Ireland

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Posted by r2d2 05/04/2009 @ 08:12

Tags : ireland, europe, world

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Most Romanians intimidated in Belfast leaving city - The Associated Press
DUBLIN (AP) — More than 100 Romanian Gypsies who suffered racist attacks and intimidation in Belfast are being flown back home at taxpayer expense, the Northern Ireland government said Tuesday. Northern Ireland housing minister Margaret Ritchie said 25...
Clashes in Westminster over Ireland's EU guarantees - Irish Times
Reporting on the outcome of last week's EU summit in Brussels Mr Brown insisted in the House of Commons yesterday that the guarantees given to Ireland in negotiations with the EU would “clarify but not change” the treaty. Mr Brown said the new legal...
Ireland in the mix at event - Daily Pilot
By Steve Virgen When it comes to the Newport-Mesa area surely John Ireland is relevant. But tonight among an impressive group of guests at the All-Star Lowsman Banquet, the radio and TV sports reporter might just be as irrelevant as Ryan Succop....
Cricket Ireland must strive to organise more T20 games - Irish Times
And to hear skipper Younis Khan dedicate the victory to former coach Bob Woolmer, who died tragically the night after Ireland put Pakistan out of the 2007 World Cup, was particularly poignant. With no side willing to travel to Pakistan due to the...
Ireland 1-0 Malaysia - RTE.ie
Ireland's women took to the field early this morning to take on Malaysia in their third and final pool stage match where they secured a narrow victory which was enough to see them top their At Champions Challenge II Pool in Russia....
Cayman Islands and Ireland Sign Tax Information Exchange Agreement - HedgeCo.net
West Palm Beach (HedgeCo.net) - The Cayman Islands Government signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with Ireland at a ceremony held at the British Embassy in Berlin. Signing the agreement on behalf of the Cayman Islands was the Leader of...
Ireland to launch US commercial paper in July - Forbes
DUBLIN, June 23 (Reuters) - Ireland plans to diversify its sources of short-term borrowing by starting a new US commercial paper programme in July, the National Treasury Management Agency said on Tuesday. 'Ireland intends further diversifying its...
Funeral held for Irish couple killed in US - Chicago Tribune
AP KERRY, IRELAND - The funeral for an Irish couple killed in a traffic crash in the United States has been held in Kerry, Ireland. Tuesday's funeral was reported in the Irish Times. Fifty-year-old Joe O'Connell and his wife, 44-year-old Anne Coleman,...
N. Ireland: Teens held over attacks on Romanians - CNN International
(CNN) -- Two teenagers were arrested in connection with the alleged attacks last week on Romanians in Belfast, Northern Ireland, police said. Broken glass lies next to a house in Belfast after an attack on a Romanian family. The teenagers, aged 15 and...
Airfare deals to Mexico, Ireland, Norway, Israel, Portugal, and ... - Examiner.com
Shannon, Ireland – from $300 roundtrip ($504 roundtrip from Charlotte). Shannon is located on Ireland's rugged west coast, on the Atlantic Ocean. Oslo, Norway – from $728 roundtrip ($778 roundtrip from Charlotte). Oslo, the capital city of Norway,...

Ireland

The population of Ireland and Europe relative to population density showing the disastrous consequence of the Great Famine (1845-9).

Ireland (pronounced /ˈaɪɚlənd/ (help·info), locally ; Irish: Éire, Ulster Scots: Airlann, Latin: Hibernia) is the third-largest island in Europe, and the twentieth-largest island in the world. It lies to the north-west of continental Europe and is surrounded by hundreds of islands and islets. To the east of Ireland, separated by the Irish Sea, is the island of Great Britain. Politically, the sovereign country of Ireland (described as the Republic of Ireland) covers five-sixths of the island, with Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, covering the remainder in the north-east.

The first settlements in Ireland date from 8000 BC. By 200 BC Celtic migration and influence had come to dominate the island. Relatively small scale settlements of both the Vikings and Normans in the Middle Ages gave way to complete English domination by the 1600s. Protestant English rule resulted in the marginalisation of the Catholic majority, although in the north-east, Protestants were in the majority due to the Plantation of Ulster. Ireland became part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. A famine in the mid-1800s caused deaths and emigration. The Anglo-Irish War ended in 1921 with a stalemate and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, creating the Irish Free State, a Dominion within the British Empire, with effective internal independence but still constitutionally linked with the British Crown. Northern Ireland, consisting of six of the 32 Irish counties which had been established as a devolved region under the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, immediately exercised its option under the treaty to retain its existing status within the United Kingdom.The Free State left the Commonwealth to become a republic in 1949. In 1973 both parts of Ireland joined the European Community. Conflict in Northern Ireland led to much unrest from the late 1960s until the 1990s, which subsided following a peace deal in 1998.

The population of the island is slightly under 6 million (2006), with 4.2 million in the Republic and an estimated almost 1.75 million in Northern Ireland. This is a significant increase from a modern historical low in the 1960s, but still much lower than the peak population of over 8 million in the early 19th century, prior to the Great Famine.

The name Ireland derives from the name of the Celtic goddess Ériu (in modern Irish, Éire) with the addition of the Germanic word land. Most other western European names for Ireland, such as French Irlande, derive from the same source.

Traditionally, the island of Ireland is subdivided into four provinces: Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster; and, in a system developed between the 13th and 17th centuries, thirty-two counties. Twenty-six of the counties are in the republic, and six counties (six of Ulster's nine counties) are in Northern Ireland. "Ulster" is often used as a synonym for Northern Ireland, although Ulster and Northern Ireland are neither synonymous nor co-extensive, according to boundaries established in the early modern period, as three counties of Ulster (Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan) are part of the republic. Counties Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Tipperary have been broken up into smaller administrative areas, but are still considered by Ordnance Survey Ireland to be official counties. The counties in Northern Ireland are no longer used for local government, although their traditional boundaries are still used in sports (such as Gaelic games) and in some other cultural, ceremonial or tourism contexts.

The island operates as a single entity in a number of areas which transcend constitutional divisions. With a few notable exceptions, the island operates as a single unit in all major religious denominations, in many economic fields despite using two different currencies, and in sports such as hurling, Gaelic football, rugby (union and league), golf, cricket, baseball, american football and hockey.

An exception to this is soccer: following partition, the (previously all-island) Irish Football Association retained control of soccer only in Northern Ireland, with a separate Football Association of Ireland being formed for the remainder of the island. The creation of an all-island soccer league and a single international team (as is the case for rugby union) has been publicly touted by various prominent figures on the island in recent years, such as Irish government minister Dermot Ahern. More recently, there have been calls for an All-Ireland league, however due to contract commitments with sponsors and lack of interest between the two football associations this is unlikely in the near future. An all-Ireland club cup competition, the Setanta Cup, was created in 2005.

All major religious bodies are organised on an all-Ireland basis, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Anglican Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Some trade unions are also organised on an all-island basis and associated with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) in Dublin, while others in Northern Ireland are affiliated with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the United Kingdom, and some affiliate to both—although such unions may organise in both parts of the island as well as in Great Britain. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) organises jointly in Northern Ireland with the National Union of Students of the United Kingdom (NUS), under the name NUS-USI.

Strand 2 of the Belfast Agreement provides for all-Ireland co-operation in various guises. For example, a North-South Ministerial Council was established as a forum in which ministers from the Irish government and the Northern Ireland Executive can discuss matters of mutual concern and formulate all-Ireland policies in twelve "areas of co-operation", such as agriculture, the environment and transport. Six of these policy areas have been provided with implementation bodies, an example of which is the Food Safety Promotion Board. Tourism marketing is also managed on an all-Ireland basis, by Tourism Ireland.

Two political parties, Sinn Féin and the Irish Green Party, contest elections and hold legislative seats in both jurisdictions. The largest party in the Republic of Ireland, Fianna Fáil, registered with the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, and has considered extending its organisation into Northern Ireland, perhaps via a merger with another political party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

An increasingly large amount of commercial activity operates on an all-Ireland basis, a development that is in part facilitated by the two jurisdictions' shared membership of the European Union. There have been calls for the creation of an "all-island economy" from members of the business community and policy-makers on both sides of the border, so as to benefit from economies of scale and boost competitiveness in both jurisdictions. This is a stated aim of the Irish government and nationalist political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. One commercial area in which the island already operates largely as a single entity is the electricity market. and there are plans for the creation of an all-island gas market.

17 March is celebrated throughout the island of Ireland as St. Patrick's Day.

A ring of coastal mountains surrounds low central plains. The highest peak is Carrauntoohil (Irish: Corrán Tuathail) in County Kerry, which is 1,041 m (3,414 ft). The River Shannon, at 386 km (240 miles) is the longest river in Ireland. The island's lush vegetation, a product of its mild climate and frequent rainfall, earns it the sobriquet "Emerald Isle". The island's area is 84,412 km² (32,591 square miles).

Ireland's least arable land lies in the south-western and western counties. These areas are largely mountainous and rocky, with green panoramic vistas.

Overall, Ireland has a mild but changeable Oceanic climate with few extremes. The warmest recorded air temperature was 33.3 °C (91.94 °F) at Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny on 26 June 1887, whereas the lowest recorded temperature was −19.1 °C (−2.38 °F) at Markree Castle, County Sligo on 16 January 1881.

Other statistics show that the greatest recorded annual rainfall was 3,964.9 mm (156.1 in) in the Ballaghbeena Gap in 1960. The driest year on record was 1887, with only 356.6 mm (14.0 in) of rain recorded at Glasnevin, while the longest period of absolute drought was in Limerick where there was no recorded rainfall over 38 days during April and May 1938.

The climate is typically insular, and as a result of the moderating moist winds which ordinarily prevail from the South-Western Atlantic, it is temperate, avoiding the extremes in temperature of many other areas in the world at similar latitudes.

Precipitation falls throughout the year, but is light overall, particularly in the east. The west, however, tends to be wetter on average and prone to the full force of Atlantic storms, more especially in the late autumn and winter months, which occasionally bring destructive winds and high rainfall totals to these areas, as well as snow and hail. The regions of North Galway and East Mayo have the highest incidents of recorded lightning annually (5 to 10 days per year). Munster in the south records the least snow with Ulster in the north more prone to snow. Some areas along the south and southwest coasts have not had any lying snow since February 1991.

Inland areas are warmer in summer and colder in winter – there are usually around 40 days of below freezing temperatures (0 °C/32 °F) at inland weather stations, but only 10 days at coastal stations. Ireland is sometimes affected by heat waves, most recently in 1995, 2003, 2006.

