Location of Northern Ireland (dark green)
– in the European continent (light green & dark grey)
and largest city
|Ethnic groups (2001)|
|Government||Consociational devolved government within a constitutional monarchy|
|-||First Minister||Peter Robinson, MLA|
|-||Deputy First Minister||Martin McGuinness, MLA|
|-||Prime Minister (UK)||David Cameron, MP|
|-||Secretary of State (UK)||Theresa Villiers, MP|
|Legislature||Northern Ireland Assembly|
|-||Government of Ireland Act||3 May 1921|
|-||Good Friday Agreement||10 April 1998|
5,345 sq mi
|-||2011 census||1,810,863 |
|GDP (PPP)||2002 estimate|
|Currency||Pound sterling (
|Time zone||GMT (UTC+0)|
|-||Summer (DST)||BST (UTC+1)|
|Date format||dd/mm/yyyy (AD)|
|Drives on the||left|
|Internet TLD||.uk, .ie, .eub|
|a.||^ Officially recognised languages: Northern Ireland has no official language. The use of English has been established through precedent. Irish and Ulster Scots are officially recognised minority languages|
|b.||^ .uk is assigned to the United Kingdom of which Northern Ireland is a part, .ie is assigned to Ireland of which Northern Ireland is a part, and .eu is assigned to the European Union of which Northern Ireland is a part. ISO 3166-1 is GB, but .gb is unused|
|c.||^ +44 is always followed by 28 when calling landlines. The code is 028 within the UK and 048 from the Republic of Ireland|
Northern Ireland (Irish: Tuaisceart Éireann pronounced [ˈt̪ˠuəʃcəɾˠt̪ˠ ˈeːɾʲən̪ˠ] ( listen), Ulster Scots: Norlin Airlann or Norlin Airlan) is a part of the United Kingdom in the north-east of the island of Ireland. It is variously described as a country, province or region of the UK, amongst other terms. Northern Ireland shares a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland. As of 2011, its population was 1,810,863, constituting about 30% of the island's total population and about 3% of the population of the United Kingdom. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Northern Ireland is largely self-governing. According to the agreement, Northern Ireland co-operates with the rest of Ireland on some policy areas, while other areas are reserved for the Government of the United Kingdom, though the Republic of Ireland "may put forward views and proposals".
Northern Ireland was partitioned from the rest of Ireland in 1921, during the Irish War of Independence, by an Act of the British Parliament. Unlike the rest of the island, the majority of its population wanted to remain within the United Kingdom (see unionism and loyalism). Most of these were the Protestant descendants of colonists from Great Britain. However, a significant minority wanted a united Ireland independent of British rule (see Irish nationalism and republicanism), and most of these were Catholics. The former generally see themselves as British and the latter generally see themselves as Irish, although some people from both communities describe themselves as Northern Irish. The creation of Northern Ireland was marked by violence between these two main communities and involving state forces, which occasionally resurfaced over the following decades. In the late 1960s the conflict erupted into three decades of violence known as The Troubles, which lasted until the late 1990s and claimed over 3,500 lives. The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was a major step in the peace process.
Northern Ireland has traditionally been the most industrialised region of the island. After declining as a result of the political and social turmoil of the Troubles in the second half of the 20th century, its economy has grown significantly since the 1990s. This is in part due to a "peace dividend" and in part due to links and increased trade with the Republic of Ireland.
Prominent artists and sports persons from Northern Ireland include Van Morrison, Rory McIlroy and George Best. Others from that part of the island prefer to define themselves as Irish, e.g. Seamus Heaney and Liam Neeson. Cultural links between Northern Ireland, the rest of Ireland and the rest of the UK are complex, with Northern Ireland sharing both the culture of Ireland and the culture of the United Kingdom. In most sports the island of Ireland fields a single team, a notable exception being association football. Northern Ireland competes separately at the Commonwealth Games and athletes from Northern Ireland may compete for either Great Britain or Ireland at the Olympic Games.
The region that is now Northern Ireland was the bedrock of the Irish war of resistance against English programmes of colonialism in the late 16th century. The English-controlled Kingdom of Ireland had been declared by the English king Henry VIII in 1542, but Irish resistance made English control fragmentary. Following Irish defeat at the Battle of Kinsale, though, the region's Gaelic, Roman Catholic aristocracy fled to continental Europe in 1607 and the region became subject to major programmes of colonialism by Protestant English (mainly Anglican) and Scottish (mainly Presbyterian) settlers. Between 1610 and 1717 perhaps as many as 100,000 Lowlanders came across from Scotland, and by the latter date there were some five Scots to every three Irishmen and one Englishman in Ulster. A rebellion in 1641 by Irish aristocrats against English rule resulted in a massacre of settlers in Ulster in the context of a war breaking out between England, Scotland and Ireland fuelled by religious intolerance in government. Victories by English forces in that war and further Protestant victories in the Williamite War in Ireland toward the close of the 17th century solidified Anglican rule in Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the victories of the Siege of Derry (1689) and the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in this latter war are still celebrated by the Unionist community (both Anglican and Presbyterian).
