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Ireland

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Major Cities of Ireland in the continent of Europe

DublinCorkLimerickGalwayBlanchardstownWaterfordClondalkinDroghedaDundalkBraySwordsNavanEnnisTraleeKilkenny

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THE IRELAND SHIELD OF ARMS
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Location of Ireland within the continent of Europe
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Map of Ireland
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Flag Description of Ireland:The flag of Ireland was officially adopted on January 21, 1919. dot Modeled after the French Tricolore, Ireland's flag uses color to symbolize religions. Green is representative of Catholics; orange is representative of Protestants, and the white is symbolic of the union of both.

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Official name Éire (Irish); Ireland1 (English)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with two legislative houses (Senate [602]; House of Representatives [166])
Head of state President: Michael D. Higgins
Head of government Prime Minister: Enda Kenny
Capital Dublin
Official languages Irish; English
Official religion none
Monetary unit euro (€)
Population (2013 est.) 4,594,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 27,133
Total area (sq km) 70,273
Urban-rural population

Urban: (2011) 62%
Rural: (2011) 38%

Life expectancy at birth

Male: (2012) 77.5 years
Female: (2012) 82.6 years

Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate

Male: 100%
Female: 100%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 38,970

1As provided by the constitution.

2Includes 11 nonelective seats.

Background of Ireland

Celtic tribes arrived on the island between 600 and 150 B.C. Invasions by Norsemen that began in the late 8th century were finally ended when King Brian BORU defeated the Danes in 1014. Norman invasions began in the 12th century and set off more than seven centuries of Anglo-Irish struggle marked by fierce rebellions and harsh repressions. The Irish famine of the mid-19th century saw the population of the island drop by one third through starvation and emigration. For more than a century after that the population of the island continued to fall only to begin growing again in the 1960s. Over the last 50 years, Ireland's high birthrate has made it demographically one of the youngest populations in the EU. The modern Irish state traces its origins to the failed 1916 Easter Monday Uprising which touched off several years of guerrilla warfare resulting in independence from the UK in 1921 for 26 southern counties; six northern counties remained part of the UK. Unresolved issues in Northern Ireland erupted into years of violence known as the "Troubles" that began in the 1960s. The Government of Ireland was part of a process along with the UK and US Governments that helped broker what is known as The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998. This initiated a new phase of cooperation between Irish and British governments. Ireland was neutral in World War II and continues its policy of military neutrality. Ireland joined the European Community in 1973 and the Eurozone currency union in 1999. The economic boom years of the Celtic Tiger (1995-2007) saw rapid economic growth, which came to an abrupt end in 2008 with the meltdown of the Irish banking system. Today the economy is recovering, fueled by large and growing foreign direct investment, especially from US multi-nationals.

Ireland, Irish Éire, country of western Europe occupying five-sixths of the westernmost island of the British Isles.

The magnificent scenery of Ireland’s Atlantic coastline faces a 2,000-mile- (3,200-km-) wide expanse of ocean, and its geographic isolation has helped it to develop a rich heritage of culture and tradition that was linked initially to the Gaelic language. Washed by abundant rain, the country’s pervasive grasslands create a green-hued landscape that is responsible for the popular sobriquet Emerald Isle. Ireland is also renowned for its wealth of folklore, from tales of tiny leprechauns with hidden pots of gold to that of the patron saint, Patrick, with his legendary ridding the island of snakes and his reputed use of the three-leaved shamrock as a symbol for the Christian Trinity. But while many may think of Ireland as an enchanted land, the republic has been beset with perennial concerns—emigration, cultural and political identity, and relations with Northern Ireland (comprising the 6 of Ireland’s 32 counties within the province of Ulster that remain part of the United Kingdom). At the beginning of the 21st century, however, Ireland’s long-standing economic problems were abating, owing to its diverse export-driven economy; however, calamity struck again in 2008 when a new financial and economic crisis befell the country, culminating in a very costly bailout of the Irish economy by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The emergence of Ireland as an independent country is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the 17th century, political power was widely shared among a rather loosely constructed network of small earldoms in often-shifting alliances. Following the so-called “Flight of the Earls” after an unsuccessful uprising in the early 17th century, Ireland effectively became an English colony. The island was an integral part of the United Kingdom from 1800 to 1922, when, by virtue of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6, 1921, the Irish Free State was established as a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. Independence came in 1937, but Ireland remained a member of the British Commonwealth until 1948. Since then, Ireland has become integrated with the rest of western Europe, joining the European Union in 1987, though the country generally retained a neutral role in international affairs. In 2008 Ireland became an impediment to the enactment of the Lisbon Treaty—an agreement aimed at streamlining the EU’s processes and giving it a higher international profile—when the Irish voted against the passage of the treaty in a national referendum. The treaty, however, was approved by Irish voters in a second referendum, held the following year.

Dependent on agriculture and subject to extremes of climate, Ireland was long among Europe’s poorest regions, a principal cause of mass migration from Ireland, especially during the cycle of famine in the 19th century. Some 40 million Americans trace their ancestry to Ireland as a result of that traumatic exodus, as do millions of others throughout the world. Every year members of this diaspora visit their ancestral homeland and forge connections with long-lost family.

Ireland’s capital is Dublin, a populous and affluent city whose metropolitan area is home to more than one-fourth of the country’s total population. The city’s old dockside neighbourhoods have given way to new residential and commercial development. Cork, Ireland’s second largest city, is a handsome cathedral city and port in the southwest. Other principal centres include Waterford, Wexford, and Drogheda on the east coast, Sligo in the northwest, and Limerick and Galway in the west.

Although Ireland is now both urbanized and Europeanized, its culture retains many unique characteristics, and its people prize folkloric and social traditions that largely derive from and celebrate the country’s rural past. In “Meditations in Time of Civil War” William Butler Yeats, perhaps Ireland’s best-known poet, evokes the idyllic and idealized countryside, a place central to the memories of the country’s millions of expatriates and their descendants:

An acre of stony ground,

Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,

Old ragged elms, old thorns innumerable,

The sound of the rain or sound

Of every wind that blows;

The stilted water-hen

Crossing stream again

Scared by the splashing of a dozen cows.

Geography of Ireland

The Land

The republic of Ireland occupies the greater part of an island lying to the west of Great Britain, from which it is separated—at distances ranging from 11 to 120 miles (18 to 193 km)—by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St. George’s Channel. Located in the temperate zone between latitudes 51°30′ and 55°30′ N and longitudes 6°00′ and 10°30′ W—as far north as Labrador or British Columbia in Canada and as far west as the West African state of Liberia—it constitutes the westernmost outpost of the Atlantic fringe of the Eurasian landmass. Ireland, which, like Great Britain, once formed part of this landmass, lies on the European continental shelf, surrounded by seas that are generally less than 650 feet (200 metres) deep. The greatest distance from north to south in the island is 302 miles (486 km), and from east to west it is 171 miles (275 km).

