There are many variations on the Irish personality. Around six million variations, in fact. That’s the number of people calling this beautiful and complicated island home, and every one of them brings something different to the table.
Didn’t Freud say the Irish are the only race impervious to psychoanalysis? In other words, don’t expect answers. Just have fun asking questions.
There are certain standards that we all maintain, of course. The passion, the poetry, the infectious chat and craic (fun)…these are pretty much true all round.
Yes, we’re passionate – about politics, about sport, about parsing our place in the world. Yes, we’re prone to a good book and the guy or gal who can write one. Yes, we love to talk and, yes, fun is our oxygen.
But Irishness goes deeper than all of this, too.
Home is where the heart is
The people of Ireland love to travel, to learn about the world. Our diaspora, whether they left by choice or necessity, number some 70 million. But we love coming home, too – to our native cities, countryside and kitchens.
We love spending time with our families, enjoy a gossip around the kitchen table and chat to anyone who’ll listen to us. And we’re crazy about those quirky little things that make us different: red lemonade; potato farls; Tayto crisps. Words like “wee” (small) and “grand” (fine) and the fact that the Titanic was fine when she left Belfast.
It’s no secret that there’s a creative side to the Irish personality. Think the Book of Kells and the Expressionist painter Jack B Yeats (brother of the poet, WB). Think ancient sagas and legends like An Táin and the Children of Lir to writers such as James Joyce, CS Lewis and Seamus Heaney. Think actors like Maureen O’Hara to Liam Neeson and Saoirse Ronan.
Yes, art has always coursed through our veins.
This is a place where an Oscar or a Nobel Prize is celebrated amidst rapturous island applause one evening, and popped embarrassedly onto the mantelpiece the morning after.
The beauty of this creative spark, however, is that it doesn’t solely belong to Bono, Enya and Snow Patrol. You’ll find arts festivals and craftspeople in the smallest of towns, breathing new life into old mills and milk parlors in every corner of the countryside.
Filmmakers such as Jim Sheridan and Kenneth Branagh boast international reputations, but there are hordes of talented directors, screenwriters and animators following their lead.
And music? Well, there’s always music, be it U2, Enya, Van Morrison or Snow Patrol, or trad sessions in cozy country pubs.
The last laugh
It’s often said that the national pastime (well, the male one anyway) is slagging. Ribbing, messing, taking the Mick – you’ll find all manner of ways to describe these crafty torrents of affectionate abuse. And visitors are by no means immune to this cultural talent.
As a rule, you see, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. And when we do, it’s nothing a good slagging won’t sort out.
Most of all, though, we love to laugh. We love a bit of mischief, of devilment, from the witty riposte in the pub to the wise-cracking Patrick Kielty or Dara O’Briain.
And after the tumultuous centuries we’ve had in our time, laughter has always come out as the healthy option.
It’s the best medicine, after all. Come join us in a drop.
Ireland’s central lowlands of flat rolling plains are dissected by bogs, loughs (lakes) and rivers, and surrounded by hills and low mountains.
The major mountain ranges include the Blackstairs, Bluestack, Comeragh, Derryveagh, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Nephinbeg, Ox, Silvermines, Slieve Mish, Twelve Pins, and Wicklow.
The country’s highest point, Carrauntuohill, in the far southwest, stands at 1041 m (3414 ft.) high.
The western coastline includes numerous sea cliffs. The most famous, and some say the most beautiful in all of Europe, are the Cliff of Moher. They reach a maximum height of just over 213 m (700 ft.)
Ireland has dozens of coastal islands, including Achill, the country’s largest. Others of significance include the Aran Islands to the southwest of Galway and Valentia Island just off the Iveragh Peninsula. Other peninsulas of note include the Beara and Dingle.
The River Shannon at 386 km (240 miles) long is Ireland’s longest river. It widens into four loughs (lakes) along its route, including Lough Allen, Lough Bafin, Lough Derg and Lough Ree. Other inland loughs of note are the Conn, Corrib and Mask.
