Ireland is located west of the European landmass, which is part of the continent of .
Ireland is located west of the European landmass, which is part of the continent of Europe.

Ireland is the third-largest island in Europe. It lies on the west side of the Irish Sea, and is part of the geographical (but not political) British Islands archipelago. It is composed of the Republic of Ireland which covers five sixths of the island (south, east, west and north-west) and Northern Ireland, currently a part of the United Kingdom, which covers the northeastern sixth of the island.

The population of the island is approximately 5.7 million people, 4 million in the Republic and 1.7 million in Northern Ireland.

A true colour image of Ireland, captured by a  satellite on , . , the  and  are visible to the east.
A true colour image of Ireland, captured by a NASA satellite on January 4, 2003. Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales are visible to the east.


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Some physical features of Ireland are shown on this map. See also this larger version with more details.
Main article: Geography of Ireland

A ring of coastal mountains surrounds low central plains. The highest peak is Carrauntuohill (Irish: CorrᮠTuathail), 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".

Ireland is divided into four provinces: Connacht (or Connaught), Leinster, Munster and Ulster. These were further divided into 32 counties for administrative purposes. Six Ulster counties remain in the United Kingdom 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 southern and western counties. These areas are mostly mountainous and rocky, with beautiful green vistas.


Main articles: Politics of Northern Ireland; Politics of the Republic of Ireland

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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" or "Éire". Technically Ireland and ɩre are the official names of the state while the "Republic of Ireland" is its official description.
  • Northern Ireland is also referred to unofficially as the 'Six Counties', the 'North of Ireland', and 'Ulster' (though the province of Ulster also includes Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan in the Republic) . Northern Ireland remains a region of the United Kingdom.

Prior to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 the island had existed for centuries as one unified political entity, most recently as the Kingdom of Ireland or as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Prior to English rule in medi涡l times a national kingdom had emerged headed by an Ard Ri or High King of Ireland. See Irish States (1171-present).

In a number of areas, the island operates officially as a single entity, for example, in sport. The major religions, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, are organised on an all-island basis. 92% of the population of the Republic of Ireland and 40% of Northern Ireland is Roman Catholic. Some trades 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. 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 fundraising organisation, tries to help people on both sides find peace and reconcilliation 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).


Main article: History of Ireland

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One of the stone age passage tombs at Carrowmore, County Sligo


Main article: Early history of Ireland

The period before the coming of Christianity in Ireland is largely prehistoric. The island, which 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. This saw the appearance of huge stone monuments, many of them astronomically aligned. The Bronze Age, which began around 2500 BC, saw the production of elaborate gold and bronze ornaments and weapons. See the Early history of Ireland for a fuller treatment of this period of Irish history.

Iron Age

The Iron Age in Ireland is associated with people now known as Celts. These 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.

The early Christian era and the Vikings (432 to 1014)

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 scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished, preserving Latin learning during the Dark Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewelry, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island. Sites dating to this period include clochans, ringforts and promontory forts. This golden age was interrupted in the 9th century by 200 years of intermittent warfare with waves of Viking raiders (mainly Vikings from Denmark and Norway) who plundered monasteries and towns. Many settled in Ireland. In 1014 a Norse or Norwegian earl or jarl of Orkney, Sigurd the Stout, made a bid to become high king of Ireland. He was defeated and killed in the battle of Clontarf. The established high king, Brian Boru, was killed in the same battle.

Anglo-Norman and English control (1172 to 1800)

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For millennia, Ireland has been divided into provinces, of which four remain today: Munster, Leinster, Connacht and Ulster. The coat of arms is from the Anglo-norman period.

In 1172, King Henry II of England gained Irish lands, 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, 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 English and Scottish Plantation of Ulster and other plantations in Leix ("King's County", modern day Laois) and Offaly ("Queen's County"). In an incident known as the Flight of the Earls, the leaders of Gaelic Ireland in Ulster fled to France and onwards to Rome in 1607. Having been defeated by Elizabethan forces in 1603, they found life under English suzerainty intolerable. The higher echelons of the clan left en masse to take titles in Catholic Europe, thus marking the end of the Gaelic aristocracy in Ireland.

See History of Ireland for the 17th and 18th century period to the Act of Union.

Union with Britain, 1801 to 1922

Main article: History of Ireland (1801-1922)

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Flag of St. Patrick

In 1801 the unrepresentative Irish parliament was coerced and bribed to vote itself out of existence and for a union with the Kingdom of Great Britain (itself a union of England and Scotland, created almost 100 years earlier), to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1829, a radical Catholic lawyer, Daniel O'Connell, "the Great Emancipator" led a successful campaign for Catholic Emancipation. He later led an unsuccessful campaign for "Repeal", ie the repeal of the Act of Union.

The second of Ireland's "great famines", An Gorta M󲧧 struck the country severely in the period 1845-1849, with potato blight leading to mass starvation and emigration. (See the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849).) The impact of emigration in Ireland was severe; the population dropped from over 8 million before the Famine to 4.4 million in 1911.

