Ireland is made up of four provinces, each containing several counties:
However, travelers may be confused as the country is not marketed for tourism by these provincial names. Rather, tourists find themselves being welcomed to the "Sunny South East", "The West", "The North West", "The Shannon Region" and "The Midlands". It is better to plan travel by county names, cities, towns, etc., rather than worrying about which province one is going into.
Celtic tribes settled on the island in the 4th century B.C. Invasions by Norsemen that began in the late 8th century were finally ended when King Brian BORU defeated the Danes in 1014. English invasions began in the 12th century and set off more than seven centuries of Anglo-Irish struggle marked by fierce rebellions and harsh repressions. A failed 1916 Easter Monday Rebellion touched off several years of intense guerrilla warfare that in 1922 resulted in independence from the UK for 26 southern counties; six northern (Ulster) counties remained part of the United Kingdom _ a status whose disputed nature has lasted to the present day. In 1949 Ireland withdrew from the British Commonwealth; it joined the European Community in 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful unification of Ireland and have cooperated with Britain against extra-state armed groups. A peace settlement for Northern Ireland, known as the Good Friday Agreement and approved in 1998, is currently being implemented.
(The Republic of) Ireland is served by 4 international airports, Dublin, Shannon, Cork airport and Knock. Dublin is connected to several cities in the US, Canada, the UK and continental Europe. Shannon, close to the cities of Limerick and Ennis, also has flights to the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. Cork has flights to most UK destinations and a wide variety of European cities. It is easily accessed from any of the major European hubs, including all of the London airports.
Smaller regional airports that operate domestic and UK services are Donegal,Kerry, Waterford and Galway.
There are airports in Northern Ireland in Derry (Londonderry), Belfast International and Belfast City (George Best).
National carrier Aer Lingus concentrates on providing cheap fares from central airports, with good service, and has cheap deals available from the UK, continental Europe, the USA and Dubai. It is usually considerably cheaper than Ryanair for flights booked close to the travel date. Ryanair is another source of flights to Ireland, particularly from the UK, however extras such as baggage charges, taxes and other charges can add a considerable amount to the total price. Comprehensive listings of airlines flying directly into Ireland, along with destinations and timetables, can be found on the Dublin, Shannon and Cork airport websites. A regional service is also provided by Aer Árann which flies internally within Ireland and externally mainly to and from the United Kingdom.
The only cross-border train is the Enterprise service from Belfast Central to Dublin Connolly. A Rail-Sail Scheme is also present with Stena Line, Irish Ferries, Iarnrod Eireann and UK Train Companies like Virgin Trains mainly operating from UK cities to across the Irish Rail Network via the Dublin-Holyhead routes.
Eurolines operate services to Great Britain and beyond in conjunction with Bus Eireann and National Express (Great Britain). Bus Éireann also operates frequent services to and from Eastern Europe, in particular Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Ireland is served by numerous services to Great Britain and France:
Other operators to Ireland include:
From the UK and Northern Ireland
Due to Ireland's long relationship with Britain, citizens of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom do not require passports to enter the Republic. As a consequence, there are no passport controls at land border crossing points. In fact, the border is rarely signposted and it is often difficult to tell when you have crossed from the Republic into Northern Ireland and vice-versa. Occasionally, the police (Garda) set up random checkpoints at border crossing points and may stop and question drivers exiting and entering, but are usually friendly and will normally wave tourists through without any trouble. When arriving at an Irish airport from the UK, you will be required to produce photo ID (drivers licence or passport) to prove that you are a British or Irish citizen.
There are many car hire companies in Ireland and you can pick up in the cities or at the airports, though it may cost more to pick up at an airport. Note that Ireland is unique among European countries in that it will not accept third party collision damage insurance coverage when you rent a car. Many credit cards, for example, will pay the cost of the collision insurance (CDW) when you rent a car using that credit card. However, Irish car hire agencies will not accept this insurance. By Irish law, you must buy the CDW at the rental agency.
