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Ireland facts

Facts about Ireland

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Ireland facts aren't hard to come by. The Internet is littered with them – usually the same old bits of information, copied and pasted from one site to another. You won't find any of that here. I've researched and collected together a series of interesting snippets about the island of Ireland.... facts that you might have chanced upon before, but can now rely on because I've provided additional details to prove the information and bring it up to date. I've taken nothing at face value.

Gates of Guinness in Dublin.
Tourism Ireland Facts: the Guinness Storehouse
is the island's top visitor attraction. It welcomes
more than a million visitors each year.

My list of Ireland facts is in no particular order and covers a wide area of subject matter from historical events to social affairs and from environmental matters to tourist statistics.

  • In July 2010, Dublin was designated UNESCO City of Literature. The accolade recognises the capital's international standing as a city of literary excellence, one of only four in the world (the others are Edinburgh, Iowa and Melbourne).
  • In 1991 Ireland became the first country in Europe to declare its waters a dolphin and whale sanctuary. Among the regular visitors are Fin Whales (second only to the Blue Whale in size), Humpback Whales and dolphins. A small but growing whale-watching industry is developing in the country, mainly concentrated on the south-west coast.
  • Cork Harbour claims to be the second largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney. This is quite a hotly contested claim, but Cork usually appears somewhere in most top five largest harbour lists.
  • On 11 February 1912, Cobh (then called Queenstown) was the last port of call of the Titanic on its maiden voyage. The ship had left Southampton the day before, picked up some additional passengers in Cherbourg, and boarded another 123 from Cobh. As the ship sailed off into the open waters of the Atlantic in the early afternoon, it had 1,308 passengers and 898 crew on board. Four days later, the ship disappeared beneath the sea.
  • In the 1911 census (launched online and free in 2010, to the delight of millions of genealogy researchers), a 78-year-old widow called Margaret Murphy who lived in Blanchardstown claimed to have had 17 children. Eight were still alive on the night the census was taken.
  • Sampling Guinness at the Storehouse Penthouse Bar
  • Jack is most popular boy's name in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Between 2006 and 2012, some 9,284 little boys were recorded with the name. The names to girls vary much more over the same period, with Emma, Sophie, Katie and Grace among the top names.
  • Ireland's top visitor attraction is the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin which welcomed more than 1,269,371 visitors in 2014. The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience in County Clare took second place (1,080,501) and Dublin Zoo third (1,076,876). In Northern Ireland, the top attraction was the Giant's Causeway (790,000) followed by Titanic Belfast (630,000). These figures relate to 2014, the last full year accounted.
  • The island of Ireland has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim (see right-hand column), Skellig Michael and Bru na Boinne.
  • Barack Obama's great great grandfather came from the tiny village of Moneygall (population 298 in 2006) on the Offaly-Tipperary border. His genealogy has been traced to one Fulmouth Kearney (b.1830) who emigrated to the USA in about 1850, and whose father, Joseph (b.1794), was the local shoemaker.
  • The geographical centre of the island of Ireland is a much-debated subject. Emmett Square in the town of Birr is one claimant. Another is an island in Lough Ree (marked by Hodson’s Pillar) while in nearby Glassan, a hill-tower claims the accolade. Possibly the most likely (and the one with the longest-standing recognition), is the Hill of Uisneach where a stone known as the Stone of Divisions once marked the convergence of Ireland’s five ancient provinces: Ulster, Leinster, Connacht, Munster and Meath.
  • The remains of St Valentine, the Patron Saint of Love and Lovers, are held in the Whitefriars Street Carmelite Church on Aungier Street in Dublin. They were discovered in the early 1800s in Rome and some three decades later were given to a Dublin priest by Pope Gregory XVI. After nearly a century in storage, the relics were rediscovered about 45 years ago and are now housed in a shrine at the church, beneath a statue of the saint holding a crocus flower.
  • Designed in 1848, the flag of Ireland is a historical political statement. The green represents Irish Catholics, the orange represents the island's Protestants, and the white represents the hope that the two congregations will be reconciled to live together in peace.
  • Ballyshannon claims to be the oldest town in Ireland. Archaeological excavations have revealed settlement dating back to the Neolithic period (4000-2500BC), and the town received a Royal Charter in 1613. The only other claim to fame of the little town (population just 2,232 in 2002), is that blues rock guitarist Rory Gallagher (1948-1995) was born here. A life size bronze statue of him was unvieled in the centre of town in June 2010.

More Ireland facts
Origin of Halloween

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Northern Ireland Facts

Lough Neagh

Bordered by five of the six counties that make up Northern Ireland, Lough Neagh is the largest lake in Britain and Ireland.

It covers 383sqkm, is 30.5km wide from Northeast to Southwest, and 12km wide from west to east. While its average depth is just 8m, its deepest drops register 30m.

It is home to two unique species of fish: Dollaghan (a large trout) and Pollan (a freshwater herring), but is most famous for its eels. The Lough is Europe's major commercial wild eel fishery, producing 700 tons of wild eels for smokeries across the continent each year.

While six major rives flow into it, only one, the River Bann, flows out.

During the Second World War, the Lough's Sandy Bay became the site of a USAAF flying-boat base; pilots practised bombing and gunning techniques on the open waters.

Location, location

The closest point between Britain and the island of Ireland is Torr Head in County Antrim, which is a mere 23 km (14 miles) from Scotland's Mull of Kintyre.

Most popular names

Jack was the most popular first name for baby boys born in Northern Ireland from 2003 to 2014 inclusive (it was overtaken by James in 2015), and in the Republic of Ireland from 2007 to 2015.

Find out more about boys and girls names in Northern Ireland.

The Giant's Causeway

It is the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Northern Ireland, and the very peculiarity of the Giant's Causeway makes it absolutely worthy of its status. It was the top-visited tourist attaction in Northern Ireland in 2014, the last year for which official figures have been collated, with more than 790,000 visitors.

Millions of years of geological goings-on have created the strange basalt formations and the rich colours of the nearly rocks.

A new £18.5m visitor centre, clad in basalt and roofed with grass, opened in 2012.

Genealogy games

Research is so much easier if your ancestors had unusual names!

  • In the 1911 census there were 55,535 Murphys recorded. Only three families called themselves O'Murphy.

  • Search for Smith (one of the top five surnames) and you find 15307 records. But might your ancestor have preferred the spelling Smyth (16336 people) or even added an extra 'e' (181 people)?

  • Top Ten Bubbles

    See my personal selection of the very best free online databases for Irish genealogy research. Click image.

    Film locations in Ireland - Facts or pure Hollywood?
    This island's outstanding scenery (as well as some other very welcoming incentives) has long attracted movie makers. Sometimes the landscape plays itself. But often the hills or the castles or the streets are pretending to be somewhere else.

    Find out more in my top ten on location in Ireland facts.

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    By Claire Santry, Copyright© 2008-2018 Dedicated to helping YOU discover your Irish Heritage.
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