Following the victory of 1691, and contrary to the terms of the Treaty of Limerick, a series of penal laws was passed by the Anglican ruling class in Ireland. Their intention was to materially disadvantage the Catholic community and, to a lesser extent, the Presbyterian community. In the context of open institutional discrimination, the 18th century saw secret, militant societies develop in communities in the region and act on sectarian tensions in violent attacks. These events escalated at the end of the century following an event known as the Battle of the Diamond, which saw the supremacy of the Anglican and Presbyterian Peep o'Day Boys over the Catholic Defenders and leading to the formation of the (Anglican) Orange Order. A rebellion in 1798 led by the cross-community Belfast-based Society of the United Irishmen and inspired by the French Revolution sought to break the constitutional ties between Ireland and Britain and unite Irishmen and -women of all communities. Following this, in an attempt to quell sectarianism and force the removal of discriminatory laws (and to prevent the spread of French-style republicanism to Ireland), the government of the Kingdom of Great Britain pushed for the two kingdoms to be merged. The new state, formed in 1801, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was governed from a single government and parliament based in London.
Between 1717 and 1775 some 250,000 people from Ulster emigrated to the American colonies. It is estimated that there are more than 27 million descendants of the Scots-Irish migration now living in the U.S.
During the 19th century, legal reforms started in the late 18th century removed statutory discrimination against Catholics and progressive programmes enabled tenant farmers to buy land from landlords. By the close of the century, autonomy for Ireland within the United Kingdom, known as Home Rule, was regarded as highly likely. In 1912, it became a certainty. A clash between the House of Commons and House of Lords over a controversial budget produced the Parliament Act 1911, which enabled the veto of the Lords to be overturned. The House of Lords veto had been the unionists' main guarantee that Home Rule would not be enacted, because the majority of members of the House of Lords were unionists. In response, opponents to home Rule from Conservative and Unionist Party leaders such as Andrew Bonar Law and by Dublin-based barrister Sir Edward Carson to militant unionists in Ireland threatened the use of violence. In 1914, they smuggled thousands of rifles and rounds of ammunition from Imperial Germany for use by the Ulster Volunteers, a paramilitary organisation opposed to the implementation of Home Rule.
Unionists were in a minority on the island of Ireland as a whole, but in the northern province of Ulster they were a very large majority in County Antrim and County Down, with small majorities in County Armagh and County Londonderry. There were substantial unionist minorities in the mainly-nationalist counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. These six counties would later constitute Northern Ireland. All of the remaining 26 counties which later became the Republic of Ireland were overwhelmingly majority-nationalist.
During the Home Rule Crisis the possibility was discussed of a "temporary" partition of these six counties from the rest of Ireland. In 1914, the Third Home Rule Act received Royal Assent. However, its implementation was suspended before it came into effect owing to the outbreak of the First World War, and the Amending Bill to partition Ireland was abandoned. The war was expected to last only a few weeks but in fact lasted four years. By the end of the war (during which the 1916 Easter Rising had taken place), the Act was seen as unimplementable. Public opinion in the majority "nationalist" community (who sought greater independence from Britain) had shifted during the war from a demand for home rule to one for full independence. In 1919, David Lloyd George proposed a new bill which would divide Ireland into two Home Rule areas: twenty-six counties being ruled from Dublin and six being ruled from Belfast. Straddling these two areas would be a shared Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who would appoint both governments and a Council of Ireland, which Lloyd George believed would evolve into an all-Ireland parliament. Events had however overtaken the government. In the general election of 1918, the pro-independence Sinn Féin won 73 of the 105 parliamentary seats in Ireland and unilaterally established the First Dáil, an extrajudicial parliament in Ireland.
Ireland was partitioned between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland in 1921 under the terms of Lloyd George's Government of Ireland Act 1920 during the war of independence between Ireland and British forces. At the conclusion of that war on 6 December 1922, under the terms of the resulting treaty, Northern Ireland provisionally became an autonomous part of the newly independent Irish Free State, with the right to opt out of it.
As expected, the Parliament of Northern Ireland resolved on 7 December 1922 (the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State) to make the following address to the King to exercise, within the one month allowed, the right to opt out of the Irish Free State: "Most Gracious Sovereign, We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland". Shortly afterwards, a commission was established to decide on the territorial boundaries between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Owing to the outbreak of civil war in the Free State, the work of the commission was delayed until 1925. Leaders in Dublin expected a substantial reduction in the territory of Northern Ireland, with nationalist areas moving to the Free State. However the commission's report recommended only that some small portions of land should be ceded from the Free State to Northern Ireland. To prevent argument, this report was suppressed and, in exchange for a waiver to the Free State's obligations to the UK's public debt and the dissolution of the Council of Ireland (sought by the Government of Northern Ireland), the initial six-county border was maintained with minor changes.
In June 1940, to encourage the neutral Irish state to join with the Allies, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill indicated to the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity, but believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer. (The British did not inform the Government of Northern Ireland that they had made the offer to the Dublin government, and De Valera's rejection was not publicised until 1970).
