Ireland

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The Republic of Ireland is the larger, southernmost part of the island of Ireland (Irish: Éire) which is, somewhat confusingly, both officially and commonly called just Ireland . The island has been divided politically into two states since 1920. The remainder of this shared island is Northern Ireland, which is a devolved part of the United Kingdom. In cliché, Ireland is the land of shamrocks; of green fields and mythical leprechauns; of pubs brimming with friendliness and craic, where every Guinness is poured with time and the respect it deserves. The reality is more nuanced, of course, but there is certainly a rich culture that, along with its people, has been exported around the world. The inspiration for artists, from the literary genius of George Bernard Shaw to U2, among the best selling music bands of all time, the Emerald Isle is a real gem just waiting to be discovered. (less...) (more...)

Population: 4,775,982 people
Area: 70,273 km2
Highest point: 1,041 m
Coastline: 1,448 km
Life expectancy: 80.44 years
GDP per capita: $42,600
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About Ireland

History

There is proof that the Island of Ireland has been inhabited by humans as far back as the year 3100 BC. Celtic tribes settled on the island in the 4th century BC. Invasions by Norsemen that began in the late 8th century led to important Norse settlements in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. Military alliances shifted and melded frequently but monastic, Christian scholars endured and persisted and sent successful missionaries to Scotland, England and as far afield as Switzerland.

Norman invasions began in the early 12th century and set in place Ireland's uneasy position within England's sphere of influence. The Act of Union that came into force on 1 Jan 1801 — in which Catholics, 90% of the Irish population, were excluded from Parliament — saw Ireland joining the United Kingdom. Some bars to non-Anglican civic participation were removed in the 1820s, but in the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century the subject of Irish home rule was a major debate within the British parliament. After several failed attempts, a Home Rule bill finally passed through parliament in 1914 although the start of the first world war saw its indefinite postponement. A failed rebellion on Easter Monday in 1916 showed a hint of things to come with years of war to follow, beginning with the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and continuing with the Irish Civil War (1922-1923).

Eventually a somewhat stable situation emerged with the independence of 26 of Ireland's counties known as the Irish Free State; the remaining six, located in the north east of the country comprising two-thirds of the ancient province of Ulster, remained part of the United Kingdom — a status that has continued to the present day. In 1949 the Irish Free State became "Ireland" (also known as the Republic of Ireland) and withdrew from the British Commonwealth.

Ireland's history post-partition has been marked with violence, a period known as "The Troubles", generally regarded as beginning in the late 1960s, which saw large scale confrontation between opposing paramilitary groups seeking to either keep Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom or bring it into the Republic of Ireland. The Troubles saw many ups and downs in intensity of fighting and on many occasions they even spread to terrorist attacks in Britain and continental Europe. Both the government of the UK and Ireland were opposed to all terrorist groups. A peace settlement known as the Good Friday Agreement was finally approved in 1998 and is currently being implemented. All signs point to this agreement holding steady.

Though a relatively poor country for much of the 20th century, Ireland joined the European Community in 1973 (at the same time as the United Kingdom). Between the mid 1990s and 2008, Ireland saw a massive economic boom (and was called 'The Celtic Tiger'), becoming one of the richest countries in Europe. However, the global banking crisis and subsequent recession have hit Ireland hard, and high levels of unemployment have returned.

Climate

Overall, Ireland has a mild but changeable oceanic climate with few extremes. In Ireland you may indeed experience 'four seasons in one day', so pack accordingly and keep up-to-date with the latest weather forecast. No matter the weather, expect it to be a topic of conversation amongst the locals.

You may notice slight differences in temperature between the north and south of the country, and more rain in the west compared with the east.

Mean daily winter temperatures vary from 4°C to 7°C, and mean daily summer temperatures vary from 14.5°C to 16°C. Temperatures will rarely exceed 25°C and will rarely fall below -5°C.

Regardless of when you visit Ireland, even in middle of the summer, you will more than likely experience rain, so if you intend being outdoors, a waterproof coat is recommended.

Activities

  • Bus Tours — For travellers wishing to experience Ireland on a budget, there are a variety of inexpensive bus tours in almost every part of the country. These tours can range from hop-on hop-off busses in major cities such as Dublin and Cork to 5-day trips through some of the most scenic parts of the country. The bus drivers/guides are generally well informed about Irish history and enjoy sharing local legends and songs with anyone happy to 'lend and ear'.