Besides the Shannon, additional rivers of size are the Barrow, Blackwater, Boyne, Finn, Lee, Liffey, Nore, Slaney and Suir.
For more information see: Ireland
Ever wondered about how the Irish got that way?
Here are some intriguing facts and figures about the Irish in Ireland.
1. The average height of Irish men is 5′ 8″.
2. The average height of Irish women is 5’5″.
3. 90% of Irish nationals are Catholic, but only 30% ever attend church.
4. The Irish report the lowest annual number of UFO sightings in Europe.
5. 70% of married Irish women would consider having an affair while on a foreign holiday without their spouse or children.
6. 90% of all Irish men would do the same.
7. 73% of Americans are unable to locate Ireland on a map bereft of country names.
8. Raymond O’Brien was the shortest person in Irish history. The dwarf, who died in 1795, was one foot eleven inches tall.
9. Only 9% of the Irish population are natural redheads.
10. May is generally the driest month of the year in Ireland.
11. RTE’s “The Late Late Show” is the world’s longest running talk show.
12. 57% of Irish people wear glasses or contact lenses.
13. Cats now outnumber dogs by two to one as Ireland’s most popular pet.
14. Dublin boasts one pub for every 100 head of population.
15. Irish marriages last an average of 13 years, although the majority do not end in divorce. Irish couples prefer to separate and live in sin with their new partners rather than go through costly legal proceedings.
16. A song only needs to sell 5,000 copies to top the Irish music charts.
17. A book only needs to sell 3,000 copies to top the Irish bestseller list.
18. The Canary Islands are the most popular sunshine holiday destination with retired Irish citizens.
19. The River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland or Britain.
20. The heaviest Irish person on record was Aine Gowan. At the time of her death she weighed over 600 pounds.
There are three World Heritage Sites on the island: the Brú na Bóinne, Skellig Michael and the Giant’s Causeway. A number of other places are on the tentative list, for example the Burren, the Ceide Fields and Mount Stewart.
Some of the most visited sites in Ireland include Bunratty Castle, the Rock of Cashel, the Cliffs of Moher, Holy Cross Abbey and Blarney Castle. Historically important monastic sites include Glendalough and Clonmacnoise, which are maintained as national monuments in the Republic of Ireland.
Dublin is the most heavily touristed region and home to several of the most popular attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse and Book of Kells. The west and south west, which includes the Lakes of Killarney and the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry and Connemara and the Aran Islands in County Galway, are also popular tourist destinations.
Achill Island lies off the coast of County Mayo and is Ireland’s largest island. It is a popular tourist destination for surfing and contains 5 Blue Flag beaches and Croaghaun one of the worlds highest sea cliffs. Stately homes, built during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in Palladian, Neoclassical and neo-Gothic styles, such as, Castle Ward, Castletown House, Bantry House, Glenveagh Castle are also of interest to tourists. Some have been converted into hotels, such as Ashford Castle, Castle Leslie and Dromoland Castle.
Early Irish History
Historians estimate that Ireland was first settled by humans at a relatively late stage in European terms – about 10,000 years ago. Around 4000 BC it is estimated that the first farmers arrived in Ireland. Farming marked the arrival of the new Stone Age. Around 300BC, Iron Age warriors known as the Celts came to Ireland from mainland Europe. The Celts had a huge influence on Ireland. Many famous Irish myths stem from stories about Celtic warriors. The current first official language of the Republic of Ireland, Irish (or Gaeilge) stems from Celtic language.
Early Christian Ireland
Following the arrival of Saint Patrick and other Christian missionaries in the early to mid-5th century, Christianity took over the indigenous pagan religion by the year 600 AD. Irish Christian scholars excelled in the study of Latin, Greek and Christian theology in monasteries throughout Ireland. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewellery, and the many carved stone crosses that can still be seen across the country.
