- This page is about the island of Ireland. For the state also called Ireland, see Republic of Ireland.
- For an explanation of terms like Ulster, Northern Ireland, (Great) Britain and United Kingdom see British Isles (terminology) .
Ireland (Irish: Éire) is the third-largest island in Europe. It lies in the Atlantic Ocean and it is composed of the Republic of Ireland (officially, Ireland), which covers five sixths of the island (south, east, west and north-west), and Northern Ireland; part of the United Kingdom, which covers the northeastern sixth of the island.
The population of the island is approximately 5.8 million people; 4.1 million in the Republic of Ireland (1.6 million in Greater Dublin) and 1.7 million in Northern Ireland (0.6 million in Greater Belfast).
- Main article: Geography of Ireland
A ring of coastal mountains surrounds low central plains. The highest peak is Carrauntuohill (Irish: Corrán Tuathail), which is 1041 m (3414 feet). The island is bisected by the River Shannon, at 259 km (161 mi) the longest river in Ireland or Britain. The island's lush vegetation, a product of its mild climate and frequent but soft rainfall, earns it the sobriquet "Emerald Isle". The island's area is 84,079 km² (32,477 mile²).
Ireland is divided into four provinces: Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. In Irish these are referred to as Cúige's ( Cúige - meaning fifths). Previously there were five provinces - Connacht, Munster, Ulster, Leinster and Meath, comprising the counties of Meath, Westmeath and Longford. These were further divided into 32 counties for administrative purposes. Six of the Ulster counties remain under British sovereignty as Northern Ireland following Ireland's partition in 1922 (the remaining 26 forming present-day Republic of Ireland); since the UK's 1974 reshuffle these county boundaries no longer exist in Northern Ireland for administrative purposes, although Fermanagh District Council is almost identical to the county. In the Republic, the county boundaries are still adhered to for local government, albeit with Tipperary and Dublin subdivided (some cities also have their own administrative regions). For election constituencies, some counties are merged or divided, but constitutionally the boundaries have to be observed. Across Ireland, the 32 counties are still used in sports and in some other cultural areas and retain a strong sense of local identity.
Ireland's least arable land lies in the south-western and western counties. These areas are largely spectacularly mountainous and rocky, with beautiful green vistas.
Politically, Ireland is divided into:
- The Republic of Ireland, with its capital in Dublin. This state is often simply referred to internally and internationally as "Ireland" in English or "Éire" in Irish. Technically Ireland and Éire are the official names of the state while the "Republic of Ireland" is its official description.
- Northern Ireland is unofficially known as 'the North', and 'Ulster' (the province of Ulster also includes Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan which are in the Republic). Northern Ireland is a region of the United Kingdom.
Prior to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 the island had been a unified political entity within the United Kingdom (see United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) from 1801. From 1541 the Kingdom of Ireland was established by the King of England, though this realm did not cover the whole island till the early 17th century. Up to then, Ireland had been politically divided into a number of different Irish kingdoms (Leinster, Munster, Connacht, Mide, Ulster, and others). Contrary to some assertions, at no time did a national kingdom headed by an Ard Ri exist.
In a number of respects, the island operates officially as a single entity, for example, in most kinds of sports. The major religions, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, are organised on an all-island basis. Some 92% of the population of the Republic of Ireland and about 44% of Northern Ireland is Roman Catholic. Some trade unions are also organised on an all-Irish basis and associated with the Irish Congress of Trades Unions (ICTU) in Dublin, while others in Northern Ireland are affiliated with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the United Kingdom - though such unions may organise in both parts of the island as well as in Britain. The island also has a shared culture across the divide in many other ways. Traditional Irish music, for example, though showing some variance in all geographical areas, is, broadly speaking, the same on both sides of the border. Irish and Scottish traditional music have many similarities. The Ireland Funds, an international fund-raising organisation, tries to help people on both sides find peace and reconciliation through community development, education, arts and culture.
The island is often referred to as being part of the British Isles. However, some people, especially in Ireland, take exception to this name, which seems to suggest that both islands belong to Britain. For this reason, "Britain and Ireland" is commonly used as a more neutral alternative. Another suggestion, although much less used, is the Islands of the North Atlantic (IONA).
