Ireland is an island in the northwest of Europe with an area of 32,595 sq miles. About 370 km (230 miles) long by 225 km (140 miles) wide making Ireland is the third largest island in Europe. The population of the island of Ireland is approximately 5.8 million people, 4.1 million in the Republic of Ireland and 1.7 million in Northern Ireland. This figure fluctuates from time to time depending on the prevailing economic climate.
Ireland has thirty-two counties, spread between the four provinces of Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. A ring of coastal mountains surrounds low central plains. About five percent of Irish land is under forest. A change from ancient times when almost the entire country was covered in forest. The island’s green vegetation which earned Ireland the nickname of “The Emerald Isle” is a product of its mild climate and frequent but soft rainfall. Ireland’s most scenic areas are thought by some to lie in the south western and western counties. These areas are largely mountainous and rocky, with beautiful green views. Though this will be hotly disputed by the other counties, all of whom have their own charms.
Irish is the ancient Celtic language of Ireland. The Irish languarge was brought to Ireland by Celtic invaders in 1000 BC, and to the end of the 18th century, was spoken by the majority of the people. The English language gained ground rapidly after they invaded Ireland and Irish is now spoken regularly only in certain areas in the west of Ireland known as the Gaeltacht areas. Irish is taught in all schools, but despite active support from the government of Ireland and the fact that Irish is taught in schools and colleges, there are probably fewer than 90,000 speakers. Irish is the first official language of the Irish Republic and recently became an official language of the European Union (EU).
For such a small country, Ireland has made a large contribution to world of art and literature in all its branches, mainly in English. In more recent times, Ireland has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for literature: George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney. James Joyce is widely considered as one of the most significant writers of the 20th century. His novel, Ulysses is considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
The Irish landscape is one of Ireland’s greatest attractions. Ireland’s most scenic areas lie in the south western and western counties. There are several National Parks filled with towering hills, romantic lakes, and will always remain Ireland’s most unspoiled treasures. Magnificent scenery has attracted many visitors to these parks for years. The Atlantic Gulf Stream keeps the Irish climate mild most of the year. Average temperatures in winter are 4 – 7o C, and in summer are 14 – 18o C. Rainfall is heaviest in the west and lightest in the southeast, but at all times very unpredictable.
Gaelic hurling and football are the most popular sports in Ireland – they make up the national sports of Ireland, known as Gaelic Games. All Gaelic games are governed by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Other main sports include: Rugby, Football (soccer), Horse racing and Greyhound racing.