Sunday 25 February 2018

A Great Little Country: Send your suggestions for our Ireland guide!


Blooming: The Burren
Blooming: The Burren
Coomeenole, Dingle peninsula, Co. Kerry.
A swimmer at the Forty Foot, Sandycove. Photo: Brendan Lyon/Failte Ireland
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

The Sunday Independent is looking for your top Irish experiences for its #GreatLittleCountry campaign. Brendan O'Connor explains.

It was early morning, just before Easter, and I was wondering what the hell was wrong with me. The country was going mental about 1916 and I was questioning why I couldn't get on board. You begin to feel in a situation like this that perhaps you don't love your country, that you're missing some kind of patriotic gene.

You wonder who your tribe is, if not the tribe you live among.

And then I went out and did what I do these days when I need to clear my head and get some perspective. I drove out to the bay. When I drive to swim, I always drive to the sea as quickly as I can and then drive out along by it until I get to Seapoint or the Forty Foot or wherever I'm going. I like to see it and feel it next to me as I drive to swim.

I like the proximity, the blueness, the big sky.

I walk slowly in. Not too slow to have time to turn back, but not so fast that the cold shocks me. So gradually I walk in, then jump forward and do a few strokes with my head out of the water so the cold shock doesn't hit me too hard and cause me to swallow water, and then I put the head down and off I go for a few minutes until I'm no longer feeling the cold. And then the epiphany.

I lie on my back for a minute, looking at the blue of the big sky meeting the big sea which is flat like glass and perfectly peaceful. The sun is coming up, a blood orange sitting above the sea, and three geese fly low in front of me in perfect formation. It's like a dreamscape.

And I realise that I may not always like what we've done with the place, and I may not always like the people who run it, but I love my country, and here I am immersed in it, unmediated, connected, nearly naked, swimming in it, feeling the elements, surrounded, breathing it in, gorging it, experiencing it.

A swimmer at the Forty Foot, Sandycove. Photo: Brendan Lyon/Failte Ireland
A swimmer at the Forty Foot, Sandycove. Photo: Brendan Lyon/Failte Ireland

A nearly naked madman who loves his country after all.

For the next month or so we are reprising our Great Little Country campaign. So for the next four weeks we'll be asking you to tell us what's great about your Ireland, and we'll be publishing the best of what you share, to provide a kind of viral guidebook to your spring and summer travels and outings and walks and meals. This year our theme is roughly experiences.

It's A Great Little Country - Experience It.

Over the next four weeks we'll ask you about the best experiences, then the best food experiences, then the best establishments to experience, be they pubs or hotels or shops, and then the places that everyone should experience.

But first, for now and to be published next week, we want to know what are the best quintessentially Irish experiences we should all have. Try and steer away from pubs and restaurants and shops. We'll come back to all of these. Let's go with raw experiences this week.

It could be a walk we need to take, a road trip we need to make. It can be as abstract as sitting at Brittas Bay eating sandy food in the wind or turning a corner on the road out beyond Dingle to be hit by some amazing vista. It could be a character we need to meet, an ice cream we need to eat, a conversation we need to have.

Blooming: The Burren
Blooming: The Burren

It would be nice if they were not financial transactions, if they were just pure experiences that anyone can have. It could be a hill that can be walked in the rain, a museum where we need to bring our kids.

We'd love you to help our readers to create some memories. What are the things about Ireland that money can't buy? What are the life-affirming things you go back to again and again? We want to hear about the eerie strangeness to be found in pockets of the Burren and Connemara, those moments where you feel you've escaped the modern world.

Or it could be wonders of the modern world - new buildings we should go to the top of or stand underneath and stare up. It could be Grafton Street on a Sunday afternoon, Patrick Street on a Saturday as the locals do Pana.

And indeed it could be a swim. Where are the hidden bathing spots along the coast, the secret lakes you have to walk to find?

I'm branching out. I hit the Upper Lake in Glendalough on a Sunday morning recently; the crisp cold of it as you see your arms creating neon sparkles in the murky, peaty water is magical. And you get out to the middle and you stop and regard the green mountains soaring up all around you.

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. Photo: Deposit
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. Photo: Deposit

What's your poison? Is it the magic of Lough Hyne at night? Is it a safe spot in a local river? Where do you go to baptise yourself anew?

And where do you trudge up hills through mist and damp, all worth it when you hit the top and look out over the land? Is it as simple as a walk up Killiney Hill?

Or is Carrantuohill something everyone should experience?

Most of us don't know the half of this country. We know certain corners, the places we were brought as children, the places near where we live, the places we accidentally discovered and now return to again and again.

So tell us about the great Irish experiences, the places and things that will allow us to reconnect with our country, with our Irishness.

Tell us the things that could only be in Ireland.

Next week, we will publish your guide to the best experiences in this great little country and we will award a fabulous prize to the person whose entry best goes to the core of the Irish experience.

*Email your great experiences to, or tweet your entry using the hashtag #GreatLittleCountry.

Alternatively, go to to submit your entry or send your suggestions to A Great Little Country - Experience It, c/o 27/32, Talbot St, Dublin 1.

You can also post on Facebook here.

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