty-two U.S. Presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama have Irish roots. And you probably thought it was just John F. Kennedy! To enhance your own study of American history marked by the strong impact of the Irish, you need to go to Ireland.
3. Titanic (and Lusitania) connections: 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. So many towns and cities have connections to the Titanic, but the place to go to pay your respects and to learn more about this tragedy is Ireland. On your EF tour, you might get the chance to visit Cobh (called Queenstown in 1912) in the Republic of Ireland where the final 123 passengers boarded the Titanic. Cobh is also connected to another tragic ship, the Lusitania, a British passenger liner sunk by a German U-boat in 1915 off the Irish coast, near Kinsale. Many Lusitania victims are buried in a cemetery in Cobh. There are memorials for both ships and the Cobh Heritage Centre provides informative exhibits. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the Titanic was built, a new museum called Titanic Belfast opened on March 31 this year. Instead of feeling ashamed for being the city that built and launched the Titanic, Belfast is now embracing that doomed ship’s history. You might be inspired to reenact that famous “I’m flying” scene from the 1997 film with someone in your tour group.
4. Small-Town Personalities: Ireland is filled with towns that have been awarded the “National Tidy Town Award” and these picturesque towns like Adare, “Ireland’s prettiest village,” are a sight to behold. You will be able to visit many small towns famous for interesting reasons. Sneem, located on the Iveragh Peninsula, is a popular rest stop when you are traveling around the Ring of Kerry. In the town square, you can pose with a statue of Steve “Crusher” Casey, who was the world wrestling champion from 1938-1947. You might stay at a hotel in Lisdoonvarna, a town that hosts a matchmaking festival every September. Watch The MatchMaker (1997) before you depart if you’re going to stay in this town.
5. Wonderful Food: I had the pleasure of spending a day in Kinsale, a small fishing and sailing town known as the gourmet capital of Ireland. I had a memorable meal there, but you can find excellent food all over Ireland. Take full advantage of your lunch breaks to explore the café and restaurant offerings in a town or city. At your group dinners, you may find at least two types of potatoes on the menu, a boon for teenagers. Besides the mussels I inhaled in Galway one evening, my best meal was the fish-and-chips I ordered for lunch at Harrington’s in Dingle, the only town on the Dingle Peninsula.
6. Excellent Shopping: You only need to remember three words when it comes to one of the best places to shop in Ireland: “Blarney Woolen Mills.” EF often books student groups in the hotel located on the grounds of Blarney Woolen Mills. The luck of the Irish will be with you if you get to stay here. You can even see Blarney Castle from your hotel window if your room is in the front. You will be able to select wonderful souvenirs for your family and for yourself. Just be sure to check the label for “Made in Ireland.” There are several Blarney Woolen Mills stores around Ireland, too.
Come back next week to discover more reasons to discover Ireland!