A few days after the New Years Eve fireworks, the reality is dawning. SOMEONE – don’t ask who, it wasn’t me – is after inviting a load of visitors to come to Ireland this year. I wish we’d been given more notice. The place is in a bit of a heap. And what’s worse, the visitors are returning emigrants and you know what they’ll be like. It will be all comments like: “By hand?! In Australia we have a machine to do that” and “Is that your tallest building? My poolhouse in Fort Worth, Texas is at least a storey higher.”
The Gathering has begun. People from all over the world have been invited to stay during the year. In order to give us a chance to make the tea and see if we’ve enough mugs, it’s best to do what you would do with any visitor: Take them away out for a spin somewhere while we sweep the floor.
There are plenty of places for them to go. With a little imagination, the Gatherers can be directed towards some lesser known attractions because the usual destinations are sure to be packed. Here are the top five attractions you’ve never heard of:
The Devil’s Modem
The Irish landscape is littered with results of the various cataclysms and gradual processes that Nature visited upon it and none is more awe-inspiring than The Devil’s Modem in Ballashee, Co Roscommon. It is a patch of dark rectangular rock with almost orthogonal grooves along the top and a sort of aerial-like protrusion that appears to serve no function whatsoever. On some sunny days, small areas along the front appear to glint like lights flashing in an incomprehensible pattern.
This feature is the result of glaciation but locals have a different story. It is said that one dark and stormy night, The Devil was online when his wireless started acting up. He raged and raged, smashing walls and kicking a hole in the door until eventually he rang the provider. The girl on the phone asked the Devil did he try switching it on and switching it off again. With that The Devil grew so angry that he hurled the modem out the window three miles into the darkness and it landed on the mountainside, forming the unusual shape we see today.
Although Ireland is not usually renowned for its wildlife, the unusual practices of her humans have drawn visitors from all over the world. Anthropologists, both professional and hobbyist, come to the country year-round to study some of our more outré behaviour and none are weirder than the Swan-Feeding Idiot. The SFA is a well-meaning though simple-minded creature. By nature they are kind and have a strong empathy with still-water dwelling animals like ducks and swans. This compels them to regularly bring mouldy bread in plastic wrapping to the birds. They feed the swans from this bread. But then – and this is what still puzzles anthropologists – the Swan-Feeding Idiot will discard the plastic wrapper next to where the swans are eating, thus running the risk that the swans choke on plastic. It is this combination of Altruism and Moron that will fascinate your visitor and leave them feeling they’ve seen something unique.
Ghost Estate Studios
Recently opened – or recently closed, depending on your point of view –Ghost Estate Studios in Lacknaflack, Co Offaly is the latest example of making the best of a bad situation. It’s a little known fact that Hollywood and the American TV giants regard the relics of our construction-boom as some of the best locations for shooting zombie and apocalypse related films. “It’s like the words of the script come to life immediately, almost perfect unfinished houses, bad fireproofing and hostile locals“ said Larry Stipolski the producer of the multimillion blockbuster disaster film ‘No, Not The Day After Tomorrow, The Day After That ‘ as he scouted out locations around Offaly.
A one-day trip to the studio is a snack for the senses. You’ll gaze in wonder at the bleakness of the surrounding landscape and wonder why anyone would want to live in a place called “Bel Air Heights” in the middle of a bog.
The Ghost Estate movie industry is not without its controversies. Nearly two thirds of all studios have been inexplicably located in Health Minister James Reilly’s constituency.
It has been called the final piece of catharsis in Ireland’s relationship with its colonial past – a theme park that allows thrill-seekers to experience all the rough and tumble of an Irish Rebellion against the British. One of the most popular rides is Spy In The Camp where you can witness an important planning meeting for the insurrection of your choice and then race against time to tell all the plans to a RedCoat standing nearby. Sit back and watch as all the leaders are arrested in their beds.
You can even take part in a mock-battle where you join the embattled rebels who are understrength and underarmed due to the non-arrival of the French. There’s fun for all the family as you struggle against cannon fire, armed only with a rubber duck and your shoes.
And whatever the weather, following your exertions you can then relax in the heated pool and sunbeds which are in the “Shipped To Australia” section.
Museum of the Tribunals
Speaking of the weather, one thing that hasn’t changed is the rain, which – to paraphrase My Fair Lady – stays mainly on the windcheaters of bedraggled tourists. Now more than ever we need decent indoor attractions to keep our visitors spending. And nothing will remind them more than the museum of Tribunals.
After finally opening this year, some ten years late and with a mammoth price-tag the MOTT is still worth every penny. An impressive limestone façade topped by an enormous statue of Justice weighing out a load of cash for herself, this is a most exciting addition to Ireland’s heritage.
It is an extremely content-dense tour with a separate wing devoted to each of the eighty-six tribunals but there is a lot of light relief too, especially in the full-scale re-enactment of Bertie Aherne’s evidence.
The visitor is brought back to earth with a juddering halt however just before the exit, where a giant digital screen displays the running total of all the money paid in pensions to the politicians who have been passed through the tribunal system – including the ones that went to jail.