Discover your Irish roots and tap into the magical sounds of Irish traditional music on March 17th, the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland. Despite its small size, with just 7 million people living on this tiny island on the northwestern tip of Europe, the Irish diaspora is believed to number as many as 80 million! If you suspect you might be among those with a hint of Irish DNA, here are some reasons to celebrate your heritage.

Scenic Beauty

If your impression of Ireland is based on the epic movie ‘The Quiet Man’, you’ll be pleased to know that John Wayne’s character would no longer be cheered on by onlookers if he dragged Maureen O’Hara over the fields after their wedding. However, in many respects, the rural countryside of counties Mayo and Galway, where John Ford shot the film, remains as rugged, restful, and romantic as it was in the 1950s. The west coast of the island is a magnet for visitors eager to drive the 2600km Wild Atlantic Way and experience some of the world’s most stunning scenery, including the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare and the Ring of Kerry on the southern coast.

Modern Economy

While parts of Ireland retain their unspoilt charm, don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone lives in a thatched cottage and drives a donkey to work. Ireland boasts a thoroughly modern, dynamic economy and serves as a major hub for multinational companies in the tech, pharma, and finance sectors, with the capital city Dublin dubbed ‘Silicon Docks’. The workforce is young, well-educated, and eager to make its mark in the world. Its rugby team and boxing champions are testament to the ambition and talent that run in the DNA. 

Famous Forebears

Irish people have historically been high achievers, with many American presidents, including Joe Biden, proud of their Irish heritage and celebrated by their ancestral homeland. However, there are also less happily remembered figures, such as the 7th president of the USA, Andrew Jackson, infamous for his role in the Trail of Tears which saw thousands of Native Americans driven from their lands in the 1830s. If you have Irish roots, take pride in the knowledge that your forebears include:

  • Mathematician George Boole, whose Boolean algebra laid the foundations for modern computer science and digital electronics.
  • Scientist Robert Boyle, one of the founders of modern chemistry and a proponent of Boyle’s law.
  • Physicist Ernest Walton, who, along with John Cockcroft, became the first person to artificially split the atom.
  • Francis Beaufort, the naval officer who devised the Beaufort scale, a widely-used measure of wind force.
  • The workforce of the famous Belfast Shipyard Harland & Wolff, who built RMS Titanic. She was the largest ship ever built when she set sail in April 1912, and as the locals are quick to remind visitors: “She was all right when she left here!”

Saints and Scholars

Ireland is known as the Land of Saints and Scholars due to its monastic missionaries, who are said to have saved Europe from the Dark Ages. During this period, which lasted from the 4th to the 6th centuries AD, barbarian invaders such as the Vandals and the Visigoths destroyed books and manuscripts across the continent. Irish monks established monastic scriptoria, where they copied and saved precious texts from the scriptures to classical literature and important scientific treatises. They also taught the populations around them and helped turn the tide of illiteracy across Europe, preserving Western civilisation’s intellectual heritage.

Names of Note

Ireland’s cultural greats include literary legends like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, WB Yeats, Lady Gregory, Samuel Beckett, and George Bernard Shaw. Did you know that Dracula creator Bram Stoker was from Ireland and got the idea for the story from a legend in County Derry? Away from literature, heroic Irishwomen that you may not have heard about include Mary Elmes, who saved hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust by sheltering them in various safe houses in France, and Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones, who was born in Cork, Ireland, but rose to prominence as a campaigner for workers’ rights across the United States.

Musical Maestros

Saints, scholars, and scientists aside, one of Ireland’s greatest cultural exports takes centre stage across the world on St Patrick’s Day, and that is its musical heritage. From heart-rending ballads to uplifting jigs and reels, Irish traditional music has sent ripples worldwide and can be heard in everything from country and bluegrass to punk. Dive into a sensational suite of courses in seven different instruments, as well as voice, this March, and you’ll be learning from some of the top musicians in Ireland today. Our free Irish music courses include guitar, fiddle, accordion, flute, tin whistle, concertina, bodhrán, and sean-nós unaccompanied singing with Nell Ní Chróinín, lead vocalist with Danú. You might even pick up a few words of Irish from the lessons!

If you suspect you might have a drop of Irish blood and are not sure how to trace your ancestry, enrol today in our free course, An Introduction to Irish Family History. You’ll learn how to research official documents, hacks for overcoming common obstacles to making progress, and lots of fascinating information about historic events, from the devastating famine of the late 19th century to the Easter Rising that launched the country on the path to independence from Britain in 1916. It’s as easy as ‘a haon, dó, trí’ to begin. Simply register for your free account, download the app if you prefer learning on your phone, and reconnect with your roots today!

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