Flag of Ireland
There is no universally agreed flag that represents the island of Ireland. Historically a number of flags were used, including St. Patrick's cross, the flag sometimes used for the Kingdom of Ireland and which represented Ireland on the Union Jack after the Act of Union, a green flag with a harp (used by some radical nationalists in the 19th century and which is also the flag of Leinster), a blue flag with a harp used from the 18th century onwards by many nationalists (now the standard of the President of Ireland), and the Irish tricolour. However as the tricolour is the flag of the Republic of Ireland it is not used to represent the island of Ireland, given that the island also includes Northern Ireland.
The Royal Standard also shows a version of an ancient Irish flag in one of its four quadrants.
St Patrick's Saltire is used to represent the island of Ireland by the all-island Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). In contrast the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) uses the tricolour to represent the whole island.
- Main article: History of Ireland
Ireland was mostly ice-covered and joined by land to Britain and Europe during the last ice age, has been inhabited for about 9,000 years. Stone age inhabitants arrived sometime after 8000 BC, with the culture progressing from Mesolithic to high Neolithic over the course of three or four millennia. The Bronze Age, which began around 2500 BC, saw the production of elaborate gold and bronze ornaments and weapons. The Iron Age in Ireland is associated with people now known as Celts. They are traditionally thought to have colonised Ireland in a series of waves between the 8th and 1st centuries BC, with the Gael, the last wave of Celts, conquering the island and dividing it into five or more kingdoms. Many scholars, however, now favour a view that emphasises cultural diffusion from overseas over significant colonisation.The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia. Ptolemy in AD 100 records Ireland's geography and tribes. Native accounts are confined to Irish poetry, myth, and archaeology. The exact relationship between Rome and the tribes of Hibernia is unclear; the only references are a few Roman writings.
Tradition maintains that in AD 432, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. The druid tradition collapsed in the face of the spread of the new faith. Irish Christian scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished, preserving Latin learning during the Early Middle Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewellery, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island. This era was interrupted in the 9th century by 200 years of intermittent warfare with waves of Viking raiders who plundered monasteries and towns. Eventually they settled in Ireland and established many towns, including the modern day cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford.
In 1172, King Henry II of England gained Irish lands by the granting of the 1155 Bull Laudibiliter to him by then English Pope Adrian IV, and from the 13th century, English law began to be introduced. English rule was largely limited to the area around Dublin, known as the Pale, and Waterford, but this began to expand in the 16th century with the final collapse of the Gaelic social and political superstructure at the end of the 17th century, as a result of the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland and English and Scottish Protestant colonisation in the Plantations of Ireland, which established English control over the whole island. After the the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Irish Catholics were barred from voting or attending the Irish Parliament. The new English Protestant ruling class was known as the Protestant Ascendancy
In 1800 the Irish Parliament passed the Act of Union which, in 1801, merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The whole island of Ireland would remain within the United Kingdom, ruled directly by the UK Parliament in London. The 19th century saw the Great Famine of the 1840s in which at least 1 million Irish people died and over a million were forced to emigrate.
The late 19th and early 20th century saw a vigorous but unsuccessful campaign for Irish home rule, followed by the eclipse of moderate nationalism by militant separatism. In 1922, following the Anglo-Irish War, twenty-six counties of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom as the Irish Free State. The remaining six, in the north-east, remained within the Union as Northern Ireland. Secession for the rest of Ireland led directly to the Civil War, as militant nationalists split into two factions and turned against one another.
History since partition
Irish Independence: The Irish Free State, Éire, Ireland
- Main article: History of the Republic of Ireland
The Anglo-Irish Treaty was narrowly ratified by the Dáil in December 1921 but was rejected by a large minority, resulting in the Irish Civil War which lasted until 1923. In 1922, in the middle of this civil war, the Irish Free State came into being. For its first years the new state was governed by the victors of the Civil War. However in the 1930s Fianna Fáil, the party of the opponents of the treaty, were elected into government. The party introduced a new constitution in 1937 which renamed the state to simply "Éire or in the English language, Ireland" (preface to the Constitution).
