Irish Story

Urban and rural scenes of Ireland

 Irish harp


The Emerald Isle


Even in midwinter, Ireland is green, its rich emerald enhanced rather than muted against the grey foils of stone, bare trees and heavy skies. Warmed  by the Gulf Stream, the air is filled with mist and rain but rarely snow.

The ancient people built no towns. It was not until the Vikings came at the end of the first millenium AD that cities were established. Cork, Waterford, Dublin itself, were all founded by the invaders.

The four provinces - Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connaught - were under the rule of Clan Chiefs, who would gather at Tara to select a supreme Chief or High King. Each province would negotiate its obligation to the high king, usually in the form of cattle, produce and men, but there was no sense of nationhood. One of the main reasons Ireland was so frequently conquered was that the clans were nore interested in fighting each other than in repelling invaders.

Ireland had no large mineral deposits of commercial value to make it attractive as a development opportunity. Perhaps that is why Rome ignored it, while the Danish and Anglo Norman invaders tended to settle and become "more Irish than the Irish" - it was a great place to live but not much good for making a fortune. The stubborn refusal of the Irish to submit to the English during a thousand years of war, rebellion and risings, was a big factor in keeping Ireland a poor country.

The centuries of being a thorn in the side of the British crown led to a stereotype of the Irish as an inferior race - dull, ignorant, stubborn and useless for anything except domestic service and labouring. This hostile view is illustrated by Disraeli's denunciation of the agitating Irish in 1836:

"This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character.... They hate our order, our civilisation, our enterprising industry, our sustained courage, our decorous liberty, our pure religion. Their fair ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood."

This perception persisted well into the 20th Century, but how it could be reconciled with the genius of the Irish writers – to name just a few, Goldsmith, Joyce, Wilde, O’Casey, Yeats, and more recently Doyle and McCourt – is incomprehensible.

Modern Ireland

The population of the Republic of Ireland is around 3.5 million. Dublin, with over a million inhabitants, is the capital and largest city. Cork is second in size and Limerick, capital of the Shannon Region, is the third.

Ireland in the 21st Century is the shooting star of Europe. Long dismissed as a poor agricultural country with its only redeeming features its marvellous writers, ancient monuments and pretty countryside, Ireland finally embarked on a carefully planned program of economic reform in the early 1990s. Without great natural resources of wealth to exploit and divided by sea from other countries, there was a lot to overcome.

Ireland’s solution was to become a financial and technology centre. Boosted by the advent of the Internet with its huge impact on communications, the Irish economy took off and for the first time in hundreds of years, immigrants exceeded emigrants. A very successful campaign was launched to attract descendants of the Wild Geese – the term used to describe those who participated in the exodus after the Great Hunger – to return home.


Ireland is bilingual, with English and Irish as its official languages. In the rural western counties, known as the Gaeltacht, there are still some who speak only Irish but most of the people use English in their daily lives. To promote the use of Irish, the Government is currently supporting a campaign to remove English from road and building signs. Irish schools conduct classes in Gaelic as well as English.

Thatched cottage. Click for larger photo




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