How Ireland is Divided
The Republic of Ireland is a sovereign state and covers about 80% of the Irish island. The capital is Dublin. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, is on the same standard of currency, and covers the remaining 20% of the Irish island. Its capital is Belfast.
Traditionally, Ireland was divided into four provinces: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. (All of which you can see from the top of the Hill of Tara, ceremonial center of Ancient Ireland.) Between the 13th and 17th centuries Ireland was divided into 32 counties; six in the north and twenty-six in what is now the Republic of Ireland.
If you divide the country into its four original provinces, Leinster has the highest population at 2,295, 123 with its capital being Dublin. Next is Ulster (Northern Ireland) with a population of 1,993,918, its capital being Belfast. The southern province of Munster has 1,173,340 people and the capital is Cork. The smallest province in both land and population is Connacht. Its population is 504,121 and the capital is Galway.
Politics flies out the window on many occasions when it comes to sports. There are all-island play offs in games such as hurling, Gaelic football, rugby, golf, cricket, and hockey. We’re hoping for several all-Ireland leagues by 2012, especially in football and soccer.
Ireland has fewer plant and animal species than Britain or mainland Europe. That’s because Ireland became an island very shortly after the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. The habitats in Ireland are diverse and include farmland, open woodlands, broadleaf and mixed forests, conifer (evergreen) areas, bogs, and many types of coastal environments.
There are only 26 land mammal species that are native to Ireland. Again, this is because Ireland was isolated from Europe by the rising sea after the Ice Age. Some species, such as the red fox, hedgehog, and badger are very common. Others, such as the Irish hare, red deer and pine marten are seen less often. Wildlife that lives in water, such as turtles, sharks, whales, and dolphins, are common off the coast. (The town of Dingle is named for the dolphins that live in the waters around the town.)
There are more than 400 species of birds in Ireland. Many migrate, including the commonly seen Barn Swallow. Most of Ireland’s birds come from such far-flung places as Iceland, Greenland, and Africa. (By the way, don’t bother looking for snakes in Ireland—you won’t find any. The most common lizard is the only reptile that’s native to Ireland.)
Extinct animals include, among other species, the great Irish elk, the wolf, and the great auk. Some animals that were extinct in Ireland, such as the Golden Eagle, are successfully being introduced to their former home.
Although agriculture in Ireland is the driving force for land usage, there are 32 natural habitat preserves, especially for large animals that need space.
Until medieval times Ireland was heavily forested with oak, pine, beech and birch. Forests now cover about 9%, or one million acres, of the country. Ireland’s climate is relatively mild, so many kinds of trees, including some sub-tropical palms, grow in Ireland. Much of Ireland is covered with wildflowers and pastures, and the number of species of wildflowers is huge—they look for any nook and cranny to plant their beautiful roots. Ferns love the wild wet places such as waterfalls and creek beds and are plentiful, especially in Western Ireland. As a matter of fact, Ireland has 100s of plant species that only grow in Ireland.
Interesting Eco- Ireland Fact
Hedgerows, which were traditionally maintained for marking land boundaries, now act as a refuge for wildflowers and other native plants. Their wild ecosystems stretch across the countryside, acting as a network of connections that preserve remnants of the ecosystem that covered the entire island thousands of years ago.
Weather and Light
The Southeast enjoys more hours of sunshine than the rest of Ireland, and Northern Ireland gets less sunshine than the rest of the country. As in other countries in the Northern Hemisphere, the most sunshine occurs May through August, while December and January has only a few hours of sun per day. Perhaps just as important in Ireland, because of its northern latitude, are the hours of light each day. In the summer you may only have a few hours of real dark, while during the winter sunlight is a thing to be treasured.
Regardless of the light or the weather, some of the best festivals in Ireland happen around Christmas and New Year’s. The Irish look for any excuse to celebrate, so when you’re in an area, check with the local tourist board, the woman who runs your B & B, or keep your out peeled for posted signs. There’s bound to be a festival somewhere and time of the year. Look for the word fleadh. The word means festival and likely as not, there’ll be a spontaneous one that pops up along the way. The common thread of all festivals is music, regardless of their theme, size, or organization. Enjoy!