Northern Ireland

From New World Encyclopedia
Tuaisceart Éireann (Irish)
Norlin Airlann (Ulster-Scots)
Northern Ireland
Location of Northern Ireland
Location of  Northern Ireland (orange)
– on the European continent (camel  white)
– in the United Kingdom (camel)
(and largest city)
54°35.456′N 5°50.4′W
Official languages English
Ulster Scots1
Ethnic groups  96.6% White
1.7% Asian
0.8% Mixed
0.6% Black
0.2% other
0.1% Irish Traveller[1]
Government Consociational devolved legislature within unitary constitutional monarchy
 -  Monarch Charles III
 -  First Minister Vacant
 -  Deputy First Minister Vacant
 -  Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak
 -  Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris
Legislature Northern Ireland Assembly
 -  Government of Ireland Act May 3, 1921 
 -  Constitution Act July 18 , 1973 
 -  Northern Ireland Act July 17, 1974 
 -  Northern Ireland Act November 19, 1998 
 -  Total 13,843 km² 
5,345 sq mi 
 -  2021 census 1,903,175[1] 
 -  Density 135/km² 
349/sq mi
Currency Pound sterling (GBP)
Time zone GMT (UTC+0)
 -  Summer (DST) BST (UTC+1)
Calling code [[++442]]
1 Officially recognized languages: Northern Ireland has no official language. The use of English has been established through precedent. Irish and Ulster Scots are officially recognized minority languages
2 +44 is always followed by 28 when calling landlines. The code is 028 within the UK and 048 from the Republic of Ireland

Northern Ireland (Irish: Tuaisceart Éireann) is a part of the United Kingdom lying in the northeast of the island of Ireland, and consists of six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster. The remainder of the island of Ireland is a sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland has been for many years the site of a violent and bitter ethno-political conflict between those claiming to represent Nationalists, who are predominantly Catholic, and those claiming to represent Unionists, who are predominantly Protestant.

In general, Nationalists want Northern Ireland to be unified with the Republic of Ireland, and Unionists want it to remain part of the United Kingdom. Unionists are in the majority in Northern Ireland, though Nationalists represent a significant minority. In general, Protestants consider themselves British and Catholics see themselves as Irish, although but there are some who claim dual nationality.

The campaigns of violence have become known popularly as The Troubles. Since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, many paramilitary campaigns have either been on ceasefire or have declared their war to be over.


Map of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland covers 5,459 square miles (14,139 square kilometers), about a sixth of the island's total area, or a little larger than the U.S. state of Maryland.

Rathlin, off the Antrim coast, is the largest of Northern Ireland's islands. Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 150 square kilometers.

Extensive drumlins in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down, result from ice coverage for most of the last Ice age. The volcanic activity which created the Antrim Plateau also formed the eerily geometric pillars of the Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast. Also in north Antrim are the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Mussenden Temple and the Glens of Antrim.

There are substantial uplands in the Sperrin Mountains (an extension of the Caledonian fold mountains) with extensive gold deposits, granite Mourne Mountains, and basalt Antrim Plateau, as well as smaller ranges in South Armagh and along the Fermanagh–Tyrone border. None of the hills are especially high, with Slieve Donard in the dramatic Mournes reaching 2782 feet, (848 meters), Northern Ireland's highest point. Belfast's most prominent peak is Cave Hill.

Fair Head seen from Ballycastle

The whole of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate, rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is persistent across the region. The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 43.7°F (6.5°C) in January and 63.5°F (17.5°C) in July. The damp climate and extensive deforestation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resulted in much of the region being covered in rich green grassland.

The centerpiece of Northern Ireland's geography is Lough Neagh, at 151 square miles (392 square kilometers) the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles. A second extensive lake system is centered on Lower and Upper Lough Erne in Fermanagh.

The Lower and Upper River Bann, River Foyle and River Blackwater form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry.

Notable is the absence of trees. Most of the land has been plowed, drained, and cultivated for centuries. About five percent of the land was forested, most planted by the state, and economically unimportant, although it helps to diversify the landscape.

View of Belfast from Queens University Ashby Building. The main Laynon Building of Queen's University is in the foreground. The yellow fasciad Belfast City Hospital is visible in the center background, with the city's current tallest building Windsor House in the right background.

The fauna of Northern Ireland is similar to that of Great Britain, with fewer species. Only the Irish stoat, the Irish hare, and three species of birds are exclusively Irish, although the region is rich in fish, particularly pike, perch, trout, and salmon. There are about 40 nature reserves and several bird sanctuaries.

Natural hazards include winter windstorms and floods. Environmental issues include sewage treatment, that the European Commission in 2003 alleged was inadequate.

The valley of the River Lagan is dominated by Northern Ireland's capital city, Belfast, whose metropolitan area included over a third of the population of Northern Ireland. With heavy urbanization and industrialization along the Lagan Valley and both shores of Belfast Lough, it is the largest city in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster, and the second-largest city on the island of Ireland (after Dublin).Other cities include Armagh, Londonderry, Lisburn, and Newry.


Stone age

During the Ice Age, until about 9000 years ago, and most of Ireland was covered with ice. Sea-levels were lower then, and Ireland, as with its neighbor Britain, instead of being islands, were part of a greater continental Europe. Mesolithic middle stone age inhabitants arrived some time after 8000 B.C.E. About 4000 B.C.E., sheep, goats, cattle and cereals were imported from southwest continental Europe. A remnant, dating date from around 3000 B.C.E., is the Giant's Ring, a henge monument at Ballynahatty, near [Belfast]], which consists of a circular enclosure, 590 feet (200 meters) in diameter, surrounded with an 15 feet (four-meter) high earthwork bank with five entrances, and a small neolithic passage grave slightly off-center.

Celtic colonization

The main Celtic arrivals occurred in the Iron Age. The Celts, an Indo-European group who are thought to have originated in the second millennium B.C.E. in east-central Europe, are traditionally thought to have colonized Ireland in a series of waves between the eighth and first centuries B.C.E., with the Gaels, the last wave of Celts, conquering the island.

The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia. Ptolemy in 100 C.E. recorded Ireland's geography and tribes. Ireland was never formally a part of the Roman Empire.

The Five Fifths

Ring fort on the island of Inishmaan, Aran Islands, Ireland. Photograph by Jonathan Leonard.

Ireland was organized into a number of independent petty kingdoms, or tuatha (clans), each with an elected king. The country coalesced into five groups of tuatha, known as the Five Fifths (Cuíg Cuígí), about the beginning of the Christian era. These were Ulster, Meath, Leinster, Munster, and Connaught.

Each king was surrounded by an aristocracy, with clearly defined land and property rights, and whose main wealth was in cattle. Céilí, or clients supported greater landowners by tilling the soil and tending the cattle. Individual families were the basic units of society, both to control land and enforce the law.

Society was based on cattle rearing and agriculture. The principal crops were wheat, barley, oats, flax, and hay. Plows drawn by oxen were used to till the land. Sheep were bred for wool, and pigs for slaughter. Fishing, hunting, fowling, and trapping provided further food. Dwellings were built by the post-and-wattle technique, and some were situated within ring forts.

Each of the Five Fifths had its own king, although Ulster in the north was dominant at first. Niall Noigiallach (died c.450/455) laid the basis for the Uí Néill dynasty's hegemony, which ruled over much of western, northern and central Ireland from their base in Tír Eóghain (Eoghan's Country) - modern County Tyrone. By the time he died, hegemony had passed to his midland kingdom of Meath. In the sixth century, descendants of Niall, ruling at Tara in northern Leinster, claimed to be overkings of Ulster, Connaught, and Meath, and later, they claimed to be kings of all of Ireland.

