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Destination Ireland

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© Lonely Planet Publications
18

Destination Ireland
FAST FACTS
Population: 4.2 million
(Republic), 1.7 million
(Northern Ireland)
Unemployment rate:
4.3%
Inflation: 4.5%
Territory size: 70,300
sq km
Annual earnings from
tourism: €5 million
Mobile phone subscriptions in Ireland: 4.3
million for 86% of the
population
Number of visiting tourists per year: 7.3 million
(more than there are
residents)
Irish adults who have
satellite TV: 25%
Biggest no-no: Don’t say
‘begorrah’ – they’ll just
laugh at you
Second-most spoken
language: Mandarin
Chinese

After 10 years of the same government, the Republic went to the polls on
24 May 2007 with the whole country expecting change. The outgoing Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, couldn’t quite escape the whiff of scandal surrounding
his private finances and his party, Fianna Fáil, was under constant attack
by the opposition for having squandered the opportunities presented them
by the single greatest period of economic growth in history, with a slew of
short-sighted decisions and broken promises. On 25 May, Ireland awoke
to discover that despite what every poll had told them, the country wasn’t
quite ready for a whole new change of direction and had voted to put
Bertie and his team back into power for another five years.
Who could blame them? On the surface, Ireland has never had it so
good. The world’s favourite poster-child for untrammelled economic
development has become a marvel of dynamic entrepreneurialism, a
forward-thinking paragon of modernity that is not about to take a break
any time soon.
These are, unquestionably, exciting times, with the country virtually
unrecognisable from the Ireland of 20 years ago, when high unemployment and a battered economy meant that emigration was a fact of life
for someone in almost every family, and opportunities were slices of luck
that really couldn’t be trusted. But no country can change completely in
such a short space of time – not even Ireland, which has undergone the
kind of socioeconomic transformation Stalin would have dreamt about
when concocting his five-year plans. Ireland has changed all right, but
in so doing the country has developed two distinct personalities that will
become evident as you make your way around.
You won’t be able to avoid the much-trumpeted child of the Celtic
Tiger, the architect of the New Ireland, a land of motorways and multiculturalism planned and developed in between double-decaf lattes and
time-outs at the latest spa offering thermal mud treatment....
lonelyplanet.com DESTINATION IRELAND
After 10 years of the same government, the Republic went to the polls on
24 May 2007 with the whole country expecting change. The outgoing Taoi-
seach, Bertie Ahern, couldn’t quite escape the whiff of scandal surrounding
his private finances and his party, Fianna Fáil, was under constant attack
by the opposition for having squandered the opportunities presented them
by the single greatest period of economic growth in history, with a slew of
short-sighted decisions and broken promises. On 25 May, Ireland awoke
to discover that despite what every poll had told them, the country wasn’t
quite ready for a whole new change of direction and had voted to put
Bertie and his team back into power for another five years.
Who could blame them? On the surface, Ireland has never had it so
good. The world’s favourite poster-child for untrammelled economic
development has become a marvel of dynamic entrepreneurialism, a
forward-thinking paragon of modernity that is not about to take a break
any time soon.
These are, unquestionably, exciting times, with the country virtually
unrecognisable from the Ireland of 20 years ago, when high unemploy-
ment and a battered economy meant that emigration was a fact of life
for someone in almost every family, and opportunities were slices of luck
that really couldn’t be trusted. But no country can change completely in
such a short space of time – not even Ireland, which has undergone the
kind of socioeconomic transformation Stalin would have dreamt about
when concocting his five-year plans. Ireland has changed all right, but
in so doing the country has developed two distinct personalities that will
become evident as you make your way around.
You won’t be able to avoid the much-trumpeted child of the Celtic
Tiger, the architect of the New Ireland, a land of motorways and multi-
culturalism planned and developed in between double-decaf lattes and
