From Grolier's The New Book of Knowledge
Ireland is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, located just west of the larger island of Great Britain. Renowned for its lush green fields and hills, Ireland has long been known as the Emerald Isle.
Most of the island is occupied by the Republic of Ireland, an independent nation that is the focus of this article. The northwestern region, known as Northern Ireland, is part of the United Kingdom. This division of the island has caused great political turmoil and much bloodshed for hundreds of years.
Most of the people of the Republic of Ireland are descended from the Gaels, who were Celts. Other Celts from Scotland, Vikings from Scandinavia, Normans from France, and Anglo-Saxons from England also settled on the island. Because these early peoples intermarried, there is little ethnic division today.
Historically, many Irish people have left the island to seek their fortunes abroad. Today there are more Irish-descended men and women living outside Ireland than there are in the republic itself. And despite the nation's economic growth, especially since the late 1900's, many Irish people continue to immigrate to the United States, Great Britain, and elsewhere, seeking higher wages and wider choices of occupation.
Language. For many centuries the Gaelic language was spoken throughout the country. Gaelic, also known as Irish, is one of the oldest languages in Europe. Although it is still taught in schools and considered the nation's first official language (English is second), Gaelic has been replaced by English as the common language of almost the entire population. Today Gaelic is spoken by only a few people, mainly in areas along the western coast. The Gaelic name for Ireland is Éire.
Religion. The Irish are known to be a religious people, and the nation's constitution guarantees freedom of worship to all religions. More than 90 percent of the people are Roman Catholic.
Education. Religious and moral training is a basic goal of Irish education, which is free and compulsory for all children to the age of 16. Almost all primary education is run by religious groups and is supported by state funds. Teachers are paid by the state, but the management of the schools is mainly under local control. Secondary schools are privately run but are subject to state inspection because they receive some state funds. The majority of Catholic secondary schools are managed by religious orders.
Ireland's many universities include Dublin City University, the University of Limerick, the University of Dublin (better known as Trinity College), and the National University of Ireland. The National University has campuses in Dublin, Maynooth, Cork, and Galway.
Food and Drink. Many Irish specialties are made with locally produced ingredients. Irish stew, for example, is made with mutton, which comes from sheep, and potatoes, which have been the staple crop in Ireland for hundreds of years. The Irish also use homegrown barley to produce their famous Irish whiskey. Other popular drinks include beer and its heartier cousins, ale and stout. Villagers and city folk alike often gather at their local pub, or tavern, to eat, drink, and listen to the music of local musicians.
Sports. The Irish are great sports lovers. Among the most popular games are Gaelic football and hurling, a game that resembles field hockey. Every year the 26 counties of Ireland take part in national football and hurling contests. The all-Ireland championship finals attract huge crowds.
Irish Thoroughbred horses have an outstanding reputation. They have won races all over the world, including Ireland's own Irish Derby, which takes place in Country Kildare at the Curragh Racecourse, which is just one of more than two dozen racecourses in the country.
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