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The culture of Irelandmarker refers to the idiosyncratic cultural norms of Ireland and the Irish people. The culture of the people living in the island of Irelandmarker is far from monolithic, due to various plantations down through the centuries. The notable cultural divides exist between the rural people and city dwellers, between the Catholic and Protestant people of Northern Irelandmarker, between the Irish-speaking people inside and outside the Gaeltacht regions and the English-speaking majority population, and increasingly between new immigrants and the native population.

Farming and rural tradition

Lough Gur, an early Irish farming settlement
As archaeological evidence from sites such as the Céide Fieldsmarker in County Mayomarker and Lough Gurmarker in County Limerickmarker demonstrates, farming in Ireland is an activity that goes back to the very beginnings of human settlement. In historic times, texts such as the Táin Bó Cúailinge show a society in which cattle represented a primary source of wealth and status. Little of this had changed by the time of the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century. Giraldus Cambrensis portrayed a Gaelic society in which cattle farming and transhumance was the norm. Three hundred years later, the society depicted in Edmund Spenser's A View of the Present State of Ireland had changed remarkably little. Even today, when a quarter of the population of the country lives in Greater Dublin, the cattle population is of the order of 6.7 million.

Townlands, villages, parishes and counties

The Normans replaced traditional clan land management(Brehon Law) with the manorial system of land tenure and social organisation. This led to the imposition of the village, parish and county over the native system of townlands. In general, a parish was a civil and religious unit with a manor, a village and a church at its centre. Each parish incorporated one or more existing townlands into its boundaries. With the gradual extension of English feudalism over the island, the Irish county structure came into existence and was completed in 1610.

These structures are still of vital importance in the daily life of Irish communities. Apart from the religious significance of the parish, most rural postal addresses consist of house and townland names. The village and parish are key focal points around which sporting rivalries and other forms of local identity are built and most people feel a strong sense of loyalty to their native county, a loyalty which also often has its clearest expression on the sports field.

Land ownership and land hunger

With the Elizabethan English conquest, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, and the organised plantations of Englishmarker and Scottishmarker settlers, the patterns of land ownership in Ireland were altered greatly. The old order of transhumance and open range cattle breeding died out to be replaced by a structure of great landed estates, small tenant farmers with more or less precarious hold on their leases, and a mass of landless labourers. This situation continued up to the end of the 19th century, when the agitation of the Land League began to bring about land reform. In this process of reform, the former tenants and labourers became land owners, with the great estates being broken up into small- and medium-sized farms and smallholdings. The process continued well into the 20th century with the work of the Irish Land Commission. This contrasted with Britainmarker, where many of the big estates were left intact. One consequence of this is the widely recognised cultural phenomenon of "land hunger" amongst the new class of Irish farmer. In general, this means that farming families will do almost anything to retain land ownership within the family unit, with the greatest ambition possible being the acquisition of additional land. Another is that hillwalkers in Ireland today are more constrained than their counterparts in Britain, as it is more difficult to agree rights of way with so many small farmers involved on a given route, rather than with just one landowner.

Holidays and festivals

Much of the Irish calendar still today reflects the old pagan customs, with later Christian traditions also having significant influence. As in other countries, the date for observing Christmas was deliberately chosen to coincide with the winter solstice. Christmas in Ireland has several local traditions, some in no way connected with Christianity. On 26 December (St. Stephen's Day), there is a custom of "Wrenboys" who call door to door with an arrangement of assorted material (which changes in different localities) to represent a dead wren "caught in the furze", as their rhyme goes.

Brigid's Day (1 February, known as Imbolc or Candlemas) also does not have its origins in Christianity, being instead another religious observance superimposed at the beginning of spring. The Brigid's cross made from rushes on this day represents a pre-Christian solar wheel.

Other pre-Christian festivals, whose names survive as Irish month names, are Bealtaine (May), Lúnasa (August) and Samhain (November). The last is still widely observed as Halloween, followed by All Saints' Day, another Christian holiday associated with a traditional one.

Important church holidays include Easter, and various Marian observances. The national holiday in the Republic is Saint Patrick's Day, 17 March and is marked by parades and festivals in cities and towns.

