With the history of Ireland dating back as far as 6000BC, the past has truly paved the way for the island’s buoyant present and future.
Ireland is thought to have been inhabited from around 6000BC by people of a mid-Stone Age culture. And about 4,000 years later, tribes from Southern Europe arrived and established a high Neolithic culture. The best-known Neolithic sites in Ireland are the megalithic passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth in County Meath. Both were built around 3200BC, making them older than Stonehenge in England, and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
Ireland’s famous patron saint didn’t actually come from Ireland. Saint Patrick was taken prisoner from his family home in Britain by Irish raiders and was brought to Ireland to work as a shepherd. After Patrick escaped back to Britain, he had a vision from God telling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Now credited with introducing Christianity to Ireland, relics of St Patrick’s time can be seen all over Ireland. One of the best known is Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, where Patrick fasted for 40 days in 441AD. Today, pilgrims climb the mountain every year on the last Sunday in July. Saint Patrick’s remains are believed to be buried in the grounds of Downpatrick Cathedral, County Down.
The Vikings first launched their attack on Ireland in 795AD. And in 837AD, 60 Viking Dragon warships appeared at the mouth of the River Liffey. Five years later, Dublin was taken under force, but the Vikings were attacked by the local Irish and fled. They returned 17 years later under Olaf the White and made a permanent settlement at Dyflinn (later to be Dublin). The King’s Palace stood on the present Dublin Castle site and part of the town’s defenses can still be seen at the Undercroft in Dublin Castle.
The latter half of the 19th century was a period of tragedy in Irish history. Ireland was struck by the Great Famine caused by a potato blight that struck crops over a four-year period from 1845-49. Over a million of the population died from starvation, with many more falling prey to diseases such as typhus. Over two million people emigrated to countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, and from 1848-1950 over six million Irish fled the land. Now the Irish diaspora is thought to contain over 80 million people scattered all over the globe. To learn more about the famine visit The Famine Museum in Strokestown Estate, The Cobh Heritage Centre and the Famine Commemoration Centre in Skibbereen.
Modern Ireland now enjoys more immigration than emigration. Thanks in large part to the boom of the Celtic Tiger economy in the 1990s, the Ireland of the 21st century is a vibrant, culturally rich and ethnically diverse country with an entirely youthful and optimistic outlook – over half the population is under 30, after all!
There are an estimated 80 million people who claim Irish ancestry. Imagine tracing your ancestry and discovering your family history! The Irish Genealogical Project can help you find the answers to the questions you have about your Irish roots. Take yourself on a journey of discovery that may inspire you to visit the land of your ancestors.
From bizarre lunar landscapes and the mighty Atlantic to labyrinthine caves and crystal clear waterways, discover Ireland’s breathtaking beauty.
Ireland may be known as the land that boasts 40 shades of green, but not all natural attractions shimmer a shade of emerald. The Burren was formed around 340 million years ago at the bottom of a sea, and is an extraordinary region stretching from north Clare to south Galway. Arrestingly dramatic in appearance, the Burren’s unique landscape includes miles of limestone layers cut through by meandering streams, labyrinthine caves and unexpected lakes, a phenomenally rich cultural heritage, including over 70% of Ireland’s native flora. It is also home to more than 500 ring forts and over 80 Neolithic tombs.
The bizarre lunar landscape of the Giant’s Causeway may have been caused by volcanic eruptions and cooling lava, but legend tells a different story. The Causeway (A UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a mesmerizing collection of tightly packed basalt columns that run from the cliffs of the Antrim Plateau right down to the sea. Similar stones on the island of Straffa in the Scottish Hebrides led the ancients to believe that it was the work of giant Finn MacCool who built County Antrim’s Causeway as a pathway to Scotland, where a rival giant lived.
Ireland enjoys over 1,448km of spectacular coastline, surrounded by the mighty Atlantic on the west and the Irish Sea on the east. As well as towering cliffs, clear fresh waters, pristine sandy beaches, and an abundance of opportunities for the water sports enthusiast, the coastline enjoys lively fishing villages with some of the best seafood in the world. Check out Kinsale in County Cork, Dingle in County Kerry, Dunmore East in County Waterford, Roundstone in County Galway, Cushendun in County Antrim and Kilcar in County Donegal.
At 344km in length, the River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland and one of the finest in Europe. Winding through an area of outstanding natural beauty, this un-spoilt waterway flows from the Shannon Pot on the slopes of the Cuilcagh Mountains in County Cavan to Loop Head in County Clare, where it meets the Atlantic. Rich in glorious scenery, filled with prolific wildlife, and dotted with pretty villages, the Shannon Erne Waterway is the longest navigable waterway in Europe, and is a paradise for nature lovers, boating enthusiasts and those who prefer the quiet life.
Isolated and remote, Ireland’s islands resound with mythical beauty and are excellent hideaways for those after a holiday away from it all. Many of Ireland’s islands didn’t have electricity until the 1970s and a more traditional ethos endures amongst the islanders. For a real break away from it all, try Coney Island, Tory Island, Clare Island, Rathlin and the fabled Aran Islands.
The island of Ireland is 304 miles/486 km long and 172 miles/275 km wide and is divided into four historic provinces – Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught.
Within these four provinces are 32 counties. The Republic of Ireland consists of 26 counties and Northern Ireland consists of six counties.