Ireland is divided into thirty two counties, but it has two main parts: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The north, also known as Ulster, is part of the United Kingdom (so its currency is the pound) and its capital is Belfast. However, the republic (or Eire) is independent, and its capital is Dublin. Therefore, its currency is not the pound, but the euro.
Ireland is the third largest island in Europe, with a population of around 6.5 million! To the west of the island lies the Atlantic Ocean, to the south is the Celtic Sea and to the east is the Irish Sea. The Irish flag consists of three vertical stripes in green, white and orange. Green represents the Gaelic, Catholic population of Ireland, with orange representing the Protestants under William of Orange, and white symbolising peace between the two groups. The people of Ireland mainly speak English, but around 25% of the population also speaks Irish Gaelic. Although well-known sports such as soccer, golf and hockey are very popular in Ireland, the Irish also have their own sports such as hurling and Gaelic football.
Popular symbols of Ireland include the harp, the Celtic cross and the shamrock. Saint Patrick, who is the country’s patron saint, introduced the Celtic cross to Ireland, and used the three-leaf shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – three parts of one body. Another symbol of Ireland is the leprechaun, an elf who lives in the forest. According to myth, he hides his pot of gold, and will only give it to the person who catches him!
A popular piece of jewellery in Ireland is the claddagh ring, which comes with an interesting story! Claddagh is a small fishing village in Ireland, and the legend takes place there around 500 years ago. A family of fisherman were at sea when they were captured by pirates, who took them to Africa and kept them as slaves for goldsmiths. Some of the men died there, and some accepted their fate as slaves, but the youngest man was determined to return home to a girl he had fallen in love with. Every day, he stole a little piece of gold so that he could make a ring for his love, and eventually he escaped to Ireland with it. The girl had waited for him, and he gave her his ring – the Claddagh ring. On the ring is a heart, which represents his love for her. The heart wears a crown, which symbolises his loyalty to her, and it is held by two hands which represent their friendship. The ring is now very popular in Ireland for engagements and marriages, and it is often passed down through families. If the lady wears the ring with the heart pointing out, it means she is looking for her love, but if the heart points in, she has already found him!
Ireland is a wonderful country, and if you come to visit, you will meet many friendly people who love to sing songs and dance, and they will tell you lots of stories like the legend of the claddagh ring…so what are you waiting for?!
Have you been to Ireland? Would you like to visit Ireland one day?