Sport

Irish people love their sport. The largest sporting organisation in Ireland, and the largest amateur sporting organisation in the world, is the Gaelic Athletic Association, more commonly referred to as the GAA. The GAA governs Ireland's two national sports which are Gaelic Football and Hurling. To those that have never seen it, Gaelic Football could at its simplest be described as a cross between soccer and rugby, but there is much more to it than that. Hurling is the fastest field game in the world. If it could be categorised into a group of sports, then it would be closest to the field hockey family, but Hurling is unique. No visit to Ireland, especially during the summer months, would be complete without seeing a Gaelic Football or Hurling match, ideally live but at least on the TV. The biggest matches of the year take place during summer culminating in the two finals which are both in September, on two separate Sundays. The All-Ireland Hurling Final is normally on the first Sunday of September and the All-Ireland Football final is on the third Sunday of September. These are the two largest individual sporting events in Ireland, so tickets are like gold dust. Croke Park, the venue for the two finals, has a capacity of 82,300 people, making it one of the largest stadiums in Europe. Those that can't get tickets will crowd around televisions and radios, and around the world Irish people will be watching or listening to the finals.

While Gaelic Football and Hurling are the two biggest sports, Ireland has much else to offer in terms of sport. Ireland is a world leader in breeding and training race horses. There are many race tracks around the country and many big racing festivals throughout the year.

Golf is another huge sport in Ireland. Ireland has many great professionals, but for the visitor there are many golf courses around the country. Golfing holidays are popular.

Soccer and Rugby are also popular in Ireland. Ireland's rugby team in particular is amongst the best in the world. There are also many soccer clubs around Ireland including Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, Sligo Rovers, Shelbourne etc, tickets cost as little as €15 for a full match which many home fans will guide you around. Both sports have many competitions.

Being an island, Ireland has many water sports. Sailing is big in Ireland. On the west coast in particular Ireland has very high seas, ideal for surfing, even if the weather isn't always great. Kitesurfing is growing everyday in Ireland, from the East to the West coast. Check Dollymount in Dublin City, Rush, Bettystown, Blackrock / Dundalk on the East Coast and Sligo (Rosses Point), Donegal, Kerry on the West Coast

Ireland has all these and many other sports. So if you want a sporting holiday, you could do worse than going to Ireland.

Food

Food is expensive in Ireland, although quality has improved enormously in the last ten years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers' market. The cheapest option for eating out is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a carvery lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value. Selection for vegetarians is limited outside the main cities. The small town of Kinsale near Cork has become internationally famous for its many excellent restaurants, especially fish restaurants. In the northwest of the country Donegal Town is fast becoming the seafood capital of Ireland.

Cuisine

Irish cuisine can charitably be described as hearty: virtually all traditional meals involve meat (especially lamb and pork), potatoes, and cabbage. Long cooking times are the norm and spices are limited to salt and pepper. Classic Irish dishes include:

  • Seafood Chowder, Irish seafood soup, a MUST; every restaurant have their own recipe, delicious!
  • Guinness Bread, like it says in the title, a brow bread which is sweet
  • Oysters, try the Atlantic and Pacific types
  • Boxty, potato pancakes
  • Champ, mashed potatoes with spring onions
  • Coddle, a stew of potatoes, pork sausages and bacon; a speciality of Dublin
  • Colcannon, mashed potatoes and cabbage
  • Irish breakfast, a famously filling spread of bacon, eggs, beans in tomato sauce, fried tomato, mushrooms, hash brown, sausages and white and/or black pudding, a type of pork sausage made with blood (black) or without (white). Irish Breakfast is often just referred to as a "fry" or fry up, and is usually available well past normal breakfast times in restaurants.
  • Mixed Grill. Similar to the Irish Breakfast, but with added lamb chop, pork chop, steak, chips, and peas.
  • Irish stew, a stew of potatoes and lamb (not beef!), with carrots, celery and onions in a watery broth full of flavour
  • Bacon and Cabbage, popular and traditional meal in rural Ireland, found on many menus
  • Seafood Pie, a traditional dish of chunky fish pieces topped with mashed potato and melted cheese

Note that the first four listed dishes (and their names) vary regionally, and are not common throughout the entire country.

However the days when potatoes were the only thing on the menu are long gone, and modern Irish cuisine emphasizes fresh local ingredients, simply prepared and presented (sometimes with some Mediterranean-style twists). Meat (especially lamb), seafood and dairy produce is mostly of an extremely high quality.

Try some gorgeous soda bread, made with buttermilk and leavened with bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast. It is heavy, tasty and almost a meal in itself!