It is highly recommended that you call ahead to book a taxi. The hotel, hostel, or bed and breakfast you are staying in will usually call the cab company they work closely with for your convenience. Taxis should be reasonably easy to pick up on the streets in Dublin and Cork but may be harder to find crusing the streets in smaller cities and towns so it is often best to telephone for one. It is recommended to call the cab company in advance if possible and give them a time to be picked up, no matter if its 4 hours in advance or 30 minutes in advance. Work with the same cab company your hotel does and let them know your final destination if there is more than one stop. You will also need to give them a contact phone number over the phone, so if calling from a pay phone, be prepared for them to deny your claim for a taxi cab. The average waiting time may be anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes depending on demand and time of day.
Driving and road rules are similar to the UK - e.g. drive on the left and yield to the right on roundabouts. The legal blood-alcohol limit is low so it may be best to abstain. Drivers often 'thank' each other by flashing their hazard lights or waving - this is purely a convention. Irish road signs are nominally bilingual, with place names displayed in Irish in italic font, with the corresponding English name in capitals immediately below. In the "Gaeltacht" areas in the far west, some road signs are written in Irish language only. There is four types of road classification:
Ireland has a small but steadily growing motorway network which centers around Dublin. The main motorways are:
Note that unlike their UK counterparts, most Irish motorways have some tolled sections. Tolls are low by French or Italian standards, and vary from €1.70 upwards, depending on which motorway you are traveling on. Tariffs are displayed a few of kilometers from the plaza. For the visitor, it's important to note that the only tolled road that accepts credit cards is the M4 between Kilcock and Kinnegad. All others are Euro cash only, so take care if you're arriving from the North via the M1.
For 2007, the tolled sections and their charges (for private cars) are as follows:
Until relatively recently, the road network in Ireland was very poorly maintained and road signage sparse. Things have changed markedly on the major arterial N-roads which have seen major renovation work with help from EU funding. The road surfaces can be very poor on the lesser used N- and R- numbered routes.
Car rental companies
There are numerous car rental companies, many with contact desks at air and sea ports.
Aer Árann and Aer Lingus operate domestic flights out of Dublin, Donegal and Cork to various regional destinations. Ryanair also operates flights from Dublin to Cork to rival Irish Rail. British Airways operates flights from Dublin to Derry, whilst FlyBe operates flights from Galway to Belfast City, with Aer Arann operating flights from Cork to Belfast City.
Most trains in Ireland operate to and from Dublin. Enormous expenditure on modernising the state-owned Irish Rail system is ongoing, including the introduction of many new trains. The frequency and speed of services is being considerably increased, especially on the Dublin-Cork line. If you book on-line for Intercity travel, be aware that there may be a cheaper fare option available to you at the office in the station itself. Not all special rates, e.g. for families, are available on line.
Note that there are two main stations in Dublin - Connolly Station (for trains to Belfast, Sligo and Rosslare) and Heuston Station (for trains to Cork, Limerick, Tralee, Kilarney, Galway, Westport, Kilkenny and Waterford.)
In the Dublin city area the electrified DART coastal railway travels from Malahide and the Howth peninsula in the North to Bray and Greystones in Co. Wicklow via Dun Laoghaire and Dublin city center. An interchange with main line services and the Luas Red line is available at Dublin Connolly.
Dublin has a tram system, known as Luas (the Irish word for speed.) There are two lines. One operates from Dublin city centre (Connolly Station) to a large suburb south-west of the City (Tallaght); and the other south-east (to Sandyford) from St Stephen's Green. Tickets must be puchased from machines before boarding the tram. Tickets are checked in the Luas at random by guards but generally ticketing works on a trust system thus free rides are possible.
The Luas tram provides a very useful link between Dublin's Connolly and Heuston railway stations.