The Ireland Act 1949 gave the first legal guarantee to the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland that the region would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of its citizens.
The Troubles, starting in the late 1960s, consisted of about thirty years of recurring acts of intense violence between elements of Northern Ireland's nationalist community (principally Roman Catholic) and unionist community (principally Protestant) during which 3,254 people were killed. The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the discrimination against the nationalist minority by the dominant unionist majority. From 1967 to 1972 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, modelling itself on the US civil rights movement, led a campaign of civil resistance to anti-Catholic discrimination in housing, employment, policing, and electoral procedures (the franchise being limited to property-owning rate-payers, thereby excluding most Catholics). However NICRA's campaign, and the reaction to it, proved to be a precursor to a more violent period. As early as 1969, armed campaigns of paramilitary groups began, including the Provisional IRA campaign of 1969–1997 which was aimed at the end of British rule in Northern Ireland and the creation of a new "all-Ireland", "thirty-two county" Irish Republic, and the Ulster Volunteer Force, formed in 1966 in response to the perceived erosion of both the British character and unionist domination of Northern Ireland. The state security forces – the British Army and the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary) – were also involved in the violence. The British government's point of view is that its forces were neutral in the conflict, trying to uphold law and order in Northern Ireland and the right of the people of Northern Ireland to democratic self-determination. Irish republicans regarded the state forces as "combatants" in the conflict, alleging collusion between the state forces and the loyalist paramilitaries as proof of this (loyalists are against the union of Ireland). The "Ballast" investigation by the Police Ombudsman has confirmed that British forces, and in particular the RUC, did collude with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and did obstruct the course of justice when such claims had previously been investigated, although the extent to which such collusion occurred is still hotly disputed.
As a consequence of the worsening security situation, autonomous regional government for Northern Ireland was suspended in 1972. Alongside the violence, there was a political deadlock between the major political parties in Northern Ireland, including those who condemned violence, over the future status of Northern Ireland and the form of government there should be within Northern Ireland. In 1973, Northern Ireland held a referendum to determine if it should remain in the United Kingdom, or be part of a united Ireland. The vote went heavily in favour (98.9%) of maintaining the status quo with approximately 57.5% of the total electorate voting in support, but only 1% of Catholics voted following a boycott organised by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process which included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organisations and the complete decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of army troops from the streets and from sensitive border areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh, as agreed by the signatories to the Belfast Agreement (commonly known as the "Good Friday Agreement"). This reiterated the long-held British position, which had never before been fully acknowledged by successive Irish governments, that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom until a majority of voters in Northern Ireland decides otherwise. The Constitution of Ireland was amended in 1999 to remove a claim of the "Irish nation" to sovereignty over the whole of Ireland (in Article 2), a claim qualified by an acknowledgement that Ireland could only exercise legal control over the territory formerly known as the Irish Free State. The new Articles 2 and 3, added to the Constitution to replace the earlier articles, implicitly acknowledge that the status of Northern Ireland, and its relationships within the rest of the United Kingdom and with Ireland, would only be changed with the agreement of a majority of voters in both jurisdictions (Ireland voting separately). This aspect was also central to the Belfast Agreement which was signed in 1998 and ratified by referendums held simultaneously in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. At the same time, the British Government recognised for the first time, as part of the prospective, the so-called "Irish dimension": the principle that the people of the island of Ireland as a whole have the right, without any outside interference, to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent. The latter statement was key to winning support for the agreement from nationalists and republicans. It also established a devolved power-sharing government within Northern Ireland, which must consist of both unionist and nationalist parties.
These institutions were suspended by the British Government in 2002 after Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) allegations of spying by people working for Sinn Féin at the Assembly (Stormontgate). The resulting case against the accused Sinn Féin member collapsed.
On 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign and has since decommissioned what is thought to be all of its arsenal. This final act of decommissioning was performed in accordance with the Belfast Agreement of 1998, and under the watch of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and two external church witnesses. Many unionists, however, remain sceptical. This IRA decommissioning is in contrast to Loyalist paramilitaries who have so far refused to decommission many weapons. It is not thought that this will have a major effect on further political progress as political parties linked to Loyalist paramilitaries do not attract significant support and will not be in a position to form part of a government in the near future. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, with their (real and perceived) links to militant republicanism, are the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.
Politicians elected to the Assembly at the 2003 Assembly election were called together on 15 May 2006 under the Northern Ireland Act 2006 for the purpose of electing a First Minister of Northern Ireland and a deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and choosing the members of an Executive (before 25 November 2006) as a preliminary step to the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.
Following the election held on 7 March 2007, devolved government returned to Northern Ireland on 8 May 2007 with Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin deputy leader Martin McGuinness taking office as First Minister and deputy First Minister, respectively. The current First Minister is Peter Robinson, having taken over as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and the current deputy First Minister is Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin.