Relief

The territory of the republic consists of a broad and undulating central plain underlain by limestone. This plain is ringed almost completely by coastal highlands, which vary considerably in geologic structure. The flatness of the central lowland—which lies for the most part between 200 and 400 feet (60 and 120 metres) above sea level—is relieved in many places by low hills between 600 and 1,000 feet (180 to 300 metres) in elevation. With many lakes, large bog areas, and low ridges, the lowland is very scenic. The principal mountain ranges are the Blue Stack Mountains in the north, the Wicklow Mountains in the east (topped by Lugnaquillia, at 3,039 feet [926 metres]), the Knockmealdown and Comeragh mountains in the south, the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks in the southwest, and the Twelve Pins in the west. Carrantuohill, at 3,414 feet (1,041 metres) in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, is the highest point in the republic. In the west and southwest the wild and beautiful coast is heavily indented where the mountains of Donegal, Mayo, Galway, and Kerry thrust out into the Atlantic, separated by deep wide-mouthed bays, some of which—Bantry Bay and Dingle Bay, for example—are, in fact, drowned river valleys. By contrast, the east coast is little indented, but most of the country’s trade passes through its ports because of their proximity to British and Continental markets.

The coastal mountain fringe illustrates the country’s complex geologic history. In the west and northwest as well as in the east, the mountains are composed mainly of granite. Old Red Sandstone predominates in the south, where the parallel folded mountain ridges trend east-west, separated by limestone river valleys. Ireland experienced at least two general glaciations—one covering most of the country and the other extending as far south as a line linking Limerick, Cashel, and Dublin—and the characteristic diversity of Irish scenery owes much to this glacial influence. The large areas of peat bog to be found throughout the country are a notable feature of the landscape.

Drainage

The rivers that rise on the seaward side of the coastal mountain fringe are naturally short and rapid. The inland streams, however, flow slowly, often through marshes and lakes, and enter the sea—usually by way of waterfalls and rapids—long distances from their sources. The famed River Shannon, for example, rises in the plateau country near Sligo Bay and flows sluggishly south-southwestward for some 160 miles (260 km), reaching tidewater level at Limerick and draining a wide area of the central lowland on its way. Other major inland rivers—some of them renowned for their salmon fisheries—are the Slaney, Liffey, and Boyne in the east; the Nore, Barrow, and Suir in the southeast; the Blackwater, Lee, and Bandon in the south; and the Clare and the Moy in the west. Because of the porosity of the underlying Carboniferous limestones, an underground drainage system has developed, feeding the interlacing surface network of rivers and lakes. The government has implemented major arterial drainage projects, preventing flooding—and making more land available for cultivation—by improving the flow of water in the rivers and thereby lowering the levels of lakes. There are also state-aided farm-drainage schemes designed to bring wasteland and marginal land into production.

Soils

Most Irish soils originate from drift, the ice-scoured waste formerly frozen to the base of the advancing glaciers. Some older rocks in the country’s geologic formation—quartzites, certain granites, and shales—weather into infertile and unproductive soils. In many places, however, these have been overlaid by patches of the ice-borne drift, mostly limestone-bearing, which are farmed with considerable success. The bare limestone regions remaining in western areas show how much glacial drift cover has meant to the Irish agricultural economy.

Climate

Ireland’s climate is classified as western maritime. The predominant influence is the Atlantic Ocean, which is no more than 70 miles (113 km) from any inland location. The mild southwesterly winds and warm waters of the North Atlantic Current contribute to the moderate quality of the climate. Temperature is almost uniform over the entire island. Average air temperatures lie mainly between limits of 39 and 45 °F (4 and 7 °C) in January and February, the coldest months of the year. In July and August, the warmest months, temperatures usually range between 57 and 61 °F (14 and 16 °C), although occasionally considerably higher readings are recorded. The sunniest months are May and June, when there is sunshine for an average duration of 5.5 and 6.5 hours a day, respectively, over most of the country, and the ancient patchwork of fields and settlements making up the landscape glows under a clear, vital light. Average annual precipitation varies from about 30 inches (760 mm) in the east to more than 100 inches (2,533 mm) in the western areas exposed to the darkening clouds that often come sweeping in from the Atlantic. The precipitation, combined with the equable climate, is particularly beneficial to the grasslands, which are the mainstay of the country’s large livestock population. Snow is infrequent except in the mountains, and prolonged or severe snowstorms are rare.

Plant and animal life

Ireland was almost completely covered by glaciers during the Ice Age, and its plant and animal life are thus mainly—but not entirely—the result of the subsequent migration of species from other areas. As long as there was a land connection between Ireland and what was to become the rest of the British Isles, most species arrived overland from northern Europe. Irish plant and animal life nevertheless possess certain unique features owing partly to climatic conditions and partly to the fact that Ireland became separated from Britain by the Irish Sea sometime before Britain itself became separated from the European continent.

Demography of Ireland

The People

Although Ireland was invaded and colonized within historical times by Celts, Norsemen, Normans, English, and Scots, there are no corresponding ethnic distinctions. Ireland has always been known as a welcoming place, and diversity is not a phenomenon new to the country.

  • Ethnic groups, language, and religion

Ethnic and racial minorities make up about 12 percent of the population of Ireland—a proportion that doubled in the first decade of the 21st century. Immigration from the rest of Europe, Africa, and Asia has been significant since the last two decades of the 20th century. The key factors in increased immigration have been the more-open labour market provided by the European Union and the globalized nature of the contemporary Irish economy, both of which have attracted a wave of new residents. Today Poles constitute the largest minority population in Ireland. Although they are small in number, the nomadic Travellers (“Tinkers”) are an indigenous ethnic minority group—defined by their shared customs, traditions, and language—who have lived in Ireland for centuries.

The constitution provides that Irish be the first official language and English the second. All official documents are published in both Irish and English. The modern Irish language, which is very similar to Scottish Gaelic, was widely spoken up to the time of the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and the subsequent emigrations. The use of Irish continued to decline even after 1922, when the language was introduced into schools; despite its decline, Irish never ceased to exert a strong influence on Irish consciousness. Although its use as a vernacular has decreased and is concentrated in several small Gaeltacht (i.e., Irish-speaking) areas, Irish is more widely read, spoken, and understood today than it had been during most of the 20th century. English is universally spoken. Compulsory Irish in schools has come under some criticism from the business sector, which would prefer to see students develop more-diverse language skills. While modern society might question the utility of the language, however, it remains an important element of the Irish identity.

The Celtic religion had a major influence on Ireland long before the adoption of Christianity in the 5th century. Its precise rituals and beliefs remain somewhat obscure, but the names of hundreds of Celtic gods have survived, and elements of the religion—particularly the cults of Mary (an echo of Danu, the Earth Mother goddess whom the Celts worshiped) and St. Brigit (one of Ireland’s patron saints) and several seasonal festivals—carried into the Christian period.

Since the conversion to Christianity, Roman Catholicism, with its ecclesiastical seat at Armagh in Northern Ireland, has been the island’s principal religion. After the Reformation, Catholicism became closely associated with Irish nationalism and resistance to British rule. However, church support for nationalism—both then and now—has been ambivalent. After the devastating Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, there was a remarkable surge in devotional support of the Catholic church, and over the next century the number of Irish priests, nuns, and missionaries grew dramatically.

Today more than four-fifths of the republic’s population is Roman Catholic, with small numbers of other religious groups (including Church of Ireland Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Muslims, and Jews). There is no officially established church in Ireland, and the freedoms of conscience and religion are constitutionally guaranteed. Since the last decades of the 20th century, Ireland has seen a significant decline in the number of regular churchgoers. That decline corresponded with the heyday of the so-called Celtic Tiger economy—when, during the 1990s in particular, robust economic growth made the country significantly wealthier—and also with the revelations of child abuse by Catholic clergy that came to light in the first decade of the 21st century. The Roman Catholic Church nevertheless continues to play a prominent role in the country, including maintaining responsibility for most schools and many hospitals.

