Ireland Country Profile – Facts
Capital City: Dublin
Government: The executive power of the government of Ireland is held by a cabinet. The government is regulated by a constitution and led by a prime minister. Every member of the government must be a member of the Irish Parliament.
Main Languages: English and Irish (Gaelic)
Main Religions: Catholic (over 86%) with one of the highest attendance rates in the Western world.
Referred to as ‘the small country with the big reputation,’ Ireland is a land of breathtaking scenery and distinctive cultural traditions. Ireland (Éire) is an island nation in the North Atlantic, separated from the United Kingdom by the North Channel, Irish Sea and St. George's Channel. The country is divided, both geographically and politically, between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which forms part of the UK. Although both share the same land and cultural similarities, they are separate countries. Ireland is divided into four historical provinces – Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster and 26 counties. Despite its relatively small population of nearly 4.6 million, the Republic of Ireland is an advanced technological nation with a thriving economy. It is an EU member state and adopted the Euro in 2002. Ireland has a long history of emigration - over 80 million people worldwide claim Irish descent – which given the country a significant cultural presence around the world.
Ireland’s rich culture and gregarious and friendly people are instantly recognisable. This national character can best be summed up by the Irish enjoyment of ‘the craic’- deriving from the English word ‘crack’ - which encapsulates a passion for good conversation, fun and entertainment. Pubs play an important role in Irish culture and are central to many communities as places where people can listen to music, socialise and exchange ideas. Drawing on its long folk tradition and international influence, the country has one of Europe's liveliest music scenes and has produced literary titans such as Oscar Wilde and James Joyce.
The Irish are intensely sociable and meeting up in pubs, restaurants or each other's homes are among popular activities. The Irish love of music, storytelling and fun permeates many activities, with hundreds of live performances of traditional and modern music, dance and comedy held all over Ireland each year. Football and Rugby are the most followed sports and Gaelic football (a cross between rugby and football) is widely played and taught in many schools. Ireland's stunning countryside and rugged coastline also offer innumerable opportunities for outdoor pursuits such as hiking, cycling, climbing and fishing.
Food and Drink
Traditional Irish cuisine is characterised by hearty dishes such as stews accompanied by hunks of bread. The food most commonly associated with Ireland is the potato, which was introduced in the late 1500s and quickly became the mainstay of the Irish diet. A variety of seafood such as mussels, lobster and oysters are eaten in coastal areas but meat such as beef, lamb and bacon remains the first choice for a family meal. Dishes to sample include Irish Stew (slow cooked meat and vegetables) colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage and cream) and boxty (potato pancakes), best served with a fried breakfast of bacon, sausages and eggs.
The most popular beer in Ireland is Guinness, which is enjoyed by millions around the world. It is often said 'the closer you get to Dublin, the better the Guinness' and there is probably some truth to this considering the city is home to the world-famous Guinness Storehouse which attracts thousands of visitors every year. Irish whiskey, such as Jameson, is another popular tipple and is often used to ‘Irish up’ an after-dinner coffee.
It is a common misconception that English is the official language of Ireland. However, Irish (or Gaelic) is the ‘official’ first language and around a third of the population are Gaelic speakers. Gaelic is taught in primary schools across Ireland and it is also an official language of the European Union. It can still be heard across the country and throughout the shops, pubs, streets fairs and festivals of the Gaeltacht (Irish/Gaelic speaking) regions. All Irish road signs are in both English and Gaelic. Despite this, English is the most prevalent language and the majority of Irish people view English as their mother tongue.
Accents and Dialects
The Irish-English accent is famous for its lyrical qualities and has many variations, from the Scottish-influenced accent in northern County Donegal to the Gaelic-influenced accents of the south of the Republic. English is the primary language of Ireland but can vary greatly from the English heard in the UK. The Irish-English dialect is known as ‘Hiberno-English’ and has its own unique sounds and phrases. However, foreigners who speak English well will have no problem understanding Irish-English, which shares most of its grammar, spelling and pronunciation rules with British English.
Irish weather can be unpredictable and is a frequent topic of discussion among residents. The Irish climate is influenced by the Atlantic, which brings high rainfall (an average 99cm per year) and mild - but never extreme - temperatures. The summer months (May to July) see temperatures of around 17°C to 23°C and although temperatures frequently drop below 0°C in winter, snow is rare. Visitors to Ireland will often find themselves putting on sunglasses one moment and opening their umbrella the next, so be prepared for the changeable weather.
Safety and security
Ireland is a friendly, safe country with lower crime rates than many other European nations. The most common crime is theft, with burglaries, pickpocketing and car theft among the most prevalent. Although Ireland is a relatively safe country for visitors it’s a good idea to keep your eye on your personal belongings in large cities such as Dublin, where the crowded pubs and bars make handbags and wallets an easy target for thieves. If you need to contact the police, bear in mind that the Irish police force has a Gaelic name - Garda Síochána (Garda).