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IRELAND

Ireland seems almost like an appendix to the great European landmass. Precariously positioned in the Atlantic Ocean, nothing but 3,000 miles of sea stands between Ireland and the land that its emigrants have so influenced, the USA. Ireland is an island of 84,288 sq. km (32,544 miles). At its longest it measures 485km (302miles), and at its widest it measures 304km (189 miles). The highest mountain is Carrantuohill coming in at 1,040 metres( 3,414feet). The longest river is the Shannon stretching for some 370 kms (230 miles) to the Atlantic. The largest lake is Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. The island is divided into four provinces Ulster (9 counties) is in the north, Munster (6 counties) is in the south, Leinster (12 counties) is in the east and Connacht (5 counties) is in the west.Ireland's size and island status mean that you are never far from the sea. Ireland's distinctive indented coastline, together with a myriad of lakes and the longest river in the British Isles, the Shannon, means that water is a recurring theme.

A failed 1916 Easter Monday Rebellion touched off several years of guerrilla warfare that in 1921 resulted in independence from the UK for the 26 southern counties; the six northern counties (Ulster) remained part of Great Britain. In 1948 Ireland withdrew from the British Commonwealth; it joined the European Community in 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful unification of Ireland and have cooperated with Britain against terrorist groups. A peace settlement for Northern Ireland, approved in 1998, was implemented the following year.

In terms of industry, agriculture has for centuries been the economic mainstay of the country. Apart from a small area around Belfast, the island was free from heavy industry. Recent developments have seen tourism become Ireland's largest single industry; we had the pleasure of welcoming 5.4 million visitors to our island in 1998. The country is also gaining a reputation as a communications and IT centre, acting as a gateway between the US and Europe. Long gone are the days when Ireland was one of the poorest countries in Europe and its natives fled to all corners of the globe in search of refuge. Today it is cool to be Irish and thanks to the likes of the Corrs, Boyzone and U2, evocative images of Ireland now pervade popular culture across the globe. The Ireland of the new millennium is a modern, progressive European nation whose 'Celtic Tiger' economy is booming, but it is not only Irish eyes that are smiling as more and more tourists discover Ireland for themselves.

Population density remains low, only Dublin can claim true city status on a worldwide scale, and its population of 1.2 million is far from overwhelming. The total population of the island is around 5 million. Life in the country often seems untouched by time, the pace of life is noticeably slower. This coupled with the natural friendliness of the people means Ireland is a place where one can truly relax. Ireland has two official languages, Gaelic and English. English is the everyday language used by the vast majority of the population. Small communities do exist where Irish is the spoken language; these are mostly restricted to the western side of the country

The capital of the Irish Republic is the city of Dublin. It is undoubtedly the spiritual and cultural heart of the entire country. Crowding around the banks of the murky River Liffey the city, like the country, is bound in rich layers of history, back to the days when Celtic tribes wandered the peat bogs, to the present that sees the city overflowing with trendy bars and nightclubs. Elsewhere, the cities of Cork, Galway and Limerick boast their own charms, but it is out in the rolling countryside that you can unearth the idyllic Ireland of the movies. Here in the atmospheric old pubs you can experience the legendary 'craic' where music and song lead the course of an evening. Alternatively, ramble over the hills of Glenmalure or sail through the mist shrouded Pater-Noster Lakes, places that seem a million miles away from the tourist maelstrom of Dublin.


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