10 million of Ireland’s citizens left. Here’s why you should visit


(CNN) — With St. Patrick’s Day a global phenomenon and Irish pubs found everywhere from Peru to Lanzarote, it can be easy to think you have a sense of Ireland without visiting, especially if you’re one of the 70 million people worldwide who can claim Irish heritage.

However, to get a true feel for the modern energy of this little island nation, you need to visit, and most people start their journey on the streets of Dublin.

It’s a compact, walkable capital city, its low-rise skyline and Georgian granite landmarks built on a human scale.

You can follow the River Liffey through the city center from Phoenix Park and Kilmainham Gaol in the west, past the Guinness Storehouse, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle, out east to the newly rejuvenated Docklands.

Standing on Butt Bridge, you can see the old and new: traditional Dublin represented by the neoclassical Custom House, and beyond, the new towers of finance and the sweep of cranes, showing it getting even larger.

Aerial view of Rosie Hackett bridge on the River Liffey, Dublin City. Tourism board handout

The River Liffey runs through the center of Dublin.

Courtesy Gareth McCormack

Best in Europe

On Custom House Quay sits one of the city’s newest attractions: the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum, winner of Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction by the World Travel Awards for the past three years in a row.

Designed by the same award-winning team as Belfast’s Titanic Museum, it tells the stories of 10 ten million or so people who have departed from Ireland over the centuries, for reasons ranging from famine to economic necessity to conflict to religious persecution.

They went to Britain, the United States, Australia and beyond, building railroads and farming frontier territory.

They brought their culture with them, storytelling ambassadors in their new nations, and created a new Irish mythology abroad. They and their descendants are the diaspora which museums such as EPIC wish to attract, and in 2013 an Irish tourism initiative, The Gathering, was dedicated to just this audience.

Tearful goodbyes and longed-for returns have become part of the national identity, the arrivals area at its airports filled with billboards aimed at homesick expats, hungry for Brennan’s bread and Tayto crisps.

As then President Mary Robinson put it in 1996, “this great narrative of dispossession and belonging […] has become, with a certain amount of historic irony, one of the treasures of our society.” It’s made the Irish an outward-looking people, strongly pro-European, and it’s perhaps this legacy of hardship that makes it one of the world’s most generous nations when it comes to charity donations.

Music and dancing

Dublin pub quest-2

The Cobblestone in Smithfield is the city’s top venue for live traditional music.

CNN

The best known of Ireland’s cultural exports is, of course, the pub, but in pandemic-hit Ireland, many were forced to close for good.

CNN visited The Cobblestone, a north Dublin institution famed for its live traditional music that has just won a legal battle allowing it to survive.

“Believe it or not, this being the nation’s capital, there’s not many places that you can actually go and engage with that aspect of our culture here on a daily basis,” said Tomás Mulligan, whose father Tom took over the Smithfield…



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