Dublin has an extensive, city-wide bus service operated by Dublin Bus (or, in Irish, Bus Atha Cliath.) Season tickets and all day tickets are also available. JJ Kavanagh & Sons operate an extensive intercity network directly from Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport to Limerick , Carlow , Waterford , Clonmel ,Kilkenny and Dublin city Center plus local services in major towns. JJKavanaghs website shows current timetables for all routes. Bus Éireann operate an extensive intercity network plus local services in major towns. Citylink provides frequent service from Galway to Shannon, Dublin, and Dublin Airport. Busnestor runs the Galway to Dublin and Athlone to Dublin routes. Aircoach connects Dublin with Cork and Belfast. Bus Eireann's website provides various options for buying online bus tickets which offer a good discount compare to buying them at the station or on the bus.
Ireland is beautiful for biking, but have a good touring bike with solid tires as road conditions are not always excellent. Biking along the south and west coasts you can be prepared for variable terrain, lots of hills and often into the wind. There are plenty of campgrounds along the way for long distance cyclists.
The planned Eurovelo cycle route in Ireland will connect Belfast to Dublin via Galway, and Dublin to Rosslare via Galway and Cork. Visit their website for updates on the status of the path.
Dublin has some marked bicycle lanes and a few non-road cycle tracks. Traffic is fairly busy, but a cyclist confident with road cycling in other countries should have no special difficulties (except maybe for getting used to riding on the left). Cyclists have no special right of way over cars, particularly when using shared use paths by the side of a road, but share and get equal priority when in the traffic lane. Helmets are not legally required, but widely available for those who wish to use them.
English is spoken everywhere but Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) is the first official language. Most people have some understanding of this but it is used as a first language by only about 27,000 people, most of whom live in rural areas known as the Gaeltacht. About 40% of Irish citizens claim to understand and speak the language. As these are generally scenic areas it is likely that visitors will go there. Tourists will not be expected to speak Irish but it will be noticeable on road signs, etc. For instance, a law was recently passed that behooves the English name of Dingle, County Kerry to be changed to An Daingean, the Irish version. This should not confuse visitors.
In order to enter certain Irish Universities, it is necessary to have taken Irish to Leaving Cert level, and passed. Indeed it is a compulsory language at school, although its method of teaching has come under criticism. Nevertheless, although it has come under threat, and sometimes is seen as a waste of resources by a certain few, the language is held fondly amongst the Irish themselves.
There is extensive Irish language broadcasting on TV and radio. Irish is related and very similar (but not identical) to Scottish Gaelic. However, many native Irish speakers will take offense if you call Irish "Gaelic" as this is the incorrect term and refers to Scottish Gaelic. The correct Irish term is Gaeilge (Pronounced "Gale-geh"). Referring to it simply as "Irish" is a fine alternative. It is not necessary to know any Irish in order to get around in Ireland. See also: Irish phrasebook
Ireland is part of the Eurozone, so like in many other European Union countries the currency here is the euro (symbol: €). Stand Alone Cash machines (ATMs)are widely available in every city and town in the country and Laser cards as well as credit cards are accepted in 90% of outlets. Fees are not charged by Irish ATMs (but beware that your bank may charge a fee).
Along border areas, it is common for sterling to be accepted as payment, with change given in euro. Some outlets, notably border petrol stations (fuel is much cheaper in the Republic, resulting in many Northern motorists purchasing their fuel in the Republic) will give change in sterling if requested.
In Ireland some hotels and many shops and restaurants will automatically bill your credit card in your home currency, at a very poor exchange rate, typically 1% or 2% worse than if they'd billed you in euros. This sometimes makes for as much as a 4% commission, split between the store and the provider, Fexco.
Before using a credit card at a business that caters to tourists, ask if they use Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), and check your receipt afterwards, to make sure it doesn't show a charge in your home currency.
Mastercard, Maestro and Visa are virtually accepted everywhere. American Express and Diners Club are not as widely accepted. Discover card is very rarely accepted and it would not be wise to rely on this alone.
