Ireland is a land of magnificent scenery. But did you know a trip to Ireland is not merely a feast for the eyes? The Irish countryside not only stimulates the visual senses, but can at times over stimulate the olfactory nerve.
Yes! That poor old nerve, that carries our sense of smell, works overtime when traveling around rural Ireland during the summer months.
I know my blog post title might lead you to believe I’m going to wax poetically about the scents of newly cut turf in the bog, the delightful aromas of a freshly mown meadow, or the bracing sea air as you wander down one of Ireland’s many piers. But hold your breath! These are not the only airs you shall inhale on a tour of my homeland.
Anyone, who has whiffed the not-so-sweet aromas of the Irish countryside will know exactly what I mean. Can’t you just picture a bus full of unsuspecting tourists casting incriminating glances at their fellow passengers, as their tour bus passes a stinky farm?
And so today, I plan to take you on a smelly tour around my beloved homeland, and answer your lingering question …
What Is That Awful Smell?
The human nose can sense millions, maybe even billions of different odors, but let’s face it, there are some aromas that are distinctly Irish.
A well seasoned wayfarer around the Irish countryside will be able to distinguish the various causes of the bitter sweet scents that assail the nostrils. Here’s a little insight into the usual smelly suspects:
The Slurry Spreader or Muck Spreader:
Oh yes! One of the main stinky culprits is none other than the Irish muck spreader. Who has ever been stuck behind one of these contraptions on a warm spring day, when there’s absolutely no room to overtake the tractor and its noxious cargo?
Do you know what I mean? That pong leaves a lasting impression on any tourist’s mind.
And the degree of toxicity is totally dependent upon the source of the slurry to be spread as organic fertilizer across those beautiful green Irish fields, we all love so much.
The Slurry Tank or Pit:
Before a farmer spreads the infamous slurry upon his fields, animal waste is gathered and stored to allow it to decompose to create fertilizer.
Hence, most Irish farms have a slurry pit or tank which is a large dam or container made of concrete or reinforced metal, for collecting the noxious byproducts of dairy, pig or poultry farming.
And believe me, the deadly gases emitted from a slurry pit could bring tears to your eyes. So if a farm’s slurry pit is located near the road, and the wind is blowing in the direction of oncoming traffic, then let your nose beware.
A true Irish country dweller can distinguish the slurry source with merely a single whiff.
Cow manure! Yuck!
Pig poop! Yikes!
But when it comes to hen house droppings – put a clothes peg on your nose.
Silage making can cause some terrible odors. Irish farmers tend to make silage rather than saving hay these days. The rural aromas rise over the summer months during silage making season.
Farmers may find the smell of silage to be pleasant and sweet, which is the case when silage is well made with grass that’s not too wet.
When Ireland’s summer weather doesn’t cooperate and silage is made with wet grass, it can smell very unpleasant and acidic, especially to city dwellers who are unaccustomed to the bracing smells of the countryside.
Other Smelly Culprits:
Perhaps I should mention a few more pong sources in Ireland, to round off this little tour of Irish smells. Pig farms generate a very unique stink. Sweet, yet pungent.
Passing through Mitchelstown as a child, I distinctly remember the whiff of the cheese factory.
And Killybegs in County Donegal stunk of fish, like no place else on earth. But I have learned new fish processing techniques have eliminated the offending aromas in this lovely Donegal town. Yay for Killybegs!
And of course, as a Dubliner, I could never forget the childhood smells of the River Liffey. Those scents have been immortalized in Bagatelle’s song, Summer in Dublin.
“I remember that summer in Dublin,
And the Liffey as it stank like hell,
And young people walking down Grafton Street,
Everyone looking so well.”
That’s the smelly price you pay for living in a city whose river is under tidal influence. When the tide is out, a stale seaweed smell rises. To me, it just smells like Dublin.
Nostalgic Scents of Ireland:
Now just in case I have turned you off ever setting foot on Irish soil, let me reassure there are some magnificent aromas that can only be categorized as Irish smells.
Here are some of my favorite nostalgic olfactory memories of Ireland …
- the smell of the dew in the early morning, when the grass is still wet;
- turf burning in an open fire;
- freshly cut grass on a sunny summer’s day;
- the smell of hops from the Guinness factory as I cycled from Trinity to St. James’s Hospital as a student;
- the inside of a bag of Tayto cheese and onion crisps;
- the waft of fish and chips with salt and vinegar from the local chip shop;
- fresh baked brown bread, hot out of the oven;
- laundry dried in the open air, being ironed after hours blowing in the wind;
- the coconut like smell of gorse or furze flowers;
- heather scented air of the mountains
- and last, but not least, the sea.
And there you have it, a little ramble about the aromas of Ireland, both sweet and sour. Do you have any stories to share about the smells of Ireland?
Please do feel free to join in our discussion of Irish scents in the comment section below.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)