The Irish language, once the spoken language of the entire island, declined in use sharply in the nineteenth century as a result of the Famine and the creation of the National School education system, as well as hostility to the language from leading Irish politicians of the time; it was largely replaced by English. The form of English used in Ireland differs somewhat from British English and its variants. Blurring linguistic structures from older forms of English (notably Elizabethan English) and the Irish language, it is known as Hiberno-English and was in the twentieth century strongly associated with writers like J.M. Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Sean O'Casey, and had resonances in the English of Dublin-born Oscar Wilde.

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In the 1870s the issue of Irish self government again became a major focus of debate under Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell and the Home Rule League. British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone made two unsuccessful attempts to introduce Home Rule. Parnell's controversial leadership eventually ended when he was implicated in a divorce scandal, when it was revealed that he had been living with the wife of a fellow Irish MP, Katherine O'Shea, and was the father of some of her children.

The debate over home rule led to tensions between Irish nationalists and Irish unionists (those who favoured maintenance of the union). Most of the island was predominantly nationalist, Catholic and agrarian. The northeast, however, was predominantly unionist, Protestant and industrialised. Unionists feared a loss of political power and economic wealth in a predominantly nationalist, Catholic home rule state. Nationalists believed that they would remain economically and politicially second class citizens without self-government.

Outside mainstream nationalism, a series of violent rebellions by Irish republicans took place in 1803 (under Robert Emmet), 1848 (under the Young Irelanders) and in the mid 1860s under the Irish Republican Brotherhood. All failed, but physical force nationalism remained an undercurrent in the nineteenth century.

The late nineteenth century also witnessed major land reform, spearheaded by the Land League under Michael Davitt. From 1870 various British governments introduced a series of Land Acts that broke up large estates and gradually gave rural landholders and tenants what became known as the 3 Fs; Fair rent, free sale, fixity of tenure."

Dublin, however, remained a city marked by extremes of poverty and wealth, possessing some of the worst slums anywhere in the British Empire. It also possessed one of the world's biggest "red light districts" known as Monto (after its focal point, Mountgomery Street, on the northside of the city). Monto was to feature in many novels set in Dublin, most notably in the writings of James Joyce.

1916 to 1922: Partial severance of Union; partial independence

The division of the island into "Northern" and "Republic" is a relatively recent development, coming about by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 which, amid much acrimony, divided the island into what the British government termed Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. A bi-lateral Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 formalised independence of what was later to become the Republic of Ireland, while Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.

In September 1914, just as the First World War broke out, the UK Parliament enacted Home Rule for Ireland, but was suspended for the duration of what was expected to be a very short war.

An attempt was made to gain independence for Ireland with the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection largely confined to Dublin. Though support for the insurgents was small, the violence used in its suppression (being considered a serious treason in time of war) led to a swing in support of the rebels. The unprecedented threat of Irishmen being conscripted to the British Army for service in France accelerated this change. In December 1918 most voters voted for Sinn F驮, the party of the rebels. Having won three-quarters of all the seats in Ireland, its MPs assembled in Dublin on 21 January 1919 to form an Irish parliament, Dᩬ ɩreann. A war of independence often called the Anglo-Irish War raged from 1919 to 1921. In mid-1921 the Irish and British governments signed a truce that halted the war. In late 1921 an Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed between representatives of both governments. This created an Irish self-governing dominion called the Irish Free State. Under the Treaty Northern Ireland could opt out of the Free State and stay with the United Kingdom. This was a foregone conclusion and Northern Ireland promptly did so. For most of the next 75 years, each territory was strongly aligned to either Roman Catholic or Protestant ideologies, although this was more marked in the six counties.

1922 to the present (in the Free State/the Republic)

Main articles: History of the Republic of Ireland; Republic of Ireland; Names of the Irish state

After the treaty to sever the Union was ratified, the old republican movement divided into pro-treaty and anti-treaty supporters. Between 1922 and 1923 both sides fought the bloody Irish Civil War. This division among Nationalists still colours Irish politics today.

The new Irish Free State (192237) existed against the backdrop of the growth of dictatorships in Europe and a major world economic downturn. In contrast with many contemporary European states it remained a democracy, in which the losing faction in the Irish civil war, Eamon de Valera, was able to take power by winning the 1932 general election. In contrast to many other states in the period, the Free State remained financially solvent. However, unemployment and emigration were high. Although not as blatant as in Northern Ireland (see below), for much of the first 75 years of its existence, the 'southern state' operated in practice as a 'Catholic State for a Catholic People', since Catholicism was professed actively by 95% of the population.

In 1937, a new Constitution of Ireland proclaimed the state of ɩre (or Ireland). The state remained neutral throughout World War II (see Irish neutrality) and this saved it from the horrors of the war, although tens of thousands volunteered to serve in the British forces. Ireland was also hit badly by rationing of food, and coal in particular (B󲤠na M󮡼peat production became a priority during this time). Though nominally neutral, recent studies have suggested a far greater level involvement by the South with the Allies than was realised, with D Day's date set on the basis of secret weather information on Atlantic storms supplied by the Republic. For more detail on 193945, see main article The Emergency.

