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Irlanda - Environment, When to Go, Facts for the Traveller

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It's said that Ireland, once visited, is never forgotten, and for once the blarney rings true. The Irish landscape has a mythic resonance, due as much to the country's almost tangible history as its claim to being the home of the fairies and the 'little people'.

It's said that Ireland, once visited, is never forgotten, and for once the blarney rings true. The Irish landscape has a mythic resonance, due as much to the country's almost tangible history as its claim to being the home of the fairies and the 'little people'. Sure, the weather may not always be clement, but the dampness ensures there are fifty shades of green to compensate - just one of the reasons Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.

Although the 'Troubles' are far from over in the North, the recent referendum clearly signalled a willingness for peace and a genuine solution may be in sight. Meanwhile, the South has been busy shedding its quaintness tag to emerged as the darling of EU economies and a favourite among high-tech companies. If the country isn't quite the paradise that its misty-eyed emigrés tend to portray, it's nonetheless home to one of the most gregarious and welcoming people in Europe.

Just to get the terminology out of the way, Ireland refers to the island as a whole; the Republic of Ireland refers to Eire or the South; and Northern Ireland is referred to as the North. The Republic of Ireland is an independent country; the North is part of the United Kingdom.


Small-beaked and wing-clipped, Ireland is an island in the Atlantic Ocean which appears about to alight on the coast of Britain 80km (50mi) to the west across the Irish Sea. It stretches 500km (310mi) north to south and 300km (186mi) east to west, and contains only two fully fledged cities of any size, so it's never far to isolated sweeps of mountain or bogland.

Much of Ireland's elevated ground is close to the coast, and almost the entire Atlantic seaboard, from Cork to Donegal, is a bulwark of cliffs, hills and mountains, with few safe anchorages. Most of the centre of the island is composed of flat farmland or raised bogs. This area is drained by the 260km (161mi) long Shannon, which enters the sea west of Limerick.

The Irish landscape and predominant flora that you see today are almost wholly the result of human influence. Before the famine, the pressure on the land was enormous and even the most inaccessible of places were farmed. On the hillsides, above today's fields, you can still occasionally see the faint regular lines of pre-famine potato ridges called lazy beds.

As a result of the pressure on the land, only 1% of the native oak forests which once covered Ireland remain, much of it now replaced by dull columns of tation pine. Foxes and badgers are the most common native land mammals, but you might also spot hares, hedgehogs, squirrels, shrews, bats and red deer. Otters, stoats and pine martens are also found in remote areas. Many migrating birds roost in Ireland, and there are still a couple of native species lurking about: corncrakes can be found in the flooded grasslands of the Shannon Callows and parts of Donegal. Choughs, unusual crows with bright red feet and beaks, can be seen in the dunes along the western coastline.

Despite its northern latitude, Ireland's climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream, bringing the dregs of Caribbean balminess, as well as turtles and triggerfish. The temperature only drops below freezing intermittently during the winter and snow is scarce. Summers aren't stinking hot, rarely hitting 30 ° C (86 ° F) , but they're comfortable and it stays light until around 11 pm. Whatever the time of year, be prepared for rain because Ireland is wet. The heaviest rain usually falls where the scenery is best, such as around Kerry, which can be drizzle-bound on as many as 270 days of the year. If you do find the rain getting you down you might find some comfort in the Irish saying: 'It doesn't rain in the pub'!

When to Go

The weather is warmest in July and August and the daylight hours are long, but the crowds will be greatest, the costs the highest and accommodation harder to come by. In the quieter winter months, however, you may get miserable weather, the days are short and many tourist facilities will be shut. Visiting Ireland in June or September has a number of attractions: the weather can be better than at any other time of the year, it's less crowded and everything is open.

Facts for the Traveller

Visas:For citizens of most Western countries no visa is required. UK nationals born in Great Britain or Northern Ireland do not require a passport to visit the Republic

Health risks: None - the Catholic distaste for contraception does not prevent condoms being sold through pharmacies.