Geologically the island consists of a number of provinces – in the far west around Galway and Donegal is a medium to high grade metamorphic and igneous complex of Caledonide (Scottish Highland) affinity. Across southeast Ulster and extending southwest to Longford and south to Navan is a province of Ordovician and Silurian rocks with more affinities with the Southern Uplands province of Scotland. Further south, there is an area along the Wexford coast of granite intrusives into more Ordovician and Silurian rocks with a more Welsh affinity.

In the southwest, around Bantry Bay and the mountains of Macgillicuddy's Reeks, is an area of substantially deformed but only lightly metamorphosed Devonian-aged rocks.

This partial ring of "hard rock" geology is covered by a blanket of Carboniferous limestone over the centre of the country, giving rise to the comparatively fertile and famously "lush" landscape of the country. The west coast district of The Burren around Lisdoonvarna has well developed karst features. Elsewhere, significant stratiform lead-zinc mineralisation is found in the limestones (around Silvermines and Tynagh).

Hydrocarbon exploration is ongoing. The first major find was the Kinsale Head gas field off Cork/Cobh by Marathon Oil in the mid-1970s. More recently, in 1999, Enterprise Oil announced the discovery of the Corrib Gas Field. This has increased activity off the west coast in parallel with the "West of Shetland" step-out development from the North Sea hydrocarbon province. The Helvick oil field, estimated to contain over 28 million barrels (4,500,000 m3) of oil, is another recent discovery.

Ireland has fewer animal and plant species than either Great Britain or mainland Europe because it became an island shortly after the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. Many different habitat types are found in Ireland, including farmland, open woodland, temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, conifer plantations, peat bogs, and various coastal habitats. According to the WWF, the territory of Ireland can be subdivided into two ecoregions: the Celtic broadleaf forests and North Atlantic moist mixed forests.

Only 26 land mammal species are native to Ireland, because it was isolated from Europe by rising sea levels after the Ice Age. Some species, such as the red fox, hedgehog, and badger are very common, whereas others, like the Irish hare, red deer and pine marten are less so. Aquatic wild-life, such as species of turtle, shark, whale, and dolphin, are common off the coast. About 400 species of birds have been recorded in Ireland. Many of these are migratory, including the Barn Swallow. Most of Ireland's bird species come from Iceland, Greenland, Africa among other territories. There are no snakes in Ireland and only one reptile (the common lizard) is native to the country. Extinct species include the great Irish elk, the wolf, the great auk, and others. Some previously extinct birds, such as the Golden Eagle, have recently been reintroduced after decades of extirpation.

Agriculture drives current land use patterns in Ireland, limiting natural habitat preserves, particularly for larger wild mammals with greater territorial needs. With no top predator in Ireland, populations of animals (such as semi-wild deer) that cannot be controlled by smaller predators (such as the fox) are controlled by annual culling.

Phytogeographically, Ireland belongs to the Atlantic European province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. Until mediæval times Ireland was heavily forested with oak, pine, beech and birch. Forests now cover about 9% (4,450 km² or one million acres) of the land. Because of its mild climate, many species, including sub-tropical species such as palm trees, are grown in Ireland. Much of the land is now covered with pasture, and there are many species of wild-flower. Gorse (Ulex europaeus), a wild furze, is commonly found growing in the uplands, and ferns are plentiful in the more moist regions, especially in the western parts of Ireland. It is home to hundreds of plant species, some of them unique to the island. The country has been "invaded" by some grasses, such as Spartina anglica.

The algal and seaweed flora is that of the cold-temperate. The total number of species is: 264 Rhodophyta; 152 Heterokontophyta; 114 Chloropyta; and 31 Cyanophyta, giving a total of 574. Rarer species include: Itonoa marginifera (J.Ag.) Masuda & Guiry); Schmitzia hiscockiana Maggs and Guiry; Gelidiella calcicola Maggs & Guiry; Gelidium maggsiae Rico & Guiry and Halymenia latifolia P.Crouan & H.Crouan ex Kützing. The country has been invaded by some algae, some of which are now well established: Asparagopsis armara Harvey – which originated in Australia and was first recorded by M. De Valera in 1939; Colpomenia peregrina Sauvageau – now locally abundant and first recorded in the 1930s; Sargassum muticum (Yendo) Fensholt – now well established in a number of localities on the south, west, and north-east coasts; Codium fragile ssp. fragile (formerly reported as ssp. tomentosum) – now well established. Codium fragile ssp. atlanticum has recently been established to be native, although for many years it was regarded as an alien species.

The long history of agricultural production coupled with modern intensive agricultural methods (such as pesticide and fertiliser use) has placed pressure on biodiversity in Ireland. "Runoff" of contaminants into streams, rivers and lakes impact the natural fresh-water ecosystems. A land of green fields for crop cultivation and cattle rearing limits the space available for the establishment of native wild species. Hedgerows however, traditionally used for maintaining and demarcating land boundaries, act as a refuge for native wild flora. Their ecosystems stretch across the countryside and act as a network of connections to preserve remnants of the ecosystem that once covered the island. Subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy which supported these agricultural practices are undergoing reforms. The CAP still subsidises some potentially destructive agricultural practices, however, the recent reforms have gradually decoupled subsidies from production levels and introduced environmental and other requirements.

Forest covers about 10% of the country, with most designated for commercial production. Forested areas typically consist of monoculture plantations of non-native species which may result in habitats that are not suitable for supporting a broad range of native species of invertebrates. Remnants of native forest can be found scattered around the country, in particular in the Killarney National Park. Natural areas require fencing to prevent over-grazing by deer and sheep that roam over uncultivated areas. This is one of the main factors preventing the natural regeneration of forests across many regions of the country.

A long cold climatic spell prevailed until the end of the last glacial period about 9,000 years ago, and most of Ireland was covered with ice. Sea-levels were lower then, and Ireland, as with its neighbour Britain, rather than being islands, were part of a greater continental Europe. Mesolithic stone age inhabitants arrived some time after 8000 BC. Agriculture arrived with the Neolithic circa 4500 to 4000 BC, when sheep, goats, cattle and cereals were imported from southwest continental Europe. At the Céide Fields in County Mayo, an extensive Neolithic field system – arguably the oldest in the world – has been preserved beneath a blanket of peat. Consisting of small fields separated from one another by dry-stone walls, the Céide Fields were farmed for several centuries between 3500 and 3000 BC. Wheat and barley were the principal crops.

The Bronze Age, which began around 2500 BC, saw the production of elaborate gold as well as bronze ornaments, weapons and tools. The Iron Age in Ireland was supposedly associated with people known as Celts. They are traditionally thought to have colonised Ireland in a series of waves between the 8th and 1st centuries BC, with the Gaels, the last wave of Celts, conquering the island and dividing it into five or more kingdoms. Many scientists and academic scholars now favour a view that emphasises cultural diffusion from overseas over significant colonisation such as what Clonycavan Man was reported to be.

The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia and/or Scotia. Ptolemy in AD 100 recorded Ireland's geography and tribes. Native accounts are confined to Irish poetry, myth, and archaeology. The exact relationship between Rome and the tribes of Hibernia is unclear; the only references are a few Roman writings.

In early medieval times, a monarch (also known as the High King) presided over the (then five: the fifth being Meath) provinces of Ireland. These provinces too had their own kings, who were at least nominally subject to the monarch, who resided at Tara. The written judicial system was the Brehon Law, and it was administered by professional learned jurists who were known as the Brehons.

According to early medieval chronicles, in 431, Bishop Palladius arrived in Ireland on a mission from Pope Celestine I to minister to the Irish "already believing in Christ." The same chronicles record that Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, arrived in 432. There is continued debate over the missions of Palladius and Patrick, but the general consensus is that they both existed.

The druid tradition collapsed in the face of the spread of the new religion. Irish Christian scholars excelled in the study of Latin and Greek learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished, preserving Latin and Greek learning during the Early Middle Ages. 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 dot the island. From the 9th century, waves of Viking raiders plundered monasteries and towns, adding to a pattern of endemic raiding and warfare. Eventually Vikings settled in Ireland, and established many towns, including the modern day cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford.

From 1169, Ireland was entered by Cambro-Norman warlords, led by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (Strongbow), on an invitation from the then King of Leinster. In 1171, King Henry II of England came to Ireland, using the 1155 Bull Laudabiliter issued to him by then Pope Adrian IV, to claim sovereignty over the island, and forced the Cambro-Norman warlords and some of the Gaelic Irish kings to accept him as their overlord. From the 13th century, English law began to be introduced. By the late 13th century the Norman-Irish had established the feudal system throughout most of lowland Ireland. Their settlement was characterised by the establishment of baronies, manors, towns and large land-owning monastic communities, and the county system. The towns of Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, New Ross, Kilkenny, Carlingford, Drogheda, Sligo, Athenry, Arklow, Buttevant, Carlow, Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Clonmel, Dundalk, Enniscorthy, Kildare, Kinsale, Mullingar, Naas, Navan, Nenagh, Thurles, Wicklow, Trim and Youghal were all under Norman-Irish control.

In the 14th century the English settlement went into a period of decline and large areas, for example Sligo, were re-occupied by Gaelic septs. The medieval English presence in Ireland (The Pale) was deeply shaken by the Black Death, which arrived in Ireland in 1348. From the late 15th century English rule was once again expanded, first through the efforts of the Earls of Kildare and Ormond then through the activities of the Tudor State under Henry VIII and Mary and Elizabeth. This resulted in the complete conquest of Ireland by 1603 and the final collapse of the Gaelic social and political superstructure at the end of the 17th century, as a result of English and Scottish Protestant colonisation in the Plantations of Ireland, and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the Williamite War in Ireland. Approximately 600,000 people, nearly half the Irish population, died during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Irish Catholics and nonconforming Protestants were barred from voting or attending the Irish Parliament. Under the penal laws (introduced from 1691) no Irish Catholic could sit in the Parliament of Ireland, even though some 90% of Ireland's population was native Irish Catholic. This ban was followed by others in 1703 and 1709 as part of a comprehensive system disadvantaging the Catholic community, and to a lesser extent, Protestant dissenters. The new English Protestant ruling class was known as the Protestant Ascendancy. Towards the end of the 18th century the (entirely Protestant) Irish Parliament attained a greater degree of independence from the British Parliament than it had previously held.

In 1798, many members of the Protestant dissenter tradition made common cause with Catholics in a rebellion inspired and led by the Society of United Irishmen. It was staged with the aim of creating a fully independent Ireland as a state with a republican constitution. Despite assistance from France the Irish Rebellion of 1798 was put down by British forces.

