If your knowledge of Ireland comes from St. Patrick's Day parades and childhood tales of leprechauns hoarding pots of gold, you'll be quite surprised to find that the Emerald Isle is not a mystical land, but a real one. Yes, it's green and beautiful and the Guinness flows freely, but this tiny country with a disproportionate hold on Western culture is so much more than that. While the country's two capitals, Dublin in the Republic and Belfast in the north, have a history of being at odds, they have two things in common: a pride in what Ireland has contributed to the world and a willingness to engage with the bloodier parts of their history. And bloody it's been. From the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century to the conflict between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists known as "The Troubles," which ended just two decades ago, the question of what it means to be Irish has been asked and answered in lives. While this may not seem particularly relevent to the traveler that plans on journeying to Ireland's castles and carousing in its pubs, you'll find that this not-so-ancient history is everpresent, and you may leave the country a certified Irish history geek. It's not all tragedy and trauma, of course. In Dublin especially, the country celebrates the incredible authors, artists, and politicians that Ireland has produced and continues to produce. There's plenty of opportunities in both the north and the south to appreciate this culture in museums, theaters, and, in the case of music, in pubs on city streets. There's no doubt about it, Ireland is a fun and enriching place to be—even if it's not entirely what you were expecting.
Irish cuisine isn’t just meat and potatoes anymore. With everything from Middle Eastern brunches to curry-fried fish and chips, Dublin is filled with delicious grub.
MEET THE RESEARCHER-WRITER
Mia packed up her set of all seven Harry Potter books and the collected James Joyce before heading off to the U.K., and then got realistic and replaced them with a flashlight and extra underwear. She planned on finding out exactly how much beer is in a pint while gallivanting around Ireland and aspired to show her parents that she is putting her (forthcoming) English degree to use by communing with Shakespeare’s homeland. When she’s not making plans to get the royal family to adopt her, she enjoys drinking coffee and talking about the severity of her coffee addiction.