Electricity: 220V, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Imperial and metric

Tourism: 4 million visitors annually

Money & Costs

Currency: Irish pound (or punt)

Relative costs:

Budget meal: US$4-8

Restaurant meal: US$10-20

Budget room: US$10-20

Mid-range hotel: US$60+

Ireland is expensive, but costs vary around the country. Assuming you stay at a hostel, eat a light pub lunch and cook your own meal in the evening, you could get by on US$25 a day. Once you factor in moving around the country, you'll need to increase your budget a bit. Added extras to watch out for include the awful practice of charging an extra pound or two for a bath and the more pleasurable ruin of buying the assembled company a round of expensive pints of Guinness.

Most major currencies and brands of travellers' cheques are readily accepted in Ireland, but carrying them in pounds sterling has the advantage that in Northern Ireland or Britain you can change them without exchange loss or commission. Banks generally give the best exchange rates, but change bureaus are open longer hours. Many post offices offer currency-exchange facilities and they're open on Saturday mornings. Credit cards are widely accepted, though many B&Bs and some smaller remote petrol stations will only take cash. There's quite a good spread of cash-spewing ATMs in the both the North and the South.

Fancy hotels and restaurants usually add a 10% or 12% service charge and no additional tip is required. Simpler places usually do not add service; if you decide to tip, just round up the bill or add at most 10%. Taxi drivers don't have to be tipped, but if you want to, 10% is fine. Tipping in bars is not expected.

Full country name: Republic of Ireland, & Northern Ireland (part of the UK)

Area: 84,421 sq km/52,341 sq mi (70,282 sq km/43,575 sq mi in the Republic; 14,139 sq km/8,766 sq mi in the North)
Population: 5.2 million (3.6 million in the Republic; 1.6 million in the North)

Capital city: Dublin (population 1.5 million)

People: Irish

Language: English, Irish (around 80,000 native speakers)

Religion: 95% Roman Catholic, 3.4% Protestant in the Republic; 60% Protestant, 40% Roman Catholic in the North

Government: Democracy

Head of state: Mary McAleese (Republic), Queen Elizabeth II (Northern Ireland)

Prime Minister: Bertie Ahern (Republic), Tony Blair (Northern Ireland)

Economic Profile

ures refer to Eire only

GDP: US$45 billion
World GDP ranking: 48th
GDP per head: US$12,600
Annual growth: 6%
Inflation: 2.9%
Major industries: Computer software, information technology, food products, brewing, textiles, clothing
Major trading partners: UK, Germany, France, US


U2 may be Ireland's loudest cultural export, but of all the arts, the Irish have had the greatest impact on literature. If you took all the Irish writers off the university reading lists for English Literature the degree course could probably be shortened by a year. Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, W B Yeats, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce are just some of the more famous names. Joyce is regarded as the most significant writer of literature in the 20th century, and the topographical realism of Ulysses still draws a steady stream of admirers to Dublin, bent on retracing the events of Bloomsday.

It's possible to add at least a couple of dozen more contemporary names to this heady brew, though it might be argued that the more spectacular highlights are JP Donleavy's The Ginger Man; Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy, Roddy Doyle's 1993 Booker Prize winner Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Patrick Macabe's brilliantly disturbing The Butcher Boy and anything with the word `peat' in it written by the poet Seamus Heaney.

As well as being a backdrop for all sorts of Hollywood schlock (Far & Away, Circle of Friends), Ireland has been beautifully portrayed on celluloid. John Huston's superb final film, The Dead, was released in 1987 and based on a story from James Joyce's Dubliners. Noel Pearson and Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot won Oscars for Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker with the true story of Dublin writer Christy Brown, who was crippled with cerebral palsy. Lewis also starred in In the Name of the Father a powerful film telling the story of the wrongful conviction of the Guildford Four for an IRA pub bombing in England. Neil Jordan's The Crying Game is another depiction of the IRA, but with a sexual twist. Roddy Doyle's chuckly books lend themselves well to screen tales: The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van have all been filmed and his film Michael Collins depicts the life of the man who helped create the IRA! .

