Ireland (Gaelic Éire), republic comprising about five-sixths of the island of Ireland. The country consists of the provinces of Leinster, Munster, and Connacht and part of the province of Ulster. The rest of Ulster, which occupies the northeastern part of the island, constitutes Northern Ireland, a constituent part of the United Kingdom. The republic has an area of 70,273 sq. km (27,133 sq. mi)
Land and Resources
The eastern coast of Ireland is fairly regular with few deep indentations; the western coast is fringed by drowned or submerged valleys, steep cliffs, and hundreds of small islands torn from the mainland mass by the powerful forces of the Atlantic. The chief physiographic features are a region of lowlands, occupying the central and east central sections, and a complex system of low mountain ranges, lying between the lowlands and the periphery of the island. Among the principal ranges are the Nephin Beg Range in the west, containing Mount Nephin, 719 m (2,359 ft); the Caha Mountains in the southwest, containing Mount Knockboy, about 707 m (about 2,321 ft); the Boggeragh Mountains in the south, rising to 640 m (2,100 ft); and the Wicklow Mountains in the east, rising to more than 915 m (3,000 ft). Carrauntoohil, located in the southwestern section of the island, is the highest point in Ireland (1,041 m/3,415 ft above sea level). Numerous bogs and lakes are found in the lowlands region. The principal rivers of Ireland are the Erne and the Shannon, which are actually chains of lakes joined by stretches of river. The middle section of the central plain is drained by the Shannon, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean through a wide, lengthy estuary. Nearly half of the Shannon, above the estuary, comprises the Allen, Ree, and Derg lakes. All of Ireland's principal rivers flow from the plain, and an interior canal system facilitates transportation.
The climate of Ireland is like that of other islands. Because of the moderating influence of prevailing warm, moist winds from the Atlantic Ocean, the mean winter temperature ranges from 4° to 7°C (40° to 45°F), approximately 14 Celsius degrees (25 Fahrenheit degrees) higher than that of any other places in the same latitude in the interior of Europe or on the eastern coast of North America. The oceanic influence is also pronounced in the summer; the mean summer temperature of Ireland ranges from 15° to 17°C (59° to 62°F), about 4 Celsius degrees (7 Fahrenheit degrees) lower than that of other places in the same latitudes. Rainfall averages 1,000 mm (40 in) annually.
Plants and Animals
Ireland's fauna does not differ markedly from that of England or France. The great Irish deer and the great auk, or garefowl, were exterminated in prehistoric times. Since the island became developed, species such as the bear, wolf, wildcat, beaver, and native cattle have disappeared. Small rodents living in the woods and fields remain, as do small shore birds and field birds. No serpents are found in Ireland, and the only reptile is the lizard. Sedges, rushes, ferns, and grass are the principal flora.
The population of Ireland is predominantly of Celtic origin (see Celtic Languages; Celts). No significant ethnic minorities exist. The population of the Irish Republic in 2000 was estimated at 3,647,348, giving the country an overall population density of 52 persons per sq. km (134 per sq. mi). The population decreased from the 1840s, when about 6.5 million people lived in the area included in the republic, until about 1970, largely because of a high emigration rate. During the 1980s the population increased at an annual rate of only about 0.5 percent, and by 2000 the rate had slowed to 0.41 percent. Some 58 percent of the population lived in urban areas in 1998.
Political Divisions and Principal Cities
For administrative purposes, the Irish Republic is divided into 26 counties and 5 county boroughs, which are coextensive with the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford. The counties are Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois (Laoighis), Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford, and Wicklow, in Leinster Province; Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford, in Munster Province; Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Sligo, in Connacht Province; and Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan, in Ulster Province. The county of Tipperary is divided and administered as two subsections, Tipperary North Riding and Tipperary South Riding. The capital and largest city is Dublin, with a population (1996) of 953,000. Cork is the second largest city and a major port, with a population of 180,000. Other cities and towns include Limerick (79,000), Galway (57,000), and Waterford (44,000).
Religion and Language
Roman Catholics are 93 percent of the people of Ireland, and 4 percent of the people are Protestants. Protestant groups include the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and the Presbyterian and Methodist denominations. Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution. Almost all the people speak English, and about one-fourth also speak Irish, a Gaelic language that is the traditional tongue of Ireland. Irish is spoken as the vernacular by a relatively small number of people, however, mostly in areas of the west. The constitution provides for both Irish and English as official languages. The Irish language has been taught in all government-subsidized schools since 1922, but fewer than 10,000 pupils speak it as their first language.
