Ireland is made up of four provinces, each containing several counties:
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 1921 resulted in independence from the UK for 26 southern counties; six northern (Ulster) counties remained part of the United Kingdom. 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 two large international airports, Dublin and Shannon. 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.
There are connections from Cork airport in the south to Irish, UK and European cities. Smaller regional airports that operate domestic and UK services are Donegal,Kerry, Knock, Waterford and Galway. There are airports in Northern Ireland in Derry (Londonderry), Belfast International and Belfast City (George Best).
Discount airline Ryanair is a good source of cheap flights to Ireland, particularly from the UK, while the national carrier Aer Lingus often has cheap deals available from continental Europe and the US, particularly in the winter. 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:
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.
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 convience. 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.
Car rental companies
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 DART coastal railway travels from Howth peninsula in the North to Bray and Greystones in Co. Wicklow via Dun Laoghaire and Dublin city centre. An interchange with main line services is available at Dublin Connolly.
Dublin has a new tram system, known as Luas (the Irish word for speed.) There are two lines. One operates from Dublin city centre (Connolly Station) to the west of the City (Tallaght); and the other south (to Sandyford) from St Stephen's Green. Tickets must be puchased from machines before boarding the tram.
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.
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.
There are many canals in Ireland, and it is possible to travel by barge on some of them.
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.
Generally hitchhiking in Ireland is very easy. If you are alone, you will wait about 10 minutes, little bit longer in rural areas, where the traffic density is lower. Increasingly, drivers are reticent to "give a lift" for fear of lawsuits.
English is spoken everywhere but Irish Gaeilge is the first official language. Most people have some understanding of this but it is used as a first language by only about 60,000 people, most of whom live in rural areas known as the Gaeltacht. 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 behoves the English name of Dingle, County Kerry to be changed to An Daingean, the Irish version. This will confuse visitors.
There is extensive Irish language broadcasting on TV and radio. Irish is related and similar 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"). It is not necessary to know any Irish in order to get around in Ireland. There are many Irish people who will hold visitors in higher esteem if they make the effort to learn and speak some basic Irish phrases, especially in tourist centres and pubs. 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 (ATM's)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.
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.
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 emphasises 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.
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. 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.
Jurys Inns are located all across Ireland, Northern Ireland, Europe and have few locations in America. Its a reasonably priced and centrally located spots are appealing to tourist all over the world. They also offer different classes of hotels, in which the prices do range from moderate levels to a more high priced level. They also offer currency exchange to their customers. Specifically speaking, The Jurys Inn on Parnell Street, in Dublin, offers a resturant and pub to not just the customers but also anyone who wishes to dine there. Jurys Inn are also known for their ecologically friendly quarters. http://www.jurysinn.com/city_dublin.html
Irish Accommodation Guide is an excellent resource for all types of accommodation throughout Ireland. This facility caters for over 9000 hotels, cottages, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts and even pubs with accommodation in all 32 counties. Another excellent resource for all is Hotels in Dublin
For manor house style accommodation try the "Blue Book" http://www.irelands-blue-book.ie For independent guides try the Bridgestone guide http://www.bestofbridgestone.com/ or Georgina Campbells guide http://www.ireland-guide.com/
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 Dublin City University, the University of Limerick, University College Dublin, 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 Oasis, the Irish government's public services information website.
The police force is known as An Garda Síochana (or just "Garda"), and police officers as Garda (singular) and Gardaí (plural, pronounced Gardee), 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.
Since March 2004 almost all places of work, including bars, restaurants, cafés etc, in Ireland have been smoke-free. 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.
Respect is very important in everyday life. Even if you pass someone on the street only very closely, without actually touching the other person, it is common that both apologize for the inconvenience that might have been caused. The same happens in a supermarket or any other shop. You should also respect queues. It should also be kept in mind that while the Irish on a whole are very welcoming to tourists, many resent tourists who are used to speaking very loudly.
Often, in smaller towns and villages and especially on a country road, if you walk past somebody, they will look you in the eye and say hello. It is polite to respond to this greeting by saying hello back and no further conversation is expected of you.
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. 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.