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Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the others being England, Wales, and Scotland. It was established by the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, which separated Northern Ireland from the independent Republic of Ireland. It comprises six of the nine counties that made up the ancient province of Ulster on the northeastern corner of the island of Ireland, with the Republic occupying the rest. Its capital is Belfast.

Land and people

Northern Ireland occupies about a sixth of the entire island. It is bordered by the Republic on the south and west, and it is separated from Scotland to the northeast by the North Channel and from England to the southeast by the Irish Sea. The land itself is made up of low mountains and rolling plains, with few natural resources. About two-thirds of the people of Northern Ireland are descended from English and Scottish Protestants, with the remaining third of Irish Catholic descent. The official language is English, and all the people speak it although Gaelic (the native Irish language) is still taught in Catholic schools.


About three-fourths of the people in Northern Ireland are employed in service industries. The two other most important industries are farming and manufacturing, with most of the heavy industry situated around Belfast, one of the chief ports of the British Isles. The major manufactured product is Irish linen, which is known throughout the world for its fine quality. Other industries include shipbuilding, and aircraft manufacturing. Agricultural products include: dairy products, cattle, hogs, eggs, and chickens. Coal for industry is imported, but large peat deposits provide fuel for cooking and heating.


English rule of parts of Ireland goes back to the 12th century, but it was only in 1541 that King Henry VIII of England declared himself king of Ireland. The Reformation turned England from a Catholic country to a Protestant one, but the change had little effect on the Irish people, who remained Catholic. During the 1600s, the Irish staged a number of rebellions against English rule, but they were suppressed. In 1603, a major rebellion in Ulster was put down, and the defeated Irish chieftains fled. The British Crown confiscated much of the land of the beaten rebels and gave it to English and Scottish settlers. This gave Ulster a distinctly Protestant character as compared with the rest of the country, which remained steadfastly Catholic. When an attempt to restore Catholic power in Ulster in 1690 was defeated by William of Orange in the Battle of the Boyne, Protestants were assured of their domination of Irish government throughout the island. In 1801, the Act of Union abolished the Irish parliament and made Ireland part of Great Britain. In the late 19th century, the British Liberal Party, led by William Gladstone, presented a plan for home rule for Ireland, which would have kept Ireland as part of Great Britain but would have allowed it to have its own national parliament for domestic affairs. The Ulster Protestants feared that an all-Ireland parliament would be dominated by the more numerous Catholics of the south, and they formed the Unionist Party to oppose home rule. The plan was defeated, and succeeding schemes to effect some sort of home rule only widened the rift between Ulster and the rest of the country. In 1919, after World War I, Irish members of the British Parliament met in Dublin and declared Irish independence from England. Civil war broke out. In 1920 the British Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act, which setup separate parliaments for the two parts of Ireland. The northern Ulster Protestants accepted the division, and formed the separate state of Northern Ireland, made up of its present six counties. The southern Catholics refused to recognize the act and pressed for independence. In 1921, leaders of the south concluded a treaty with Britain that created the Irish Free State (made up of 23 southern counties and 3 counties of Ulster). In 1949, this became the Republic of Ireland. Agitation by Irish nationalists in the south, and especially by the Catholics living in Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland, for an end to the separation continues to this day. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), a militant nationalist group, carried out terrorist bombings and assaults on British troops both in Northern Ireland and in England. Britain took over direct rule of Northern Ireland in 1972 because of the violence. Despite numerous attempts to arrive at a settlement agreeable to both Catholics and Protestants, the problem of separation remained. In the 1990s some progress was made, resulting in the 1998 peace agreement. Tensions still remain high, however there is hope for a peaceful future.

See also: United Kingdom.

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