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Ireland (Irish: Éire [ˈeːɾʲə] ⓘ), also known as the Republic of Ireland (Poblacht na hÉireann), is a country in north-western Europe consisting of 26 of the 32 counties of the island of Ireland. The capital and largest city is Dublin, on the eastern side of the island. Around 2.1 million of the country's population of 5.15 million people reside in the Greater Dublin Area. The sovereign state shares its only land border with Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. It is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the Celtic Sea to the south, St George's Channel to the south-east, and the Irish Sea to the east. It is a unitary, parliamentary republic. The legislature, the Oireachtas, consists of a lower house, Dáil Éireann; an upper house, Seanad Éireann; and an elected President (Uachtarán) who serves as the largely ceremonial head of state, but with some important powers and duties. The head of government is the Taoiseach (Prime Minister, literally "Chief"), who is elected by the Dáil and appointed by the President; the Taoiseach in turn appoints other government ministers.
Amhrán na bhFiann
"The Soldiers' Song"
and largest city
|Unitary parliamentary republic
|Michael D. Higgins
from the United Kingdom
|24 April 1916
|21 January 1919
|6 December 1921
|6 December 1922
|29 December 1937
|18 April 1949
|70,273 km2 (27,133 sq mi) (118th)
• Water (%)
• 2022 estimate
• 2022 census
|71.3/km2 (184.7/sq mi) (113th)
|$722.929 billion (40th)
• Per capita
|$589.569 billion (30th)
• Per capita
very high · 8th
|Euro (€) (EUR)
• Summer (DST)
|ISO 3166 code
The Irish Free State was created with Dominion status in 1922, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In 1937, a new constitution was adopted, in which the state was named "Ireland" and effectively became a republic, with an elected non-executive president. It was officially declared a republic in 1949, following the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. Ireland became a member of the United Nations in 1955. It joined the European Communities (EC), the predecessor of the European Union (EU), in 1973. The state had no formal relations with Northern Ireland for most of the 20th century, but the 1980s and 1990s saw the British and Irish governments working with Northern Irish parties to resolve the conflict that had become known as the Troubles. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the Irish government and Northern Irish government have co-operated on a number of policy areas under the North/South Ministerial Council created by the Agreement.
Ireland is a developed country with a quality of life that ranks amongst the highest in the world; after adjustments for inequality, the 2021 Human Development Index listing ranked it the sixth-highest in the world. It also ranks highly in healthcare, economic freedom, and freedom of the press. It is a member of the EU and a founding member of the Council of Europe and the OECD. The Irish government has followed a policy of military neutrality through non-alignment since before World War II, and the country is consequently not a member of NATO, although it is a member of Partnership for Peace and certain aspects of PESCO. Ireland's economy is advanced, with one of Europe's major financial hubs being centred around Dublin. It ranks among the top 10 wealthiest countries in the world in terms of both GDP and GNI per capita. After joining the EC, the country's government enacted a series of liberal economic policies that helped to boost economic growth between 1995 and 2007, a time now often referred to as the Celtic Tiger period. A recession and reversal in growth then followed during the Great Recession, which was exacerbated by the bursting of the Irish property bubble.
The Irish name for Ireland is Éire, deriving from Ériu, a goddess in Irish mythology. The state created in 1922, comprising 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland, was "styled and known as the Irish Free State" (Saorstát Éireann). The Constitution of Ireland, adopted in 1937, says that "the name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland". Section 2 of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 states, "It is hereby declared that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland." The 1948 Act does not name the state "Republic of Ireland", because to have done so would have put it in conflict with the Constitution.
The government of the United Kingdom used the name "Eire" (without the diacritic) and, from 1949, "Republic of Ireland", for the state. It was not until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, when the state dropped its claim to Northern Ireland, that it began calling the state "Ireland".
The state is also informally called "the Republic", "Southern Ireland" or "the South"; especially when distinguishing the state from the island or when discussing Northern Ireland ("the North"). Irish republicans reserve the name "Ireland" for the whole island and often refer to the state as "the Free State", "the 26 Counties", or "the South of Ireland". This is a "response to the partitionist view [...] that Ireland stops at the border".
From the Act of Union on 1 January 1801, until 6 December 1922, the island of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. During the Great Famine, from 1845 to 1849, the island's population of over 8 million fell by 30%. One million Irish died of starvation and disease and another 1.5 million emigrated, mostly to the United States. This set the pattern of emigration for the century to come, resulting in constant population decline up to the 1960s.
