Ireland is an island located in the North Atlantic Sea. Great Britain lies to the east, separated by the North Sea and the Irish Sea. The island is divided into two countries. The southern part of the island is the Republic of Ireland, and is a wholly independent country. In the north is Northern Ireland, which remains part of Great Britain.
Ireland is a country that is very rich in local traditions and legends, many of which have become synonymous with the country itself: leprechauns, fairies, banshees, and other magical creatures from legend. The country is also famous for its countryside: much of the country is covered in pasture, with bright green gently rolling hills, that have much to do with the country’s nickname of The Emerald Isle.
Then, of course, there’s the Blarney Stone, a limestone block that was set in the battlements of Blarney Castle in 1446. Kissing the Blarney Stone, it’s said, will give the kisser the gift of the gab: literally, the ability to speak with persuasion and eloquence, with warmth and with for good measure.
Early Irish settlers began to arrive in the country around 5,000 BCE. Iron Age Ireland saw the emergence of Celtic culture. Vikings invaded in the 9th century CE, followed by Norman invasion in the 12th century. In 1534, after declaring himself head of the Church of England, Henry VIII became King of Ireland, by statute of the Irish parliament.
In the 1840s disaster struck, in the form of the potato blight, which had a devastating effect in Ireland, due to the country’s reliance on the crop. Around one million people—15% of Ireland’s population—died as a result of the famine that followed, and an approximately equal number emigrated to escape the harsh conditions.
In 1800, the Irish and British parliaments collaborated to pass acts that effectively merged the two kingdoms. But almost immediately, Irish nationalists began campaigning to reverse them, resulting in several violent events, including the Easter Rising, and the War of Independence, in which the Irish Republican Army waged war on British forces in Ireland. Eventually, in the 1920s a series of acts created the Irish Free State and the Parliament of Northern Ireland, effectively splitting the island in two.
Ireland is home to just 55 species of mammal, around half of which are native. These include common animals such as the badger and red fox, as well as rarer species such as the red deer and Irish hare. There are, famously, no snakes in Ireland; while legend has it that they were driven out by St. Patrick, the truth is, there has never been snakes in Ireland, and even now there is only one native species of reptile: a common lizard.
Common Irish native plants include broom, which looks very much like gorse; the tall bird cherry tree, with white blossoms and small dark-red cherries; the pink-blossomed dog rose, and the Killarney strawberry tree, a vibrantly-coloured native with beautiful bright orange-red fruit that unfortunately don’t taste anywhere near as good as they look.
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