The main political divide in Northern Ireland is between Unionists or Loyalists who wish to see Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom and Nationalists or Republicans who wish to see Northern Ireland join the rest of Ireland, independent from the United Kingdom. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions. Unionists are overwhelmingly Protestant, descendants of mainly Scottish, English, Welsh and Huguenot settlers as well as Old Gaelic Irishmen who had converted to one of the Protestant denominations. Nationalists are predominantly Catholic and descend from the population predating the settlement, with a minority from Scottish Highlanders as well as some converts from Protestantism. Discrimination against nationalists under the Stormont government (1921–1972) gave rise to the nationalist civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Some Unionists argue that any discrimination was not just due to religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors. Whatever the cause, the existence of discrimination, and the manner in which Nationalist anger at it was handled, were a major contributing factor which led to the long-running conflict known as the Troubles. The political unrest went through its most violent phase between 1968 and 1994.
As of 2007, 36% of the population define themselves as Unionist, 24% as Nationalist and 40% define themselves as neither. According to a 2009 opinion poll, 69% express longterm preference of the maintenance of Northern Ireland's membership of the United Kingdom (either directly ruled or with devolved government), while 21% express a preference for membership of a united Ireland. This discrepancy can be explained by the overwhelming preference among Protestants to remain a part of the UK (91%), while Catholic preferences are spread across a number of solutions to the constitutional question including remaining a part of the UK (47%), a united Ireland (40%), Northern Ireland becoming an independent state (5%), and those who "don't know" (5%).
Official voting figures, which reflect views on the "national question" along with issues of candidate, geography, personal loyalty and historic voting patterns, show 54% of Northern Ireland voters vote for Pro-Unionist parties, 42% vote for Pro-Nationalist parties and 4% vote "other". Opinion polls consistently show that the election results are not necessarily an indication of the electorate's stance regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.
Most of the population of Northern Ireland are at least nominally Christian. The ethno-political loyalties are allied, though not absolutely, to the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations and these are the labels used to categorise the opposing views. This is, however, becoming increasingly irrelevant as the Irish Question is very complicated. Many voters (regardless of religious affiliation) are attracted to Unionism's conservative policies, while other voters are instead attracted to the traditionally leftist, nationalist Sinn Féin and SDLP and their respective party platforms for Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy.
For the most part, Protestants feel a strong connection with Great Britain and wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Many Catholics however, generally aspire to a United Ireland or are less certain about how to solve the constitutional question. In the 2009 survey by Northern Ireland Life and Times, 47% of Northern Irish Catholics supported Northern Ireland remaining a part of the United Kingdom, either by direct rule (8%) or devolved government (39%).
Protestants have a slight majority in Northern Ireland, according to the latest Northern Ireland Census. The make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly reflects the appeals of the various parties within the population. Of the 108 MLAs, 55 are Unionists and 44 are Nationalists (the remaining nine are classified as "other").
Since 1998, Northern Ireland has devolved government within the United Kingdom. The UK Government and UK Parliament are responsible for reserved and excepted matters. Reserved matters are a list of policy area (such as civil aviation, units of measurement, and human genetics), which Parliament may devolve to Northern Ireland Assembly at some time in future. Excepted matters (such as international relations, taxation and elections) are never expected to be considered for devolution. On all other matters, the Northern Ireland Executive together with the 108-member Northern Ireland Assembly may legislate and govern for Northern Ireland. Additionally, devolution in Northern Ireland is dependent upon participation by members of the Northern Ireland executive in the North/South Ministerial Council, which co-ordinates areas of co-operation (such as agriculture, education and health) between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are by single transferable vote with six representatives (Member of the Legislative Assembly, MLAs) elected from 18 parliamentary constituencies. Eighteen representatives to the lower house of the UK parliament (Members of Parliament, MPs) are elected from the same constituencies using the first-past-the-post system. However, not all of these take their seats. Sinn Féin MPs, currently five, refuse to take the oath to serve the Queen that is required of all MPs. In addition, the upper house of the UK parliament, the House of Lords, currently has some 25 appointed members from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland itself forms a single constituency for elections to the European Union.
The Northern Ireland Office represents the UK government in Northern Ireland on reserved matters and represents Northern Ireland's interests within the UK Government. Additionally, the Government of Ireland also has the right to "put forward views and proposals" on non-devolved matters in relation to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Office is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland is a distinct legal jurisdiction, separate from the two other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom (England and Wales and Scotland). Northern Ireland law developed from Irish law that existed before the partition of Ireland in 1921. Northern Ireland is a common law jurisdiction and its common law is similar to that in England and Wales. However, there are some important differences in law and procedure between Northern Ireland and England and Wales. The body of statute law law affecting Northern Ireland reflects the history of Northern Ireland, including Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the former Parliament of Northern Ireland and the Parliament of Ireland, along with some Acts of the Parliament of England and of the Parliament of Great Britain that were extended to Ireland under Poynings' Law between 1494 and 1782.
Several studies and surveys performed between 1971 and 2006 have indicated that, in general, Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves primarily as British, whereas Roman Catholics regard themselves primarily as Irish. This does not however account for the complex identities within Northern Ireland, given that many of the population regard themselves as "Ulster" or "Northern Irish", either as a primary or secondary identity.
