50 stars on what's best about living in Ireland
Published 24/08/2015 | 02:30
Ireland's writers, chefs, models and journalists, amongst others, outline what they believe is best about Ireland.
Food writer and model
It's probably one of two things - tea, or Irish slang phrases that no one else in any English-speaking country would have a clue about. We also have a uniqueness that I haven't seen anywhere before. Ireland is still very much a community - I think in many other places that's been lost.
Award-winning novelist and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick
Apart from the people I love, the greatest blessing I know is the sea. A wonderful thing about Ireland is that, no matter where you live, you're never all that far from that immense beauty and mystery. The Italians say the sea is 'the poor man's opera', and we have that available to all of us who want it.
Then, we have our extraordinary inheritance of music, literature and poetry, a treasury being augmented every day by our younger writers and musicians. Any country that includes Imelda May, The Stripes and Martin Hayes, with towering figures like Anne Enright, Colm Toibin, Paul Howard [Ross O'Carroll-Kelly], John Banville and Marian Keyes, is a place in which I'm immensely happy to live.
And for all the faults, grandiosities and false vanities of the Celtic Tiger years, we live in a place where our young people are the very best of us. Smart, clued-in, articulate and unafraid, unsectarian, non-racist, welcoming to the world, they are the most bullshit-free generation we have ever had. They remind me every single day in my job as a university teacher that Ireland's golden years are ahead of us, not behind. Ten years from now, we are going to be a wonderful country. In the words of The Who, my favourite rock band of all time, 'We won't get fooled again'.
Cook and author
The people, and the natural raw ingredients. Both are second to none.
The three things I love most about Ireland are no more. 1: Irish mothers that made their sons feel like Masters of the Universe. 2: The Lansdowne Roar, now replaced with the Aviva Alcoholic Burp. 3: The Irish virgin who believed the Devil stalked the dance floor at dance halls.
RTE Radio 1 presenter
After years of trekking through airports, this year we went to Achill Island for our family holiday - and I'd forgotten just how brilliant the Irish family holiday is.
Tayto sandwiches; paddling in your coat; cooped-up city kids running wild; surf lessons at the Blackfield Bus in Keel; kayaking around the headlands with Tomas; crab claws and Calvey's lamb sausages; children's trad sessions in Lavelle's pub, and long, long summer days, all against the backdrop of truly magnificent scenery in a beautiful stone cottage right at the beach.
No airports, no check-in; chuck it all into the car, down to your favourite pillow. We could even bring the dog.
It's a tough one to try to narrow what I love about Ireland down to one specific thing or person. Having said that, I immediately thought of the comedian Dara O Briain. He's just so Irish, in the best sense of the word. He has a wonderful open, warm nature. His humour is incredibly smart, quick and charmingly self-deprecating. He seems very comfortable in his own skin. It's fair to say one wouldn't immediately think 'stud' when you see him. His beauty is like the beauty of the Burren in Co Clare. Odd, in a barren sort of way, but very beautiful all the same.
The most amazing thing about Ireland (it may be true of every country, for all I know, but no one can really enter into the inner reality of a country that is not their own) is that there is a multitude of Irelands behind or beneath or beyond the surface of the official one.
In any of these (and they are always subjective experiences) you may be struck in the spirit at any moment by the realisation that Ireland at its heart remains ineffable, constant, unmistakably itself.
There is a moment when my wife and I, driving west on a summer's evening, three miles beyond Sligo town, turn down the hill into Rathcormack (or Rathcormac or Rathcormick - depending on which signpost you're looking at) and know we are home. The Atlantic grumbles to our left, Ben Bulben gazes serenely across our path, and the village looks like something out of another kind of Western.
This is, for us, the wardrobe door into the Ireland within, the gateway to Yeats Country and also to the childhood wonderland my father used to describe to us. We stop at Drumcliffe churchyard and do not worry about whose bones may occupy the nearest grave to St Columba's church, but instead have tea and the best scones in Ireland at the Drumcliffe Teahouse, and think how lucky we are to know of, to belong to, such a place.
In this magical place, I find the most intoxicating correspondence with some uncharted part of myself: I know I am Irish, in a way that can neither be given up nor taken away.
