The Republic of Ireland is a sovereign state occupying most of the island of Ireland, bordering (but not to be confused) with Northern Ireland. It has been independent from the United Kingdom since its separation in 1922, when it was created as the Irish Free State before becoming a republic in 1949. It has since joined the United Nations and the European Union, now ranking as one of the world’s most prosperous and developed countries. Ireland is a constitutional republic with a parliamentary government and largely practices military neutrality in international conflicts. Its currency is the euro.
The island of Ireland is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Sea, and the Celtic Sea. Its geography consists of cliffs, mountains, peninsulas, and bays to the west, with forests and lowlands across the remainder of the country. The country’s fertile soil and high rainfall provide a boon for Irish forests; however, the overwhelming use of land for commercial agriculture has strained natural biodiversity. Ireland’s climate is considered temperate despite regional variations, with winters that rarely drop below freezing and summer temperatures that peak around 26 °C / 79 °F.
Around one third of the Irish population resides in Dublin, the country’s capital city and its most populous by far. Ireland has around 4.5 million inhabitants, about 12% of which are non-Irish nationals, according to the most recent census. According to the Constitution, Irish is Ireland’s official language, but with only 39% of the population considering themselves “competent” in Irish, English is the de facto national language. As a result, public signs throughout the country are often written in both languages. Although the Irish Constitution guarantees religious freedom, 84.2% of Ireland considers itself Roman Catholic, and the Church controls 92% of primary schools. All education, from grade school through university, is free in Ireland for EU citizens; consequently, 37 of Ireland’s population is university-educated, one of the highest tertiary education rates in the world.
As one of six Celtic nations and a former British colony, Ireland shares certain cultural characteristics with England, Scotland, and Catholic Europe. Ireland’s dominant sports are Gaelic football, hurling, rugby union, cricket, golf, boxing, and association football (soccer). The country has produced a number of distinguished writers, among them James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett. The touring phenomenon of Riverdance popularized traditional Irish stepdance on a global stage, while performing artists like U2, Enya, and Van Morrison have brought elements of Irish music into the modern era. Irish food is hearty fare reliant on meats, cheeses, cabbage, and potatoes, like the famed full Irish breakfast (bacon, eggs, sausage, black pudding, fried tomato), though modern cuisine is starting to take advantage of the fresh seafood available from the island’s shores. Guinness stout is perhaps Ireland’s most famous export, closely followed by a variety of Irish whiskeys.