Raids on England

From the mid-third century C.E., the Irish, who were at that time called Scoti rather than the older term Hiberni carried out frequent raiding expeditions on England. Raids became incessant in the second half of the fourth century, when Roman power in Britain was beginning to crumble. The Irish settled along the west coast of Britain, Wales and Scotland.

Saints Palladius and Patrick

St Patrick.

According to early medieval chronicles, in 431, Bishop Palladius arrived in Ireland on a mission from Pope Celestine to minister to the Irish "already believing in Christ." The same chronicles record that Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, arrived in 432. There is continued debate over the missions of Palladius and Patrick. Palladius most likely went to Leinster, while Patrick went to Ulster, where he probably spent time in captivity as a young man. He established his center in Armagh, which remained the primatial see of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and the Protestant Church of Ireland.

Patrick is traditionally credited with preserving the tribal and social patterns of the Irish, codifying their laws and changing only those that conflicted with Christian practices. He is also credited with introducing the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive Celtic oral literature. The historicity of these claims remains the subject of debate. There were Christians in Ireland long before Patrick came, and pagans long after he died. However, it is undoubtedly true that Patrick played a crucial role in transforming Irish society.

The druid tradition collapsed in the face of the spread of the new religion. Irish Christian scholars excelled in the study of Latin and Greek learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished, preserving Latin and Greek learning during the Early Middle Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewelery, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island.

Irish monasticism

This page (folio 292r) of the Book of Kells contains the lavishly decorated text that opens the Gospel of John.

Christian settlements in Ireland were loosely linked, usually under the auspices of a great saint. By the late sixth century, numerous Irishmen devoted themselves to an austere existence as monks, hermits, and as missionaries to pagan tribes in Scotland, the north of England, and in west-central Europe. A comprehensive monastic system developed in Ireland, partly through the influenced by Celtic monasteries in Britain, through the sixth and seventh centuries.

The monasteries became notable centers of learning. Christianity brought Latin, Irish scribes produced manuscripts written in the Insular style, which spread to Anglo-Saxon England and to Irish monasteries on the European continent. Initial letters were illuminated. The most famous Irish manuscript is the Book of Kells, a copy of the four Gospels probably dating from the late eighth century, while the earliest surviving illuminated manuscript is the Book of Durrow, probably made 100 years earlier.

Viking raiders

The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in 795 when Vikings from Norway looted the island of Lambay, located off the Dublin coast. Early raids, which were small in scale and quick, interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture, and led to waves of Viking raiders plundering monasteries and towns. By the early 840s, the Vikings began to establish settlements in Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Cork, Arklow and most famously, Dublin. The Vikings became traders and their towns became a new part of the life of the country. However, the Vikings never achieved total domination of Ireland, often fighting for and against various Irish kings, such as Flann Sinna, Cerball mac Dúnlainge and Niall Glúndub. Ultimately they were suborned by King Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill of Meath at the battle of Tara in 980.

First king of Ireland

Brian Boru, the first king of all Ireland.

Two branches of Niall's descendants, the Cenél nEogain, of the northern Uí Néill, and the Clan Cholmáin, of the southern Uí Néill, alternated as kings of Ireland from 734 to 1002. Brian Boru (941 - 1014) became the first high king of all Ireland (árd rí Éireann) in 1002. King Brian Boru subsequently united most of the Irish Kings and Chieftains to defeat the Danish King of Dublin, who led an army of Irish and Vikings, at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

The Anglo-Norman invasion

The east wall and keep of Carrickfergus Castle.

By the twelfth century, power was exercised by the heads of a few regional dynasties vying against each other for supremacy over the whole island. One of these, the King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada was forcibly exiled from his kingdom by the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Fleeing to Aquitaine, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry II to use the Norman forces to regain his kingdom. The first Norman knight landed in Ireland in 1167, followed by the main forces of Normans, Welsh and Flemings in Wexford in 1169.

By 1177 a force under John de Courci, became established in northern County Down and southern County Antrim, and built formidable castles at Downpatrick and Carrickfergus.

Within a short time Waterford and Dublin were under the control of Diarmait, who named his son-in-law, Richard de Clare, heir to his kingdom. This caused consternation to King Henry II of England, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman state in Ireland. Accordingly, he resolved to establish his authority.

With the authority of the papal bull Laudabiliter from Adrian IV, Henry landed with a large fleet at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. Henry awarded his Irish territories to his younger son John with the title Dominus Hiberniae ("Lord of Ireland"). When John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King John, the "Lordship of Ireland" fell directly under the English Crown.

De Courci became too independent so King John of England created an earldom of Ulster in 1205 and conferred it upon Hugh de Lacy (1176-1243), who became known as the earl of Ulster.

Ireland in 1014: a patch-work of rival kingdoms.
The extent of Norman control of Ireland in 1300.

The Lordship of Ireland

Initially the Normans controlled the entire east coast, from Waterford up to eastern Ulster and penetrated as far west as Galway, Kerry and Mayo. The most powerful lords were the great Hiberno-Norman Lord of Leinster from 1171, Earl of Meath from 1172, Earl of Ulster from 1205, Earl of Connaught from 1236, Earl of Kildare from 1316, the Earl of Ormonde from 1328, and the Earl of Desmond from 1329. The lords controlled vast territories, known as Liberties, which functioned as self-administered jurisdictions with the Lordship of Ireland owing feudal fealty to the King in London. The first Lord of Ireland was King John, who visited Ireland in 1185 and 1210 and helped consolidate the Norman controlled areas, while at the same time ensuring that the many Irish kings swore fealty to him.

The Norman-Irish established a feudal system characterized by baronies, manors, towns, and large land-owning monastic communities. King John established a civil government independent of the feudal lords. The country was divided into counties for administrative purposes, English law was introduced, and attempts were made to reduce the feudal liberties, which were lands held in the personal control of aristocratic families and the church. The Irish Parliament paralleled that of its English counterpart.

Throughout the thirteenth century the policy of the English Kings was to weaken the power of the Norman Lords in Ireland.

Gaelic resurgence

The Black Death rapidly spread along the major European sea and land trade routes. It reached Ireland in 1348 and decimated the Hiberno-Norman urban settlements.
The extent of Anglo-Irish control of Ireland in 1450, showing lands recaptured by native Irish (green), and lands held by Anglo-Irish lords (blue) and the English king (red).

By 1261 the weakening of the Anglo-Normans had become manifest when Fineen Mac Carthy defeated a Norman army at the Battle of Callann, County Kerry, and killed John fitz Thomas, Lord of Desmond, his son Maurice fitz John, and eight other Barons. In 1315, Edward Bruce of Scotland invaded Ireland, gaining the support of many Gaelic lords against the English. Although Bruce was eventually defeated at the Battle of Faughart, the war caused a great deal of destruction, especially around Dublin. In this chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land.

The Black Death arrived in Ireland in 1348. Because most of the English and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements. After it had passed, Gaelic Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again. The English-controlled area shrunk back to the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin that ran through the counties of Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow and the Earldoms of Kildare, Ormonde and Desmond.

Outside the Pale, the Hiberno-Norman lords adopted the Irish language and customs, becoming known as the Old English, and in the words of a contemporary English commentator, became "more Irish than the Irish themselves."

