Perhaps one of the most popular destinations in the European continent, Ireland is a country with a lot of baggage. Dating as far as 10,000 years ago, Ireland has seen many important events taking place in its green territory.
Saint Patrick, Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce are some of the names that are really important in Ireland’s extensive and amazing history. Let’s take a look at 8 interesting facts about Ireland!
1. This country has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Era!
Ireland is a very old country. Its historical records are dated from the moment that Christianity arrived at the then-pagan land. It is thanks to these records and to the archaeological pieces that have been found over the years, scientists were able to determine that Ireland has been inhabited throughout every single Era of the planet.
Back in 1903, archaeologists found a knee bone that had once belonged to a bear. This bone had different cuts to it, cuts that could only have been made by a human using some kind of tool. At the time of the finding, scientists didn’t have the technology to investigate the bone’s origins, so it was stored in the country’s National Museum.
It was only in 2016 — more than a hundred years since the bone was found — that a team of archaeologists led by Dr. Marion Dowd and Dr. Ruth Carden re-analyzed the bear’s knee bone using a method called radiocarbon dating, which was only developed in the 1940s. The archaeologists established that this bone was at least 10,000 years old.
Their discovery was groundbreaking because it meant that humans already inhabited Ireland during the Paleolithic Era, at least 2,000 years before what was originally believed, a fun Ireland fact.
2. Many people across the globe are of Irish descent.
Once upon a time, Ireland was heavily dependent on one single food: potatoes. When this root vegetable first arrived in the country, most locals didn’t welcome it with open arms. However, it didn’t take long for potatoes to become the main food in Irish cuisine.
At that time, there only two known diseases that affected potato crops. They hadn’t affected Ireland that much, so the country’s population continued relying heavily on this delicious vegetable. Irish people didn’t expect that their potato crops would be hit by a devastating disease called “blight”.
The potato blight that affected Europe in the 1840s was especially cruel in Ireland. From 1844 to 1849, over a million people starved to death in the Irish land and another million people left the country for good. This period in time is known as the Great Famine.
During this period, it is estimated that over 250,000 Irish people left the country in one single year! The population was trying to escape a certain death in case they stayed in Ireland, where there was no food, so they boarded on ships headed to other parts of Europe, such as England and Scotland, while others headed to North America, settling in places like New York City and Boston.
Because of that, Ireland’s population, which had been constantly increasing up until the Famine, decreased significantly and never fully recovered. It is estimated that there were a little over 8 million people in Ireland in 1841. In 1851, after the Famine was over, there were 6,5 million people in the region.
In 2016, there were around 4,5 million people in Ireland. This means that, even after all this time, the country has never fully recovered from the Great Famine and you can find Irish people anywhere in the world!
3. There are more than 30,000 castles and ruins in Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland is a pretty small country situated on a pretty small island. At approximately 70,000 square kilometers, Ireland is about half as big as the U.S. state of New York!
Considering its small size, it is quite shocking that Ireland has so many castles and ruins spread across the nation. There are around 30,000 castles on the island, an interesting Ireland fact. This is due to the fact that Ireland has been invaded several times over the years, so their construction techniques significantly improved each time a new invader arrived.
4. They have the oldest pub in Europe.
It’s basically impossible to talk about Ireland without talking about beer. Ireland is the home of one of the most famous and well-established beer brands in the world: Guinness. This dark beer has been brewed since 1759 and it is sold in over 120 countries!
On top of that, Ireland is also the home to the oldest pub in all of Europe. Yep, that’s right. According to the Guinness World Records, Seán’s Bar in Athlone, Ireland, is the oldest pub in Europe, dating back to 900 AD, a fun Ireland fact.
By the way, the Guinness World Records was originally created by the managing director of the Guinness Brewery and its original purpose was only to be a promotional item for the brewery, that’s why they share the same name!
5. Ireland is located in an area divided into two different states.
Ireland is an island that is divided into two states: the Republic of Ireland — which is the topic of our article — and Northern Ireland. The former occupies most of the island’s area, whereas the latter is a part of the United Kingdom.
Why is the island split in two? The answer is that the northern part of the island had very different thoughts than those of the other part of the island. First, Southern Ireland was mainly adept to Roman Catholicism, while Northern Ireland was mainly adept to Protestantism. Second of all, people from the north wished to remain as part of the United Kingdom, whereas the southern portion of the island was eager to become independent. This divergence in their ideas led to conflicts and civil wars, which ultimately caused the island to be split into two separate countries.
6. Halloween was created in this country.
Back in the day, before Ireland was ruled by Christianism, most part of the country’s population — the Gaelic people — celebrated a festival that marked the end of the harvest season. This festival is known as Samhain. Gaelic people celebrating Samhain would wear costumes and light bonfires during this day.
It is believed that when the Catholics arrived in Ireland and Christianized the Gaelic population — who were mostly pagan —, they changed the Irish people’s customs and adapted them to fit into a Christian pattern. An interesting fact about Ireland is that Samhain underwent these changes as well and became what is known now as Halloween!
7. Ireland has one of the highest church attendance in Europe.
Since the time of the Gaels — the Gaelic people who originally inhabited Ireland —, Christianism has grown considerably in Ireland. Though they were pagans, the Gaels converted to Catholicism under the supervision of the well-known Saint Patrick, who at the time as known simply as Patrick.
Because it was established in Ireland as early as in the 5th century, Catholicism has become the predominant religion in the country. In 2011, over 80% of the Irish population identified as Catholics. Though this number has declined — it was approximately 78% in 2016 —, Ireland still has one of the highest church attendance in all of Europe, with 35% of the Christian population attending the mass at least once a week.
8. Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish!
Possibly one of the most popular saints in the world, Saint Patrick was a Catholic missionary who is believed to have lived in the fifth century. He’s widely regarded as the founder of Christianism in Ireland, whose population followed Celtic beliefs and customs.
Though he is the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish! Patricius — that’s the name he used in his writings — was actually born in Roman Britain, the area of Britain that was ruled by the Roman empire. When he was 16, Patrick was captured by a group of pirates and enslaved for at least 6 years.
Patrick managed to return to Britain, where he continued studying Christianity. After a few years of being home, Saint Patrick had a vision in which the Irish people were claiming for his return. Patrick did return as a missionary and the rest is history!
Ireland is certainly one of the most intriguing and interesting countries on Earth. Filled with green lands and with historical sights such as castles and ruins, this country has a lot to offer for tourists and for people who are interested in getting to know more about the history of mankind.
Due to its ancient origins with the Celts and Gaelic people, Ireland does have a lot of stories to tell. Dating as early as the Paleolithic Era, this country will make your jaw drop with the other amazing facts that you will find and learn about!
I hope that this article on Ireland facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!