Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 16: Ireland Wren Day

Day 16 of our Advent Calendar and today we are headed to the Emerald Isle, Ireland,  to look at the tradition of the Wren Day. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!


When many of us are celebrating Boxing Day on December 26th, in Ireland the day is traditionally known as the Wren Day, or Hunt of the Wren Day, Lá an Dreoilín in Gaelic. Up until the 21st century, it was customary to hold a bird hunt, to hunt a wren, and then hang the hunted bird in a net from a pitchfork and walk it through the town in a parade. Nowadays the hunt is usually skipped, or a fake bird is used instead. The parade consists of mummers, dressed up in masks, straw suits and colourful clothing, playing music and singing songs. The parades are sometimes called wrenboys and often at the end of the day, special parties, or ‘Wren balls’ are held.

There are several theories on the origins of the tradition. Some say it’s a Celtic tradition, the others claim a Norse origin, and there is also a claim that it is a Christian tradition. Whatever the true origin, the tradition is fundamentally Irish. A good, lively way to burn calories off after Christmas dinner.


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Ireland Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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10 reasons to go back to Ireland

Marco Polo’s list of ten reasons to return to the Emerald Isle – for those who could bring themselves to leave in the first place:


1. A Guinness at O’Donoghue’s in Ireland simply tastes better than it does in Irish pubs abroad.

2. When the Irish speak English, their beautiful lilting accent is quite irresistible.

3. “Craic” is the Irish word for fun, and it is something you experience a lot in Ireland.

4. Nothing is more amusing and eye-opening than small talk with an Irish stranger.

5. The Irish weather is an inexhaustible subject, with all the potential drama of a theatre play.

6. Irish salmon, Galway oysters and Dublin Bay shrimps: simply delicious.

7. Gardens are masterpieces of nature in Ireland – and the Irish are happy to show them off.

8. Country Houses and Mansions: You can visit them or reside in them.

9. Fleadh, is a festival of traditional Irish music, which can be enjoyed in an Irish crowd.

10. Forty Shades of Green: There is nothing more relaxing than a day immersed in Ireland’s greenery.

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Ireland Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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What bloggers are saying about Marco Polo Guides

Our travel guides are often found in the hands of travel bloggers and who better to put them to the test! Here is what a few of them had to say about Marco Polo Guides:

Heels in My Backpack

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Rome Spiral Guide: “It’s difficult when you’re visiting somewhere for the first time and only have a short amount of time to experience it. How are you meant to prioritise what to do? Should you just hit the big time high profile sights? Try to go off the beaten path?

Well this is the predicament I was in when I visited Rome last month. My Anchored cruise was departing on the Sunday and I decided to fly in on the Friday night so I could enjoy a full Saturday of Rome goodness. So essentially I needed to experience Rome in a day… I mean I know Rome wasn’t built in a day so presumably it would be difficult to see it all in a day, right?

Enter my brand new and shiny Marco Polo Spiral Guide to Rome.

To maximise my time, I thought I’d try out one of their ‘Perfect Day’ itineraries to make sure I was making the most of this glorious day.

And it really was glorious, it was 33 degrees celsius on this particular day. Not the ideal temp for walking around in the boiling sun all day, but hey, I went with it.
There are several day itineraries in the guide but I decided to go for the ‘Ancient City’ variation. Mainly because it included the Colosseum and I’m basic like that. But also because it looked like it had a good mix of the big sights I had heard of and under the radar gems.” See the full post here:

The Sunny Side of This

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Brussels Pocket Guide: “My favorite parts of their guide were the Do’s and Dont’s of Belgium (particularly the driving laws of the city), the useful phrases section both in French and Dutch, and their Discovery Tours suggestions. For this review we did a little bit of a mix and match of their Discovery Tours section, given that we had the baby with us and we wanted to go around by public transportation.