The Viking Era
At the end of the 8th century and during the 9th century Vikings, from where we now call Scandinavia, began to invade and then gradually settle into and mix with Irish society. The Vikings founded, Dublin, Ireland’s capital city in 988. Following the defeat of the Vikings by Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, at Clontarf in 1014, Viking influence faded.
The Norman Era
The 12th century saw the arrival of the Normans. The Normans built walled towns, castles and churches. They also increased agriculture and commerce in Ireland.
Plantations and Penal Laws
After King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church in England in 1534 he ensured that the Irish Parliament declared him King of Ireland in 1541. From this time up to the late 17th century, an official English policy of ‘plantation’ led to the arrival of thousands of English and Scottish Protestant settlers. The most successful plantation occurred in Ulster. From this period on, sectarian conflict became a common theme in Irish history.
The 17th century was a bloody one in Ireland. It culminated in the imposition of the harsh regime of Penal laws. These laws set about disempowering Catholics, denying them, for example, the right to take leases or own land above a certain value, outlawing Catholic clergy, forbidding higher education and entry to the professions, and imposing oaths of conformity to the state church, the Church of Ireland. During the 18th century strict enforcement of the Penal laws eased but by 1778 Catholics held only about 5% of the land in Ireland.
Union with Great Britain
In 1782 a Parliamentary faction led by Henry Grattan (a Protestant) successfully agitated for a more favourable trading relationship with England and for greater legislative independence for the Parliament of Ireland. However, London still controlled much of what occurred in Ireland. Inspired by the French Revolution, in 1791 an organisation called the United Irishmen was formed with the ideal of bringing Irish people of all religions together to reform and reduce Britain’s power in Ireland. Its leader was a young Dublin Protestant called Theobald Wolfe Tone. The United Irishmen were the inspiration for the armed rebellion of 1798. Despite attempts at help from the French the rebellion failed and in 1801 the Act of Union was passed uniting Ireland politically with Britain.
In 1829 one of Ireland’s greatest leaders Daniel O’Connell, known as ‘the great liberator’ was central in getting the Act of Catholic Emancipation passed in the parliament in London. He succeeded in getting the total ban on voting by Catholics lifted and they could now also become Members of the Parliament in London.
After this success O’Connell aimed to cancel the Act of Union and re-establish an Irish parliament. However, this was a much bigger task and O’Connell’s approach of non-violence was not supported by all. Such political issues were overshadowed however by the worst disaster and tragedy in Irish history – the great famine.
The Great Famine
Potatoes were the staple food of a growing population at the time. When blight (a form of plant disease) struck potato crops nationwide in 1845, 1846 and 1847 disaster followed. Potatoes were inedible and people began to starve to death. The response of the British government also contributed to the disaster – trade agreements were still controlled by London. While hundreds of thousands of people were suffering from extreme hunger, Ireland was forced to export abundant harvests of wheat and dairy products to Britain and further overseas.
Between 1845 and 1851 two million people died or were forced to emigrate from Ireland. The population of Ireland has never since reached its pre-famine level of approximately 8 million.
Ireland’s history of emigration continued from this point onwards with the majority of Irish emigrants going to the United States of America.
There was little effective challenge to Britain’s control of Ireland until the efforts of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91). At the age of 31 he became leader of the Irish Home Rule Party, which became the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1882.
While Parnell did not achieve Home Rule (or self-government), his efforts and widely recognised skills in the House of Commons earned him the title of ‘the uncrowned king of Ireland’. The impetus he gave to the idea of Home Rule was to have lasting implications.
In Ulster in the north of Ireland the majority of people were Protestants. They were concerned about the prospect of Home Rule being granted as they would be a Protestant minority in an independent Ireland with a Catholic majority. They favoured the union with Britain. The Unionist Party was lead by Sir Edward Carson. Carson threatened an armed struggle for a separate Northern Ireland if independence was granted to Ireland.
