Ireland Overview

Ireland, Irish Éire [ˈeːriə], English Ireland [ˈaɪələnd] (officially Republic of Ireland) is a country in north-western Europe with (2019) 4.9 million residents; The capital is Dublin.


The central lowlands of Ireland consist of extensive agricultural areas, numerous lakes, mountain ranges, raised bogs (e.g. the Bog of Allen) and peat areas. Slieve Bloom Mountains (up to 528 m), Galtee Mountains (919 m) and Carrauntoohil (1,041 m) are the highest peaks in Ireland.

The Atlantic west coasts have long, navigable bays and are suitable for water sports and fishing. Flat coasts are in contrast to many huge cliffs, e.g. B. the Cliffs of Moher.

The longest river is the Shannon (370 km). Ireland has a temperate oceanic climate with cool summers and mild winters. The west records high precipitation (up to 3,000 mm) and up to 250 rainy days a year, the east has little rain (700-750 mm). In the southwest, due to the warm Gulf Stream, subtropical-Mediterranean plants grow: palm trees, fuchsia hedges, strawberry trees and others. Invasive species such as the montbretia, rhododendron or the mammoth leaf are beautiful, but undesirable by nature conservationists. In many places they displace the native flora.

Only 10.5% of the land area is forest. This is a big increase because at the beginning of the 20th century only 1% of the originally huge forest area was left. In the centuries before, the forests were ruthlessly cleared for shipbuilding, house building and heating.

Population and Religion

According to iamhigher, Ireland has 4.9 million residents (2019). Most of the population is of Irish Celtic descent. The proportion of non-Irish residents was 11.8% in 2017. English and Irish are official and school languages. Many public signs and information are bilingual. Print media such as books, newspapers, magazines and digital media are also offered in Irish. Irish is permitted as the school language in the regions in which it is officially the first official language and is predominantly spoken by the population.

Ireland is a classic emigration country. A potato disease triggered the “Great Famine” in 1845–49: over 1 million people died and 2 million people emigrated, mainly to the USA. After the Second World War, over 40,800 people emigrated annually in 1951–61, many to Great Britain. It was not until 1971–81 that the population began to grow steadily again.

As the economic situation gradually improved, the population grew again from 1991 through natural growth, but also through immigration. In a European comparison, the Irish age structure is very young (average age 38 years, in Germany 48 years). The population density is over 70 residents per km 2 (EU average is 118 residents per km 2). The east side of the island in particular is the most densely populated, while the population concentration is greatest in the agglomeration ofDublin. In the west the soils are poor and the infrastructure weak. 64% of people live in cities (in comparison: in Germany it is 77%, the EU average is 76%).

The Catholic Church is still the largest denomination and has great influence on state legislation such as marriage and divorce law, contraception and abortion. In 2016, it made up 78% of the population. However, only about 60% of the couples allow church weddings.

Politics and law

Ireland is a parliamentary democratic republic. Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th is the national holiday. The head of state is the president, since 2011 Michael D. Higgins (* 1941). The legislature consists of the President, the Senate (Upper House) and the House of Representatives (Lower House). In the 2020 parliamentary elections, the House of Representatives had 160 seats. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and his government. The Irish government consists of a first-time coalition between the bourgeois parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael with the Greens. In 2020, Fianna Fáil boss Micheál Martin (* 1960) was elected Prime Minister by parliament.

The most influential parties are the conservative Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who were enemies for a hundred years, the Labor Party, the Green Party and, since 1997, Sinn Féin. Around a quarter of the workers are unionized.

The Republic of Ireland is divided into 26 counties. The highest judicial authorities are the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal. Divorces were legalized in 1995, and Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce gay marriages in 2015. In a referendum in 2018, 66.4% voted in favor of easing the previously strict abortion ban.

School attendance is compulsory for ages 6-16 and Irish is compulsory. Most schools are owned by the Catholic Church, but are financed by the state. The education system consists of a primary level (preschool and elementary school), secondary level (junior cycle: intermediate level with final examination; senior cycle: with high school diploma, leaving certificate) and tertiary level (universities, colleges). The National University of Ireland is the largest of eight universities.


From the 1990s onwards, the country experienced enormous economic growth, which, however, collapsed as a result of the global crisis in 2007. Most of the banks were then nationalized, the economy recovered and the unemployment rate fell (2019: 5.4%). Today the country is one of the countries with the highest gross domestic product per capita in the European Union. Foreign investment and EU subsidies have fueled economic growth. Numerous foreign IT and software development service companies are based in Ireland. These include well-known US corporations such as Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Paypal, Twitter. Thanks to Irish Business Development, they pay much lower taxes than elsewhere (corporate taxes).

76% of all employees work in the service sector, including tourism (2017: 9 million tourists; 2018 revenue: € 9.4 billion). Two thirds of the national added value are generated with services. The industrial sector with 19% of all employees generated (2016) 36% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Investment grants and tax breaks have attracted over 1,000 foreign companies to Ireland (engineering, vehicle accessories, electrical, electronic, chemical and pharmaceutical products). The main import and export countries are Great Britain and Northern Ireland, USA, France and Germany. The Brexit brings with it great challenges for the republic.

Agriculture is mainly cattle breeding. The area under organic cultivation is only 3%, compared to 7% in Germany and 24% in Austria. Only 11% are forest areas. As part of the 2019 Climate Action Plan, Ireland aims to plant 22 million trees by 2040. Ireland has very good fishing grounds. In 2016, 207,000 tons of fish were landed. For comparison: Germany caught just over 209,000 t in 2013.

Ireland has rich zinc and lead ore deposits. The extensive peat fields are used for fertilizer production, energy generation and heating, although this is harmful to the climate.

Most of the energy demand is met from British imports. Ireland generates energy from natural gas (53.9%), coal (10.7%), peat (10.3%) and renewable sources and aims to achieve 70% green electricity by 2030.

Ireland Country and People