  • Settlement patterns

The country’s size contributed to its historically homogeneous population and helps explain the distinctive character of “Irishness” that emerged over time. This historical homogeneity also has worked against the development of significant regional or local divisions. One regional distinction is that between the part of the country east of the River Shannon—with its industrial employment, fertile farmlands, economic growth, and rising standard of living—and the poorer areas of the west—particularly west Donegal, Leitrim, west Mayo, west Galway, Clare, west Cork, and south Kerry—where incomes were traditionally low (though they are now supplemented by industrial development and tourism) and the fertility of the land was in many cases insufficient to provide an acceptable standard of living for the people. These western areas include the districts known collectively as the Gaeltacht, in which the Irish language and the traditional national culture are best preserved. Emigration abroad or to cities within Ireland has always been among the chief threats to the survival of this cultural heritage.

  • Demographic trends

The republic’s marriage, birth, and death rates are comparable to those of nearby countries. For example, life expectancy is about 75 years for men and 80 for women. Historically, the rate of emigration—which had been greatly in excess of the next highest rate in Europe—depleted Ireland’s population. As a result of emigration, hundreds of thousands of Irish-born people now live outside their native land, and millions of citizens of other countries are of Irish extraction. However, in the 1990s immigration to Ireland outpaced emigration from the country. New immigrants included a large number of Irish Americans moving back to the country. This trend reversed dramatically beginning in 2008, when the vaunted Celtic Tiger economy collapsed and a new wave of Irish emigration started. Unlike previous waves, this new set of departing Irish was made up largely of high-skilled labourers and the highly educated.

Economy of Ireland

Ireland has a mixed economy. The constitution provides that the state shall favour private initiative in industry and commerce, but the state may provide essential services and promote development projects in the absence of private initiatives. Thus, state-sponsored (“semistate”) bodies operate the country’s rail and road transport, some of its television and radio stations, its electricity generation and distribution system, and its peat industry. State companies also are active in the fields of air transport and health insurance. The advent of a single European market in the 1990s encouraged many of these enterprises to privatize and become more competitive. Ireland’s high-technology sector—made attractive by a very low 12.5 percent corporate tax rate—spurred economic growth during the 1990s and helped reduce unemployment to historically low levels. The economic boom, during which the country’s growth was more than double that of most other EU countries, gave rise to the country’s being labeled the “Celtic Tiger.” By 2001, however, the benefits of new jobs created by foreign direct investment via multinational corporations had begun to slow. Still focused on high growth, Ireland’s political leadership and its banking sector turned to the mortgage and construction industries to maintain growth. By 2008 it had become clear that much of the growth in banking and construction was a bubble without capital to back it. Collapse soon followed, and Ireland went into a deep economic recession for several years. A bailout of the Irish financial system by the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2010 was accompanied by requirements for deep austerity cuts that further dampened prospects for the domestic Irish economy. Ireland had benefited in the 1990s and early 2000s from a combination of low tax rates and responsive social programs; however, both contributed to the significant budget challenges that came as a result of the 2008 financial collapse.

  • Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
AGRICULTURE

Once the mainstay of the national economy, agriculture continues to be important. Most of Ireland’s agricultural land is used as pasture or for growing hay. The climate fosters abundant vegetable and other plant growth and is particularly beneficial to the rich grasslands that enable grazing stock to be kept on pasture almost year-round. Most farms are family farms; only a small percentage of those employed in agriculture work as hired labour. Mixed farming is the general pattern, with the production of beef cattle tending to predominate in the midlands and dairy farming in the south. Cereal growing is an important activity in the east and southeast. Sheep raising is widespread on the rugged hills and mountain slopes throughout the country.

Most of the gross agricultural output consists of livestock and livestock products, with beef as the biggest single item, followed by milk and pigs. Other important products are cereals (particularly barley and wheat), poultry and eggs, sheep and wool, and root crops, including sugar beets and potatoes. Indeed, enough beets are grown to meet the country’s sugar requirements. Since the 1980s farmhouse cheese production has flourished, and other specialized food production (e.g., organically produced vegetables) has increased. The bloodstock (Thoroughbred) industry is a thriving economic sector and has won worldwide fame for the Irish racehorse.

Adverse conditions in export markets following World War II handicapped the expansion of Irish agriculture, and the subsequent growth of agricultural output was slower than that in the industrial and service sectors. This situation was ameliorated with the republic’s entrance into the EEC in 1973. After a two-decade decline, farm incomes began to rise in the 1990s.

FORESTRY AND FISHING

When Ireland was established as an independent country in 1922, woodland represented less than 1 percent of the total land area, but state replanting since World War II has increased almost eightfold the acreage under forests and woodlands. Private afforestation efforts also increased in the late 20th century. A state-owned company was established in 1988 to manage the republic’s commercial forestry. Sea fishing and aquaculture resources have been developed since the mid-20th century, but, because the most extensive fishing grounds in the EU are off Ireland’s shores, international competition is intense.

  • Resources and power

Ireland is not rich in mineral resources. Discoveries of silver, lead, zinc, and gypsum have been successfully developed, but the country’s dependence on imports for its energy requirements is high. In the early 1980s offshore natural gas wells began production in the Celtic Sea south of County Cork. The offshore reserves were limited, however, and a pipeline from Britain was built in the 1990s to provide replacement supplies.

For centuries hand-cut peat, or turf, was the rural population’s principal domestic fuel. Virtually all rural households are now connected to the national electricity network, which relies partly on hydroelectric plants and on small and medium-sized peat-burning thermal power stations. Although peat production was mechanized and industrialized in the 20th century, peat was largely supplanted by natural gas and by coal and oil imports.

There remains today some potential for natural gas exploration off the Irish territorial sea, but the major areas for innovation come from the potential for wind and wave energy development. In July 2009 the country set a national record for energy output from wind, generating 999 megawatts—enough to power over 650,000 houses, or about one-third of Ireland’s daily energy needs.

  • Manufacturing

Until World War II and for some years after it, official manufacturing policy was nationalistic and protectionist. High tariffs and quotas protected young industries, which provided badly needed employment and helped to supply the home market but which had little or no export potential. From the mid-1950s onward the protectionist policies were progressively reversed. The principal basis of the government’s Programmes for Economic Expansion was an industrial development policy designed—by means of tax concessions, financial grants, and other incentives—first, to encourage existing industries to increase their competitive strength and seek markets abroad and, second, to attract new manufacturing enterprises, whether foreign or Irish-owned, to the republic.

The policy achieved a large measure of success. By the late 20th century a larger proportion of the labour force was employed in manufacturing than in agriculture, and the industrial sector accounted for most of Ireland’s total export earnings. A competitive economy became all the more desirable in view of the governmental obligation to demobilize protective tariffs in accordance with the single European market and the World Trade Organization. Since the 1970s computer and software equipment and international financial and other services have become important economic sectors.

