The Republic of Ireland (Gaelic Éire), republic comprises of about five-sixths of the island of Ireland. The country consists of the provinces of Leinster, Munster, and Connaught (Connacht) and part of the province of Ulster. The rest of Ulster, which occupies the northeastern part of the island, constitutes Northern Ireland, a constituent part of Great Britain. The republic has a total area of 70,283 sq km (27,136 sq mi).

[Political Divisions and Principal Cities] - [Religion & Language] - [Education] - [Culture] - [Art] - [Music] - [ Sports] - [Cultural] - [Economy] - [Agriculture] - [ Forestry & Fishing] - [MiningManufacturing] - [Currency & Banking] - [Commerce] - [Transport & Communication] - [ Labour] - [Government] - [Executive Government] - [ Legislature] - [Judiciary] - [Political Parties] - [ Local Governments] - [Health & Welfare] - [Defence] - [History].


The population of Ireland is predominantly of Celtic origin. No significant ethnic minorities exist.

Population Characteristics

For more up to date statistics see Central Statistics Office more specifically for population statistics and overall statistics.

3,978,900 (April 2003 est.). Click here to get a 78KB PDF document of the 2003 population & migration statistics

Northern Ireland's population

The 1991 census of Northern Ireland puts the population at 1,577,836, broken down into the following religious demominations: Presbyterians - 336,891; Church of Ireland - 279,280; Methododists - 59,517, members of 'other denominations' (mainly protestant) was 122,448; Catholics - 605.639; no religion 59,234 and 114,829 did not state a religion. The population of the Irish Republic (1986 census) was 3,540,643. The population was estimated in 1990 at 3,509,000, giving the country an overall population density of about 50 persons per sq km (about 129 per sq mi). The population decreased from the 1840s, when about 6.5 million persons lived in the area included in the republic, until about 1970, largely because of a high emigration rate. From 1980 to 1988 the population increased at an annual rate of only 0.5%. About 57% of the population lived in urban areas in the late 1980s.

Political Divisions and Principal Cities

For administrative purposes, Ireland (republic of) is divided into 26 counties, most of which are described in separate articles, and 5 county boroughs, which are coextensive with the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford. The following counties are in Ireland: Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois (Laoighis), Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford, and Wicklow, in Leinster Province; Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary North Riding, Tipperary South Riding, and Waterford, in Munster Province; Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Sligo, in Connaught (Connacht) Province; and Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan, in Ulster Province.

The capital and largest city is Dublin, with a population (1986, greater city) of 920,956. Cork is the second largest city and a major port, with a population of 173,694. Other cities and towns, important primarily as trading centers for produce, with their population figures in the 1986 census, include Limerick (76,557), and Waterford (41,054).

Religion and Language

About 94% of the people of Ireland are Roman Catholics, and less than 4% are Protestants. Protestant groups include the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and the Presbyterian and Methodist denominations. Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution.

Almost all the people speak English, and about one-fourth also speak Irish, a Gaelic language that is the traditional tongue of Ireland. Irish is spoken as the vernacular by a relatively small number of people, however, mostly in areas of the west. The constitution provides for both Irish and English as official languages.


Irish influence on Western education began 14 centuries ago. From the 6th to the 8th century, when western Europe was largely illiterate, nearly 1000 Irish missionaries travelled to England and the Continent to teach Christianity. During the early Middle Ages, Irish missionaries founded monasteries that achieved extensive cultural influence; the monastery at Sankt Gallen (Saint Gall), Switzerland, is especially famous for its contributions to education and literature.

Classical studies flowered in ancient Ireland. Distinctive also at the time were the bardic schools of writers and other learned men who traveled from town to town, teaching their arts to students. The bardic schools, an important part of Irish education, were suppressed in the 16th century by Henry VIII, king of England.

University education in Ireland began with the founding of the University of Dublin, or Trinity College, in 1592. The National University of Ireland, established in 1908 in Dublin, has constituent university colleges in Cork, Dublin, and Galway, another leading college is Saint Patrick's College (1795), in Maynooth, affiliated with the National University.

