Politically, Ireland is divided between Northern Ireland (which is actually part of the United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland (officially named Ireland), which covers over 80% of the island. The province of Northern Ireland was created as a consequence of the partition of the island in 1921, reconstituting Ulster, one of the four traditional kingdoms of Ireland. Even if the area around Belfast is quite well developed and densely populated, the rest of the region is primarily agricultural but has areas of outstanding natural beauty. After the partition, the South became instead the Irish Free State which gained full independence from the English control only in 1937.
Despite some problems of the past, such as the Famine of 1845-1848 which caused above one million dead, the Irish retain a quite positive attitude and optimism. Large-scale emigration marked most of the post-WWII period, especially towards the United States, but beginning in 1987 Irish economy boomed, and the 1990s saw the beginning of substantial economic growth. In this period of growth Ireland became known as the Celtic Tiger. The GDP grew by an average of nearly 10% per annum between 1995 and 2000, making Ireland the sixth-richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita!
From a geographical point of view instead, the Irish landscape presents a ring of coastal mountains surrounding low large plains at the centre of the island. The pristine green coastline of Ireland in particular is an attraction for lots of visitors every year.
Dublin is another major attraction for tourists who have the chance to visit this wonderful country. Despite being a fairly small city and relatively easy to get around, Ireland’s capital is very famous for its characteristic pubs and breweries and for its rich cultural heritage. The first harbor was established in the early 9th century when Vikings founded there one of their largest settlements outside Scandinavia. Since then, Dublin’s identity has been forged by several conflicts and wars suffered over the following centuries. In the 20th century the city established its own character becoming the vibrant, modern and multicultural place that we know today.
Potatoes represent a fundamental element of the national cuisine till to the point that Irish people still remain the highest per capita consumers of potatoes in Europe. Meat is another important component of the typical Irish diet, often cooked as stew or simply as a steak. Representative Irish dishes also include bacon and cabbage, black and white pudding, boxty (mashed potato mixed together with flour, baking soda, buttermilk and occasionally egg), coddle, and colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage). As for countries like Germany and Czech Republic, beer is another important element of the Irish cuisine. The dry stout in particular is the most consumed type on the island and huge volumes of this dark beer are exported to the rest of the entire world.
Ireland has also many festivals, not necessarily connected to beer. The most famous by far is the St Patrick’s Festival which takes place in every county all over Ireland and it is a typical celebration for any Irish community around the world. Although St. Patrick’s Day festivals are held everywhere on 17 March, the festival in Ireland lasts over a week, and includes the parades on the 17 as well as the Skyfest celebrations, a fireworks display held in a different location of Ireland every year. Patrick was a Romano-British Christian missionary who, according to the legend, was kidnapped in the 5th century by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. He spent six years there working as a shepherd and that during this time he “found God”. Still according to the tradition, God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest and returned to Ireland several years after to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. According to the legend, Saint Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock (become over time one of the most popular symbols of the Irish culture) to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. Patrick’s efforts against the druids were eventually turned into an allegory in which he drove snakes out of the island (Ireland never had any snakes because of its isolation from mainland Europe). Tradition tells that he eventually died on 17th March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick making of him Ireland’s foremost saint.
The Galway International Oyster Festival is another popular festival held in the City of Galway. It is a food festival held annually in Galway on the west coast of Ireland on the last weekend of September, the first month of the oyster season. This delicious seafood makes according to locals a perfect match for a cold pint of good stout beer!