In 1949 the state was formally declared the Republic of Ireland and it left the British Commonwealth.

In the 1960s, Ireland underwent a major economic change under reforming Taoiseach (prime minister) Sean Lemass and radical senior civil servant T.K. Whittaker, who produced a series of economic plans. Free second-level education was introduced by Brian Lenihan as Minister for Education in 1968. The Republic from the early 1960s sought admission to the European Economic Community but because of its economy's dependence on the United Kingdom's market, it could not enter until the UK entered in 1973.

Economic downturn in the 1970s, augmented by a set of misjudged economic policies followed by Taoiseach Jack Lynch, caused the Irish economy to stagnate. However, economic reforms in the late 1980s and considerable investment from the European Community led to the emergence of one of the world's highest economic growth rates, with mass immigration (particularly of people from Asia and Eastern Europe) as a feature of the late 1990s. This period came to be known as the Celtic Tiger and was focused on as a model for economic development in the former Eastern Bloc states, which entered the European Union in the early 2000s.

Irish society also adopted liberal social policies during this period. Divorce was legalised, homosexuality decriminalised, while a right to abortion in limited cases was granted by the Irish Supreme Court in the X Case legal judgment. Major scandals in the Roman Catholic Church coincided with a wholescale collapse in religious practice, with weekly attendance at Roman Catholic Mass halving in twenty years.

1921 to 1971 in Northern Ireland: "A Protestant State and a Protestant People"

Main article: Northern Ireland

From 1921 to 1971, Northern Ireland was run by the Ulster Unionist Party government, based at Stormont in East Belfast. The founding Prime Minister, James Craig, proudly declared that it would be "a Protestant State for a Protestant People" (in contrast to the "Papist" state to the south). Discrimination against the minority nationalist community, and their total exclusion from political power (gerrymandering), led to the appearance of a civil rights campaign in the late 1960s. A violent counter-reaction from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and right-wing unionists such as the Rev. Ian Paisley led to civil strife. Tensions came to a head with the events of Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday, and the worst years (early 1970s) of what became known as The Troubles resulted. The Stormont majoritarian government was prorogued in 1971 and abolished totally in 1972. Paramilitaries such as the traditional republican Provisional IRA, and the Marxist Official IRA, unionist groups like the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, and the British army and the RUC fought a bitter "war", which resulted in the deaths of thousands of men, women and children, civilians and military. Most of the violence took place in the six counties, but some also spread to England and across the border.

1971 to 1998 in Northern Ireland: Direct Rule

For the next 27 years, Northern Ireland was ruled from Westminster, and (officially) treated the same as the rest of the United Kingdom.

1998 to the present: Devolution, more Direct Rule

More recently, the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998 has brought a degree of power sharing to Northern Ireland, giving both unionists, who favour it remaining a part of the United Kingdom, and nationalists, who favour it becoming part of an All-Ireland state (not necessarily the Republic of Ireland), control of limited areas of government. However, both the power-sharing Executive and the elected Assembly have been suspended since October 2002 following a breakdown in trust between the political parties. Efforts to resolve outstanding issues, including "decommissioning" of paramilitary weapons, policing reform and the removal of controversial British army bases are continuing.


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 organization. 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 head-quarters of the GAA (and the main stadium) is located at the 70,000 seater Croke Park in 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 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.)

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.

Boxing is also an all-island sport governed by the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.


, one of four Irish winners of the
George Bernard Shaw, one of four Irish winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature

Main article: Culture of Ireland

Literature and the arts

Main articles: Irish literature, Irish art

For a comparatively small country, Ireland has made a disproportionate 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. 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 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 artefacts, particularly ornamental gold objects, and the religious carvings and illuminated manuscripts of the medieval 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 ӠRiada 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, The Corrs, Van Morrison, Sin顤 O'Connor, 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.

Enya is Ireland's best selling solo musician to date.

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.



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, 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.


Main articles: History of rail transport in Ireland; Rail transport in Ireland

The rail network in Ireland was developed by various private companies with the help of British Government funding throughout the late 19th century, reaching its greatest extent around the 1920s. The standard gauge of 1600 mm (5 ft 3 in) was eventually settled upon thoughout 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 M󮡝], this company has a narrow gauge railway of 1200 miles.


Main article: Roads in Ireland

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.


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) though 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 Northern Ireland to Scotland. Most of Ireland's gas comes from the Kinsale field. The Corrib field has yet to come online, and is facing fierce opposition over the controversial decision to refine the gas onshore.

Ireland, north and south has faced difficulties in providing continuous power at peak load. Especially during the winter, power outages have been forced due to inadequate power generation. The situation in Northern Ireland is complicated by the issue of private companies not supplying NIE with enough power, while in the Republic, the government has failed to modernise power plants owned by ESB. 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 Mayo and County 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 aging network to cope with the varying availability of power from such installations. Turlough Hill is the only energy storage mechanism in Ireland.

Irish eCards

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See also

External links

Template:Ireland counties


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