Jigging an evening away to Irish folk music is one of the joys of a trip to Ireland. Most traditional music is performed on fiddle, tin whistle, goatskin drum and pipes. Almost every village seems to have a pub renowned for its music where you can show up and find a session in progress, even join in if you feel so inclined. Christy Moore is the king of the contemporary singer-songwriter tradition, traversing the whole range of 'folk' music themes and Moore's younger brother, Luka Bloom, is now carving out a jingly whimsical name for himself. Younger artists have their own takes on Irish folk, from the mystical style of Clannad and Enya to the sodden reels of the Pogues. Irish rock is always in amongst it, from Van the Man, Bob Geldof and crabby Elvis Costello to Sinéad O'Connor and The Cranberries.

Although English is the main language of Ireland, it's spoken with a mellifluous lilt and a peculiar way of structuring sentences, to be sure. There remain areas of western and southern Ireland, known as Gaeltacht areas, where Irish is the native language - they include parts of Kerry, Galway, Mayo, the Aran Islands and Donegal. If you intend to visit these areas, it would be beneficial to learn at least a few basic phrases. Since Independence in 1921, the Republic of Ireland has declared itself to be bilingual, and many documents and road signs are printed in both Irish and English.

Irish meals are usually based around meat - in particular, beef, lamb and pork chops. Traditional Irish breads and scones are also delicious, and other traditional dishes include bacon and cabbage, a cake-like bread called barm brack and a filled pancake called a boxty. The main meal of the day tends to be lunch, although black gold (Guinness) can be a meal in itself. If stout disagrees with you, a wide range of lagers are available. Irish coffee is not traditional, and is only offered in touristy hotels and restaurants. When ordering whiskey, never ask for a Scotch. Ask for it by brand. The Irish drink lots of tea, usually black.


The Celts, Iron Age warriors from eastern Europe, reached Ireland around 300 BC. They controlled the country for 1000 years and left a legacy of language and culture that survives today, especially in Galway, Cork, Kerry and Waterford. The Romans never reached Ireland, and when the rest of Europe sank into the decline of the Dark Ages after the fall of the empire, the country became an outpost of European civilisation, particularly after the arrival of Christianity, between the 3rd and 5th centuries.

During the 8th century Viking raiders began to plunder Ireland's monasteries. The Vikings settled in Ireland in the 9th century, and formed alliances with native families and chieftains. They founded Dublin, which in the 10th century was a small Viking kingdom. The English arrived with the Normans in 1169, taking Wexford and Dublin with ease. The English king, Henry II, was recognised by the pope as Lord of Ireland and he took Waterford in 1171, declaring it a royal city. Anglo-Norman lords also set up power bases in Ireland, outside the control of England.

English power was consolidated under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The last thorn in the English side was Ulster, final outpost of the Irish chiefs, in particular Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone. In 1607 O'Neill's ignominious departure, along with 90 other chiefs, left Ulster leaderless and primed for the English policy of colonisation known as 'tation' - an organised and ambitious expropriation of land and introduction of settlers which sowed the seeds for the division of Ulster still in existence today.

The newcomers did not intermarry or mingle with the impoverished and very angry population of native Irish and Old English Catholics, who rebelled in a bloody conflict in 1641. The native Irish and Old English Catholics supported the royalists in the English Civil War and, after the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell - the victorious Protestant parliamentarian - arrived in Ireland to teach his opponents a lesson. He left a trail of death and destruction which has never been forgotten.

In 1695 harsh penal laws were enforced, known as the 'popery code': Catholics were forbidden from buying land, bringing their children up as Catholics, and from entering the forces or the law. All Irish culture, music and education was banned. The religion and culture were kept alive by secret open-air masses and illegal outdoor schools, known as 'hedge schools', but by 1778, Catholics owned barely 5% of the land. Alarmed by the level of unrest at the end of the 18th century, the Protestant gentry traded what remained of their independence for British security, and the 1800 Act of Union united Ireland politically with Britain. The formation of the Catholic Association by the popular leader Daniel O'Connell led to limited Catholic emancipation but further resistance was temporarily halted by the tragedy of the Great Famine (1845-51). The almost complete failure of the potato crop during these years led to mass starvation, emigration and death.