  • Finance

The Irish pound (or punt) was linked to the British pound sterling until 1979, when the republic joined the European Monetary System. Today the euro, the EU’s single currency, is the country’s official currency. The Central Bank of Ireland, established in 1942, is the national monetary authority. Its responsibilities include licensing and overseeing the country’s financial institutions and supervising the Irish Stock Exchange. The bank does not transact business with the public, but it exerts a considerable influence on the volume of bank credit through the “advice” it gives to the clearing (or, to use the Irish term, the associated) banks. The Irish Stock Exchange, located in central Dublin, is one of the oldest in the world, having traded continuously since 1793.

The collapse of the Irish economy in late 2008 created economic chaos in the country. Initially, the government believed that failing banks would attract investment after it pledged to guarantee all deposits in those banks. Instead, the government’s promise left the Irish people liable for losses of staggering proportions for such a small country. Ireland fought to manage its situation through November 2010, but it ultimately accepted a bailout of more than $100 billion from the EU, the IMF, and countries offering bilateral aid. The terms of the bailout set by the EU and the IMF were very stringent.

  • Trade

The United Kingdom remains Ireland’s chief trading partner. Other major partners include the other countries of the EU (notably Germany, France, and the Netherlands), the United States, Japan, and Singapore. A wide range of manufactured products are exported, including electrical machinery and apparatus, processed foods, chemical products, clothing and textiles, and beverages. Ireland is among the world’s leading exporters of computer software. The principal imports include machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum and petroleum products, food products, and textiles.

  • Services

Tourism plays a very important role in the Irish economy. Its value has increased considerably since the 1950s, when the Irish Tourist Board (Bord Fáilte Éireann) was established and began encouraging new hotel construction, the development of resort areas, the extension of sporting facilities, and an increase of tourist amenities. The organization’s successor, Fáilte Ireland, also developed joint ventures with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The vast majority of foreign tourists come from the United Kingdom, the United States, and elsewhere in Europe, but groups from the Middle East and China are increasingly seen at the major tourist attractions around the country.

  • Labour and taxation

Almost all Irish trade unions are affiliated with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). The level of unionization in Ireland is fairly high, encompassing roughly one-third of the total workforce. There are also several employers’ unions (industrial organizations), organized on both a craft and a regional basis. The employers’ central negotiating organization is the Irish Business and Employers Confederation. Wages and employment conditions are normally subject to free collective bargaining, though industrial disputes may be referred to the Labour Relations Commission (created in 1990) or to the Labour Court (set up in 1946). In the late 1980s, when the economy faced serious problems, the government, employers, and unions agreed on a recovery program. Similar partnerships were adopted in the 1990s and have become a feature of the country’s economic and social management. The social compact between unions and government survived the crash of the Irish economy in 2008 via a negotiation known as the Croke Park Agreement, which largely saved union jobs in favour of agreed-to wage and benefit cuts. Public-sector unions in Ireland are powerful, but, because of the social compact with the government, major public demonstrations and work stoppages were avoided even in the face of increasing austerity measures.

Compared with the rest of the industrialized world, Ireland has relatively low rates of corporate and individual income taxes. In contrast, the country’s value-added (consumption) tax (VAT) is fairly high and is charged on most goods and services.

  • Transportation and telecommunications
ROADS AND RAILWAYS

As a result of its scattered rural population, Ireland has a large road system. Most local roads are well-surfaced, and continuous progress has been made toward bringing the arterial roads up to the best modern standards. Ireland has benefited from funds received from the EU to improve and develop its transportation infrastructure. Still, the overall growth of large urban areas such as Dublin has outpaced much of the road infrastructure, which was planned before much of the economic expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. Commuting by car and public parking in Ireland’s large cities have become increasingly problematic.

The Irish Transport System (Córas Iompair Éireann) has financial control over three autonomous operating companies—Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann), Dublin Bus (Bus Átha Cliath), and Irish Bus (Bus Éireann). An electrified commuter rail system, the Dublin Area Rapid Transport, opened in Dublin in 1984. There are rail services between the principal cities and towns (including a link with Northern Ireland Railways via Belfast), but many branchlines have become uneconomic and have been replaced by road services for passengers and goods. Dublin also has introduced Luas, a light-rail tram system that serves vital parts of the city centre.

WATERBORNE TRAFFIC

There is no longer any significant commercial traffic on Irish canals. The two major canals in the country—the Royal Canal, which joins the River Shannon with the Irish Sea via Mullingar and Dublin, and the Grand Canal, which also runs from the Shannon to the Irish Sea but with a branch to the River Barrow—are maintained for use by pleasure craft. The successful restoration in the 1990s of the Shannon-Erne waterway in the northwest led to the redevelopment of other waterways in the republic and in Northern Ireland.

Smaller ports are important to the local business communities, but most of the country’s seaborne trade tends to be conducted through the principal east- and south-coast ports, particularly Dublin, Waterford, and Cork. The ports in Limerick and Galway serve western Ireland. Dún Laoghaire, Dublin, Rosslare, and Cork are served by modern cross-channel passenger, motor-vehicle, and freight services to Britain, and there also are some ferry services to the Continent. The trend toward larger vessels and the shipment of goods in containers has adversely affected the smaller Irish ports as well as the smaller privately owned shipping companies. Only a fraction of the country’s foreign trade is carried by the small Irish merchant fleet.

AIR FACILITIES

International airports are located at Dublin, Shannon, and Cork, and there are several regional airports. Dublin Airport Authority, a public limited-liability company, has responsibility for the operation, management, and development of the three major international airports. Shannon was the world’s first duty-free airport; a state-sponsored company offers substantial tax breaks and other advantages to manufacturing and warehousing concerns proposing to establish plants within the entire Shannon (midwestern) region. Aer Lingus was founded as the national airline in 1936 and was privatized in the 21st century. Ireland also has seen growth in private air travel, most notably that of Ryanair, which began operation in 1985 and has served as a model for lower-fare European air travel.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Until the deregulation of the telecommunications sector in Ireland in 1998, the market was dominated by the state-owned Telecom Éireann (now Éircom), which subsequently formed Telecom Ireland, a subsidiary that focused its efforts on attracting foreign investment. Since deregulation, major telecommunications companies such as Norway’s Telenor, British Telecom, and AT&T have operated extensively throughout Ireland. In 1997 the Irish government established the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation, which was succeeded in 2002 by the Commission for Communications Regulation. It is responsible for ensuring that the liberalized telecommunications sector works in accordance with EU and Irish law. Internet use grew rapidly during the late 1990s. Whereas in 1997 less than 5 percent of the population had Internet access, less than five years later the number had grown to about one-third of the total population. Ireland was slow in getting high-speed Internet to locations around the country, but it now has achieved standards generally accepted for wireless access in Europe.

Government and Society of Ireland

Constitutional framework

The Irish republic is a parliamentary democracy. Its constitution was promulgated in 1937 and can be amended through a referendum. The country’s head of state, the president (uachtarán), is elected directly by the public for a term of seven years and is eligible for reelection for a second term. The president normally acts on the advice of the government but also consults an advisory Council of State in the exercise of certain functions. The president signs and promulgates bills passed by the Oireachtas (Parliament) and, when so advised by the prime minister (taoiseach), summons and dissolves the Oireachtas. The president may, however, refuse to dissolve the Oireachtas on the advice of a prime minister who has ceased to command a majority in the Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives). The president is the guardian of the constitution and may, in certain circumstances, submit a bill passed by the Oireachtas to the people in a referendum or refer it to the Supreme Court to decide on its constitutionality.


