Ireland is a country full of wonderfully intriguing contradictions. The history is often tragic, but the people tell it in a warm and humorous way. The clouds are often looming, but sunshine soon breaks forth after a burst of rain. Walk down a road and you may be soaking wet on your right side, come back up the road and you’re completely dry. Be warmed by whisky or tea, or see a double rainbow and forget all about the weather. Mythical legends and tales abound, castles and estates dot the landscape, but the Irish are very practical and down-to-earth. They’ve gone from a country of poverty and famine to one of innovation and wealth. In places where the Great Famine decimated the population, either by starvation or immigration, there are thriving communities. Call it what you will: tenacity, determination, grit, or plain stubbornness, the Irish have weathered many a storm and through it all they’ve managed to retain a warmth and charm like no other nation of people.
Who Are They?
The Irish are a Gaelic people, grouped together as an ethnolinguistic group because they have been unified by a common language. The Gaelic languages, or Goidelic are Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx (Isle of Man). The Goidelic languages form one half o the Insular Celtic languages, the other consisting of the Britannic languages: Breton, Cornish, and Welsh.
There are over 4.6 million people living in the Republic of Ireland (in Northern Ireland there are 1.8 million). The Irish Diaspora means that there is an estimated 50 to 80 million people living worldwide who have Irish ancestry. Ireland has a very high GDP per capita, one of the highest in Europe and have enjoyed prosperity and growth, with a low jobless rate and successful technology base.
Their genetics are often studied and new theories are proposed, but none seem to stick. The most likely, but still an idea, is that people moved to the island from France, Spain, England, Cornwall, Scotland and Wales, as blood type similarities can be found. Also, but to a lesser extent, Scandinavian countries can be thrown into the mix. As you might guess, these groups of people landed on the island in waves and in accordance to their original location. So traces of English or Welsh can be seen in the center, French and Spanish around the south and west, and Scottish and Scandinavian to the north and northeast. This certainly isn’t the case now, but gives an interesting perspective on the people and the land.
Due to the country’s increased economic power, membership in the European Union and open workforce, Ireland has had an increased influx of immigrants. The largest being from Poland.
Ireland has a written constitution and parliamentary democracy similar to Great Britain. It’s president is elected by popular vote and preforms ceremonial duties. A prime minister, known as the Taoiseach, is nominated by parliament.
They’ve been a member of the EU since 1973. Now that the United Kingdom is existing the EU, it is unclear about the open border policy with Northern Ireland, along with the free movement of trade, goods and services and capital.
Though the Irish speak English as their first language, over 40% of the population speak Irish, but of that, only 2% speak it on a daily basis. That’s what a well-used poll says and people tend to agree with it. However, if you do any traveling to Ireland you might feel like they are speaking another language, and indeed they probably are. I think it is a bit higher than the poll, and that the Irish intermix their language with English on a daily basis. You can most certainly see it in the signs. There are signs in English as well, but be prepared to have signs in Irish. At some point you may be as confused as I was on my first trip over and think whole swaths of the city are in Irish-only. It is how I remember it. I suppose I was lost and kept seeing signs and focusing on the words I didn’t know, instead of focusing on the English. But just to say, you’ll run into it and it’s becoming more and more widespread. I liked seeing it and I’m glad things are changing. The language is studied in school and hopefully it will have a stronghold again, because I think it’s a good thing to keep language alive. It is part of their heritage. You can learn a little before you go, just type in “learn Irish” in your search engine.
Ireland is predominantly Catholic, with over 80% of the population. Northern Ireland is a mix of Catholic and Protestant, split at about 40% a piece. It is an open society and so other religious, such as Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormonism, Buddhists, Hindus, Judaism, etc. are freely practiced.
Ireland has a rich history in the arts, which can be seen throughout the country, beginning with stone carvings and Celtic crosses. The Irish Celtic knotwork began to fill their highly praised illuminated manuscripts. The Book of Kells, a very fine example, is considered to be a masterpiece of art. The Celtic theme continued in other forms like woodwork and metalwork. It is still a strong style in Ireland, resonating with people around the world. Such artists as John Butler Yeats, Francis Bacon, and William Orpen are highly prized.
There is a strong narrative language across Ireland, where stories are told with real heartfelt emotion. It’s no wonder Ireland has produced many fine writers, including Jonathan Swift, W.B. Yeats, Flann O’Brien and James Joyce. Writers that were born in Ireland, but moved and are sometimes more associated with another country are: C.S. Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. Notable poets include Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney and John Montague.
Not surprisingly football (soccer) is the most popular sport, but it is Gaelic football, meaning the ball can also be carried, hand-passed, or punched. Hurling, is the next popular sport, which is a very interesting sport involving hurling sticks and a ball. It’s similar to hockey. Soccer and rugby round out the top four. There are a myriad of sports played as a team or individual, for money or for fun. If you are an active person, consider experiencing your favorite sport or a new sport in Ireland, whether watching it live or participating in it yourself it will make for good memories.
Traditional Irish food is well-known and revolves around meat, root vegetables and cabbage. But if you delve into it a bit you’ll find hearty foods that will become favorites. There is great variety and interesting twists, as Ireland’s food has evolved or been rediscovered. Find recipes to warm you up or cheer you here.
Read about Ireland’s fascinating history here.