Before traveling to Ireland, learn about the history, religion, geography, climate, and local traditions so you are fully prepared for your journey abroad. Within this article, we provide the best overview of Ireland plus some first-hand travel tips along the way!
Welcome aboard to our Globally Educated Series where we focus on one nation at a time to give you the most comprehensive overview of each country before embarking on your journey. We look forward to helping you prepare for your trip to Ireland, where rugged coasts meet charming and lively villages.
Ireland… We can all picture it in some way. Rolling hills, waves crashing against tall cliff lines, sheep-dotted roads, and pints of Guinness in a dark, rustic pub often come to mind. Let’s take a look at this lively country so you can feel globally educated and well on your way to an amazing trip to Ireland!
A Glimpse at the History of Ireland
We’re talking about some 10,000 years of history, but we’ll keep things brief and give you the accelerated version of Irish history.
Ireland has always been a bit cut off from the rest of mainland Europe, and as such, it took human civilizations longer to arrive in Ireland. So, in European prehistory terms, Ireland got a late start with settlements taking place around 6000 BC.
The Iron Age & Middle Ages
Celts and Gaels arrived in Ireland around 500 BC. Later, roughly the 10th and 12th centuries, Vikings (followed by Normans) invaded Ireland. However, The Viking era in Ireland is said to have finished in 1014 when a Viking army was defeated by Brian Bórú. Although Brian Bórú was actually killed during the battle while he rested in his tent at the Battle of Clontarf, he was famed as a warrior and he is still considered to be Ireland's greatest king.
The Norman Era began in the 12th century, which resulted in some 800 years of unrest and conflict with England. For example, in the 1600s the Ulster Plantation began, taking rightful Irish land away from Irish landowners and giving it to English (and some Scottish) families.
If you want to learn more about the Ulster Plantations we have written about it in our blog about Northern Ireland as the land of Ulster eventually became what we know today as Northern Ireland.
Ireland in the 19th & 20th centuries
During the Great Potato Famine of 1845, many migrated to other lands. During the years that followed, the Irish were fighting for independence from the British. Then, in 1921, as a result of the Irish war for independence from England, the island was divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The north belonged to the United Kingdom and the rest of the country, the Republic of Ireland, was its own country.
Modern Day Ireland
Through many upheavals and disagreements, Ireland adapted to different influences, taking pieces from the Celtic, Viking, and British worlds. Nowadays, Ireland is a touristic country with a vibrant, lively culture.
Today its' culture is rooted in Catholicism but has slowly been breaking away from some of the traditionally religious ways of life, for example, abortion only became legal in Ireland on December 20, 2018, and same-sex marriage became legal in November of 2015, just months after the US legalized it.
Religion in Ireland
Though heavily based around Catholicism, Ireland has no official state religion. As such, communities and individuals are entitled to religious freedom. Regardless, most of the population of Ireland identifies as Christian, and 78.3% identify with the Catholic Church. As for the remaining population, 2.7% align with the Church of Ireland and 2.7% identify with some other branch of Christianity. Then, 1.3% are Muslim and 1.7% identify with some other religion. Finally, 9.8% do not identify with any religion.
When you visit Ireland, you will see many historic Catholic churches and cathedrals, but it’s also possible to discover other religious buildings like mosques and temples. All religious practices are welcome in Ireland.
Languages in Ireland
As you might guess, Ireland has two official languages, English and the Gaelic language called Gaeilge or simply Irish. As such, you’ll see street signs and other day-to-day things written in both languages.
Census data shows that roughly 1.7% of the Irish population speak Irish on a daily basis. However, that is not to say that many more of the population do not understand or use Irish at all. In fact, in Galway County some 49% of residents can speak Gaelic, followed by 45.9% in County Clare. Other counties stagger around 40%, but Dublin County falls to about 29%.
- If you follow our Globally Educated Series, you might remember the word “Sláinte” (pronounced like slawn-che) from Scottish Gaelic. Well, it’s also used in Irish. Shout “Sláinte'' when you want to say “Cheers!”, but what you’ll literally be saying is “Health!”
- Another phrase you might see a lot in Ireland is “Céad Míle Fáilte”, which means “a hundred, thousand welcomes”, which is a beautiful representation of their welcoming energy.
Cities of Ireland
From the cobbled streets and arched bridges of Dublin to the colorful buildings of Cork, Irish cities flaunt character, charm, and a lively ambiance. And before you visit Ireland, you should definitely know a thing or two about its main cities.
