St. Partick’s Day is this Thursday. In its honor, I’ve compiled a list of 17 random-but-completely-true facts about all things Irish. So sit back, grab a pint, and get ready, because you just might learn something new.
1. The national symbol of Ireland isn’t the shamrock. It’s the Celtic harp. That makes Ireland only country in the world with a musical instrument for a national symbol.
2. The Irish flag was designed to reflect the country’s political situation. Created in 1848, the orange stripe represents Irish Protestants, green is for Irish Catholics and white is for the hope that peace might eventually be reached between them. Also, the Irish flag is nearly identical to Côte d’Ivoire’s flag. The only differences are the flags’ length (Ireland’s flag is slightly longer) and the location of the green and orange stripes are reversed.
3. Ireland has created some of the most recognizable objects we know. The RMS Titanic was built in Belfast. The White House was designed by Irish architect James Hoban after he won a competition sponsored by President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in 1792. And the Oscar statuette handed out at the Academy Awards was designed by Cedric Gibbons, who was born in Dublin in 1893. For the record, Gibbons won 11 Oscars himself after moving to Hollywood and becoming an art director and set designer for MGM.
4. Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair are headquartered in Ireland. The national flag-carrier, Aer Lingus, is a phonetic rendering of the Irish phrase Aer-Loingeas, which means “air fleet.” As far as I know, Ryanair doesn’t officially stand for anything, but the name has basically become synonymous with “crap.”
5. Shannon became the world’s first duty-free airport in 1947. And we’ve been buying tax-free liquor and perfume ever since.
6. The longest one-word name in Ireland is Sruffaunoughterluggatoora, which is a stream in Galway County. The longest one-word town name is Newtownmountkennedy, which is a village in Wicklow County.
7. There are no postal or ZIP codes in Ireland outside of Dublin. If you wanted to write a letter to someone in Ireland, you’d only need to know their city, street and the county their town is in.
8. Guinness beer is NOT vegetarian. Everyone knows the home of Guinness beer is in Dublin. Less people know that the brewery has a 9,000-year lease at a perpetual rate of 45 Irish pounds per year. But practically nobody knows that Guinness beer is arguably NOT vegetarian. It’s because the production process involves the use of isinglass made from fish as a method of settling out suspended matter in each batch. The isinglass stays on the floor of the vat but it’s possible that tiny amounts might seep into the beer.
9. The “Guinness Book of World Records” was created by Guinness brewery employees. The book was a result of an argument over the identity of the fastest game bird in Europe.
10. The color that was originally associated with Saint Patrick wasn’t green, it was blue. Also, it’s not customary in Ireland to wear green clothes on St. Patrick’s Day. Just a sprig of shamrock on your clothing is sufficient. St. Patrick is said to have used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish.
11. The shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world takes place in Dripsey, Cork. The parade route is between the village’s two pub, and lasts about 100 yards.
12. St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in exactly three places in the world: Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
13. Girl Power. You thought England and the Spice Girls were responsible for the feminist girl power movement of the 1990s, but it was actually Ireland. You see, the current president of Ireland is Mary McAleese, who’s serving her second term after having succeeded President Mary Robinson in 1997. And that was the first time EVER, in the history of the world, that a woman followed another woman as an elected head of state.
14. There is no death penalty in Ireland. The last execution took place in 1954 and the Irish Constitution says that the penalty can’t be reintroduced even in war or a state of emergency.
15. Ireland is a neutral state and is not a member of N.A.T.O.
16. The Irish Police force, Gardai, don’t carry firearms. In recent years they have been outfitted with batons and pepper spray. Which makes the Irish police force just slightly more effective than your average single woman in New York City.
17. An Irish birthday tradition was to hold the birthday child upside down and bump the head slightly on the floor. The bumps represent the age of the child and are supposed to bring them good luck.