We were also very relieved that the restaurant suggestions all come with the place’s schedules. Restaurants in Brussels are usually not open on Sundays, and only open during lunch time or dinner (ex. 12-2, and 6-9pm). Luckily, the park we visited had a festival that particular weekend and it was filled with food trucks!” Read more on

Sophie’s Suitcase

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London Spiral Guide: “I had a lovely 48 wandering London and used my trusty guide to keep me heading in the right direction and I came across so many lesser known shops, cafes and restaurants because of this. Marco Polo Travel Guide books trump other equivalent maps because each time the book mentions a place, whether it’s a cafe, bar or landmark, it also makes sure it references the map co-ordinates too so that you can find the place super easy. BINGO!” See the full post on

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Paris Spiral Guide: “We also sat down with a cup of tea and planned the next 48 hours of our lives, in beautiful Paris! I don’t know why but I hadn’t really asked for tips and tricks from the internet and instead was relying solely on my new Marco Polo Travel Guide to get us from one spot to another.

As we were only going to be in Paris for 48 hours we circled the places we really wanted to visit, and then crossed a few others off the list that we would save for another trip. We mapped out our route for the days and used the book to find out opening times, entry prices and how we would get there.” Read more on

Tara Povey – Where is Tara

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Dublin Spiral Guide: “If it’s your first time in Dublin, especially if you’re just visiting for a weekend, you might feel a bit overwhelmed about where to begin and how to really make the most of your time to experience the best that the city has in store. Never fear. Marco Polo and I are here to help you out. Marco Polo, you ask? The famous explorer? Well, kind of – The Marco Polo Dublin guide, stuffed to the gills with useful information. It’s a real gem when it comes to maximizing your time and planning your trip. Each part of the city is handily dealt with in separate sections. It’s easy to see at a glance which attractions are close to each other, how to get to them, and where to find great food without going out of your way. Navigating and finding your way around has never been easier.” Find out more on

Alice – Teacake Travels

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London Spiral Guide: “There’s just so much to see and do around London! You could spend months and months here without barely scratching the surface. Yet, when time is so short, we need to get to the point!

What if you want to do something different, like that time I set out to discover the street art scene in Shoreditch? What if you want to see a different side of London, hangout in places that you won’t find in most guidebooks, see the city’s charmingly British eccentricity and hit up some of the most weird London attractions?

You could spend hours searching for tidbits online or alternatively arm yourself with my advice and a copy of the Marco Polo London spiral guide.

Divided into sections for different parts of the city, each chapter has a handy map and suggestions on how to maximize your time, leaving you able to discover the different parts of London with ease. There’s also terrific digestible recommendations for places to eat and drink in here, to stop you feeling overwhelmed from all the wonderful dining options in London!” See the full post on


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Dublin in a nutshell: craic, gaelic and the shamrock

The best part of traveling must be learning about different cultures. Let Marco Polo teach you a little about the important aspects of the Irish culture:  craic, gaelic, the harp and the shamrock. It really doesn’t get more Irish than this!



In Ireland the pub is the focus of life. It is much more than a just a place where you go to drink beer, rather it is a place that nurtures two very important elements of Irish culture: music and conversation. The importance of traditional music to the Irish (which still sounds the best when played in a pub) is well documented but even more important than the music is the conversation, as the Irish are garrulous and humorous folk. Their eloquence has not only earned them the Nobel Prize for Literature but it is also something that comes in handy every evening at the bar counter.

And where there is Irish talk there is Irish laughter and so you will often hear the word craic, which is roughly translated as ‘fun’. ‘What’s the craic?’ can mean, ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘What’s up?’ and as a question it can also be a challenge to tell an entertaining and humorous story. After a successful evening at the pub you say, ‘It was great craic!’– ‘We had a lot of fun!’


Tourists in Dublin often wonder how many buses drive to An Lár as there is no mention of the place in conversation and it is not even recorded on the city map. An Lár is the Gaelic (Gaelic is the generic name for both Irish and Scottish but is the word used in Ireland for Irish) word for the city centre. In Ireland Irish is, according to the 1937 Constitution, the country’s first language – English is only the second official language – however, the reality stands in stark contrast to this constitutional wish.

Irish is a Celtic language that was allowed to flourish freely up until the 16th century when Henry VIII and his followers tried to suppress their rebellious Irish subjects by forcing English laws and language on to them. After the great famine in the mid 1900s it was forbidden to speak Irish at school. The children who did were forced to carry a wooden stick around their necks and for every Irish word they spoken, a mark was notched into the stick. Once a certain number of marks had been reached, the parents were forced to pay a fine.

