(CNN) – With St Patrick’s Day being 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 a visit, especially if you’re one of the 70 million people around the world who can lay claim to Irish heritage.
However, to get a real feel for the modern energy of this small island nation, you need to visit, and most people start their journey in the streets of Dublin.
It’s a small walkable metropolis, with its low skyline and Georgian granite landmarks built to the human scale.
You can follow the River Liffey through downtown from Phoenix Park and Kilmainham Gaol in the west, past the Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle, east to the newly renovated Docklands.
Standing on Butt Bridge, you can see old and new: traditional Dublin represented by the neoclassical Custom House, and beyond, new finance towers and sweeping cranes, showing it getting bigger.
The River Liffey runs through central Dublin.
Courtesy Gareth McCormack
The best in Europe
Designed by the same award-winning team as the Titanic Museum in Belfast, it tells the stories of the 10 million or so people who have left Ireland over the centuries, for reasons ranging from famine to economic necessity, conflict and religious persecution.
They went to Britain, the United States, Australia, and beyond, to build railways and cultivate borderlands.
They brought their culture with them, are ambassadors of stories in their new nations, and created new Irish legends abroad. They and their descendants are the diaspora that museums like EPIC want to attract, and in 2013 an Irish tourism initiative, The Gathering, was dedicated to just that audience.
The weeping farewell and the long-awaited return have become part of the national identity, as the arrivals area at its airports is filled with billboards targeting homecomings, hungry for Brennan’s bread and Taito crackers.
music and dance
Cobblestone in Smithfield is the best place in town for live traditional music.
The most famous Irish cultural export is of course the pub, but in pandemic-hit Ireland, many have been forced to close for good.
“Believe it or not, because this is the nation’s capital, there aren’t many places you can actually go to and interact with this aspect of our culture here on a daily basis,” said Thomas Mulligan, whose father Tom has run Smithfield Pub for 30 years. In the past and turned it into the center of live music as it is today.
The revival of Irish traditional music became prevalent in the 1960s and is a symbol of new national pride in this still young nation, which this year marks 100 years since independence.
From “Danny Boy” (written by an Englishman) to “The Fields of Athenry,” Ireland’s most popular folk songs were tales of exile and longing, while the now popular standard “She Moved Through the Fair” was a lost classic only that became popular again in Ireland after being rediscovered in America.
Similarly, country music is very popular in Ireland, and it has its own subgenre: Country ‘n’ Irish. Riverdance was also an Irish-American cosmopolitan phenomenon born in Chicago.
Modernity and transformation have changed a lot here, but it hasn’t changed those parts of Dublin’s life that make this city what it is, and the institutions that have grown and are still based on its history.
Trinity College, founded in 1592, is the oldest surviving university in Ireland. The pen of Brian Borough, the oldest in Ireland, and a model of the state insignia, is kept in the stunning Long Room Library at Trinity College, which is also home to the ninth-century Bible manuscript The Book of Kells.
Richard Quest meets actor James Joyce John Schifflin (left) at Bewley’s Café.
Ireland prides itself on its tradition of storytelling: four Nobel Literary Laureates – WB Yeats, G.B. Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney – were born despite all but one reaching the end of their lives on foreign shores.
Two of Ireland’s most famous writers, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, were in their time outcasts and exiles, denounced for their assaults on what was then considered public decency.
Anglo-Irish artist Francis Bacon, the pioneering giant of contemporary art, left Ireland for England as a teenager: an openly gay man at a time when it was illegal on both islands, and not easy to accept in his community. home for most of his life.
But as with Wilde and Joyce, he was incubated posthumously. The entire contents of his artist’s studio were acquired by Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, reassembled just as they were when Bacon was creating his legendary artwork. It’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and best of all, admission is free.
swimming in the sea
Although Joyce has spent most of his life in mainland Europe, his greatest work, the modernist classic “Ulysses” – which also celebrates its centenary this year – is a love letter to his home city, a journey that follows one man, Leopold Bloom. On a day trip around Dublin.
The opening novel is set in the Martello Tower on the coast in the southern suburb of Sandykoff, now a museum and pilgrimage site for James Joyce for fans who celebrate Bloomsday each year on June 16.
The area is a popular spot for swimmers, with marine swimming becoming increasingly popular since the Covid hit.
Even celebrities get involved. Harry Styles was spotted this week taking a dip in the nearby Vico Baths, following in the footsteps of Matt Damon who showed up there in 2020 after he and his family were in a Covid lockdown in the area.
CNN has joined local group The Ripple Effect for an early morning swim in a 40-foot bump.
“During the lockdown, not many people were able to meet inside, so a lot of people started calling outside,” explains member Katie Clark. “It was a great place to come and rediscover the sea.”
As for the group’s name, colleague Mandy Lacey says, “The Irish love to help people! It’s in our nature. I think the Ripple influence is an Irish thing. It’s part of our history. Whether we’ve been through hard times, good times, everyone is there to really support each other.”
Marine swimming is becoming increasingly popular.
Those who stayed and those who left
Earlier this year, British director Kenneth Branagh won an Academy Award for “Belfast,” a semi-autobiographical film about his childhood in Northern Ireland before a 30-year struggle known as The Troubles forced his family to flee to England. It ends with a dedication: “To those who remain. To those who are gone. To all those who are lost.”
But while in centuries past, leave-ins often meant permanent exile, now they are a door swinging in both directions.
Many Irish expats, having reassessed their priorities in the wake of the pandemic, have returned home to live a new life with their young families. As always, returnees bring the experience and knowledge they gained abroad, which can help their home country thrive.
In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, and it is now far from being the monolithic Catholic country of popular fiction. This nation of immigrants has also been enriched in recent decades through internal migration. There is new confidence in a modern and increasingly multicultural Ireland.
Ireland has changed a lot since it was hailed at the turn of the century as the “Celtic Tiger”. What followed was a decade or more of massive economic growth and great optimism. Now, like the rest of the world, Ireland is searching for its purpose after the pandemic.
But, as history has shown, this small, young nation can do so by looking first at each other, and then outward at the world.