Ireland: Cracking on

By Bruce Morris

No one knows how to turn around their troubles quite like the Irish - with the help of a pint or two, as Bruce Morris discovers.
The Temple Bar in Dublin.
The Temple Bar in Dublin.

Now here's something worth knowing as you plan your indulgent road trip of Ireland: Guinness, unlike Irish breakfasts, is not too bad on the waist.

Watch as they pour and then wait the two or three minutes for it to settle before the top up. All that dark, creamy richness - it's got to be crammed with calories, doesn't it?

You'd think so; anything that tastes so rich and velvety must surely put pressure on the belt. But draught Guinness hides a very palatable truth: the dark stuff is less fattening than trim milk and most beers and has 45 per cent fewer calories than orange juice.

So in the end it comes down to quantity (no one goes to an Irish pub to drink three or four pints of orange juice, after all) and the really hard thing is to stop at just the one Guinness as the crowd is charging into the chorus of Wild Rover.

Ireland is more than just Guinness, of course. But a night or two with your hand wrapped around a pint in a pub with music will envelop you in the soul of the Emerald Isle.

Craic, they call it - simply having a good time or a laugh, with friends or people about to become friends.

In a land of historical deprivation where the weather isn't always kind, it seems almost incongruous that the people should be so warm and sunny. But that is what you get, everywhere, it seems. And the humour, of course.

The apocryphal stories find fresh legs when you stop for directions: "Well, now, let me tink. I tink I can say if I were going dere, I wouldn't be startin' from here."

And the jokes, always told deadpan and at length so to start with you're not sure if you're meant to laugh or cry.

Photo / 123RF
Photo / 123RF

Like the great tragedy of Paddy Murphy, the man (to cut a long story short) who drowned after falling in a vat of Guinness. It took him seven hours to die - he kept getting out to go to the toilet.

Anywhere you go to in the Emerald Isle - in the republic or in the north - you'll be exposed to the warmth and good humour. It's their brand, fixed to a rich history and a literary and musical culture that, together, urges "come join us".

Our first visit 30-odd years ago was over a fleeting five days that followed the coast south of Dublin, through the Ring of Kerry and then a loop back through Limerick. For us, the dying days of a long OE and a hankering for home merged with a wet November. We always felt the country deserved a better mood from its visitors.

So this time it was a three-week road trip, often walking in the footsteps of forefathers, starting at the Cliffs of Moher and following the Wild Atlantic Way to Dunfanaghy in the far north-west. Then across to Derry before tracking the coast to the Giant's Causeway and dipping down to Belfast and back through the interior to Dublin.

This time, our mood was generous and the experience was rich and memorable.

The west coast is fantastic country if you like it rough and ready. When the weather is testing, it's a bit like Auckland's west coast - Whatipu or Bethells, say - on a wild day. Hostile but riveting. And on a still day of sun and blue skies - well, it's majestic.

The towns, like Galway, Clifden, Westport, Sligo and Donegal, are welcoming and appealing in that special Irish way - often as inviting in mist and gloom as they are in sunshine.

In between, along narrow roads skirting tussock, lakes and streams, rock fences, pretty little houses, scrawny sheep, vast white-sand beaches and villages with the loveliest of harbours, a long drive is a pleasure, day after day.

At Derry, we take the obligatory walking tour along the medieval wall to the Bogside area and the murals that mark the site of the Bloody Sunday killings. To the west, just beneath the wall, the small loyalist compound is marked by the red, white and blue of the Union Jack along the footpath boundary, and a sign that declares: "West Bank loyalists still under siege. No surrender."

This is a town in a region where no one really forgets. The "no surrender" tracks back to the siege of Derry in 1688 and, while you may need to look for it more closely today than 20 or 30 years ago, the overall message stays vivid: the troubled past will always be part of the future. The hatred may have subsided, but for many it surely remains in the genes. It may continue to fade with the passing, and arrival, of generations, but it will stay in more than the history books.

It somehow seems healthy that the city - and Belfast, too - should turn the distress of The Troubles into tourist attractions. Hiding away the sites of modern bloodshed, sadness and misery and refusing to talk about them is not the Irish way of treating wounds.

The Giant's Causeway. Photo / 123RF
The Giant's Causeway. Photo / 123RF

The taxi driver who takes us to Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast picks us up from the Europa Hotel - a place smart enough in an old-fashioned way to have hosted world leaders like Bill Clinton. Its informal title these days is "most bombed hotel in Europe" and that does no harm to business in times when the guns have been put away, even if voices can still be raised.

On the way to The Crum, a dark prison that used a tunnel to ferry prisoners under the road to the courthouse opposite (and returned them to endure their sentence or execution), the cabbie almost nonchalantly explained his family connection.

"Three of my brothers were sent there, and I would have been there too, if I had been old enough," he said. His brothers - what were their crimes? "Oh, just The Troubles," he said. There was no bitterness or bravado in his comments. They were simple, matter-of-fact statements.

On a Black Taxi Tour of West Belfast, heading down the Falls Rd, we asked the driver his religion. It wasn't being unduly nosey or insensitive - it's just good to know what weight to give the stories drifting over the shoulders of a stranger to the back seat.

"Wait to the end. You can ask me then," he said.

At the end, we forgot to ask. I'd bet a tenner he was Protestant but -- like the guide at Derry, who was Catholic and might have been in the thick of it 20 years earlier - he was fair-minded. Of course, there's no point in risking a decent tip by misreading your guest, but I think it ran deeper than that. Most people in Northern Ireland will not forget, but they want to move on. For visitors, it can seem strange that the roots of the violence and hatred that not so long ago kept them at home are now an understated part of a strategy to lure them. As always, the marketers rule.

But Ireland - right through the Emerald Isle - is an easy sell, with the warmth of its people, countryside and rich history and culture doing most of the seduction quite naturally. Not to mention the slimming qualities of the Guinness, of course.

Exploring Dublin and beyond

Ancient artwork at Newgrange. Photo / 123RF
Ancient artwork at Newgrange. Photo / 123RF

Sample Guinness from the source

One of the best ways to visit and experience the famous Guinness Storehouse is on a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour, which allows you to visit Dublin's top attractions at your leisure. The well-informed drivers will entertain you with facts (and possibly fiction) about this lively city.

Take a walking tour

A host of themed walking tours take you through cobbled streets and lively quarters. Choose from music, history, food, literature or pub tours - or combine the last two on the entertaining Literary Pub Crawl.

Ireland's Ancient East

Dublin is in one of the most historically rich areas of Ireland. For those who love to peel back the layers of time, Ireland's Ancient East is a wonderful opportunity to experience 5000 years of history in a compact area. Discover the Neolithic tomb of Newgrange to the north or medieval and Viking towns to the south.

Follow Giant Footsteps

A day trip to the Giant's Causeway includes a drive along the spectacular Causeway Coast. Visit Titanic Belfast, the award-winning visitor attraction which helps you relive the history of the ill-fated ship built on Belfast's docks.



Emirates flies to Dublin via their hub in Dubai, with a special sale fare of $1999, Economy Class return exclusive to helloworld.

- NZ Herald

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