Friends in Ireland

“Friends in Ireland,” Friend, Mar. 1971, 46

Friends in Ireland

Ireland is the second largest island of the British Isles. It lies to the west of England and is separated from that country by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St. George’s Channel. At the present time, the land is divided into two political regions—Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Off the west coast of Ireland are many small islands, including the Aran and Blasket Isles.

The people of the Aran Islands kept their language and spoke Gaelic (Irish) while hundreds of years ago the rest of Ireland shifted to English. The people of Ireland nearly forgot their Irish, and so in 1919 the national language was declared to be Gaelic and English was made the second language. Some Irishmen travel to the Aran Islands to improve their skill in the national language.

The Aran Islands are separated from the rest of Ireland by twelve miles of sea. To the west rolls the Atlantic Ocean. These islands are so rocky that farmers living there have to make the soil for their rock-walled potato fields. This they do by spreading out layers of seaweed and sand. If the mixture survives the storms, time turns it into workable earth. The men who fish use canoe-like boats called curraghs. The women on the Aran Islands knit woolens that are famous all over the world.

Ireland has heavy rains that make the grass a brilliant green and earn for it the name “Emerald Isle.” It also has many lakes and rivers (loughs). Soft moist winds from the west nourish pastures that feed sheep, cattle, and horses. There are lovely whitewashed and thatch-roofed farmsteads surrounded by neatly cultivated fertile fields throughout the Emerald Isle.

One of the most extraordinary sights is the natural Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland near Dunseverick Castle in Antrim. Thousands of years ago cooling lava formed this bed of columnar basalt in three different sections.

Along the western coast, the Atlantic Ocean spray leaps three hundred feet above the cliffs.

There are many rock pillars in Ireland that mark the sites of great battles or that define tribal boundaries. These were made before A.D. 432. On some of the pillars, early stonemasons carved messages using notches for vowels and lines for consonants. This is known as the Ogham alphabet.

Ireland is known for its fine linens and laces. Children in Ireland play the games that children play in Great Britain—kickery (similar to hide and seek) and the muffin man. The rhymes of Mother Goose are said to have originated in the British Isles. A famous rhyme of Ireland goes:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny,

Each thought there was one cat too many;

So they fought and they fit

And they scratched and they bit

Till, excepting their nails

And the tips of their tails,

Instead of two cats, there weren’t any.