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Wednesday 24th May
Ireland Information - Page 1
Geography
Ireland is an island lying in Western Europe. It is bound on the North, West and South by the Atlantic Ocean and on the East by the Irish Sea, on the North-East by the North Channel and on the South-East by St. Georges Channel.

Ireland is divided into four provinces - Ulster (North), Leinster (East), Munster (South) and Connaught (West) - each of which is sub-divided into counties. There are thirty-two counties in all, six of which are ruled by Britain (Ulster: Down, Antrim, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh). The other twenty-six counties form the Republic of Ireland (Ulster: Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan; Leinster: Louth, Meath, Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford; Munster: Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford and Clare; Connaught: Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon and Leitrim).

Ireland has many hills and low mountains.The main mountains in the Republic of Ireland are: Wicklow Mountains in Co. Wicklow, Comeragh Mountains in Co. Waterford, Galty Mountains in Cos. Limerick and Tipperary, Knockmealdown Mountains in Co. Tipperary, Boggeragh Mountains and Nagles Mountains in Co. Cork, Caha Mountains, Macgillycuddy Reeks and Brandon Mountains in Co. Kerry, Slieve Bloom in Cos.Offaly and Laois, Slieve Aughty and Connemara Hills in Co. Galway, Ox Mountains and Benbulbin Mountain in Co. Sligo and Derryveagh Mountains in Co. Donegal.

The island's main rivers are: the Boyne, the Liffey, the Slaney, the Barrow, the Nore and the Suir in Leinster, the Blackwater and the Lee in Munster, the Moy in Connaught and the Shannon, (the longest river in Ireland) on the borderline of Connaught and Leinster.

Since Ireland is an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the North, West and South, it benefits from the ocean's moderating effects and the Gulf Stream. The climate is generally mild but slightly erratic in winter, when the temperature can average seven degrees centigrade daily. The main characteristic of the Irish weather is 'rain', especially in the South West.

Environment
The formation of the island of Ireland was influenced by volcanic eruptions, earthmoving forces and alternating periods of intense heat (interglacials) and cold (glaciations). Ireland now enjoys a great diversity of landscape from mountainous and rocky areas to stretches of green and fertile pastureland, lakes, rivers and bogs.

Wicklow is most famous for its impressive landscapes. The county borders on Dublin with the Wicklow Mountains dividing the two. The county has been described as the 'Garden of Ireland'.

Irish fauna includes lichen, ferns, rushes, sedges, rushes and, of course, the shamrock. There are also buttercups, primroses and heathers.

Among the birds on the island are gannets, gulls, razorbills, kestrals, blackbirds and robins. Each winter some ten thousand white-fronted geese arrive from Greenland to rest on sandbanks and islands of the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve. Puffins are found on the Blasket Islands. The animals of Ireland are small, for instance, the bat, grey squirrel, fox, badger, Irish otter and deer.

Architecture
During the Neolithic era in Ireland, rectangular houses made of split planks of wood were built. The settlers had a great respect for their dead. Around 3,200 BC, at Newgrange in Co. Meath, a grave was constructed with a passage about 18.95 m. long, leading to a central chamber and three side recesses. The gravedisplays architectural excellence and astronomical knowledge. During the Winter Solstice, the rays of the sun penetrate a small cavity in the outer wall (known as the 'roof-box') and reach the central point of the tomb. Other equally impressive tombs (out of a total of about 1000) in the same area are Knowth and Dowth.

In the late Stone Age, Crannogs (lake dwellings), were built, situated either at a lake edge or on an island in the middle of a lake. They were made of wood and stone.

An interesting site, related to the Iron Age, is that of Dun Aengus on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. The great fortress is made up of four semi-circular walls, enclosing an area to the edge of a steep cliff, with a sheer drop into the Atlantic Ocean. Circular walls can be seen in other parts of Ireland but these other sites may have been used for ritual rather than defence.

With the coming of Christianity to Ireland, monasteries were founded. Two of the most notable of these are worth a special mention. One is the great monastery at Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon in Co. Offaly. This was founded by St. Ciaran in 548. Monks from all over Europe came to study there. High Kings of Connaught and Tara (including Tara's last High King, Rory O'Connor) were brought there for burial. The other is Glendalough in the picturesque setting of the Wicklow Mountains. St. Kevin, an early Christian bishop, established the monastery there in the sixth century. Further buildings within its enclosure are dated to the tenth and twelfth centuries, including the famous Round Tower, 33.5m high. Plundered many times over the centuries, the sites of the two monasteries remain as tourist attractions.

The double monastery of St. Brigid in Kildare, made of wood, was high, spacious, with frescoes, windows and linen hangings. The monastery no longer exists but the details were recorded by Cogitosus the seventh century biographer of St.Brigid.

Stone churches and monasteries (many with Round Towers ) were built in the ninth to eleventh centuries. Some can still be seen i.e. at Devenish, Ardmore, Cashel and Glendalough. The Cistercians introduced the Romanesque style of architecture in the twelfth century, first at Mellifont Abbey, Co. Louth and then at Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, Jerpoint, Co. Kilkenny, Boyle, Co. Roscommon and Monasteraneagh, Co. Limerick. Meantime Normans were building castles with strong fortifications. The trend for fortification continued into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but on a lesser scale. Tower houses and smaller castles were built. The exceptions were Blarney Castle, Co. Cork and Bunratty Castle in County Clare both built in the mid fifteenth century. Bunratty has now been restored to its original grandeur.

