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Country Profile: Republic of Ireland

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Join us as we make the trip to one of Europe’s closest countries – and one of the cheapest to get to! Learn more about the sometimes troubled but always fascinating history of Ireland, along with the culture and places that make the Republic special.

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Travel Guide | Currency

  • Capital (and Largest City): Dublin
  • Population (2014): 4,609,600 (122nd)
  • Total Area: 70,273 km² (120th)
  • Official Languages: Irish, English
  • Currency: Euro (€) (EUR)
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The Ha’penny Bridge over the river Liffey in Dublin

The Path to Home-rule

The long history of Ireland is fraught with conflict, rising powers, outside influences, and struggles for home-rule. Most of what we know of early Irish history centres on the arrival of Celtic tribes and traditions to the island around the 5th century. Because of this, Gaelic culture would grow to become dominant on the island. Even Roman influence over Ireland (which they christened Hibernia) was limited, though it’s suspected that Romans held sway over some Gaelic groups and backed them against rivals.

The early Middle Ages saw the arrival of Christianity to Ireland as well as Viking raids. Following the arrival of the Normans in Britain (in 1066), political upheaval became commonplace. Petty kings and lords fought over what they could, while the Normans attempted to gain dominion over large swathes of the island. Eventually, in the late Middle Ages, the Gaelic people had a resurgence over the English and Normans. This was partly due to the Black Death hitting Ireland’s population centres more severely than the rural areas where most Gaelic people were based.

Ireland remained free of British rule until King Henry VIII (best known as the man of many wives) decided to conquer the island starting in 1536. The following centuries were characterized by often-violent rebellion and repression. The fact that Ireland was Catholic and England was newly Protestant only added fuel to the fire. Many actions were taken to subdue the Irish, including harsh penal laws designed to cripple Catholic landowners. Eventually, after the defeat of a rebellion in 1798, Ireland entered a union with Britain.

By 1912, the Irish push for home-rule remained strong. With Britain unwilling to grant complete independence, the Irish Republican Army waged a war from 1919 to 1921. In 1922 the Irish Free State was established as a Dominion of Britain. The Irish Free State briefly included the entire island, however the northern part opted to remain part of the UK due to strong Protestant influence. The treaty divided the south into two Irish factions – the pro-treaty forces who saw the treaty as the first step towards greater independence and the anti-treaty forces who wanted to fight until a full Republic was formed. The two sides – and their leaders Michael Collins (pro-treaty) and Éamon de Valera (anti-treaty) – fought a bloody civil war from 1922-1923, which resulted in a pro-treaty victory and confirmation of the Irish Free State.

Although separate from the Republic, Northern Ireland’s history is closely entwined with its southern neighbour. While the Irish Free State would become the Republic, Northern Ireland experienced sustained problems between Protestant/British forces and Catholic resistance from the Provisional IRA and other groups. This violence is collectively known as the Troubles, and was at its height during the late 20th century. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK to this day.

Over 25 years after the end of the civil war, in 1949, Ireland formally became a Republic and left the British commonwealth. Since then, the Republic of Ireland has sought to be an active member of the international community – joining the UN in 1955 and the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. Through the 90’s and early 2000’s Ireland experienced high levels of prosperity and economic growth. When the financial crisis hit in 2007-2008 however, it hit Ireland hard. Despite these economic issues, Ireland is wealthy with a high degree of human development.

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The Celtic cross – used as an early Christian symbol in Ireland

Uniquely Irish

Much of Irish culture is based on the Gaelic traditions that have dominated on the island for centuries. Though British traditions also influence Ireland, it retains a strong independent spirit and culture that set it apart. Gaelic tradition can be felt in everything from music to festivals to sport and beyond.

Irish folklore is recognized worldwide due to the ‘leprechaun’ – despite the fact that these creatures are not all that popular on the island itself (merely part of a minor tale). More well known are stories about giants and warriors – especially the famous Fionn mac Cumhaill who, legend has it, once formed the Isle of Man when he flung a piece of Ireland towards a rival.

Irish music and dance are also widely loved – with all sorts of takes on traditional melodies (from rock to classical) popular in Ireland and abroad. In addition, sport is an important part of Irish culture. Though soccer and rugby union are popular, the most dominant sports are those steeped in Gaelic traditions – Gaelic football and hurling – which are played throughout the country.

Christianity – and religion in general – is also an important part of the Republic of Ireland both in its history and present (though church attendance is down). In the Republic, the majority of people are Catholic. As such, St. Patrick’s Day is the national holiday – celebrating the patron saint of Ireland.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated not just in Ireland – but worldwide. This is predominantly due to widespread Irish immigration across the world. From Britain to North America to Australia – the Irish diaspora can be found almost anywhere you look. This has helped Irish traditions and culture gain a footing in many other countries. Last but certainly not least, the Irish pub and pub culture has become greatly entrenched in the Western world – so much so that you should have no difficulty finding one tomorrow!

From Galway to Dublin Town

The Republic of Ireland consists of over 80% of the island of Ireland. Though there is much to see in the north (e.g. the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast), the Republic has more than enough to take your breath away. Rugged coastlines, small fishing villages, and rolling green hills are just a few of the features found throughout the country. Often known as the Emerald Isle – for good reason – Ireland offers an abundance of natural beauty if you’re willing to step outside the cities.

Ireland’s cities, such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway are chock full of history and possess an unmistakable Irish charm. Whether you’re an outdoorsman or city slicker, Ireland will definitely make a lasting impression.

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A small cottage in Connemara – west Ireland

Did you know?

  • Ireland is one of 6 Celtic Nations: The others are Brittany, Cornwall, Scotland, Wales, and the Isle of Man
  • The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, parts of Braveheart and the Princess Bride, and the tv shows The Tudors and Vikings were filmed in Ireland
  • Actors and actresses hailing from Ireland include Liam Neeson, Peter O’Toole, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, and Michael Fassbender
  • Ireland is divided into 4 provinces: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster (which is mostly Northern Ireland)
  • Famous Irish breweries and distilleries include Guinness, Smithwick’s, and Jameson
  • The Celtic cross, the harp, and the shamrock are the most common symbols of Ireland
  • Halloween originated from the Gaelic harvest festival of Samhain
  • Sean’s Bar in Athlone dates back to about 900 AD – it’s the oldest pub in Ireland
  • About 80 million people of Irish descent live around the world (more than 12 times the population of the island of Ireland)

Last Word

Despite a long, tumultuous history – the Irish people and Ireland itself have emerged strong into the 21st century. So, when you’re out celebrating St. Patty’s tomorrow, keep in mind the rich tradition and events that resulted in you drinking that pint of Guinness.

Stay tuned to theCurrent for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems.

You can keep exploring the Republic of Ireland with our Travel Guide and Spotlight on the euro.

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