In 1800, the British and subsequently the Irish Parliament passed the Act of Union which, in 1801, merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament was achieved with substantial majorities, in part (according to contemporary documents) through bribery, namely the awarding of peerages and honours to critics to get their votes. Thus, Ireland became part of an extended United Kingdom, ruled directly by the UK Parliament in London.

The Great Famine, which began in the 1840s, caused the deaths of one million Irish people, and caused over a million to emigrate. By the late 1840s, as a result of the famine, half of all immigrants to the United States originated from Ireland. A total of 35 million Americans (12% of total population) reported Irish ancestry in the 2005 American Community Survey. Mass emigration became entrenched as a result of the famine and the population continued to decline until late in the 20th century. The pre-famine peak was over 8 million recorded in the 1841 census. The population has never returned to this level.

The 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of Irish nationalism among the Roman Catholic population. Daniel O'Connell led a successful campaign for Catholic Emancipation, which was passed by the United Kingdom parliament. A subsequent campaign for repeal of the Act of Union failed. Later in the century Charles Stewart Parnell and others campaigned for self-government within the Union or "Home Rule". Unionists, especially those located in the Northern part of the island, who considered themselves to be British as well as Irish, were strongly opposed to Home Rule, under which they felt they would be dominated by Catholic and Southern Irish interests. To prevent Home Rule the Ulster Volunteers were formed in 1913 under the leadership of Lord Carson. This was followed by the Irish Volunteers, formed in 1914 to support the enactment of the Home Rule Act, which was suspended on the outbreak of World War I. Under John Redmond the National Volunteers broke away from the Irish Volunteers to serve with the Irish regiments of the New British Army.

Armed rebellions, such as the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Irish War of Independence of 1919, occurred in this period. In 1921, a treaty was concluded between the British Government and the leaders of the Irish Republic. The Anglo-Irish Treaty recognised the two-state solution created in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Northern Ireland was presumed to form a home rule state within the new Irish Free State unless it opted out. Northern Ireland had a majority Protestant population and opted out as expected, choosing to rejoin the United Kingdom, incorporating, however, within its border a significant Catholic and nationalist minority. A Boundary Commission was set up to decide on the boundaries between the two Irish states, though it was subsequently abandoned after it recommended only minor adjustments to the border. Disagreements over some provisions of the treaty led to a split in the nationalist movement and subsequently to the Irish Civil War. The Civil War ended in 1923 with the defeat of the anti-treaty forces.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified by the Dáil in January 1922 by a vote of 64 - 57. The minority refused to accept the result and this resulted in the Irish Civil War, which lasted until 1923. On 6 December 1922, in the middle of the Civil War, the Irish Free State came into being. During its early years the new state was governed by the victors of the Civil War. However, in the 1930s Fianna Fáil, the party of the opponents of the treaty, was elected into government. The party proposed, and the electorate accepted in a referendum in 1937, a new constitution which renamed the state "Éire or in the English language, Ireland" (article 4 of the Constitution).

The state was neutral during World War II, which was known internally as The Emergency. It offered some assistance to the Allies, especially in Northern Ireland. It is estimated that around 50,000 volunteers from Éire/Ireland joined the British armed forces during the Second World War. In 1949, Ireland declared itself to be a republic.

Ireland experienced large-scale emigration in the 1950s and again in the 1980s. From 1987 the economy improved and the 1990s saw the beginning of unprecedented economic success, in a phenomenon known as the "Celtic Tiger". By 2007 it had become the fifth richest country (in terms of GDP per capita) in the world, and the second richest in the European Union, moving from being a net recipient of the budget to becoming a net contributor during the next budget round (2007–13), and from a country of net emigration to one of net immigration. In October 2006, there were talks between Ireland and the U.S. to negotiate a new immigration policy between the two countries, in response to the growth of the Irish economy and desire of many U.S. citizens who sought to move to Ireland for work.

Northern Ireland was created as an division of the United Kingdom by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. From 1921 until 1972, Northern Ireland enjoyed limited self-government within the United Kingdom, with its own parliament and prime minister.

In the first half of the 20th century, Northern Ireland was largely spared the strife of the Civil War, but there were sporadic episodes of inter-communal violence between nationalists and unionists during the decades that followed partition. Although the Irish Free State was neutral during World War II, Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom was not, and became involved in the British war effort (albeit without military conscription as it was introduced in Great Britain). Belfast suffered a bombing raid from the German Luftwaffe in 1941.

In elections to the 1921–1972 regional government, the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland each voted largely along sectarian lines, meaning that the Government of Northern Ireland (elected by "first past the post" from 1929) was controlled by the Ulster Unionist Party. Over time, the minority Catholic community felt increasingly alienated by the regional government, with further disaffection fuelled by practices such as gerrymandering of the local council in Derry, and discrimination against Catholics in housing and employment.

In the late 1960s nationalist grievances were aired publicly in mass civil rights protests, which were often confronted by loyalist counter-protests. The Government's reaction to confrontations was seen to be one-sided and heavy-handed, and law and order broke down as unrest and inter-communal violence increased.

In August 1969, the regional government requested that the British Army be deployed to aid the police, who were exhausted after several nights of serious rioting. In 1970, the paramilitary Provisional IRA, which favoured the creation of a united Ireland, was formed and began a campaign against what it called the "British occupation of the six counties". Other groups, on both the unionist side and the nationalist side, participated in the violence and the period known as "The Troubles" began, resulting in over 3,600 deaths over the subsequent three decades. Owing to the civil unrest during "The Troubles", the British government suspended home rule in 1972 and imposed "direct rule" from Westminster.

There were several (ultimately unsuccessful) political attempts to end "The Troubles", such as the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. In 1998, following a Provisional IRA ceasefire and multi-party talks, the Belfast Agreement was concluded and ratified by referendum. This agreement attempted to restore self-government to Northern Ireland on the basis of power-sharing between the two communities. Violence decreased greatly after the signing of the accord, and on 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA announced the end of its armed campaign and international weapons inspectors supervised what they currently regard as the full decommissioning of the Provisional IRA's weapons. The power-sharing assembly was suspended several times but restored from 8 May 2007.

From 2 August 2007, the British government officially ended its military support of the police in Northern Ireland, and began withdrawing troops (in 1972, British troops numbered more than 25,000 in Northern Ireland; after the withdrawal, a garrison of approximately 1,500 remain on garrison duty).

For an island with a relatively small population, Ireland has made a large contribution to world literature in all its branches, mainly in English. Poetry in Irish represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe with the earliest examples dating from the 6th century. Jonathan Swift, still often called the foremost satirist in the English language, was wildly popular in his day for works such as Gulliver's Travels and A Modest Proposal, and he remains so in modern times. More recently, Ireland has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Although not a Nobel Prize winner, James Joyce is widely considered one of the most significant writers of the 20th century; Samuel Beckett himself refused to attend his own Nobel award ceremony, in protest of Joyce not having received the award. Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses is considered one of the most important works of Modernist literature, and his life is celebrated annually on 16 June in Dublin as the Bloomsday celebrations.

The story of art in Ireland begins with Stone Age carvings found at sites such as Newgrange. It is traced through Bronze age artifacts, particularly ornamental gold objects, and the religious carvings and illuminated manuscripts of the mediæval period. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, a strong indigenous tradition of painting emerged, including such figures as John Butler Yeats, William Orpen, Jack Yeats and Louis le Brocquy.

Modern Irish literature is still often connected with its rural heritage, through writers like John McGahern and poets like Seamus Heaney.

In the performing arts, playwrights such as Seán O'Casey, Brian Friel, Sebastian Barry, Conor McPherson and Billy Roche have placed Ireland on the world stage. There is a thriving performing arts culture all over the country, performing international as well as Irish plays. In addition, Galway has An Taibhdhearc, the Irish Language Theatre established in 1928.

The Irish tradition of folk music and dance is known worldwide, not least through the phenomenon of Riverdance.

In the middle years of the 20th century, as Irish society was attempting to modernise, traditional music tended to fall out of favour, especially in urban areas. During the 1960s, and inspired by the American folk music movement, there was a revival of interest in the Irish tradition. This revival was led by such groups as The Dubliners, The Chieftains, Emmet Spiceland, The Wolfe Tones, the Clancy Brothers, Sweeney's Men, and individuals like Seán Ó Riada and Christy Moore.

Before too long, groups and musicians including Horslips, Van Morrison, and Thin Lizzy were incorporating elements of traditional music into a rock idiom to form a unique new sound. During the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of artists like U2, Enya, Flogging Molly, Moya Brennan, The Saw Doctors, Bell X1, Damien Rice, The Corrs, Aslan, Sinéad O'Connor, Clannad, The Cranberries, Rory Gallagher, Westlife, B*witched, BoyZone, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Black 47, VNV Nation, Rob Smith, Ash, The Thrills, Stars of Heaven, Something Happens, A House, Sharon Shannon, Damien Dempsey, Declan O' Rourke, The Frames and The Pogues.

During the 1990s, a subgenre of folk metal emerged in Ireland that fused heavy metal music with Irish and Celtic music. The pioneers of this subgenre were Cruachan, Primordial and Waylander.

Irish music has shown an immense increase in popularity with many attempting to return to their roots. Some contemporary music groups stick closer to a "traditional" sound, including Altan, Téada, Danú, Dervish, Lúnasa, and Solas. Others incorporate multiple cultures in a fusion of styles, such as Afro Celt Sound System and Kíla.

Ireland has done well in the Eurovision Song Contest, being the most successful country in the competition, with seven wins in 1970 with Dana, 1980 and 1987 with Johnny Logan, 1992 with Linda Martin, 1993 with Niamh Kavanagh, 1994 with Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan and in 1996 with Eimear Quinn.

Ireland has a rich history in science and is known for its excellence in scientific research conducted at its many universities and institutions. Noted particularly are Ireland's contributions to fiber optics technology and related technologies.

The Irish philosopher and theologian Johannes Scotus Eriugena (c. 815–877) was considered one of the leading intellectuals of his era. Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton CVO OBE, (15 February 1874 – 5 January 1922) was an Anglo-Irish explorer who was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He along with his expedition made the first ascent of Mount Erebus, and the discovery of the approximate location of the South Magnetic Pole, reached on 16 January 1909 by Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson, and Alistair MacKay.

Robert Boyle (1627–1691) was an Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, inventor and early gentleman scientist, largely regarded one of the founders of modern chemistry. He is best known for the formulation of Boyle's law, stating that the pressure and volume of an ideal gas are inversely proportional.

Irish physicist John Tyndall (1820-1893) discovered the Tyndall effect, explaining why the sky is blue.

