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Ireland on a map of Europe
Topographical map of Ireland

Ireland is an island in Europe. To the west of Ireland is the Atlantic Ocean; to the east of Ireland, across the Irish Sea, is the island of Great Britain.

The island of Ireland is about 486 km (302 miles) long and about 288 km (179 miles) wide. About 6.4 million people live on the island – 4.6 million in the Republic of Ireland and 1.8 million in Northern Ireland.

The River Shannon, which runs from north to south, is the longest river on the island. Ireland has many lakes. Lough Neagh, in Northern Ireland, is the largest lake in Ireland. Ireland is known for its beautiful landscapes, music, history, and mythology.

Today, the island of Ireland is split between two countries:

  • The Republic of Ireland is five sixths (83%) of the island. Its capital city is Dublin. The official languages are Irish and English. Most people in the country can speak a little Irish, but only a small number of the population are fluent or native speakers. Almost everyone learns Irish at school, but most people outside the Gaeltacht speak English in their day-to-day lives.
  • Northern Ireland is the remaining one sixth (17%) of the island and is part of the United Kingdom. The capital of Northern Ireland is Belfast.

Many people live in the eastern coasts of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Dublin has a population of more than one million, and the Greater Belfast region has a population of nearly half a million.

Provinces and Counties[change | change source]

Ireland is traditionally divided into four provinces and thirty-two counties. Twenty-six counties are in the Republic and six in Northern Ireland. Three of the provinces are entirely within the Republic (Connaught, Leinster and Munster), and one province (Ulster) has some counties in both the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

  • Connacht - Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo
  • Leinster - Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow
  • Munster - Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford
  • Ulster - Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan (Republic of Ireland); Antrim, Armagh, Derry/Londonderry, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone (Northern Ireland)

Main Cities[change | change source]

Dublin is the largest city in the country and capital of the Republic of Ireland. Dublin was established as a Viking settlement in the 9th century. Population 525,383 (Dublin City), 1,270,603 (Co. Dublin)

The city of Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. It has 483,000 in the Greater Belfast urban area, and 267,000 in the city itself. Shipbuilding used to be a major industry here; the Titanic was built in Belfast at the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

Armagh, in Northern Ireland, is often called the 'Ecclesiastic Capital of Ireland' as it is the seat of both the Catholic Church and the (Protestant) Church of Ireland. Population 14,590

Cork is the largest city in Munster. Corconians often jokingly refer to it as 'the Real Capital'. Population 119,230.

Derry (also known as Londonderry), is the second largest city in Northern Ireland. Derry is notable for the Medieval city walls which still stand. Because the walls have never been breached the city is nicknamed "The Maiden City". In 2013 Derry/Londonderry is the UK Capital of Culture, therefore many cultural events will take place in the city throughout the year. Population 83,652

History[change | change source]

From 1801 until 1922 all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1921 Northern Ireland was created and 'partitioned' from the south. Northern Ireland has stayed within the United Kingdom since then. The full name of the UK is 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'.

In 1922 the south became the Irish Free State. In 1937 the Irish Free State adopted a new constitution which named the state 'Ireland', and in 1948 this state passed the Republic of Ireland Act which declared it to be a republic.

Migration[change | change source]

Many Irish people have left Ireland and moved to the United States, Canada, Australia, and South America. The Great Famine in the 1840's forced many to leave; it is estimated almost a million people died of starvation, and a million more emigrated. From a maximum of over 8 million in 1841, the total Irish population dropped to just over 4 million in the 1940s. Since then, the population has grown to over 6 million. This has been helped by the economic growth of the "Celtic Tiger" and since 2004 immigration from countries in Eastern Europe such as Poland.

Today almost 80 million people around the world are descended from Irish immigrants.