The Irish language has been taught in all government-subsidised schools since 1922, but fewer than 10,000 pupils speak it as their first language.

Ireland has a free public school system, with attendance compulsory for all children between 6 and 15 years of age. In the late 1980s some 574,000 pupils were enrolled annually in about 3440 elementary schools. Secondary schools, primarily operated by religious orders and largely subsidised by the state, numbered nearly 600, with an annual enrolment of approximately 234,000. Yearly enrolment at universities and colleges totalled about 59,500. Ireland also has several state-subsidised training colleges, various technical colleges in the larger communities, and a network of winter classes that provide agricultural instruction for rural inhabitants.


It is probable that Ireland was first occupied by Neolithic people, users of flint, and then by the small, dark, warlike people from the Mediterranean, users of bronze, who are known in legend as the Firbolgs. Later came the Picts, also an immigrant people of the Bronze Age. Extensive traces of the culture of this early period survive in the form of stone monuments (menhirs, dolmens, and cromlechs) and stone forts, dating from 2000 to 1000 bc. During the Iron Age, the Celtic invasion (circa 350 bc) introduced a new cultural strain into Ireland, one that was to predominate. The oldest relics of the Celtic (Gaelic) language can be seen in the 5th-century Ogham stone inscriptions in county Kerry. Ireland was Christianised by St. Patrick in the 5th century. The churches and monasteries founded by him and his successors became the fountainhead from which Christian art and refinement permeated the crude and warlike Celtic way of life.

Ireland is famous for its contributions to world literature. Two great mythological cycles in Gaelic "the Ulster (Red Branch) and the Fenian (Ossianic)" tell the stories of such legendary heroes as Cú Chulainn (Cuchulain), Maeve (Medb), Finn mac Cumhail (Finn MacCool), and Deirdre. After a long and bitter colonisation by England, Ireland gave the world some of the greatest writers in the English language, including Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, and George Bernard Shaw. Associated with the struggle for independence in this century is the Irish literary revival, which produced the works of William Butler Yeats and Sean O'Casey. James Joyce was a formative influence on much of later 20th-century European literature.

Saint Patrick's Day, March 17, is the most important national holiday in Ireland.

Sports - Gaelic Football

Gaelic Football, is a type of football played principally in Ireland, where it originated and where it became popular in the 16th century. At that time a team consisted of all the able-bodied men of a town or parish; the number of players on each team ranged from 25 to 100. Frequently the game started at a point midway between two towns or parishes and ended when one team had driven the ball across a boundary line into its opponent's town or parish. The rules of the modern game were promulgated in 1884 by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA); that body still controls and regulates the sport.

Fifteen players constitute a team in Gaelic football. The players may kick, punt, or punch the ball; or they may "hop" or dribble it, that is, keep bouncing it while advancing. Throwing or carrying the ball is not allowed. At each end of the field is a goal consisting of two vertical posts and a horizontal crossbar; behind the goal, under the crossbar, is a net. Kicking or punching the ball over the crossbar counts one point; punching or kicking it into the net counts three points. The game is popular in Ireland today and is also played in large cities in Canada and the United States, principally in New York City, which has a club that competes in Ireland's National League.

For more information about Gaelic Football or for an external link to a page with many links to various Irish sports links.

Sports - Hurling

Hurling, traditional Irish field sport in which a ball, called a sliothar, is caught on a hurley, or stick, and carried or hurled to the goal. Irish mythology has tales of the warrior Cuchulainn and other legendary heroes who were expert hurlers. The rules of play were standardized in 1884 when the Gaelic Athletic Association was founded. Today the game is almost entirely restricted to the Republic of Ireland, where the All-Ireland championship competition has been held since 1887.

Regulation hurling is played by two 15-member teams on a field measuring 82 m (90 yd) in width and 137 m (150 yd) in length. The hurley is a narrow-shafted stick about 1 m (3.5 ft) long, ending in a curved blade about 8 cm (3 in) wide. The slitter has a cork center and a leather cover; it is between 23 and 25 cm (9 and 10 in) in circumference, and weighs between 100 and 130 g (3.5 to 4.5 oz). The goals at each end of the field are formed by two posts, which are usually 6 m (21 ft) high, set 6 m (21 ft) apart, and connected 2 m (8 ft) above the ground by a crossbar. A net extending back of the goal is attached to the crossbar and lower goal posts.