From 1874, and particularly under Charles Stewart Parnell from 1880, the Irish Parliamentary Party gained prominence. This was firstly through widespread agrarian agitation via the Irish Land League, which won land reforms for tenants in the form of the Irish Land Acts, and secondly through its attempts to achieve Home Rule, via two unsuccessful bills which would have granted Ireland limited national autonomy. These led to "grass-roots" control of national affairs, under the Local Government Act 1898, that had been in the hands of landlord-dominated grand juries of the Protestant Ascendancy.
Home Rule seemed certain when the Parliament Act 1911 abolished the veto of the House of Lords, and John Redmond secured the Third Home Rule Act in 1914. However, the Unionist movement had been growing since 1886 among Irish Protestants after the introduction of the first home rule bill, fearing discrimination and loss of economic and social privileges if Irish Catholics achieved real political power. In the late 19th and early 20th-century unionism was particularly strong in parts of Ulster, where industrialisation was more common in contrast to the more agrarian rest of the island, and where the Protestant population was more prominent, with a majority in four counties. Under the leadership of the Dublin-born Sir Edward Carson of the Irish Unionist Party and the Ulsterman Sir James Craig of the Ulster Unionist Party, unionists became strongly militant, forming Ulster Volunteers in order to oppose "the Coercion of Ulster". After the Home Rule Bill passed parliament in May 1914, to avoid rebellion with Ulster, the British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith introduced an Amending Bill reluctantly conceded to by the Irish Party leadership. This provided for the temporary exclusion of Ulster from the workings of the bill for a trial period of six years, with an as yet undecided new set of measures to be introduced for the area to be temporarily excluded.
Revolution and steps to independence
Though it received the Royal Assent and was placed on the statute books in 1914, the implementation of the Third Home Rule Act was suspended until after the First World War which defused the threat of civil war in Ireland. With the hope of ensuring the implementation of the Act at the end of the war through Ireland's engagement in the war, Redmond and the Irish National Volunteers supported the UK and its Allies. 175,000 men joined Irish regiments of the 10th (Irish) and 16th (Irish) divisions of the New British Army, while Unionists joined the 36th (Ulster) divisions.
The remainder of the Irish Volunteers, who refused Redmond and opposed any support of the UK, launched an armed insurrection against British rule in the 1916 Easter Rising, together with the Irish Citizen Army. This commenced on 24 April 1916 with the declaration of independence. After a week of heavy fighting, primarily in Dublin, the surviving rebels were forced to surrender their positions. The majority were imprisoned, with fifteen of the prisoners (including most of the leaders) were executed as traitors to the UK. This included Patrick Pearse, the spokesman for the rising and who provided the signal to the volunteers to start the rising, as well as James Connolly, socialist and founder of the Industrial Workers of the World union and both the Irish and Scottish Labour movements. These events, together with the Conscription Crisis of 1918, had a profound effect on changing public opinion in Ireland against the British Government.
In January 1919, after the December 1918 general election, 73 of Ireland's 105 Members of Parliament (MPs) elected were Sinn Féin members who were elected on a platform of abstentionism from the British House of Commons. In January 1919, they set up an Irish parliament called Dáil Éireann. This first Dáil issued a declaration of independence and proclaimed an Irish Republic. The declaration was mainly a restatement of the 1916 Proclamation with the additional provision that Ireland was no longer a part of the United Kingdom. The Irish Republic's Ministry of Dáil Éireann sent a delegation under Ceann Comhairle (Head of Council, or Speaker, of the Daíl) Seán T. O'Kelly to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, but it was not admitted.
After the War of Independence and truce called in July 1921, representatives of the British government and the five Irish treaty delegates, led by Arthur Griffith, Robert Barton and Michael Collins, negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London from 11 October to 6 December 1921. The Irish delegates set up headquarters at Hans Place in Knightsbridge, and it was here in private discussions that the decision was taken on 5 December to recommend the treaty to Dáil Éireann. On 7 January 1922, the Second Dáil ratified the Treaty by 64 votes to 57.