Constitutional framework

The Irish republic is a parliamentary democracy. Its constitution was promulgated in 1937 and can be amended through a referendum. The country’s head of state, the president (uachtarán), is elected directly by the public for a term of seven years and is eligible for reelection for a second term. The president normally acts on the advice of the government but also consults an advisory Council of State in the exercise of certain functions. The president signs and promulgates bills passed by the Oireachtas (Parliament) and, when so advised by the prime minister (taoiseach), summons and dissolves the Oireachtas. The president may, however, refuse to dissolve the Oireachtas on the advice of a prime minister who has ceased to command a majority in the Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives). The president is the guardian of the constitution and may, in certain circumstances, submit a bill passed by the Oireachtas to the people in a referendum or refer it to the Supreme Court to decide on its constitutionality.

Compared with much of western Europe, Ireland has very high rates of home ownership. Whereas fewer than one-tenth of units were owned by their occupants when the country became independent in 1922, by the beginning of the 21st century, roughly four-fifths of units were owner-occupied. The housing stock in the country is relatively modern, with many units built since the 1970s. However, there have been housing shortages, and the waiting list for public housing units nearly doubled during the 1990s. Meanwhile, prices for homes rose dramatically as home ownership became a largely unfunded property bubble that played an important role in the Irish financial crisis of 2008. In the wake of that crisis, housing prices fell precipitously.

Education

Primary education is free, compulsory, and almost entirely religious denominational. There are several state-aided teachers colleges. The secondary-school system comprises private schools that are predominantly owned by religious communities but receive most of their funding from the state; comprehensive and community schools, which are completely state-owned; and vocational schools, which provide academic as well as vocational courses leading to qualifications in architecture, accountancy, engineering, computing, electronics, and similar professions. There are also a growing number of multidenominational private schools in Ireland operated by the Educate Together organization. The vocational education system includes schools of art, music, domestic science, and hotel training. A number of regional technical colleges provide advanced vocational courses. Students graduating from the state-aided teachers colleges often receive university degrees. University education is provided at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), founded in 1592, and at the National University of Ireland, founded in 1908. The latter has constituent universities at Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Maynooth, as well as several associated colleges. In 1989 the national institutes for higher education in Limerick and Dublin, which emphasized applied studies in varied flexible course structures, were given university status and renamed the University of Limerick and the Dublin City University. The Higher Education Authority was established in 1972 to deal with the financial and organizational problems of higher education. Education is highly valued in Ireland, which is sometimes called the “Land of Saints and Scholars,” and the strength of Irish education was often cited as a major contributor to the takeoff of the Celtic Tiger economy in the late 1980s and 1990s. However, concerns about the Irish education system were raised when Ireland’s national literacy ranking fell from 5th in the world in 2000 to 17th in 2010. Still, Ireland continues to see its higher education as a major asset, and the government has emphasized research and development as part of its attempt to create a sustainable economy.

Culture Life of Ireland

The cultural milieu of Ireland has been shaped by the dynamic interplay between the ancient Celtic traditions of the people and those imposed on them from outside, notably from Britain. This has produced a culture of rich, distinctive character in which the use of language—be it Irish or English—has always been the central element. Not surprisingly, Irish culture is best known through its literature, drama, and songs; above all, the Irish are renowned as masters of the art of conversation.

Use of the Irish language declined steadily during the 19th century and was nearly wiped out by the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and subsequent emigration, which particularly affected the Irish-speaking population in the western portion of the country—the area “beyond the pale” (i.e., beyond the English-speaking and controlled area around Dublin). From the mid-19th century, in the years following the famine, there was a resurgence in Irish language and traditional culture. This Gaelic revival led in turn to the Irish literary renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in which native expression was explored and renewed by a generation of writers and academics. It also produced a resurgence in traditional musical and dance forms. The cultural revivalism became an inspiration to the Irish nationalist struggle of the early decades of the 20th century. Partly because of government subsidies and programs, traditional cultural activities, especially the use of the Irish language and the revival of arts and crafts, have increased.


Daily life and social customs

Ireland has several distinct regional cultures rather than a single national one; moreover, the daily lives of city dwellers are in some ways much different from those living in the countryside. For example, whereas Dublin is one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities, the Blasket Islands of Dingle Bay, off Ireland’s southwestern coast, seem almost a throwback to earlier centuries. Wherever they live, the Irish maintain a vibrant and lively folk culture. Thousands participate in the country’s numerous amateur musical, dance, and storytelling events. A great many also engage in a variety of craft-based industries, producing items such as glass, ceramics, ironwork, wood-turning, linens, embroidery, and knitwear, served by the Crafts Council of Ireland (based in Kilkenny) and an annual trade fair in Dublin. Irish fashion has advanced beyond the still-popular Aran sweater, with various designers establishing fashion trends that have broad appeal both nationally and internationally.

The Irish pub serves as a focal point for many small villages and urban neighbourhoods, a place where the great Irish passion for conversation, stories, and jokes can be indulged. Pub attendance declined somewhat in the early 21st century after the imposition of a smoking ban, the restriction of hours when families could take children to eat at pubs, and the enactment of more-stringent drunk-driving laws. Still, Ireland remains home to some of the world’s finest beers, whiskeys, and other spirits, which accompany the lively music and socializing that seem to come naturally to the Irish and those who visit. Traditional Irish music—using locally made instruments such as the fiddle, the tin whistle, and the uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes)—is performed at many pubs, and traditional songs are often sung there in Irish, at times accompanied by the Celtic harp (an emblem of Ireland). The céilí, a traditional musical gathering, is an enduring expression of Irish social life that has counterparts in other Celtic cultures. Such gatherings, as well as hiring fairs, cattle shows, and other festivals, usually feature locally produced ales and whiskeys and traditional foods such as soda bread, corned beef, and colcannon (a stew of potatoes and cabbage).

The Wexford Opera Festival, held annually in the fall, draws a large international audience. Of particular importance is St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), honouring the country’s patron saint. Whereas overseas the holiday has become a boisterous, largely secular celebration of all things Irish, in Ireland it is a religious occasion often observed by saying prayers for peace, especially in neighbouring Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, some of the practices celebrated abroad have been adopted locally in the interest of tourism.


The arts

  • LITERATURE: PROSE AND POETRY

Great Book of Ireland, The [Credit: University College Cork, Ireland (A Britannica Publishing Partner)]The earliest known literature in the Old Irish language takes several forms. Many manuscripts, such as the Milan and Turin glosses on the Bible (so named for the libraries where they are housed), are religious in nature; others are secular and include lyric poems, fragments of epic verse, and riddles. Little of this literature is read today except by scholars of the Irish language and of comparative historical linguistics. Instead, the stream of Irish literature that has enriched world culture has been almost entirely written in English. The sheer volume of work attributed to Irish writers is remarkable, considering the country’s small size and, until relatively recently, its only partially literate populace.

A flowering of Irish literary works especially occurred with the standardization of Irish in the mid-20th century. After World War II a new wave of poets, novelists, and dramatists produced a significant literature in modern Irish, among them Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Máirtín Ó Direáin, and Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Beginning in the 1970s, another generation of writers made important contributions in Irish, notably Micheal O’Siadhail, Gabriel Rosenstock, Michael Hartnett, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Áine Ní Ghlinn, and Cathal Ó Searcaigh.

