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Quintessential

If you want to get a sense of Irish culture and indulge in some of its pleasures, start by familiarizing yourself with the rituals of daily life. These are a few highlights—things you can take part in with relative ease.

The Pub: Pillar of Irish Social Life

It's been said that the pub is the poor man's university. If this is true, Ireland has more than 10,000 opportunities for higher education. Even if you only order an Evian, a visit to a pub (if not two or three) is a must.

The Irish public house is a national institution—down to the spectacle, at some pubs, of patrons standing at closing time for the playing of Ireland's national anthem. Samuel Beckett would often repair to a pub, believing a glass of Guinness stout was the best way to ward off depression.

Pubs remain pillars of Irish social life—places to chat, listen, learn, gossip, and, of course, enjoy a throaty sing-along.

Impromptu concerts often break out, and if you're really enjoying the craic—quintessentially Irish friendly chat and lively conversation—it's good form to buy a pint for the performers.

Wherever you go, remember that when you order a Guinness, the barman first pours it three-quarters of the way, then lets it settle, then tops it off and brings it over to the bar.

The customer should then wait again until the top-up has settled, at which point the brew turns a deep black.

The mark of a perfect pint? As you drink the liquid down, the brew will leave thin rings on the glass to mark each mouthful.

"Fleadhs" and Festivals

From bouncing-baby competitions to traditional-music festivals, the tradition of the fleadh (festival, pronounced "flah") is alive and well in Ireland year-round.

Before you leave home, check on regional Irish tourist websites or, upon arrival, discuss the local happenings with local tourist boards or your hotel concierge.

Music festivals rule the roost—Kinvara's Cuckoo Fleadh, Galway's Festival of Irish Popular Music, the giant Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, and the World Irish Dancing Championships (held every April in Ennis) are some major events.

But there are also village festivals dedicated to hill walking, fishing, poetry, art, and food; the Mullaghmore Lobster Festival in August always proves mighty tasty.

Keep A'Clappin' and A'Tappin'

Ceol agus craic, loosely translated as "music and merriment," are not simply recreations in Ireland. They are part of the very fabric of the national identity.

Ask most Irish men or women in exile what they miss most about home and, more than likely, those words "the craic" will be uttered.

And the beat and rhythm that accompany Irish fun are the "4/4" of the reel and the jig. Wherever you go you'll find that every town buzzes with its own blend of styles and sounds.

In its most exciting form, "trad" music is an impromptu affair, with a single guitar or fiddle player belting out a few tunes until other musicians—flute, whistle, uilleann pipes, concertina, and bodhrán drum—seem to arrive out of the pub's dark corners and are quickly drawn into the unstoppable force of the session.

A check of local event guides will turn up a wealth of live entertainment—if you're lucky you'll find a world-class artist in performance whose talents are unsung outside a small circle of friends and fans.

On some nights, Dublin itself—with more than 120 different clubs and music pubs to choose from—almost becomes one giant traditional-music jam session. Where to head first? Just take a walk down Grafton Street and keep your ears open.

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