What are the best Irish souvenirs, and what is really worth bringing home from an Irish vacation? Well, obviously not the mother of all hangovers, should you overindulge on your last night. But some alcohol might be a good bet. And a sweater, when the warming effect lessens. The choices are endless and confusing, but there are some things that are "typically Irish" and worth taking home with you. Be on the lookout for them - and save some money by asking for a tax refund.
Whiskey and Other Spirits
Irish whiskey is available in all price categories and qualities - if you are not keen on one special whiskey you should try to find a shop where you can actually sample the produce. Or buy directly from the distillery, for example in Bushmills or at Jameson's in Dublin. Do not shun the sweet liqueurs made with whiskey and/or cream. But one word of warning: Irish whiskey as a souvenir is a great idea as long as you know your stuff and your prices. Because due to high taxes, the good stuff is often more expensive in Ireland than in other countries. So don't go for the bargain, go for those "specials" that are only sold here.
The traditional knitwear from the Aran Islands, once handmade by fishermen and having "family patterns". To identify the washed-up bodies of the drowned, so the legend goes. Available nearly everywhere in Ireland in natural wool and even synthetics. Choose a white or off-white sweater, not one of the garish colored ones. Again, compare prices - visitors to the Aran Islands themselves have occasionally reported higher prices there than in Dublin!
Irish crystal for many people is synonymous with Waterford Crystal - but there are many more factories and craft outlets producing their own wares. These are not of a lesser quality. Caution: insist on crash-proof packing. Or inquire about sending the goods (fully insured) to your home address, often a sensible alternative to lugging breakables across continents.
Tweed clothing in all forms and sizes is an investment - you will have years to enjoy the garments and they never go out of style. Again available in most stores and from a variety of manufacturers. Men should get at least a tweed cap for those rainy days on the golf links. Maybe avoid the more garish multi-colored ones ... then again, they might just go with those "original Scottish" checked trousers.
The linen industry is especially strong in Northern Ireland and you will find factory outlets, craft stores and designer outlets selling everything from tea towels to "grandfather shirts." Invest in a long nightshirt with a matching cap if you dare! For the less adventurous, a collection of tea towels with prints might be the best idea. They can be used for decorative purposes, and if you get tired of them, you can put them to good use as, well, tea towels.
Visit the Belleek Pottery and splash out on a whole set. Or shop in any major tourist outlet for single pieces with a sentimental value. Irish china has come a long way from the "rustic tea mug" stage, though the latter is available as well. The pottery showroom in Belleek has a complete collection for sale, and they also specialize in affordable and (above all) safe shipping to all corners of the world.
Even if you are not planning to rip a fish out of his native element go and have a look at the angling stores. Colorful, handmade flies for fly-fishing can be quite a conversation piece if displayed at home. There even is a famous tackle shop in Dublin's Temple Bar district, Rory's ... home of the t-shirt "I'd rather be f***ing!" Fishing, you fool, fishing!
Irish Music and DVDs
Though a fair amount of Irish music is available everywhere in the world (and more via the Internet) you may find hidden gems in Irish shops. Ask for local artists and you might even get home-produced CDs. If you are planning on buying DVDs be sure to check that these will be compatible with Regions 0 (worldwide) or 1 (USA and Canada) and the NTSC standard.
A culinary treat best bought at the airport to keep the fish fresh. Though not a long-term souvenir it is certainly worth considering.
And Finally... a Piece of the Auld Sod!
You can actually get pieces of turf to burn at home, pre-packed for your convenience and transatlantic shipment - look beside the shamrock seeds in souvenir stores. If you do not have an open fire a miniature porcelain cottage with special turf pellets might be an alternative. You light the pellet and it lets off smoke through the cottage's tiny chimney. Corny, but also very popular.