Dublin is Ireland’s vibrant capital city. It rests on the east coast and serves as the main hub for business, travel, and entertainment in the country. Dublin may be the biggest city in Ireland, but its one million people population is still considered relatively small for a major capital when you take into account cities like Berlin and Madrid nearly triple that. This works in the city’s favor, making it easy to walk around and explore the best of the city centre.
After Dublin, Cork is the second largest city in Ireland with a population of 190 thousand. Located in the southwest, Cork is known as the culinary capital of the county and it serves as a hub for exploring much of the west coast and the famous Wild Atlantic Way.
Other big cities in Ireland include Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Waterford. Each has its own distinct character, accents, and usage of Gaelic.
Geography & Climate of Ireland
Nicknamed the Emerald Isle, what is Ireland without its dazzling landscapes and curious geography? We wouldn’t want to know! Ireland is known for its damp grassy land, dramatic coastal cliff lines, and the folklore that ties it all in together. It’s hard to imagine what Ireland would be like if cloudy days and drizzly weather weren’t the norms. All of these attributes create the image we see when we think about Ireland. Ok, maybe throw in a few sheep and one-lane roads, too. Ok, let’s get into it.
Ireland is part of a group of islands called the British Isles. The Republic of Ireland makes up the majority (five-sixths) of the island of Ireland itself. It’s bordered by Northern Ireland to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the English Channel to the south, and both the Irish Sea and St. George’s Strait to the east. Several islands also spread out off the coast. The largest island is Achill Island, known for its gleaming beaches, stunning coastal hills, and wildlife. This spot is a hit for those road tripping the Wild Atlantic Way!
In the midlands, Ireland is greeted by mostly flat, low-lying areas, with mountain ranges surrounding. Carrantuohill is the tallest mountain in Ireland, peaking at 3,414 ft (1,041 m), and is part of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range in County Kerry.
Lakes and rivers are in surplus in Ireland. The most notable is River Shannon, which stretches from a plateau near Sligo Bay and stretches down the country toward Limerick.
Let’s talk about Ireland’s climate.
What do you picture when you think of Ireland’s climate? You’re probably not imagining a sun-drenched coast and calm days. You’re likely thinking the opposite, and you wouldn’t be too wrong. Ireland’s climatic reputation precedes itself, much like most of the British Isles.
The climate is classified as western maritime, with much of its influence coming from the Atlantic Ocean. This means wind is likely in Ireland’s weather forecast. As for the temperature itself, it’s pretty consistent throughout the entirety of the Republic of Ireland. You will find averages of 39 and 45 °F (4 and 7 °C) in January and February, the coldest months of the year. Then, in July and August, temperatures usually range between 57 and 61 °F (14 and 16 °C).
The Irish rain is quite common, but especially in the west with dark clouds sweeping in off the Atlantic. As such, average annual precipitation varies from about 30 inches (760 mm) in the east to more than 100 inches (2,533 mm) in the western areas.
|January & February||July & August|
Summary: Expect wind & rain so pack a good waterproof windbreaker for your trip to Ireland!
Ireland’s Economy & Major Produces
From Guinness to a range of whiskies, Ireland produces some timeless products. As such, these products serve as a boost to Ireland’s economy, but there’s a lot more to it than just beer and whiskey. Let’s get to know the economy before you visit Ireland!
First of all, the Irish constitution notes that the state favors private initiative in business and commerce. However, the state may provide essential services and promote developmental projects in the absence of private initiatives. With this in mind, state-sponsored bodies control various aspects of daily life in Ireland. Things like rail and road transportation, some radio and TV stations, along with parts of air travel and healthcare. And as Ireland is part of the European Union, it grabs some benefits there, too.
Ireland’s economy comes from steady agriculture, mainly for pasture and hay, but sheep and wool, dairy, root crops, poultry, and cereals have their place too. Most of the farms in the country are smaller, family farms. Sticking to those small town vibes all the way in Ireland.
Ireland relies on a majority of outside sources for its energy requirements, as mineral resources are low. While peat used to be the norm for rural communities’ fuel, now practically all rural households are connected to the national electricity system. This system relies partly on hydroelectric plants and peat-burning thermal power stations.
Manufacturing is another aspect of Ireland’s economy with a focus on national and international marketing. With the help of its tie to the European Union and World Trade Organization, a competitive economy was born.
What is Ireland famous for making?
Guinness is probably Ireland’s most famous product and a major tourist attraction thanks to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. The creamy dark stout has been making headlines since 1759. A tour of the Storehouse will give an overview of Ireland’s famous beer, from the beginning to the present day.