Only once the independence movement, towards the end of the 19th century, was underway was there a revival of the language and after independence in 1922 the new government began actively promoting the language. Gaelic was taught in schools and Gaeltachts – communities with Irish as a home language – were founded. Tax reductions and housing subsidies were used as incentives to encourage people to settle in these areas. Even in Dublin housing complexes were created specifically for Irish-speaking residents.

Despite these efforts Irish Gaelic is a dying language. But there are still toilet signs that may create a little problem for harried tourists so do not make the assumption that fir means ‘woman’ and mná means ‘man’ or you may end up walking through the wrong door!

Dublin Marco Polo Pocket Guide

Photo credit: Carina Watson

The Harp and Shamrock

Two national symbols are ubiquitous in Dublin. The first is the twelve-stringed harp, which is a symbol for the bards and therefore music and literature. When the flag – with a yellow harp on a blue background – is raised in Phoenix Park it indicates that the head of state is at home, the state residence is right in the middle of the park. The harp is also seen as part of the stone coat of arms on the façades of some of the more prestigious buildings but it is most often seen as the Guinness logo. However, but the Guinness harp is inverted because in Ireland it would be presumptuous to depict a state harp on a glass of beer.

Another Irish symbol is the clover leaf, for botanists trifolium dubium, for the general population shamrock. On their National Day, St Patrick’s Day (17th March), the nurseries do a booming trade as every patriotic Dubliner wears a green shamrock sprig in their buttonhole. Legend has it that St Patrick used the three-leafed clover during his missionary work in the 5th century to explain the teaching of the Holy Trinity. The shamrock symbol appears when Ireland hosts a special event, on the shirts of the Irish football and rugby teams or part of the logo for the tourism board.

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Dublin Marco Polo Guide

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Only in Dublin

The Irish capital is rich with museums and galleries, churches and sport facilities, with sightseeing attractions, shopping opportunities and concert halls, with cinemas and theatres, but most of all – with pubs! Almost everything is within easy walking distance, as the city centre is small.

Small but perfectly formed, we might add! Let Marco Polo show you some unique experiences to be had in Ireland’s capital:

Dublin Marco Polo Guide

Dublin’s poets and the thirst

If you would like to follow in the footsteps of poets, you need not worry about getting thirsty
on the way. On the Literary Pub Crawl actors lead you from pub to pub and as they go
along they recite verses, sing ballads, act out melodramas and talk about the
authors’ works.

The Georgian style Merrion Square

The brightly coloured doors of the Merrion Square, built in the Georgian style,
will make quite an impression on you. In the middle of the beautiful park there is a
collection of historic street lamps and a few sculptures, one of Oscar Wilde, who lived at no. 1 between 1855 and 1876.

The rich and famous

If you want to keep an eye out for celebrities, the best place to go is the Horseshoe Bar at the Shelbourne Hotel. This is the place to see and be seen and the hotel and its bar are a Dublin institution, quite a few scandals have played out here.

Cultural market

Dive into the multiculturalism of Moore Street: no other street better symbolises the old and the new Dublin. The garrulous women at this market are an Irish institution but they now have new neighbours: immigrants from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe have opened grocery stores, hair salons, music shops and a pub.

Favourite number game

Nowhere is Ireland more Irish than at bingo. The lottery game was first introduced by the Catholic Church as a fundraiser. Bingo evenings take place in the community halls and at the National Stadium. Try your luck!

Train trip along the coast

Get to know Ireland starting from Dublin: the Dart (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) will take you once around Dublin Bay. The commuter train goes from Howth and Malahide in the north of Dublin along the coast up to Greystones in county Wicklow.


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Dublin Marco Polo Guide

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Low Budget Dublin

Dublin has a reputation for being expensive – and it is! However, with some forward planning and our top insider tips, you can grab lots of bargains in Ireland’s capital! Let Marco Polo show you how:

 Dublin Marco Polo Guide

Views across the city

If you want to see Dublin from above, you’ll have to pay: for the Dublin Wheel or the Chimney but the view from Howth Heath over the Dublin Bay, the mountains and many other parts of the city is free and peaceful. The short ascent begins behind the Deer Park Hotel. 84 rooms | Deer Park, Howth | Tel. 01 8 32 34 89 | DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit): Howth |


The beer on the outskirts of the city may be cheaper, but in many pubs in the city centre there is also live music – without having to pay an admission fee. Good options: The Brazen Head (Bridge Street), Oliver St John Gogarty (Fleet Street) and especially Hughes’ Bar, where you can also often hear the bagpipes being played (19 Chancery St. | Luas: Four Courts).


