Despite being off the traditional tourist trail, Northern Ireland offers a colourful history, exceptional natural beauty, rapidly-developing cities and warmly welcoming inhabitants.
|Republic of Ireland
The Republic has a rich culture that, along with its people, has been exported around the world. It has an expansive and fascinating history, with a landscape that never ceases to astound.
- 1 Armagh — The ecclesiastic capital of Ireland, for both the (Anglican) Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church.
- 2 Belfast — The capital of Northern Ireland and a cultural meeting point between Britain and Ireland.
- 3 Cork — Founded c. 600 CE by St Finbarre and known for great food (especially seafood), pubs, shopping and festivals. If you venture outside of the city along the coastline which borders the Atlantic Ocean, you will find long windy beaches, beautiful villages with history, castles and an array of outdoor activities.
- 4 Derry (Londonderry) — The fourth city of Ireland is well worth a visit for its famous stone city walls (which date from the 16th century and are the only complete city walls in Ireland).
- 5 Dublin — Home of Guinness and Western Roman Catholicism, the Republic's capital is more than just a pretty face.
- 6 Galway — A colourful party town: lots of great food, trad music and ales. Just west is the haunting mountain scenery of Connemara.
- 7 Waterford, Ireland's oldest city, has a rich mix of Viking, medieval and Georgian heritage.
- 1 Brú Na Bóinne in County Meath are impressive neolithic monuments, the oldest dating back to 3100 BC.
- 2 The Burren is a haunting, barren limestone upland in County Clare. It ends abruptly in the great Cliffs of Moher.
- 3 Giant's Causeway — 40,000 basalt rocks rise spectacularly out of the sea at Northern Ireland's only UNESCO site.
- 4 Dingle Peninsula — an Irish-speaking region in the southwest corner of Ireland
- 5 Lough Neagh (Loch nEathach) — at 51 square miles (392 km²) is the largest lake by area in the British Isles. Five of the six counties of Northern Ireland have shores on the Lough. Popular destination for fishing and birdwatching.
Known as the "Emerald Isle", Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth. Ireland has two cultures: the historical Gaelic culture (including one of the oldest literatures in Western Europe) and the more recent English-speaking culture which largely replaced it.
The earliest evidence of human presence in Ireland goes back to 10,500 BCE. During the Iron Age (beginning c. 800 BCE) a Celtic language and culture emerged in Ireland. The island was Christianised from the 5th century onward. The Normans invaded in the early 12th century CE and set in place Ireland's uneasy position within England's sphere of influence. However, English rule did not extend over the whole island until the end of the Elizabethan period.
Irish society and culture were most severely disrupted during the Cromwellian period in the 17th century. With the Acts of Union in 1801, Ireland became a part of the Kingdom of Great Britain, which was renamed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
A war of independence in the early 20th century was followed by the independence of 26 of Ireland's counties known as the Irish Free State; the remaining six counties remained part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland. In 1949 the Irish Free State became "Ireland", also known as the Republic of Ireland.
Ireland's history post-partition has been marked to some extent by violence. A period known as "The Troubles", generally regarded as beginning in the late 1960s, saw large scale confrontation between opposing paramilitary groups seeking to either keep Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom or bring it into the Republic. A peace settlement known as the Good Friday Agreement was finally approved in 1998 and is being implemented.
Almost everyone speak English as their first language. However, it may surprise visitors that in some areas English is not the first language used for local communication, and the second most widespread language of Ireland is Irish, natively called Gaeilge. There are traditional native speakers of Irish in remote (and usually scenic) rural areas known as Gaeltachtaí. Generally speaking, you are far more likely to meet an Irish speaker in the Republic than in Northern Ireland. Ulster Scots, an Anglic language developed from the Northumbrian dialect of Old English, is spoken mainly in Northern Ireland.
Visitors may find more useful information in the "Get in" sections of the specific region they wish to enter.
- See also: Flying in Europe
Britain and Ireland are linked by a number of ferry routes, with the busiest and quickest crossing being Holyhead to Dublin, operated by Irish Ferries and Stena Line in competition. Ferries ply to Ireland from France and Spain as well.
The Common Travel Area
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland maintain a common travel area, somewhat akin to the Schengen Area on continental Europe. Broadly speaking, crossing the borders is very simple compared with most other international borders.
Ireland and the United Kingdom have been separate countries for almost a century, but for the most part both have found it beneficial to maintain relatively open borders. However, because of the way it has developed over the years, the Common Travel Area arrangement is not as formalised as other similar arrangements (such as the Schengen Area), and so the exact rules can be quite complex for some third country nationals.
- See also: Rail travel in Ireland
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have nationalised systems, with just one company operating services in each and cross border services jointly operated.
Trains in Northern Ireland are operated by "Translink" who run all buses and trains in Northern Ireland including the cross border train service between Northern Ireland and Ireland the enterprise jointly with their counterparts in Ireland Irish rail
Bus is the predominant form of public transport across Ireland. Buses ply hourly between Belfast, Dublin Airport and Dublin Busáras the main bus station, taking about 3 hours. Other cross-border routes are between Dublin and Derry, Belfast and Monaghan, and Belfast and Enniskillen with connections to Sligo and Galway.
Apart from changes to the road surface and road signs, you probably won't notice much of a difference when actually crossing the convoluted and often obscure international boundary between the six counties of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. One key difference, though, is that road signs in Northern Ireland are in miles and mph, while those in the Republic are in kilometres and km/h.
Road signs in Northern Ireland are written in English only. Road signs in the Republic of Ireland are bilingual in Irish and English, except for the Gaeltachtaí, where signs are exclusively in Irish. You can drive your hire car from any Common Travel Area (see above) country to any other, although many hire companies charge an extra fee for doing so.
A handful of internal flights operates within the Republic, but there are no cross-border routes.
- Dublin, the obvious centre and primate city of Ireland, is a must-see and one of a very limited means of entry to Ireland via Dublin Airport and Port.
- Giant's Causeway is a World Heritage Site and National Nature Reserve. The Giant's Causeway is essentially an area of coastline and cliffs with very unusual and distinctive volcanic stone formations.
- Ireland has a bustling scene for folk and popular music; see Music in Britain and Ireland.
- Rugby union is played on an all-Ireland basis, with the Irish national team featuring players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
- Learn Irish: a minority language in Ireland and an official language of the Republic, but it's making a comeback.
The currency in the Republic of Ireland is the euro and the currency in Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, is the pound sterling. So be sure to exchange your euro into pounds (or vice versa) before crossing the border.
There's a lot of cross-border trading in Ireland, and therefore many outlets in border areas and urban centres accept the euro. Most retailers will display whether they accept euros or not.
Dial 999 or 112 for all emergency services. On the whole, this is a very safe region of Europe, with few direct threats to visitors, but you should consult the Stay safe section of the areas you're visiting as most safety issues are localised.
Generally speaking, the people of Ireland are welcoming, friendly and well-humoured. Foreign nationals claiming they are ‘Irish’ just because of an ancestor will likely be met with amusement, although this may become annoyance or anger should they then express their views related to The Troubles.
Politically, the people of Ireland are divided into two groups:
- The Nationalists support separating Northern Ireland from the UK to join it with the Republic.
- The Unionists support integrating maintaining Northern Ireland as part of the UK.