A 2008 survey found that 57% of Protestants described themselves as British, while 32% identified as Northern Irish, 6% as Ulster and 4% as Irish. Compared to a similar survey carried out in 1998, this shows a fall in the percentage of Protestants identifying as British and Ulster, and a rise in those identifying as Northern Irish. The 2008 survey found that 61% of Catholics described themselves as Irish, with 25% identifying as Northern Irish, 8% as British and 1% as Ulster. These figures were largely unchanged from the 1998 results.
People born in Northern Ireland are, with some exceptions, deemed by UK law to be citizens of the United Kingdom. They are also, with similar exceptions, entitled to be citizens of Ireland. This entitlement was reaffirmed in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between the British and Irish governments, which provides that:
"...it is the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly [the two governments] confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.
As a result of the Agreement, the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland was amended. The current wording provides that people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to be Irish citizens on the same basis as people from any other part of the island of Ireland.
Neither government, however, extends its citizenship to all persons born in Northern Ireland. Both governments exclude some people born in Northern Ireland, in particular persons born without one parent who is a British or Irish citizen. The Irish restriction was given effect by the Twenty-seventh amendment to the Irish Constitution in 2004. The position in UK nationality law is that most of those born in Northern Ireland are UK nationals, whether or not they so choose. Renunciation of British citizenship requires the payment of a fee, currently £229.
Northern Ireland was covered by an ice sheet for most of the last ice age and on numerous previous occasions, the legacy of which can be seen in the extensive coverage of drumlins in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down. The centrepiece of Northern Ireland's geography is Lough Neagh, at 151 square miles (391 km2) the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles. A second extensive lake system is centred on Lower and Upper Lough Erne in Fermanagh. The largest island of Northern Ireland is Rathlin, off the north Antrim coast. Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 150 km2 (58 sq mi).
There are substantial uplands in the Sperrin Mountains (an extension of the Caledonian mountain belt) with extensive gold deposits, granite Mourne Mountains and basalt Antrim Plateau, as well as smaller ranges in South Armagh and along the Fermanagh–Tyrone border. None of the hills are especially high, with Slieve Donard in the dramatic Mournes reaching 849 metres (2,785 ft), Northern Ireland's highest point. Belfast's most prominent peak is Cavehill. The volcanic activity which created the Antrim Plateau also formed the eerily geometric pillars of the Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast. Also in north Antrim are the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Mussenden Temple and the Glens of Antrim.
The Lower and Upper River Bann, River Foyle and River Blackwater form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry.
The valley of the River Lagan is dominated by Belfast, whose metropolitan area includes over a third of the population of Northern Ireland, with heavy urbanisation and industrialisation along the Lagan Valley and both shores of Belfast Lough.
The whole of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate, rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is persistent across the region. The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 6.5 °C (43.7 °F) in January and 17.5 °C (63.5 °F) in July. The damp climate and extensive deforestation in the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in much of the region being covered in rich green grassland. The highest maximum temperature recorded was 30.8 °C (87.4 °F) at Knockarevan, near Garrison, County Fermanagh on 30 June 1976 and at Belfast on 12 July 1983. The lowest minimum temperature recorded was −18.7 °C (−1.7 °F) at Castlederg, County Tyrone on 23 December 2010.
These counties are no longer used for local government purposes; instead there are twenty-six districts of Northern Ireland which have different geographical extents, even in the case of those named after the counties from which they derive their name. Fermanagh District Council most closely follows the borders of the county from which it takes its name. Most districts are based around large towns, for instance Coleraine Borough Council derives its name from the town of Coleraine in County Londonderry.
Although counties are no longer used for governmental purpose, they remain a popular means of describing where places are. They are officially used while applying for an Irish passport, which requires one to state one's county of birth. The name of county then appears in both Irish and English on the passport's information page, as opposed to the town or city of birth on the United Kingdom passport. The Gaelic Athletic Association still uses the counties as its primary means of organisation and fields representative teams of each GAA county. The original system of car registration numbers largely based on counties still remains in use. In 2000, the telephone numbering system was restructured into an 8 digit scheme with (except for Belfast) the first digit reflecting the county.
The county boundaries still appear on Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Maps and the Phillips Street Atlases, among others. With their decline in official use, there is often confusion surrounding towns and cities which lie near county boundaries, such as Belfast and Lisburn, which are split between counties Down and Antrim (the majorities of both cities, however, are in Antrim).
Northern Ireland comprises a patchwork of communities whose national loyalties are represented in some areas by flags flown from flagpoles or lamp posts. The Union Jack and the former Northern Ireland flag are flown in some loyalist areas, and the Tricolour, adopted by republicans as the flag of Ireland in 1848, is flown in some republican areas. Even kerbstones in some areas are painted red-white-blue or green-white-orange, depending on whether local people express unionist/loyalist or nationalist/republican sympathies.