Etiquette

Only basic table manners are considered necessary when eating out, unless you're with company that has a more specific definition of what is appropriate. As a general rule, so long as you don't make a show of yourself by disturbing other diners there's little else to worry about. It's common to see other customers using their mobile phones — this sometimes attracts the odd frown or two but goes largely ignored. If you do need to take a call, keep it short and try not to raise your voice. The only other issue to be concerned about is noise — a baby crying might be forgivable if it's resolved fairly quickly, a contingent of adults laughing very loudly every couple of minutes or continuously talking out loud may attract negative attention. However, these rules are largely ignored in fast-food restaurants, pubs and some more informal restaurants.

Tipping

Traditionally, tipping was never considered to be a necessity and was entirely optional. However, recently it has become common to tip up to 10% of the bill total. Some establishments will add a 10-15% service charge on top of the obligatory 13.5% Government VAT charge, especially for larger groups. If a service charge is levied, a tip would not normally be left, unless to reward exceptional service.

If you were unhappy with the service, then you would normally leave no tip.

Finishing your meal

At restaurants with table service, some diners might expect the bill to be presented automatically after the last course, but in Ireland it seems to be the custom that you must affirmatively ask for it to be delivered. Usually coffee and tea are offered at the end of the meal when removing dishes, and if you don't want any, the best response would be "No thank you, just the bill, please." Otherwise the staff will assume you wish to linger until you specifically hail them and ask for the bill.

Drinks

Compared to other European countries except for the Nordic countries, alcoholic drinks are a little on the expensive side. Pints of Guinness start at around €3.50 per pint, can get as high as €7.00 in tourist traps in Dublin.

Ireland is the home of some of the world's greatest whiskey, having a rich tradition going back hundreds if not thousands of years. With around fifty popular brands today these are exported around the world and symbolise everything that is pure about Ireland and where a visit to an Irish distillery is considered very worthwhile.

Another one of Ireland's most famous exports is stout, a dark, dry beer. The strong taste can be initially off-putting but perseverance is well-rewarded! The most famous variety is Guinness, brewed in Dublin and available throughout the country. Murphy's and Beamish stout are brewed in Cork and available mainly in the south of the country. Murphy's is slightly sweeter and creamier-tasting than Guinness, while Beamish has a strong, almost burnt taste. Several micro-breweries are now producing their own interesting varieties of stout, including O'Hara's in Carlow, the Porter House in Dublin and the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork. Ales such as Smithwick's are also popular, particularly in rural areas. Bulmers Cider (known outside the Republic as 'Magners Cider') is also a popular and widely available Irish drink. It is brewed in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

Nearly all the pubs in Ireland are 'free houses', i.e. they can sell drink from any brewery and are not tied to one brewery (unlike the UK). You can get the same brands of drink in all pubs in Ireland across the country.

There are a small number of 'microbreweries' in Ireland, pubs which brew their own speciality drinks. They are a recent occurrence and can mostly be found in Dublin.

Despite the (sometimes negative) reputation about Irish people loving their drink, most pubs in Ireland will have the same small collection of drinks.

All pubs (and nightclubs) in Ireland by law have to close by a certain time, depending on venue and the day. This varies from 23:30 to 01:30, to 03:30. The staff will flash the lights (or less commonly sometimes ring a bell) to signal that it is almost 'closing time', this is 'last orders' and is your last chance to get a drink. When the pub (or club) wants to close, they will frequently turn on all the lights as a signal for people to finish up and leave.

It is important to note that it is illegal to smoke in all pubs and indeed places of work in Ireland. Many pubs and restaurants have provided 'smoking areas' outside their premises where space has allowed them to.

The other competitor for national drink of Ireland is tea. The Irish drink more tea per capita than any other people in the world. Cork, Dublin and Galway abound with slick, stylish coffee bars, but if you visit any Irish home you will probably be offered a cup of tea (usually served with milk, unless you explicitly state otherwise!). Coffee is also widely drunk in Ireland. (If you don't drink tea, you drink coffee!)

Shopping

Ireland uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries.

Stand Alone Cash machines (ATMs) are widely available in every city and town in the country and credit cards are accepted most outlets. Fees are not generally charged by Irish ATMs (but beware that your bank may charge a fee).

Along border areas, as the UK pound sterling is currency in Northern Ireland, it is common for UK pounds to be accepted as payment, with change given in Euro. Some outlets, notably border petrol stations will give change in sterling if requested. (Fuel is now generally cheaper in the South, resulting in many Northern motorists purchasing their fuel South of the border.)