The object of hurling is to catch the slitter on the blade of the hurley, carry it, and then hurl it into the goal. The slitter may be picked off the ground only with the hurley; the player may pick the slitter off the hurley with his hand, provided he does not throw it or run with it. Three points are scored when the slitter is hurled into the net and one point when the slitter is hurled over the crossbar between the goal posts.

Although hurling, the fastest of all team sports, is a rough game, serious injuries are rare.

For more information about hurling or for an external link to a page with many links to various Irish sports links or Sports web for a commercial link by Reuters.


From the 5th to the 9th century the Irish monasteries produced artworks of world renown, primarily in the form of illuminated manuscripts. The greatest such work is the Book of Kells, which has some of the most beautiful calligraphy of the Middle Ages (see Celts: Art). Native art seems to have disappeared during the period of English domination, but after the 17th century a number of Irish painters and sculptors achieved fame. The Irish painters George Barret (1732-84), James Barry (1741-1806), and Nathaniel Hone (1718-84) were cofounders, with Sir Joshua Reynolds, of the Royal Academy in 1768. James Arthur O'Connor (1791-1812) was a noted landscape artist of his period, and Daniel Maclise (1806-70) painted the magnificent frescoes in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords. Notable among Irish painters of the 19th century were Nathaniel Hone, Jr. (1831-1917), and Walter F. Osborne (1859-1903). More recently, the expressionist painter Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957), the cubist painter Mainie Jellett (1897-1944), and the stained-glass artist Evie Hone (1894-1955) have achieved widespread recognition and acclaim for their work.


Irish harpers were known throughout Europe as early as the 12th century. The most celebrated of these was the blind harper Torlogh O'Carolan, or Carolan (1670-1738), who composed about 200 songs on varied themes, many of which were published in Dublin in 1720. About the same time, an annual folk festival called the feis was instituted, devoted to the preservation and encouragement of harping. Irish folk music ranges from lullabies to drinking songs, and many variations and nuances of tempo, rhythm, and tonality are used. At the Belfast Harpers' Festival in 1792, Edward Bunting (1773-1843) made a collection of traditional Irish songs and melodies, which he published in 1796. Thomas Moore, the great Irish poet, made extensive use of Bunting's work in his well-known Irish Melodies, first published in 1807. Classical forms of music were not widely known in Ireland until the 18th century. Pianist John Field was the first Irish composer to win international renown, with his nocturnes. Michael William Balfe (1808-70) is well known for his opera The Bohemian Girl. Among the most prominent of Irish performing artists was the concert and operatic tenor John McCormack.

A good reference site for Celtic music at Celtic Note.

Some of our modern musicians include (with external links) are Official U2, Chris De Burgh, Christy Moore, WestLife, Boy Zone, Sinead O'Connor, Enya, Cranberries, Enya Mary Black, Van Morrison, Hot House Flowers...

Cultural Institutions

The most important Irish libraries and museums are in Dublin. The National Library of Ireland, with more than 500,000 volumes, is the largest public library in the country. Trinity College Library, founded in 1601, contains about 2.8 million volumes, including the Book of Kells. Together with exhibits in the fields of art, industry, and natural history, and representative collections of Irish silver, glass, textiles and lace, the National Museum houses outstanding specimens of the remarkable metal craftsmanship of the early Christian period in Ireland, including the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice, and the Moylough Bell Shrine (all dating from the 8th century), as well as the Lismore Crozier and the Cross of Cong (both 12th century). The National Gallery in Dublin has an admirable collection of paintings of all schools. Most cities have public libraries and small museums. Interest in the theatre is strong in Ireland. The famed Abbey Theatre and the Gale Theatre, both in Dublin, receive government grants. The Arts Council, a body appointed by the prime minister, gives grants to arts organisations and publishers; the Gael-Linn promotes the Irish language and culture.