The state was neutral during World War II but offered some assistance to the Allies. In 1949 the state declared itself to be a republic and that henceforth it should be described as the Republic of Ireland. The state was plagued by poverty and emigration until the 1990s. That decade saw the beginning of unprecedented economic success, in a phenomenon known as the "Celtic Tiger". By the early 2000s, it had become one of the richest countries (in terms of GDP per capita) in the European Union, moving from being a net recipient to a net contributor and from a population with net emigration to one with net immigration.
- Main article: History of Northern Ireland
From its creation in 1921 until 1972 Northern Ireland enjoyed limited self-government within the United Kingdom, with its own parliament and prime minister. However the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland each voted almost entirely along sectarian lines, meaning that the government of Northern Ireland (elected by "first past the post") was always controlled by the Ulster Unionist Party. Consequently, Catholics could not participate in the government, which at times openly encouraged discrimination in housing and employment.
Nationalist grievances at unionist discrimination within the state eventually led to large civil rights protests in 1960s, which the government suppressed heavy-handedly, most notably on "Bloody Sunday". It was during this period of civil unrest that the paramilitary Provisional IRA, who favoured the creation of a united Ireland, began its campaign against Unionist rule. Other groups, legal and illegal on the unionist side, and illegal on the nationalist side, began to participate in the violence and the period known as the "Troubles" began. Owing to the civil unrest the British government suspended home rule in 1972 and imposed direct rule.
In 1998, following a Provisional IRA cease-fire, the Good Friday Agreement was concluded and attempts began to be made to restore self-government to Northern Ireland on the basis of power sharing between the two communities. Violence has greatly decreased since the signing of the accord.
In 2001 the armed police force in the north (which operated much like an army with armoured cars etc.), The Royal Ulster Constabulary (or RUC for short), was removed in place of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) as a result of easing tensions.
- Main article: Sport in Ireland
Gaelic football and hurling are the most popular sports in Ireland. Along with Camogie, Ladies' Gaelic football, handball and rounders, they make up the national sports of Ireland, collectively known as Gaelic Games. All Gaelic games are governed by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), with the exception of Ladies' Gaelic Football, which is governed by a separate organisation. The GAA is organised on an all-Ireland basis with all 32 counties competing; traditionally, counties first compete within their province, in the provincial championships, and the winners then compete in the All-Ireland senior hurling or football championships. The headquarters of the GAA (and the main stadium) is located at the 83,000 capacity Croke Park in north Dublin. All major GAA games are played here, including the semi-finals and finals of the All-Ireland championships. All GAA players, even at the highest level, are amateurs and receive no wages.
The Irish rugby team includes players from north and south, and the Irish Rugby Football Union governs the sport on both sides of the border. Consequently in international rugby, the Ireland team represents the whole island. The same is true of cricket.
However, when Ireland was partitioned, organisation of football (soccer) in the Republic was transferred from the Belfast-based Irish Football Association (IFA) to the new Football Association of Ireland (FAI). The IFA remained in charge of the game in the six counties. (Consequently in International Association Football, the island has two teams: the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland.)
Template:Nft qualified for the Football World Cup finals in 1958 (where they made it to the quarter-finals), 1982 and 1986. The Template:Nft made it to the World Cup in 1990 (where they made it to the quarter-finals), 1994 and 2002.
Greyhound racing and horse racing are both popular in Ireland: greyhound stadiums are well attended and there are frequent horse race meetings. The Republic is noted for the breeding and training of race horses and is also a large exporter of racing dogs. The horse racing sector is largely concentrated in the central east of the Republic.
Golf is an extremely popular sport in Ireland and Golfing Tourism is a major industry. The 2006 Ryder Cup will be held in the K Club in Co. Kildare, which is just outside Dublin.
Prominent Irish sporting stars are: Sean Kelly (cycling), Stephen Roche (cycling), Brian O'Driscoll (rugby), Roy Keane (soccer), Damien Duff (soccer), D.J. Carey (hurling), Peter Canavan (GAA), Aidan O'Brien (racehorse trainer), Kieren Fallon (jockey), Eddie Jordan (F1), Padraig Harrington (golf), Sonia O'Sullivan (athlethics), Steve Collins (boxing) and Ken Doherty (snooker).