By the end of the fifteenth century, central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared. England's attentions were diverted by its Wars of the Roses (civil war). The Lordship of Ireland lay in the hands of the powerful Fitzgerald Earl of Kildare, who dominated the country by means of military force and alliances with lords and clans around Ireland. Around the country, local Gaelic and Gaelicized lords expanded their powers at the expense of the English government in Dublin.

Re-conquest and rebellion

Henry VIII of England.

After Henry VIII of England broke English Catholicism from Rome in 1532, the English, the Welsh and, later, the Scots accepted Protestantism, but the Irish remained Catholic. The Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare had invited Burgundian troops into Dublin to crown the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as King of England in 1497, and again in 1536, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald went into open rebellion against the crown. Having put down this rebellion, from 1536, Henry VIII decided to re-conquer Ireland, and bring Ireland under English government control so the island would not become a base for future rebellions or foreign invasions of England. In 1541, Henry upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a full Kingdom, and Henry was proclaimed King of Ireland at a meeting of the Irish Parliament.

In the 1600s, Ulster was the last redoubt of the traditional Gaelic way of life. Following the defeat of the Irish forces in the Nine Years War (1594–1603) at the battle of Kinsale (1601), Elizabeth I's English forces succeeded in subjugating Ulster and all of Ireland. The Gaelic leaders of Ulster, the O'Neills and O'Donnells, finding their power under English suzerainty limited, decamped en masse in 1607 (the Flight of the Earls) to Roman Catholic Europe. This allowed the Crown to settle Ulster with more loyal English and Scottish planters, a process which began in earnest in 1610.

Plantation of Ulster

The Plantation of Ulster, run by the government, settled only the counties confiscated from those Irish families that had taken part in the Nine Years War. The Crown dispossessed thousands of the native Irish, who were forced to move to poorer land. Counties Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan, Londonderry and Fermanagh comprised the official plantation. Confiscated territory was granted to new landowners provided they would establish settlers as their tenants, and that they would introduce English law and the Protestant religion.

The most extensive settlement in Ulster of English, Scots and Welsh—as well as Protestants from throughout the European continent—occurred in Antrim and Down. These counties, though not officially planted, had suffered de-population during the war and proved attractive to settlers from nearby Scotland.

Catholic uprising

After Irish Catholic rebellion and civil war, Oliver Cromwell, on behalf of the English Commonwealth, re-conquered Ireland and transferred land ownership to Protestant colonists.

Unofficial settlement continued well into the eighteenth century, interrupted only by the Catholic uprising of 1641. This rebellion quickly degenerated into attacks on Protestant settlers. Dispossessed Catholics slaughtered thousands of Protestants, an event which remains strong in Ulster Protestant folk-memory. In the ensuing wars, from 1641-1653, fought against the background of civil war in England, Scotland and Ireland, Ulster became a battleground between the Protestant settlers and the native Irish Catholics.

In 1646, the Irish Catholic army under Owen Roe O'Neill inflicted a bloody defeat on a Scottish Covenanter army at Benburb in County Tyrone, but the Catholic forces failed to follow up their victory and the war lapsed into stalemate. The war in Ulster ended with the defeat of the Irish Catholic army at the Battle of Scarrifholis on the western outskirts of Letterkenny, County Donegal, in 1650 and the occupation of the province by Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. The atrocities committed by all sides in the war poisoned the relationships between Ulster's ethno-religious communities for generations afterwards.

The Williamite war

King James VII and II.

Forty years later, in 1688-1691, conflict flared in the Williamite war in Ireland, when Irish Catholics ("Jacobites") supported James II (deposed in the Glorious Revolution) and Ulster Protestants (Williamites) backed William of Orange. At the start of the war, Irish Catholic Jacobites controlled all of Ireland for James, with the exception of the Protestant strongholds at Derry and at Enniskillen in Ulster. The Jacobites besieged Derry from December 1688 to July 1689, when a Williamite army from Britain relieved the city. The Protestant Williamite fighters based in Enniskillen defeated another Jacobite army at the battle of Newtownbutler on July 28, 1689.

Thereafter, Ulster remained firmly under Williamite control and William's forces completed their conquest of the rest of Ireland in the next two years. Ulster Protestant irregulars known as "Enniskilleners" served with the Williamite forces. The war provided Protestant loyalists with the iconic victories of the Siege of Derry, the Battle of the Boyne (July 1, 1690) and the Battle of Aughrim (July 12, 1691), all of which continue to be commemorated.

The Williamite victory ensured British and Protestant supremacy. Roman Catholics (descended from the indigenous Irish) and Presbyterians (mainly descended from Scottish planters, but also from indigenous Irishmen who converted to Presbyterianism) both suffered discrimination under the Penal Laws, which gave full political rights only to Anglican Protestants (mostly descended from English settlers). In the 1690s, Scottish Presbyterians became a majority in Ulster, tens of thousands of them having emigrated there to escape a famine in Scotland.

Refuge for Huguenots

Ulster became a refuge for Huguenots, who were Protestants who fled from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Huguenots brought commercial and industrial skills that helped the development of linen cloth manufacture, which in turn established a foundation for the later industrialization of Belfast and the Lagan valley.

Famine, emigration

Some absentee landlords managed some of their estates inefficiently, and food tended to be produced for export rather than for domestic consumption. Two very cold winters led directly to the Great Irish Famine (1740-1741), which killed about 400,000 people; all of Europe was affected. In addition, Irish exports were reduced by the Navigation Acts from the 1660s, which placed tariffs on Irish produce entering England, but exempted English goods from tariffs on entering Ireland.

Considerable numbers of Ulster-Scots just a few generations after arriving in Ulster migrated to the North American colonies throughout the eighteenth century (250,000 settled in what would become the United States between 1717 and 1770 alone). According to Kerby Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (1988), Protestants were one-third of the population of Ireland, but three-quarters of all emigrants from 1700 to 1776; 70 percent of these Protestants were Presbyterians.

Sectarian violence

With the relaxation of the Penal Laws and as Catholics began to purchase land and involve themselves in the linen trade. Protestants, including Presbyterians, who in some parts of the province had come to identify with the Catholic community, used violence to intimidate Catholics who tried to enter the linen trade.

In the 1790s, many Catholics and Presbyterians, in opposition to Anglican domination and inspired by the American and French revolutions, joined together in the United Irishmen movement. This group (founded in Belfast in 1791) dedicated itself to founding a non-sectarian and independent Irish republic. The United Irishmen had particular strength in Belfast, Antrim and Down.

A pitched battle between Protestant and Catholic factions at the Diamond (near Loughgall) in September 1795, between the rival "Defenders" (Catholic) and "Peep O'Day Boys" (Anglican), led to the founding of the Orange Society (later known as the Orange Order), which was devoted to maintaining British rule and Protestant ascendancy.

A series of rebellions in 1798, inspired by the United Irishmen, attracted ineffectual French support and brutal British repression. About 35,000 people were killed, and confidence in the relatively independent Irish Parliament was shaken.

Union with Great Britain

Daniel O'Connell.

In response to the rebellions, Irish self-government was abolished by the Act of Union on January 1, 1801, which merged Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain and transferred Irish representation to the British Parliament at Westminster in London. Part of the agreement was that discrimination against Catholics, Presbyterians, and others would end (Catholic Emancipation).

However, King George III controversially blocked any change. In 1823, an enterprising Catholic lawyer, Daniel O'Connell, known as "the Great Liberator" began a successful campaign to achieve emancipation, which was finally conceded in 1829. He later led an unsuccessful campaign for "Repeal of the Act of Union."

