Are you looking for a travel destination that will astound you with its beauty and provide you with exciting stories to share when you return?
There is a country full of history and rich culture that many call the most magical place on earth.
But beware, there are countless myths and legends surrounding this enchanted land, so make sure you study up before your trip!
Ireland is not called the Emerald Isle for nothing. With breathtaking views, rolling hills, rocky crags, and the deepest green you may ever see, there is a great deal to explore.
The legends that make up the culture of Ireland, from the Druids to the Celts, are everywhere – some well-known, some not – but you will not be disappointed with the adventure.
The Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle near Cork is perhaps the most recognizable Irish legend, and “blarney” is synonymous with the gift of gab in nearly every culture in the world.
Legend says that if you kiss the Blarney Stone on your visit to the castle, you will forever possess the gift of eloquent speaking, particularly in the form of flattery.
The stone has been a public attraction for two centuries. Originally, visitors had to be suspended upside-down with someone (hopefully with decent upper body strength) holding them by the ankles.
The thought must have crossed someone’s mind at some point that falling from such heights directly on your head was not a good thing, so guard and support bars were installed for modern visitors.
The legends of the stone’s origins are extensive. One states that the stone was taken away to Scotland and then returned in 1314, perhaps given to Cormac McCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle, by Robert the Bruce for his support in the battle of Bannockburn.
Another tells that McCarthy was involved in a lawsuit and asked the goddess Cliodhna for help. She gave him a stone and told him to kiss it for luck, and thus he went to court and gave an impassioned speech that won his case. He took the stone back to his castle and had it built into one of the walls.
Wherever the stone came from, it is one of Ireland’s most famous attractions. Foreign dignitaries, socialites, and movie stars from all over the world have come to kiss the Blarney and apparently benefited from it – and you can too!
Another recognizable location is Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway. Forget the boring story that the landmark was formed by a volcanic eruption – it’s all a ploy to cover up the real tale of its origin.
Irish giant Finn MacCool – or his cooler name (no pun intended), Fionn MacCumhaill – must have gotten around, as he shows up in quite a few Irish stories. Being larger than life — he is a giant, after all — MacCool is legendary all over the isle.
Finn apparently got into a heated argument with Scottish giant Benanadonner and they began throwing things at one another. Finn picked up whatever he could find, in this case chunks of the Antrim coast, to build a bridge to Scotland so he could go over and clobber Benanadonner in person.
Perhaps Benanadonner was a gianter giant than Finn, however, because he chased Finn back across the bridge. Poor Finn only escaped death because his giant wife disguised him as a rather large baby to avoid detection.
The Causeway is the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland, and many call it one of the lasting wonders of the world.
For more on the adventures of Finn MacCool, you can travel to County Meath and visit Trim Castle. While Finn was home at the castle cooking a lovely salmon dinner for his mean boss Finnegas, he burned his thumb.
Unbeknownst to Finn, the salmon was the one-and-only Salmon of Knowledge. Not wanting to anger Finnegas with an improperly cooked meal, Finn tasted the dish first and was given the gift of all the knowledge ever known to man – all he need do is suck his thumb like he did when he burned it. (This may be where his wife got the idea to disguise him as a baby.)
Poor Finn – because he won the gift and not Finnegas, his boss was furious anyway. Some guys just can’t win. While you’re there, take in the views of the River Boyne where Finn caught this intelligent salmon. Who knows? Maybe there’s another one lurking beneath the waters.
There are many purported fountains of youth in ancient legend, and of course, a magical place like Ireland is no exception.
Tir Na Nog was known as the “Land of the Young.” A young man, Oisin, was out one morning hunting with his father, king of the Fianna. The king’s name? You guessed it, our old buddy, Finn MacCool, who seems to have come a long way from cooking dinner for his mean boss.
The men were out hunting one morning when a beautiful woman named Niamh came riding through on horseback. Oisin was instantly smitten. Niamh asked him to go away with her, saddening Finn as he feared he would never see his son again. But like most kids who don’t listen to their parents, Oisin left for Tir Na Nog with the beautiful woman.
The pair were married in the enchanted land of the young, never aging and blissfully happy until Oisin became homesick. Niamh told him he could never leave Tir Na Nog or he would die. It had, after all, been 300 years since he left Ireland.
So like some men who don’t listen to their wives, Oisin went home to see all he had loved had changed, and once he set foot on Irish soil, he withered into an old man.
You can visit beautiful Glenbeigh in County Kerry and see the supposed site where Oisin sacrificed his homeland for love, captivated by the rolling green hills and mist while taking a romantic stroll. Just don’t go off with anyone on a white horse who promises you eternal youth.
Ireland, of course, has thousands of beautiful old churches to visit, but one of the most famed is the Kildemock Jumping Church in County Louth. Though only its ruins dating back as early as the thirteenth century remain, it continues to be a popular attraction.
According to legend, a member of the church was excommunicated in disgrace and buried within church grounds. Apparently, the walls of the church – meant to preserve the sacred traditions and values of services held there – were so disgusted, the entire west gable of the building jumped two feet inside the wall of the original foundation.
Many Irish landmarks are said to be the burial places of earlier citizens with less-than-stellar reputations, and this guy was no exception. Take a visit, examine the original foundation, and see if you can solve the mystery!
Another legendary burial spot can be found in Cork on the Beara Peninsula. Legend has it that an evil woman — the stepmother to end all stepmothers – was not at all fond of her husband Lir’s four children.
She turned the children into swans with a little of that Irish magic and banished them for a thousand years. (Maybe she couldn’t find a good babysitter.) A neighboring monk took pity on them and fought the forces of evil to return them to their human forms.
There are four beautiful white boulders in the spot where the Children of Lir are said to be buried and they are still visited and remembered to this day.
Who can forget about Ireland’s most famous inhabitants, the fairies?
All over the Emerald Isle, you can find ancient “ring forts” — early settlements built in a circular pattern that were standard construction all the way through early Christian times.
These “raths” — earthen mounds — are now nothing but circular patterns of rock and soil under stunning green grass, but they are beautiful and magical nonetheless and have many stories surrounding them.
Irish culture is full of legends about these forts. They were thought to be protected, sacred areas under Druid spells and often the home of early inhabitants like fairies or mythical beings referred to as “the good people.”
One legend involved a rich farmer’s son who found an old fairy in a ring fort on their land while he was investigating why the cows would not enter the pasture. The old fairy asked the young man to help him find a girl to marry, but the man fell in love with the young lady himself. The old fairy destroyed the farmland as revenge.
County Cork is home to many of these ring forts, including Garranes Ring, thought to be the birthplace of St. Finbarr.
Even to present day, it is thought that disturbing a ring fort in any way will bring a curse upon you from disgruntled fairies who inhabit them. Even so much as clearing away brush or disturbing the earth is thought to be a death sentence to whoever dares touch these entrances to the fairy world.
As recently as 2011, a land developer who destroyed a fairy fort during a construction project faced a sudden financial disaster and ultimate ruin. The locals blame the fairies’ revenge.
Ireland is full of myths and legends, and they are all the more magical and mysterious when taken with the stunning views of lush green countryside, rocky ruins and cliffs, and rolling hills.
While you’re there, don’t forget to grab a pint of Guinness at the local pub and see if you can round up someone to tell you an old legend or two. There is likely a mythical location within walking distance, no matter where you are on the isle.