If your feet hurt from all the sightseeing, then why not let the comfortable and eco-friendly Ecocab take you anywhere within Dublin’s city centre. The rickshaw-like tricycles are a free service, thanks to corporate sponsorship.

Strong cyclists will take you to any destination within Dublin’s city centre in modern, covered tricycles, also in a radius of about 2km/1.2 miles around the O’Connell Bridge. They ride between 10am and 7pm and have certain stops, but can also be waved down. They are sponsored by companies, so you don’t need to pay them, but a tip will be greatly appreciated. Don’t mistake the Ecocabs with the rickshaws or bicycle taxis that demand a fee!

Dublin Bus offers a variety of reasonably priced passes, for example the 3 day Rambler Ticket for all lines including the airport bus 747 and 748 (€13.30) or the 3 day Freedom Ticket (€26) which includes a round trip with commentary. Available at the airport and 59 Upper O’Connell Street. Insider tip: make sure you have enough change when taking the bus because the drivers don’t give change. Schedules and tickets: Dublin Bus Office | 59 Upper O’Connell St. | Tel. 01 8 73 42 22 | Mon–Sat 9am–5.30pm |

Museums – Free entry

National Gallery: masterpieces from all over Europe from the 14th to the 20th century. The Italian section is one of the most impressive with works by Fra Angelico, Titian and Michelangelo Caravaggio whose ‘The Taking of Christ’ is probably the most significant painting in the entire collection. Also on display are works by Spanish painters like Diego Velazquez, Francisco de Goya and Pablo Picasso, French masters like Nicolas Poussin and the Impressionists as well as German and Dutch works like those by Emil Nolde and Peter Paul Ruben which all hang in its magnificent 19th century halls. British and Irish artists are given priority, such as portrait painters Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds as well as the most significant Irish artist of the 20th century, Jack Butler Yeats. In the new wing of the National Gallery is the popular Museum café. Mon–Sat 9.30am–5.30pm (Thu until 8.30pm), Sun midday–5.30pm | Free admission | Merrion Square West and Clare St. | Bus: Merrion Square |

National Library: a magnificent building dating back to the 19th century. The ornate entrance hall staircase leads up to the large reading room with a glass roof, a colourful frieze and ceiling mouldings. The original furnishings include shelves with wood carvings and tables with green reading lamps. Mon–Sat 9.30am–5.30pm (Thu until 8.30pm), Sun midday–5.30pm | Free admission | Merrion Square West and Clare St. | Bus: Merrion Square.

National History Museum: irreverent Dubliners call it the ‘Dead Zoo’. At the entrance you are greeted by the skeletons of some of the Irish elks that lived here 10,000 years ago. The Irish Room on the ground floor is dedicated to indigenous animals, while the top floor has animals from around the world. Even after extensive renovations the museum has kept its Victorian charm – it has remained a kind of museum within a museum. Tue–Sat 10am–5pm, Sun 2pm–5pm | Free admission | Merrion St. | Bus: Merrion Square West |

Other outstanding Dublin facilities offering free admission: the National Museum – Archaeology, the National Museum – Decorative Arts and History, the Chester Beatty Library, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Hugh Lane Gallery.

eating out

Reasonably priced Chinese restaurants can be found in Dublin’s growing Chinatown on Parnell Street in the section east of Parnell Square and on Chapel Street.