Second great famine

Michael Davitt c. 1878

Potato blight was blamed for the second great famines An Gorta Mór, which struck severely in the period 1845-1849, leading to mass starvation and emigration. The population dropped from over eight million before the famine to 4.4 million in 1911. The Irish language, once the spoken language of the entire island, declined in use sharply in the nineteenth century as a result of the famine and the creation of the National School education system.

A series of violent rebellions by Irish republicans took place in 1803, under Robert Emmet; in 1848 a rebellion by the Young Irelanders, most prominent among them, Thomas Francis Meagher; and in 1867, another insurrection by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. All failed, but physical force nationalism remained an undercurrent in the nineteenth century.

The Land League under Michael Davitt demanded what became known as the 3 Fs; Fair rent, free sale, fixity of tenure. The Wyndham Land Purchase Act (1903) which broke up large estates and gradually gave rural landholders and tenants ownership of the lands, effectively ended absentee landlordism.

Ulster prospers

The RMS Titanic, Northern Ireland's most famous manufacturing export, being admired by Harland and Wolff shipyard workers before its launch.

In the nineteenth century, textile manufacture, both cotton and linen, and a shipbuilding industry centered in Belfast and the Lagan valley, brought an economy and culture very different from that of the heavily rural and agricultural south. In the latter part of the century, Belfast overtook Dublin as the largest city on the island. Belfast became famous for the construction of the RMS Titanic.

Towards home rule

Sir Edward Carson signing the Solemn League and Covenant

In the 1870s the issue of Irish self-government again became a focus of debate under Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party of which he was founder. British prime minister William Gladstone, of the Conservative Party, introduced the first Home Rule Bill in Parliament in 1886. The measure was defeated, but it was the start of the Nationalist-Unionist split. Ulster Protestants opposed home rule, not trusting politicians from the Catholic agrarian south and west to support the more industrial economy of Ulster. Unionists supported union with Britain and tended to be Protestant, and nationalists advocated Irish self-government, and were usually Catholic. Out of this division, two opposing sectarian movements evolved, the Protestant Orange Order and the Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians.

A second Home Rule Bill, also introduced by Gladstone, was defeated in 1893, while the third, and final, Home Rule Bill twice passed the House of Commons in 1912, when the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) held the balance of power in the Commons. Both both times it was defeated in the House of Lords.

The Easter Proclamation, issued by the leaders of the Easter Rising.

To resist home rule, thousands of unionists, led by the Dublin-born barrister Sir Edward Carson and James Craig, signed the "Ulster Covenant" of 1912, pledging to resist Irish independence. This movement also saw the setting up of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the first Irish paramilitary group. Irish nationalists created the Irish Volunteers - forerunners of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In 1914, the Home Rule Bill of 1912 passed the House of Commons for the third time, which meant ratification by the House of Lords was unnecessary. But when war broke out in Europe, the British government postponed the operation of the Home Rule Act until after the war.

World War I

Nationalist leaders and the Irish Parliamentary Party, in order to ensure the implementation of Home Rule after the war, supported the British and Allied war effort against the Central Powers. Thousands of Ulstermen and Irishmen of all religions and sects volunteered and died. Before the war ended, Britain made two concerted efforts to implement Home Rule, one in May 1916 and again with the Irish Convention during 1917-1918, but the Irish sides (Nationalist, Unionist) were unable to agree to terms for the temporary or permanent exclusion of Ulster from its provisions.

A failed attempt was made to gain separate independence for Ireland with the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection in Dublin. Though support for the insurgents was small, the violence used in its suppression enflamed the situation in Ireland, and led to increased support of the rebels. In the December 1918 elections, most voted for Sinn Féin, the party of the rebels. Having won three-quarters of all the seats in Ireland, its MPs assembled in Dublin on January 21, 1919, to form a 32-county Irish Republic parliament, Dáil Éireann unilaterally, asserting sovereignty over the entire island.


Prime minister David Lloyd George.
Page from a draft of the Treaty, as annotated by Arthur Griffith

The British coalition government of David Lloyd George passed the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, which created two modestly self-governing units: one comprising six of Ulster's nine counties (later to be known as Northern Ireland), the other comprising the three remaining counties of Ulster together with the 23 counties of the rest of Ireland.

The outcome was somewhat paradoxical. The Protestant majority of the six counties of Northern Ireland, which wanted continuation of the union for all Ireland, it settled for Home Rule for the north. The Catholic majority of the 26 counties, for whom Home Rule had originally been intended, rejected it as short of complete independence, and fought a brief guerrilla war of independence with Britain. In Ulster, the fighting generally took the form of street battles between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast. Estimates suggest that about 600 civilians died in this communal violence, 58 percent of them Catholics.

In mid-1921, the Irish and British governments signed a truce that halted the war. In December 1921, representatives of both governments signed an Anglo-Irish Treaty. This abolished the Irish Republic and created the Irish Free State, a self-governing Dominion of the British Empire in the manner of Canada and Australia. Under the Treaty, Northern Ireland could opt out of the Free State and stay within the United Kingdom, which it promptly did. Six of the nine Ulster counties in the north-east formed Northern Ireland and the remaining three counties joined those of Leinster, Munster and Connacht to form Southern Ireland.

A boundary commission was established to review the borders between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. A final report was never issued, and the boundaries of Northern Ireland were confirmed as those marked by the six counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone.

In 1922, both parliaments ratified the treaty, formalizing independence for the 26-county Irish Free State (which went on to become the Republic of Ireland in 1949); while the six county Northern Ireland, gaining home rule for itself, remained part of the United Kingdom. For most of the next 75 years, each territory was strongly aligned to either Catholic or Protestant ideologies, although this was more marked in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

The treaty to sever the union divided the Irish Free State republican movement into anti-Treaty (who wanted to fight on until an Irish Republic was achieved) and pro-Treaty supporters (who accepted the Free State as a first step towards full independence and unity). Between 1922 and 1923 both sides fought the bloody Irish Civil War. The new Irish Free State government defeated the anti-Treaty remnant of the Irish Republican Army.

Protestant rule

Prime minister James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon.

Led by James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, who served as prime minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 to 1940, the Northern Ireland Parliament was dominated by a Protestant majority, dedicated to maintaining union with Great Britain. Roman Catholics were never able to mount an effective opposition, and faced discrimination in employment, public housing, education, and social services. Unionists maintained their political hold by manipulating electoral boundaries. Since Belfast's industrial economy was unparalleled in the republic, lower class Catholics migrated there from the impoverished countryside—Belfast's economic appeal surpassed the downsides of poor housing and religious intolerance.

The abolition of Proportional Representation in 1929 meant that the structure of party politics gave the Ulster Unionist Party a continual sizable majority in the Northern Ireland Parliament, leading to 50 years of one-party rule. While nationalist parties continued to retain the same number of seats that they had under Proportional Representation, the Northern Ireland Labour Party and various smaller leftist Unionist groups were smothered, meaning that it proved impossible for any group to sustain a challenge to the Ulster Unionist Party from within the Unionist section of the population.

In 1935, the worst violence since partition convulsed Belfast. After an Orange Order parade decided to return to the city center through a Catholic area instead of its usual route, the resulting violence left nine people dead. Over 2,000 Catholics were forced to leave their homes.

World War II

Junkers Ju-88.

