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Ireland at a Glance

Information on Geography, Population, Politics and Literature


The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

© 2004 Bernd Biege licensed to About.com, Inc.

Ireland at a glance? Just the facts? No problem - here is the most important data.


Ireland is an island west of mainland Europe, encircled by the Atlantic and the Irish Sea (which divides Ireland from Great Britain). The land mass is 32,595 square miles and shaped "saucer-like", the coastal areas being mountainous and the midlands low and flat.

Historically divided into four provinces, Ireland is further subdivided into 32 counties.

In addition the counties are further divided into baronies, those into townlands too numerous to mention. Just to confuse things a lot of townlands share the same placename.

The largest cities in Ireland are the capitals Dublin and Belfast. Ireland's longest river at 160 miles is the Shannon, Carrauntoohill in Kerry is the highest peak with 3,415 feet.


Since the 1920s Ireland has been politically divided into the "South" (nonetheless including the northernmost part of the island) and the six counties in the Northwest. 26 counties form the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

The Republic, officially named only éire or Ireland, is ruled by the dáil éireann in Dublin. TDs (teachta dála) are elected direct and the strongest party (or coalition) will form a government - currently a coalition of Fine Gael (FF, literally "United Ireland") and the Labour Party is in office. Head of government is the taoiseach (chieftain or leader; currently Enda Kenny, FG). Head of state, albeit in a mostly representative function, is the President (uachtarán na hÉireann, currently Mary McAleese). Apart from the dáil there still is the seanad éireann (Irish Senate; elected from a panel, by the universities or nominated by the taoiseach), both making up the oireachtas éireann (Irish Parliament). The Republic's parties represented in the current dáil are FG, Labour, Fianna Fail (FF, literally "warriors of destiny"), Sinn Féin (SF, literally "we ourselves"), the Socialist Party and the People Before Profit Alliance (not a party as such).

Northern Ireland is still largely being ruled from London, though a devolved, power-sharing local government is on its (wobbly) tracks. This will consist of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), led by the Peter Robinson as First Minister, and Sinn Fein, led by Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister.

Ireland is a member state of the UN and the EU. The Irish currency (punt) was replaced by the Euro. Northern Ireland as part of the UK is a member in the UN and the EU, but also the Commonwealth and NATO. The Pound Sterling is used.

The national flag of the Republic is the Tricolour of green-white-orange, Northern Ireland uses the British "Union Jack". While Northern Ireland has no specific national anthem ("God Save the Queen" is used), the Republic chose "The Soldier's Song" (1907 by Peadar Kearney and Patrick Heeney, Kearney's English lyrics were later translated by Liam Ó Rinn as Amhrán na bhFiann).


Northern Ireland has an estimated population of 1,700,000 and the preliminary figures from the 2006 census indicate a further 4,234,925 for the Republic. After decades an centuries of net population loss these figures are on the rise. In the case of the Republic this is partly due to a massive influx of migrants from Europe, Asia and (to a lesser extent) Africa.

The dominant religion by far is Roman-Catholicism in the Republic, directly opposed by Presbyterianism in Northern Ireland. The (Anglican) Church of Ireland is the third important church. Islam and Buddhism are on the rise but still very much minority religions, as are "fringe" Christian churches. The Jewish community is in a seemingly permanent state of decline.

Industry and Commerce

Industrialization began much later in Ireland than in the rest of Europe and was very much centred upon the North - in 1922 only ten percent of the workforce in the Free State were employed in manufacturing, as opposed to to nearly 40% in Northern Ireland. Both parts of Ireland have seen ups and downs in the economic development during the 20th century, but things have been picking up in the 1990s. With the "Celtic Tiger" (tax-breaks and other incentives attracting multinational companies) in the Republic and the peace process in Northern Ireland a new prosperity has been created. Ireland is the largest exporter of software and financial as well as customer support services are growth industries. Irish-owned industries are mainly food and drink, also textiles and clothing. Tourism accounts for a large proportion of the national income in the Republic, with tourism in Northern Ireland being on the rise too.


On a separate page you will find a short introduction to Irish history.


Irish literature is highly regarded around the world, with W.B. Yeats (1923), George Bernhard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Seamus Heaney (1995) being awarded the Nobel Prize. James Joyce is said to be one of the most important modern writers.

Other notable writers include Brendan Behan, Lady Eleanor Butler, Roddy Doyle, Oliver Goldsmith, Patrick Kavanagh, John B. Keane, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, C.S. Lewis, Frank McCourt, Charles Maturin, Edna O'Brien, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge and Oscar Wilde.

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