The Twelfth of July, which commemorates William III's victory at the Battle of the Boyne and the beginning of the Protestant Ascendancy, is celebrated by many Protestants throughout Northern Ireland.

Cultural institutions, organizations and events

Ireland is well supplied with museums and art galleries and offers, especially during the summer months, a wide range of cultural events. These range from arts festivals to farming events. The most popular of these are the annual Dublin Saint Patrick's Day Festival which attracts on average 500,000 people and the National Ploughing Championships with an attendance in the region of 400,000. There are also a number of Summer Schools on topics from traditional music to literature and the arts.

Institutions and organisations

See also



In the Republic, the last time a census asked people to specify their religion was 2006. The result was 86.8% Roman Catholic, 3% Church of Ireland (Anglican), 0.8% Islam, 0.6% Presbyterian, 0.3% Methodist, less than 0.05% Jewish, approximately 1.4% other religious groupings) and 4.4% ticked the "no religion" box. About 2% failed to answer.

In Northern Ireland in 2001, the population was 40.3% Roman Catholic, 20.7% Presbyterian, 15.3% Church of Ireland (Anglican), 3.5% Methodist, 6.1% other Christian, 0.3% other religion and philosophy, and 13.9% religion not stated. Amongst the Republic's Roman Catholics, weekly church attendance dropped from 87% in 1981 to 60% in 1998, though this remained one of the highest attendance rates in Europe.

Literature and the arts

For a comparatively small country, Ireland has made a disproportionate contribution to world literature in all its branches, in both the Irish and English languages . The works that are best known outside the country are in English. For example, in the 20th century, Ireland produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature; George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Three of these were born in Dublin (Heaney being the exception, having lived in Dublin but being born in County Londonderry), making it the birthplace of more Nobel literary laureates than any other city in the world. The Irish language has the third oldest literature in Europe (after Greek and Latin), the most significant body of written literature (both ancient and recent) of any Celtic language , as well as a strong oral tradition of legends and poetry. Poetry in Irish represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe, with the earliest examples dating from the 6th century.

The early history of Irish visual art is generally considered to begin with early carvings found at sites such as Newgrangemarker and is traced through Bronze age artefacts, particularly ornamental gold objects, and the religious carvings and illuminated manuscripts of the medieval period. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, a strong indigenous tradition of painting emerged, including such figures as John Butler Yeats, William Orpen, Jack Yeats and Louis le Brocquy.

The Irish tradition of folk music and dance is also widely known. In the middle years of the 20th century, as Irish society was attempting to modernise, traditional Irish music fell out of favour to some extent, especially in urban areas. Young people at this time tended to look to Britain and, particularly, the United Statesmarker as models of progress and jazz and rock and roll became extremely popular. During the 1960s, and inspired by the American folk music movement, there was a revival of interest in the Irish tradition. This revival was inspired by groups like The Dubliners, the Clancy Brothers and Sweeney's Men and individuals like Seán Ó Riada.
Before long, groups and musicians like Horslips, Van Morrison and even Thin Lizzy were incorporating elements of traditional music into a rock idiom to form a unique new sound. During the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of bands like U2, Snow Patrol, The Cranberries and The Corrs.

Food and drink

Food in early Ireland

.There are many references to food and drink in early Irish literature. Honey seems to have been widely eaten and used in the making of mead. The old stories also contain many references to banquets, although these may well be greatly exaggerated and provide little insight into everyday diet. There are also many references to fulacht fia, which are archaeological sites commonly believed to have once been used for cooking venison. The fulacht fia have holes or troughs in the ground which can be filled with water. Meat can then be cooked by placing hot stones in the trough until the water boils. Many fulach fia sites have been identified across the island of Ireland, and some of them appear to have been in use up to the 17th century.

Excavations at the Viking settlement in the Wood Quaymarker area of Dublin have produced a significant amount of information on the diet of the inhabitants of the town. The main animals eaten were cattle, sheep and pigs, with pigs being the most common. This popularity extended down to modern times in Ireland. Poultry and wild geese as well as fish and shellfish were also common, as were a wide range of native berries and nuts, especially hazel. The seeds of knotgrass and goosefoot were widely present and may have been used to make a porridge.