Whiskey is also famous, especially Jameson, which is popular worldwide. But as of 2019, Ireland has 32 distilleries in operation, so there’s plenty more to discover.
On the more niche side, Ireland has a flourishing chocolatier industry with artisan-crafted chocolate infused with local ingredients like elderflower and rosemary.
Other things are Celtic-motif items from pottery to jewelry, tweed apparel, beeswax products, and Aran knit sweaters easily embody Ireland.
Pro Tip: If you want help choosing the perfect souvenir during your travels, read our blog about how to select thoughtful souvenirs to give you some great ideas!
Very Irish Traditions & Symbols
Pub culture, pagan festivals, and mythology are all exciting aspects of Irish culture and traditions. One of the things to know before visiting Ireland is how to get involved in some of its most amazing cultural activities. Let’s get into some of the top Irish traditions.
St. Patrick’s Day
Ireland’s patron saint is celebrated in Ireland on March 17 every year. During this time, it’s common to see people dress up in green and host street parties. Take on the streets of Dublin for a festive St. Patrick’s Day!
Recognized as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, October 31 marks the end of the harvest season. This time is celebrated with bonfires, costumes, and honoring ancestors. Those more rooted in pagan traditions may dance and participate in rituals.
Music is one of the most important pieces of Irish culture. Traditional Irish music is a genre of folk, often called trad music. Native instruments, including the bouzoukis, uilleann pipes, and the Celtic harp, along with accordions and fiddles help bring this jolly music to life. Indulge in the jolly tunes at festivals, special events, and local pubs.
Commemorating the Irish writer James Joyce and June 16th, the date of the setting of Ulysses, the Bloomsday Festival is celebrated throughout a selection of days in mid-June in Dublin. It includes dramatizations, readings, and even Edwardian costumes. It’s the perfect holiday for book lovers and those wanting to transcend to another time period.
Rooted in centuries of history, mythology plays a particular role in Irish culture. Think leprechauns, goddesses like Brigid, and strong warriors like Cú Chulainn.
While many assume the shamrock is the symbol of Ireland, it’s actually the Gaelic harp. You’ll see it imprinted on Irish versions of euro coins, the legendary Guinness label, and throughout the country.
The British Isles, in general, are known for pub culture. However, in Ireland, it is traditionally met with traditional Irish music, dancing, and catching up with others in the village. Going to the pub is a typical pastime of many living in Ireland. Pop in for a Guinness or whisky when you visit!
Food in Ireland
With ties to other parts of the British Isles, food in Ireland is hearty and filling. Plus, it has its own spin-offs from typical British foods, creating unique flavors along the way. Here’s some to note before you visit Ireland.
Most families have their own recipe and style for making soda bread, but the basic ingredients remain the same. Baking soda, buttermilk, and flour make up the basics. Then, some like their soda bread sweet or seasoned with nuts and seeds. Some even add in a hint of Guinness for a loaf of truly Irish soda bread.
Heating over the stove for hours on end, an Irish stew is a staple. Commonly made at home, the dish is traditionally made with mutton, onions, and potatoes. These days, you’ll find many Irish stews made with lamb and cooked with various vegetables and spices.
Considering Ireland is on an island, seafood is a favorite for many. Dishes like Irish smoked salmon, pollock, and shellfish are often on the menu. West coast destinations like Dingle, Galway, and Kinsale are some of the best places for seafood in Ireland.
Full Irish Breakfast
Head out for a full Irish breakfast in the morning and you’ll be full until dinner! This filling breakfast typically includes bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, and coffee or tea. It’s filling, greasy, and delicious.
Travel Tips for Ireland
Before you visit Ireland, here are some quick travel tips you need to know.
- People drive on the left in Northern Ireland, just as they do in the UK and the rest of Ireland. Steering wheels are also on the left-hand side as a result. If you plan to drive in Ireland, don't fret. Just stay aware, review road signs before you travel, and be cautious at roundabouts.
- The Republic of Ireland uses euros (€). Cash and card payments are both common. It’s a good idea to have some cash on you. However, you can typically use cards on everything from buses to restaurants in Ireland.
- It’s easy and convenient to get around Ireland by train, but the best way to see the country is by car. If you can rent a car, do it!
- Pack a windbreaker and warm layers. Being surrounded by water, Ireland is often chilly with strong winds. So, pack accordingly!
- Don’t plan to do all your shopping on a Sunday. Many shops are closed on Sundays in Ireland. However, grocery stores and pharmacies will likely just have shorter hours on Sundays.
- Call 112 in the case of an emergency!