Joyce, James [Credit: Gisèle Freund]Many modes of thought and expression characteristic of Irish-language formulations were gradually absorbed into the English spoken in Ireland. The remarkable contribution that Anglo-Irish literature and drama have made to the Western world may in part be ascribed to this linguistic cross-fertilization. It is also noteworthy that so small a country should produce so much creative literary genius. The great Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, drew upon his experience of life in Ireland for his writing. The list of influential Irish prose writers and poets who both benefited from and contributed to the interplay between the different strands of the Anglo-Irish tradition is long. Among them are two of Ireland’s four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, poets William Butler Yeats (1923) and Seamus Heaney (1995). Others with an international reputation include prose writers George Moore, Elizabeth Bowen, Flann O’Brien, Edna O’Brien, William Trevor, John McGahern, Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Jennifer Johnston, and especially James Joyce; and poets John Montague (American-born), Eavan Boland, Brendan Kennelly, Paul Durcan, and Paula Meehan. The Irish Writers’ Centre and Poetry Ireland actively promote contemporary literature in prose and verse.

  • THEATRE

Wilde, Oscar [Credit: Roger Viollet/Getty Images]Irish achievements in the theatre rival those in literature. Two Irish dramatists won Nobel Prizes for Literature, George Bernard Shaw (1925) and Samuel Beckett (1969), and several others, including Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oscar Wilde, John Millington Synge, and Sean O’Casey, are also known throughout the English-speaking world.

Dublin is the centre of Ireland’s theatrical life. Its Abbey Theatre, founded in 1904 and rebuilt in the mid-1960s, stages classic Irish plays as well as new works in both Irish and English. The Gate Theatre produces Irish and international drama, while the Peacock Theatre, located under the foyer of the Abbey Theatre, concentrates on experimental plays and on works in Irish. Theatres and theatre companies such as Galway’s Druid Theatre are found throughout the country, however, promoting a wide range of national and international drama. In addition, there is a vigorous amateur dramatic movement active throughout the country.

  • MUSIC AND DANCE

O’Carolan, Turlough: Eleanor Plunkett [Credit: University College Cork, Ireland (A Britannica Publishing Partner)]Irish traditional musical forms date from preliterate times. The Irish harp long had been the only instrument played, but many other instruments—such as the uilleann pipes, the fiddle, and the accordion—were added later. The Royal Irish Academy of Music is a major institution for music training, and folkloric and musical conservation groups such as Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Fellowship of Irish Musicians) have established workshops and libraries throughout the country and around the world. The revival of traditional music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was followed by an even more energetic resurgence beginning in the 1960s. Irish songs gained wide appeal in Europe in the 19th century, and the music taken to the United States by Irish immigrants became one of the principal sources of traditional American music. Irish traditional musicians such as the Clancy Brothers, Planxty, the Boys of the Lough, Clannad, and the Chieftains have toured much of the world. More urban and working-class-based music and song have been represented by groups such as the Dubliners and the Wolfe Tones. Interest in Irish traditional music was greatly boosted by a vogue for Irish pubs that spread across the world. Elements of traditional Irish music also have been appropriated by rock musicians to create a distinctive Irish popular music form with great international appeal. For example, beginning in the 1980s, the postpunk group U2 received international acclaim, and its lead singer, Bono, gained fame for his outspokenness on domestic and global political issues. Other popular music groups and artists have included Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, the Corrs, the Cranberries, Bob Geldof, Sinéad O’Connor, Mary and Frances Black, and Hothouse Flowers. Similarly influenced by traditional Irish music, the ethereal-voiced New Age singer Enya (Eithne Ní Bhraonáin) gained a huge international following beginning in the late 1980s. Opera is less popular in Ireland, although singers such as Bernadette Greevy and Suzanne Murphy have gained widespread recognition. Among the artists who came to the forefront in the 21st century were vocalist Sharon Shannon, the traditional group Danú, and the pop duo Jedward.

Ireland is famous for its tenor singers of Irish traditional tunes. The prototypical Irish tenor was John McCormack, noted for his brilliant tone and resonant timbre. Although the fashion faded from roughly the 1930s to the 1960s, it regained its vitality and popularity in the work of Frank Patterson and American-born Robert White.

Best known of the Irish classical composers are John Field, whose work influenced that of Frédéric Chopin, and Michael Balfe. Based in Dublin and maintained by Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ; the state-owned broadcasting company), the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra are the country’s principal orchestral groups. Ireland’s leading contemporary music ensemble, Concorde, commissions and performs the work of contemporary composers. New music is supported by the Contemporary Music Centre in Dublin, a national archive and resource centre. Many arts organizations and individual artists are supported in part by the Arts Council of Ireland, a developmental government agency.

Ireland has a long tradition of folk dancing. Solo dancing is characterized by its lightning footwork and high kicks, all executed while the upper body is kept rigidly straight; jigs and reels have always been popular. The interest in Irish dancing, which grew apace with the revival of traditional music, led in the 1990s to the creation of the performance work Riverdance, which achieved international acclaim and sparked the founding of dance companies around the world that explored this style.

  • VISUAL ARTS

At the turn of the 20th century, Irish art remained relatively isolated from the contemporary trends that spread throughout Europe. Painter John Butler Yeats (father of poet William Butler Yeats) received widespread praise for his portraiture, as did Sir William Orpen, who influenced a generation of Irish artists as a teacher. Paul Henry’s depictions of the Irish countryside were also popular. Jack Butler Yeats, the poet’s brother, using traditional Irish subjects and elements of Celtic mythology, became recognized as the major Irish artist of the mid-20th century.

It was only after World War II that avant-garde developments, popular in the rest of Europe for decades, fully touched Irish art. In this climate, Louis Le Brocquy gained fame for his abstract portraits. Perhaps the most prominent Irish-born artist of the postwar period was Francis Bacon, who became known for his brutal figurative paintings. Although he spent most of his life in Britain, his studio has been reconstructed in the Hugh Lane Gallery (formally Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane) in Dublin. Throughout the postwar period, alternative exhibiting spaces and organizations increasingly made it possible for more experimental styles and artists to be noticed in Ireland.

By the late 20th century, Irish art reflected a wide range of styles and media. As in literature, many contemporary visual artists (e.g., Brian Maguire, Dorothy Cross, Kathy Pendergast, and Brian Bourke) gained international reputations, with their work included in major international shows such as the Venice Biennale. Many late-century Irish artists settled in the thriving art scene in London, yet their work often remained infused with the social and political issues of their homeland.

Annual art exhibitions, the most important of which is the Royal Hibernian Academy, are a regular feature of modern Irish cultural life, and many corporate collections of contemporary Irish art are of the highest calibre. Printmaking has flourished since the establishment of the Graphic Studio and Graphic Studio Gallery by Mary Farl Powers, followed by the Black Church Print Studio (both now located in Dublin) and other studios in urban areas.