Recent differences in prices of goods between the Irish Euro and the British Pound have resulted in increasing numbers of Irish shoppers crossing the border to purchase goods which are a lot cheaper in Northern Ireland than in the Republic. A November 2008 article in a Northern Newspaper highlighted how up to €350 can be saved by buying your Christmas shopping in Derry & Belfast in the North rather than in the likes of Letterkenny in Donegal.

Only a few years ago when the Celtic Tiger was still very much alive and well the economic situation was reversed.

ATMs

ATMs are widely available throughout Ireland. Even in small towns it is unlikely that you will be unable to find an ATM. Many shops and pubs will have an ATM in store, and unlike the UK, they cost the same to use as 'regular' ATMs on the street. Though in-shop ATMs are slightly more likely to run out of cash and be 'Out of Service'.

Credit Cards

MasterCard, Maestro and Visa are accepted virtually everywhere. American Express and Diners Club are now also fairly widely accepted. Discover card is very rarely accepted and it would not be wise to rely on this alone. Most ATMs allow cash withdrawals on major credit cards and internationally branded debit cards.

In common with most of Europe, Ireland uses "chip and PIN" credit cards. Signature-only credit cards, such as those currently used in the US, should be accepted anywhere a chip and PIN card with the same brand logo is accepted. The staff will have a handheld device and will be expecting to hold the card next to it and then have you input your PIN. Instead, they will need to swipe the card and get your signature on the paper receipt it prints out. Usually this goes smoothly but you may find some staff in areas that serve few foreigners are confused or assume the card cannot be processed without a chip. It is helpful to have cash on hand to avoid unpleasant hassle even in situations where you might have been able to eventually pay by card.

Tax Free Shopping

If you are a tourist from a non-EU country, you may be able to receive a partial refund of VAT tax (which currently stands at 23%.) However, unlike some other countries, there is no unified scheme under which a tourist can claim this refund back. The method of refund depends solely on the particular retailer and so tourists should ask the retailer before they make a purchase if they wish to receive a VAT refund.

One scheme retailers who are popular with tourists operate is private (i.e. non-governmental) VAT refund agents. Using this scheme, the shopper receives a magnetic stripe card which records the amount of purchases and VAT paid every time a purchase is made and then claims the VAT back at the airport, minus commission to the VAT refund agent, which is often quite substantial. There are multiple such VAT refund agents and so you may need to carry multiple cards and make multiple claims at the airport. However, note that there may NOT be a VAT refund agent representative at the airport or specific terminal where you will be departing from, or it may not be open at the time you depart. In which case, getting a refund back could become more cumbersome as you may need to communicate with the VAT refund agent from your home country.

If the retailer does not operate the VAT refund agent scheme, they may tell you that you all you have to do is take the receipt they produce to the airport and claim the refund at the VAT refund office at the airport. However, this is incorrect. Irish Revenue does not make any VAT refunds directly to tourists. Tourists are responsible for having receipts stamped by customs, either in Ireland upon departure or at their home country upon arrival and then send these receipts as proof of export directly to the Irish retailer which is obligated to make a VAT refund directly to the tourist. Therefore, for example, if you have made 10 different purchases at 10 different retailers, you will need to make 10 separate claims for refunds with every single retailer. Note, however, that some retailers do not participate in the scheme all together and so you may not be able to get any VAT refund from some retailers. Therefore, if you plan on receiving VAT tourist refund on your purchases in Ireland, you should be careful where you shop and which refund scheme they operate, if any.

Further details on VAT tourist refunds can be found in the document Retail Export Scheme (Tax-Free Shopping for Tourists) .

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Ireland on Wikivoyage.

Popular cities in Ireland

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Dublin is the capital city of Ireland. Its vibrancy, nightlife and tourist attractions are world renowned and it's the most popular entry point for international visitors to Ireland. As a city, it is disproportionately large for the size of the country with a population of 1.8 million in the Greater Dublin ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Bank of Ireland
  • Ha\' Penny Bridge
  • Dublin City Hall
  • Dublin Castle
  • The Spire
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Killarney is a small town in southwest Ireland. Situated on the Ring of Kerry scenic drive, it's one of Ireland's leading tourist destinations because of the abundant lake and mountain scenery in Killarney National Park.

Interesting places:

  • Ross Castle
  • Muckross Abbey
  • Muckross House
  • Ladies View
  • St. Mary\'s Cathedral
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Galway, or Gaillimh in Irish, with a population of over 70,000, is Ireland's fifth largest city and a major hub for visits to West Ireland. It has long been known as "The City of the Tribes" and this title could not be more appropriate these days, given the multicultural vibrancy of present-day Galway.