In accordance with the treaty, on 6 December 1922 the entire island of Ireland became a self-governing Dominion called the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann). Under the Constitution of the Irish Free State, the Parliament of Northern Ireland had the option to leave the Irish Free State one month later and return to the United Kingdom. During the intervening period, the powers of the Parliament of the Irish Free State and Executive Council of the Irish Free State did not extend to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland exercised its right under the treaty to leave the new Dominion and rejoined the United Kingdom on 8 December 1922. It did so by making an address to the King requesting, "that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland." The Irish Free State was a constitutional monarchy sharing a monarch with the United Kingdom and other Dominions of the British Commonwealth. The country had a governor-general (representing the monarch), a bicameral parliament, a cabinet called the "Executive Council", and a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council.
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War (June 1922 – May 1923) was the consequence of the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the creation of the Irish Free State. Anti-treaty forces, led by Éamon de Valera, objected to the fact that acceptance of the treaty abolished the Irish Republic of 1919 to which they had sworn loyalty, arguing in the face of public support for the settlement that the "people have no right to do wrong". They objected most to the fact that the state would remain part of the British Empire and that members of the Free State Parliament would have to swear what the anti-treaty side saw as an oath of fidelity to the British king. Pro-treaty forces, led by Michael Collins, argued that the treaty gave "not the ultimate freedom that all nations aspire to and develop, but the freedom to achieve it".
At the start of the war, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) split into two opposing camps: a pro-treaty IRA and an anti-treaty IRA. The pro-treaty IRA disbanded and joined the new National Army. However, because the anti-treaty IRA lacked an effective command structure and because of the pro-treaty forces' defensive tactics throughout the war, Michael Collins and his pro-treaty forces were able to build up an army with many tens of thousands of World War I veterans from the 1922 disbanded Irish regiments of the British Army, capable of overwhelming the anti-treatyists. British supplies of artillery, aircraft, machine-guns and ammunition boosted pro-treaty forces, and the threat of a return of Crown forces to the Free State removed any doubts about the necessity of enforcing the treaty. Lack of public support for the anti-treaty forces (often called the Irregulars) and the determination of the government to overcome the Irregulars contributed significantly to their defeat.
Constitution of Ireland 1937
Following a national plebiscite in July 1937, the new Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) came into force on 29 December 1937. This replaced the Constitution of the Irish Free State and declared that the name of the state is Éire, or "Ireland" in the English language. While Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution defined the national territory to be the whole island, they also confined the state's jurisdiction to the area that had been the Irish Free State. The former Irish Free State government had abolished the Office of Governor-General in December 1936. Although the constitution established the office of President of Ireland, the question over whether Ireland was a republic remained open. Diplomats were accredited to the king, but the president exercised all internal functions of a head of state. For instance, the President gave assent to new laws with his own authority, without reference to King George VI who was only an "organ", that was provided for by statute law.
Ireland remained neutral during World War II, a period it described as The Emergency. Ireland's Dominion status was terminated with the passage of The Republic of Ireland Act 1948, which came into force on 18 April 1949 and declared that the state was a republic. At the time, a declaration of a republic terminated Commonwealth membership. This rule was changed 10 days after Ireland declared itself a republic, with the London Declaration of 28 April 1949. Ireland did not reapply when the rules were altered to permit republics to join. Later, the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 was repealed in Ireland by the Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union Irish Statutes) Act 1962.
Ireland became a member of the United Nations in December 1955, after having been denied membership because of its neutral stance during the Second World War and not supporting the Allied cause. At the time, joining the UN involved a commitment to using force to deter aggression by one state against another if the UN thought it was necessary.
Interest towards membership of the European Communities (EC) developed in Ireland during the 1950s, with consideration also given to membership of the European Free Trade Area. As the United Kingdom intended on EC membership, Ireland applied for membership in July 1961 due to the substantial economic linkages with the United Kingdom. The founding EC members remained sceptical regarding Ireland's economic capacity, neutrality, and unattractive protectionist policy. Many Irish economists and politicians realised that economic policy reform was necessary. The prospect of EC membership became doubtful in 1963 when French President General Charles de Gaulle stated that France opposed Britain's accession, which ceased negotiations with all other candidate countries. In 1969 his successor, Georges Pompidou, was not opposed to British and Irish membership. Negotiations began and in 1972 the Treaty of Accession was signed. A referendum was held later that year which confirmed Ireland's entry into the bloc, and it finally joined the EC as a member state on 1 January 1973.
The economic crisis of the late 1970s was fuelled by the Fianna Fáil government's budget, the abolition of the car tax, excessive borrowing, and global economic instability including the 1979 oil crisis. There were significant policy changes from 1989 onwards, with economic reform, tax cuts, welfare reform, an increase in competition, and a ban on borrowing to fund current spending. This policy began in 1989–1992 by the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government, and continued by the subsequent Fianna Fáil/Labour government and Fine Gael/Labour/Democratic Left government. Ireland became one of the world's fastest growing economies by the late 1990s in what was known as the Celtic Tiger period, which lasted until the Great Recession. Since 2014, Ireland has experienced increased economic activity.