Irish influence on Western education began 14 centuries ago. From the 6th to the 8th century, when western Europe was largely illiterate, nearly 1,000 Irish missionaries traveled to England and the Continent to teach Christianity. During the early Middle Ages, Irish missionaries founded monasteries that achieved extensive cultural influence; the monastery at Sankt Gallen (Saint Gall), Switzerland, is especially well known for its contributions to education and literature.
Classical studies flowered in ancient Ireland. Distinctive also at the time were the bardic schools of writers and other learned men who traveled from town to town, teaching their arts to students. The bardic schools, a important part of Irish education, were suppressed in the 16th century by Henry VIII, king of England.
University education in Ireland began with the founding of the University of Dublin, or Trinity College, in 1592. The National University of Ireland, established in 1908 in Dublin, has constituent university colleges in Cork, Dublin, and Galway. Other leading colleges are Saint Patrick's College (1795), in Maynooth, affiliated with the National University; Dublin City University, founded in 1975; and the University of Limerick, founded in 1970.
Ireland has a free public school system, with attendance compulsory for all children between 6 and 15 years of age. In the 1995 school year 367,700 pupils were enrolled in 3,391 elementary schools. Secondary schools, primarily operated by religious orders and largely subsidized by the state, enrolled 389,400. Enrollment at universities and colleges totaled 134,600. Ireland also has several state-subsidized training colleges, various technical colleges in the larger communities, and a network of winter classes that provide agricultural instruction for rural inhabitants.
Ireland was first inhabited around 7500 BC by Mesolithic hunter-fishers, probably from Scotland. They were followed by Neolithic people, who used flint tools, and then by people from the Mediterranean, known in legend as the Firbolgs, who used bronze implements. Later came the Picts, also an immigrant people of the Bronze Age. Extensive traces of the culture of this early period survive in the form of stone monuments (menhirs, dolmens, and cromlechs) and stone forts, dating from 2000 to 1000 BC. During the Iron Age, the Celtic invasion (about 350 BC) introduced a new cultural strain into Ireland, one that was to predominate. The oldest relics of the Celtic (Gaelic) language can be seen in the 5th-century Ogham stone inscriptions in County Kerry. Ireland was Christianized by Saint Patrick in the 5th century. The churches and monasteries founded by him and his successors became the fountainhead from which Christian art and refinement permeated the crude and warlike Celtic way of life.
Ireland is famous for its contributions to world literature (see Gaelic Literature; Irish Literature). Two great mythological cycles in Gaelic- the Ulster (Red Branch) and the Fenian (Ossianic) tell the stories of legendary heroes such as Cú Chulainn (Cuchulain), Maeve (Medb), Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), and Deirdre. After a long and bitter colonization by England, Ireland gave the world some of the greatest writers in the English language, including Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, and George Bernard Shaw. Associated with the struggle for independence in the 20th century is the Irish literary revival, which produced the works of William Butler Yeats and Sean O'Casey. James Joyce was a formative influence on much of later 20th century European literature.
Saint Patrick's Day, March 17, is the most important national holiday in Ireland. The national sports are hurling, a strenuous game similar to field hockey, and Gaelic football, which resembles soccer. Horse racing is a highly popular spectator sport throughout the republic.
From the 5th to the 9th century the Irish monasteries produced artworks of world renown, primarily in the form of illuminated manuscripts. The greatest such work is the Book of Kells, which has some of the most beautiful calligraphy of the Middle Ages Native art seems to have disappeared during the period of English domination, but after the 17th century a number of Irish painters and sculptors achieved fame. Irish painters George Barret, James Barry, and Nathaniel Hone were cofounders, with Sir Joshua Reynolds, of the Royal Academy in 1768. James Arthur O'Connor was a noted landscape artist of his period, and Daniel Maclise painted the magnificent frescoes in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords. Notable among Irish painters of the 19th century were Nathaniel Hone, Jr., and Walter F. Osborne. More recently, expressionist painter Jack B.Yeats, cubist painter Mainie Jellett, and stained-glass artist Evie Hone have achieved widespread recognition and acclaim for their work.
Irish harpers were known throughout Europe as early as the 12th century. The most celebrated of these was the blind harper Torlogh O'Carolan, or Carolan, who composed about 200 songs on varied themes, many of which were published in Dublin in 1720. About the same time, an annual folk festival called the feis was instituted, devoted to the preservation & encouragement of harping. Irish folk music ranges from lullabies to drinking songs, and many variations and nuances of tempo, rhythm, and tonality are used. At the Belfast Harpers' Festival in 1792, Edward Bunting made a collection of traditional Irish songs and melodies, which he published in 1796. Thomas Moore, the great Irish poet, made extensive use of Bunting's work in his well-known Irish Melodies, first published in 1807. Classical forms of music were not widely known in Ireland until the 18th century. Pianist John Field was the first Irish composer to win international renown, with his nocturnes. Michael William Balfe is well known for his opera The Bohemian Girl. Among the most prominent of Irish performing artists was concert and operatic tenor John McCormack. PBS television in the US has also featured John McDermott , Frank Patterson and the "Irish Tenors" in recent years.
