Irish Almanac

Discover the country of Ireland, with our vital statistics. Included, you'll find population information, a short history of the country, religious and political turmoil, and more.
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National name: Ireland, or Eire in the Irish language

President: Mary McAleese (1997)

Taoiseach (Prime Minister): Bertie Ahern (1997)

Area: 27,136 sq. mi. (70,280 sq. km)

Population (2006 est.): 4,062,235 (growth rate: 1.2%); birth rate: 14.4/1000; infant mortality rate: 5.3/1000; life expectancy: 77.7; density per sq mi: 153

Capital (2003 est.): Dublin, 1,018,500

Other large cities: Cork, 193,400; Limerick, 84,900; Galway, 67,200

Monetary units: Euro (formerly Irish pound [punt])

Languages: English, Irish (Gaelic) (both official)

Ethnicity/race: Celtic, English

Religions: Roman Catholic 88%, Church of Ireland 3%, other Christian 2%, none 4%

Literacy rate: 98% (1981 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $136.9 billion; per capita $34,100. Real growth rate: 4.7%. Inflation: 2.7%. Unemployment: 4.2%. Arable land: 15%. Agriculture: turnips, barley, potatoes, sugar beets, wheat; beef, dairy products. Labor force: 2.03 million (2005 est.); agriculture 8%, industry 29%, services 64% (2002 est.). Industries: steel, lead, zinc, silver, aluminum, barite, and gypsum mining processing; food products, brewing, textiles, clothing; chemicals, pharmaceuticals; machinery, rail transportation equipment, passenger and commercial vehicles, ship construction and refurbishment; glass and crystal; software, tourism. Natural resources: zinc, lead, natural gas, barite, copper, gypsum, limestone, dolomite, peat, silver. Exports: $102 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): machinery and equipment, computers, chemicals, pharmaceuticals; live animals, animal products. Imports: $65.47 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): data processing equipment, other machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum and petroleum products, textiles, clothing. Major trading partners: U.S., UK, Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 1.955 million (2003); mobile cellular: 3.4 million (2003). Radio broadcast stations: AM 9, FM 106, shortwave 0 (1998). Television broadcast stations: 4 (many low-power repeaters) (2001). Internet hosts: 162,228 (2004). Internet users: 1.26 million (2003).

Transportation: Railways: total: 3,312 km (2004). Highways: total: 95,736 km; paved: 95,736 km (including 125 km of expressways); unpaved: 0 km (2002). Waterways: 753 km (pleasure craft only) (2004). Ports and harbors: Cork, Dublin, New Ross, Shannon Foynes, Waterford. Airports: 36 (2004 est.).

International disputes: Ireland, Iceland, and the UK dispute Denmark's claim that the Faroe Islands' continental shelf extends beyond 200 nm.


Ireland is situated in the Atlantic Ocean and separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea. Half the size of Arkansas, it occupies the entire island except for the six counties that make up Northern Ireland. Ireland resembles a basin—a central plain rimmed with mountains, except in the Dublin region. The mountains are low, with the highest peak, Carrantuohill in County Kerry, rising to 3,415 feet (1,041 m). The principal river is the Shannon, which begins in the north-central area, flows south and southwest for about 240 miles (386 km), and empties into the Atlantic.




In the Stone and Bronze Ages, Ireland was inhabited by Picts in the north and a people called the Erainn in the south, the same stock, apparently, as in all the isles before the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. About the 4th century B.C., tall, red-haired Celts arrived from Gaul or Galicia. They subdued and assimilated the inhabitants and established a Gaelic civilization. By the beginning of the Christian Era, Ireland was divided into five kingdoms—Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Meath, and Munster. Saint Patrick introduced Christianity in A.D. 432 and the country developed into a center of Gaelic and Latin learning. Irish monasteries, the equivalent of universities, attracted intellectuals as well as the pious and sent out missionaries to many parts of Europe and, some believe, to North America.