In the Northern Ireland question, the British and Irish governments started to seek a peaceful resolution to the violent conflict involving many paramilitaries and the British Army in Northern Ireland known as "The Troubles". A peace settlement for Northern Ireland, known as the Good Friday Agreement, was approved in 1998 in referendums north and south of the border. As part of the peace settlement, the territorial claim to Northern Ireland in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland was removed by referendum. In its white paper on Brexit the United Kingdom government reiterated its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. With regard to Northern Ireland's status, it said that the UK Government's "clearly-stated preference is to retain Northern Ireland's current constitutional position: as part of the UK, but with strong links to Ireland".
The state extends over an area of about five-sixths (70,273 km2 or 27,133 sq mi) of the island of Ireland (84,421 km2 or 32,595 sq mi), with Northern Ireland constituting the remainder. The island is bounded to the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the northeast by the North Channel. To the east, the Irish Sea connects to the Atlantic Ocean via St George's Channel and the Celtic Sea to the southwest.
The western landscape mostly consists of rugged cliffs, hills and mountains. The central lowlands are extensively covered with glacial deposits of clay and sand, as well as significant areas of bogland and several lakes. The highest point is Carrauntoohil (1,038.6 m or 3,407 ft), located in the MacGillycuddy's Reeks mountain range in the southwest. River Shannon, which traverses the central lowlands, is the longest river in Ireland at 386 kilometres or 240 miles in length. The west coast is more rugged than the east, with numerous islands, peninsulas, headlands and bays.
Ireland is one of the least forested countries in Europe. Until the end of the Middle Ages, the land was heavily forested. Native species include deciduous trees such as oak, ash, hazel, birch, alder, willow, aspen, elm, rowan and hawthorn, as well as evergreen trees such Scots pine, yew, holly and strawberry trees. The growth of blanket bog and the extensive clearing of woodland for farming are believed to be the main causes of deforestation. Today, only about 10% of Ireland is woodland, most of which is non-native conifer plantations, and only 2% of which is native woodland. The average woodland cover in European countries is over 33%. According to Coillte, a state-owned forestry business, the country's climate gives Ireland one of the fastest growth rates for forests in Europe. Hedgerows, which are traditionally used to define land boundaries, are an important substitute for woodland habitat, providing refuge for native wild flora and a wide range of insect, bird and mammal species. It is home to two terrestrial ecoregions: Celtic broadleaf forests and North Atlantic moist mixed forests.
Agriculture accounts for about 64% of the total land area. This has resulted in limited land to preserve natural habitats, in particular for larger wild mammals with greater territorial requirements. The long history of agricultural production coupled with modern agricultural methods, such as pesticide and fertiliser use, has placed pressure on biodiversity.
The Atlantic Ocean and the warming influence of the Gulf Stream affect weather patterns in Ireland. Temperatures differ regionally, with central and eastern areas tending to be more extreme. However, due to a temperate oceanic climate, temperatures are seldom lower than −5 °C (23 °F) in winter or higher than 26 °C (79 °F) in summer. The highest temperature recorded in Ireland was 33.3 °C (91.9 °F) on 26 June 1887 at Kilkenny Castle in Kilkenny, while the lowest temperature recorded was −19.1 °C (−2.4 °F) at Markree Castle in Sligo. Rainfall is more prevalent during winter months and less so during the early months of summer. Southwestern areas experience the most rainfall as a result of south westerly winds, while Dublin receives the least. Sunshine duration is highest in the southeast of the country. The far north and west are two of the windiest regions in Europe, with great potential for wind energy generation.
Ireland normally gets between 1100 and 1600 hours of sunshine each year, most areas averaging between 3.25 and 3.75 hours a day. The sunniest months are May and June, which average between 5 and 6.5 hours per day over most of the country. The extreme southeast gets most sunshine, averaging over 7 hours a day in early summer. December is the dullest month, with an average daily sunshine ranging from about 1 hour in the north to almost 2 hours in the extreme southeast. The sunniest summer in the 100 years from 1881 to 1980 was 1887, according to measurements made at the Phoenix Park in Dublin; 1980 was the dullest.