A Home Rule Bill was passed in 1912 but crucially it was not brought into law. The Home Rule Act was suspended at the outbreak of World War One in 1914. Many Irish nationalists believed that Home Rule would be granted after the war if they supported the British war effort. John Redmond the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party encouraged people to join the British forces and many did join. However, a minority of nationalists did not trust the British government leading to one of the most pivotal events in Irish history, the Easter Rising.
On April 24th (Easter Monday) 1916, two groups of armed rebels, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army seized key locations in Dublin. The Irish Volunteers were led by Padraig Pearse and the Irish Citizen Army was led by James Connolly. Outside the GPO (General Post Office) in Dublin city centre, Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation of the Republic which declared an Irish Republic independent of Britain. Battles ensued with casualties on both sides and among the civilian population. The Easter Rising finished on April 30th with the surrender of the rebels. The majority of the public was actually opposed to the Rising. However, public opinion turned when the British administration responded by executing many of the leaders and participants in the Rising. All seven signatories to the proclamation were executed including Pearse and Connolly.
Two of the key figures who were involved in the rising who avoided execution were Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins. In the December 1918 elections the Sinn Féin party led by Éamon de Valera won a majority of the Ireland based seats of the House of Commons. On the 21st of January 1919 the Sinn Féin members of the House of Commons gathered in Dublin to form an Irish Republic parliament called Dáil Éireann, unilaterally declaring power over the entire island.
War of Independence
What followed is known as the ‘war of independence’ when the Irish Republican Army – the army of the newly declared Irish Republic – waged a guerilla war against British forces from 1919 to 1921. One of the key leaders of this war was Michael Collins. In December 1921 a treaty was signed by the Irish and British authorities. While a clear level of independence was finally granted to Ireland the contents of the treaty were to split Irish public and political opinion. One of the sources of division was that Ireland was to be divided into Northern Ireland (6 counties) and the Irish Free State (26 counties) which was established in 1922.
Such was the division of opinion in Ireland that a Civil War followed from 1922 to 1923 between pro and anti treaty forces, with Collins (pro-treaty) and de Valera (anti-treaty) on opposing sides. The consequences of the Civil war can be seen to this day where the two largest political parties in Ireland have their roots in the opposing sides of the civil war – Fine Gael (pro-treaty) and Fianna Fáil (anti-treaty). A period of relative political stability followed the Civil war.
Under the same Government of Ireland Act of 1920 that created the Irish Free State, the Parliament of Northern Ireland was created. The Parliament consisted of a majority of Protestants and while there was relative stability for decades this was to come to an end in the late 1960s due to systematic discrimination against Catholics.
1968 saw the beginning of Catholic civil rights marches in Northern Ireland which led to violent reactions from some Protestant loyalists and from the police force. What followed was a period known as ‘the Troubles’ when nationalist/republican and loyalist/unionist groups clashed.
In 1969 British troops were sent to Derry and Belfast to maintain order and to protect the Catholic minority. However, the army soon came to be seen as a tool of the Protestant majority by the minority Catholic community. This was reinforced by events such as Bloody Sunday in 1972 when British forces opened fire on a Catholic civil rights march in Derry killing 13 people. An escalation of paramilitary violence followed with many atrocities committed by both sides. The period of ‘the Troubles’ are generally agreed to have finished with the Belfast (or Good Friday) Agreement of April 10th 1998.
Between 1969 and 1998 it is estimated that well over 3,000 people were killed by paramilitary groups on opposing sides of the conflict.
Since 1998 considerable stability and peace has come to Northern Ireland. In 2007 former bitterly opposing parties the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin began to co-operate in government together in Northern Ireland.
Republic of Ireland – 20th Century to present day
The 1937 Constitution re-established the state as the Republic of Ireland.
In 1973 Ireland joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union).
In the 1980s the Irish economy was in recession and large numbers of people emigrated for employment reasons. Many young people emigrated to the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia.
Economic reforms in the 1980s along with membership of the European Community (now European Union) created one of the world’s highest economic growth rates. Ireland in the 1990s, so long considered a country of emigration, became a country of immigration. This period in Irish history was called the Celtic Tiger.