time-outs at the latest spa offering thermal mud treatment. With 60%
of the population under 40, the memories of uncertain Ireland before
the Celtic Tiger are fast receding in the face of the unfettered optimism
brought on by these prosperous times. These Celtic cubs are overseeing the
grand transformation of the country from rural backwater to the envy of
Europe, with world-class hotels, dining from all corners of the globe and
a range of services designed to get the most out of the country’s natural
bounty, which is pretty spectacular.
Ireland’s other personality is a little more traditional, and if the regular
polls of departing tourists are to be believed, still holds the key to Ireland’s
draw as a tourist destination. At the heart of it all is the often breath taking
scenery, still gorgeous enough to make your jaw drop despite the best
efforts of developers to scar some of the most beautiful bits with round-
abouts, brutal suburbs and summer bungalows. From the lonely, wind-
lashed wilderness of Donegal to the postcard landscapes of West Cork,
Ireland is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, and worth every
effort you make to explore it. The sometimes overwhelming popularity of
the scenic superstars like Connemara and Kerry has seen the emergence
of quieter idylls as the preferred destination of the discerning traveller,
who has discovered the beauty of the lakes of Roscommon, the villages of
Waterford and the rarely visited counties like Westmeath. Here you can
come into contact with a more genuine Ireland, the kind removed from
the slick machinery of the tourist trail.
Destination Ireland
The slow grind that resulted in the end of violence in Northern Ireland
has meant that the province can finally go about showing to a much wider
audience that it is just as beautiful and interesting as the rest of the island.
In 2007, Lonely Planet’s Blue List put it in the world’s top 10 destinations
to visit for good reason – the province has always had plenty to see, but it
was tough to appreciate the likes of South Armagh’s rural scenery when it
was known as ‘Bandit Country’ due to the high level of IRA activity.
Ireland is a complex, often contradictory country, and those contradic-
tions are evident everywhere you go, from the thatched rural pub adver-
tising wi-fi connection and imported Australian wines to the group of
Polish-born schoolkids chatting away to each other in Irish. No sooner do
you make an assumption about the place than something will confound
you completely, leaving you none the wiser than before you began. But
don’t worry, you’re in good company: most of the Irish are as confused
about it as you are.
All of this confusion hardly fits the traditional, timeworn view of a na-
tion of friendly people made happy by the conviviality of a drink among
friends, but the Irish have always mocked those fanciful notions kept
alive by many a wishy-washy tourist brochure and the likes of The Quiet
Man. Of course the Irish love a drink, but they know that they also have
huge problems with the stuff, and the country is tackling the issue on a
national level.
Yet for all of the problems thrown up by any modern society – and
Ireland has plenty of them on its plate – the fact remains that the Irish
warmth and welcome is the real deal, and millions of visitors testify to the
sheer ease with which they made friends here. Someone will stop and help
you find your way when you’re standing on a corner gawking at a map;
you will strike up a conversation if you’re sitting alone in a pub; and there
is a very good chance that if you’re stuck somewhere a local will volunteer
a lift to wherever you need to go. The Irish love complaining about their
country – about the crappy weather, the horrible traffic, the unplanned
construction, the venal corruption – and will swear to you that you’re
the luckiest person on earth because you don’t have to live here, but they
only do it because this is the greatest country on the planet. Make sense?
Well, it does here.
FAST FACTS
Population: 4.2 million
(Republic), 1.7 million
(Northern Ireland)
Unemployment rate:
4.3%
Inflation: 4.5%
Territory size: 70,300
sq km
Annual earnings from
tourism: €5 million
Mobile phone subscrip-
tions in Ireland: 4.3
million for 86% of the
population
Number of visiting tour-
ists per year: 7.3 million
(more than there are
residents)
Irish adults who have
satellite TV: 25%
Biggest no-no: Don’t say
‘begorrah’ – they’ll just
laugh at you
Second-most spoken
language: Mandarin
Chinese
© Lonely Planet Publications
18 19
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