Film is also an important medium for Irish visual artists and writers. During the late 20th century, several Irish films received international acclaim, including The Crying Game (1992), which won an Academy Award for best screenplay, My Left Foot (1989), and In the Name of the Father (1993). The Magdalene Sisters (2002) considered the abuses of young women in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland’s not-too-distant past. Once (2006) brought a lighter mood with its focus on the musical life of Dublin but also on the new multiculturalism of the city. Meanwhile, a stream of Irish actors and directors have made an imprint on the global film industry, including directors Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan, as well as actors Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell, Brenda Fricker, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Harris, Colm Meany, Maureen O’Hara, and Saoirse Ronan. International films such as The Quiet Man (1952), Ryan’s Daughter (1970), The Dead (1987), The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), Michael Collins (1996), Angela’s Ashes (1999), and The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) have also focused on Irish themes and history.

The endeavours of the Irish Georgian Society and of An Taisce (the National Trust) have helped to protect the architectural heritage of the country. Dublin’s many 18th-century buildings are among the finest-preserved in all of Europe.


Cultural institutions

Most of the country’s major museums, libraries, and learned societies are located in Dublin, including the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), and the National Library of Ireland. Under British rule a number of Anglo-Irish cultural institutions were established there and successfully adapted to accommodate stronger nationalist sentiment during the 20th century. These include the Royal Irish Academy (1785) and the Royal Dublin Society (1731). Also important are the Royal Hibernian Academy (1823) and the Royal Irish Academy of Music (1856). The quasi-governmental Arts Council (An Chomhairle Ealaíon; 1951) distributes annual state grants to assist the arts and artists. Individual writers, artists, and composers also are aided by tax concessions and by additional financial support from the Aosdána organization. The establishment of a national lottery in 1986 substantially increased funding for the arts and for sports.

Many institutions are specifically concerned with the popularization and preservation of aspects of traditional national culture. Notably, the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge; 1893) promotes the use of the Irish language. Other bodies concentrate on the organization of folk music festivals (feiseanna), at which there are competitions in traditional storytelling and dancing as well as in instrumental music and singing.


Sports and recreation

The Irish are avid sports fans, especially of their native games of Gaelic football—a cross between football (soccer) and rugby—and hurling, which resembles a rough-and-tumble version of field hockey. Both are promoted by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA; Cumann Lúthchleas), founded in 1884 to revive native Irish sports. Today there are several hundred thousand members of the GAA who play these games as amateurs, and the professional teams compete in the All-Ireland matches that draw huge crowds to Dublin’s Croke Park. Handball is also a traditional Irish sport.

Football and rugby are widely popular, often played in sold-out stadiums in Dublin. In 1990 the national football team reached the quarterfinals in the World Cup, and Irish players are prominent on the rosters of professional teams throughout the world. The Irish are extremely passionate about horse racing, and the Irish Derby draws Europe’s best competitors to The Curragh, the flat racetrack in County Kildare. Greyhound racing at Shelbourne Park in Dublin is also well attended. In bicycling, Dubliner Steven Roche won the Tour de France and the World Championship in 1987.

The Olympic Council of Ireland was formed in 1922, and Ireland’s official participation in the Olympic Games began in Paris in 1924. (Irish athletes had competed for Great Britain in previous games, since 1896.) Since then Ireland has missed only the 1936 games. The first medal by an Irishman came in 1896, when John Boland won a gold medal in tennis for Great Britain. The first medal for the Irish team came in 1928 in Amsterdam, where Patrick O’Callaghan won a gold in the hammer throw. In 1996 Michelle Smith became the first Irish female athlete to win a gold medal, capturing three gold medals in swimming, though she was later banned for four years from competition after being found guilty of manipulating a drug-test sample. Four years later distance runner Sonia O’Sullivan won a silver medal in the 5,000-metre event at the 2000 Olympic Games. Irish competitors won five medals in the 2012 London Olympics, including Katie Taylor, who won a gold medal in women’s boxing.


Media and publishing

Several daily newspapers are published in Ireland, including some that have a national circulation. Leading dailies include the Irish Independent and The Irish Times of Dublin and the Irish Examiner of Cork. There also are a large number of regional weekly papers. Dublin is the centre of the publishing industry, and nearly all of the republic’s periodicals are based there.

RTÉ, the national state-owned radio and television broadcaster, began radio service in 1926 and television service in 1961. A second RTÉ national television channel, Network 2, was launched in 1978. RTÉ is financed by revenue from license fees and advertising and is governed by the government-appointed RTÉ Authority. There is an extensive independent radio network with many privately owned stations; an independent Irish-language television station, TG4 (Teilifís na Gaeilge), was established in 1996. The population also receives broadcasts from the United Kingdom and other European countries and can subscribe to cable and satellite services. In 1998 a privately owned commercial television channel, TV3, commenced operations; in 2008 it acquired Channel 6, another privately owned channel that had begun broadcasting in 2006, and subsequently rebranded it as 3e. The regulation of television broadcasting is one of the responsibilities of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

History of Ireland

Ireland to the English Conquest

The earliest known people in Ireland belonged to the groups that inhabited all of the British Isles in prehistoric times. In the several centuries preceding the birth of Jesus a number of Celtic tribes invaded and conquered Ireland and established their distinctive culture (see Celt), although they do not seem to have come in great numbers. Ancient Irish legend tells of four successive peoples who invaded the country—the Firbolgs, the Fomors, the Tuatha De Danann, and the Milesians. Oddly enough, the Romans, who occupied Britain for 400 years, never came to Ireland, and the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain, who largely replaced the Celtic population there, did not greatly affect Ireland.

Until the raids of the Norse in the late 8th cent., Ireland remained relatively untouched by foreign incursions and enjoyed the golden age of its culture. The people, Celtic and non-Celtic alike, were organized into clans, or tribes, which in the early period owed allegiance to one of five provincial kings—of Ulster, Munster, Connacht, Leinster, and Meath (now the northern part of Leinster). These kings nominally served the high king of all Ireland at Tara (in Meath). The clans fought constantly among themselves, but despite civil strife, literature and art were held in high respect. Each chief or king kept an official poet (Druid) who preserved the oral traditions of the people. The Gaelic language and culture were extended into Scotland by Irish emigrants in the 5th and 6th cent.

Parts of Ireland had already been Christianized before the arrival of St. Patrick in the 5th cent., but pagan tradition continued to appeal to the imagination of Irish poets even after the complete conversion of the country. The Celtic Christianity of Ireland produced many scholars and missionaries who traveled to England and the Continent, and it attracted students to Irish monasteries, until the 8th cent. perhaps the most brilliant of Europe. St. Columba and St. Columban were among the most famous of Ireland's missionaries. All the arts flourished; Irish illuminated manuscripts were particularly noteworthy. The Book of Kells (see Ceanannus Mór) is especially famous.

The country did not develop a strong central government, however, and it was not united to meet the invasions of the Norse, who settled on the shores of the island late in the 8th cent., establishing trading towns (including Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick) and creating new petty kingdoms. In 1014, at Clontarf, Brian Boru, who had become high king by conquest in 1002, broke the strength of the Norse invaders. There followed a period of 150 years during which Ireland was free from foreign interference but was torn by clan warfare.

  • Ireland and the English

In the 12th cent., Pope Adrian IV granted overlordship of Ireland to Henry II of England. The English conquest of Ireland was begun by Richard de Clare, 2d earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow, who intervened in behalf of a claimant to the throne of Leinster; in 1171, Henry himself went to Ireland, temporarily establishing his overlordship there. With this invasion commenced an Anglo-Irish struggle that continued for nearly 800 years.

