Ireland emerged from the conflict that marked its birth as an independent state to become one of Europe’s economic success stories in the final decade of the twentieth century.
OFFICIAL NAME: Ireland
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Constitutional Democracy
OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Irish/English
CHIEF OF STATE: President Michael D. HIGGINS (since 11 November 2011)
HEAD FO GOVERNMEN: Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda KENNY (since 9 March 2011)
AREA: 26,592 square miles (68,890 square kilometers)
MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Wicklow Mountains
MAJOR RIVERS: Shannon, Liffey, Boyne, Moy, Barrow
Ireland is an island nation on the westernmost edge of Europe. It is the continent’s second largest island (after Great Britain). The Republic of Ireland occupies 80 percent of this landmass, while a large chunk of land in the north is part of the United Kingdom.
Ireland is known for its wide expanses of lush, green fields. In fact, its nickname is the Emerald Isle. But there are also large areas of rugged, rocky landscape. About 15,000 years ago, Ireland was completely covered by thick glaciers. The movement of these giant sheets of ice stripped the soil, leaving huge tracts of flat, limestone pavement.
The midlands and west coast of Ireland are dotted with damp peat bogs, the soggy remains of dried-up ancient lakes left by the glaciers. Ireland’s highlands rise mainly in the southwest, often ending at sheer cliffs that plunge thousands of feet into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Irish have a great affection for nature and rural life. The country’s first coins even featured pictures of animals. Low levels of development and pollution in Ireland have left most of the nation’s open spaces relatively undisturbed.
Did you know that there are no wild snakes in Ireland? The sea has stopped many animals common on mainland Europe from reaching the island. There are also only two wild mouse species, one type of lizard, and just three kinds of amphibians.
Irish wildlife is protected by government conservation programs. To preserve natural habitat, the government has established six national parks and hundreds of national heritage areas throughout the country.
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Ireland is a nation of storytellers. The tradition dates back to Celtic bards, who would record and recite the country’s history. Many famed writers come from Ireland, including four winners of the Nobel Prize for literature. The Irish also excel in music and sports.
President: Michael D Higgins
Michael D Higgins, a veteran left-wing politician, poet and human rights activist was elected president in 2011.
He is a former Galway university lecturer and published poet who has dedicated his four-decade political career to championing Irish culture and left-wing causes worldwide. He is an Irish speaker.
The president wields little power beyond the ability to refer potentially unconstitutional legislation to the Supreme Court, but has an important symbolic role in representing Ireland at the national and international level.
Prime Minister (Taoiseach): Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny came to power after winning early elections held in 2011, in the middle of Ireland’s worst economic crisis in recent memory.
His centre-right Fine Gael party formed a coalition with the second-placed social-democratic Labour Party, replacing a government led by the centre-right Fianna Fail party.
Fianna Fail, which has dominated Irish politics for much of the post-Second World War period, had suffered a catastrophic defeat after many voters blamed it for the way it handled the crisis.
Mr Kenny and the allied Labour Party suffered losses in the February 2016 elections, depriving the coalition of its majority.
Some key dates in Ireland’s history:
1801 – Kingdom of Ireland annexed to Great Britain under the Act of Union.
1840s – Great potato famine: Ireland’s staple crop fails, starving a million people to death and forcing many more to flee abroad.
1916 – Nationalists stage Easter Rising, seizing the General Post Office in Dublin and proclaiming an independent Irish republic. The rising is crushed by the British who execute its leaders. Irish public is outraged.
1919 – Led by Eamonn De Valera, the nationalist movement Sinn Fein sets up a Dublin assembly, which again proclaims Irish independence. A guerrilla campaign by the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, against British forces begins with heavy casualties on both sides.
1921 – Anglo-Irish Treaty establishes the Free State, an independent dominion of the British crown with full internal self-government rights, partitioned from Northern Ireland. Dissatisfaction with the treaty prompts the year-long Irish Civil War.
1949 – Independence. Republic of Ireland and leaves British Commonwealth.
1973 – Ireland joins the European Economic Community.
Early 1980s – Ireland faces severe economic problems, with rising debt and unemployment.
Mid-1990s – mid-2000s – Rapid economic growth earns Ireland reputation of “the Celtic Tiger”.
2008 – Global financial crisis hits Ireland hard. In 2010 it agrees a bailout with the EU and IMF.