Many pubs serve meals from midday until early evening, they range from soups to roast beef with all the trimmings. The portions are plentiful and the prices (by Dublin’s standards) are very reasonable. An excellent option is The Brian Boru near the Glasnevin Cemetery. 9 Prospect Road | Bus 4, 13, 19, 19a: Hart’s Corner |

Market Bar: behind an unassuming façade lies one of the most stylish bars in Dublin. A café by day, a tapas bar by night or simply a hip and happening place to enjoy a glass of wine. What was once a market hall and sausage factory has been converted into an airy space with rustic benches under a high vaulted glass and iron ceiling. The lack of music – very unusual in Dublin! – means an evening of conversation and craic. The wine list includes a good selection from Spain and South America. Fade St. | Tel. 01 6 13 90 94 | Bus: South Great George’s St. |

Gallagher’s Boxty House: favourite address for fans of the Emerald Isle’s traditional cuisine, and its comfortable traditional Irish atmosphere makes it a great place for you to discover the tastes of colcannon, coddle and boxty pancakes. The pancakes have a variety of rich and hearty fillings. 20 Temple Bar | Tel. 01 6 77 27 62 | Bus: Temple Bar |


If you want to be able to party and then fall straight into bed, the best place for you is the backpacker hostel Barnacles in the middle of the bustling Temple Bar district. The hostel is clean and safe and its rooms are light and quite spacious. Double rooms available from €30, in the communal rooms you pay as little as €10 a night. 1 Cecilia St. | Tel. 01 6 71 62 77 |

Mercer Court is a student residence that rents out 100 en suite rooms to Dublin visitors during the student holidays between the end of June and September. They are cheaper than Trinity College and are often of a better standard. Centrally located near St Stephen’s Green, single rooms from €60, double rooms from €90. Booking at, see under ‘campus accommodation’. Lower Mercer Street | Tel. 01 4 78 03 28 | Luas (Tram): St Stephen’s Green

ABC Guesthouse: a friendly reception, a generous breakfast and three clean rooms (in varying sizes) await visitors to this reasonably priced bed and breakfast in the north of Dublin. It is right on the bus route between the airport and inner city. 57 Drumcondra Road Upper | Tel. 01 8 36 74 17 | Bus from airport: 16A, 41, 746 until the Skylon Hotel stop; from the inner city there are plenty of bus routes, e.g. 3, 16, 41 |

Isaac’s Hostel: centrally located at the bus station, is in a converted wine warehouse. There are even a few rooms especially for smokers. Insider tip: you can book the airport bus at half price on the website. Lodging in a shared room from €18, double room from €74. 103 rooms | Store Street | Tel. 01 8 13 47 00 | Bus: Busáras, DART/Luas: Connolly Station |


If you want to save money, then do your shopping north of the Liffey. Department stores like Dunne’s on Henry Street sell clothing at reasonable prices while the neighbouring Moore Street Market is a good choice for groceries.

There is also the weekend market in the suburb of Blackrock on the coast south of the city. Not everything is cheap, but if you hunt around you will find some bargains: clothing, accessories, furniture and bric-a-brac. Main Street | Blackrock | Sat 11am–5.30pm, Sun 10am–5.30pm | DART: Blackrock


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Dublin Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 things to do in Ireland

Marco Polo’s list of the top 10 things not to be missed in Ireland! Our best recommendations – from the top down – help you to plan your tour of the Emerald Isle’s most important sights. 



This circular route from Killarney passes through some of the island’s most magnificent  countryside; the breathtaking views and superb coastline earn the Ring first place.


Ireland has castles galore, yet everyone has heard of this imposing bastion and dreams of
ascending to its vertiginous peak to kiss the Blarney Stone.


The Republic’s most beautiful little town is located on the banks of the River Nore and charms visitors with its medieval centre of narrow streets and centuries-old buildings.


The cliffs drop steeply into the Atlantic the view is best from the water below. Take a trip in an excursion boat and enjoy the awesome spectacle offered as you look up.


In Trinity College this priceless and totally unique book is protected behind glass. The two
pages on show are regularly changed.


Already an architectural highlight in its own right, this museum houses treasures of indescribable value; it is the pride of Ireland and respected around the world.


The burial mound from the Neolithic age offers fascinating insight into Ireland’s past and provides visitors with an incredible experience once a year on the winter solstice.


40,000 pillars of basalt, all over 60 million years old. No wonder that Unesco has declared this place to be a world heritage site.


Mythology and history unite in a 65 m (213 ft) mountain, which is crowned by a round tower, a
church and a castle. It is regarded as one of the symbols of Ireland and was even blessed by Saint Patrick.


The most northern of the five peninsulas in the far southwest of Ireland is steeped in the austere
beauty and history of freedom and adventure.


Content taken from the Ireland Marco Polo Spiral Guide

Ireland Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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