The bloody repercussions of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin added impetus to the push for Irish independence and in Britain's 1918 general election the Irish republicans won a large majority of the Irish seats. They declared Ireland independent and formed the first Dail Eireann (Irish assembly or lower house), under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, a surviving hero of the Easter Rising. This provoked the Anglo-Irish war, which lasted from 1919 to the middle of 1921. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 gave independence to 26 Irish counties, and allowed six, largely Protestant, Ulster counties the choice of opting out. The Northern Ireland parliament came into being, with James Craig as its first prime minister. The politics of the North became increasingly divided on religious grounds, and discrimination against Catholics was rife in politics, housing, employment and social welfare. The south of Ireland was finally declared a republic in 1948, and left the British Commonwealth i! n 1949.

Instability in the North began to reveal itself in the 1960s and when a peaceful civil rights march in 1968 was violently broken up by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Troubles were under way. British troops were sent to Derry and Belfast in August 1969; they were initially welcomed by the Catholics, but it soon became clear that they were the tool of the Protestant majority. Peaceful measures had clearly failed and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had fought the British during the Anglo-Irish war, re-surfaced. The upheaval was punctuated by seemingly endless tit-for-tat killings on both sides, an array of everchanging acronyms, the massacre of civilians by troops, the internment of IRA sympathisers without trial, the death by hunger strike of the imprisoned and the introduction of terrorism to mainland Britain.

Northern Ireland lost its vestige of parliamentary independence and has been ruled from London ever since. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 gave the Dublin government an official consultative role in Northern Ireland's affairs for the first time. The jubilantly received ceasefire of 1994 was undermined by further murders, the reoccurrence of terrorism in Britain and the perceived intransigence of the British government in Whitehall. The mood shifted with the election of Tony Blair in 1997 with a huge Labour majority to support him. The two sides resumed discussions and, in 1998, formulated a peace that offered a degree of self-government for Northern Ireland and the formulation of a North-South Council which would ultimately be able to implement all-Ireland policies if agreed to by the governments in Belfast and Dublin. As part of the , which was fully endorsed by a referendum, the South gave up its constitutional claim to the North. The whiff of peace is definitely ! in t he air.


Many diverse events and festivals take place around the country over the year. February sees the Dublin International Film Festival. St Patrick's Day, 17 March, is a public holiday and that's about that - no parades, just the odd shamrock worn in a lapel. In the North, Easter is the start of the Orange/Protestant marching season. June 16 is Bloomsday in Dublin, with re-enactments and readings throughout the city. Listowel in County Kerry holds a Writers' Week literary festival during June, and there's a Jazz & Blues Festival in Belfast. July is when marching in the North really gets into its stride, and every Orangeman hits the streets on the Glorious 12th to celebrate the Protestant victory at the Battle of the Boyne.

August is horse-racing month, with the Dublin Horse Show and races in Tralee in County Kerry. In the same county, at Killorglin, the ancient Puck Fair heralds unrestricted drinking for days and nights. The first weekend in August is the date for Ireland's major annual rock festival, at Thurles in County Tipperary. In September Cork has its Film Festival and Belfast has a Folk Festival. In October, Dublin has its Theatre Festival, Ballinasloe in County Galway hosts the country's largest cattle and horse fair, and Kinsale in County Cork is home to Ireland's gourmet festival. In Wexford the November Opera Festival is an international event. Christmas is a quiet affair in the countryside though on 26 December the ancient practice of Wren Boys is reenacted, when groups of children dress up and expect money at the door after singing a few desultory hymns.


