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10 Facts About Ireland You May Not Know

Planning to make Ireland your study abroad destination of choice? You’d be joining over 24,000 international students currently making the most of its historic universities, beautiful scenery and rich cultural heritage.

To help you brush up on your knowledge of the country before you set off, here are ten facts about Ireland you may not have heard!

#1 Trinity Library contains a copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland

Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s oldest university, is home to a legal deposit library, which means it is entitled to request a copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland. Today, it houses over six million books, journals, manuscripts, maps, and musical scores.

They include the Book of Kells, one of the world’s most famous manuscripts containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, which dates back to the ninth century. Trinity alumni enjoy free access to both the library and the Book of Kells for life! Ideal for those interested in Theology & Religious Studies.

#2 Ireland has had the (joint) most Eurovision wins of any country in the world

Ireland may not be the first country called to mind by the phrase ‘Eurovision champion’ since it’s been almost three decades since their last victory in 1996.

But despite its lack of recent success, Ireland actually held the record for most wins of any country until this year, when Sweden joined them at the top of the leaderboard. The two countries enjoy joint first place with a total of seven victories each. Make sure your housemates organise a watch party for next year to see if Ireland can make its comeback!

#3 Halloween has its origins in Ireland

History students might know this, but for the rest of us, it may come as a surprise to learn that the origin of Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was once widely observed throughout Ireland to mark the end of the harvest season.

Celebrations would begin on the eve of 31 October, when ceremonial bonfires were lit, and offerings would be left for the spirits believed to populate the Otherworld.

Today’s traditions of spooky costumes and chocolate treats may be a far cry from these ancient Celtic rituals – but something more akin to the original Samhain is still celebrated today by certain religious sects including Neopagans and Wiccans. Why not encourage your course mates to check out the Púca Halloween Festival in County Meath together when you’re there?

#4 The Guinness Book of World Records originated from a squabble at an Irish shooting party

The now world-famous Guinness Book of World Records has its origins in 1950s County Wexford, Ireland, when Hugh Beaver (then Managing Director of Guinness Breweries) attended a shooting party. He found himself embroiled in an argument about whether the golden plover or the red grouse is Europe’s fastest game bird (spoiler alert: it's the golden plover).

Nowadays, such debates (often had over a pint of Guinness) can be easily resolved with a quick google – but Hugh Beaver had no such luxury. Having realised that a single book of records could be the go-to for settling the score, he had The Guinness Book of Superlatives commissioned and published in 1954.

#5 Ireland’s national symbol is the Gaelic harp

Ireland is the only country in the world with a musical instrument as its national symbol. Its coat of arms has depicted a Gaelic harp since the thirteenth century. Today, you can view “Brian Boru’s harp”, one of the three oldest surviving harps in Ireland, in the library at Trinity College Dublin.

#6 The Irish invented flavoured crisps

Imagine a world with only one flavour of crisp. That was the bleak state of affairs until 1954, when Irish entrepreneur Joseph ‘Spud’ Murphy founded his company Tayto Snacks, with the world-altering goal of adding seasoning to potato crisps.

The first flavour to hit shelves was Cheese & Onion, closely followed by Salt & Vinegar. Companies across the globe rushed to buy the rights to Tayto’s technique, and the flavoured crisp became an international phenomenon. Something to remember the next time you reach for one of these savoury snacks mid-study session!

#7 St Patrick wasn’t actually from Ireland

St Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland, but it may surprise you to learn that he was actually born in England, before being captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16 and sold into slavery. During his years in captivity, St Patrick converted to Christianity, and returned to Ireland as a missionary many years after his escape.

St Patrick’s Day is a huge celebration in Ireland so be ready to join in with parades, festivals and of course, the wearing of something green!

#8 There are no snakes in Ireland

For the budding conservationists and zoologists among you, there’s one species you won’t be studying…snakes! Ireland is one of a handful of countries in the world with no native species of snake. Local legend claims that Ireland’s lack of snakes can be attributed to St Patrick, who chased them into the sea after they began attacking him while he completed a 40-day clifftop fast.

In truth, scientists believe that snakes never made it to Ireland in the first place, since several ice ages made the island’s conditions unsuitable for them.

#9 Ireland had its own Olympics

In 1924, Ireland hosted a sporting competition that was bigger than that year’s Paris Olympics. It was named the Tailteann games, after an ancient version of the contest that is believed to date back as far as 1829 BC. The revival took place two more times in 1928 and 1932.

The games featured not just athletics, swimming and horse racing but also painting, sculpting and even chess!

#10 You’re never too far from a pub

Ireland is famed for its drinking culture, but a recent study by one of Ireland’s largest commercial banks revealed the best locations for beer lovers.

The study showed that County Mayo boasts the highest number of pubs per head of population, with one pub for every 323 people. This is closely rivalled by university city Cork, with one for every 543 people! Wherever you choose to study in Ireland, the stats show that a pint of Guinness will be close at hand.

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Last Updated: 07 July 2023