The official flag is that of the state having sovereignty over the territory, i.e. the Union Flag. The former Northern Ireland flag, also known as the "Ulster Banner" or "Red Hand Flag", is a banner derived from the coat of arms of the Government of Northern Ireland until 1972. Since 1972, it has had no official status. The Union Flag and the Ulster Banner are used exclusively by unionists. UK flags policy states that in Northern Ireland, "The Ulster flag and the Cross of St Patrick have no official status and, under the Flags Regulations, are not permitted to be flown from Government Buildings."
The Irish Rugby Football Union and the Church of Ireland have used the Saint Patrick's Saltire or "Cross of St Patrick". This red saltire on a white field was used to represent Ireland in the flag of the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland. It is still used by some British army regiments. Foreign flags are also found, such as the Palestinian flags in some Nationalist areas and Israeli flags in some Unionist areas.
The United Kingdom national anthem of "God Save the Queen" is often played at state events in Northern Ireland. At the Commonwealth Games and some other sporting events, the Northern Ireland team uses the Ulster Banner as its flag—notwithstanding its lack of official status—and the Londonderry Air (usually set to lyrics as Danny Boy), which also has no official status, as its national anthem. The Northern Ireland football team also uses the Ulster Banner as its flag but uses "God Save The Queen" as its national anthem. Major Gaelic Athletic Association matches are opened by the Irish national anthem, "Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldier's Song)", which is also used by most other all-Ireland sporting organisations. Since 1995, the Ireland rugby union team has used a specially commissioned song, "Ireland's Call" as the team's anthem. The Irish national anthem is also played at Dublin home matches, being the anthem of the host country.
Northern Irish murals have become well-known features of Northern Ireland, depicting past and present divisions, both also documenting peace and cultural diversity. Almost 2,000 murals have been documented in Northern Ireland since the 1970s.
Many people inside and outside Northern Ireland use other names for Northern Ireland, depending on their point of view. Disagreement on names, and the reading of political symbolism into the use or non-use of a word, also attaches itself to some urban centres. The most notable example is whether Northern Ireland's second city should be called "Derry" or "Londonderry".
Choice of language and nomenclature in Northern Ireland often reveals the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the speaker. The first Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Seamus Mallon, was criticised by unionist politicians for calling the region the "North of Ireland" while Sinn Féin has been criticised in some Irish newspapers for still referring to the "Six Counties".
Those who do not belong to any group but lean towards one side often tend to use the language of that group. Supporters of unionism in the British media (notably the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express) regularly call Northern Ireland "Ulster". Some nationalist and republican-leaning media outlets in Ireland almost always use "North of Ireland", "the North", or the "Six Counties".
Government and cultural organisations in Northern Ireland often use the word "Ulster" in their title; for example, the University of Ulster, the Ulster Museum, the Ulster Orchestra, and BBC Radio Ulster.
Although some news bulletins since the 1990s have opted to avoid all contentious terms and use the official name, Northern Ireland, the term "the North" remains commonly used by broadcast media in the Republic, to the annoyance of some Unionists. Bertie Ahern, the former Taoiseach, now almost always refers to "Northern Ireland" in public, having previously only used "the North". For Northern Ireland's second largest city, broadcasting outlets which are unaligned to either community and broadcast to both use both names interchangeably, often starting a report with "Londonderry" and then using "Derry" in the rest of the report. However, within Northern Ireland, print media which are aligned to either community (the News Letter is aligned to the unionist community while the Irish News is aligned to the nationalist community) generally use their community's preferred term. British newspapers with unionist leanings, such as the Daily Telegraph, usually use the language of the unionist community. However the more left-wing Guardian recommends in its style guide using "Derry" and "County Derry", and "not Londonderry".
The division in nomenclature is sometimes seen in the names of organisations associated with one or other of the main communities, but there are numerous exceptions. In Gaelic games, followed mainly by nationalists, the GAA county is "Derry", but in sports followed mainly by unionists, clubs tend to avoid the use of "Londonderry" in favour of more precise locales (Glendermott Cricket Club) or neutral terms (Foyle Hockey Club). "Derry" is also used in the names of both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic dioceses, and by one of the largest Protestant fraternal societies, the Apprentice Boys of Derry. There is no agreement on how to decide on a name. When the nationalist-controlled local council voted to rename the city "Derry" unionists objected, stating that as it owed its city status to a Royal Charter, only a charter issued by the Queen could change the name. The Queen has not intervened on the matter and thus the council is now called the Derry City Council while the city is still officially Londonderry. Nevertheless, the council has printed two sets of stationery—one for each term—and its policy is to reply to correspondence using whichever term the original sender used.
At times of high communal tension, each side regularly complains of the use of the nomenclature associated with the other community by a third party such as a media organisation, claiming such usage indicates evident "bias" against their community.
There is no generally accepted term to describe what Northern Ireland is: province, region, country or something else. The choice of term can be controversial and can reveal the writer's political preferences. This has been noted as a problem by several writers on Northern Ireland, with no generally recommended solution.
