There are many interesting facts about Ireland which are frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted. This page presents some information.
• The island is known as 'Ireland' and is divided into two countries:
The Republic [officially known as 'Eire'] is comprised of 26 counties and is an independent country with its own government, administration, army, navy and air force. The country no longer has any political links with the UK - Irish citizens are not subjects of the Queen of England
Neutrality: the Republic has long maintained neutrality. During the Second World War, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, requested that allied forces be allowed to use the Irish western sea ports in the Battle of the Atlantic (war against German U boats). This was refused although Ireland covertly co-operated with the allies during the war (see Dublin by train, Glencree German war graves, for further details). To this day the Republic is not a member of NATO although its continued involvement within the EU may see neutrality eroded. It joined the EU/EEC in 1973.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and consists of 6 counties. Up to 2002 it had its own administrative assembly (Stormont) but it is currently suspended. References to "32" by nationalists refer to the total number of counties in Ireland (north and south)
There are four Irish provinces - Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connaught. Ulster includes the six northern Irish counties and three now in the Republic - Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. These provinces have little meaning in political or administrative terms nowadays. These divisions are quite ancient, dating from the period following the Norman invasion around the 13th century.
The principal local administrative authorities are the 27 counties, each of which has a county council (Tipperary is divided into north and south ridings). Each council has a chairman who usually doubles as the Lord mayor. The function of each council (sometimes borough) is to organize local services, particularly local authority housing, lilbraries, public assistance offices (such as helpdesks and helplines), waste disposal and fire brigades. Other important functions include financial planning, the making of bye-laws, collection of rent and tolls, the maintenance of parks, gardens and open spaces, street cleaning, and other services. Members of the local authority (councillors) are not normally paid for their services, although they have been known to claim the odd expense or ten!
Local authorities in Ireland do not control the police (Gardai) or military. This is done at national level; while there are regional centres for the Gardai, they are administered on a national level.
Legal facts: The highest court in the land is the Supreme Court; the lowest are the District Courts. The District Courts are the essence of the judicial system in Ireland; they perform essential services over local and criminal jurisdictions. A District judge must be a lawyer of at least ten years' standing. The District Courts may refer to the Circuit Courts (where the cases of appellants from the District Court are heard). Circuit Court judges must be Senior Counsels; the 'circuit' refers to the group of courts to which s/he must travel. The judge may appoint a jury if necessary, otherwise cases are judged by judge alone. The High Court normally site in Dublin and deals with cases beyond the Circuit Court (such a constitutional matters). The Supreme Court is the last recourse for legal appeals and includes the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court plus four other judges. They normally deal with constitutional matters; the president of Ireland can refer bills passed by the Dail (parliament) and Seanad if s/he thinks they might affect the constitution.
Legal facts: The Attorney General (AG) is effectively the chief Irish lawyer, representing the government at the Supreme Court and advising on matters of technical constitutional law. The AG can also provide liaison between British and Irish legal officers amongst other things. The office fell into serious disrepute following a series of extraordinary events in 1982; the then AG, Patrick Connolly, unwittingly gave refuge to the murderer of an Irish nurse in giving Malcolm MacArthur the keys to his Dalkey apartment. The government, led by Charles Haughey, made an attempt to conceal the events; the Taoiseach later described the episode as "grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented". This gave rise to the popular Irish acronym GUBU, symbolizing Haughey's ability to escape thorough judgement with skilful argument and use of language.
Ireland was most recently ruled by the British and was previously invaded by the Normans (French) and Scandinavians (Vikings).
The Irish Free State was formed in 1921 leading to the withdrawal of [British] Crown forces in Ireland and civil war. The official truce was declared on 11 July 1921.
Did you know?
Ireland has virtually no coal or iron. Instead, there are plentiful supplies of peat or turf, much of which is harvested for power production under the state's company Bord na Mona. They own almost as many kilometers in railway line (for transporting the peat) as the state rail company does! The second-most important mineral is lead-zinc, mined near Navan at Tara Mines. There are hopes that offshore gas fields will be further developed; additionally there is minor ongoing exploration into oil, some of which has been successful and controversial. Minerals such as gypsum, magnesite and barytes were extensively mined in the 1960s-1980s but all such operations have since ceased or been scaled down.
The transition from 'free state' to republic was somewhat painful. In June 1932 the British penalized Ireland by imposing a 40% tax on Irish imports, a retaliation to Ireland's retention of the Irish Land Annuities. To this day there is still a proportion of Irish homeowners who owe yearly ground rent to British landlords.
Senior citizen perks: In recent years Irish governments have given real support to the elderly. Everyone over 65 gets free bus and rail travel in the Republic, as well as free bus and train tickets to Belfast. As well as the expected old-age pension, there is a good health support system. Pensioners do not need to pay a TV licence; there are also subsidies towards fuel (gas or electricity). In addition they get free telephone line rental and a small concession towards phone costs. Speaking personally, I have absolutely no problem with these measures; after all, our seniors made and established our country and deserve all they get.
Ireland [Republic of Ireland, 1949-], Facts about Ireland (Department of External Affairs, Dublin 1963)
The harp, Ireland's official emblem, is the only musical instrument used as a national emblem in the world.
Not only do schools get far more holidays that their UK counterparts, but a large number of schools close for the days whenever there are elections. Schools that host counting rather than voting do better - counting can take up to two days where voting is only for one day.
Water charges or rates are not paid by ordinary households, nor are water meters issued in the Republic. It is extremely likely that this situation will change in the large cities, due to ongoing development and lack of sustainable infrastructure. In the greater Dublin area, the dramatic increase in high density housing has placed much stress on water and sewerage services.
The Irish death rate has fallen dramatically since the 1960s. In the Republic of Ireland 1962 the death rate per 1000 of the population was a staggering 11.9, that is, 12 people in every 1000 died that year (the figures will include infant deaths - the average life expectancy for men was the age of 66.8 years and women died on average aged 68.6 years). In the 2005 census the number of deaths per 1000 of the population was quoted as 6.6, almost half that of the 1962 figure. Why the dramatic increase in life expectancy? The facts speak for themselves; part of the answer lies in better quality food, healthcare, employment and general well-being.
School summer holidays for secondary pupils begin around the beginning of June until the end of August - the best part of three months! Primary schools begin their holidays around the end of June and return at the same time.
A donation to the Blood Bank in Dublin used to result in a free pint! Guinness, Smithwicks and Harp were offered when you gave in Mespil Road, since they replaced iron lost during your donation.
Snakes: It is a biological fact that there are no snakes in Ireland, not even the tiniest grass snake. St Patrick gets the credit for this - see my jokes page to find out how he got rid of them. Likewise, thee are no moles, although they are common in Britain. The Irish wolf was an indigenous species but was hunted and eradicated by the end of the eighteenth century.
Irish facts and political information