Ireland (Gaelic: Eire), officially the Republic of Ireland, independent country in northwestern Europe, occupying five-sixths of the island of Ireland. The country is bounded on the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea. A land boundary separates it from Northern Ireland (Ulster). The capital is Dublin. Ireland is sometimes called Erin.
Land and climate
Ireland can be likened to a saucer, with a flat, central limestone plain, averaging 300 ft (90 m) above sea level, rimmed with low mountains along the coasts. On the eastern coast, north of Dublin, the plain stretches to the sea, and the eastern and southern coasts are generally regular. In contrast, the rugged Atlantic coast is broken by countless rocky inlets and islands, including Achill Island and the Aran Islands. The almost treeless central plain is studded with low ridges and innumerable lakes, around which are vast areas of peat bogs. The plain is drained into the Atlantic by the 250-mi (400-km) Shannon River, into the Irish Sea by the Boyne and Blackwater rivers, and into Dublin Bay by the Liffey. The largest lakes are the Ree and Derg on the Shannon, and the Mask, Corrib, and Conn in the northwest, but the most famous are the 3 Lakes of Killarney, in County Kerry. The chief mountain ranges are the Wicklow on the eastern coast south of Dublin, and the mountains of Kerry in the southwest. Ireland's climate is extremely moist. Strong southwest winds from the Atlantic bring heavy rainfall. The currents of the Gulf Stream warm the southwestern portion of the island, and temperatures generally vary only from an average of 40°F (4.4°C) in January to 60°F (15.5°C) in July. This damp, temperate climate produces the bright green grass of the “Emerald Isle” and favors the dairy industry and livestock raising. It also supports the extensive marshlands and peat bogs. Heather and small shrubs cover the higher moorlands of the west. Many varieties of native grasses remain perpetually green. Fauna include a variety of birds and small mammals (hedgehogs, badgers, and foxes). Fishing is the chief occupation of the inhabitants of the western coastal villages and islands, where herring and mackerel are abundant. Ireland has long been famous for its fine horses, trained as racers or hunters.
The Mediterranean people who first reached Ireland c.6000 B.C. were assimilated by Celtic tribes that appeared in the 4th century B.C. Lesser immigrations of Scandinavians, Normans, and English were absorbed. About 20% of the population lives in Dublin and surrounding areas. Education is compulsory between ages 6 and 14.
The economy is based mainly on small mixed farms rearing cattle or engaged in dairying (especially in the south), with barley, wheat, oats, potatoes, turnips, and sugar beets as the chief arable crops. Ireland is relatively poor in minerals, but some coal is mined, along with recently discovered deposits of lead, zinc, copper, and silver. Peat from the bogs is a valuable fuel, used for home heating and electricity generation. Industries include food-processing, distilling, tobacco products, textiles, clothing, and engineering.
In the 4th century B.C. the Gaels evolved a Celtic civilization that in its full flowering, after St. Patrick introduced Christianity in the 5th century, produced superb works of art and sent religious and cultural missionaries to the rest of Europe. It was severely damaged by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries. In 1166 the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland, and thereafter the English tried continually to assert their authority over the native Irish and the settlers, who quickly became assimilated. The Act of Union (1801) ended parliamentary independence from England; nevertheless, despite the potato famine and Fenian violence, a measure of independence by constitutional means was slowly attained through agitation for Catholic Emancipation and the emergence of leaders like Daniel O'Connell and C.S. Parnell. One result was the cultural Celtic Renaissance of the 1890s. The inability of British governments to implement Home Rule led to the bitter Easter Rebellion (1916), and the armed struggle after World War I resulted in Britain's grant of dominion status to the Irish Free State (1921), but the civil war was continued on a terrorist basis by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) until 1923. Eamonn de Valera, in power from 1932, broke with the British Crown and renamed the country Eire (1937). In 1949, as the Republic of Ireland, it left the British Commonwealth. After Ireland joined the European Union (1973), the country experienced a fast economic growth.