HISTORY
During the last Ice Age Ireland was mostly ice-covered and joined by a land bridge to Britain and Europe. The island has been inhabited for about 9,000 years. The earliest inhabitants, probably hunters, reached Ireland via a land bridge (from what is now Scotland) during the Middle Stone-Age period (c.
12,000 years ago). The culture gradually progressed from Mesolithic to high Neolithic culture during the next three or four millennia. Then around 5,000 years ago, a farming people arrived. These Neolithic people left behind numerous megalithic tombs including those at Newgrange and Knowth, both in the Boyne Valley. Newgrange, built in 3200 B.C.E., is what archaeologists call a passage-grave or passage-tomb.
This site predates the Giza Pyramids in Egypt by 600 years and is 1,000 years older than its more famous neighbor, Stonehenge. On winter solstice, the light of the rising Sun reaches the roofbox at Newgrange and illuminates the space for just 17 minutes. Knowth, the oldest chambered structure in the world (5600–3800), on the other hand, is a gallery of megalithic art, with a quarter of all the known European megalithic art. Archaeologists spent 40 years excavating Knowth, and it is now open to the public.
Around 2000, Bronze Age metal workers and prospectors reached Ireland and began to produce axe heads and jewelry of bronze and gold as well as ceramics. The Milesian Genealogies, compiled over a four-year period in the 17th century by Franciscan monks, are said to trace Irish genealogies back to one of the three sons of Mil Espбine (or Milesius), a Gaulish warrior. Some historians believe Irish lineages are fairly accurate at least as far back as the sixth century, maybe even the fifth.
Irish mythology begins somewhere between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago. Around 1200 B.C.E. yet another group settled in Ireland, bringing with them very different weapons and other objects from those left by the preceding peoples. Their dwellings, called crannog, were built on artificial islands out in the middle of lakes. Six hundred years later, the Celtic-speaking members of the Bronze Age La Tиne culture reached Ireland and took over. No records have been found of the peoples displaced by the Celts, so their language, probably non-Indo-European, remains unknown.
The Celts shared a common dialect and culture, but the area they controlled consisted of about 150 minikingdoms, called tuath, ruled by minor chieftains.
The tuath was the most basic political unit. These chieftains, in turn, answered to a king who controlled a group of tuath, who was subject to one of five provincial kings. This hierarchy ruled an agrarian society of numerous fine, or “extended families” divided into distinct classes. There were no towns, and cows were the medium of exchange. These Celts ruled Ireland for 1,000 years.
Around 100, the Gaels began to populate Ireland, and by 200 C.E. the high kingship at Tara in County Meath had started. The Gaels, speakers of Goidelic Celtic, are still an ethnic group living in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. The word Gael (or Goidelic) was first used as a collective term to describe the Irish, although it may derive from the Welsh word gwyddel, which means “raiders.” At the beginning of the Christian period in Ireland, when the monks were compiling whatever records of Irish history they could find, the Gaels claimed to be descended from Mil Espбine (from the Latin miles Hispaniae, meaning “soldier of Spain”); the “sons of Mнl” (Milesians), who represent the Goidelic Celts.
Around 300, the Romans recorded about 300 attacks by the Dalriada Scots (in Latin, Scotti), from the east of the modern-day province of Ulster, and their Pictish allies from Caledonia (the Roman name for the region). (The Romans called Ireland Scotia, and raiding bands of Irish were called Scotti, although the principal Latin name for the island was Hibernia. However this sense of the word Scot lasted well into the Middle Ages.) In 432 Pope St. Celestine I (r. 422–32) sent St. Patrick (387–493, other sources say 460/61) to Ireland to convert the Irish to Christianity.
In 500 under King Fergus I, the Dalriadans of Ireland invaded Argyll and established the Scottish half of the realm known as Dбl Riata (Dalriada) in the Pictish lands, called Caledonia by the Romans.
As long as the Romans represented a common enemy, the Picts and Scots were allies. Once the Romans had left, the two sides fought each other intermittently between 300 and 840, with the Picts winning more often than not.
Around the ninth century the Vikings began to plunder the monasteries and towns along the Irish coast. They established a number of towns in Ireland, one of which became Dublin.
In 1172 King Henry II of England (1133–89) took control of Ireland, and the pope called him the Lord of Ireland. In the 13th century English law was introduced in Ireland. Although initially English rule was limited to areas around Dublin, by the 17th century England ruled almost all of Ireland.
The 1800 Act of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Later in the 19th century, the English started replacing the Irish language. The issue of self-government did not come up until 1870, when the debate increased tensions between Irish nationalists and those who favored union with Britain. About five-sixths of the island was largely nationalist, while one-sixth was unionist. The Irish republicans led a series of rebellions.
The Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 increased the nationalist feeling, and in the general elections of 1918 Irish republicans won a large majority of seats in the legislature. They declared Irish independence, which led to the Anglo-Irish War (1919–21). Finally the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 granted independence to 26 Irish counties, while Northern Ireland remained part of Great Britain.
In 1937 a new constitution was enacted and Ireland was proclaimed a democratic state. Although thousands of Irish soldiers volunteered to join the British forces during World War II, Ireland remained neutral. Finally in 1949, Ireland was formally declared a republic and left the British Commonwealth.
Although initially a poor country, after its independence, Ireland made efforts to revive its economy and encourage foreign investment. It joined the European Community (EC) in 1973. The EC was the precursor to the European Union (EU).
The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of Ireland is the second highest in the EU, behind that of Luxembourg.

GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Located in Western Europe, Ireland lies in the North Atlantic Ocean. Great Britain lies to the east of the island, across the Irish Sea. Sea cliffs and low mountains characterize Ireland’s terrain. The central part of Ireland, however, has raised bogs (swampy areas or marshlands) and flat farmlands. The highest point in Ireland is Carrauntuo Hill, a peak that stands 3,513.8 feet high. The longest river in Ireland, the Shannon River, divides Ireland into two parts.
Ireland enjoys a maritime temperate climate characterized by cool summers and mild winters.
The average daily temperature in summer is 66°F, while the average daily temperature in winter is 39°F. Oak, birch, yew, elm, holly, hazel, ash, whitebeam, and alder trees, as well as shrubs such as bird cherry, blackthorn, gorse, and rowan, are among the Irish flora. As far as fauna, Ireland is home to bats, bumblebees, red squirrels, wasps, humming birdhawk moths, Irish hares, hedgehogs, salmon, trout, and brent geese.

ECONOMY
Ireland has a trade-dependent economy. It is a member of the European Union (EU) and in January 1999, along with 10 other member nations of the EU, Ireland adopted the Euro (the common currency of many members of European Union) as its national currency. Due to the growth-oriented economic policies of the Irish government, Ireland is ranked second among EU nations in terms of percapita GDP. The industrial sector is the driving force of the economy, contributing 80 percent to Ireland’s export revenues and employing 28 percent of the workforce. Recently the government has introduced economic reforms that encourage foreign investment, reduced government expenditures, and controlled price and wage increases. It has also made it possible for the nation’s laborers to improve their skills.

CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The main ethnic groups of Ireland are Celtic and English. English and Irish are the official languages of Ireland, although Gaelic (or Gaeilge) is spoken in the western parts of the country. A predominantly Roman Catholic country, Ireland is also home to followers of the Church of Ireland and people of other faiths as well.
Ireland is known for its rich musical heritage.
Traditional Irish musical instruments include fiddles, goatskin drums, pipes, and tin whistles. Loobeen is a popular traditional song in Ireland in which every singer tries to improvise on the verses of the song, and then everyone singing joins in the chorus and sings the verses again.
One of the most popular forms of folk dance is called set dancing, a dance for groups of varying sizes. A fast dancing style, it involves rhythmic foot stomping to the tune of folk music. Another popular folk dance is Irish step dancing, which can be performed solo or by a group. Step dancing is a dance style in which the dancers keep their upper bodies stiff while moving their feet in a quick and precise manner as dictated by the rules of the dance.
Competitive step dancing has grown rapidly since the appearance of Riverdance, a musical show performed worldwide by a troupe professional step dancers. An organized step dance competition is referred to as a feis (pronounced “fesh”), which means “festival” in Gaelic.
The Irish also enjoy playing a wide variety of sports and Gaelic (ancient Celtic games) games such as hurling (a Celtic game played with sticks and a ball), Gaelic football, handball, and Camogie (a team game played by women with sticks and a ball) are extremely popular sports in Ireland. Irish rugby and boxing also have many fans in Ireland.
Ireland has produced some very well-known literary figures, including the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the dramatist and poet W. B. Yeats, and the playwright, novelist, and poet Samuel Beckett.
CUISINE
The Irish enjoy pork, lamb, and beef, and most of their dishes are meat-based. Some of the traditional Irish dishes include: Irish meat cobbler, roast chicken, roast pork loin, Dublin Coddle (made from bacon and sausage), smoked salmon, lamb, stew, and whisky-baked ham.
The Irish prefer tea to coffee and beer over wine, although fruit juices and whisky are also consumed.