Other notable Irish physicists include Ernest Walton (winner of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics with Sir John Douglas Cockcroft for splitting the nucleus of the atom by artificial means and contributions in the development of a new theory of wave equation), William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (or Lord Kelvin) which the absolute temperature unit Kelvin is named after. Sir Joseph Larmor a physicist and mathematician who made innovations in the understanding of electricity, dynamics, thermodynamics, and the electron theory of matter. His most influential work was Aether and Matter, a theoretical physics book published in 1900. George Johnstone Stoney (who introduced the term electron in 1891), John Stewart Bell (the originator of Bell's Theorem and a paper concerning the discovery of the Bell-Jackiw-Adler anomaly), who was nominated for a Nobel prize, mathematical physicist George Francis FitzGerald, Sir George Gabriel Stokes and many others.

Notable mathematicians include Sir William Rowan Hamilton (mathematician, physicist, astronomer and discoverer of quaternions), Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (influential in the development of neo-classical economics, including the Edgeworth box), John B. Cosgrave (specialist in number theory, former head of the mathematics department of St. Patrick's College and discoverer of a new 2000-digit prime number in 1999 and a record composite Fermat number in 2003) and John Lighton Synge (who made progress in different fields of science, including mechanics and geometrical methods in general relativity and who had mathematician John Nash as one of his students).

The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) was established in 1940 by the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera. In 1940, physicist Erwin Schrödinger received an invitation to help establish the Institute. He became the Director of the School for Theoretical Physics and remained there for 17 years, during which time he became a naturalized Irish citizen.

The most popular sports in Ireland are Gaelic Football and Association Football. Together with Hurling and Rugby, they make up the four biggest team sports in Ireland. Gaelic Football is the most popular in terms of match attendance and community involvement, and the All-Ireland Football Final is the biggest day in Ireland's sporting calendar. Association football, meanwhile, is the most commonly played team sport in Ireland and the most popular sport in which Ireland fields international teams. Furthermore, there is significant Irish interest in the English and (to a lesser extent) Scottish soccer leagues. Many other sports are also played and followed, particularly golf and horse racing but also show jumping, greyhound racing, swimming, boxing, basketball, cricket, fishing, handball, motorsport, tennis and hockey.

Hurling and Gaelic football, along with camogie, ladies' Gaelic football, handball and rounders, make up the national sports of Ireland, collectively known as Gaelic games. All Gaelic games are governed by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), with the exception of ladies' Gaelic football and camogie, which are governed by separate organisations. The GAA is organised on an all-Ireland basis with all 32 counties competing. The headquarters of the GAA (and the main stadium) is located at the 82,500 capacity Croke Park in north Dublin. Major GAA games are played there, including the semi-finals and finals of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. During the redevelopment of the Lansdowne Road stadium, international rugby and soccer are played there. All GAA players, even at the highest level, are amateurs, receiving no wages (although they are permitted to receive a certain amount of income from sources such as sponsorship, grants or scholarships).

The Irish Football Association (IFA) was originally the governing body for Association football throughout the island. The game has been played in Ireland since the 1860s (Cliftonville F.C. of Belfast being Ireland's oldest club) but remained a minority sport outside of Ulster until the 1880s. However, some clubs based outside Belfast felt that the IFA largely favoured Ulster-based, Protestant clubs in such matters as selection for the national team. Following an incident in which, despite an earlier promise, the IFA, for security reasons, moved an Irish Cup final replay from Dublin to Belfast, the clubs based in what would soon become the Free State set up a new Football Association of the Irish Free State (FAIFS) - now known as the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) - in 1921. Despite being initially blacklisted by the Home Nations' associations, the FAI was recognised by FIFA in 1923 and organised its first international fixture in 1926 (against Italy). However, both the IFA and FAI continued to select their teams from the whole of Ireland, with some players earning international caps for matches with both teams. Both also referred to their respective teams as "Ireland". In 1950, FIFA directed the associations only to select players from within their respective territories, and in 1953 FIFA further clarified that the FAI's team was to be known only as "Republic of Ireland", and the IFA's team only as "Northern Ireland" (with certain exceptions). Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup finals in 1958 (reaching the quarter-finals), 1982 and 1986. Team Republic qualified for the World Cup finals in 1990 (reaching the quarter-finals), 1994, 2002 and the European Championships in 1988.

The Irish rugby team includes players from north and south, and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) governs the sport on both sides of the border. Consequently in international rugby, the Ireland team represents the whole island. The Irish rugby team have played in every Rugby World Cup, making the quarter-finals at four of them. Ireland also hosted games during the 1991 and the 1999 Rugby World Cups (including a quarter-final). There are four professional provincial sides that contest the Magners League and Heineken Cup. Irish rugby has become increasingly competitive at both the international and provincial levels since the sport went professional in 1994. During that time, Ulster (1999) and Munster (2006 and 2008) have both won the Heineken Cup. The Ireland cricket team was among the associate nations which qualified for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, where it defeated Pakistan and finished second in its pool, earning a place in the Super 8 stage of the competition.

The Irish rugby league team is also organised on an all-Ireland basis. The team is made up predominantly of players based in England with Irish family connections, with others drawn from the local competition and Australia. Ireland reached the quarter-finals of the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.

As with rugby and Gaelic games, cricket, golf, tennis, rowing, hockey and most other sports are organised on an all-island basis. Greyhound racing and horse racing are both popular in Ireland: greyhound stadiums are well attended and there are frequent horse race meetings. The Republic is noted for the breeding and training of race horses and is also a large exporter of racing dogs. The horse racing sector is largely concentrated in the central east of the Republic. Boxing is also an all-island sport governed by the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. In 1992, Michael Carruth won a gold medal for boxing in the Barcelona Olympic Games. Irish athletics has seen some development in recent times, with Sonia O'Sullivan winning two notable medals at 5,000 metres; gold at the 1995 World Championships and silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Gillian O'Sullivan won silver in the 20k walk at the 2003 World Championships, while sprint hurdler Derval O'Rourke won gold at the 2006 World Indoor Championship in Moscow.

Golf is a popular sport in Ireland and golf tourism is a major industry. The 2006 Ryder Cup was held at The K Club in County Kildare. Pádraig Harrington became the first Irishman since Fred Daly in 1947 to win the British Open at Carnoustie in July 2007. He successfully defended his title in July 2008 before going on to win the PGA Championship in August. Harrington became the first European to win the PGA Championship in 78 years (Tommy Armour in 1930), and was the first winner from Ireland.

The west coast of Ireland, Lahinch and Donegal Bay in particular, have popular surfing beaches; being fully exposed to the Atlantic Ocean. Donegal Bay is shaped like a funnel and catches West/South-West Atlantic winds, creating good surf - especially in winter. In recent years, Bundoran has hosted European championship surfing. The south-west of Ireland, such as the Dingle Peninsula and Lahinch, also has surf beaches. Scuba diving is increasingly popular in Ireland with clear waters and large populations of sea life, particularly along the western seaboard. There are also many shipwrecks along the coast of Ireland, with some of the best wreck dives being in Malin Head and off the County Cork coast. With thousands of lakes, over 14,000 kilometres (8,700 mi) of fish bearing rivers, and over 3,700 kilometres (2,300 mi) of coastline, Ireland is a popular angling destination. The temperate Irish climate is suited to sport angling. While salmon and trout fishing remain popular with anglers, salmon fishing in particular received a boost in 2006 with the closing of the salmon driftnet fishery. Coarse fishing continues to increase its profile. Sea angling is developed with many beaches mapped and signposted, and in recent times the range of sea angling species has increased.

There are three World Heritage Sites on the island; these are the Bend of the Boyne, Skellig Michael and the Giant's Causeway. A number of other places are on the tentative list, for example the Burren 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.

Dublin is the most heavily touristed region, and home to several top attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse and Book of Kells. The west and south west (including the Killarney and Dingle regions in County Kerry, and Galway and the Aran Islands) are also popular tourist destinations.

The 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, are of interest to tourists, and those converted into hotels, such as Ashford Castle, Castle Leslie and Dromoland Castle can be enjoyed as accommodation.

Blarney Castle.

Giant's Causeway.

Killarney National Park.

Ireland has been inhabited for at least 9,000 years, although little is known about the paleolithic and neolithic inhabitants of the island (other than by inference from genetic research in 2004 that challenges the idea of migration from central Europe and proposes a flow along the Atlantic coast from Spain). Early historical and genealogical records note the existence of dozens of different peoples that may or may not be "mythological" (Cruithne, Attacotti, Conmaicne, Eóganachta, Érainn, Soghain, to name but a few).

During the past 1,000 years or so, Vikings, Normans, Scots and English have all added to the indigenous gene pool.

Ireland's largest religious group is the Catholic Church (over 73% for the entire island, and about 86.8% for the Republic), and most of the rest of the population adhere to one of the various Protestant denominations. The largest is the Anglican Church of Ireland. The Irish Muslim community is growing, mostly through increased immigration (see Islam in Ireland). The island also has a small Jewish community (see History of the Jews in Ireland). Over 4% of the Republic's population describe themselves as of no religion.

Ireland has for centuries been a place of emigration, particularly to England, Scotland, the United States, Canada, and Australia, see Irish diaspora. With growing prosperity, Ireland has become a place of immigration instead. Since joining the EU in 2004, Polish people have been the largest source of immigrants (over 150,000) from Central Europe, followed by other immigrants from Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Latvia.

Ireland's high standard of living, high wage economy and EU membership attract many migrants from the newest of the European Union countries: Ireland has had a significant number of Romanian immigrants since the 1990s. In recent years, mainland Chinese have been migrating to Ireland in significant numbers (up to 100,000). Nigerians, along with people from other African countries have accounted for a large proportion of the non-European Union migrants to Ireland.

Ireland is multilingual but predominantly English-speaking, with Irish, the first official language of the Republic, the second most commonly spoken language. In the North, English is the de facto official language, but official recognition is afforded to both Irish and Ulster-Scots language. All three languages are spoken on both sides of the border. In recent decades, with the increase of immigration on an all-Ireland basis, many more languages have been introduced, particularly deriving from Asia and Eastern Europe, such as Chinese, Polish, Russian, Turkish and Latvian.

After Dublin (1.7m in Greater Dublin), Ireland's largest cities are Belfast (600,000 in Belfast Metropolitan Area), Cork (380,000 in Greater Cork), Derry (110,000 in Derry Urban Area), Limerick (93,321 including suburbs), Galway (71,983), Lisburn (71,465), Waterford (49,240 including suburbs), Newry (27,433), Kilkenny (23,967 incl. suburbs) and Armagh (14,590).

