| ||INFORMATION STATION|
|Facts at a Glance|
| ||Full country name: Ireland & Northern Ireland (part of the UK)|
Area: 84,421 sq km/52,341 sq mi (70,282 sq km/43,575 sq mi in the Republic; 14,139 sq km/8,766 sq mi in the North)
Population: 5.5 million (3.9 million in Ireland; 1.6 million in Northern Ireland)
Capital city: Dublin (population 1.5 million)
Language: English, Irish (around 83,000 native speakers)
Religion: 95% Roman Catholic, 3.4% Protestant in the Republic; 60% Protestant, 40% Roman Catholic in the Northern Ireland
Head of state: Mary McAleese (Republic), Queen Elizabeth II (Northern Ireland)
Prime Minister: Bertie Ahern (Republic), Tony Blair (Northern Ireland)
Small-beaked and wing-clipped, Ireland is an island in the Atlantic Ocean which appears about to alight on the coast of Britain 80km (50mi) to the west across the Irish Sea. It stretches 500km (310mi) north to south and 300km (186mi) east to west, and contains only two fully fledged cities of any size, so it's never far to isolated sweeps of mountain or bogland.
Much of Ireland's elevated ground is close to the coast, and almost the entire Atlantic seaboard, from Cork to Donegal, is a bulwark of cliffs, hills and mountains, with few safe anchorages. Most of the centre of the island is composed of flat farmland or raised bogs. This area is drained by the 260km (161mi) long Shannon, which enters the sea west of Limerick.
The Irish landscape and predominant flora that you see today are almost wholly the result of human influence. Before the famine, the pressure on the land was enormous and even the most inaccessible of places were farmed. On the hillsides, above today's fields, you can still occasionally see the faint regular lines of pre-famine potato ridges called lazy beds.
As a result of the pressure on the land, only 1% of the native oak forests which once covered Ireland remain, much of it now replaced by dull columns of plantation pine. Foxes and badgers are the most common native land mammals, but you might also spot hares, hedgehogs, squirrels, shrews, bats and red deer. Otters, stoats and pine martens are also found in remote areas. Many migrating birds roost in Ireland, and there are still a couple of native species lurking about: corncrakes can be found in the flooded grasslands of the Shannon Callows and parts of Donegal. Choughs, unusual crows with bright red feet and beaks, can be seen in the dunes along the western coastline.
Despite its northern latitude, Ireland's climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream, bringing the dregs of Caribbean balminess, as well as turtles and triggerfish. The temperature only drops below freezing intermittently during the winter and snow is scarce. Summers aren't stinking hot, rarely hitting 30° C (86° F), but they're comfortable and it stays light until around 11 pm. Whatever the time of year, be prepared for rain because Ireland is
| ||Figures refer to Eire only|
GDP: US$81.9 billion
GDP per head: US$26,500
Annual growth: 4.3%
Major industries: Computer software, information technology, food products, brewing, textiles, clothing, pharmaceuticals, tourism
Major trading partners: EU (esp. UK, Germany, France, Netherlands), US
Member of EU: yes
Euro zone participant: yes
|Facts for the Traveler|
| ||Visas:For citizens of the EU and most Western countries no visa is required. UK nationals born in Great Britain or Northern Ireland do not require a passport to visit the Republic|
Health risks: None, but keep in mind that abortions are illegal, except for in special circumstances. Contraception is widely available.
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Imperial and metric
Tourism: More than 4 million visitors annually
|Money & Costs|
| ||Currency:euro (EUR), formerly Irish pound or punt (IR£)|
Budget: US$4-8 Mid-range: US$8-20 Top-end: US$20+
Budget: US$10-20 Mid-range: US$20-65 Top-end: US$65+
Ireland (especially Dublin) is expensive, but costs vary around the country. Assuming you stay at a hostel, eat a light pub lunch and cook your own meal in the evening, you could get by on US$25 a day. Once you factor in moving around the country, you'll need to increase your budget a bit. Added extras to watch out for include the awful practice of charging an extra pound or two for a bath and the more pleasurable ruin of buying the assembled company a round of expensive pints of Guinness.
Most major currencies and brands of travellers' cheques are readily accepted in Ireland, but carrying them in pounds sterling has the advantage that in Northern Ireland or Britain you can change them without exchange loss or commission. Banks generally give the best exchange rates, but change bureaus are open longer hours. Many post offices offer currency-exchange facilities and they're open on Saturday mornings. Credit cards are widely accepted, though many B&Bs and some smaller remote petrol stations will only take cash. There's quite a good spread of cash-spewing ATMs in the both the North and the South.
Fancy hotels and restaurants usually add a 10% or 12% service charge and no additional tip is required. Simpler places usually do not add service; if you decide to tip, just round up the bill or add at most 10%. Taxi drivers don't have to be tipped, but if you want to, 10% is fine. Tipping in bars is not expected.
|When to Go|
The weather is warmest in July and August and the daylight hours are long, but the crowds will be greatest, the costs the highest and accommodation harder to come by. In the quieter winter months, however, you may get miserable weather, the days are short and many tourist facilities will be shut. Visiting Ireland in June or September has a number of attractions: the weather can be better than at any other time of the year, it's less crowded and everything is open.
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