Facts about Ireland
How Ireland is DividedThe 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.
SportsPolitics 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.
WildlifeIreland 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.
AnimalsThere 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.