There are five main international airports in Ireland: Dublin Airport, Belfast International Airport (Aldergrove), Cork Airport, Shannon Airport and Ireland West Airport (Knock). Dublin Airport is the busiest airport in Ireland, carrying over 22 million passengers per year; a new terminal and runway is now under construction, costing over €2 billion. All provide services to Great Britain and continental Europe, while Belfast International, Dublin, Shannon and Ireland West (Knock) also offer a range of transatlantic services. Shannon was once an important stopover on the trans-Atlantic route for refuelling operations and, with Dublin, is still one of the Ireland's two designated transatlantic gateway airports.

There are several smaller regional airports: George Best Belfast City Airport, City of Derry Airport (Eglinton), Galway Airport, Kerry Airport (Farranfore), (Knock), Sligo Airport (Strandhill), Waterford Airport, and Donegal Airport (Carrickfinn). Scheduled services from these regional points are mostly limited to the rest of Ireland and Great Britain.

Airlines in Ireland include: Aer Lingus (the national airline of Ireland), Ryanair, Aer Arann and CityJet.

The rail network in Ireland was developed by various private companies, some of which received (British) Government funding in the late 19th century. The network reached its greatest extent by 1920. The broad gauge of 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) was eventually settled upon throughout the island, although there were also hundreds of kilometres of 914 mm (3 ft) narrow gauge railways.

Long distance passenger trains in the Republic are managed by Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) and connect most major towns and cities across the country.

In Dublin, two local rail networks provide transportation in the city and its immediate vicinity. The Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) links the city centre with coastal suburbs, while a new light rail system named Luas, opened in 2004, transports passengers to the central and western suburbs. Several more Luas lines are planned as well as an eventual upgrade to metro. The DART is run by Iarnród Éireann while the Luas is being run by Veolia under franchise from the Railway Procurement Agency (R.P.A.).

Under the Irish government's Transport 21 plan, reopening the Navan-Clonsilla rail link, the Cork-Midleton rail link and the Western Rail Corridor are amongst plans for Ireland's railways.

In Northern Ireland, all rail services are provided by Northern Ireland Railways (N.I.R.), part of Translink. Services in Northern Ireland are sparse in comparison to the rest of Ireland or Britain. A large railway network was severely curtailed in the 1950s and 1960s (in particular by the Ulster Transport Authority). The current situation includes suburban services to Larne, Newry and Bangor, as well as services to Derry. There is also a branch from Coleraine to Portrush. Waterside Station in Derry is the main railway station for Derry as well as County Donegal in Ireland, which no longer has a rail network.

Ireland also has one of the largest dedicated freight railways in Europe, operated by Bord na Móna. This company has narrow gauge railways totalling nearly 1,400 kilometres (870 miles).

Motorists must drive on the left in Ireland, as in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Japan, and a number of other countries. Tourists driving on the wrong side of the road cause serious accidents every year. The island of Ireland has an extensive road network, with a (developing) motorway network fanning out from Belfast, Cork and Dublin. Historically, land owners developed most roads and later Turnpike Trusts collected tolls so that as early as 1800 Ireland had a 16,100 km (10,000 mi) road network.

In recent years the Irish Government launched Transport 21 which is the largest investment project ever in Ireland's transport system - with €34 billion being invested from 2006 until 2015. Work on a number of road projects has already commenced while a number of objectives have already been completed. The Transport 21 plan can largely be divided into five categories, Metro / Luas, Heavy rail, roads, buses and airports. The plan for Transport 21 was announced on 1 November 2005 by the then Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen.

The year 1815 marked the inauguration of the first horsecar service from Clonmel to Thurles and Limerick run by Charles Bianconi. Now, the main bus companies are Bus Éireann in the Republic and Ulsterbus, a division of Translink, in Northern Ireland, both of which offer extensive passenger service in all parts of the island. Dublin Bus specifically serves the greater Dublin area, and a further division of Translink called Metro, operates services within the greater Belfast area. Translink also operate Ulsterbus Foyle in the Derry Urban Area.

All speed limit signs in the Republic changed to the metric system in 2005. Some direction signs still show distance in miles. Use of imperial measurements are usually limited to pints of beer in pubs, and informal measurement of human height (feet and inches) and human weight (usually stones, but pounds and ounces for infants).

For much of their existence electricity networks in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were entirely separate. Both networks were designed and constructed independently, but are now connected with three interlinks and also connected through Britain to mainland Europe. The Electricity Supply Board (ESB) in the Republic drove a rural electrification programme in the 1940s until the 1970s.

Ireland, north and south has faced difficulties in providing continuous power at peak load. The situation in the North is complicated by the issue of private companies not supplying NIE with enough power, while in the South, the ESB has failed to modernise its power stations. In the latter case, availability of power plants has averaged 66% recently, one of the worst such figures in Western Europe.

The natural gas network is also now all-Ireland, with an interconnector from Antrim to Scotland, and a further two interconnectors from Dublin to Britain. Most of Ireland's gas now comes through the interconnectors with a decreasing supply from the Kinsale field. The Corrib Gas Field off the coast of County Mayo has yet to come online, and is facing some localised opposition over the controversial decision to refine the gas onshore.

There have been recent efforts in Ireland to use renewable energy such as wind energy with large wind farms being constructed in coastal counties such as Donegal, Mayo and Antrim. What will be the world's largest offshore wind farm is currently being developed at Arklow Bank off the coast of Wicklow. It is predicted to generate 10% of Ireland's energy needs when it is complete. These constructions have in some cases been delayed by opposition from locals, most recently on Achill Island, some of whom consider the wind turbines to be unsightly. Another issue in the Republic of Ireland is the failure of the aging network to cope with the varying availability of power from such installations. The ESB's Turlough Hill is the only energy storage mechanism in Ireland.

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Ireland national rugby league team

Brian Carney was instrumental in Ireland's plan before his switch to Rugby Union

The Ireland national rugby league team, is the professional rugby league team representing Ireland. Ireland are classified an affiliate nation of the Rugby League International Federation. The professional team is dominated by players from Super League and sometimes includes players from the Australian NRL. Ireland is also represented by the Ireland A Wolfhounds which is made up of players from the domestic Irish competition.

Since Ireland began competing in international Rugby League in 1995, it has participated in the Emerging Nations Tournament (1995), Super League World Nines (1996), World Cup (2000 and 2008), European Nations Cup (since 2003) and Victory Cup (2004). The Ireland A Wolfhounds compete annually in the Amateur Four Nations competition (since 2002) and the St Patrick's Day Challenge (1995-2004). The name is taken from the ancient dog breed, the Irish Wolfhound.

At this stage, most of the players are foreign-born, mostly coming from Australia and the north of England, and qualify to play for Ireland via ancestry. Phil Coles, a former Newcastle Knights colt and John Sharpe, a rugby union convert, are examples of amateur players to have competed in all of these competitions for Ireland. Irish players have also been selected to play for the Great Britain side, one recent example being Cork-born Brian Carney.

Ireland faced Lebanon and Russia in Europe Pool Two. Ireland topped the group with a 16-16 draw with Lebanon at Dewsbury on 2 November 2007. The draw meant Ireland qualified for the 2008 World Cup on points difference from Lebanon as both nations gained the same number of group points.

At the World Cup in Australia, Ireland were in Group C along with Tonga and Samoa. They faced Tonga on 27 October in Parramatta, Sydney, then went up against Samoa, again in Parramatta, on 5 November. As the group winners, they played the Fiji, winners of Group B, for a chance to qualify for the semi-final. Fiji won 30-14.

Ireland formed its very first competitive team to play against the USA in Washington on St. Patrick's Day in 1995. Ireland won 24-22 with Wigan legend Joe Lydon coming on as a replacement. He had gone to the US as a manager but was drafted in to play. Terry Flanagan, Huddersfield coach and former Great Britain player, along with Niel Wood, Director of British Student Rugby League, coached the team. In August 1995 Ireland beat Scotland at the RDS in Dublin. The game was played as a curtain raiser to the British Charity Shield encounter between Wigan and Leeds. The Irish team that day included former Great Britain player Des Foy. These two victories ensured that Ireland were included in the Emerging Nations World Cup in the Autumn of 1995. Coached again by Flanagan and Wood, the Ireland team beat Moldova and Morocco but lost 22-6 to the Cook Islands in the final held at Gigg Lane, Bury in England. In February 1996 a Senior Irish squad travelled to Fiji to participate in the Inaugural Super League World Nines. Ireland managed to finish 8th out of 16 nations. During the tournament Ireland played Japan, France, New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga. Following discussions between Mal Meninga and Ireland's Niel Wood (this was actually a game of touch football as final preparation for the Nines Tournament which started the next day), an unofficial 'test' was organised between Ireland and the World Champions, Australia on 20 February 1996. The match was played at the Fiji National Stadium and was won by Australia 20-12. Australians playing that day included: Laurie Daley (Capt.), Ricky Stuart, Andrew Ettinghausen, Brett Mullins, Wendell Sailor, Jason Hetherington, Simon Gillies, Robbie Beckett, Mark Geyer and Steve Renouf. In 1996 a second St. Patrick's Day match was played against the USA. Try scorers that day were Thomas "Tom" McCabe and Des Foy. Phelim Comerford kicked 3 goals to ensure another 2 point victory by 14-12. In August 1996 the Ireland team lined out against Scotland and were beaten 26-6. Both teams fielded a few professionals: Scotland included Alan Tait, Matt Crowther, Danny Russell and Darren Shaw.

The Ireland team included Martin Crompton, Bernard Dwyer and James Lowes. The rest of the Irish team was made up of a few professionals from the lower divisions in England, a couple of ex-professionals, a few amateurs from the English amateur leagues and players from the fledgling Irish domestic competition. 1997 saw more England-based Super League players making themselves available by use of the grandparent rule. The Irish team improved its standards but this development gave less opportunity for Irish-based players to get a chance to play. However, Irish-based players were included in the Irish squad for the triangular tournaments in 1998 against France and Scotland and 1999 against Scotland and Wales. Their success was enough to earn a place in the 2000 World Cup. Finishing top of their group, the Irish eventually lost 26-16 to England in the quarter-finals, but the performance set the scene for future developments in Ireland.

Ireland has played in 22 full internationals, winning 14 and losing 7 with 1 draw. As it is not a full member of the Rugby League International Federation, these matches are not considered to be tests. Ireland has also played friendlies against USA, Scotland and Australia that are not included in these results.

The Ireland A Wolfhounds team is selected from players in the Irish domestic competition. This team is administered by Rugby League Ireland.

