5 Irish exports we're all lucky for

Celebrate all things Ireland on St. Patrick's Day

Published On: Mar 12 2012 04:13:00 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 16 2012 01:00:00 AM CDT
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland, blue sky

For many people, the thought of Ireland conjures up images of rolling emerald hills and quaint country folk with thick brogues popping down to the pub for a pint.

Or maybe just leprechauns and Shamrock Shakes.

Truth is, Ireland has given the world many great things. After all, the millions of Irish people who migrated to America in the midst of the Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s help build this nation up into what it is today.

St. Patrick's Day is more than just a time to hoist a glass of beer tinted with green food coloring and think about how Ireland has no snakes thanks to, allegedly, St. Patty; it's also a day to celebrate everything Irish.

In that spirit, let's count down the five greatest things modern Ireland has exported to America.

No. 5: Irish actors

Where would Hollywood be without the likes of Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell or relative newcomers Michael Fassbender ("Inglorious Basterds" and "X-Men: First Class") and Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement" and "The Lovely Bones")?

A lot less entertaining, that's what.

Without Ireland's Pierce Brosnan, who would have bridged the Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig eras of James Bond? Without Northern Ireland's Neeson, who would have calmly but menacingly described of his "particular set of skills" in "Taken"? Heck, without Ireland we wouldn't have had "Lawrence of Arabia" (thanks, Peter O'Toole).

OK, so we would have had those movies, likely with somebody else filling the roles. But Hollywood and its audiences would have been worse off for it.

And don't even get us started on Roma Downey. We don't even want to imagine a world without "Touched by an Angel."

No. 4: Claddagh rings

The Claddagh: It's not just for the Irish any more.

That might as well be the motto for the symbol consisting of a crowned heart grasped between two hands. Walk into any Irish gift shop in any mall in America, and it'll be hard to miss.

More than 300 years after the ring's origins in a small Irish fishing village just outside of Galway, it's worn far and wide as a symbol of love, friendship and loyalty.

But the ring is more than just a history-rich beautiful piece of jewelry, it's also functional. Worn on the right hand with the heart facing out means you're looking for love. Wear it on the same hand but facing inward, and your heart has been "captured."

How romantic is that?

No wonder Hollywood has latched onto the ring as shorthand for romance, with the Claddagh popping up in movies such as "Leap Year" and TV shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

No. 3: Irish musicians

Everybody knows about U2, and rightfully so.

Although only two members (Bono and drummer Larry Mullen Jr.) of the quintessential Irish rock group actually hale from the Emerald Isle, the band will forever be associated with Ireland.

But the country has given the world many other great musical acts.

Whether you're a fan of Enya, Sinéad O'Connor, Damien Rice, The Cranberries, Thin Lizzy or Van Morrison, you owe Ireland a debt of gratitude the next time you rock out ... or whatever it is people do while listening to Enya's music.

And that's not even considering the phenomenon that is Celtic Woman. Those angel-voiced Irish lasses could sign the phone book on PBS and we would give it a listen.

No. 2: Guinness and Jameson

It seems stereotypical, but when something tastes as good on your lips as Guinness or Jameson Irish Whiskey, it's hard to argue its rightful place on this list.

What trip to Ireland would be complete without visiting the Jameson distillery in Cork or the Guinness brewery in Dublin?

Thanks to the work done there, millions of people across the world can enjoy a "pint of the black" with a Jameson chaser.

Both of these tasty beverages can trace their roots back to Ireland in the 1700s. Centuries later, they are still being enjoyed not just at home, but worldwide.

With Jameson selling more than 31 million bottles of whiskey annually and 1.8 billion pints of Guinness enjoyed worldwide each year, you'll hardly be alone if you enjoy a bit of true Irish cheer during our No. 1 selection …

No. 1: St. Patrick's Day

What began as a religious celebration honoring Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland is now more a secular celebration of Irish culture in general.

And you don't have to be Irish or even Irish-American to enjoy it in true Erin go Bragh spirit. That's "Ireland forever" in Gaelic-Irish.

These days, St. Patrick's Day is probably the most widely celebrated saint's day in the world. In Ireland, it became an official feast day in the 17th century, but it's nearly as big in America, Argentina, Japan and Australia.

All evidence in New York City and Chicago to the contrary, St. Patrick's Day is still not quite a legal holiday anywhere in the United States.

But whether you are Irish or Irish at heart, you're sure to find plenty of company should you choose to wear the green or toast sláinte, or good health, with a pint or two come St. Patrick's Day.