Norse depredations along the coasts, starting in 795, ended in 1014 with Norse defeat at the Battle of Clontarf by forces under Brian Boru. In the 12th century, the pope gave all of Ireland to the English Crown as a papal fief. In 1171, Henry II of England was acknowledged “Lord of Ireland,” but local sectional rule continued for centuries, and English control over the whole island was not reasonably absolute until the 17th century. In the Battle of the Boyne (1690), the Catholic King James II and his French supporters were defeated by the Protestant King William III (of Orange).

By the Act of Union (1801), England and Ireland became the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.” A steady decline in the Irish economy followed in the next decades. The population had reached 8.25 million when the great potato famine of 1846–48 took many lives and drove more than 2 million people to immigrate to North America.

In the meantime, anti-British agitation continued along with demands for Irish home rule. The advent of World War I delayed the institution of home rule and resulted in the Easter Rebellion in Dublin (April 24–29, 1916), in which Irish nationalists unsuccessfully attempted to throw off British rule. Guerrilla warfare against British forces followed proclamation of a republic by the rebels in 1919. The Irish Free State was established as a dominion on Dec. 6, 1922, with the six northern counties remaining as part of the United Kingdom. The constitution of 1937 changed the nation's name to Eire. Ireland was neutral in World War II.

In 1948, Eamon de Valera, American-born leader of the Sinn Fein, who had won the establishment of the Free State in 1921 in negotiations with Britain's David Lloyd George, was defeated by John A. Costello, who demanded final independence from Britain. The Republic of Ireland was proclaimed on April 18, 1949. It withdrew from the Commonwealth, but in 1955 Ireland entered the United Nations. Throughout the 1960s, two antagonistic currents dominated Irish politics. One sought to bind the wounds of the rebellion and civil war. The other was the effort of the outlawed Irish Republican Army to bring Northern Ireland into the republic.

Under the First Programme for Economic Expansion (1958–63), economic protection was dismantled and foreign investment encouraged. This prosperity brought profound social and cultural changes to what had been one of the poorest and least technologically advanced countries in Europe. Ireland joined the European Economic Community (now the EU) in 1973. In the 1990 presidential election, Mary Robinson was elected the republic's first woman president. The election of a candidate with socialist and feminist sympathies was regarded as a watershed in Irish political life, reflecting the changes taking place in Irish society. Irish voters approved the Maastricht Treaty, which paved the way for the establishment of the EU, by a large majority in a referendum held in 1992. In 1993, the Irish and British governments signed a joint peace initiative (the Downing Street Declaration), in which they pledged to seek mutually agreeable political structures in Northern Ireland and between the two islands. A referendum on allowing divorce under certain conditions—hitherto constitutionally forbidden—was held in Nov. 1995 and narrowly passed.

In 1998 hope for a solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland seemed palpable. A landmark settlement, the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998, called for Protestants to share political power with the minority Catholics and gave the Republic of Ireland a voice in Northern Irish affairs. The resounding commitment to the settlement was demonstrated in a dual referendum on May 22: the North approved the accord by a vote of 71% to 29%, and in the Irish Republic 94% favored it. After numerous stops and starts, the new government in Northern Ireland was formed on Dec. 2, 2000, but it has been suspended four times since then (and has remained suspended since Oct. 2002) primarily because of Sinn Fein's reluctance to disarm its military wing, the IRA. In 2005, however, the IRA renounced armed struggle, and peace again seemed possible.

Despite a number of recent corruption and bribery scandals, most of which involved the centrist Fianna Fáil Party of Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the party won 81 of 166 seats in May 2002. Ahern became the first Irish prime minister in 33 years to be elected to a second successive term.

Once a country plagued with high unemployment, high inflation, slow growth, and a large public debt, Ireland has undergone an extraordinary economic transformation in the last 15 years. Formerly an agriculture-based economy, the "Celtic Tiger" has become a leader in high-tech industries and in some years its economy has grown as much as 10%.

For more information, see the Central Statistics Office of Ireland (

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