TV presenter and hotelier
While filming At Your Service, we visit all parts of Ireland, from Donegal to Cork. One of the surprises for me has been the emergence of west Clare and how it has developed over the years.
While filming The Strand Bistro in Kilkee, I discovered the Loop Head Drive, on what is now called the Wild Atlantic Way. While filming in Ballyvaughan, at what will be Hazelwood Lodge Guesthouse, I found two gems nearby.
First, Ireland's unique Hazel Mountain Chocolate, where one can follow the cocoa bean all the way from Cuba or Madagascar to the finished product in the form of edible chocolate. The process is stunning for adults and kids!
Also nearby is the Burren College of Art, which is a world-class venture and worthy of a visit. Artists such as Richard Hearns give masterclasses to attendees from all over the world. When I visited, there were over 30 students from the USA who were being so creative it was a joy to watch. It's not often one can see living art being created.
To top it off, one of Ireland's Blue Book properties is just up the road in the form of Simon Haden's and Frederieke McMurray's Gregans Castle Hotel, where they have stunning food, a warm welcome and a view of the Burren. Shhhhh, don't tell everyone, but the Burren is a great family destination and just recently won a European Destination of Excellence award for The Burren Food Trail. Go!
I love that our cead mile failte hasn't become just a meaningless phrase over a door. I know many talented people in the hospitality industry, and even in my home village of Spiddal, in Co Galway, I see people returning from all over the country and abroad to the same B&B year after year - because the welcome they get is real, and that gives them an extra connection with an area that beautiful scenery alone can't provide (though it helps).
Our genuine warmth and willingness to be of service to visitors is, for me, one of the best things about Ireland.
Singer and animal activist
My fav thing about Ireland is its amazing coastline. In particular, the beach at Ballyliffin in Donegal. It's a four-hour drive for me. But hey, when I arrive there's a cafe/restaurant called Nancy's Barn in the town which serves the most glorious food. Altogether amazing.
DAITHI O SE
The people, culture, music, scenery are all obvious answers and all correct, but I'm going for our turn of phrase. A turn of phrase that has the ability to confuse any foreign language and communication academic! For example, if you said to a German, 'How's she cuttin?' the reply could be, 'What is she cutting?'; 'Who is she?' and 'Why are you asking me?'
We also have a metaphor for every situation, most of the time leaving our visitors with a WTF look on their faces. A single American man on a trip to Dingle recently was saying how he'd like to have children one day, to be told by a local, 'You can't whistle with one lip!' In other words, he needs to find a woman first. The WTF look was priceless!
One of my favourite parts of Ireland is Sandymount Green in the morning time; empty streetscapes, the green, the sea, that sense of freshness that you get at the beginning of a new day when the rest of the city is still sleeping.
The legends, the folklore, the banter, the Guinness. The fact that some of the world's best designers, sportspeople, artists, poets, writers and philosophers come from this beautiful little green isle. We are leaders. I'm proud to say I'm Irish.
Broadcaster, travel writer and model
Apart from the pride I feel presenting my passport at any border, and the incredibly sound people, the best things about Ireland (because it's too hard to pick just one!) are: spending a weekend anywhere in Co Kerry, that beautiful gem of a county. I adore the endless green, the fresh air, the beaches and the fine-looking Kerry cows!
Now, that said, I'd take a detour to the Monart hotel in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself; that place is Nirvana.
An evening cooped up in a corner of L Mulligan Grocer in Stoneybatter with a pot of spiced crab and a light beer.
Waving at everyone you pass on the road, as soon as you get outside of the city.
The endless talent this tiny country consistently produces, whether it's literature, art, sport, music, whatever - our input is always world class.
And having my Mam, Dad, brother and our little pup and nutty chickens as near as possible.
TV presenter and designer
The Sugarloaf Mountain . . . OK, it's not really a mountain, more a large hill, but to a four-year-old, the Sugarloaf in Co Wicklow is a gigantic volcano that, when conquered, gives the most spectacular views of Dublin Bay and the Dublin mountains.
