Ireland (Irish: Éire; Ulster-Scots: Airlann or Airlan), is a medium sized, rain-swept island on the northwestern fringe of Europe, which looks a bit like a teddy bear or koala (imagine it in the profile, looking away from Britain). It is also the name of the Northern European countrynote that covers four fifths of that island, the rest being covered by Northern Ireland (part of the UK). For Hollywood clichés about Ireland, see Scotireland and Oireland. For more about Northern Ireland, see Northern Ireland and The Troubles.
A note on the name. The official name of the country is simply Ireland in English, but "Republic of Ireland" is the official description (The Republic of Ireland Act, 1948). Both are acceptable, though using the latter in casual speech will probably get you odd looks in Dublin (not hostile, just odd). Éire (air-uh) is technically legitimate but for various complicated reasons involving Northern Ireland is not used casually. And mostly not used at all, since the majority of Irish don't actually speak the Irish language, and even fewer use it as their primary language. English is the primary language of Ireland, though the government of Ireland works very hard to keep the Irish language alive.
The Republic of Ireland is the second most Catholic country in Europe after Poland (not counting the Vatican, obviously), though the influence of the Church has waned in recent years, especially in the wake of a sex abuse scandal and coverup, but it is still enough that Ireland got a special agreement in the Lisbon Treaty that its ban on abortion would not be touched, though the constitutional amendment that covered this was repealed by a landslide in 2018. When the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny very publicly chewed out the Church over the sex abuse scandal, it was seen as rather earth-shattering.
It was also up until recently one of the poorest countries in Europe, classified as a third-world country, but this has been completely reversed over the past decade and now the country is one of richest states in the world. Irish economic success lead to the country being dubbed The Celtic Tiger (like the Tiger economies of the Baltics and Asia) and is mostly derived from a lot of financial investment through Ireland's EU membership. Ireland's reliance on foreign investment and large debts came back to haunt it during the international economic crisis, and it is currently on the decline again, Ireland being the first country in Europe to officially declare itself in recession, as well as being one of the PIGS economies (along with Spain, Portugal and Greece).
Speaking of recessions, Ireland was very heavily hit by the recession. The backlash brought down the long-running Fianna Fáil/Green coalition government, and installed a Fine Gael/Labour coalition with its biggest election win ever. After much talk about how everything would be different now, they proceeded to do everything the same way as before. Every year budget cuts have been made to children (especially those with special needs), the elderly, and the increasing number below the poverty line... fortunately, as of 2016, Irish bonds are no longer considered "junk", which should in theory make things a bit easier.
Ireland is also known for its agriculture, having more sheep than humans in its territory. The Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s led to about a million deaths, a further million emigrating and a population crash so great it didn't grow again until the 1960s. Although the population has recovered (more or less) and more of the population is urban today, agriculture is still important to the Irish economy, particularly producing for export: Ireland is one of the larger exporters of dairy products (mostly butter and cheese) and meat (especially beef) in Europe, with its primary market being (for obvious reasons) Great Britain.
Since then, Ireland has had a history of emigration, resulting in the massive Irish diaspora across the globe. Most of them are concentrated in English-speaking countries, but just about everywhere has an Irish community. The emigration situation ironically reversed in the 1990s, when net migration was inward thanks to the Celtic Tiger. With the ten new countries in the EU in 2004, immigration increased further and coupled with high fertility rates, it makes Ireland's population one of the fastest growing in Europe. We should note that on account of the massive emigration in the 19th century, Ireland's current population is a lot lower than it used to be—in the 18th and early 19th centuries, Dublin was the second-largest city of the British Empire and one of the ten largest cities in Europe. The emigration had a lasting effect, keeping Ireland's base population low and its agricultural emphasis strong as it entered the 20th century.
Ireland is also famous for its dead writers (most of whom left Ireland as fast as possible), its lack of snakes, its dancers, its poetry and love of drink. Plus the world's second highest percentage of redheads (10%), behind Scotland (13%). As such, this has become a stereotype outside of Ireland (especially in the States) — thus any Irish character is very likely to be sporting red hair, despite the reality that most Irish are brunet(te)s and also more likely to be blonde too.
Politically, Ireland is best described as non-aligned but Western leaning. It's a member of The European Union, but not of NATO. It does allow Shannon airport to be used for refuelling by US military flights (which caused controversy in the lead-up to the Iraq War, and due to the open secret of CIA extraordinary rendition flights) and Soviet aircraft refuelled there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During World War II, it was officially neutral (but implicitly aligned to the Allies politically and through majority public opinion). Thousands of Irish men, both emigrés and volunteers, fought in the British and American armies. Perhaps the best example, though, is the folk history, largely based in truth, that while crashed Luftwaffe pilots were universally interned for duration, Allied pilots were frequently (and technically illegally) pointed in the direction of the Border so they could reach Belfast. The country also suffered rationing due to the German blockade, that lasted until 1947. Dublin was bombed once on 31 May 1941 by a German aircraft, killing 34 people, for reasons that aren't clear to this day, with various arguments for navigation error, reprisal for Dublin sending rescue personnel to Belfast, a warning not to enter the war or a result of the British radio beam "bending". The Germans apologized and offered compensation. There were two other attacks by the Luftwaffe during the war.
