Ireland, Irish Éire, a country in western Europe occupying five-sixths of the westernmost main island of the British Isles.
Ireland is an island nation on the westernmost edge of Europe. It is the second largest island on the continent (after Great Britain). The Republic of Ireland occupies 80 percent of this land mass, while much of the land to the north is part of the United Kingdom.
Ireland is known for its vast, lush green fields. In fact, its nickname is the Emerald Isle. But there are also large areas of rugged, rocky landscape. About 15,000 years ago, Ireland was completely covered by thick glaciers. The movement of these huge ice floes stripped the ground, leaving behind vast expanses of flat limestone pavement.
The Midlands and the west coast of Ireland are dotted with wet peat bogs, the moist remains of dried-up ancient lakes left behind by the glaciers. Ireland’s highlands rise mainly in the southwest, often ending at sheer cliffs that plunge thousands of feet into the Atlantic Ocean.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Ireland is a nation of storytellers. The tradition dates back to Celtic bards who recorded and recited the history of the land. Many famous writers hail from Ireland, including several Nobel Prize winners in literature.
St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated internationally every March 17, is packed with parades, good luck charms and all things green. The event began as a religious holiday, but over time has become a celebration of Irish culture.
The Irish have a great affection for nature and country life. The country’s earliest coins even featured images of animals. Low development and pollution in Ireland have left most of the country’s open spaces relatively undisturbed.
Did you know that there are no wild snakes in Ireland? The sea has prevented many animals common to mainland Europe from reaching the island. There are also only two species of wild mouse, one species of lizard and only three species of amphibian.
Irish wildlife is protected by government conservation programs. To preserve the natural habitat, the government has established six national parks and hundreds of national heritage sites throughout the country.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
The government of Ireland consists of an elected parliament, which makes laws, and a president, who is the head of state. The head of government is the Taoiseach (pronounced tee-shuck), which means “chief.” The Taoiseach is the leader of the political party with the most members of parliament.
For most of its history, Ireland’s economy was based on agriculture and farming. But since the late 1950s, government efforts to attract business have transformed the country from one of the poorest nations in Europe to one of the second richest. The amazing turnaround earned Ireland the nickname “Celtic Tiger.”
Archaeologists believe the first people to settle in Ireland were around 6000 B.C. By 3500 B.C., settlers were using stone tools to clear farmland. Around 700 B.C., a diverse and technologically advanced culture from central Europe called the Celts began to settle the island. They would thrive there for nearly 2,000 years.
In the 9th century AD, Viking invaders began raiding Ireland. They established settlements that later became some of the country’s most important cities, including Dublin, the capital. The Vikings and Celts often fought for 200 years until a battle in 1014 united the country. Peace quickly broke down, however, and Ireland was divided into many kingdoms.
In 1170, Norman Vikings, who had taken control of England, invaded Ireland and made it an English territory. In the early 1600s, England’s official religion became Protestant, while most Irish remained Roman Catholic. This would lead to tensions that would eventually lead to revolution and Ireland’s independence.
In the 1820s, British laws that were unfair to Catholics had sparked a mass movement for Irish sovereignty. In 1829, many of these laws were repealed, but Ireland still wanted freedom. In 1922, after violent uprisings, the Irish Free State was created within the British Empire.
In 1948, most of Ireland became an independent country, while six mainly Protestant counties in the northeast remained British territory.