The potato in Ireland

The potato would appear to have been introduced into Ireland in the second half of the 17th century, initially as a garden crop. It eventually came to be the main food field crop of the tenant and labouring classes. As a food source, the potato is extremely efficient in terms of energy yielded per unit area of land. The potato is also a good source of many vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C (especially when fresh).
Potatoes form the basis for many traditional Irish dishes
a result, the typical 18th and 19th century Irish diet of potatoes and buttermilk was a contributing factor in the population explosion that occurred in Ireland at that time. However, the damp Irish climate favours the spread of potato blight and this frequently led to shortages and famine, the most notable instance being the Great Irish Famine , which more or less undid all the growth in population of the previous century by a combination of starvation, disease and emigration.

Food in Ireland today

In the 20th century the usual modern selection of foods common to Western cultures has been adopted in Ireland. Both US fast-food culture and continental European dishes have influenced the country, along with other world dishes introduced in a similar fashion to the rest of the Western world. Common meals include pizza, curry, Chinese food, and lately, some west African dishes have been making an appearance. Supermarket shelves now contain ingredients for, among others, traditional, European, American (Mexican/Tex-Mex), Indian, Polish and Chinese dishes.

The proliferation of fast food has led to increasing public health problems including obesity, and one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. Traditional Irish food and diet is also somewhat to blame, with a large emphasis on meat. Government efforts to combat this had included television advertisements. In the north, the Ulster fry has been particularly cited as being a major source for a higher incidence of cardiac problems, quoted as being a "heart attack on a plate". All the ingredients are fried, although more recently the trend is to grill as many of the ingredients as possible.

In tandem with these developments, the last quarter of the century saw the emergence of a new Irish cuisine based on traditional ingredients handled in new ways. This cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish, especially salmon and trout, oysters and other shellfish, traditional soda bread, the wide range of hand-made cheeses that are now being made across the country, and, of course, the potato. Traditional dishes, such as the Irish stew, Dublin coddle, the Irish breakfast and potato bread, have enjoyed a resurgence. Schools like the Ballymaloe Cookery School have emerged to cater for the associated increased interest in cooking with traditional ingredients.

Pub culture

Pub culture, as it is termed, pervades Irish society, across all cultural divides. The term refers to the Irish habit of frequenting public houses (pubs) or bars. Traditional pub culture is concerned with more than just drinking, even though Ireland has a recognized problem with over-consumption of alcohol, with the third-highest alcohol consumption in the world according to the OECD Health Data 2005 survey. Per capita sed by 41% in the period 1989 to 1999. Typically pubs are important meeting places, where people can gather and meet their neighbours and friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Pubs vary widely according to the clientele they serve, and the area they are in. Best known, and loved amongst tourists is the traditional pub, with its traditional Irish music (or "trad music"), tavern-like warmness, and memorabilia filling it. Often such pubs will also serve food, particularly during the day. Many more modern pubs, not necessarily traditional, still emulate these pubs, only perhaps substituting traditional music for a DJ or non-traditional live music.

Many larger pubs in cities eschew such trappings entirely, opting for loud music, and focusing more on the consumption of drinks. Such venues are popular "pre-clubbing" locations. "Clubbing" has become a popular phenomenon amongst young people in Ireland. Clubs usually vary in terms of the type of music played, and the target audience.

A significant recent change to pub culture in the Republic of Irelandmarker has been the introduction of a smoking ban, in all workplaces, which includes pubs and restaurants. The ban was introduced on March 29, 2004. A majority of the population support the ban, including a significant percentage of smokers. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in pubs has changed greatly as a result, and debate continues on whether it has boosted or lowered sales, although this is often blamed on the ever-increasing prices, or whether it is a "good thing" or a "bad thing". A similar ban, under the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 came into effect in Northern Ireland on the 30th of April 2007.


The two dominant languages in Ireland have long influenced each other, with the local English dialect adopting aspects of the Irish grammatical structure, and in turn, Irish drawing much vocabulary from the foreign tongue. Today however, Irish is spoken less in daily routine outside Gaeltacht areas.

Several other languages are spoken on the island, including Shelta, a mixture of Irish, Romany and English, spoken widely by Travellers. Two sign languages have also been developed on the island.