- Main article: Culture of Ireland
Literature and the arts
For a comparatively small country, Ireland has made a disproportionately large contribution to world literature in all its branches, mainly in English. Poetry in Irish represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe with the earliest examples dating from the 6th century; Jonathan Swift, still often called the foremost satirist in the English language, was wildly popular in his day (Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, etc.) and remains so in modern times amongst both children and adults. In more recent times, Ireland has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Although not a Nobel Prize winner, James Joyce is widely considered one of the most significant writers of the 20th century. His 1922 novel Ulysses is sometimes cited as the greatest English-language novel of the 20th century and his life is celebrated annually on June 16th in Dublin as the Bloomsday celebrations.
The early history of Irish visual art is generally considered to begin with early carvings found at sites such as Newgrange and is traced through Bronze age artifacts, particularly ornamental gold objects, and the religious carvings and illuminated manuscripts of the mediæval period. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, a strong indigenous tradition of painting emerged, including such figures as John Butler Yeats, William Orpen, Jack Yeats and Louis le Brocquy.
Music and dance
- Main article: Irish music
The Irish tradition of folk music and dance is also widely known. In the middle years of the 20th century, as Irish society was attempting to modernise, traditional music tended to fall out of favour, especially in urban areas. During the 1960s, and inspired by the American folk music movement, there was a revival of interest in the Irish tradition. This revival was led by such groups as The Dubliners, The Chieftains, the Clancy Brothers and Sweeney's Men and individuals like Sean Ó Riada and Danny O'Flaherty. Irish and Scottish traditional music are similar.
Before long, groups and musicians including Horslips, Van Morrison and even Thin Lizzy were incorporating elements of traditional music into a rock idiom to form a unique new sound. During the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of bands and individuals like U2, Clannad, The Cranberries, Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, Westlife and The Pogues.
Nevertheless, Irish music has shown an immense inflation of popularity with many attempting to return to their roots. There are also contemporary music groups that stick closer to a "traditional" sound, including Altan, Gaelic Storm, Lúnasa, and Solas. Others incorporate multiple cultures in a fusion of style, such as Afro Celt Sound System and Canadian Loreena McKennitt.
Ireland has done well in the Eurovision Song Contest, being the most successful country in the competition with seven wins. This achievement evokes mixed feelings in many Irish people.
Ireland has been inhabited for at least 9000 years, although little is known about the neolithic inhabitants of the island. Early historical and genealogical records note the existance of dozens of different peoples (Attacotti, Conmaicne, Éoganacht, Érainn, Soghain, to name but a few).
Over the last 1000 years, there have been influences by the Vikings, who founded several ports, including Dublin, and Normans, with significant admixture to the gene pool. However the greater part of the Irish population descends from the original inhabitants of the island who came after the end of the Ice Age.
Although for many years the Irish were believed to be of Celtic origin, recent genetic evidence shows that both the Irish and the Welsh (and to a much lesser degree Scotland and England) have many genetic traits in common with the people of the Basque region. Some theorize that although Basque is certainly not a Celtic language, there may have been a Celto-Basque link while others postulate that the pre-Celtic population of the island may have had Basque origins. Both positions are difficult to prove, as the information is relatively new. Culturally however, Ireland is undeniably Celtic.
Mingling of native Irish inhabitants with the latinate peoples of Spain, France and Rome during the height of the Roman Empire (and later following the expulsion of many Protestants from the predominantly Catholic Southern France, many of whom subsequently migrated to Ireland) gave rise to what some refer to as Franco-celts or Latin-celts. These people are charecterised particularly by very dark, black hair color, and other significant genetic similarities to Southern Europeans. Franco-celts (or Latin-celts) are responsible in part, but not wholey, for the moderately high occurrence of black hair and other Southern European characteristics amongst the Irish population.
Ireland's largest religious denomination is Roman Catholicism (about 70%), and most of the rest of the population adhere to one of the various Protestant denominations. The largest is the Church of Ireland. The Irish Muslim community is growing, mostly through increased immigration (see Islam in Ireland). The island also has a small Jewish community (See History of the Jews in Ireland), although this has declined somewhat in recent years. Since joining the EU in 2004, Polish people have been the largest source of immigrants from Eastern Europe, followed by other migrants from Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Latvia.