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Northern Ireland

Location of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland (Irish: Tuaisceart Éireann, Ulster Scots: Norlin Airlann) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland. It shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west. At the time of the 2001 UK Census, its population was 1,685,000, constituting between a quarter and a third of the island's total population and about 3% of the population of the UK.

Northern Ireland consists of six of the traditional nine counties of the historic Irish province of Ulster. It was created as a distinct subdivision of the UK on 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, though its constitutional roots lie in the 1800 Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. For over 50 years it had its own devolved government and parliament. These institutions were suspended in 1972 and abolished in 1973. Repeated attempts to restore self-government finally resulted in the establishment of the present-day Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly operates on consociational democracy principles requiring cross-community support.

Northern Ireland was for many years the site of a violent and bitter ethno-political conflict ("The Troubles") between those claiming to represent Nationalists, who are predominantly Roman Catholic, and those claiming to represent Unionists, who are predominantly Protestant. In general, Nationalists want Northern Ireland to be politically reunited with the rest of Ireland, while Unionists, who form a small majority, want it to remain part of the United Kingdom. In general, Unionists consider themselves British (or "Ulstermen") and Nationalists see themselves as Irish, though these identities are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Since the signing of the Belfast Agreement (or "Good Friday Agreement") in 1998, most of the paramilitary groups involved in the Troubles have ceased their armed campaigns.

For events before 1922 see Ulster or History of Ireland.

The area that is now Northern Ireland has had a diverse history. From serving as the bedrock of Irish resistance in the era of the plantations of Queen Elizabeth and James I in other parts of Ireland, it became the subject of major planting of Scottish and English settlers after the Flight of the Earls in 1607 (when the Gaelic aristocracy fled to Catholic Europe).

The all-island Kingdom of Ireland (1541—1801) merged into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801 under the terms of the Act of Union, under which the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain merged under a government and monarchy based in London. In the early 20th century, Unionists led by Sir Edward Carson opposed the introduction of Home Rule in Ireland. Unionists were in a minority on the island of Ireland as a whole, but were a majority in the northern province of Ulster, a very large majority in the counties of Antrim and Down, small majorities in the counties of Armagh and Londonderry, with substantial numbers also concentrated in the nationalist-majority counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. These six counties, containing an overall unionist majority, would later form Northern Ireland.

The clash between the House of Commons and House of Lords over the controversial budget of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd-George produced the Parliament Act 1911, which enabled the veto of the Lords to be overturned. Given that the Lords had been the unionists' main guarantee that a home rule act would not be enacted, because of the majority of pro-unionist peers in the House, the Parliament Act made Home Rule a more likely prospect. Opponents to Home Rule, from Conservative Party leaders like Andrew Bonar Law to militant unionists in Ireland, threatened the use of violence, producing the Larne Gun Running incident in 1914, when they smuggled thousands of rifles and rounds of ammunition from Imperial Germany for the Ulster Volunteers. The prospect of civil war in Ireland loomed.

In 1914, the Third Home Rule Act, which contained provision for a temporary partition, received the Royal Assent. Its implementation was suspended for the duration of the intervening First World War, which was expected to last only a few weeks, but, in fact, lasted four years.

By the end of the war, the Act was seen as dead in the water, with public opinion in the majority nationalist community having moved from a demand for home rule to something more substantial: independence. David Lloyd George proposed in 1919 a new bill which would divide Ireland into two Home Rule areas, twenty-six counties being ruled from Dublin, six being ruled from Belfast, with a shared Lord Lieutenant of Ireland appointing both executives and a Council of Ireland, which Lloyd George believed would evolve into an all-Ireland parliament.

The island of Ireland was partitioned in 1921 under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Six of the nine Ulster counties in the north-east formed Northern Ireland and the remaining three counties (including County Donegal, despite it having a large Protestant minority as well as it being the most northern county in all of Ireland) joined those of Leinster, Munster and Connacht to form Southern Ireland. Whilst Southern Ireland had only a brief existence between 1921 and 1922, a period dominated by the Anglo-Irish War and its aftermath, Northern Ireland was to continue on.

Northern Ireland provisionally became an autonomous part of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922. However, as expected, the Parliament of Northern Ireland chose, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, to opt out of the Irish Free State the following day. Shortly after Northern Ireland had exercised its opt out of the Irish Free State, a Boundary Commission was established to decide on the territorial boundaries between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Though leaders in Dublin expected a substantial reduction in the territory of Northern Ireland (with nationalist border areas moving to the Free State), the Boundary Commission decided against this; in fact the unpublished report had recommended that land should be ceded from Southern Ireland to Northern Ireland. To prevent argument, this report was suppressed, and the initial 6-county border was approved by the Dáil in Dublin on 10 December 1925 by a vote of 71 to 20.

In June 1940, to encourage the Irish state to join with the Allies, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill indicated to the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity, but believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer. (The British did not inform the Northern Ireland government that they had made the offer to the Dublin government, and De Valera's rejection was not publicised until 1970).

The Ireland Act 1949 gave the first legal guarantee to the Parliament and Government that Northern Ireland would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without consent of the majority of its citizens.

The Troubles, starting in the late 1960s, consisted of about thirty years of recurring acts of intense violence between elements of Northern Ireland's nationalist community (principally Roman Catholic) and unionist community (principally Protestant) during which 3,254 people were killed. The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the domination of the minority nationalist community, and discrimination against them, by the unionist majority. The violence was characterised by the armed campaigns of paramilitary groups, including the Provisional IRA campaign of 1969-1997 which was aimed at the end of British rule in Northern Ireland and the creation of a new "all-Ireland" or "thirty-two county", Irish Republic, and the Ulster Volunteer Force, formed in 1966 in response to the perceived erosion of both the British character and unionist domination of Northern Ireland. The state security forces--the British Army and the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary)--were also involved in the violence. The British government's point of view is that its forces were neutral in the conflict, trying to uphold law and order in Northern Ireland and the right of the people of Northern Ireland to democratic self-determination. Irish republicans, however, regarded the state forces as "combatants" in the conflict, alleging collusion between the state forces and the loyalist paramilitaries as proof of this. The "Ballast" investigation by the Police Ombudsman has confirmed that British forces, and in particular the RUC, did collude with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and did obstruct the course of justice when such claims had previously been investigated, although the extent to which such collusion occurred is still hotly disputed. See also the section below on Collusion by Security Forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

As a consequence of the worsening security situation, autonomous regional government for Northern Ireland was suspended in 1972. Alongside the violence, there was a political deadlock between the major political parties in Northern Ireland, including those who condemned violence, over the future status of Northern Ireland and the form of government there should be within Northern Ireland. A plebiscite within Northern Ireland on whether it should remain in the United Kingdom, or form part of a united Ireland, was held in 1973. The vote went heavily in favour (98.9%) of maintaining the status quo with approximately 57.5% of the total electorate voting in support, but only 1% of Catholics voted following a boycott organised by the SDLP.

The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process which included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organisations and the complete decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of army troops from the streets and from sensitive border areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh, as agreed by the signatories to the Belfast Agreement (commonly known as the "Good Friday Agreement"). This reiterated the long-held British position, which had never before been fully acknowledged by successive Irish governments, that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom until a majority votes otherwise. Bunreacht na hÉireann, the constitution of the Irish state, was amended in 1999 to remove a claim of the "Irish nation" to sovereignty over the whole of Ireland (in Article 2), a claim qualified by an acknowledgement that Ireland could only exercise legal control over the territory formerly known as the Irish Free State. The new Articles 2 and 3, added to the Constitution to replace the earlier articles, implicitly acknowledge that the status of Northern Ireland, and its relationships within the rest of the United Kingdom and with Ireland, would only be changed with the agreement of a majority of voters in both jurisdictions Ireland (voting separately). This aspect was also central to the Belfast Agreement which was signed in 1998 and ratified by referenda held simultaneously in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. At the same time, the British Government recognised for the first time, as part of the prospective, the so-called "Irish dimension": the principle that the people of the island of Ireland as a whole have the right, without any outside interference, to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent. The latter statement was key to winning support for the agreement from nationalists and republicans. It also established a devolved power-sharing government within Northern Ireland where the government must consist of both unionist and nationalist parties.

These institutions were suspended by the British Government in 2002 after Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) allegations of spying by people working for Sinn Féin at the Assembly (Stormontgate). The resulting case against the accused Sinn Féin member collapsed.

On 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign and has since decommissioned what is thought to be all of its arsenal. This final act of decommissioning was performed in accordance with the Belfast Agreement of 1998, and under the watch of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and two external church witnesses. Many unionists, however, remain sceptical. This IRA decommissioning is in contrast to Loyalist paramilitaries who have so far refused to decommission many weapons. It is not thought that this will have a major effect on further political progress as political parties linked to Loyalist paramilitaries do not attract significant support and will not be in a position to form part of a government in the near future. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, with their (real and perceived) links to militant republicanism, are the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.

Politicians elected to the Assembly at the 2003 Assembly Election were called together on 15 May 2006 under the Northern Ireland Act 2006 for the purpose of electing a First Minister of Northern Ireland and a deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and choosing the members of an Executive (before 25 November 2006) as a preliminary step to the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Following the election held on 7 March 2007, devolved government returned to Northern Ireland on 8 May 2007 with DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin deputy leader Martin McGuinness taking office as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively.The current First Minister Is Peter Robinson, having taken over as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Northern Ireland has devolved government within the United Kingdom. There is a Northern Ireland Executive together with the 108 member Northern Ireland Assembly to deal with devolved matters with the UK Government and UK Parliament responsible for reserved matters. Elections to the Assembly are by single transferable vote with 6 representatives elected for each of the 18 Westminster constituencies.

Northern Ireland elects 18 Members of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons; only 13 take their seats, however, as the 5 Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take the oath to serve the Queen that is required of all MPs. The Northern Ireland Office represents the UK government in Northern Ireland on reserved matters and represents Northern Irish interests within the UK government. The Northern Ireland office is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland is a distinct legal jurisdiction, separate from England and Wales and Scotland.

The main political divide in Northern Ireland is between Unionists who wish to see Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom and Nationalists or Republicans who wish to see Northern Ireland join the rest of Ireland, independent from the United Kingdom. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions. Unionists are overwhelmingly Protestant, descendants of mainly Scottish, English, Welsh and Huguenot settlers as well as indigenous Irishmen who had converted to one of the Protestant denominations. Nationalists are predominantly Catholic and descend from the population predating the settlement, with a minority from Scottish Highlanders as well as some converts from Protestantism. Discrimination against nationalists under the Stormont government (1921–1972) gave rise to the nationalist civil rights movement in the 1960s. Some Unionists argue that any discrimination was not just because of religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors. Whatever the cause, the existence of discrimination, and the manner in which Nationalist anger at it was handled, was a major contributing factor which led to the long-running conflict known as the Troubles. The political unrest went through its most violent phase between 1968 and 1994.

