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People & Culture
The Irish consume in average 131.1 liters of beer per year - the 2nd highest per-capita consumption after the Czech Republic.
Famous Irish breweries include Guinness, Smithwicks (Kilkenny), and Harp Lager.
The three most famous symbols of Ireland are the green Shamrock, the harp, and the Celtic cross.
Halloween traces back its origins to the Gaelic festival of Samhain, a harvest festival held on 31 October to mark the end of summer. Samhain became associated with All Saints (1 November) from the early Middle Ages and the two progressively merged over the centuries, creating Halloween.
88% of Irish citizens are nominally Roman Catholic. The Republic of Ireland has one of the highest rates of church attendance in the Western World (around 45% of regular Mass attendance).
The ancestral language of Irish people is Irish Gaelic. Nowadays 1.6 million people claim a self-reported competence in Irish, but only 380,000 fluent speakers remain.
Many Irish family names start with "Mac" or "O'...", which means respectively "son of ..." and "grandson of ..." in Gaelic.
Since 1981, Slane Concert has been held annually on the grounds of Slane Castle, at the initiative of its owner, the 8th Marquess Conyngham. Artists who have performed at Slane include David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Guns N' Roses, R.E.M., The Verve, Robbie Williams, Bryan Adams, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna and Oasis.
Ireland has won seven times the Eurovision Song Contest (in 1970, 1980, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996), more than any other country.
Londonderry's Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival is the oldest Halloween celebration in Ireland, as well as Ireland's largest street party.
Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, is Ireland's "Beverly Hills", home to a number of Irish celebrities, such as the authors Maeve Binchy, Roddy Doyle and Hugh Leonard, the film directors Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan, as well as several international music figures, including U2 members Bono and The Edge, Enya, Chris de Burgh and Van Morrison. Among former residents were James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, and more recently singer Jim Kerr, and F1 drivers Damon Hill and Eddie Irvine.
The story of the world-famous vampire Count Dracula was written in 1897 by Bram Stoker, from Dublin. His real-life inspiration for his character was a friend of his, the actor Sir Henry Irving. Count Dracula was the culmination of 20 years of vampire stories in Victorian literature. Dracula is said to have been inspired by the early Irish legend of Abhartach, an evil chieftain who, after being betrayed by his subjects and slain by the hero Cathrain, rose from his grave every night to drink the blood of his subjects.
Land & Geography
Ireland is a snake-free island. Due to its isolation from the European mainland, Ireland lacks several species common elsewhere in Europe, such as moles, weasels, polecats or roe deer.
At a height of 688 metres above the Atlantic Ocean, Croaghaun (on Achill Island) are the second highest cliffs in Europe - after Cape Enniberg in the Faroe Islands.
Phoenix Park in Dublin is the third largest walled city parks in Europe after La Mandria in Venaria Reale (Turin) and Richmond Park in London. It covers 707 hectares (1,750 acres).
The Irish National Stud's Japanese Gardens, laid between 1906 and 1910 by Japanese master horticulturist Tassa Eida, are considered the finest of their kind in Europe. They are located in Kildare.
The Tara Mine near Navan, County Meath, is the largest zinc mine in Europe, and the fifth largest in the world.
Science & Achievements
Hook Lighthouse is thought to be the oldest working lighthouses in Europe, or possibly in the world. Located at Hook Head, in County Wexford, the present structure was completed either in 1172 or in 1245, although the first lighthouse on that spot dates back to the 5th century.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was founded in 1824 by Richard Martin, an Irish politician and one of the first animal rights activists.
The Anglo-Irish physicist John Tyndall (1820-1893) was the first to prove the Greenhouse Effect, the first to discover why the sky is blue (Tyndall effect), as well as a number of other discoveries about processes in the atmosphere. He was also the first scientist to be referred specifically as a physicist.
In 1830, Col. Edward Joshua Cooper created the Markree Observatory on the grounds of his ancestral home, Markree Castle. It was possibly the most advanced private observatory of its time, and featured the world's first cast-iron telescope and the largest refractor lens (34 cm / 13.5"). In 1848, Copper's assistant, Andrew Graham, discovered the asteroid 9 Metis - the only asteroid ever discovered from Ireland.
In 1845, William Parsons (1800-1867), 3rd Earl of Rosse, built the Leviathan of Parsonstown, a reflecting telescope of 72 in (1.8 m) aperture. It was the largest telescope in the world until 1917. His youngest son, Sir Charles Algernon Parsons (1854-1931) invented the steam turbine and built the world's first turbine powered battleship and passenger ship. In 1879, Charles's elder brother, the 4th Earl of Ross, installed a water wheel equiped with a turbine on the River Camcor to provide electricity to Birr Castle and the town, making Birr (Parsonstown) the first town in the world to be lit by electricity.
