Ireland, the “Emerald Isle,” is a land of beauty and mystery. It has a troubled and turbulent history that has birthed music, art, dance and literature. Over 35 million Americans have reported Irish ancestry, and the Irish cop on the streets of New York is a cultural icon on both sides of the pond.
Ireland is an island bordered on the east by the Irish Sea and on the west by the cold North Atlantic Ocean. It has an oceanic climate with few extremes of heat or cold, and this, coupled with frequent rainfall, gives the island the lush greenery that coined the “Emerald Isle” sobriquet.
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The Celts have lived in Ireland for over 2,000 years, and the island itself records human habitation back to 8,000 B.C. This long history means Ireland has a fantastic archaeological record in its peaty soil. The Celts ruled Ireland as a country of separate kingdoms until King Henry II of England decided Ireland looked like a grand prize to enhance his kingdom. In 1171, he sent troops to subjugate the Irish and told them he would now be their overlord.
English rule never did sit well with the Irish, and various skirmishes, uprisings and rebellions were common in the following centuries. The Protestant Reformation didn’t quite reach Ireland’s shores and as a result, over 600,000 Irish citizens died when Oliver Cromwell conquered the island.
Ireland is still predominantly Roman Catholic and tourists can see ancient churches and crosses dotting the countryside. Now that the skirmishes between the British and the Irish Republican Army have ended, even Northern Ireland, the section still under British rule, is a safe area to visit.
Ireland has a high standard of living and this has made the little island attractive to immigrants. Ireland also has a good economy, bolstered by tourism. People love to go to Ireland. It is still a largely rural country and retains its charm and sense of identity. English speakers will be understood there, and the people are generally friendly and welcoming to visitors.
The Emerald Isle has numerous attractions for tourists, including the famous Blarney Castle in County Cork. Many castles are open for tours, and the small villages still have their market days when the farmers drive their livestock through the town square. Tourists can also bike or hike cross country and the fishing is always good. Some places offer cooking classes and golf is also popular. Dublin and Belfast are bustling large cities, and Ireland is served by international gateway airports at Dublin and Shannon. Driving is on the left, as in Great Britain, and U.S. citizens will need a valid passport to enter the country.
The web site www.discoverireland.com has a wealth of information on visiting Ireland, with attractions, accommodations and ideas for things to do.