Ireland has also had large numbers of Romanians entering the country since the 1990s. A high standard of living, high wages and EU citizenship attract many of the migrants from the newest of the European Union countries. Nigerians, Chinese and people from other African countries also make up a large proportion of migrants to Ireland.
- Main article: Transport in Ireland
The three most important international airports in the Republic are Dublin Airport, Cork Airport and Shannon Airport. All provide extensive services to the UK, continental Europe and North America. The Irish national airline Aer Lingus and low-cost operator Ryanair are based at Dublin. Shannon is an important stopover on trans-Atlantic route for refuelling operations. There are several smaller regional airports in the Republic (Galway Airport, Kerry Airport, Knock International Airport, Sligo Airport, Waterford Airport) that mostly limit their services to Ireland and the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland there are three main airports. Belfast International (Aldergrove) provides routes to Ireland and Great Britain, as well as many international services to Europe and recently Belfast-New York (Newark). Belfast City and City of Derry Airport mainly provide flights to Great Britain.
The rail network in Ireland was developed by various private companies, some of which received British Government funding in the late 19th century. The network reached its greatest extent by 1920. The broad gauge of 1600 mm (5 ft 3 in) was eventually settled upon throughout the island, although there were narrow gauge (3 ft) railways also. Ireland also has one of the largest freight railways in Europe, operated by Bord na Móna. This company has a narrow gauge railway of 1200 miles. In Dublin a new Light Rail System, named Luas opened in 2004. Two lines serve the south and west suburbs as well as the north city centre. More lines are planned as well as an eventual upgrade to Metro. The scheme is being run by Connex under franchise from the RPA.
- Main article: Roads in Ireland
As with Britain, motorists must drive on the left in Ireland, unfortunately tourists driving on the wrong side of the road cause serious accidents every year. The island of Ireland has an extensive road network, despite the low quality of many of these until recently. Northern Ireland has historically had better main roads, while the Republic of Ireland has an increasing motorway network, focused on Dublin and the east coast. Historically land owners developed most roads and later Turnpike Trusts collecting tolls so that as early as 1800 Ireland had a 10,000 mile road network. 1815 marked the inauguration of the first horsecar service from Clonmel to Thurles and Limerick. Nowadays the main bus companies are Bus Éireann in the South and Ulsterbus in the North, with Dublin Bus serving the needs of greater Dublin.
For much of their existence electricity networks in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were entirely separate. Both networks were designed and constructed independently, but are now connected with three interlinks and also connected by Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) through Great Britain to mainland Europe. The Electricity Supply Board (ESB) in the Republic drove a rural electrification programme in the 1940s until the 1970s.
The natural gas network is also now all-island, with a connection from Antrim to Scotland. Most of Ireland's gas comes from the Kinsale field. The Corrib Gas Field in Mayo has yet to come online, and is facing some localised opposition over the controversial decision to refine the gas onshore.
Ireland, north and south has faced difficulties in providing continuous power at peak load. The situation in Northern Ireland is complicated by the issue of private companies not supplying NIE with enough power, while in the Republic, the ESB has failed to modernise its power stations. In the latter case, availability of power plants has averaged 66% recently, one of the worst such figures in Western Europe.
There have been recent efforts in Ireland to use renewable energy such as wind energy with large wind farms being constructed in coastal counties such as Donegal, Mayo and Antrim. Recently what will be the world's largest offshore wind farm is being developed at Arklow Bank off the coast of Wicklow. It is estimated to generate 10% of Irelands energy needs when it is complete. These constructions have in some cases been delayed by opposition from locals, most recently on Achill Island, some of whom consider the wind turbines to be unsightly. Another issue in the Republic of Ireland is the failure of the ageing network to cope with the varying availability of power from such installations. Turlough Hill is the only energy storage mechanism in Ireland.
- List of Ireland-related topics
- Republic of Ireland
- Northern Ireland
- Kingdom of Ireland
- The Ireland Funds
- Irish people
- Wikitravel guide to the Republic of Ireland
- Wikitravel guide to Northern Ireland
- Map of Ireland
- Y-chromosome variation and Irish origin
- Public domain photos of Ireland
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