Owing in part to the way in which the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland came into being, there is no legally defined term to describe what Northern Ireland 'is'. There is also no uniform or guiding way to refer to Northern Ireland amongst the agencies of the UK government. For example, the websites of the Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the UK Statistics Authority describe the United Kingdom as being made up of four countries, one of these being Northern Ireland. Other pages on the same websites refer to Northern Ireland specifically as a "province" as do publications of the UK Statistics Authority. The website of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency also refers to Northern Ireland as being a province as does the website of the Office of Public Sector Information and other agencies within Northern Ireland. Publications of HM Treasury and the Department of Finance and Personnel of the Northern Ireland Executive, on the other hand, describe Northern Ireland as being a "region of the UK". The UK's submission to the 2007 United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names defines the UK as being made up of two countries (England and Scotland), one principality (Wales) and one province (Northern Ireland).
Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland has no history of being an independent country or of being a nation in its own right. Some writers describe the United Kingdom as being made up of three countries and one province or point out the difficulties with calling Northern Ireland a country. Authors writing specifically about Northern Ireland dismiss the idea that Northern Ireland is a "country" in general terms, and draw contrasts in this respect with England, Scotland and Wales. Even for the period covering the first 50 years of Northern Ireland's existence, the term country is considered inappropriate by some political scientists on the basis that many decisions were still made in London. The absence of a distinct nation of Northern Ireland, separate within the island of Ireland, is also pointed out as being a problem with using the term and is in contrast to England, Scotland, and Wales.
Many commentators prefer to use the term "province", although that is also not without problems. It can arouse irritation, particularly among nationalists, for whom the title province is properly reserved for the traditional province of Ulster, of which Northern Ireland comprises six out of nine counties. The BBC style guide is to refer to Northern Ireland as a province, and use of the term is common in literature and newspaper reports on Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. Some authors have described the meaning of this term as being equivocal: referring to Northern Ireland as being a province both of the United Kingdom and of the traditional country of Ireland.
"Region" is used by several UK government agencies and the European Union. Some authors choose this word but note that it is "unsatisfactory". Northern Ireland can also be simply described as "part of the UK", including by UK government offices.
The Northern Ireland economy is the smallest of the four economies making up the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has traditionally had an industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services, primarily the public sector.
Tourism also plays a big role in the local economy. More recently the economy has benefited from major investment by many large multi-national corporations into high tech industry. These large organisations are attracted by government subsidies and the skilled workforce in Northern Ireland.
The local economy has seen contraction during the recent global economic downturn, in response the Northern Ireland Assembly has sent trade missions to countries including the USA, India and plan to visit China. Along with this, the Assembly are in discussion with the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne in order to gain taxation powers, which would enable the Northern Ireland Corporation Tax rate to be reduced in line with that of the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland is served by three airports – Belfast International near Antrim, George Best Belfast City integrated into the railway network at Sydenham in East Belfast, and City of Derry in County Londonderry.
Passenger railways are operated by Northern Ireland Railways. With Iarnrod Éireann (Irish Rail), Northern Ireland Railways co-operates in providing the joint Enterprise service between Dublin Connolly and Belfast Central. Main railway lines linking to and from Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station and Belfast Central are:
Main motorways are:
The cross-border road connecting the ports of Larne in Northern Ireland and Rosslare Harbour in the Republic of Ireland is being upgraded as part of an EU-funded scheme. European route E01 runs from Larne through the island of Ireland, Spain and Portugal to Seville.
The population of Northern Ireland has increased annually since 1978. The population in 2011 was 1.811 million, having grown 7.5% over the previous decade from just under 1.7 million in the 2001 UK census. This constitutes just under 3% of the population of the United Kingdom (62 million) and just over 28% of the population of the island of Ireland (6.3 million).
In terms of ethnicity, the population of Northern Ireland is almost entirely white (98.2%). 91% of people are Northern Ireland born, with 4.8% being born elsewhere in the UK and 2.3% being born in the Republic of Ireland. Irish Travellers accounted for 0.33% of the population. The largest non-white ethnic groups were Chinese (6,300) and Indian (6,200). Black people of various origins accounted for 0.2% of the 2011 population of Northern Ireland and people of mixed ethnicity accounted for 0.2%.
In the 2011 census, 41.56% of the population identified as belonging to Protestant or other non-Roman Catholic Christian denominations. The largest of these denominations were the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland being 19%, 14% and 3% of the total population respectively. The largest single denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, to which is the 41% of the population identified. 0.8% identified with non-Christian religions or Philosophies, while 17% identified with no religion or did not state one. In terms of community background (i.e. one's own religion or the religion one was brought up in), 48% of the Northern Ireland's population came from a Protestant background, 45% came from a Catholic background, 0.9% from non-Christian backgrounds and 5.6% non-religious backgrounds in the same census.
|Cities and towns by population|
English is spoken as a first language by almost all of the Northern Ireland population. It is the de facto official language and the Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) 1737 prohibits the use of languages other than English in legal proceedings.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish and Ulster Scots (Ulster dialects of the Scots language), sometimes known as Ullans, are recognised as "part of the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland". Two all-island bodies for the promotion of these were created under the Agreement: the Ulster Scots Agency, which promotes the Ulster Scots dialect and culture, and Foras na Gaeilge, which promotes the Irish language. These operate separately under the aegis of the North/South Language Body, which reports to the North/South Ministerial Council.
