I happen to be part of the large Scots-Irish population that is widely common in the Midwest. I’m far more Scottish than I am Irish (my maiden name was Campbell). But there is a small amount of Irish in my history somewhere. So, technically speaking this is the first country of my ancestry that I’ve come to in my blog. I’ve always been fairly certain that God looked down on the Scots-Irish and said, “Look, I know you can hold your liquor and hold an argument, but I can’t make you too perfect. So, unfortunately you will practically burst into flames if you go into direct sunlight in warm weather. Sorry, but we all have to make sacrifices around here.” Pretty sure that’s a true story.
It was Ptolemy who referred to Ireland as “Little Britain” as compared to Great Britain. Later on, he would call Ireland Iouneria while Great Britain was known as Albion. The Romans called the island Hibernia (which you still see in prefixes referring to Ireland as in Hiberno-English culture) or Scotia (later the term Scotia referred to Scotland, as in Nova Scotia [New Scotland]). The Irish name for Ireland, Éire, is named after a Celtic fertility goddess.
The island of Ireland lies to the west of the island of Great Britain. It’s thought that these two islands were once connected by a land bridge. When the glaciers melted, the two islands became separated along with many of the islands in the British Isles. Ireland is the third-largest island in Europe and 20th in the world. The Irish Sea separates Ireland from Great Britain and the North Atlantic Ocean lies on the western side of the island. The vast majority of the island is known as the Republic of Ireland; however, the northernmost section broke away and eventually became part of the United Kingdom. Because Ireland is an island that generally stays cool during the summers and very cold during the winters, there are not as many native species of flora and fauna that more tropical countries have.
By the Iron Age came along, the Celtic language and culture was firmly set in Ireland. The Celts suffered through several invasions from nearby groups from Europe including the Britons. The Romans pushed their way farther north through Great Britain and into Ireland. Kingdoms were established all over the island, and although unifying rules of law were generally adhered to, the goal of unifying all of the kingdoms together didn’t happen at this time. Ireland was then invaded by the British followed by the Normans. The Pope issued a papal bull establishing Ireland as a Catholic country. This is pretty much the beginning of a long history of Ireland becoming involved in religion-based wars. Ireland became part of Great Britain, but because of its lack of iron and coal, they used Ireland as an agricultural resource. When the Irish Catholics rebelled against the British in 1641, British military/political leader Oliver Cromwell executed anyone who was involved; 20,000 were estimated to have died in battle; another 200,000 civilians were thought to have died due to war-induced famine, disease, and displacement; and another 50,000 were sent to Barbados and other areas in the West Indies as slaves (the band Flogging Molly has a song about this called “Tobacco Island”). During the 1840s, Ireland would go through the Great Famine, which was one of the main pushes behind the large waves of immigration into the United States. After Irish involvement in WWI, Ireland (and the Irish Republican Army [IRA]) launched into its own conflict over independence. In 1920, Northern Ireland essentially became part of the UK and the rest of Ireland became independent. Although Ireland retained its neutrality during WWII, German intelligence held positions on the island. From the 1950s–1980s, Ireland saw a large period of emigration and growth that became known as the Celtic Tiger. Starting in the late 1960s and ending in 1998 (more or less), a long period of sporadic fighting stemming from the constitutional and political status of Northern Ireland became known as The Troubles (The name sort of diminishes the violence that occurred and issues at hand. I mean, drinking too much whiskey gives me The Troubles the next day, but it shouldn’t be on the same par as deciding who controls your country.).
Dublin is the capital and largest city in Ireland. It’s estimated that over 40% of the population lives within 100 km (62 mi) of the capital. The name itself comes from the Old Irish meaning “dark pool” in reference to the dark tidal pools that develop in the River Liffey. Dublin is a very old city, far older than any city in the US: it celebrated its millennium in 1988 (it was actually a Viking settlement at one time as well). But now, it stands as the center of government, literature, music, arts, education, media, sports, and finance. Trinity College is widely known, especially to fans of James Joyce and other writers. In fact, Dublin is often the setting of many stories, including Joyce’s Dubliners. (I was quite obsessed with moving to Dublin after reading this.)
Ireland adopted the euro as its currency when it joined the European Union. (In contrast, Northern Ireland is part of the UK and uses the pound sterling as its currency.) The economy on the island is a little confusing because on one hand, the two are completely different from each other. But on the other hand, there are also parts of their economy covering all-island economic statuses. Both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have strong agricultural and energy industries. They deal highly in electricity and natural gas, but they are also looking into expanding into wind energy.
Religion has played an important role throughout Ireland’s history. The Catholic Church especially has impacted much of the culture of Ireland. Although roughly 90% of Irish claim to be Roman Catholic, only about 35-40% actually attend church regularly. Saint Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint and namesake of the famous Irish-themed holiday, St. Patrick’s Day (March 17 is the date of his death). Legend has it that the reason there are no snakes in Ireland is because St. Patrick banished them off the island after he was attacked him during a fast. However, it is thought by anthropological scientists that they never found any evidence there were any snakes on the island to begin with after the glaciers melted.
Ireland has two official languages: Irish and English. Irish is sometimes referred to as Irish Gaelic and is related to Scottish Gaelic and Manx (spoken on the Isle of Man, an island located in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Great Britain). Although Irish is taught in schools, only about 10% of the population speaks Irish outside of school; there are more speakers outside of the urban areas than in the larger cities. The app Duolingo just added Irish to its list of language courses for English speakers. I did the first lesson a while back and was very surprised at how it sounds. I may go on and do more since I’m almost finished with the Spanish track.
Yes, it is true that the Irish (and Scots for that matter) are generally not as tall as other ethnic groups. I, myself, topped out at 5’ ½” at the age of 14. And yes, roughly 9% of Irish are natural red heads. Dublin is the City of Pubs: there is roughly one pub for every hundred people. Its oldest pub was founded around 900 years ago. And they are the 2nd highest (per capita) in alcohol consumption—behind Czech Republic. The shamrock, the harp, and the Celtic cross, and the color green are all symbols of Ireland. Halloween actually has its roots in Ireland with the harvest festival called Samhain. The Irish surname that starts with “Mac” means “son of” while the surname that starts with “O’” means “grandson of.” Ireland has produced many scientists who have come up with many inventions and scientific theories that have changed the world as we know it. And just yesterday, Ireland made history for being the first country in the world to allow gay marriage based on a popular vote. This vote was so important to them that there was a popular Twitter hashtag called #hometovote where Irish people all over the world were flying home in order to vote. I’m so proud of them and dream that it would happen here. But instead, I’ll just make some Irish food in solidarity with them. I’ve got my recipes all picked out along with my Smithwicks and some episodes of Father Ted queued up, of course.
Up next: art and literature