Interesting places:

  • Spanish Arch
  • Nora Barnacle House
  • St. Augustine\'s Church
  • St. Nicholas\' Collegiate Church
  • Galway Harbour
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Cork is situated on the banks of the River Lee in the south of the country. With a city population of 119,230 in 2011 it is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland, and the third largest in all of Ireland.

Interesting places:

  • Crawford Art Gallery
  • Beamish and Crawford Brewery
  • Cork City Hall
  • Opera House at Emmet Place
  • St. Patrick\'s Bridge
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Limerick is a city in Ireland's Shannon Region.

Interesting places:

  • Hunt Museum
  • O\'Connell Street
  • St. Mary\'s Cathedral
  • Tait\'s Clock
  • King John\'s Castle
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A city of about 26,000 in the 'Sunny South East' of Ireland, Kilkenny lies just 75 miles southwest of Dublin and is the County Town of Co. Kilkenny. It's the smallest city in terms of population in the Republic of Ireland and the River Nore flows through the city splitting it in two with most sights of ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Kilkenny Castle
  • Tholsel
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Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland famous for its crystal ware and intriguing medieval history. Located on the River Suir, Waterford was once one of the most important European ports in times past. Today, Waterford still maintains its 'small Irish town' feel, and has a much more relaxed vibe than the ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • House of Waterford Crystal
  • Chorister\'s Hall
  • St. Patrick\'s Church
  • Holy Trinity Cathedral
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Athlone/Baile Átha Luain, meaning "The Town of the Ford of Luain". is a town in County Westmeath in Ireland's East Coast and Midlands. The town is located in the southwest corner of the county. It has a population of 20'000. The town is actually split in two by the river Shannon. One side of it is in County ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Clonmacnoise
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Sligo is the principal town in County Sligo in Northwest Ireland & Lakelands. It's the largest urban area in this region, and the second largest in the province of Connacht (after Galway).

Interesting places:

  • OConnell Street
  • Sligo Abbey
  • Yeats Memorial Building
  • Famine Memorial
  • Strandhill Beach
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Dingle is a town in County Kerry, Southwest Ireland.

Interesting places:

  • Dingle Harbour
  • Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium
  • Slea Head
  • Dunbeg Fort
  • Dunmore Head
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States in Ireland

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Points of Interest in Ireland

  • Blarney Castle — Located in County Cork This historic castle is known for its "Blarney Stone." Tradition is that if the Blarney Stone is kissed, one will be blessed with great eloquence, better known as "the gift of the gab." One kisses the stone by lying back and being held by an employee of the castle. Photographers are there to capture the moment!
  • Cliffs of Moher — Located in County Clare One of Ireland's biggest and most visited tourist attractions. The Cliffs are 230 meters in height and tower over the Atlantic Ocean. This attraction, whilst beautiful in the Summer, can be a bit of a tourist trap. If you intend to take your own transport, the over-priced car park is your only option (since the road is too narrow to park on) and to purchase your 'pay-and-display' parking ticket, you will need to go all the way through the gift shop (on the opposite side of the road), before returning to place it in your car.
  • Kilkenny — One of Ireland's favourite tourist spots, this Medieval Capital just 1 hour 40 minutes by train out of Dublin City is a must see. Its beautiful buildings and of course imposing Norman Castle - not to mention the numerous festivals including the Arts Festival and Rhythm and Roots Festival — make Kilkenny a most desirable location.
  • Co. Donegal — An amazing area to see if you have your own transport, as bus services can be fairly limited. This part of the country is very traditional and you can expect to see plenty of low stone walls, thatched roof houses, rugged hills, cliffs and golden sand beaches. Best visited during Spring or Summer, there are plenty of hills walks and photo opportunities waiting to be discovered.

Bank of Ireland - Dublin

Spanish Arch - Galway

Cliffs of Moher - Lahinch

Rock of Cashel - Cashel

Crawford Art Gallery - Cork

Glendalough Cathedral - Glendalough

Trim Castle - Trim

Kylemore Abbey - Letterfrack

Powerscourt Estate - Enniskerry

Kilkenny Castle - Kilkenny

Blarney Castle - Blarney

Hunt Museum - Limerick

Cobh Cathedral - Cobh

Desmond Castle - Kinsale

Dingle Harbour - Dingle

Ross Castle - Killarney

Hook Lighthouse - New Ross

Ha\' Penny Bridge - Dublin

Dublin City Hall - Dublin

Dublin Castle - Dublin

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