The population of Northern Ireland was estimated as being 1,759,000 on 10 December 2008. In the 2001 census, 45.6% of the population identified as belonging to Protestant denominations (of which 20.7% Presbyterian, 15.3% Church of Ireland), 40.3% identified as Catholic, 0.3% identified with non-Christian religions and 13.9% identified with no religion. In terms of community background, 53.1% of the Northern Irish population came from a Protestant background, 43.8% came from a Catholic background, 0.4% from non-Christian backgrounds and 2.7% non-religious backgrounds. The population is forecast to pass the 1.8 million mark by 2011.

36% of the present-day population define themselves as Unionist, 24% as Nationalist and 40% define themselves as neither. According to a 2007 opinion poll, 66% express long term preference of the maintenance of Northern Ireland's membership of the United Kingdom (either directly ruled or with devolved government), while 23% express a preference for membership of a united Ireland. This discrepancy can be explained by the overwhelming preference among Protestants to remain a part of the UK (89%), while Catholic preferences are spread across a number of solutions to the constitutional question including remaining a part of the UK (39%), a united Ireland (47%), Northern Ireland becoming an independent state (6%), and those who "don't know" (7%). Official voting figures, which reflect views on the "national question" along with issues of candidate, geography, personal loyalty and historic voting patterns, show 54% of Northern Ireland voters vote for Pro-Unionist parties, 42% vote for Pro-Nationalist parties and 4% vote "other". Opinion polls consistently show that the election results are not necessarily an indication of the electorate's stance regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Most of the population of Northern Ireland are at least nominally Christian. The ethno-political loyalties are allied, though not absolutely, to the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations and these are the labels used to categorise the opposing views. This is, however, becoming increasingly irrelevant as the Irish Question is very complicated. Many voters (regardless of religious affiliation) are attracted to Unionism's conservative policies, while other voters are instead attracted to the traditionally leftist, nationalist Sinn Féin and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and their respective party platforms for Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy. For the most part, Protestants feel a strong connection with Great Britain and wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Catholics generally aspire to a United Ireland, or are less certain about how to solve the constitutional question. In the 2007 survey by Northern Ireland Life and Times, 39% of Northern Irish Catholics supported Northern Ireland remaining a part of the United Kingdom, either by direct rule (4%) or devolved government (35%).

Protestants have a slight majority in Northern Ireland, according to the latest Northern Ireland Census. The make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly reflects the appeals of the various parties within the population. Of the 108 MLA's, 55 are Unionists and 44 are Nationalists (the remaining nine are classified as "other").

The 1998 Belfast Agreement between the British and Irish governments provides that: it is the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

As a result of the Agreement, the Constitution of Ireland was amended so that people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to be Irish citizens on the same basis as people from any other part of the island of Ireland.

Neither government, however, extends its citizenship to all persons born in Northern Ireland. Both governments exclude some people born in Northern Ireland (e.g. certain persons born in Northern Ireland neither of whose parents is a UK or Irish national).

Several studies and surveys performed between 1971 and 2006 have indicated that, in general, Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves primarily as 'British', whereas Roman Catholics regard themselves primarily as 'Irish'.

This does not however, account for the complex identities within Northern Ireland, given that many of the population regard themselves as "Ulster" or "Northern Irish", either primarily, or as a secondary identity. A 1999 survey showed that 51% of Protestants felt "Not at all Irish" and 41% only "weakly Irish" where 77% of Catholics polled said they felt "strongly Irish".

Northern Ireland comprises a patchwork of communities whose national loyalties are represented in some areas by flags flown from lamp posts. The Union Flag and the former Northern Ireland Flag are flown in some loyalist areas, and the Tricolour, adopted by republicans as the flag of Ireland in 1848, is flown in some republican areas. Even kerbstones in some areas are painted red-white-blue or green-white-orange (or gold), depending on whether local people express unionist/loyalist or nationalist/republican sympathies.

The only official flag is the Union Flag. The Northern Ireland flag was officially the former Governmental Northern Ireland banner (also known as the "Ulster Banner" or "Red Hand Flag") and was based on the arms of the former Parliament of Northern Ireland, and was used by the Government of Northern Ireland and its agencies between 1953 and 1972. Since 1972, it has no official status. It remains, however used uniquely to represent Northern Ireland in certain sporting events. The arms from which the Ulster Banner derives were themselves based on the flag of Ulster.

The Union Flag and the Ulster Banner are mainly used by Unionists. Nationalists generally eschew symbols which uniquely represent Northern Ireland; some instead use the Tricolour, the Irish National Flag, particularly at sporting events. Many people, however, prefer to avoid flags altogether because of their divisive nature. Paramilitary groups on both sides have also developed their own flags. Some unionists also occasionally use the flags of secular and religious organisations to which they belong.

The Irish Rugby Football Union and the Church of Ireland have used the Flag of St. Patrick. It was used to represent Ireland when the whole island was part of the UK and is used by some British army regiments. Foreign flags are also found, such as the Palestinian flags in some Nationalist areas and Israeli flags in some Unionist areas. This is also true during matches with Scottish teams.

The United Kingdom national anthem God Save the Queen is often played at state events in Northern Ireland. At some cross-community events, however, the Londonderry Air (also known as Danny Boy) may be played as a neutral substitute.

At the Commonwealth Games, the Northern Ireland team uses the Ulster Banner as its flag and Danny Boy / A Londonderry Air is used as its national anthem. The Northern Ireland football team also uses the Ulster Banner as its flag but uses God Save The Queen as its national anthem. Major Gaelic Athletic Association matches are opened by the Ireland national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldier's Song), which is also used by some other all-Ireland sporting organisations. Since 1995, the Ireland rugby union team has used a specially commissioned song, Ireland's Call as the team's anthemn. The Ireland national anthem is also played at Dublin home matches as a courtesy to the host country.

Northern Irish murals have become well-known features of Northern Ireland, depicting past and present divisions, both also documenting peace and cultural diversity. Almost 2,000 murals have been documented in Northern Ireland since the 1970s (see Conflict Archive on the Internet/Murals).

Northern Ireland was covered by an ice sheet for most of the last ice age and on numerous previous occasions, the legacy of which can be seen in the extensive coverage of drumlins in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down. The centrepiece of Northern Ireland's geography is Lough Neagh, at 151 square miles (392 km²) the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles. A second extensive lake system is centred on Lower and Upper Lough Erne in Fermanagh. The largest island of Northern Ireland is Rathlin, off the Antrim coast. Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 150 km² (58 sq mi).

There are substantial uplands in the Sperrin Mountains (an extension of the Caledonian fold mountains) with extensive gold deposits, granite Mourne Mountains and basalt Antrim Plateau, as well as smaller ranges in South Armagh and along the Fermanagh–Tyrone border. None of the hills are especially high, with Slieve Donard in the dramatic Mournes reaching 849 metres (2,785 ft), Northern Ireland's highest point. Belfast's most prominent peak is Cave Hill. The volcanic activity which created the Antrim Plateau also formed the eerily geometric pillars of the Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast. Also in north Antrim are the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Mussenden Temple and the Glens of Antrim.

The Lower and Upper River Bann, River Foyle and River Blackwater form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry.

The valley of the River Lagan is dominated by Belfast, whose metropolitan area includes over a third of the population of Northern Ireland, with heavy urbanisation and industrialisation along the Lagan Valley and both shores of Belfast Lough.

The whole of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate, rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is persistent across the region. The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 6.5 °C (43.7 °F) in January and 17.5 °C (63.5 °F) in July. The damp climate and extensive deforestation in the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in much of the region being covered in rich green grassland.

Highest maximum temperature: 30.8 °C (87.4 °F) at Knockarevan, near Garrison, County Fermanagh on 30 June 1976 and at Belfast on 12 July 1983.

Lowest minimum temperature: -17.5 °C (0.5 °F) at Magherally, near Banbridge, County Down on 1 January 1979.

These counties are no longer used for local government purposes; instead there are twenty-six districts of Northern Ireland which have different geographical extents, even in the case of those named after the counties from which they derive their name. Fermanagh District Council most closely follows the borders of the county from which it takes its name. Coleraine Borough Council, on the other hand, derives its name from the town of Coleraine in County Londonderry.

Although counties are no longer used for governmental purpose, they remain a popular means of describing where places are. They are officially used while applying for an Irish passport, which requires one to state one's county of birth. The name of county then appears in both Irish and English on the passport's information page, as opposed to the town or city of birth on the United Kingdom passport. The Gaelic Athletic Association still uses the counties as its primary means of organisation and fields representative teams of each GAA county.

The county boundaries still appear on Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Maps and the Phillips Street Atlases, among others. With their decline in official use, there is often confusion surrounding towns and cities which lie near county boundaries, such as Belfast and Lisburn, which are split between counties Down and Antrim (the majorities of both cities, however, are in Antrim).

Many people inside and outside Northern Ireland use other names for Northern Ireland, depending on their point of view. These are grouped under sectarian headings below, however, most of these phrases are often also used as synonyms for Northern Ireland in non-sectarian contexts.

Notwithstanding the ancient realm of Dál Riata which extended into Scotland, disagreement on names, and the reading of political symbolism into the use or non-use of a word, also attaches itself to some urban centres. The most famous example is whether Northern Ireland's second city should be called "Derry" or "Londonderry".

Choice of language and nomenclature in Northern Ireland often reveals the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the speaker. The first Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Seamus Mallon, was criticised by unionist politicians for calling the region the "North of Ireland" while Sinn Féin has been criticised in some Irish newspapers for still referring to the "Six Counties".

Those who do not belong to any group but lean towards one side often tend to use the language of that group. Supporters of unionism in the British media (notably the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express) regularly call Northern Ireland "Ulster". Some nationalist and republican-leaning media outlets in Ireland almost always use "North of Ireland" or the "Six Counties".

Government and cultural organisations in Northern Ireland, particularly those pre-dating the 1980s, often use the word "Ulster" in their title; for example, the University of Ulster, the Ulster Museum, the Ulster American Folk Park, the Ulster Orchestra, and BBC Radio Ulster.