Walking is one of Ireland's biggest attractions, and the country has miles of tailor-made walks. They include the Kerry Way, Beara Way, Ulster Way and Wicklow Way. It's a great way to open up the country and reach its most beautiful and fascinating corners. Cycling is another good way of getting away from the hordes, although some areas are prohibitively hilly. There are a number of excellent mountain-climbing opportunities, particularly Mt Gabriel (407m/1335ft) on the Mizen Head Peninsula, Hungry Hill (686m/2195ft) on the Beara Peninsula and Croagh Patrick (763m/2500ft) just outside Westport.

Ireland is renowned for its fishing, and many visitors come to the country just to cast a line. Permits are required (IR#5 a day), and a state national licence is required for salmon and sea trout. With a coastline measuring 5630km (3490mi), let alone its rivers and lakes, Ireland offers many opportunities for water sports. Good surfing spots include Easkey in the west of County Sligo, the Castlegregory Peninsula and Barley Cove on the Mizen Head Peninsula. The west coast offers some of Europe's best scuba diving, especially at Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay in County Cork, the Inveragh Peninsula in Kerry and around Hook Head in County Wexford. Sailing has a long heritage in Ireland, and the country has over 120 yacht and sailing clubs. The most popular areas for sailing are the west coast, especially between Cork Harbour and the Dingle Peninsula, the coastline north and south of Dublin, and larger lakes such as Lough Derg, Lough Erne and Lough ! Gill .

Overview Clustered on the banks of the River Liffey, Dublin is a splendidly monumental city, but it's also a young city. Of roughly one and a half million people in greater Dublin, about half are under 25, with the drift of population from the countryside continuing. Membership of the European Union has infused money into the city, and you'll see new building everywhere, but you'll also witness deprivation as bad as any in Europe. It's the collision of the old and the new, the slick and the tawdry, that makes Dublin the exciting, aggravating, energetic place it is.Because most of the early city was built of wood, only the two cathedrals, part of the castle and several churches have survived from before the seventeenth century. The fabric of the city dates essentially from the Georgian period, when the Anglo-Irish gentry began to invest their income in new town houses which now decorate much of the Southside. This district, south of the river, provides the focal point for much of Dublin's cultural life and is home to most of its historic monuments. Grafton Street forms the hub of the city's quality shopping area, while the Temple Bar quarter, with its restaurants, pubs, boutiques and art centres, is renowned as one of the liveliest part of town.

Northside, across the Liffey, was developed in the eighteenth century and for a while its elegant terraces and squares tempted the city's social elite. But Southside soon regained supremacy and these days Northside can be noisy, dirty and in places a little rough. But don't be put off - there's plenty to explore on this side of the city. Though less well preserved than its southern counterpart, Northside's significance lies more in its association with historical events, and in its cultural heritage.

Clustered on the banks of the River Liffey, DUBLIN is a splendidly monumental city, but it's also a young city. Of roughly one and a half million people in greater Dublin, about half are under 25, with the drift of population from the countryside continuing. Membership of the European Union has infused money into the city, and you'll see new building everywhere, but you'll also witness deprivation as bad as any in Europe. It's the collision of the old and the new, the slick and the tawdry, that makes Dublin the exciting, aggravating, energetic place it is.

Dublin really began as a Viking trading post called Dubh Linn (Dark Pool), which soon amalgamated with a Celtic settlement called Baile Átha Cliath (Town of the Hurdle Ford) ­ still the Gaelic name for the city. Because most of the early city was built of wood, only the two cathedrals, part of the castle and several churches have survived from before the seventeenth century. The fabric of the city dates essentially from the Georgian period, when the Anglo-Irish gentry began to invest their income in new town houses. After the Act of Union Dublin entered a long economic decline, but it was the focus of much of the agitation that eventually led to independence. In 1829 Daniel O'Connell secured a limited role for Catholics in the administration of the city, and Dublin was later the birthplace of the Gaelic League, which encouraged the formation of an Irish national consciousness by nurturing the native language and culture. The long struggle for independence came to a head as open warfare hit the streets during Easter Week of 1916, an uprising commemorated by a host of monuments in Dublin.


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