Ireland is a love story. Our city streets and pastoral countryside are stages upon which some of the world’s greatest love stories have played out. Our wordsmiths have crafted some of the most romantic feats of penmanship ever – see Patrick Kavanagh’s Raglan Road or WB Yeats’ He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.
Oh, and the Irish landscape is littered with ancient castles and hidden gardens that echo with forgotten love stories. Romantic Ireland is alive and well. Sure, the remains of St. Valentine himself lie in Dublin’s own Whitefriar Church.
In honour of this most heartfelt of days, I’ve decided to share the most romantic stories that ever played themselves out in Ireland. Perhaps they’ll even inspire your own Irish romance.
It’s often said that romance is tragedy in disguise, and the words seem to echo the high walls of Kylemore Abbey. Nestled at the foot of the Druchruach Mountains in Galway’s Connemara region, Kylemore’s history is as tragic as the castle and grounds are beautiful. A man by the name of Mitchell Henry began building the 13,000-acre castle and estate in 1867, after he took his ladylove Margaret to Connemara for their honeymoon. A vast inheritance from his cotton tycoon father funded the construction of the fairytale castle, which Mitchell intended as a testament to his love for her. However, Margaret died suddenly in 1874, never seeing her castle fully complete. Today it’s visitors who fall for the Gothic romance of the walled Victorian gardens and lush woodland walkways, all shadowed by the vague melancholic reminder of a tragic lost love.
Ross and Rachel, Kate and William, Cú Chulainn and Emer. Ok, well you might not know much about the last couple – but you’re about to! Cú Chulainn is a regular in Ireland’s myths and legends, but this love story was centered in the province of Ulster. Cú Chulainn fell for the beautiful Emer the instant he laid eyes on her. Emer was the daughter of the wily Forgall Monach (the original disapproving in-law), who hated Cú Chulainn and sent him to train with the warrior-woman Scathach, certain the brutal training regime would kill him. How wrong he was. Cú Chulainn’s love for Emer imbued him with inhuman strength and he returned to Ulster victorious. Still Forgall denied him his daughter’s hand. Cú Chulainn had had enough – he stormed Forgall’s fortress, scooped up Emer and robbed all of Forgall’s treasure to boot. Emer and Cú Chulainn wed soon after, and though there’s no info on where they honeymooned, we’re picturing the lovely Mourne Mountains!
Dublin: A city for lovers
With all its cute cafés, winding streets and cozy hotels, you’ll forgive us for claiming Dublin rivals Paris for a romantic encounter.
Perhaps Ireland’s greatest love poem, Raglan Road, was written by the late poet Patrick Kavanagh after he spied a girl that stole his heart on Grafton Street. A hand-in-hand walk along the banks of the Grand Canal will bring you to where his bronze statue sits today, brooding out over the water. In more modern times, Grafton Street was where the characters of the Oscar-winning film ‘Once’ proclaimed their love to each other by… eh, busking (it’s more romantic than it sounds, promise). Just a couple of streets over, the remains of Saint Valentine himself sit in Whitefriar Church. Each year on Valentine’s Day, betrothed couples drop by the church to bless their rings, insuring a long and happy marriage.
With the famous heart in the centre, the Claddagh ring is synonymous with romance. The origins of the ring are a little vague, but most accounts point to Galway native Richard Joyes as creator. In the mid-17th century, Richard left his love and ancient fishing village of Claddagh for the West Indies to seek his fortune. Disaster struck when Algerian pirates waylaid his ship and Richard was sold into slavery. Sold to a wealthy goldsmith in fact, who trained him in his craft. It was years later, when King William III demanded all prisoners be freed from Algerian custody, that Richard was able to return to Ireland and his long-lost love.
Using his new smithing skills, Richard established his own goldsmith shop in Galway, and his very first creation was a ring for his bride to be. He crafted the heart for the love he bore her, the hands for the friendship they shared, and the crown for his wife’s loyalty during his imprisonment.
It’s a lovely story to relive in Thomas Dillons , the cozy jewelers-cum-museum in Galway today. These guys have been in the Claddagh business since 1750, even making rings for royalty.
So if all this talk of romance has you hankering for a very special ring, you know where to go.