BIRTH
In Ireland after a child is born, he or she is introduced into the community through a Celtic ritual that takes place in the church. On the appointed day the child and its relatives gather at the Holy Well (an integral part of most churches in Ireland).
There in the presence of the priest and holding the child in their arms, the parents walk around the Holy Well, which is considered by Celts to be the womb of the goddess Earth.
This ritual acknowledges the fact that every person comes from a divine source. Then parents announce the name of the child and may also explain the choice of the name. Next the child is presented to every assembled guest, who blesses the child. The godparents (anamchairde) are introduced, and the reason for choosing them is explained. Godparents also share their feelings about this opportunity and discuss how they intend to fulfill their responsibilities as godparents.
Many guests volunteer to sing songs and devotional hymns and relatives shower the child with love, gifts, and blessings.
Then, prayers are said regarding the four elements of life—fire, earth, water, and air. For example, a bowl filled with earth (mud or soil) is rubbed on the soles of the baby’s feet, and a small prayer is said to ensure a safe, long walk (journey of life) on Earth. Afterward the priest puts oil on the crown of the child’s head and acknowledges his or her calling by divine forces. Then water is sprinkled around the child, which symbolizes the circle of protection against any misfortune (illness, accidents, and abuse). At the end of the ceremony, people join hands and thank God for the gift of the beautiful child. Singing, dancing, and feasting follow.

COMING OF AGE
Among Irish Catholics, an important religious initiation is the First Holy Communion, which takes place at the age of seven. Dressed in a traditional white Communion dress or suit, children receive Holy Communion from the priest and they are welcomed into the community as Roman Catholics.
“Communion” is a term that means “to be united,” and Catholics believe that, by receiving Holy Communion, they share in the oneness of Jesus. Holy Communion is also known as the Eucharist, a Greek term meaning “to give thanks to.” It refers to the ritual of the Christian sacrament of taking bread and wine and the Mass that takes place as part of the ritual.
The Eucharist involves readings from the Gospels and the four lives of Jesus as described by the apostles Mathew, Luke, John, and Mark. The priest also leads the Eucharist prayer, narrating the events of the Last Supper when Jesus is supposed to have asked his disciples to take the bread as his body and the wine as his blood. Irish Catholics believe that the child should know about Jesus, as well as his life and teachings, since from this day on they will be sharing a unique oneness with him.
Bread (kept in baskets) and wine (in a goblet) are kept at the altar and are blessed by the priest.
After the priest distributes the bread and wine, the vessel used in the ceremony is washed in a special basin known as the sacrarium, which is connected to the ground. This is done to ensure that if any particle of the Eucharist is left in the cup it will return to earth.
When an Irish Catholic reaches puberty, he or she becomes a member of the local church and is expected to be confirmed. Confirmation is always performed by a bishop, who represents the wider church and confirms people by laying his hands on their heads and praying for them. Before people are confirmed they usually attend confirmation classes, where they are taught about the important beliefs of Christians. Confirmation usually takes place when a person is old enough to make his or her own decisions.
A person being confirmed will say that he or she believes in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and asks for strength and courage to live as Jesus would want the faithful to and to tell other people about their faith.
The actual ritual of the sacrament of confirmation takes place during the Mass, after the priest completes the sermon. The priest reads aloud the name of all those individuals who will be confirmed.
Each individual whose name has been called goes to the bishop and, after the candidate asserts that he or she has total faith in Jesus and promises to reject evil in totality, the bishop lays his hands on him or her.
The hand symbolizes the strength and power of the Holy Spirit that will come to the candidate. Then the bishop calls out the confirmation name of each candidate, which can be either his or her real name or the name of a saint. Using the oil of chrism, he makes the sign of a cross on the candidate’s forehead, thereby indicating that the candidate is now a child of God.

MARRIAGE
In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is considered to be the most auspicious day to get married. The bride is generally dressed in blue, since the Irish consider it a lucky color. Also the bride braids her hair, which, according to Irish beliefs, helps preserve her power as a woman and ensures good luck. Irish women wear a special ring known as a claddagah (a wedding ring, for many) that has a heart (symbol of love) held by two hands (hands of faith) with a crown (honor). If a woman wears the ring with the hands pointing outward, it indicates that she is single; when the hands are turned inward, it signals that she is married.
Ancient Irish tradition requires the bride and groom to walk to the church for their wedding. As the bride and groom pass through the streets on their way to the chapel, they are showered with rice by the onlookers. Rice is considered to be a blessing; in previous eras pots and pans were also banged on the ground to wish them good luck.
The concept of the honeymoon is known as mi na meala (“month of honey”) in Ireland. In ancient times the newlyweds had to spend an entire month in isolation and had to drink a honeyed wine during their period of seclusion.

DEATH
In the 21st century Irish funerals are conducted in strict conformity to Catholic rites. However in ancient times, the Irish put more emphasis on the power of nature and buried their deceased with ornaments, weapons, and food to assist the soul in its migration to the otherworld, a small island beneath the sea, where they believed people went after death.
The Irish believed that there was no sickness, old age, disease, or death in the otherworld, which was also known as the Delightful Land or Land of the Young. They believed that happiness lasted in the otherworld for eternity and each day was equal to a hundred years.