Leap year romance in Ireland

Leap year romance in Ireland

If you take a look at your calendar you'll notice that the days of February run to 29 this year. That's because of course 2008 is a leap year and according to Irish tradition February 29th is the day when women may propose to men.


This is known as ‘Ladies Privilege' and the tradition in Ireland has its origins in the legends of Ireland's Saints; St Bridget and St Patrick, after Bridget urged Patrick to allow women the right to propose. Patrick refused but later agreed to allow Ladies Privilege once every seven years, Bridget bartered him down to four and the tradition was established.

If your planning on popping the question or taking a romantic vacation in Ireland, what better place to start than Dublin. Ireland's capital city has charm, character and romantic landmarks such as Ha'penny Bridge, Croke Park and the burial place of St Valentine. It is a little known Dublin fact that in 1836, the relics of St Valentine were brought to Dublin and are kept in the Shrine of St Valentine at the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, a short walk from St Stephen's Green. What better place to be this St Valentine's Day?

The Fair City provided the setting for Cecelia Ahern's international bestselling romantic novel ‘P.S. I Love You', which is has been released as a film starring Hilary Swank although the producers moved the setting from Dublin to New York.

Nevertheless, Ireland has provided the romantic backdrop to a number of classic films. Who could forget the starring role that Connemara played in the 1952 film The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara as star crossed lovers in the rugged Auld Country of Ireland. The film was shot in and around the village of Cong, close to Ashford Castle in County Mayo and visitors can take tours around the various set locations from the film.

Another famous star of romantic Irish movies was the Dingle peninsula in Co. Kerry, which provided the setting for Ryan's Daughter, the 1970's film production of Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary. The film famously featured Dingle's long stretches of sandy beach around Inch and Slea Head.

While close to Dingle is a place whose romantic atmosphere has been eulogised in Irish Mythology. Amid the wistful Lakeland scenery of Killarney, according to folklore, is Tir na N'og - the mythical land of Eternal Youth. One legend tells of how the warrior poet Oisin was hunting along the shores of Lough Leane when he saw a beautiful blond named Niamh Cinn iir (Niamh of the Golden Hair). Niamh invited Oisin to her land of Tir na N'og under the waters of Lough Leane, where nobody grew old and spring was eternal. Oisin lived there for 300 years before returning to the land as an old man.

Killarney is one of Ireland's favoutite destinations and has attracted visitors ever since Queen Victoria came in 1861. The Killarney National Park covers some 25,000 acres of lakes and mountains, gardens and parkland that is home to Ireland's only remaining herd of wild red deer. Whether you're driving, walking or taking boat trip or a horse and trap ride to enjoy the scenery of Molls Gap, Ladies View, Muckross House or the lakes, Killarney is certainly a place for romantics.

Another location steeped in the romantic folklore of Ireland is Sligo, mainly thanks to William Butler Yeats. Ireland's foremost poet, Yeats had a strong affinity with County Sligo. Although Yeats was born in Dublin, his mother's family were from Sligo and much of Yeats' poetry were drawn from the lore and landscapes that he found in his maternal county.

It was in Sligo, at Benbulben that the romantic tragedy of Diarmuid & Grainne came to its mythical end. In a story similar to the Arthurian romance between King Arthur's wife Guinevere and his champion Sir Lancelot, Diarmuid & Grainne were forbidden lovers. When the two elopped they were hunted down by Fionn MacCool, leader of the Fianna and Grainne's husband. Diarmuid & Grainne were hiding on the plains of Benbulben when they were attacked by a giant boar. Diarmuid killed the beast, but not before he had been fatally wounded.

In Co. Sligo, the Yeats Society was established in 1958 to commemorate Yeats and promote his works. While there is an established and road marked Yeats tour of the Sligo countryside taking visitors around the places that inspired his works. Yeats himself is buried at the Drumcliffe Church in County Sligo that his grandfather once practiced. On his tombstone is written Yeats' epitaph, taken from the last line of one of his poems, Under Ben Bulben, ‘Cast a cold Eye, On Life, on Death. Horseman, pass by!'

So ladies, if you're tired of waiting to here the question, why not pop it yourself and take advantage of ladies privilege this year with a trip to some of the romantic places in Ireland? And gentlemen - remember if you were to get hitched on February 29th you only have to remember your anniversary once every four years!

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