Rothe House, Co. Kilkenny, built in 1594, is now a museum. It is probably the only example of domestic architecture to have survived from before 1600.

The seventeenth century was an era when smaller houses and simpler churches were built. Classical architecture was introduced. Houses called 'Dutch Billys' were built in the Liberties of Dublin. As opposed to these, the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, (built for retired soldiers), was perhaps the grandest example of seventeenth century architecture.

Irish architecture in the eighteenth century was influenced by the great Italian, Andrea Palladio. Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (of Anglo-Irish decent) was the most important architect of his day to embrace this style. One of his earliest commissions was for a villa in Bellamont Forest, Co. Cavan. His most famous work of that time was Parliament House (now the Bank of Ireland, Dublin). Many large country palaces were built throughout the country including Westport, Co. Mayo, Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Carton, Co. Kildare, Russborough, Co. Wicklow and Bellinter, Co. Meath. Richard Castle, a German architect, designed some of these, as well as Leinster House and the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.

Neo-Classical architecture followed Palladianism. Lord Charlemont commissioned Sir William Chambers to design for him a town house in Dublin and a country villa. The town house (in Parnell Square) is now the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery and the villa is the Marino Casino in Clontarf. The Neo-Classicial style was also employed for the Blue Coat School and the Four Courts, Dublin. Many Protestant Churches were rebuilt in the eighteenth century. The activities of the Wide Street Commissioners also affected town planning in the eighteenth century. Central Dublin had streets widened. Georgian residential developments (red brick houses as can still be seen in Fitzwilliam Square) were built. These followed the initial developments (Mountjoy, Parnell Square, Gardnier Street etc.) in North Dublin.

The nineteenth century concentrated on areas other than Dublin. Gaols, courthouses, barracks, oppressive workhouses, lunatic asylums, fever hospitals, dispensaries, schools and market houses were built. Since Ireland had been granted Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the Catholic Church carried out an extensive building programme (paid for by their congregation and some wealthy Catholic merchants). St. Mary's Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral, Dublin (designed by an unknown architect) was built. It had a hexastyle Doric portico added in 1840 by J. B. Keane.

Early Victorians thought Neo-Classicism too severe and advocated a change to Italian style (Amien St. Railway station being one example). There followed a mixture of styles, Gothic Revival, Tudor, Classism, Venetian. The staircase of the New Museum (now the Engineering School) in Trinity College had columns of coloured marble and the domes covered with coloured tiles.

There was a revival of Neo-Classicism early in the twentieth century. The University College, Dublin, is a good example. Modern architecture then came into vogue. Large, practical, structures made of modern materials (such as wrought and cast iron, steel, and reinforced concrete) were built. New style houses for domestic use, cubic shaped, whitewashed, made of concrete, were popular styles in the 1930's. Such housing schemes can be seen in Cabra and Crumlin. The building of a terminal for Dublin Airport Collinstown, was completed in 1941. This was a dramatic departure from the design for University College, Dublin. The 1950's and 1960's saw even further developments in architecture. Tall buildings made of steel, concrete and glass replaced older buildings.

Population
The population of the Irish Republic is in excess of 4,670,970 (2011) of whom over one million live in Dublin. The other cities with large populations are Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, emigration was replaced by immigration from Britain, Europe and North America. More recently, refugees from Eastern Europe and Africa have taken up residence.

Languages
English is the main spoken language throughout Ireland, with Gaelic a compulsory subject in schools, colleges and in some universities. The Aran Islands together with a large part of the West and South West of Ireland is known as the Gaeltacht, where Gaelic is the first language.

Road signs and official notices are written in both English and Irish.

Religion
The vast majority of the population is Roman Catholic, with a small percentage Protestant, a small percentage, Jewish and an increasing number of Moslems (mainly due to recent immigration).

Food
There is an old Irish saying which states that, "Food should be as fresh and freshly cooked as possible, while drink should be well matured".

History and misinformation led to the belief that the Irish live on potatoes. With fine cattle and sheep, a variety of fish and shellfish, good dairy produce and home grown grain, the advice in the saying can be executed.

Traditional Irish cooking has left a legacy of recipes widely used, some with improvements. Irish soda bread, Barm Brack (yeast fruit bread), porter cake, potato cakes and scones are among breads and cakes still enjoyed; fresh salmon and trout and Dublin Bay prawns, are always popular. The variety of meat dishes can be served plainly cooked or updated with continental and oriental influences. As with all countries, immigrants' tastes and eating habits accompany them. Hence the variety of restaurants, cafes and cook books now available in Ireland.

A pint of Guinness is a popular drink, often to accompany specialist dishes such as Galway oysters. Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream liqueurs and Irish Coffee, (the making of which can be quite a performance), are other popular alcoholic drinks. For the non-alcoholic drinker, tea, (lemon, milky or herbal), coffee (in all its forms), fruit juice, minerals and spring water are available.

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