Although the Republic of Ireland had declared its neutrality during World War II, Belfast, being part of the United Kingdom, was at war. The Belfast Blitz occurred on Easter Tuesday, April 15, 1941, when 200 German Luftwaffe bombers attacked Belfast, Northern Ireland. About 1,000 people were killed, and more were injured. Half of the houses in the city were destroyed. When the city’s gasworks exploded, there was a temporary vacuum, which smothered all fires and all life. Windows, slates, and all loose material were sucked from the houses. Those inside, mostly still lying in their beds, were lifeless, their eyes wide open with fright, and their mouths wide open seeking a breath. Outside of London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Battle of Britain. About 100,000 of the population of 415,000 people were left homeless.

World War II brought some economic revival to the north, especially in ship and aircraft manufacture. Moreover, the social welfare provisions extended to Northern Ireland after the war by far exceeded the supports and protections available to individuals in the socially conservative south.

Protest violence

Northern Ireland was relatively peaceful for most of the period from 1924 until the late 1960s, except for some brief flurries of IRA activity. In the 1960s, moderate unionist prime minister Terence O'Neill tried to reform the system, but encountered strong opposition from fundamentalist Protestant leaders like Ian Paisley and from within his own party.

The increasing pressures from nationalists for reform and from extreme Loyalists for "No Surrender" led to the appearance of the civil rights movement, under figures such as Austin Currie and John Hume who would years later be named as joint-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. It had some moderate Protestant support and membership, and a considerable dose of student radicalism after Northern Ireland was swept up in the world-wide communist-inspired student revolts of 1968.

The Bogside in 2005. The area has been substantially redeveloped since 1969, with the demolition of much of the old slum housing.

Clashes between marchers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) led to increased communal strife, culminating in a violent attack by a unionist mob (which included police reservists) on a march, at Burntollet, outside Derry on January 4, 1969, as the police looked on.

Widespread violence erupted after an Apprentice Boys march was forced through the nationalist Bogside area of Derry on August 12, 1969, by the RUC, which led to large scale disorder known as the Battle of the Bogside. Rioting continued until August 14, and in that time 1091 canisters, each containing 12.5g of CS gas and 14 canisters containing 50g of CS gas, were released into the densely-populated residential area by the RUC. Even more severe rioting broke out in Belfast and elsewhere in response to events in Derry. The British army were deployed by the UK Home Secretary James Callaghan two days later on August 14, 1969.

The Troubles

Protestant leader Ian Paisley.
An IRA mural in Belfast depicting the hunger strikes of 1981.
A mural depicting Bobby Sands, on the gable wall of the Sinn Féin headquarters on the Falls Road, Belfast.
Republican leader Gerry Adams.

The Troubles is a term used to describe periodic communal violence involving Republican and Loyalist paramilitary organisations, the RUC, the British Army, and others from the late 1960s until the Belfast Agreement of April 10, 1998.

At first the soldiers, in August 1969, received a warm welcome from Nationalists, who hoped they would protect them from Loyalist attack (which the IRA, at that point a Marxist organization, had for ideological reasons declined to do). However, tensions rose throughout the following years, with an important milestone in the worsening relationship between the army and Nationalists being the Falls Curfew of July 3, 1970, when 3,000 British troops imposed a three-day curfew on the Lower Falls area.

After the introduction of internment without trial for suspected IRA men in August 1971, the SDLP members withdrew from the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and a widespread campaign of civil disobedience began. Tensions escalated after the killing of 14 unarmed civilians in Derry by the Parachute Regiment on January 30, 1972, an event dubbed Bloody Sunday.

The appearance in 1970 of the Provisional IRA, a breakaway from the increasingly Marxist Official IRA, and a campaign of violence by loyalist paramilitary groups like the Ulster Defence Association and others brought Northern Ireland to the brink of civil war. On March 30, 1972, the British government, unwilling to grant the unionist Northern Ireland government more authoritarian special powers, and convinced of its inability to restore order, pushed through emergency legislation that suspended the Northern Ireland Parliament and introduced direct rule from London.

In December 1973, after talks in Sunningdale, Berkshire, the Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP and Alliance Party of Northern Ireland reached the Sunningdale Agreement on a cross-community government for Northern Ireland, which took office on January 1, 1974. The IRA was unimpressed and increased their violence, while unionists were outraged at the participation of nationalists in the government of Northern Ireland and at the cross-border Council of Ireland.

A coalition of anti-agreement unionist politicians and paramilitaries encouraged a general strike on May 15. The strikers brought Northern Ireland to a standstill by shutting down power stations, and after Prime Minister Harold Wilson refused to send in troops to take over from the strikers, the power-sharing executive collapsed on May 28.

The level of violence declined from 1972 onwards, stabilizing at 50 to 100 deaths a year. The IRA, using weapons and explosives obtained from the United States and Libya, bombed England and various British army bases in Europe, as well as conducting ongoing attacks within Northern Ireland. These attacks were not only on military targets but also on Protestant-frequented businesses, unaffiliated civilian commercial properties, and various city centers. Cars packed with high explosives were driven directly to key areas for maximum effect.

Loyalist paramilitaries focused their campaign within Northern Ireland, claiming a few Republican paramilitary casualties. They also targeted Catholics working in Protestant areas, and (in a parallel to the IRA tactic of car-bombing) attacked Catholic-frequented pubs using automatic fire weapons. Such attacks were euphemistically known as "spray jobs." Both groups would also carry out extensive "punishment" attacks against members of their own communities.

Former Coat of Arms of Northern Ireland 1925-72

Various political talks took place, and 1975 brought a brief IRA ceasefire. The two significant events of this period, were prison hunger strikes in 1981 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave the Irish Government an advisory role in Northern Ireland's government while confirming that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK unless a majority of its citizens agreed to join the Republic. The republican movement gained modest electoral success with the election of Bobby Sands to the House of Commons.

By the 1990s, the failure of the IRA campaign to win mass public support or achieve its aim of British withdrawal, and in particular the public relations disaster of Enniskillen bombing (when there were 11 fatalities among families attending a Remembrance Day ceremony) in 1987, along with the 1983 replacement of the traditional republican leadership of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh by Gerry Adams, saw a move away from armed conflict to political engagement.

Ninety three percent of killings happened in Northern Ireland, and Republican paramilitaries contributed to nearly 60 percent (2056) of these. Loyalists killed nearly 28 percent (1020) while the security forces have killed just over 11 percent (362) with 9 percent percent of those attributed to the British Army.


During the troubles, a Christian movement known as Corrymeela became an important peace organization in Northern Ireland. The Corrymeela Community, located in Ballycastle, on the north coast, provides a place where young people and others from a divided society can meet and get to know each other, as a first step to healing divisions and as a stepping stone towards reconciliation. The community was founded in 1965 by a Presbyterian pastor and former World War II prisoner of war, the Reverend Ray Davey, who was captured in North Africa by German troops and taken to Dresden where he witnessed the Allied bombing of Germany.

Belfast agreement

Increased government focus on the problems of Northern Ireland led, in 1993, to the two prime ministers signing the Downing Street Declaration. At the same time Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin, and John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, engaged in talks. A new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, initially perceived as a hardliner, brought his party into all-party negotiations that in 1998 produced the Belfast Agreement ("Good Friday Agreement"), signed by eight parties on April 10, 1998, although not involving Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party or the UK Unionist Party. A majority of both communities in Northern Ireland approved this Agreement, as did the people of the Republic of Ireland, both by referendum on May 22, 1998. The Republic amended its constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, to replace a claim it made to the territory of Northern Ireland with an affirmation of the right of all the people of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation and a declaration of an aspiration towards a United Ireland.