Many news bulletins since the 1990s have opted to avoid all contentious terms and use the official name, Northern Ireland. The North is still used by some news bulletins in the Republic, to the annoyance of some Unionists. Bertie Ahern, the previous Taoiseach, now almost always refers to Northern Ireland in public, having previously only used The North. For Northern Ireland's second largest city, broadcasting outlets which are unaligned to either community and broadcast to both use both names interchangeably, often starting a report with "Londonderry" and then using "Derry" in the rest of the report. However, within Northern Ireland, print media which are aligned to either community (the News Letter is aligned to the unionist community while the Irish News is aligned to the nationalist community) generally use their community's preferred term. British newspapers with unionist leanings, such as the Daily Telegraph, usually use the language of the unionist community. In its style guide, The Guardian recommends using "Derry" and "Co Derry", and "not Londonderry". The media in the Republic use the names preferred by nationalists. Whether this is all an official editorial policy or a personal preference by the writers is unknown.

The division in nomenclature is seen particularly in sports and religions associated with one of the communities. Gaelic games use Derry, for example. Nor is there clear agreement on how to decide on a name. When the nationalist-controlled local council voted to re-name the city "Derry" unionists objected, stating that as it owed its city status to a Royal Charter, only a charter issued by the Queen could change the name. The Queen has not intervened on the matter and thus the council is now called "Derry City Council" while the city is still officially "Londonderry". Nevertheless, the council has printed two sets of stationery - one for each term - and their policy is to reply to correspondence using whichever term the original sender used.

At times of high communal tension, each side regularly complains of the use of the nomenclature associated with the other community by a third party such as a media organisation, claiming such usage indicates evident "bias" against their community.

Northern Ireland's legal and administrative systems have evolved from those in place in pre-partition United Kingdom, and were developed by its devolved government from 1922 until 1972. From 1972 until 1999 (except for brief periods), laws and administration relating to Northern Ireland have been handled directly from Westminster. Between the years 1999 and 2002, and since May 2007, devolution has returned to Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland economy is the smallest of the four economies making up the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has traditionally had an industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services, primarily the public sector. Tourism also plays a big role in the local economy. More recently the economy has benefited from major investment by many large multi-national corporations into high tech industry. These large organisations are attracted by government subsidies and the skilled workforce in Northern Ireland. Despite the presence of many multi-national corporations, the largest employer in the country is the Government.

Northern Ireland is served by three airports - Belfast International near Antrim, George Best Belfast City in East Belfast, and City of Derry in County Londonderry.

Major sea ports at Larne and Belfast carry passengers and freight between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Passenger railways are operated by Northern Ireland Railways. With Iarnrod Éireann (Irish Rail), Northern Ireland Railways co-operates in providing the joint Enterprise service between Dublin and Belfast.

The cross-border European Route E01 is a major EU-funded cross-border route that will eventually upgrade the road connecting the ports between Larne in Northern Ireland and Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland.

With its improved international reputation, Northern Ireland has recently witnessed rising numbers of tourists. Attractions include cultural festivals, musical and artistic traditions, countryside and geographical sites of interest, public houses, welcoming hospitality and sports (especially golf and fishing). Since 1987 public houses have been allowed to open on Sundays, despite some opposition.

The Ulster Cycle is a large body of prose and verse centring around the traditional heroes of the Ulaid in what is now eastern Ulster. This is one of the four major cycles of Irish Mythology. The cycle centres around the reign of Conchobar mac Nessa, who is said to have been king of Ulster around the time of Christ. He ruled from Emain Macha (now Navan Fort near Armagh), and had a fierce rivalry with queen Medb and king Ailill of Connacht and their ally, Fergus mac Róich, former king of Ulster. The foremost hero of the cycle is Conchobar's nephew Cúchulainn.

The Mid Ulster dialect of English spoken in Northern Ireland shows influence from Scotland, with the use of such Scots words as wee for 'little' and aye for 'yes'. Some jocularly call this dialect phonetically by the name Norn Iron. There are supposedly some minute differences in pronunciation between Protestants and Catholics, the best known of which is the name of the letter h, which Protestants tend to pronounce as "aitch", as in British English, and Catholics tend to pronounce as "haitch", as in Hiberno-English. However, geography is a much more important determinant of dialect than ethnic background. English is spoken as a first language by almost 100% of the Northern Irish population, though under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish and Ulster Scots (one of the dialects of the Scots language), sometimes known as Ullans, have recognition as "part of the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland".

The Irish language is the native language of the whole island of Ireland. It was spoken predominantly throughout what is now Northern Ireland before the settlement of Protestants from Great Britain in the 17th century. Most placenames throughout Northern Ireland are anglicised versions of their Gaelic originals. These Gaelic placenames include thousands of lanes, roads, townlands, towns, villages and all of its modern cities. Examples include Belfast- derived from Béal Feirste, Shankill- derived from Sean Cill and Lough Neagh- derived from Loch nEathach.

In Northern Ireland the Irish language has long been associated with Irish nationalism. The language was seen as a common heritage and indeed the object of affection by many prominent 19th century Protestant republicans and Protestant unionists. There are three main dialects in the island of Ireland—Ulster, Munster and Connaught. Speakers of each dialect often find others difficult to understand. Speakers in Northern Ireland speak the Ulster dialect.

In the early years of the 20th century, the language became a political football throughout Ireland as Republican activists became increasingly linked with it. In the 20th century, the language became in Unionist eyes increasingly polarised for political ends and many in that community would blame Sinn Féin in this regard. After Ireland was partitioned, the language was largely rejected in the education system of the new Northern Ireland. It is argued that the predominant use of the English language may have served to exacerbate the Troubles.

The erection by some Local District Councils of legal bilingual street names (English/Irish), invariably in predominantly Catholic/Nationalist/Republican districts, may be perceived as creating a 'chill factor' by Unionists and as such not conducive to fostering good cross community relationships. However other countries within the United Kingdom, such as Wales and Scotland, enjoy the use of Bilingual signs in Welsh and Scots Gaelic respectively. Because of this, nationalists in Northern Ireland argue for equality in this regard. In responses to the 2001 census in Northern Ireland 10% of the population claimed "some knowledge of Irish", 4.7% to "speak, read, write and understand" Irish. It was not asked as part of the census but in a poll, 1% of respondents said they speak it as their main language at home. Following a public consultation, the decision was taken not to introduce specific legislation for the Irish language at this time, despite 75% of the (self-selecting) respondents stating that they were in favour of such legislation.

Ulster Gaelic/Ulster Irish or Donegal Gaelic/Irish, is the dialect which is nearest to Scots Gaelic. Some words and phrases of the dialect are shared with Scots Gaelic. The dialects of East Ulster - those of Rathlin Island and the Glens of Antrim - were very similar to the Scots Gaelic dialect formerly spoken in Argyll, the part of Scotland nearest to Rathlin Island. The Ulster Gaelic is the most central dialect of Gaelic, both geographically and linguistically, of the once vast Gaelic speaking world, stretching from the south of Ireland to the north of Scotland. At the beginning of the 20th century, Munster Irish was favoured by many revivalists, with a shift to Connaught Irish in the 1960s, which is now the preferred dialect by many in Ireland. Many younger speakers of Irish experience less confusion with dialects due to the expansion of Irish-language broadcasting (TG4) and the exposure to a variety of dialects. There are fewer problems regarding written Irish as there is a standardised spelling and grammar, created by the Irish Government, which was supposed to reflect a compromise between various dialect forms. However, Ulster Irish speakers find that Ulster forms are generally not favoured by the standard.

The dialect is often stigmatised in the non Ulster counties of Ireland, although all learners of Irish in Northern Ireland use this form of the language. Self-instruction courses in Ulster Irish include Now You’re Talking and Tús maith. The writer Séamus Ó Searcaigh RIP, once warned about the Irish Government's attempts at producing a Caighdeán or Standard for the Gaelic language in Ireland in 1953, when he wrote that what will emerge will be "Gaedhilg nach mbéidh suim againn inntí mar nár fhás sí go nádúrtha as an teangaidh a thug Gaedhil go hÉirinn" (A Gaelic which is of no interest to us, for it has not developed naturally from the language brought to Ireland by the Gaels). The Ulster Irish dialect is spoken throughout the area of the historical nine county Ulster, in particular the Gaeltacht region of County Donegal and the Gaeltacht Quarter of West Belfast. Mayo Irish has strong ties with Donegal Irish.

Ulster Scots comprises varieties of the Scots language spoken in Northern Ireland. Aodán Mac Poilín states that "While most argue that Ulster-Scots is a dialect or variant of Scots, some have argued or implied that Ulster-Scots is a separate language from Scots. The case for Ulster-Scots being a distinct language, made at a time when the status of Scots itself was insecure, is so bizarre that it is unlikely to have been a linguistic argument." Approximately 2% of the population claim to speak Ulster Scots, however the number speaking it as their main language in their home is negligible. Classes at colleges can now be taken but for a native English speaker " is comparatively accessible, and even at its most intense can be understood fairly easily with the help of a glossary." The St Andrews Agreement recognises the need to "enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture".

There are an increasing number of ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland. Chinese and Urdu are spoken by Northern Ireland's Asian communities; though the Chinese community is often referred to as the "third largest" community in Northern Ireland, it is tiny by international standards. Since the accession of new member states to the European Union in 2004, Central and Eastern European languages, particularly Polish, are becoming increasingly common.

The most common sign language in Northern Ireland is British Sign Language (BSL), but as Catholics tended to send their deaf children to schools in Dublin (St Joseph's Institute for Deaf Boys and St. Mary's Institute for Deaf Girls), Irish Sign Language (ISL) is commonly used in the Nationalist community. The two languages are not related: BSL is in the British family (which also includes Auslan), and ISL is in the French family (which also includes American Sign Language).

Education in Northern Ireland differs slightly from systems used elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Unlike most areas of the United Kingdom, in the last year of Primary school children sit the eleven plus transfer test, and the results determine whether they attend grammar schools or secondary schools. This system was due to be changed in 2008 amidst some controversy, with the exception of North Armagh where the Dickson Plan is in effect.

Northern Ireland's state (controlled) schools are open to all children in Northern Ireland, although in practice are mainly attended by those from Protestant or non-religious backgrounds. There is a separate publicly funded school system provided for Roman Catholics, although Roman Catholics are free to attend state schools (and some non-Roman Catholics attend Roman Catholic schools). Integrated schools, which attempt to ensure a balance in enrolment between pupils of Protestant, Roman Catholic and other faiths (or none) are becoming increasingly popular, although Northern Ireland still has a primarily de facto religiously segregated education system. In the Primary School Sector, forty schools (8.9% of the total number) are Integrated Schools and thirty two (7.2% of the total number) are Gaelscoileanna.

There are two main universities in Northern Ireland - The Queen's University of Belfast, and the University of Ulster.

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