“I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.” -James Joyce
Ireland: an island in the North Atlantic that’s characterized by its rolling green hills, charming cities, legends and lore, and warm hospitality. From the literary history of Dublin and the wild wonderlands of Kerry to the cobblestone streets of Galway City and the relics of the Rock of Cashel, the Republic of Ireland is a place filled with diverse sights and sprawling landscapes that you won’t soon forget.
- Independence: December 6, 1921
- Capital city: Dublin
- Area: 32,595 mi2 (84,421 km2)
- Population: 4,725,000
- Official language: English, Irish Gaelic
- Currency: Euro
- Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
- Drive on the: Left
WHERE IN THE WORLD
Located in Northern Europe, Ireland is an island that lies to the west of England. Comprised of two distinct entities — the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom — the country is bound by the Atlantic Ocean on its western side, and the Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel on its eastern side.
One of the most easily accessible European countries for those who reside on the eastern coast of North America, the Republic is popular among international travelers. The island boasts a variety of sights that include natural wonders like the Cliffs of Moher, the verdant walkways of Birr Castle, the magnificent facades of Galway’s Kylemore Abbey, and the ancient walls of Kerry’s Blarney Castle.
A BIT OF HISTORY
One of the longest-occupied areas in Europe, the Republic of Ireland dates back to nearly 12,500 B.C., based on evidence of human occupation. Protohistoric Gaelic Ireland was Christianized in the 5th century, but later succumbed to polytheism and Celtic paganism during the 7th century.
Eight hundred years of English rule began in the 12th century, with the advent of the Norman invasion. Much to Irish chagrin, Henry VIII proclaimed that he was the sovereign of the land and tried to pass an English Reformation, which was not well received on the island. This power struggle spurred Irish military campaigns from 1534 to 1603, and times of strife continued as factions of Catholics and Protestants warred throughout the 1600s.
Over the following centuries, Ireland juggled multiple socio-political conflicts, including the abolishment of the Irish Parliament, the rise of the republican United Irishmen Rebellion, and the island’s incorporation into the United Kingdom. Following the Irish War of Independence in 1922, Ireland became an independent and free state, though Northern Ireland remained part of the U.K. The transition sparked an Irish Civil War between the two factions, as well as between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists, but the Belfast Agreement established peace in the late 1990s.
Today, the Republic is a sophisticated and modern power with both global influence and economic sway. Known as a Celtic Tiger, the island is a top agricultural producer, as well as a goods manufacturer.
Flying into Ireland is fairly easy from major North American cities, and it’s likely that you’ll land in Dublin, Belfast, or Shannon. There are also plenty of domestic airports and budget airlines that offer quick, easy, and cheap service around the country, and to major cities across Europe.
While Irish cities are well-connected by public transportation systems, regional trains often skip over the charming towns and villages in between that make the Irish countryside so special. If you’re looking to explore off the island’s beaten track, one of the best ways to see the country is via car, though you’ll have to drive on the left side of the road and will often have to contend with narrow country lanes!
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Before renting a car, be sure to bring along your driver’s license and keep in mind that manual driving is much more common in Europe than it is in North America. If you’re unfamiliar with driving stick shift, the cramped Irish roads may not be the best place to try your hand! Always remember to ask for an automatic car at rental agencies and opt for insurance.
While visiting this charming island nation, it can be tempting to try to adopt the lyrical tilt of an Irish accent, but refrain for the sake of respect. Most Irish residents don’t appreciate visitors mimicking their accents, so keep the peace and just enjoy the voices of those around you.
If you’re invited to spend the afternoon with an Irish family, and we hope you are, be sure to say yes to tea! This is a daily tradition in most Irish households, and turning up your nose at a cuppa can be considered offensive.
Also, be aware that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are two very different places. Northern Ireland is part of the U.K., while the Republic is very much an independent country with a proud history and even prouder citizens. Try not to confuse the two while exploring the island — if you do, you’ll likely be subject to a (slightly heated) rant about the conflicts that led to the separation of these two distinct countries.
Ireland is home to some of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders and charming cities. Whether your plan is to hike the country’s peaks, explore its twisty country roads via car, or let your camera be your guide, there’s no shortage of activities on the Emerald Isle.
Header photo by Steve Sheehy