Power-sharing assembly

Northern Ireland Parliament Buildings

Under the Belfast Agreement, voters elected a new Northern Ireland Assembly. Ulster Unionist party leader David Trimble became First Minister of Northern Ireland. The Deputy Leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon, became Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, though his party's new leader, Mark Durkan, subsequently replaced him. The Ulster Unionists, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party each had ministers by right in the power-sharing assembly.

The assembly and its executive operated on a stop-start basis, with repeated disagreements about whether the IRA was fulfilling its commitments to disarm, and also allegations from the Police Service of Northern Ireland's Special Branch that there was an IRA spy-ring operating in the heart of the civil service.

The events of September 11th 2001 caused many American sympathizers of the IRA cause to re-evaluate their beliefs, compounded when Gerry Adams chose to visit or support the anti-American regimes in Cuba and Colombia. The changing British position was represented by the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Parliament Buildings in Stormont, where she met nationalist ministers from the SDLP as well as unionist ministers and spoke of the right of people who perceive themselves as Irish to be treated as equal citizens along with those who regard themselves as British. Similarly, on visits to Northern Ireland, the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, met with unionist ministers and with the Lord Lieutenant of each county - the official representatives of the Queen.

On July 28, 2005, the IRA made a public statement ordering an end to the armed campaign and instructing its members to dump arms and to pursue purely political programs. On October 13, 2006, the agreement was concluded in which Sinn Féin would fully endorse the police in Northern Ireland, and the DUP will share power with Sinn Féin.

On May 8, 2007, home rule returned to Northern Ireland. DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness took office as First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively.

On June 5, 2008, Peter Robinson was confirmed as First Minister, succeeding Ian Paisley. In November 2015 he announced his intention to resign, stepping down officially in January 2016. His successor as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, became the new First Minister on January 11, 2016. She was the first woman to hold the post of First Minister. In April 2021, Arlene Foster announced that she would resign as DUP leader on May 28 and end her tenure as First Minister at the end of June 2021.

Government and politics


As an administrative division of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland was defined by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and has had its own form of devolved government in a similar manner to Scotland and Wales. The new legislature controlled housing, education, and policing, but had little fiscal autonomy and became increasingly reliant upon subsidies from the British government. The legislature consisted of a Senate and a House of Commons.

After the partition of Ireland in 1922, Northern Ireland continued to send representatives to the British House of Commons, the number of which over the years increased to 18. Northern Ireland also elects delegates to the European Parliament (the legislative branch of the European Union).

Escalating violence caused the British government of Edward Heath to suspend the Belfast parliament and govern the region directly in March 1972. Attempts to introduce either a power-sharing executive or a new assembly failed until the 1998 Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) was signed.

The 108-member Northern Ireland Assembly established in Belfast in 1998 has an executive comprised of both Unionists (Protestants who support continued British rule of Northern Ireland) and Nationalists (Catholics who support a united Ireland). The legislature selects a first minister and a deputy first minister, both of whom need the support of a majority of unionist and nationalist legislators. Moreover, legislation can be passed in the assembly only if it has the support of a minimum proportion of both unionist and nationalist members.

Westminster retained control of taxation, policing, and criminal justice.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has 108 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) It has three seats in the European Parliament.

At the local level there are 11 district councils, created in 2015 to replace the previous 26 districts.

As the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland is a constitutional monarchy there is no election for Head of State.

Northern Ireland's legal and administrative systems were adopted from those in place in pre-partition United Kingdom, and was developed by its government from 1922 until 1972. Thereafter, laws, administration and foreign affairs relating to Northern Ireland have been handled directly from London. Northern Ireland's legal system is based on common law, and is separate from the jurisdictions of England and Wales, or Scotland.


Northern Ireland consists of six counties: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone, although these counties are no longer used for local government purposes. Instead there are 11 districts which have different geographical extents.


The Northern Ireland economy is the smallest of the four economies making up the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has traditionally had an industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services, primarily the public sector. Tourism also plays a big role in the local economy. More recently the economy has benefited from major investment by many large multi-national corporations into high tech industry. These large organizations are attracted by government subsidies and the highly skilled workforce in Northern Ireland.

Fiscally a part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland's official currency is the British pound sterling. Government revenue shares the United Kingdom's customs and excise, income, value-added, and capital gains taxes, as well as property taxes. At the end of the twentieth century, subsidies from the British Treasury accounted for about two-fifths of Northern Ireland's GDP.

During The Troubles, Northern Ireland received little foreign investment. Many believe this to be the result of Northern Ireland's portrayal as a warzone in the media, by both British and International during this period. Since the signing of Good Friday Agreement investment in Northern Ireland has increased significantly. Most investment has been focused in Belfast and several areas of the Greater Belfast area.

Throughout the 1990s, the Northern Irish economy grew faster than did the economy of the rest of the UK, due in part to the rapid growth of the economy of the Republic of Ireland and the so-called "peace dividend." Growth slowed to the pace of the rest of the UK during the down-turn of the early years of the new millennium, but growth has since rebounded.

Agriculture in Northern Ireland is heavily mechanized, thanks to high labor costs and heavy capital investment, both from private investors and the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.

Bombardier BD-700 Global 5000 takes off

Engineering is the largest manufacturing sub-sector in the country. Machinery and equipment manufacturing, food processing, and textile and electronics manufacturing are the leading industries. Other industries such as papermaking, furniture manufacturing, aerospace and shipbuilding are also important, concentrated mostly in the eastern parts of Northern Ireland. Of these different industries, one of the most notable is that of Northern Ireland's fine linens, which is considered as one of the most well-known throughout Europe.

Bombardier Aerospace, which builds business jets, short-range airliners and fire-fighting amphibious aircraft and also provides defense-related services, is the province's largest industrial employer, with 5,400 workers at five sites in the Greater Belfast area. Other major engineering employers in Northern Ireland include Caterpillar, DuPont, Emerson Electric, Nortel, Northbrook Technology, Seagate and NACCO. Many of these manufacturers receive British government financial backing, and enjoy close academic and business links with Queen's University Belfast, which ranks as one of the best British universities for all engineering courses.

As with all developed economies, services account for the majority of employment and output. Services account for almost 70 percent of economic output, and 78 percent of employees.

The Giant's Causeway.

The most popular tourist attractions include Belfast, Armagh, the Giant's Causeway, and its many castles.

Most of Northern Ireland's trade is with other parts of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is its leading export market, as well as Germany, France, and the United States. Principal exports are textiles, transport equipment, and electrical and optical equipment.


There is a well-developed transport infrastructure, with a total of 15,420 miles (24,820km) of roads, considerably more than in the United Kingdom as a whole (1 km per 162 people). There are seven motorways, extending radially from Belfast, and connecting that city to Antrim, Dungannon, Lisburn, Newtownabbey, and Portadown. The Northern Irish rail network is notable as being both the only part of the United Kingdom's railroads operated by a state-owned company, Northern Ireland Railways, and the only substantial part that carries no freight traffic.

The country has three civilian airports: Belfast City, Belfast International, and City of Derry. Major seaports include the Port of Belfast and the Port of Larne. The Port of Belfast is one of the chief ports of the British Isles, handling 17 million metric tons (16.7 million long tons) of goods in 2005, equivalent to two-thirds of Northern Ireland's seaborne trade.



Much of the population of Northern Ireland identifies by ethnicity, religion, and political bent with one of two different ideologies—unionism or nationalism. The vast majority of Northern Irish are white.