We regularly climb the Sugarloaf as a family (dogs included) as it's a fun way of getting fresh air and exercise. Apart from the views, you get a great sense of achievement when you reach the top. It's only 500 metres high and is an easy walk for the most part, but the last bit of the climb is steep and rocky and 'the fun bit' for the children.
We usually take a picnic, and anytime we have overseas visitors staying with us, we bring them up there to show off the beautiful scenery - it is in the 'Garden County', after all.
As a treat after all that exertion, we usually stop off at the nearby Roundwood Inn for something to eat and a drink - they do a great Irish coffee on a cold winter's day!
TV presenter and fitness guru
Denny and Betty Byram, my parents. I know it may sound cheesy, but when you live away from home for so long, you really start to pine for your parents; their house, their company, their advice, their hugs.
My parents have always been so proud and supportive of me, that nowadays I do things and take jobs just so I can make them prouder.
When you start to get older, you really appreciate that they are here and healthy. Going home for me means just that - time at home in the house I grew up in, with the people who have taught me everything I know.
The music, and the weather, and the little houses, and the language, and the countryside and the people, and the stories, and TG4, and Daithi O Se, and Vincent Browne, and the mysticism.
MARY MITCHELL O'CONNOR
Is it possible to pick one thing you like about a country you love and have lived in your entire life? I think not. It's almost like giving a child the keys to a sweet shop and telling them that they can only pick one chocolate bar.
I, like others from time to time, find myself taking for granted the warmth of the Irish, the beauty of the countryside, and the friendships I have been so lucky to have forged since childhood. It's the people that make Ireland the envy of so many countries.
I, for one, am proud to call myself Irish. It is only when I leave Ireland that I come to understand what defines us: resilience, acceptance, integrity and tolerance. Did I forget to mention the sense of pride I get from watching our sporting heroes competing? Or the pleasure from eating an ice cream on Dun Laoghaire Pier on a summer's day?
Actress and TV presenter
As the song says: 'If you ever go across the sea to Ireland/then maybe at the closin' of your day/you will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh/and see the sun go down on Galway Bay.' Corny, but true! Sunsets in the west are pure magic. That, and the fact that it's 4am and someone, somewhere, at an Irish house party is singing!
The best thing about Ireland is the ability the Irish have to insult you and pay you a compliment at the same time! It's just beautiful and truly Irish.
One of my favourite places in the world is Clare Island near Westport for its sheer natural beauty, and the warmth and hospitality of the islanders.
Sitting at the bar in the Roundwood Inn in Glendalough. Eating an oyster with Eoin.
Model, blogger and lifestyle guru
We live close to Rathcoole Park. It's a really nice park. They have loads of ducks there; Ollie, my son, is obsessed with ducks. That's probably my favourite.
My favourite thing about Ireland is our unique culinary delights like red lemonade and Tayto crisps. You won't find anything quite like them anywhere else.
Chairperson of The Communications Clinic
Don't let on I told you, but I love the Irish wide boy - the bloke (or girl) who's always on the margins of honesty, who's clever, insightful (particularly about what people really think, as opposed to what they should think), witty, charming, celebrated by Somerville and Ross and O'Casey; who always comes in a side door even when the front door is wide open.
Start walking south along the boardwalk at the bridge in Wexford. Look at the boats and the mixture of styles in the buildings along the quay front. Look at the light on the water. Continue as far as the Talbot Hotel and take the narrow street to the right just before the hotel. Once you hit the Main Street, which is parallel to the quay, walk its full length. South Main Street; North Main Street. On that walk, you will see every kind of person. And then go into Greenacres Restaurant. For coffee in the morning, or for lunch or early dinner. Or just to browse the bottles of wine as though they were books.
Communications Director Ireland for L'Oreal Luxe UK and Ireland
My secret haven and most anticipated break of the year is an escape to my home county of Tipperary, to where husband-and-wife team Christine and Dermot enchant all those who cross the threshold of The Old Convent, situated in Clogheen, at the foot of the picturesque Knockmealdown Mountains.
This 19th-Century, adults-only, boutique converted-convent really presents the weary city slicker with what I can only describe as a haven of tranquillity! You'll leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
The house itself has been completely restored, with each suite beautifully decorated with a tasteful nod to both the history of the building and modernity, as one would expect!