Some other languages have entered Ireland with immigrants – for example, Polish is now the third most widely spoken language in Ireland after English and Irish, followed by Chinese.



There are several daily newspapers in Ireland, including the Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Times, The Star, The Evening Herald, Daily Ireland, the Irish Sun, and the Irish language Lá Nua. The best selling of these is the Irish Independent, which is published in both tabloid and broadsheet form. The Irish Times is Ireland's newspaper of record.

The Sunday market is quite saturated with many Britishmarker publications. The leading Sunday newspaper in terms of circulation is The Sunday Independent. Other popular papers include The Sunday Times, The Sunday Tribune, The Sunday Business Post, Ireland on Sunday and the Sunday World.

There are quite a large number of local weekly newspapers, with most counties and large towns having two or more newspapers. Curiously Dublin remains one of the few places in Ireland without a major local paper since the Dublin Evening Mail closed down in the 1960s. In 2004 the Dublin Daily was launched, but failed to attract enough readers to make it viable.

One major criticism of the Irish newspaper market is the strong position Independent News & Media has on the market. It controls the Evening Herald, Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday World and The Star as well as holding a large stake in the cable company Chorus, and indirectly controlling The Sunday Tribune. The Independent titles are perceived by many Irish republicans as having a pro-British stance. In parallel to this, the Independent titles are perceived by many opposition supporters as being pro Fianna Fáil .

The Irish magazine market is one of the world's most competitive, with hundreds of international magazines available in Ireland, ranging from Time and The Economist to Hello! and Reader's Digest. This means that domestic titles find it very hard to retain readership. Among the best-selling Irish magazines are the RTÉ Guide, Ireland's Eyemarker, Irish Tatler, VIP, Phoenix and In Dublin.


The first known radio transmission in Ireland was a call to arms made from the General Post Officemarker in O'Connell Street during the Easter Rising. The first official radio station on the island was 2BE Belfast, which began broadcasting in 1924. This was followed in 1926 by 2RN Dublin and 6CK Cork in 1927. 2BE Belfast later became BBC Radio Ulster and 2RN Dublin became RTÉmarker. The first commercial radio station in the Republic, Century Radio, came on air in 1989.

During the 1990s and particularly the early 2000s, dozens of local radio stations have gained licences. This has resulted in a fragmentation of the radio broadcast market. This trend is most noticeable in Dublin where there are now 6 private licenced stations in operation.


While some areas of Ireland received signal from Wales earlier, BBC Northern Ireland began broadcasting television programmes in 1959 and RTÉ Television opened in 1961. Teilifís na Gaeilge (TnaG), now called TG4, started its Irish language service in 1996 and commercial television arrived when TV3 began broadcasting in 1998.

British and satellite-carried international television channels have widespread audiences in Ireland. The BBC and ITV families of channels are available free to air across the island of Ireland and there is widespread availability of the four main UK channels (BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and Channel Four) but only limited coverage from Five. Sky One, E4, and several hundred satellite channels are widely available. Parts of Ireland can access the UK digital TV system Freeview.


The Irish Film industry has grown rapidly in recent years thanks largely to the promotion of the sector by Bord Scannán na hÉireann (The Irish Film Board) and the introduction of generous tax breaks. Some of the most successful Irish films included Intermission (2001), Man About Dog (2004), Michael Collins (1996), Angela's Ashes (1999) and The Commitments (1991).

Ireland has also proved a popular location for shooting films with The Quiet Man (1952), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Braveheart (1995), King Arthur (2004) and P.S. I Love You (2007) all being shot in Ireland.


Sport in Ireland is popular and widespread. Throughout the country a wide variety of sports are played, the most popular being Gaelic football, hurling, rugby union, soccer and hockey. By attendance figures, Gaelic football is by far the most popular sport in Ireland, and the Gaelic sports' main organising body, the Gaelic Athletic Association has a large membership and an especially strong role in rural communities.

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

See also


  • Mitchell, Frank and Ryan, Michael. Reading the Irish landscape (1998). ISBN 1-86059-055-1
  • National Museum of Ireland. Viking and Medieval Dublin: National Museum Excavations, 1962 - 1973 (1973).
  • R. Comerford, Ireland Inventing the Nation. (Hodder Books, 2003).

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