Its military is relatively small, unlike many other neutral states, though it is still larger than a few similarly sized-states such as New Zealand (and in per-capita terms Ireland has a higher percentage of soldiers than Canada or Australia). Since 1958, its main active function has been involvement in UN peacekeeping operations. A small but significant number of Irish citizens looking for more, er, "interesting" military service serve in the British Armed Forces, with the Irish authorities generally turning a blind eye to Britain's recruitment activities in the Republic.
The current Irish Taoiseach (tee-shokh; think 'Prime Minister' but don't actually say it) as of 2017 is Leo Varadkar, a happily married gay half-Indian man, of Fine Gael (fin-uh gale), and his Tánaiste (tawn-ish-tuh; Deputy Prime Minister) is Simon Coveney, also of Fine Gael.
One of his predecessors was Brian 'Biffo' Cowen. 'Biffo' is a mildly pejorative but mostly affectionate nickname that stands for Big Ignorant Fecker From Offaly (the somewhat polite version). Prior to the 2011 election he announced his retirement from politics, and was the first Taoiseach in the history of the state not to stand for re-election.
Prior to him, it was Bertie Ahern. He stood down on 6 May 2008 for reasons involving alleged corruption (let's just say he was very good at guessing who won at the races, but the money was just resting in his account). His daughter, Cecilia, wrote the original novel for PS I Love You, which has been made into a feature film. She's also the co-creator of Samantha Who?.
There are a large number of accents audible in modern Ireland. For example:
- Local Dublin: The broad-working class dialect.
- Mainstream Dublin: The typical accent spoken by middle-class or suburban speakers.
- New Dublin or D4 accent: An accent among younger people — born after around 1970. Named after the D4 postcode, where this accent is stereotypically found.
And these are just the main ones. Researchers have found that there's a different accent for roughly every five miles you travel. That's basically a new accent for every single town on the island.
Fiction set in Ireland (unless it involves The Troubles) will either take place in Dublin or in a tiny village in some undefined part of the countryside. Virtually nothing takes place in other cities or towns. Bernard Manning once identified a category of fiction called "Oirish", which involved several basic elements — old vs new, modernity vs supersition, evil British people, history, and adulterous affairs, all set in tiny villages in County Mayo. Private Eye characterized a stock Irish fictional sentence as: "Wee Bridie was walking to Holy Communion in her shiny new shoes the day the Guards came for Mulgarvey." Exceptions are few enough to list:
- The Butcher Boy (Monaghan)
- Angela's Ashes (Limerick)
- Pure Mule (several towns in Offaly)
- The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Cork)
- Heroes (part of volume 2; Cork)
- Single Handed (Galway)
- Sister Fidelma (Cashel and other parts of Munster, in the seventh century)
- The Burren Mysteries (The Burren country of County Clare, in the sixteenth century)
- The Last Unicorn
Famous Irish people:
- Actors Colm Meaney, Pierce Brosnan, Aidan Gillen, Creator/Richard Harris, Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Liam Neeson, Stuart Townsend, Colin Farrell, Daniel Day-Lewis, Brendan Gleeson (and his sons Domhnall and Brian), Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Robert Sheehan and Ardal O'Hanlon.
- Actresses Maureen O'Hara, Saoirse Ronan, Evanna Lynch, Sarah Bolger, Alison Doody and Katie McGrath.
- Sir Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington (though he resented this characterization: "Being born in a stable does not make one a horse!")
- Conor McGregor, UFC fighter
- Michael Collins, independence activist.
- Edmund Burke, political theorist and philosopher.
- Far too many great writers and poets to list, including James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, C. S. Lewis, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Christy Brown (played by Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, for which he got an Oscar)...
- Bands/singers including U2, Thin Lizzy, My Bloody Valentine, The Boomtown Rats, The Cranberries, Van Morrison, and Sinead O'Connor, Boyzone, The Script, Westlife and Jedward.
- Robert Boyle, scientist of Boyle's Law fame.
- Francis Beaufort, creator of the Beaufort Scale.
- George Boole, father of the transistor.
- John Philip Holland, pioneer of the modern submarine.
- TV/Radio presenter Sir Terry Wogan.
- Celebrity chat-show host Graham Norton
- Comedian and Mock the Week host Dara Ó Briain.
- Comedian, writer, actor and filmmaker Dylan Moran
- Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, creators of Father Ted.
- Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder: A Girl Group and Boy Band who sing a mix of traditional Irish songs and more modern songs (at their most recent concert Voyage, Celtic Thunder sang a few traditional songs alongside Billy Joel and Garth Brooks).
- WWE wrestlers Sheamus, Fergal Devitt as "Finn Bálor" (but better known as Prince Devitt), and Becky Lynch.
- Golfers Rory McIlroy (though he's actually from the North), Pádraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Fred Daly, and Harry Bradshaw.
- No small number of rugby players, the most famous of whom in recent times is Brian O'Driscoll.
- Film director and writer Lenny Abrahamson.
- Celtic Kingdoms
- Celtic Mythology
- The Celtic Tiger
- The Common Law (Irish law is derived from English law indirectly, as Ireland has always had its own judiciary).
- Irish Accents
- The Irish Diaspora
- Irish Media
- Irish Names
- Irish Newspapers
- Irish Political System
- Irish Potato Famine
- The Irish Question
- The Irish Revolution
- Irish Travellers
- The New Irish
- Northern Ireland
- The Troubles
- UTV Ireland
The Irish flag