But what makes The Old Convent a real treat, as far as I'm concerned, are the little extras! Known to have a sweet tooth, you can imagine my sheer delight to be presented with an open kitchen stocked with lots of sugary treats. With no TV, you are encouraged to make the most of the many wonderful board games and DVDs that the common area boasts, and weather permitting, you can enjoy the mature gardens with a (shriek) hammock for two.
I still haven't mentioned Dermot's cooking - sticking specifically with the simply sublime eight-course tasting menu, but I'm quick to add, his breakfast is also a treat. As Christine and her team welcome guests - small in number, to truly appreciate the spectacle of the setting and the experience about to unfold - in the kitchen, Dermot is busy cooking. And his menu - well, quite simply it awes me time and time again! He is masterful in the kitchen using fresh, local produce, and in-season ingredients. This is haute cuisine at its best.
It truly is a hidden gem; something I've discovered late, but intend to continue to visit and stay overnight, to complete this special secret retreat as often as I possibly can!
This is like asking someone to pick their favourite child and then asking them to say why. I love everything about this small little nation . . . But most of all I love its people and their bouncebackability.
I love how inherently creative those people are, how that seems to be part of the genetic make-up and how everywhere you look, the fruits of that creativity are cropping up all the time - be it in the arts, or food, or in business innovation. That creativity is steeped in our culture and in our heritage, but it is certainly not lost. That is something that makes me incredibly proud to be Irish.
Mount Juliet in Co Kilkenny. I actually went there for the first time for a LIFE magazine shoot and was wowed by the setting and the peace and quiet.
It's only 90 minutes from Dublin, so now whenever I get a few days between filming I head down and relax - walking along the river, going horse-riding, having a massage, and eating good food, as I'm always grabbing something on the go in Sky. I keep meaning to get around to taking some golf lessons down there but I never seem find the time!
Restaurateur and TV presenter
The Tannery Townhouse, a guesthouse in Dungarvan, Co Waterford - The Tannery, one of the best restaurants in Ireland, is nearby. The rooms are perfect and better equipped than most Irish hotels. The Cliff House Hotel is also nearby. It's a great base, as Cork is very close.
Broadcaster, author and TV presenter
Curracloe-Blackwater sandy 10km beach for solitude; Croke Park when full for buzz; Leopardstown race track for excitement; The Wild Goose restaurant Ranelagh; RDS arena, Leinster Rugby and Horse Show for magic crack.
As WB Yeats said: 'Things reveal themselves passing away'. I spend quite a bit of time in rural New York (the other half lives there). It's a majestic place - grand canyons, stupendous gorges and grasslands that stretch longer and wider than anything you find in Ireland.
But there's something missing. I'd trade it all for a sight of our hedgerows of oak, holly, sloe, wild cherry, hawthorn, whitethorn, ash. When they are tall and thick - like in parts of Westmeath, and Kerry, and Cork - you feel like you're encased in beauty. They're living and breathing and beautiful. And coming into autumn, when juicy blackberries appear, they're pretty delicious too.
I certainly love the country, I love the people. The people are great. I love Hayfield Manor; Nash 19. I love working in Penny Dinners in Cork. The generosity of Irish people - you ring people and they will get on board. Shanahans. The coffee shops; ten years ago there were no coffee shops. The road system - two hours and 15 minutes to Cork.
Artistic director of the Gate Theatre
Christmas Eve, Grafton Street, present bought, about to meet family and friends.
Mum and former model
I love that the Irish have a very dark sense of humour, because my own is pretty wicked . . .
I love sitting in the Bulman pub in Kinsale on a dark winter's night, when Billy Crosbie the musician might happen to wander in and you know you're going to be treated to a spontaneous and intimate expression of Ireland's musical culture!
BLATHNAID NI CHOFAIGH
I love Ireland but I love Irish people more, especially the unconscious stream of thought. I was in Sligo on my hols and a lady said, 'Are you that one from RTE - and look at you so small, and you are so fat on telly'. It's not rude, it's funny!
The greatest thing about Ireland is the sarcasm. It's the most withering, funny, eye-rollingly Irish thing about us. We've fought with it, defended ourselves with it, travelled with it and broke the tension with it. It's wild, wicked and is the only thing that can withstand the wind and horizontal rain. Most important of all, it's what separates us from the Yanks.