The economy of Ireland has been traditionally agricultural. Since the mid-1950s, however, the country's industrial base has expanded, and now mining, manufacturing, construction, and public utilities account for approximately 37% of the gross domestic product and agriculture for only about 12%. Private enterprise operates in most sectors of the economy. Annual budget figures in the late 1980s showed approximately $14.4 billion in revenue and $14.8 billion in expenditure.


Almost 81% of the total area of Ireland is devoted to pasture and cropland. The agricultural enterprise producing the most income is animal husbandry. In the late 1980s livestock included some 5.6 million cattle, 4.3 million sheep, 960,000 hogs, and 55,000 horses. Poultry production is also important. The principal field crops are wheat, barley, oats, and potatoes. Among other important crops are hay, turnips, and sugar beets. The best farmlands are found in the east and southeast.

Forestry and Fishing

The government of Ireland has undertaken extensive schemes of reforestation in an effort to reduce the country's dependence on timber imports and to provide raw material for new paper mills and related industries. In the late 1980s forestland occupied nearly 5% of Ireland's total area; the annual output of roundwood was 1.2 million cu m (42.3 million cu ft).

The fishing industry, which has traditionally been underdeveloped, is expanding; the annual catch in the late 1980s was some 247,400 metric tons. Deep-sea catches include herring, cod, mackerel, whiting, and plaice. Crustaceans, particularly lobsters, crawfish, and prawns, and such mollusks as oysters and periwinkles, are plentiful in coastal waters and form the bulk of the country's seafood exports. The inland rivers and lakes provide excellent fishing for salmon, trout, eel, and several varieties of coarse fish.


Although mining plays a relatively minor role in the Irish economy, discoveries of new deposits in recent decades have led to a considerable expansion of mineral production. Annual mineral output in the late 1980s included about 45,000 metric tons of coal, 177,000 metric tons of zinc, and 33,800 metric tons of lead. Ireland is one of the leading exporters of lead and zinc in Europe. Natural gas is extracted off the southwestern coast; yearly output in the mid-1980s was 1.6 billion cu m (56.5 billion cu ft). Peat is dug in large quantities for domestic and industrial fuel and also for horticultural purposes; annual output in the late 1980s was 6.3 million tons.


Ireland has diversified manufacturing, most of it developed since 1930. Among the food-processing industries, the most important are meat packing, brewing and distilling, grain milling, sugar refining, and the manufacture of dairy products, margarine, confections, and jam. Other important manufactured articles include office machinery and data-processing equipment; electrical machinery; tobacco products; woolen and worsted goods; clothing; cement; furniture; soap; candles; building materials; footwear; cotton, rayon, and linen textiles; hosiery; paper; leather; machinery; refined petroleum; and chemicals.

In the computer Industry, Ireland currently has the Eurpean headquarters or European technical support centres for Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Lotus, Compaq, Apple, IBM, Creative Labs, Hewlett Packard, Digital and Seagate among others.

Currency and Banking

The Euro is the basic unit of currency. Before March 1979, the Irish pound was exchangeable at a par with the British pound sterling. The Central Bank of Ireland, established in 1942, is the bank of issue. Associated with the Central Bank are the leading commercial (or associated) banks with their networks of local branches. Mergers have reduced the number of these associated banks. On the other hand, the number of merchant banking houses has increased, and leading North American and continental European banks now have offices in Dublin. Trustee banks and the Post Office Savings Bank mainly serve small individual accounts.

Commerce and Trade

Dublin and Cork are the manufacturing, financial, and commercial centres of Ireland. Dublin is the most important seaport; Cork is the main port for transatlantic passenger travel. Other significant ports include Dún Laoghaire, Waterford, Rosslare, and Limerick. Ireland became a member of the European Community (EC) in 1973, thus expanding the market for the country's important agricultural exports. Imports in the late 1980s totalled about $14.6 billion annually, and exports, including reexports, about $18.4 billion. The major trading partners of Ireland include Great Britain, Germany, the United States, France, and Japan. The most important exports include electric and electronic equipment, livestock, meat, dairy products, chemicals, and textiles and clothing; about two-thirds of all exports are to EC countries. Imports are primarily machinery, transport equipment, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, cereals and foodstuffs, textiles, and iron and steel.

