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Ireland  Cuisine : by Eileen Moynihan 

             Ireland was always a popular tourist destination, not for sunshine holidays, but for the scenery, culture, heritage and enjoying the craic (having a good time).

The scenery is varied, from the dramatic mountains and the wild Atlantic Ocean in the west, through the flat bog lands of the Midlands, where the mystical River Shannon flows and lakes and canals abound, to the buzz of Dublin city and the Irish Sea on the east coast. There are beautiful sandy beaches where you can walk without meeting a soul, and many walking and cycling trails to discover.

It is well known that the Irish have a way with words. It is said that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you will have the gift of the gab. The Irish are natural storytellers, the spinners of yarns, and have a long history of orally passing on legends, poems, and songs. For a small country, Ireland has produced many of the most famous writers in the world, like James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, W.B.Yeats, Edna O’Brien and Maeve Binchy, just to mention a few.

Ireland doesn’t only excel in the area of literature; it is also famous for its music, dance, sport, history, art, food, and drink.

River dance made Irish traditional music and dance popular around the world, and the Chieftains group even before that. Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, U2, Boys Zone and Westlife plus numerous others have contributed to the Irish music scene.

Traditional Irish sports like Gaelic football and hurling are popular wherever the Irish have 

settled; and the Irish rugby and football teams have played well on the world stage.

Wherever you go in Ireland there are ancient burial sites, ruins of castles and monasteries, and other places of historic interest. You get a sense of being connected to the many generations that have lived and died in these spots.

Many tourists come every year to connect with their ancestors who had to flee Ireland at the time of the devastating Irish Famine when the potato crops rotted due to potato blight; and potatoes were the staple diet of the people. From 1845 -1849 thousands died from starvation and disease. Many left for America and many died before they even got there. Those that did survive the journey made new lives but hung on dearly to their memories of Ireland and their culture, which was passed on like the Olympic torch from one generation to the next. So the Irish American tourist has been very important to Irish tourism.

Despite there being a lot of conflict between the United Kingdom and Ireland over the centuries they are still neighbouring countries and many from the United Kingdom visit Ireland every year. Many may have had a grandparent who had come to the United Kingdom to seek work.

People from France and Germany also rank high as tourists coming to Ireland in modern times.

In recent years tourists have come for many of the traditional reasons already stated, but many young people come to attend the many festivals, for hen and stag weekends, and sporting events.

Tourists who have travelled to many countries have come to expect high standards in hotels, restaurants and pubs/bars and Ireland has risen to the challenge; Ireland boasts many fine restaurants and pubs. But the modern tourist also wants traditional Irish music, restaurants or pubs with Irish character, and love to partake in lively and humorous banter with the native Irish people.

But… now in 2020, Ireland like everywhere else has suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic. (At the beginning of July, Paul Kelly, chief executive of the tourism agency said that that the sector, which employs one in nine people, has incurred well over €1 billion in “unavoidable costs” with “four months of no revenue” during the lockdown. He also said that the 14-day self-isolation period for tourists “effectively closes Ireland to all overseas visitors” and recovery in the industry will be hampered by the “complete absence and slow rebuild of over 70 percent revenue” that comes from overseas visitors… Irish Times)

At the moment restaurants and pub/ restaurants and hotels have reopened under very strict guidelines to ensure customers and staff members’ personal safety. But the opening of bars or pubs that just serve drinks has not gone ahead as expected due to a rise of new cases of Covid-19. So, at this stage, there are a few tourists but this year will be a very hard year to recover from. The Irish are known for their ingenuity and time will tell what the future of tourism holds in this emerald isle.

(The author is from Ireland)