Fast Facts

Population:
4,125,000
Capital:
Dublin; 1,015,000
Area:
70,273 square kilometers (27,133 square miles)
Language:
English, Irish
Religion:
Roman Catholic
Currency:
Euro
Life Expectancy:
77
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $29,300
Literacy Percent:
99
Flag: Ireland
Map: Ireland

An island in the North Atlantic, Ireland features coastal mountains in the west and interior agricultural lowlands, with numerous hills, lakes, and bogs. The Republic of Ireland occupies about 83 percent of the island of Ireland—Northern Ireland, in the northeast, is part of the United Kingdom. Irish, or Irish Gaelic (a Celtic language), is the country's first official language and is taught in schools, but few native speakers remain. Éire (AIR-uh) is the Irish name for the Republic of Ireland. English is the second official language and is more common.

The object of waves of invasion from Europe, the Emerald Isle has been inhabited for 7,000 years. Celtic invaders from Europe came in the sixth century B.C. Tradition holds that, in A.D. 432, St. Patrick began converting the Irish to Christianity. England began seizing land in the 1100s, but many areas remained in Irish hands until the 16th century. In the 19th century Ireland's growing population was becoming ever more dependent on the potato for sustenance. The potato crop could not withstand the large amount of precipitation that fell year after year in the 1840s, causing blight and rotting the harvest. Death and emigration reduced the population from eight to six million by 1856, and it would fall further—today is about 5.9 million residents (4.2 million in the Republic of Ireland).

Eventually, in 1922, the Roman Catholic counties won independence, while mostly Protestant Northern Ireland remained under British control. Since independence, forces for and against uniting the island have claimed thousands of lives. In 1998 a peace agreement was signed by the Northern Ireland parties, Britain, and Ireland—with Ireland giving up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. The country's robust growth promotes trade, foreign investment, and industries such as electronics. In the south, the Waterford area enjoys a slightly sunnier climate and is a growing area for business and retirement.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Food products, brewing, textiles, clothing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals
  • Agriculture: Turnips, barley, potatoes, sugar beets; beef
  • Exports: Machinery and equipment, computers, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, live animals

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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