Food is expensive in Ireland, although quality has generally improved enormously in the last ten years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers' market. The cheapest option for eating out is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a carvery lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value. Selection for vegetarians is limited outside the main cities. Modern Irish cuisine emphasizes fresh local ingredients, simply prepared and presented (sometimes with some Mediterranean-style twists). Meat (especially lamb), seafood and dairy produce can be of a very high quality. Try some soda bread, made with buttermilk and leavened with bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast. It is heavy, tasty and almost a meal in itself! In recent years many good quality, not too expensive restaurants have been set up.
The small town of Kinsale near Cork has become internationally famous for its many excellent restaurants, especially fish restaurants.
Only basic table manners are considered necessary when eating out, unless you're with company that has a more specific definition of what is appropriate. As a general rule, so long as you don't make a show of yourself by disturbing other diners there's little else to worry about. It's common to see other customers using their mobile phones - this sometimes attracts the odd frown or two but goes largely ignored. If you do need to take a call, keep it short and try not to raise your voice. The only other issue to be concerned about is noise - a baby crying might be forgivable if it's resolved fairly quickly, a contingent of adults laughing very loudly every couple of minutes or continuously talking out loud will attract negative attention. However, these rules are largely ignored in fast-food restaurants.
Traditionally, tipping was never considered to be a necessity and was entirely optional. However, recently it has become common to tip up to 10% of the bill total. Some establishments will add a 10-15% service charge on top of the obligatory 13.5% Government VAT charge, especially for larger groups.
One of Ireland's most famous exports is stout, a dark, dry beer. The strong taste can be initially off-putting but perseverance is well-rewarded! The most famous variety is Guinness, brewed in Dublin and available throughout the country. Murphy's and Beamish's stout are brewed in Cork and available mainly in the south of the country. Murphy's is slightly sweeter and creamier-tasting than Guinness, while Beamish has a strong, almost burnt taste. Several micro-breweries are now producing their own interesting varieties of stout, including O'Hara's in Carlow, the Porter House in Dublin and the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork. Ales such as Smithwick's are also popular, particularly in rural areas. Bulmers Cider (Known as Magners in other countries) is also a popular and widely available Irish drink. It is brewed in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. The other competitor for national drink of Ireland is tea. The Irish drink more tea per capita than any other people in the world. Cork, Dublin and Galway abound with slick, stylish coffee bars, but if you visit any Irish home you will probably be offered a cup of tea (usually served with milk, unless you explicitly state otherwise!). Coffee is also widely drunk in Ireland. (If you don't drink tea, you drink coffee!)
There are hotels of all standards including some very luxurious. Bed and Breakfast is widely available. These are usually very friendly and good value. There is an official youth hostel association - An Oige. These hostels are often in remote and beautiful places, designed mainly for the outdoors. There are also independent hostels which are marketed as independent hostels of Ireland. These are nearly always found in towns. There are official campsites although fewer than many countries (given the climate). Wild camping is tolerated, although you should seek permission. There is a free accommodation finder for Dublin called Almara Accommodations Dublin inquiry form is www.almarabb.com/almaraa.htm
You can learn many interesting facts about Ireland's history and culture. One of the things Ireland is most famous for is Irish dancing. ('Riverdance,' a popular show centered on Irish step dancing, started in Ireland.) Irish traditional music is also world renowned, with The Chieftains musical group being its international ambassadors.
Ireland has internationally-respected universities, including the venerable Trinity College Dublin (the only college of the University of Dublin). The National University of Ireland has constituent colleges in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Maynooth. There is also University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin City University (DCU), University College Cork (UCC), University of Limerick (UL), and other higher education colleges.
Literature has many great Irish authors, including James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan and Oliver Goldsmith. The writer of "Gulliver's Travels", Dean Jonathan Swift was from Dublin and poets, W. B. Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh also hailed from Ireland. Especially in Dublin, there are many literary tourist attractions and tours.
Ireland is part of the European Union/European Economic Area, and as such any EU/EEA or Swiss national has an automatic right to take up employment in Ireland. Non EU/EEA citizens will generally require a work permit and visa. Further information can be found on Citizens Information , the Irish government's public services information website.
