Family Fun: Discover Ireland

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When we think of Ireland, we often conjure up images of shamrocks, St. Patrick’s Day and leprechauns.

However, there’s more to Ireland than corned beef and cabbage. In fact, while that’s a commonly served St. Patrick’s Day meal in American celebration, in Ireland, it’s pretty hard to find.

That’s because it was an American creation, mistakenly dubbed the national dish of Ireland. Irish stew would be a more authentic choice.

Facts about The Republic of Ireland

There are a lot of fun ways to educate kids about Ireland, regardless of whether you plan to go there.

Find Ireland on a globe, show your children where you live and how far away Ireland is.

Ireland is the 20th largest island in the world. Ireland is about six times smaller than California. It is 32,595 square miles. California is 163,696 square miles.

The population of Ireland is 4.8 million, compared to the population of 10.16 million in Los Angeles County.

The Irish flag is a horizontal flag with green, white and orange vertical stripes.

Many Irish family names start with “Mac” or “O’…”, which means respectively “son of …” and “grandson of …” in Gaelic. Celtic languages like Gaelic are spoken in both Ireland and Scotland.

The oldest working lighthouse in the world is located in Ireland. Hook Lighthouse at Hook Head, in County Wexford was completed around 1172 to 1245. The first lighthouse on that spot dates back to the 5th century.


Mullaghmore Head is the home of big wave surfing in Ireland, and surfers come from all over the world to test their skills against epic waves.

If your family’s DNA test shows you have Irish roots it is likely the Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, is a factor.

The famine began in 1845 when a fungus-like organism spread rapidly throughout Ireland. The infestation ruined up to one-half of the potato crop that year, and about three-quarters of the crop over the next seven years. The tenant farmers of Ireland, ruled as a colony of Great Britain, relied heavily on the potato as a source of food. Before the disaster ended in 1852, the Potato Famine resulted in the death of roughly one million from starvation and many were forced to leave their homeland as refugees. More than 1.5 million Irish immigrated to America during the famine.

Ireland has been the scene of many conquests throughout history. The Vikings and then the British have controlled Britain at various times throughout history.

Irish nationalists fought for a free and independent Ireland for many years.

In 1948 the Republic of Ireland was born and all ties to Britain were cut.

St. Patrick

St. Patrick was born in 385 in what is now Scotland. He was captured by barbarian Irish pirates when he was 16 and worked as a shepherd and farm labor. He escaped back to Britain after six years in Ireland.

However, he soon began his quest to convert pagan Ireland to Christianity.

Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, the supposed date of his death. In 1903, St. Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland.

Historically St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated as a religious holiday and “feast day” in Ireland. Modern festivities now include parades, festivals and a celebration of Irish culture.

St. Patrick is credited with “driving all the snakes from Ireland” and chasing them into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a hill. He’s also credited with giving the shamrock an important place in Irish culture.


Ireland is famous for its myths and legends that have been passed on from generation to generation. From goddesses to high kings, giants to leprechauns, Ireland is overflowing with stories that have very much become a part of the history and culture of Ireland.

The leprechaun is the most famous of all Irish mythological creatures. He is a cobbler who collects gold and hides it at the end of a rainbow.

Fairies are believed to be the Tuatha de Danann, one of the first tribes to arrive in Ireland, they were a magical and secretive people. They are blamed by the local Irish for much of the unexplained. As a result, the fairies like to be left alone, and it’s considered bad luck to disturb a fairy bower.

Traditionally, many people would leave a small serving of milk on the doorstep for the passing fairies. Some people in Ireland believed if they didn’t leave a helping of their milk for the wee folk, the fairies would become angry and play tricks on them.

The leprechaun’s tale

Leprechaun imagery is ubiquitous during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, but even the most ardent Paddy’s Day revelers may know little about these mythical creatures.

Now widely depicted as tiny, bearded and mischievous men clad in coats and hats, leprechauns have been traced to ancient Ireland. The precise etymology of the word “leprechaun” is unknown, though many scholars believe the word we use today is derived from the old Irish “Lœ Chorpain,” which means “small body.” Some scholars point to the 8th century word “luchorp‡n,” meaning “sprite” or “pygmy,” as the origins of the word leprechaun. Another word, “lubrican,” which first appeared in the English language in a 1604 play written by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, also has been linked to the modern word leprechaun.

Some historians believe the myth of the leprechaun has origins in ancient Ireland, when people believed the tiny creatures were among the various inhabitants of fairy forts and fairy rings throughout the Emerald Isle.

Another take on the source of the leprechaun myth is that these tiny creatures were modern incarnations of the Euro-Celtic god Lugh, who was the sun god as well as the patron of arts and crafts.

Manuscripts from the 12th to 15th centuries suggest leprechauns lived underwater and were not all male (modern leprechaun depictions are all male). In fact, the resource states that female leprechauns were depicted during this time as figures devoted to luring human men away for various adventures.

While 21st century celebrants of St. Patrick’s Day might be hard pressed to find images of leprechauns not dressed in green, that wasn’t always the case. Prior to the 20th century, leprechauns were described in various depictions as wearing red.

The images of leprechauns can be seen everywhere on and around St. PatrickÕs Day, and those images have evolved considerably over the centuries.

Books and Film

Take the kids down to Barnes & Noble Bookseller, 23630 Valencia Blvd., Valencia, 91355 to find fun books about Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day. The bookstore usually has a special display to celebrate the “wearing of the green.”

Among the popular titles are: “S is for Shamrock: An Ireland Alphabet,” “This is Ireland: A Children’s Classic” and “How to Catch a Leprechaun.”

The Oscar-nominated animated film “Song of the Sea” (2014) follows the story of an Irish boy and his sister to save the fairies.

The Oscar-nominated animated film “The Secret of Kells” (2009) is about a young boy who finds adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives with an ancient book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers.

Walt Disney’s family-friendly film “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” (1959) features a wily old codger who matches wits with the king of the leprechauns. Yes, it’s dated, but it’s still fun.

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