John Philip Holland (1840-1914) invented the first functional self-propelled submarine in 1877. He later developed the first submarines used by the U.S. Navy (1900), the Royal Navy (1901), and the Japanese Imperial Navy (1904). The latter played a decisive role in the victory of Japan over Russia in 1905, for which Holland was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by Emperor Meiji.
The astronomer William Edward Wilson (1851–1908) took some of the earliest photographs of the stars, the moon, the sun and a solar eclipse. In 1889, he became the first person to measure the temperature of the sun, reaching an estimation of 6590°C, remarkably close to the modern value of 6075°C.
Louis Brennan (1852-1932), an Irish mechanical engineer who emigrated to Australia, invented the steerable torpedo in 1874. It was the first weapon in history that could be remotely directed to its target. He later invented the gyroscopically-balanced monorail system and the gyroscopic helicopter, which performed the world's first unmanned (but controlled) helicopter flight.
Owing to its strategic position at the western fringe of Europe, Ireland played a decisive role in early long-distance communications with North America. In 1907, Irish-Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi set up the world's first permanent transatlantic radio station in Derrigimlagh Bog near Clifden, in County Galway. It operated until 1918. The next year, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten completed the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. They took off on 14th June 1919 from St John's in Newfoundland and landed the next day right next to Marconi's station, bringing with them the first transatlantic mail. On 12-13 April 1928, Dublin-born pilot Captain James FitzMaurice flew from Dublin to Newfoundland, in what was the first Trans-Atlantic aircraft flight from East to West.
The Neolithic site of Newgrange (3200 BCE), County Meath, is the best-preserved passage grave in Europe. The monument's central room was designed to be aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, which makes it the oldest 'solar observatory' in the world.
A few km from Newgrange, the passage grave of Knowth contains more than a third of the total number of examples of megalithic art in all of Western Europe.
The passage tomb cemeteries in Carrowmore, County Sligo, are the largest group of megalithic tombs (30 of them) in Ireland or Britain.
The Céide Fields in County Mayo are the most extensive Stone Age site in the world. It contains the oldest known field systems in the world (6,000 years old), as well as Europe's largest stone enclosure (77 km).
The Hill of Uisneach, in County Westmeath, marked the traditional centre of Ireland. Although its lies 20 km away from the true geographic centre of Ireland (just south of Athlone), the location of this 182-metre tall hill is exceptional in the fact that 22 counties, two-third of Ireland, can be seen from the top. In medieval times, the hill was the site of the main bonfire of the Beltane festival (1st May), symbolising the beginning of summer.
Until the 11th century, the Hill of Tara (near Navan, County Meath) was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, the country's political and spiritual capital, as well as the hub of Ireland's ancient road network.
In 1854, three workmen clearing the way for the Ennis railway line stumbled across the remains of the late Bronze Age Mooghaun Hillfort, which turned out to be the largest hillfort in Ireland. On the site was a stone box containing 150 objects, most of them made of gold. It was the largest discovery of assorted gold objects in Western Europe, and is known as the Great Clare Gold Find.
The Boyne coracle, or curragh, is the oldest surviving kind of boat in Europe. It is still built in the same way as it was in the Neolithic, or possibly even Mesolithic.
Ireland has had its own Olympics since the Bronze Age. The Tailteann Games (Aonach Tailteann), as they were known, were athletic contests held in honor of the deceased goddess Tailtiu, Lugh's wife. Although historically attested games were held from the 6th to the 12th century CE, it is claimed that the origins of the Tailteann Games go back to 632 BCE, or even as far as 1600 BCE (against 776 BCE for the ancient Greek Olympic Games). Modern revival of the games have been held since 1924.
Prior to the annexation to England, then the United Kingdom, Ireland was never unified under a single monarchy like other European countries. Instead there were hundreds of minor kings waging war with one another on a nearly permanent basis. In this regard and many others, Irish society remained very much like ancient Britain, Gaul or Iberia before the Roman conquest.
Ireland was one of the last countries in Europe to adopt the feudal system (it was introduced by the English). Throughout the Middle Ages, Irish society preserved the traditional Celtic organisation of society based on tribes/clans. The absence of feudalism means that there were no serfs, but slaves. Ireland was one of the last European nation to abolish slavery of its own people (as opposed to slaves imported from abroad).
The land in Ireland was not suitable for grain agriculture (except a small part of the South-East) until the introduction of modern machiery and fertilizers in the 20th century. This is the main reason why the potato became the staple food from the early 17th century onwards. Before that, the Irish relied mostly on stockbreeding, probably since the Proto-Celts (descending from the Indo-Europeans from the Pontic steppes) settled on the island around 2000 BCE. The black Kerry cattle, thought to be descended from the Celtic Shorthorn, was brought by the continental Celts to Ireland around 2000 BCE.
