“As a rock star, I have two instincts, I want to have fun, and I want to change the world. I have a chance to do both.” - Bono

For a long time, Ireland has been divided in two between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It’s a complicated situation.

Do you know much about the country and its history?

While Ireland is predominantly Irish, the largest immigrant populations are from Poland and the UK, there are also sizeable groups from Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, India, and the United States. Whether you’re in Ireland or planning on going, here’s a quick crash-course on everything you need to know about it.

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What’s the Difference Between Ireland and Northern Ireland?

There’s often a lot of confusion between Ireland and Northern Ireland as the two countries share the same name and are on the same island. However, they are two different countries.

What is the difference between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland?
The Giant's Causeway is in Northern Ireland. (Source: Maltese-Foods)

The Republic of Ireland is a sovereign country and a republic and the capital city is Dublin.

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. It does not have a president and is part of the UK and its constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is its head of state.

Politically, the Republic of Ireland is its own country. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

So why is the island of Ireland split in two?

This is part of Ireland’s history. During the middle ages, Ireland was under British control. The Irish regularly fought to be free from British rule.

The Irish War of Independence between 1919 and 1921 was when the United Kingdom granted independence to part of Ireland to the Irish. The southern part of the island became the Republic of Ireland in 1949 when all forms of British control were severed.

Historically, Ireland was divided into 4 provinces: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. 6 of the 9 counties of Ulster in the north became Northern Ireland, a nation that remains one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Within Northern Ireland, opinion was split. Some wanted to see the whole island united and free from British dominion.

One major difference between the two is religion. In Northern Ireland, protestants are in the majority while Catholics are the majority in the south.

This isn’t the only difference, either. The currencies in the two countries are different. Since Northern Ireland is part of the UK, it uses the Pound Sterling. The Republic of Ireland, as an independent and sovereign state, adopted the use the Euro alongside other members of the European Union.

The situation between the two countries is quite complicated and we'll not be able to fully explain the situation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the IRA, and the political unrest "the troubles".

"The troubles" or "Northern Ireland conflict" lasted from 1968 to 1998. During this time, there were 3,500 deaths including an event known as "Bloody Sunday", or the "Bogside Massacre", in which there were 13 civilian deaths at the hands of British soldiers.

The Good Friday Agreement of 18 April 1998 helped reduce the violence. However, the situation remains fragile and the recent events of Brexit have once again called into question whether or not Ireland should remain two nations or unified.

Again, the history of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is far more complex than Catholics and Protestants, war, political unrest, and famine. We recommend that you read more about the history and current situation if you're interested.

Find out more about the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Learn About the History of Ireland

Ireland has a rich and complicated history. Despite numerous invasions, there’s a strong national identity and marked culture.

When was Ireland settled?
There have been humans on the island of Ireland for centuries. (Source: max_gloin)

The first settlers arrived on the island around 10,500BCE. However, life was tough due to the presence of glaciers. At the time, people were generally nomadic and would travel the land in search of food. They were predominantly hunter-gatherers.

It wasn’t until 4,000BCE that agricultural societies would be established on the island. Inhabitants grew cereals, raised livestock, and created their tools. These tools would be improved by the discovery of materials such as bronze.

In 700BCE, the Celts landed on the island and imposed their culture. The druids, bards, and ovates brought their religion, culture, and medicine. They were the most important members of Irish society at the time.

Celtic society was slowly replaced by Christian society. Saint Patrick, for example, was a slave who studied theology in Gaul before returning to Ireland to spread the Gospel. Convinced by Saint Patrick, the people of Ireland were almost wholly Christian by the 5th century.

Let’s not forget the arrival of the Vikings in the 8th century. On their hunt for new territories and trade routes, they pillaged monasteries in the hunt for valuable treasures. The Viking conquest continued for decades until the entire island was conquered. However, some kings resisted.

At the beginning of the middle ages, two kings fought for power: Brian Boru and Mael Sechnaill. The latter ended up losing at the hands of the former but allied with the Vikings to remove Brian Boru from the throne. Mael Sechnaill became king.

In the 12th century, the pope places Ireland under the dominion of the English crown. For centuries, Irish land was taken from the natives and given to English or Scottish settlers. Irish Catholics were driven southwards by English protestants. Some Irish migrated as far as the Antilles to escape.

In the middle of the 17th century, the Irish took advantage of the English Civil War to attempt to gain their freedom. This revolution was violently quelled.

In 1801, the entire island belonged to the United Kingdom which was made up of England, Scotland, and Wales.

As we explained previously, the War of Independence between 1919 and 1921 would lead to the creation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Of course, the history of Ireland doesn't end there and the political situation is far from resolved.

Find out more about Ireland's history.

The 10 Most Beautiful Cities in Ireland

Now that you know a little about the history of Ireland, would you like to visit the island and see some of its most beautiful places?

Which are Ireland's most beautiful towns?
Ireland has beautiful countryside and beautiful towns. (Source: KlausHausmann)

In addition to all the wonderful countryside, Ireland is also home to some beautiful cities. Whether you’re looking for bars, medieval ruins, or modern cities, there’s something for everyone in Ireland. Here are some of the nicest cities on the island:

  • Dublin: The capital of the Republic of Ireland.
  • Cork: a colourful Irish town.
  • Kilkenny: a medieval town.
  • Kinsale: an unusual port town.
  • Dingle: home to Fungie the Dingle Dolphin.
  • Galway: the ocean gateway to Connemara.
  • Belfast: the capital of Northern Ireland.
  • Adare: An English-styled village.
  • Cong: Home to a falconry school.
  • Kenmare: A town to enjoy the great outdoors.

Of course, these aren’t the only places you can visit! In addition to the capital cities like Dublin and Belfast, there are also beautiful small villages like Adare and Dingle where you can see another side to the island.

Going to Ireland isn’t just about tourism, though. A lot of people head to Ireland to learn how to speak English. Whatever your reason for going, you’ll find the Irish to be welcoming.

Make the most of your time in Belfast to learn about the Titanic or take a trip around Dingle. There’s a dolphin that’s made the town its home and regularly interacts with humans.

Finally, Adare is regularly cited as Ireland’s most beautiful town. The many English-style buildings draw in tourists all year round.

What are you waiting for?

Discover Ireland's best towns.

Who Are the Most Famous Irish People?

People regularly confuse Irish celebrities with British or American ones since they all speak the same language. That said, there are a lot of countries where English is spoken so while many actors will put on American accents, for example, some of them are actually (and proudly) Irish!

Who are the most famous people from Ireland?
Ireland has produced many stars over the years. (Source: toddpoirier)

Here are some examples:

  • Bono: lead singer of U2.
  • Liam Neeson: actor and Jedi master in Star Wars.
  • Pierce Brosnan: an Irish James Bond!
  • Colin Farrell: Hollywood actor.
  • Brendan Gleeson: actor famous for playing Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody in the Harry Potter films.
  • Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: actor and model.
  • Jack Gleeson: actor in Game of Thrones.
  • Jamie Dornan: the actor from 50 Shades of Grey.
  • Dolores O’Riordan: Lead singer of The Cranberries.
  • The Corrs: The whole band is Irish.

All these stars are the pride of Ireland. Whether they’re from the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, these celebrities are known around the world. Many of them still live in Ireland or at least have a house there as it’s not that easy to leave such a beautiful place!

Learn more about Ireland's most famous people.

If you'd like to learn more about the history of Ireland and the famous people from there, check out our other articles.

Of course, there's far more to the history of this fascinating place than we can fit in a few blog articles so we definitely recommend reading about it online or even getting some books on the matter!

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.