Tourism has been effectively promoted and has increased steadily in importance. By the late 1980s, some 2.7 million tourists annually generated approximately $1 billion for the economy of Ireland.

Transportation and Communications

Ireland has 2700 km (1680 mi) of railway track, all operated by the state-owned Irish Transport Company and linking all important points on the island. The highway system totals about 92,300 km (about 57,350 mi), of which about 94% was paved. Navigable inland waterways total about 435 km (about 270 mi). International airports are located at Shannon, Dublin, and Cork, and several international air-transport systems provide regular service between Ireland and major cities throughout the world.

All postal, telegraph, telephone, and broadcasting services are operated by government agencies or statutory bodies. In the mid-1980s about 942,000 telephones were in use. Radio Telefís Éireann, the public broadcasting authority, operated three radio channels and two television channels. In the late 1980s radios in use numbered about 2.1 million and television receivers, approximately 937,000.


In the late 1980s the total labour force was about 1.3 million, of which approximately 13% was engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Some 667,000 workers in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland are members of unions affiliated with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.


The government of Ireland is based on the constitution of 1937, as amended. This document proclaims Ireland a sovereign, independent, democratic state. The constitution also defines the national territory as the whole of Ireland. The country became a republic in 1949. See How Ireland became a republic and Irish Politics.


Executive power under the Irish constitution is vested in the government (cabinet), consisting of about 15 members. The government, responsible to the lower house of the national legislature, is headed by the Taoiseach, or prime minister. This official is nominated by the lower house and appointed by the president. The members of the government head the various administrative departments, or ministries. They are nominated by the prime minister and, subject to the approval of the lower house, appointed by the president. The president of Ireland is the head of state and is elected by direct popular vote for a 7-year term.


Legislative authority is vested in a bicameral legislature known as the Oireachtas. This is composed of a 166-member lower house, or Dáil Éireann (Irish, "Assembly of Ireland"), Irish legislative body. It was established as a revolutionary congress in 1919, when 73 members of the Dáil Éireann, and a 60-member senate, or Seanad Éireann. The members of the Dáil are elected for terms of up to five years by proportional representation. Eleven members of the senate are selected by the prime minister and six members are elected by the universities. The remaining 43 members of the senate are elected by an electoral college consisting of about 900 members from the county borough councils, county councils, the Dáil, and the senate. The elected members of the senate are chosen from candidates representing national culture, labour, agriculture and fisheries, public administration and social services, and commerce and industry. The senate may not veto legislation enacted by the Dáil and is otherwise restricted in authority.


Judicial authority in Ireland is vested in a supreme court, a high court, a court of criminal appeal, and circuit and district courts. All of the judges of these courts are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the government.

Political Parties

The system of proportional representation by which members are elected to the Dáil favors a multiplicity of political parties representing special interests. In recent years, however, four parties have emerged as the most powerful: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and Labour.

For more on political parties see Politics.

Local Government

County councils, county borough corporations, borough corporations, urban district councils, and town commissioners are charged with responsibility for most locally administered services, including health and sanitation, housing, water supply, and libraries. Members are elected to these local bodies by popular vote, generally for 5-year terms. Local executive organisation is based on the manager system. A central appointments commission in Dublin chooses the executive manager of local authorities by examination. Local government generally is supervised by the department of local government.

Health and Welfare

Most health services are provided free of charge for low-income groups and at moderate charges for others, through local and national agencies. The department of health administers all official health services. A non-profit, contributory voluntary health insurance scheme is administered by an independent statutory agency. The department of social welfare administers the official compulsory insurance and assistance programs, which include pensions for the aged, widows, and orphans; children's allowances; unemployment benefits; and other social security schemes.


The total strength of the permanent Irish defence force, including all army, navy, and air corps personnel, is about 13,000. The reserve defence force numbers about 16,100. Enlistment for all services is voluntary.

Also see Irish Government homepage for further information about Ireland defence force.


History of Republic of Ireland