Listing the great romantic cities of the world, the usual suspects would no doubt be Paris, Venice, New York, London, Las Vegas perhaps. But how many people would have Dublin on their lists?
It's easy to see the allure of ‘gay Paris', what with its flair and reputation for romance and seduction and of course the Eiffel Tower, standing proud across the French capital for all to see. Venice - of course, a gondola ride for two around the old city's waterways, where even the inflated prices and the less than romantic sewage smells wouldn't lessen the ‘amore'. New York, ‘the city that doesn't sleep', and has had that many romantic comedies, not to mention Sex in the City, set there, that New York couldn't fail to appeal to even the most sceptical of romantics. London, well with all that Royalty and pomp would be enough to woo most people. Even Las Vegas would get on the list, well if it was good enough for Britney Spears...
Now before you laugh it off, the Fair City is in with a good shout! Dublin has got character, it's got charm and it has famously romantic landmarks from the Ha'penny Bridge to the statue of Molly Molone.
And, though not many people know this, Dublin has St Valentine - his bones to be precise. St Valentine, whose feast day is celebrated on 14th February, is buried in the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin. The relics of St Valentine, were donated to the Carmelite Church by the Pope Gregory XVI and were brought to Dublin in 1836. Visitors to the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street, just a few minutes walk from St Stephen's Green, can see the Shrine to St Valentine, making Dublin, not Paris or Venice the place to be for romantics this St Valentine's Day.
Outside of Dublin, Ireland's stunning scenery is once seen and never forgotten and for many it is love at first sight. Places like Glendalough, deep within the Wicklow Mountains, have captured hearts ever since St Kevin came there in the 6th Century, fell in love, set up a monastery and lived as a hermit. Though his hermetic existence would have been greatly disturbed by the numbers of other visitors since, that have fell in love with this deep Lakeland valley surrounded by thickly wooded slopes. Another famous Irish beauty spot is Killarney, whose National Park covers some 25,000 acres of lakes and mountains, gardens and parkland. Within the national park is an abundance of wildlife, with Ireland's only remaining herd of wild native Red Deer roaming the wilderness. Killarney is dotted with a number of wistful ruins from 7th Century Inishfallen Abbey, on an island out in Lough Leane and Ross Castle on the shores of the Lough. While the true romantics will no doubt enjoy a ride in a horse and trap around the grounds of Muckross House or through the glacial mountain vale of Molls Gap. And then of course there is Connemara, a part of Ireland entwined with the rugged romance of the ‘auld country'. Whether it's the indented coastline or the wild mountain peaks of the twelve bens, the scenery is spellbinding and timeless and it practically stole the show in the film ‘The Quiet Man', which was set in Connemara.
The beauty of the Irish landscape has an almost spiritual quality and a mythic resonance, that speaks of age-old legends and folklore. Each location in Ireland has a story to tell that has been handed down through the generations. Perhaps the most well known example is the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim. The story goes that legendary giant Fionn MacCool created this jagged promontory of neatly packed columns of hexagonal rocks. Fionn built the causeway to get to Scotland and battle with a rival giant called Benandonner. When he got there he found that the Scottish giant was asleep but also far bigger than himself, so Fionn returned back across the causeway. When Benandonner woke up he came across the causeway intent on fighting Fionn. The Irish Giant's wife dressed up Fionn as a baby and when Benandonner arrived she said Finn wasn't home and to be quiet, so as not to wake up the baby. When Benandonner saw the ‘baby' he decided that if the baby was that big, Fionn must be massive. So he turned tail and fled back across the causeway ripping it up as he went. All that remains are the ends, here at the Giant's Causeway.
But one of the great Romantic legends of Ireland is that of Diarmuid & Grainne, similar to the Legends of King Arthur and the romance between his wife Guinevere and right hand man Sir Lancelot.
Grainne, was the most beautiful woman in Ireland, she was also the daughter of Cormac MacAirt, the High King of Ireland. An up town girl indeed, Grainne was courted by Ireland's most eligible, Princes and Chieftains, including the now ageing chief Fionn MacCool, who wanted the young maid as his second wife. He asked her to marry him, she agreed and a great feast was set up to celebrate the newly engaged couple. But on that night Grainne met Diarmuid, one of Fionn's best warriors and it was love at first sight! Grainne was prepared to go to any lengths to get her man and drugged the entire party, apart from Diarmuid. With Diarmuid all to herself, Grainne confessed her love for him, but Diarmuid backed off, as he was loyal to his leader Fionn. But Grainne wasn't taking no for an answer, so she put a spell on him and he fell in love with her.
The two ran off together, hotly pursued by a very angry Fionn and his men. All across Ireland the eloping couple ran and all across Ireland there are caves, trees and all kinds of nooks and crannies, under or inside of which local legend will have it that Diarmuid and Grainne, lay together and hid. After long years on the run, Grainne fell pregnant with Diarmuid's child, but fate was about to catch up with them. One day out in the wilderness, with Fionn and his men closing in, Diarmuid and Grainne came across the heath of Benbulben in Co. Sligo, where a giant boar confronted them. This was bad news for Diarmuid, whom legend had told that the only living creature that could harm him, was a wild boar. As the boar charged, Diarmuid, protecting his heavily pregnant lover, wrestled it to the gound in a fight to the death. The warrior killed the boar with his sword, but not before the boar had gored Diarmuid, fatally wounding him.
As Fionn and his men came upon their long sought quarry, he found Diarmuid dying in a heavily pregnant Grainne's arms. A despairing Grainne knew she had just one chance to save her lover. She implored Fionn to show mercy and save his former friend by curing Diarmuid with a drink of water cupped by his magical hands. But Fionn refused, still hurt that his best friend had eloped with his betrothed. With Diarmuid dying, Fionn's men begged him to help this once great warrior to live. But still Fionn refused. It was only when Fionn's son Oisin challenged his father and threatened to kill him that Fionn agreed to help Diarmuid. But it was to late, before Fionn had got the water, Diarmuid had died.
Well the course of true love never did run smooth and in ancient times the Irish acknowledged this. Under the ancient Brehon Laws of Gaelic Ireland, a couple could have a years cooling off period, where either party could call for a divorce, if things weren't going smoothly, or as the laws stipulated, the husband was impotent! Of course, with the introduction of Christianity, things changed drastically over the years and it took until the 1990s for divorce to became legal in Ireland!
Before the churches, marriages were often held in places of mystical significance. For instance on the island of Cape Clear, off the west coast of Co. Cork, couples would marry at the Cloch na Gealluna or ‘trysting stone'. This tall pillar has a hole through the centre of it and in the presence of the local king and the rest of the islanders, couples would tie their hands together through the hole in the stone hence tying the knot. These days churches or registry offices are the only places to be legally wed, though something that is becoming increasingly popular is blessings and the exchanging of vows, which can be done outdoors. If you're thinking of tying the knot in Ireland, there are residency laws for getting married in a registry office but not a church and weddings here in Ireland are legal in the US, Canada, the UK and within the European Union.
If you're thinking of taking your honeymoon here in Ireland or just looking for a romantic break, Discovering Ireland Vacation have a number of Ireland honeymoon packages that can be tailored especially for you.
Until this time next month...