I really, really love The Shamrock in Lahinch - it's a pub that does delicious food (and everything comes with chips. Even the chips) and the staff are the nicest people.
They're gentle and laid-back and always make me feel totally welcome and cared for. I was in Lahinch on my own recently and ventured out of the house for something to eat, feeling like a bit of a Marian-No-Mates when I arrived into the Shamrock.
It was jammers (with people who had loads of friends) but one of the men who works there saw me hesitating and hopped out from behind the counter and magically found me a spot, and said something like, 'You go on over there and sit down and I'll bring you down everything you need'.
The welcome that was extended felt very genuine, and I stopped feeling morto about being out on a Saturday night in summer on my own. Also, they're brilliant with children there - again, it's all very gentle and low-key, but the staff really do engage.
Director, The Holman-Lee Model Agency
The west coast of Clare; Michael D Higgins; and the Cornstore in Limerick for its great menu and ambience.
Nutritionist and model
I love the fresh fruit and veg from my mum's walled garden at their house in Wicklow. I call into my parents a couple of times a week and pick up a supply of produce.
Her fresh, organic food was a huge influence on me and really kicked off my interest in nutrition and plant-based eating from a young age.
In Monaghan, we are really spoilt to have such a beautiful place as Castle Leslie on our doorstep. I have lovely memories of taking our kids on pony treks through the grounds. My brother got married there, so I have amazing memories of dancing the night away, embarrassing our kids with mummy-and-daddy dancing!
Since I moved to Monaghan I have seen huge changes to the castle, all under the hands of wonder-woman Sammy Leslie and her team. But what draws me back are three things: the spooky-scary tour by the amazing Sir Jack, the Guinness at Conor's Bar, and the walks in the grounds with the kids. It's heaven on our doorstep.
I think the best thing about Ireland is that being an island, there is proximity to the sea. In any weather, a walk with the dogs in Sandymount, on Pigeon House Pier, Brittas bay or Ballymoney Beach is fuel for the soul and can solve all the problems of the day.
I love the way Irish people are so warm, genuine and relaxed, and generally much more easy-going than most other countries. I love that I can walk to Camden Kitchen for dinner and they always manage to squeeze us in, even though they are always busy, and the food so delicious. Most of all, I love that you are usually only one phone call away from an introduction, be it social or business. Sometimes small really is beautiful!
Lough Ine, west Cork. Lough Ine is a small sea lake six miles from Skibbereen. But as well as a sacred place, it is a natural wonder.
Lough Ine is a rock pool where marine scientists sport and play and local children learn to swim seriously; a sweet bower for lovers in full bloom; a sanctuary for the sore in mind and body seeking the same consolation as Sir Fineen O'Driscoll, exiled to a little island in the lake in a state of 'disabilitie and wante of means to die in peace'.
Actually, the old moper enjoyed his exile, swimming and sailing and playing with his children, just as his descendants, and the rest of us, do today.
Sportsman and businessman
What I like most about Ireland is the horses, GAA, walking the dogs in the Hollywood forest in Wicklow, and supping pints at family get-togethers in Laffansbridge, Co Tipperary.
We always stop in Campagne in Kilkenny city on the way down to Cork. It's one of the best restaurants, in my opinion, in Ireland. If you went to it either in New York or Italy you would wax lyrical about it on your return. On our doorstep! One word. Go!
After living abroad for five years, I can safely say the best thing about Ireland is the people! No matter where I go in the world, I'm like a magnet with Irish people.
I've come to the conclusion that Irish people are unique - no one loves life more than we do! Other nationalities take themselves very seriously. We know how to enjoy ourselves . . . probably a bit too much! I also love Butlers coffee, lunch at Avoca, SuperValu rashers, walking down Grafton Street, Jameson whiskey and sayings like 'yer one!'
Actor and TV presenter
I love, when I'm home, walking up the hill of Howth to the very top - overlooking the golf course on one side and the bay on the other. LA is such a polluted city. There are more cars than people, so it just feels so good breathing in clean air at home and seeing so much green.
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