The Irish are now some of the most fervently Catholic Europeans (along with the Poles). Yet, Ireland was the last Western European country to adopt Catholicism. Until the 15th century the Irish belonged to the Celtic Church, and mass was universally given in Gaelic, not Latin (as was the norm then). Ironically the Irish joined the Roman Catholic Church at the time when Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church, independent from Rome.
Erected from 1729, the Irish Houses of Parliament was the world's first purpose-built two-chamber parliament house. It now houses the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland.
Founded in 1745, the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin is the world's oldest continuously operating maternity hospital.
In the late 18th century, Cork was the largest exporter of butter in the world, mostly to Britain and the British Empire.
The Union Jack was flown for the very first time in Dublin on 1st January 1801 to herald the Union of Great Britain and Ireland.
The term 'boycott' comes from Captain Charles Boycott (1832-1897), the land agent of an absentee landlord from Ulster. In 1880, after refusing to reduce the rents of his employer's tenants, the Irish Land League decided to stop dealing with him. The whole community began to ostracise him to the point where even shops refused to serve him. The Times of London quickly came to use his name as a term for organized isolation, and the word entered the English language.
The world's first suburban commuter railway opened between Dublin and Dun Laoghaire in 1834 (two years before the London and Greenwich Railway).
On 9th July 1939, the Pan Am Clipper III left Botwood, Newfoundland, and landed the next day at Foynes, County Limerick. It was the first direct commercial passenger flight from America to Europe. For the next three years, the village of Foynes became the busiest civilian airport in the world, serving most flights from North America to Europe. Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, John F. Kennedy and Eleanor Roosvelt all passed through Foynes Airport during WWII. Irish coffee is said to have been invented at Foynes in 1942 to cheer up passengers after a Pan Am flying boat was forced to turn back due to bad weather conditions. This golden age is commemorated in the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, on the site of the old airport. In 1942, Shannon Airport replaced Foynes as the gateway to America. It is also in Shannon that the world's first duty free opened on 21th April 1947. It served as a model for other duty free facilities worldwide.
Ireland's oldest pub is Sean's Bar in Athlone. It was founded some 900 years ago. The country's oldest licensed pub, though, is Grace Neill's Bar in Donaghadee, established in 1611.
The Woodenbridge Hotel, which opened in 1608, is the oldest hotel in Ireland. It is located in the Vale of Avoca, County Wicklow.
Trim Castle was the first Anglo-Norman castle built (from 1169) in Ireland, as well as the largest ever built, originally covering an area of 30,000 m².
Kilbrittain Castle, County Cork, is the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland. It is thought to have been built by the O'Mahony Clan circa 1035.
Kilkea Castle, in County Kildare, is the oldest continously inhabited castle in Ireland. It was the seat of the Fitzgeralds from the early 13th century until the early 1960's. The Fitzgeralds were made Barons of Offaly in the 12th century, then became Earls of Kildare (from 1316), and eventually Duke of Leinster (from 1766), the highest title in the Irish peerage. The castle was subsequently converted into a hotel, which closed during the 2008–2010 Irish financial crisis.
Ships & Navigation
The world's first recorded open yacht race was held in Dublin Bay in 1663.
The Royal Cork Yacht Club was founded in 1720 and is the world's oldest yacht club.
First held in 1903 in Queenstown (Cobh), County Cork, the Harmsworth Cup was the first annual international award for motorboat racing.
Cork Harbour claims to be the second largest natural harbour in the world by navigational area, after Sydney's Port Jackson. The claim is contested by Halifax Harbour in Canada, and Poole Harbour in England though.
Government & Economy
One of the most successful beer brands worldwide, Guinness was once the largest brewery in the world (from 1914), and remains the largest brewer of stout in the world.
Ireland is the only EU country where abortion is still illegal (except to protect the mother's life).
The Republic of Ireland has experienced a dramatic economic boom since the late 20th century. Until the 2009 financial crisis, Ireland had the 2nd highest GDP per capita in the EU (after Luxembourg), the 4th highest Human Development Index in the world, the 3rd highest economic freedom worldwide. As of 2012, these rankings have fallen respectively to 5th, 7th and 9th.
American hi-tech companies have been investing massively in Ireland. 25% of Europe's computers are now made in Ireland. Ireland is the world's largest exporter of software. The European (or regional) headquarters and/or customer service operations of Google, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Dell, Intel, Motorola, Oracle, Lotus, and Boeing Computer Services are all located in Ireland.
Irish people around the world
It is estimated that over 80 million people of Irish descent live outside Ireland, in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa and states of the Caribbean and continental Europe. This is 14 times more than the population of Ireland (including Northern Ireland) itself ! 3 million of these emigrants still hold Irish nationality.
Roughly 34 million Americans reported Irish ancestry in the 2000 US Census, which makes it the second largest ethnic group after the German Americans. The highest concentration of Irish Americans is in the North-East (New York and New England).
About half of the population of Australia can claim Irish ancestry.