The police force is known as An Garda Síochána (or just "Garda"), and police officers as Garda (singular) and Gardaí (plural, pronounced Gar-dee), though informally the English term Guard(s) is usual. The term Police is rarely used, but is of course understood. Regardless of what you call them, they are generally unarmed, courteous and approachable.
Crime is relatively low by most European standards but not very different. Late night streets in cities can be dangerous, as anywhere. If you need the Gardaí, an ambulance or the fire brigade, you can use 999 or 112 as the emergency number; both work from landlines and mobile (cell) phones.
Since March 2004 almost all places of work, including bars, restaurants, cafés etc, in Ireland have been smoke-free. Rooms in hotels and Bed&Breakfast are not required by law to be smoke-free, but many are. You should specify that you require a smoking bedroom if you need one. Most larger bars and cafés will have a covered smoking area often with heating. If one does not exist be aware that it is illegal to consume alcohol on the street so you may have to leave your drink at the bar.
Often, in smaller towns and villages and especially on a country road, if you walk past somebody it is customary to say hello. They may also ask you "how are you?", or another similar variation. It is polite to respond to this greeting but it is not expected that you would give any detail on how you really are, if the person is a stranger - a simple hello or "how are you" back will suffice!
When accepting gifts, a polite refusal (such as, "no really you shouldn't") is common after the first offer of the item. Usually, this is followed with an insistence that the gift or offer is accepted, at which point your answer is likely to become more recognized. However, some people can be very persuasive - this isn't meant to be over-bearing, just courteous.
Phone numbers in this guide are given in the form that you would dial them from within Ireland. This form in general is 0xx xxxxxxx, where the first section, the area code (including the 0) may be two or three digits long, and the local number may be five to seven digits. There are more mobiles than people in the Republic of Ireland, and the majority of phones are prepay. All mobile numbers begin with 087, 086, 085 or 083. Mobiles are cheap by European standards to buy, and if staying for more than 2 months, it could be cheaper to buy a phone than phone cards. The era of the pay phone is coming to an end, and nowadays, the only way they make a profit, is for the booth itself to be covered in advertising.
When you are using a land line within the area you are calling to, the 0xx may be dropped. When calling from abroad, dial your international access code, followed by 353xx instead of the 0xx, then the rest of the number. Ireland also uses freefone numbers, beginning with 1800 and lo-call numbers (fixed, low rate calls) beginning with 1850.
Ireland has 4 mobile networks (STD code in brackets)
However, customers who change between networks have the option to retain their full existing number, so it is possible for a Vodafone customer to have an 085 number, for instance. Tesco Mobile and Digiweb will both launch services in the near future, with STD codes of 089 and 088 respectively.
A tri- or quad-band phone will work, check that your operator has a roaming agreement.
You can also buy prepay GSM cards if you have an unlocked handset. This can be considerably cheaper as it means that you will be assigned an Irish number which you can be called at during your trip and your outgoing calls are charged at normal Irish mobile rates.
Pay phones are widely available and most take coins, prepaid calling cards and major credit cards. You can also reverse charges/call collect or use your calling card by following the instructions on the display.
To dial internationally: 00 - country code - area code - local number
To dial an Irish number: Simply dial all of the digits including the area code. You can, optionally, drop the area code if you're calling from within the area, but it makes no difference to the cost or routing.
Fixed line numbers have area codes 01,02,04,05,06,07,09 and mobile phones are 08
Special rate numbers, such as freefone 1-800 all start with "1"
Operator service is unavailable from pay phones or mobile phones.
Emergency Service dial 999 or 112 (Pan European code that runs in parallel). This is the equivilant of 911 in the US/Canada and is free from any phone.
Directory information: (provided competing operators through the following codes: call charges vary depending on what they're offering and you'll see 118 codes advertised heavily)
They will usually offer call completion at a very high price, and all of them will send the number by SMS to your mobile if you're calling from it.