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20 interesting facts about Ireland

We share the most interesting facts about Ireland, gathered on a short hop to the country’s Reeks District.  

My latest trip to Ireland took me to an area of the country I had never visited: the newly renamed Reeks District. I spent my time hiking, kayaking, surfing and learning that there’s much more to Ireland than wild waters and high hills.

The island has a reputation rich in history, tradition, literature and music, not to mention its charismatic and friendly people. Over the years, I’ve picked up numerous interesting facts about Ireland. Here, I share my favourites.

Interesting facts about Ireland

1. Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle because of its lush rolling hills and vales of green. Poet William Drennan is thought to be the first to use the phrase in print, in his poem When Erin First Rose.
(Source: Library Ireland)

Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle

2. During the 1840s, Ireland’s staple crop – the potato – failed, leading to the Great Famine. An estimated million people died of starvation and disease between 1846 and 1851, and two million emigrated between 1845 and 1855.
(Source: BBC)

3. The famine was exacerbated by the actions (and inactions) of the British government at the time, leading some to suggest that the famine was essentially a form of genocide exacted on the Irish.
(Source: Irish Independent)

4. Ireland and the UK share a chequered history. In 1801, Great Britain annexed the Kingdom of Ireland under the Act of Union; in 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty established the Irish Free State, an independent dominion of the British crown partitioned from Northern Ireland; and in 1949, the Republic of Ireland became fully independent from the UK.
(Source: BBC)

5. Ireland has been used as a location for several famous films including Star Wars, The Princess Bride, Braveheart and Harry Potter.
(Source: Irish Independent)

Skellig Michael in County Kerry is featured in Star Wars

6. Since the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the Irish harp has been the official emblem of Ireland, not the shamrock which is more commonly used.
(Source: Irish Times)

7. With 22 letters, the town of Muckanaghederdauhaulia is believed to be Ireland’s longest one-word place name. The name derives from Muiceanach idir Dhá Sháilemeaning, meaning ‘pig-marsh between two salt waters’.
(Source: Irish Independent)

8. One of the most well-known facts about Ireland is that Dublin is home to the world-famous Guinness Brewery. In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease for the land.
(Source: Visit Dublin)

The Guinness Brewery in Dublin

9. The Guinness World Records, a reference book published annually listing world records, came about in 1954 when the managing director of Guinness attended a shooting party and argued with other competitors about the fastest game bird in Europe, and failed to find an answer in any available reference book.
(Source: Guinness World Records)

10. The MacGillycuddy’s Reeks are Ireland’s highest mountain range, home to Carrauntoohil, which at 1,038m (3,406ft) is Ireland’s highest mountain.
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

11. Ireland has a population of just over five million, of which over three quarters (78.3%) is Roman Catholic.
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

12. One of the most curious facts about Ireland takes place in the town of Killorglin in the Reeks District. Here, a festival known as the Puck Fair sees a goat crowned as King Puck for three days. The Queen of Puck, traditionally a local young schoolgirl, crowns the goat.
(Source: Puck Fair)

A goat is crowned King Puck at the Puck Fair

13. Leprechauns originate in Irish folklore as a fairy in the form of a tiny old man often with a cocked hat and leather apron. The word derives from the Old Irish word luchorpanmeaning ‘little body’.
(Source: Britannica)

14. The ancestral language of Irish people is Irish Gaelic. However, the 2011 census found that 82,600 people in Ireland speak Irish outside of school (where it is an obligatory subject). The census also reported that 119,526 speak Polish meaning Irish is now the third most spoken language in Ireland after English and Polish.
(Source: Irish Census 2011)

15. The most popular sport in Ireland is Gaelic football, followed by Hurling. Both sports are native to Ireland. Collectively – along with Gaelic handball, rounders and others – the sports are known as the Gaelic games, under the aegis of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
(Source: Irish Times)

16. In 2017, Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s prime minister. Born in 1979, he is Ireland’s youngest prime minister, the country’s first openly gay leader and the first of Indian heritage.
(Source: BBC)

Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s first openly gay leader

17. Halloween is derived from the Irish festival of Samhain. At the end of summer, the Celts believed the gulf between our world and the world of ghosts and spirits thinned, allowing malevolent beings to wander the Earth. Irish immigrants in the US raised the popularity of Halloween in the 19th century.
(Source: BBC)

18. Irish surnames beginning with O’ mean ‘descendant of ’ in Irish Gaelic. Today, there are four O’ names in the top 10 most common Irish surnames (O’Brien, O’Sullivan, O’Connor, O’Neill).
(Source: Irish Times)

19. Ireland is the sixth highest consumer of beer per capita in the world after Czech Republic, Namibia, Austria, Germany and Poland.
(Source: The Telegraph)

20. Ireland has won the Eurovision Song Contest more than any other country – a record seven times (1970, 1980, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996). It was also the first country to win the contest three times in a row.
(Source: Eurovision Song Contest)


Photographer Valerie O’Sullivan captures the rich heritage and traditions of the area in The MacGillycuddy’s Reeks: People and Places of Ireland’s Highest Mountain Range – revealing even more interesting facts about Ireland.

Lead image: Valerie O’Sullivan

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