The English established themselves in Dublin. Roughly a century of warfare ensued as Ireland was divided into English shires ruled from Dublin, the domains of feudal magnates who acknowledged English sovereignty, and the independent Irish kingdoms. Many English intermarried with the Irish and were assimilated into Irish society. In the late 13th cent. the English introduced a parliament in Ireland. In 1315, Edward Bruce of Scotland invaded Ireland and was joined by many Irish kings. Although Bruce was killed in 1318, the English authority in Ireland was weakening, becoming limited to a small district around Dublin known as the Pale; the rest of the country fell into a struggle for power among the ruling Anglo-Irish families and Irish chieftains.

English attention was diverted by the Hundred Years War with France (1337–1453) and the Wars of the Roses (1455–85). However, under Henry VII new interest in the island was aroused by Irish support for Lambert Simnel, a Yorkist pretender to the English throne. To crush this support, Henry sent to Ireland Sir Edward Poynings, who summoned an Irish Parliament at Drogheda and forced it to pass the legislation known as Poynings' Law (1495). These acts provided that future Irish Parliaments and legislation receive prior approval from the English Privy Council. A free Irish Parliament was thus rendered impossible.

The English Reformation under Henry VIII gave rise in England to increased fears of foreign, Catholic invasion; control of Ireland thus became even more imperative. Henry VIII put down a rebellion (1534–37), abolished the monasteries, confiscated lands, and established a Protestant "Church of Ireland" (1537). But since the vast majority of Irish remained Roman Catholic, the seeds of bitter religious contention were added to the already rancorous Anglo-Irish relations. The Irish rebelled three times during the reign of Elizabeth I and were brutally suppressed. Under James I, Ulster was settled by Scottish and English Protestants, and many of the Catholic inhabitants were driven off their lands; thus two sharply antagonistic communities were established.

Another Irish rebellion, begun in 1641 in reaction to the hated rule of Charles I's deputy, Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, was crushed (1649–50) by Oliver Cromwell with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. More land was confiscated (and often given to absentee landlords), and more Protestants settled in Ireland. The intractable landlord-tenant problem that plagued Ireland in later centuries can be traced to the English confiscations of the 16th and 17th cent.

Irish Catholics rallied to the cause of James II after his overthrow (1688) in England (see the Glorious Revolution), while the Protestants in Ulster enthusiastically supported William III. At the battle of the Boyne (1690) near Dublin, James and his French allies were defeated by William. The English-controlled Irish Parliament passed harsh Penal Laws designed to keep the Catholic Irish powerless; political equality was also denied to Presbyterians. At the same time English trade policy depressed the economy of Protestant Ireland, causing many so-called Scotch-Irish to emigrate to America. A newly flourishing woolen industry was destroyed when export from Ireland was forbidden.

During the American Revolution, fear of a French invasion of Ireland led Irish Protestants to form (1778–82) the Protestant Volunteer Army. The Protestants, led by Henry Grattan, and even supported by some Catholics, used their military strength to extract concessions for Ireland from Britain. Trade concessions were granted in 1779, and, with the repeal of Poynings' Law (1782), the Irish Parliament had its independence restored. But the Parliament was still chosen undemocratically, and Catholics continued to be denied the right to hold political office.

Another unsuccessful rebellion was staged in 1798 by Wolfe Tone, a Protestant who had formed the Society of United Irishmen and who accepted French aid in the uprising. The reliance on French assistance revived anti-Catholic feeling among the Irish Protestants, who remembered French support of the Jacobite restoration. The rebellion convinced the British prime minister, William Pitt, that the Irish problem could be solved by the adoption of three policies: abolition of the Irish Parliament, legislative union with Britain in a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Catholic Emancipation. The first two goals were achieved in 1800, but the opposition of George III and British Protestants prevented the enactment of the Catholic Emancipation Act until 1829, when it was accomplished largely through the efforts of the Irish leader Daniel O'Connell.

Ireland under the Union After 1829 the Irish representatives in the British Parliament attempted to maintain the Irish question as a major issue in British politics. O'Connell worked to repeal the union with Britain, which was felt to operate to Ireland's disadvantage, and to reform the government in Ireland. Toward the middle of the century, the Irish Land Question grew increasingly urgent. But the Great Potato Famine (1845–49), one of the worst natural disasters in history, dwarfed political developments. During these years blight ruined the potato crop, destroying the staple food of the Irish population; hundreds of thousands perished from hunger and disease. Many thousands of others emigrated; between 1847 and 1854 about 1.6 million went to the United States. The population dropped from an estimated 8.5 million in 1845 to 6.55 million in 1851 (and continued to decline until the 1960s). Exascerbating the situation was the lack of attention given to it in England, whose press scarcely mentioned the famine and whose leaders did almost nothing to alleviate Ireland's suffering. Irish emigrants in America formed the secret Fenian movement, dedicated to Irish independence. In 1869 the British prime minister William Gladstone sponsored an act disestablishing the Protestant "Church of Ireland" and thereby removed one Irish grievance.

In the 1870s, Irish politicians renewed efforts to achieve Home Rule within the union, while in Britain Gladstone and others attempted to solve the Irish problem through land legislation and Home Rule. Gladstone twice submitted Home Rule bills (1886 and 1893) that failed. The proposals alarmed Protestant Ulster, which began to organize against Home Rule. In 1905, Arthur Griffith founded Sinn Féin among Irish Catholics, but for the time being the dominant Irish nationalist group was the Home Rule party of John Redmond.

Home Rule was finally enacted in 1914, with the provision that Ulster could remain in the union for six more years, but the act was suspended for the duration of World War I and never went into effect. In both Ulster and Catholic Ireland militias were formed. The Irish Republican Brotherhood, a descendent of the Fenians, organized a rebellion on Easter Sunday, 1916; although unsuccessful, the rising acquired great propaganda value when the British executed its leaders.

Sinn Fein, linked in the Irish public's mind with the rising and aided by Britain's attempt to apply conscription to Ireland, scored a tremendous victory in the parliamentary elections of 1918. Its members refused to take their seats in Westminster, declared themselves the Dáil Éireann (Irish Assembly), and proclaimed an Irish Republic. The British outlawed both Sinn Fein and the Dáil, which went underground and engaged in guerrilla warfare (1919–21) against local Irish authorities representing the union. The British sent troops, the Black and Tans, who inflamed the situation further.

  • Partition

A new Home Rule bill was enacted in 1920, establishing separate parliaments for Ulster and Catholic Ireland. This was accepted by Ulster, and Northern Ireland was created. The plan was rejected by the Dáil, but in autumn 1921, Prime Minister Lloyd George negotiated with Griffith and Michael Collins of the Dáil a treaty granting Dominion status within the British Empire to Catholic Ireland. The Irish Free State was established in Jan., 1922. A new constitution was ratified in 1937 that terminated Great Britain's sovereignty. In 1948, all semblance of Commonwealth membership ended with the Republic of Ireland Act.



Disclaimer

This is not the official site of this country. Most of the information in this site were taken from the U.S. Department of State, The Central Intelligence Agency, The United Nations, [1],[2], [3], [4], [5],[6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14],[15], [16], [17], [18], [19], [20], [21], [22], [23], [24],[25], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30],[31], [32], [33], [34], and the [35].

Other sources of information will be mentioned as they are posted.