Republic of Ireland

Gaelic, Eire, republic (2005 est. pop. 4,016,000), 27,136 sq mi (70,282 sq km). It occupies all but the northeastern corner of the island of Ireland in the British Isles. (For physical geography and history to 1922, see Ireland.) From 1922 to 1937 the country was known as the Irish Free State, and from 1937 to 1949 as Eire. Dublin is the capital of the republic and by far its largest city.

Political Geography and People

The republic's 26 counties are Monaghan, Cavan, and Donegal (constituting part of the historic province of Ulster); Louth, Meath, Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow, Carlow, Wexford, Kilkenny, Laoighis, Offaly, Westmeath, and Longford (comprising Leinster); Tipperary, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Clare (comprising Munster); and Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway, Mayo, and Sligo (comprising Connacht). In addition to the capital, other urban areas are Limerick, Cork, Dún Laoghaire, Waterford, Galway, and Dundalk. The population is largely Celtic with a minority of English and more recent Euopean and non-European immigrants drawn (since the 1990s) by country's economic growth. The population largely is Roman Catholic (88%), but there is no officially established church. Gaelic and English are the official languages, with English the more widely used. Gaelic is most common in the west of the country.


Agriculture engages about 70% of the land and 8% of the workforce. The raising of dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry is the chief agricultural enterprise. Among the leading crops are flax, oats, wheat, turnips, potatoes, sugar beets, and barley. The republic's industries now account for more than 45% of its GDP and 80% of its exports, and employ roughly 30% of its workforce. Products include such items as computer and telecommunications hardware, computer software, linen and laces (for which Ireland is famous), Waterford crystal, food products and beverages, textiles and clothing, pharmaceuticals, machinery, transportation equipment, ships, iron products, and handicrafts. The main ports are Dublin and Cork. Around the free port of Shannon are factories producing electronic equipment, chemicals, plastics, and textiles. Lead and zinc are mined, and oil and natural gas are produced offshore.


The republic is governed (under the 1937 constitution) by a two-chamber legislature (the Dáil Éireann and the Ĺšeanad Éireann), and a prime minister and cabinet. The head of state, the president, is popularly elected to a seven-year term. The Dáil, chosen by proportional representation, is the more powerful chamber. Its 166 members are elected to five-year terms. The main political parties are the Fianna Fáil, the Fine Gael, and the Labour party.


After the establishment by treaty with Great Britain of the Irish Free State (Jan., 1922), civil war broke out between supporters of the treaty and opponents, who refused to accept the partition of Ireland and the retention of any ties with Britain. The antitreaty forces, embodied in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and led by Eamon De Valera, were defeated, although the IRA continued as a secret terrorist organization. William Cosgrave became the first prime minister. De Valera and his followers, the Fianna Fáil party, agreed to take the oath of allegiance to the British crown and entered the Dáil in 1927.

In 1932, De Valera became prime minister, and under his administration a new constitution was promulgated (1937), establishing the sovereign nation of Ireland, or Eire, within the Commonwealth of Nations. De Valera's policies aimed at the political and economic independence and union of all of Ireland. The loyalty oath to the crown was abolished, and certain economic provisions of the 1921 treaty with England were repudiated, leading to an economic war (1932–38) with Britain.

During World War II, Eire remained neutral and vigorously protested Allied military activity in Northern Ireland. The British were denied the use of Irish ports, and German and Japanese agents were allowed to operate in the country. However, great numbers of Irishmen volunteered to serve with the British armed forces. The people of Eire suffered relatively little hardship during the war and even profited from increased food exports. The postwar period brought a sharp rise in the cost of living and a decline in population, due in great part to steady emigration to Northern Ireland, Great Britain, and other countries. In 1948, Prime Minister Costello demanded total independence from Great Britain and reunification with the six counties of Northern Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland was proclaimed on Apr. 18, 1949. The country withdrew from the Commonwealth and formally claimed jurisdiction over the Ulster counties. It was admitted to the United Nations in 1955. Nothing came of the claim to Ulster, and during the 1950s and 60s the republic and Northern Ireland improved their economic relations. The later decade also saw an all-time low in Irish population, 2.82 million in 1961. In the late 1960s the problem of Northern Ireland flared up again in bitter fighting between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority there, aggravated by the actions of the IRA, which was headquartered in the republic.

In 1973, Erskine H. Childers succeeded De Valera as president of Ireland, and Liam Cosgrave, at the head of a Fine Gael–Labour coalition, replaced Jack Lynch, of Fianna Fáil, as prime minister. In the same year the republic joined the European Community (now the European Union). Childers died in 1974 and was succeeded by Cearbhal O. Dalaigh. Lynch led Fianna Fáil back into office in 1977; in 1979 fellow party member Charles Haughey replaced Lynch as prime minister. In 1981 a Fine Gael–Labour coalition headed by Garret FitzGerald defeated Fianna Fáil on an economic platform. Although ousted in 1982, the coalition was governing again six months later. Beginning in the late 1970s the republic's political situation was more fluid than it had been; there were several general elections and a variety of party schisms. In 1987, Haughey again became prime minister. As unemployment soared, especially among young people, outmigration increased, reaching a peak of 44,000 in 1989.

During the 1990s, the economy grew significantly, buoyed by EU subsidies and new foreign investment. By the end of the decade, unemployment was below the EU average, although pockets of poverty persisted. In late 1994, after the IRA and Protestant militias agreed to a cease-fire, efforts were begun to negotiate a settlement of the the Northern Ireland issue. Despite some setbacks, agreements were reached in Apr., 1998, and approved by voters in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland in May. Women's issues, such as the government's strong antiabortion stance and the constitutional ban on divorce, also became a focus in the 1990s; a referendum legalizing divorce passed by a narrow margin in 1995. In 1991, Ireland elected its first female president, Mary Robinson, and in 1997 Mary McAleese became its first president from Northern Ireland. In 1992, Albert Reynolds, of Fianna Fáil, replaced Charles Haughey as prime minister, and when the governing coalition collapsed, Reynolds successfully formed another. The Reynolds government fell in 1994, and Fine Gael leader John Bruton succeeded him, heading a Fine Gael–Labour coalition. Bertie Ahern became prime minister in 1997, heading a Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrat coalition; his coalition was returned to office in 2002. Revelations in 2006 that Ahern had received loans from business acquaintances in 1993–94 while he was finance minister and had not yet repaid them sparked controversy. Ahern said his attempts to repay them had been refused; he did repay the loans soon after they were became public. In 2007 Ahern led his party to another victory at the polls, but Progressive Democrat losses led to the addition of the Green party to the governing coalition.