Northern Ireland has had constant population movement with parts of western Scotland. After the Tudor invasions and after the forced settlements, or plantations, of the early seventeenth century, two distinct and antagonistic groups—of indigenous Roman Catholic Irish and the immigrant Protestant English and Scots—have molded Northern Ireland's development. The settlers dominated County Antrim, northern Down, the Lagan corridor toward Armagh, and other powerful minorities.

Citizenship and identity

People from Northern Ireland are British citizens by birth in the UK to at least one parent who is a UK permanent resident or citizen, or by naturalization. People who were born in Northern Ireland on or before December 31, 2004, who have at least one parent who was (or was entitled to be) an Irish citizen, are entitled to claim Republic of Ireland citizenship.

In general, Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves primarily as being British citizens, while Catholics regard themselves primarily as being Irish citizens. Many of the population regard themselves as "Ulster" or "Northern Irish," either primarily, or as a secondary identity. In addition, many regard themselves as both British and Irish.


Most of the population of Northern Ireland are at least nominally Christian. In the 2011 census, 41.5 percent of the Northern Irish population identified as Protestant (Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Methodist and other Protestant denominations), 41 percent of the population as Roman Catholic, 0.8 percent as non-Christian and 17 percent identified with no religion.

The demographic balance between Protestants and Roman Catholics has become delicate, since the slightly higher birth rate of Catholics has led to speculation that they will outnumber Protestants. During the political violence of the last 30 years of the twentieth century, many Protestants moved away from western and border areas, giving Londonderry, Fermanagh, and Tyrone marked Catholic majorities. The traditional concentration of Protestants in the east increased, except in Belfast, where Catholics have become the majority.

The proportion of the population practicing their religious beliefs has fallen dramatically in the last decades of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century.


English is spoken as a first language by almost 100 percent of the Northern Irish population, though under the Belfast Agreement, Irish and Ulster Scots (one of the dialects of the Scots language), have recognition as "part of the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland."

Irish is spoken by a growing proportion of the population and is an important element of the cultural identity for many northern nationalists. Unionists tend to associated the use of Irish with the largely Catholic Republic of Ireland, and with the republican movement. Catholic areas of Belfast have road signs in Irish, as they are in the Republic.

Choice of language and nomenclature in Northern Ireland often reveals the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the speaker. The most famous example is whether Northern Ireland's second city should be called "Derry" or "Londonderry." The first Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Seamus Mallon, was criticized by unionist politicians for calling the region the "North of Ireland" while Sinn Féin has been criticized in some newspapers in the Republic for still referring to the "Six Counties."

Northern Irish people speak English with distinctive regional accents. The northeastern dialect, of Antrim and Londonderry and parts of Down, derives from the central Scottish dialect. The remaining area, including the Lagan valley, has English accents from England, Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, and southern Lancashire.

There are an increasing number of ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland. Chinese and Urdu are spoken by Northern Ireland's Asian communities; though the Chinese community is often referred to as the "third largest" community in Northern Ireland, it is tiny by international standards. Since the accession of new member states to the European Union in 2004, Central and Eastern European languages, particularly Polish, are becoming increasingly common.

Men and women

In 1937, the constitution required that a working woman who married had to resign from her job. The Employment Equality Act in 1977 made that practice illegal, resulting in a dramatic increase in women in the work force. More women entering the workforce between 1952 and 1995 as the number of jobs expanded. However, women tend to work in low-paid, part-time jobs in the service sector.

Marriage and the family

Families have tended to live in nuclear units in government housing projects in separate Catholic and Protestant areas—like the Falls Road (Catholic) and the Shankill (Protestant) areas in Belfast. Catholics tend to have larger families, making their homes more crowded. Nuclear families are the main kin group, with relatives involved as kin in the extended family. Children adopt the father's surname, and the first name is often a Christian name.

In contrast with both the Republic of Ireland and most parts of the UK mainland, where intermarriage between Protestants and Catholics is common, intermarriage in Northern Ireland is rare. From 1970 through to the 1990s, only five per cent of marriages were recorded as crossing community divides. This figure remained largely constant throughout the Troubles, though it has risen to between 8 and 12 per cent, according to the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Younger people are also more likely to be married to someone of a different religion to themselves than older people.


The Lanyon Building of Queen's University, Belfast.

Education in Northern Ireland differs slightly from systems used elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland system emphasizes a greater depth of education compared to the English and Welsh systems. Northern Ireland's results at GCSE and A-Level are consistently top in the UK. At A-Level, one third of students in Northern Ireland achieved A grades in 2007, compared to one quarter in England and Wales.

All schools in the state follow the Northern Ireland Curriculum which is based on the National Curriculum used in England and Wales. At age 11, on entering secondary education, all pupils study a broad base of subjects which include Geography, English, Mathematics, Science, Physical Education, Music and modern languages.

Primary education extends from age four to 11, when pupils sit the Eleven-plus test, the results of which determine which school they will go to. At age 14, pupils select which subjects to continue to study for General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations. In 2007 it was compulsory to study English, mathematics, science, a modern language and religious studies.

At age 16, some pupils stay at school and chose to study Advanced Level AS and A2 level subjects or more vocational qualifications such as Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCE). Those choosing AS and A2 levels normally pick three or four subjects and success in these can determine acceptance into higher education courses at university.

Queen's University in Belfast, founded in 1845, is the most prestigious university, with about 8,000 students, mostly studying the sciences. Other tertiary institutes include the Union Theological College, founded in 1853, the New University of Ulster, which opened in 1968, the Open University in Ireland, Saint Mary's University College, Stranmillis University College, the Belfast College of Technology, Ulster Polytechnic in Newtownabbey, and the Agricultural College. Assembly College, founded in 1853, is a Presbyterian training school.

Although religious integrated education is increasing, Northern Ireland has a highly segregated education system, with 95 percent of pupils attending either a maintained (Catholic) school, or a controlled school (mostly Protestant). However, controlled schools are open to children of all faiths and none. Teaching a balanced view of some subjects (especially regional history) is difficult in these conditions. The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), a voluntary organization, promotes, develops and supports Integrated Education in Northern Ireland.


Catholics were excluded from skilled and semi-skilled jobs in shipyards and linen mills, were restricted to menial jobs, earning lower wages, and tended to be poorer than Protestants. Protestants worked in skilled jobs and management positions, dominated the professional and business classes, and tend to own most businesses and large farms.

Protestant and Catholic families lived in separate enclaves and worship separately, and their children study in segregated schools. Irish Catholics tend to drink liquor, whereas Protestants are viewed as more puritanical. On Sundays, Catholics often engage in leisure or recreation activities after mass. They tend to be poorer, have larger families, speak Gaelic, although not fluently.


With its improved international reputation, Northern Ireland has witnessed rising numbers of tourists who come to appreciate the area's unique heritage. Attractions include cultural festivals, musical and artistic traditions, countryside and geographical sites of interest, pubs, welcoming hospitality and sports (especially golf and fishing).


Belfast City Hall, completed in 1906.
Dunluce Castle.

Belfast was the main center of the industrial revolution in Ireland. This growth led to the city having many wonderful Victorian commercial premises and fine twentieth century buildings but few eighteenth century buildings.

Architecture, particularly in Belfast during "The Troubles," reflected decisions to preserve public security. Automobiles were not allowed in control zones to reduce the risk of car bombings. Substandard housing for the Catholic community, especially the lack of hot water, and discrimination by Protestant-dominated local councils led to protests during the 1960s. The last decades of the twentieth century were marked by substantial investment in housing, and increased rates of home ownership, resulting from the sale of public housing units to their tenants.


Northern Ireland is known for the political art of the Bogside Artists, a trio of mural painters, living and working in Derry, Northern Ireland. They are Tom Kelly, his brother William Kelly, and their mutual friend Kevin Hasson, who began working together in 1993. Their People's Gallery, completed in 2004, consists of 11 large murals, spanning the length of Free Derry's Rossville Street, which runs through the heart of the Bogside. Graffiti and wall murals appear throughout urban areas, depicting the sentiments of Unionists and Nationalists. Children learn from graffiti the strong views and potential for violence. Northern Ireland artists include painter Basil Blackshaw, painter and sculptor John Kindness, Irish Impressionist painter Sir John Lavery, sculptor Eilís O'Connell, and painter Neil Shawcross.


A full Ulster fry served in Belfast

The best known traditional dish in Northern Ireland is the Ulster fry. It is similar to an Irish or Full English breakfast, but has the unique addition of soda bread farls and potato bread. Porridge or oatmeal often is eaten at breakfast; one stops for a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits at midmorning. Most people eat the main meal at midday, which is meat-based, featuring beef, chicken, pork, or lamb. Fish and chips provide a quick meal, and a rich soup with plenty of bread can be bought in taverns at lunchtime. Irish stew combines mutton, potatoes, and onions, the chief elements of the cuisine.

Brown bread and white soda bread are served most often with meals. In the evening, families eat a simple meal of leftovers or eggs and toast. A drink generally means beer, either lager or stout. Guinness, brewed in Dublin, is the black beer most often drunk. Whiskey also is served in pubs, and coffee is also available.


Despite its small geographical size, Northern Ireland prolifically produces internationally renowned writers and poets from a wide variety of disciplines. Irish language literature was the predominant literature in the pre-Plantation period.

The Ulster Cycle is a large body of prose and verse centering around the traditional heroes of the Ulaid in what is now eastern Ulster. This is one of the four major cycles of Irish Mythology. The cycle centers around the reign of Conchobar mac Nessa, who is said to have been king of Ulster around the time of Christ.

Ulster-Scots literature first followed models from Scotland, with the rhyming weavers, such as James Orr, developing an indigenous tradition of vernacular literature. Writers in Northern Ireland participated in the Gaelic Revival.

Belfast-born author and scholar C. S. Lewis is known for his work on medieval literature, Christian apologetics, literary criticism, and fiction, especially his series The Chronicles of Narnia.

Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney has published many collections of poems. His career parallels the violent political struggles of his homeland, but he is fascinated primarily by the earth and the history embedded there. His verse incorporates Gaelic expressions as he explores the themes of nature, love, and mythology. His poems use images of death and dying, and he has written elegiac poems to friends and family members lost to "The Troubles."


Van Morrison.

Irish traditional music was largely meant for dancing at celebrations for weddings, saint's days or other observances. Instruments include the fiddle, the flute and whistle, Uilleann pipes (a complex forms of bagpipes), the harp, the accordion and concertina, Banjo, Guitar, Bouzouki, mandolin, bodhrán (tambourine drum), and harmonica.

Irish traditional music is focused around the "pub-session," a regular meeting, often weekly, and is marked by informal arrangement of both musicians and audience. Protestant Scottish traditional music is characterized by the marching bands. These bands meet regularly in community halls to tune their skills. The strong Scottish roots of the Ulster Scots musical scene is evidenced by the continuing popularity during the Marching Season.

Among traditional songs from Northern Ireland are The Sash, and A Londonderry Air also known as Danny Boy.


Greyhound racing

Sport is popular and widespread. Throughout the country a wide variety of sports are played, the most popular being Gaelic football, hurling and camogie, rugby union, soccer and hockey. By attendance figures Gaelic football is the most popular sport in Ireland.

In Ireland many sports, such as rugby union, Gaelic football and hurling, are organized in an all-island basis, with a single team representing Ireland in international competitions. Other sports, such as soccer, have separate organizing bodies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. At the Olympics, a person from Northern Ireland can choose to represent either the Ireland or Great Britain team.

Other sports include soccer, Gaelic handball, equestrian sports, greyhound racing, road bowling, athletics, baseball, cricket, basketball, among other sports.


The Union Flag.
Flag of Ireland.
Former Governmental Flag of Northern Ireland 1953-72.

The Union Flag and former governmental Flag of Northern Ireland appear in some loyalist areas, with the Irish national flag of the Republic of Ireland, the tricolor, appearing in some republican areas. Even kerbstones in some areas are painted red-white-blue or green-white-orange, depending on whether local people express unionist/loyalist or nationalist/republican sympathies.

The only official flag is the Union Flag. The former Northern Ireland Flag (also known as the 'Ulster Banner' or 'Red Hand Flag') was based on the arms of the former Parliament of Northern Ireland, and was used by the Government of Northern Ireland and its agencies between 1953 and 1972. The Ulster Banner has not been used by the government since the abolition of the Parliament of Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. It remains, however used uniquely to represent Northern Ireland in certain sporting events. The arms from which the Ulster Banner derives were themselves based on the flag of Ulster.

Many people, however, prefer to avoid flags altogether because of their divisive nature. Paramilitary groups on both sides have also developed their own flags. Some unionists also occasionally use the flags of secular and religious organisations to which they belong.

Some groups, including the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Church of Ireland have used the Flag of Saint Patrick as a symbol of Ireland which lacks nationalist or unionist connotations. However, it is felt by some to be a loyalist flag, as it was used to represent Ireland when the whole island was part of the UK and is used by some British army regiments. Foreign flags are also found, such as the Palestinian flags in some Nationalist areas and Israeli flags in some Unionist areas, which represent general comparisons made by both sides with conflicts in the wider world.

The national anthem played at state events in Northern Ireland is "God Save the Queen." At some cross-community events, however, the "Londonderry Air," also known as the tune of "Danny Boy," may be played as a neutral, though unofficial, substitute. At some sporting events, such as GAA matches the Irish national anthem Amhran na bhFiann is played.

At the Commonwealth Games, the Northern Ireland team uses the Ulster Banner as its flag and Danny Boy is used as its National Anthem. The Northern Ireland football team also uses the Ulster Banner as its flag.


  1. 1.0 1.1 2021 Census NISRA. Retrieved November 7, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bardon, Jonathan. A History of Ulster. Dundonald, Belfast, Northern Ireland: Blackstaff Press, 1992. ISBN 9780856404986
  • Barritt, Denis P., and Charles Frederick Carter. The Northern Ireland Problem: A study in group relations. London: Oxford University Press, 1972. ISBN 9780192850584
  • Boyle, Kevin, and Tom Hadden. Northern Ireland: The Choice. London: New York, 1994. ISBN 9780140235418
  • Buckland, Patrick. A History of Northern Ireland. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1981. ISBN 9780841907003
  • Geraghty, Tony. The Irish War: The hidden conflict between the IRA and British Intelligence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. ISBN 9780801864568
  • Kee, Robert. The Green Flag: A history of Irish nationalism. London: Penguin, 2000. ISBN 9780140291650
  • Mullan, Don, and John Scally. Bloody Sunday: Massacre in Northern Ireland, the eyewitness accounts. Niwot, CO: Roberts Rinehart, 1997. ISBN 1570981590
  • Taylor, Peter. Loyalists: War and peace in Northern Ireland. New York: TV Books, 1999. ISBN 9781575000473

External links

All links retrieved November 16, 2022.


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