The most important Irish libraries and museums are in Dublin. The National Library of Ireland, with more than 500,000 volumes, is the largest public library in the country. Trinity College Library, founded in 1601, contains about 2.8 million volumes, including the Book of Kells. Together with exhibits in the fields of art, industry, and natural history, and representative collections of Irish silver, glass, textiles and lace, the National Museum houses outstanding specimens of the remarkable metal craftsmanship of the early Christian period in Ireland, including the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice, and the Moylough Bell Shrine (all dating from the 8th century), as well as the Lismore Crozier and the Cross of Cong (both 12th century). The National Gallery in Dublin has an admirable collection of paintings of all schools. Most cities have public libraries and small museums.
Interest in the theater is strong in Ireland. The famed Abbey Theatre and the Gale Theatre, both in Dublin, receive government grants. The Arts Council, a body appointed by the prime minister, gives grants to arts organizations and publishers; the Gael-Linn promotes the Irish language and culture.
The economy of Ireland has been traditionally agricultural. Since the mid-1950s, however, the country's industrial base has expanded, and now mining, manufacturing, construction, and public utilities account for approximately 36 percent of the gross domestic product, while agriculture accounts for only about 10 percent. Private enterprise operates in most sectors of the economy. The gross domestic product in 1998 was $81.9 bil. Forestry and fishing are also part of the Irish economy.
Ireland has diversified manufacturing, most of it developed since 1930. Among the food-processing industries, the most important are meat packing, brewing and distilling, grain milling, sugar refining, the manufacture of dairy products, margarine, confections, and jam. Other important manufactured articles include office machinery ,data processing equipment; electrical machinery; tobacco products; woolen and worsted goods; clothing; cement; furniture; soap; candles; building materials; footwear; cotton, rayon, and linen textiles; hosiery; paper; leather; machinery; refined petroleum; and chemicals.
Currency and Banking
The Irish pound (0.700 pounds equal U.S.$1; 1998 average) is the basic unit of currency. Before March 1979, the Irish pound was exchangeable at a par with the British pound sterling. Ireland and 11 other members of the European Union are in the process of changing over from their national currencies to the single currency of the EU, the euro. The euro began to be used on January 1,1999, for electronic transfers and for accounting purposes. Euro coins and bills will be issued in 2002, at which time Irish currency will cease to be legal tender.
On January 1,1999, control over Irish monetary policy, including setting interest rates and regulating the money supply, was transferred from the Central Bank of Ireland to the European Central Bank.. The ECB is located in Frankfurt, Germany, and is responsible for all monetary policies of the European Union. After the changeover, the Central Bank of Ireland joined the national banks of the other EU countries that adopted the euro as part of the European System of Central Banks
Government Under the constitution of 1937, Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state. It became a republic in 1949 when Commonwealth ties with Britain were severed.
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When most people think of Ireland they think of Leprechauns and thatched roofed cottages, like the one below.
This house sits on the water in Inishmaan, one
of the Aran Islands located off the western coast of Ireland. Known for
the maintenance of their Gaelic traditions,
the rugged fishing villages of the Aran Islands have remained, in many
ways, unchanged over the centuries Many inhabitants still speak Gaelic,
adhere to their folk culture, and fish using the traditional methods
One symbol recognized as truly Irish is the Claddagh Ring .. here is what it symbolizes :
The Claddagh is a visual portrayal of the eternal bond of friendship, loyalty and love.
The HEART symbolizes love, life's finest impulse. From it, generosity and compassion flow.
The HANDS of friendship are clasps around the heart in a gesture of giving. As they cradle the heart gently, the hands are both protective and strong, like true friendship
The CROWN is symbolic of loyalty. It represents the reward of love the highest achievement the human spirit has yet accomplished.
To give the Claddagh is to forge the hands of love, friendship and loyalty
According to legend, whoever kisses the Blarney Stone is gifted with eloquence and persuasiveness. The stone is is a castle near the town of Blarney in Ireland. Shown here is a man helping another to kiss the ancient rock slab.
(Yes, I HAVE done this ! My excuse for talking
so much ... Kitty , the eloquent cat :-D)