The British have rarely been complimentary about the Irish down the centuries.
There have been the Irish jokes, insulting nicknames and the attitude that much that went on the neighbouring island was simply beyond the pale. Perhaps the greatest insult of all was that the Whigs called their political rivals Tories, after a type of 17th-century Irish rebel.
Now it turns out that the friendliest country in the world is Ireland. The prestigious British travel guide Lonely Planet reckons that, now the Troubles are over and the streets of Northern Ireland are safe again, the island's inhabitants have reverted to what they do best – drinking good liquor, making strangers feel at home and having fun.
The 2008 edition of The Lonely Planet Bluelist – a guide to places you should think about visiting – says: "Centuries of turmoil, conquest, famine and subsequent immigration have certainly taken their toll on the Irish. It has left them with a deliciously dark sense of humour and a welcoming attitude towards strangers.
"That famous ability of the Irish – to find craic (fun times with convivial company) in boom or bust times – means you're always in for a treat. These days, after the end of the Troubles, a cautious optimism reigns supreme, infecting the land once again with the sense that anything is possible."
The verdict was greeted triumphantly by tourism officials yesterday. Lawrence Bate, of Tourism Ireland, said: "We are delighted to have this endorsement of thousands of Lonely Planet readers. People have expectations that are far and away exceeded when they visit Ireland."
Scotland also makes an unexpected appearance in the guidebook's top 10. The Bluelist says: "Forget Begbie in the film Trainspotting – Scotland is becoming the destination for visitors to the British Isles, winning out over dog-eat-dog London.
"The Scots have survived English invasion, brutal weather and the pain of having the world's worst goalkeepers. This fighting spirit against insurmountable odds has left them with an extroverted, buoyant demeanour and a blackly humorous nationalism (you'd want to see the funny side after witnessing some of those goalies)."
There is also an honorary mention for the north-east of England, with its rejuvenated cities and wild countryside rated as the "most exciting, beautiful and friendly region in the whole of England".
The Irish have further reason to smile after claiming a place in the Lonely Planet list of the world's 10 best brewery headquarters, thanks to the St James's Gate building in Dublin, leased by Arthur Guinness in 1759. "If you don't know what it is that makes the Guinness brewery Ireland's number one visitor attraction, you must be under 18," the book says. "The syrupy black nectar is so good the Guinness executives are almost forgiven for touting a brewery tour that does not actually let you into where Guinness is brewed."
The Irish did not top the list, however. That accolade goes to Australia's oldest beer-maker, the Cascade Brewery, built in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1824 by Peter Degraves, an Englishman.
"A cautious optimism reigns supreme, infecting the land once again with the sense that anything's possible"
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