By Marco Pirani
Chief Editor of GiardinAntico
Few countries in the world happen to enchant the traveller’s imagination even before they board the airplane. One of these is Ireland.
The reason? The magic and legend covering the Emerald Isle.
A mythical land, which over the centuries managed to maintain the close link with the environment that shaped it, without losing its essence.
The Little People
In this legendary nature, which inspired the birth of the fantasy genre, it is not surprising that the Irish tradition, first oral and then literary, has planted fairies, gnomes, goblins and elves. The “Little People”, a secret kingdom of magical creatures living in the woods, in the streams, in the caves, along the beaches, under the ancient oaks or among the ruins of ancient monasteries. Lovely places. Hidden.
Pleasure-loving and spiteful, wise and witty or cunning and evil, these extraordinary creatures embody the vices and virtues of the human beings and populate the stories of the country, spreading advice and reflections, always under the watchful eye of nature, while interpreting its phenomena and whims. It is said that they have inhabited Ireland since the dawn of time, an ancient and mysterious lineage that began to blend in with nature upon the arrival of the Tall People. And it is precisely there that the attentive traveller can suddenly see them, behind an oak tree, near a stream or while hopping in the moorland blown by the strong wind.
Here then is the Leprechaun (Leprecahaun), the most famous sprite in Ireland (his mask opens the St. Patrick’s parades on March 17th). Hardworking, diffident, spiteful, he is a shoe maker with long hair and a beard. So famous that, in the rare case when you do not happen to meet him in a meadow, there will always be a souvenir shop offering him in memory of your journey.
When the landscape is more melancholy, enveloped by fog or the sky is covered with leaden clouds because of an imminent thunderstorm, a Banshee, Ireland’s most respected female spirit, is probably wandering around. This “fairy woman” (from Gaelic), usually beautiful and wrapped in a cloak, announces the death of a brave person to the world. You should not be frightened, although she has red eyes filled with tears, because she is not bad. Is it the rustle of the leaves that you hear or her ancestral and poignant song?
The land of the druids
Ireland is also the land of the druids, priests entrusted with ancient knowledge. Their role in pre-Roman Celtic society was fundamental: advisers to kings, spiritual guides, philosophers and leaders, they drew their power from a strong link with nature. They knew stars and trees and in their shadow they celebrated their propitiatory and mystical rites.
It was exactly the plants that played a central role in the activities of the druids, who had a vast knowledge of medicinal herbs. For the rituals a task had been assigned to each tree: the hazel represented wisdom, the willow prophecy, the walnut was the most feared and with its leaves potions to enchant were obtained. The name of the oak (Duir in Gaelic, from which the word Druid probably derives) meant “door”, or entry into the world of mystery; for this reason, they gathered together under this tree, the king of the forest. But not just that. On the oak grew, and still grows, mistletoe, the most sacred plant for the druids, which is collected according to a precise ceremony.
And when the fortune of the Druids disappeared, Saint Patrick thought it better not to subvert the natural order of things and chose clover as a symbol to convert the island to Christianity and explain the concept of Trinity to the Irish.
The seduction of the landscape
Whether a Leprechaun, an elf or a druid is wandering on the horizon, it is impossible not to fall in love with Ireland. A place which is so green everywhere, dotted with centuries-old woods and humid moors dropping sheer to the sea. Where human intervention is limited to small towns, marinas, dry stone walls, monasteries and enigmatic stone circles.
Everywhere on the island the natural element is above everything else. And it is reflected on everything else. From the wind caressing the grass to the ocean of clouds and light running fast, from the drizzle dropping regularly every day and making it unnecessary to water flowers, to the cows crossing the road and taking precedence, up to the flowerbeds everywhere, designed by man in the strangest containers: old boots, tin tubs, wooden drums and even dented boats.
The magic seduction in Ireland is also this: wandering around the countryside, leaving the main road to follow a path indicated by a battered sign and finding yourself in a glade lashed by the wind, surrounded by high hedges of spontaneous fuchsias with a dazzling colour and prehistoric boulders arranged in a circle. Just lie down in the centre, on an incomparable soft grass, close your eyes and you will feel the energy flowing from the earth throughout your body.
There is a park on the west coast, which for many is the perfect synthesis of the Irish landscape. It is the Killarney National Park: infinite and pristine meadows, primordial woods and romantic pools of water, where Ireland caresses the hearts of travellers. The park is crossed by a shaded and silent road allowing countless stops. It is recommended not to give yourself a timetable, not to make plans, but to stop where required by the light, the sounds and the scents of nature. Sounds that can come from a bagpipe, because it is not uncommon to come across a player who, speaking of the magical atmosphere, places himself along the Ladies’ View, the extraordinary panoramic point wide open on the lakes of Killarney, to enchant anyone passing by.
Aphrodisiac and full-bodied perfumes
But nature in Ireland also means perfume. The aphrodisiac one of the omnipresent musk and wild flowers, or the intense one of smoked salmon and delicious fresh fish soups, the pungent one of black peat and the salt that sweeps the coasts, or the incredibly full-bodied one of whiskey and beer.
Yes, because there is a magical and unrepeatable nature even in Guinness, and in the other iconic beers of Ireland; you will not find such good ones anywhere else, because of the water of the island, explain the experts.
The perfume of rain on the grass, of exuberant vegetation is the common thread that binds everything and sweeps your lungs with its scents.
Wild and regenerating nature
Finally, seduction in Ireland is in the intense and sincere embrace, which you will find in every pub, where you can warm up in the evening to the sound of Celtic music played live. Your mind will review the landscapes that have filled your eyes and heart: the atmospheres of the woods, of the wild coasts at the mercy of the ocean, of the valleys and of the soft moors. Mythical places, inhabited by the Little People but also by sociable and approachable people, smiling, extremely hospitable, who make themselves loved. Just like the regenerating nature welcoming them.