The British government in 2001 ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Irish (in Northern Ireland) was specified under Part III of the Charter, with a range of specific undertakings in relation to education, translation of statutes, interaction with public authorities, the use of placenames, media access, support for cultural activities and other matters. A lower level of recognition was accorded to Ulster Scots, under Part II of the Charter.
The dialect of English spoken in Northern Ireland shows influence from the lowland Scots language. There are supposedly some minute differences in pronunciation between Protestants and Catholics, the best known of which is the name of the letter h, which Protestants tend to pronounce as "aitch", as in British English, and Catholics tend to pronounce as "haitch", as in Hiberno-English. However, geography is a much more important determinant of dialect than religious background.
The Irish language (Irish: an Ghaeilge), or Gaelic, is the native language of the island of Ireland. It was spoken predominantly throughout what is now Northern Ireland before the Ulster Plantations in the 17th century and most place names in Northern Ireland are anglicised versions of a Gaelic name. Today, the language is associated with Irish nationalism (and thus with the Catholic community). However, in the 19th century, the language was seen as a common heritage, with Ulster Protestants playing a leading role in the Gaelic revival.
In the 2011 census, 11% of the population of Northern Ireland claimed "some knowledge of Irish" and 3.7% reported being able to "speak, read, write and understand" Irish. In another survey, from 1999, 1% of respondents said they spoke it as their main language at home.
The dialect spoken in Northern Ireland, Ulster Irish or Donegal Irish, is the one closest to Scottish Gaelic (which developed into a separate language from Irish Gaelic in the 17th century). Some words and phrases are shared with Scots Gaelic, and the dialects of east Ulster – those of Rathlin Island and the Glens of Antrim – were very similar to the dialect of Argyll, the part of Scotland nearest to Northern Ireland.
Use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland today is politically sensitive. The erection by some district councils of bilingual street names in both English and Irish, invariably in predominantly nationalist districts, is resisted by unionists who claim that it creates a "chill factor" and thus harms community relationships. Efforts by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate for some official uses of the language have failed to achieve the required cross-community support, and the UK government has declined to legislate.
Ulster Scots comprises varieties of the Scots language spoken in Northern Ireland. For a native English speaker, "[Ulster Scots] is comparatively accessible, and even at its most intense can be understood fairly easily with the help of a glossary."
Along with the Irish language, the Good Friday Agreement recognised the dialect as part of Northern Ireland's unique culture and the St Andrews Agreement recognised the need to "enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture".
Approximately 2% of the population claim to speak Ulster Scots. However, the number speaking it as their main language in their home is negligible, with only 0.9% of 2011 census respondents claiming to be able to speak, read, write and understand Ulster-Scots. 8.1% professed to have "some ability" however.
The most common sign language in Northern Ireland is Northern Ireland Sign Language (NISL). However, since, in the past, Catholic families tended to send their deaf children to schools in Dublin where Irish Sign Language (ISL) is commonly used. ISL is still common among many older deaf people from Catholic families.
Irish Sign Language (ISL) has some influence from the French family of sign language, which includes American Sign Language (ASL). NISL takes a large component from the British family of sign language (which also includes Auslan) with many borrowings from ASL. It is described as being related to Irish Sign Language at the syntactic level while much of the lexicon is based on British Sign Language (BSL) and American Sign Language.
With its improved international reputation, Northern Ireland has recently witnessed rising numbers of tourists. Attractions include cultural festivals, musical and artistic traditions, countryside and geographical sites of interest, public houses, welcoming hospitality and sports (especially golf and fishing). Since 1987 public houses have been allowed to open on Sundays, despite some opposition.
The Ulster Cycle is a large body of prose and verse centring around the traditional heroes of the Ulaid in what is now eastern Ulster. This is one of the four major cycles of Irish Mythology. The cycle centres around the reign of Conchobar mac Nessa, who is said to have been king of Ulster around the time of Christ. He ruled from Emain Macha (now Navan Fort near Armagh), and had a fierce rivalry with queen Medb and king Ailill of Connacht and their ally, Fergus mac Róich, former king of Ulster. The foremost hero of the cycle is Conchobar's nephew Cúchulainn.
In Northern Ireland, sport is popular and important in the lives of many people. Sports tend to be organised on an all-Ireland basis and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland often field a single team. The most notable exception is association football, which has separate governing bodies for each jurisdiction.
The Irish Football Association (IFA) is the organising body for association football in Northern Ireland. The highest level of competition within Northern Ireland is the IFA Premiership. However, the best Northern Irish players tend to play for clubs in the English or Scottish leagues. There is also an all-island tournament, the Setanta Cup, which includes six IFA Premiership teams and six teams from the Republic of Ireland's premier league. Despite Northern Ireland's small population, its international team qualified for the World Cup in 1958, 1982 and 1986, making it to the quarter-finals in 1958 and 1982.
The six counties of Northern Ireland are among the nine governed by the Ulster branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union, the governing body of rugby union in Ireland. