Known affectionately as Emerald Isle, abundant rain falls on this island, of which nearly 84 percent belongs to the Republic of Ireland. Its rugged western coast, majestic scenery and rolling green hills allow one to believe in the abundance of folklore that had its birthplace here. A rich heritage of culture and tradition is part of the Irish character and reputation.
From the time of saints Patrick and Palladius in the fifth century, Catholic Christianity took a strong hold in Ireland. A comprehensive monastic system developed there through the sixth and seventh centuries, becoming notable centers of learning, and contributed to the spread of Christianity throughout England and Europe.
The Reformation fundamentally changed Ireland. Henry VIII broke English Catholicism from Rome, and his son Edward VI broke with Papal doctrine completely. While the English, the Welsh and, later, the Scots accepted Protestantism, the Irish remained Catholic. Today the Republic of Ireland is 86.8 percent Roman Catholic, and has one of the highest rates of regular and weekly church attendance in the Western World. The strong influence of the church has produced a conservative society, especially in terms of governmental social policies, banning, for example, divorce, contraception, abortion and pornography.
The Republic of Ireland has had its ups and downs. Its relationship with Northern Ireland, with whom it shares the island, has been tumultous and violence has been common. Long dependent upon agriculture — and due to the island's extremes of climate — it has long been one of the poorest areas in Europe. During the Irish potato famine of the 1800s a mass migration occurred.
At the beginning of the new millenium, the country experienced exceptional economic growth, due in large part to its manufacture and export of software-related goods and services. It possesses the second highest GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita in the world (US$43,600 as of 2006), behind Luxembourg, and the fourth highest Human Development Index.
In 2007, the country was ranked first in the world for political freedom, press freedom and literacy (99.9 percent), third for Economic Freedom, and fourth on the Human Development Index.
The leaders of the country are working to solve its problems and raise the standard of living and quality of life of its citizens. This is in line with the responsibilities of leadership, to work for the good of the whole.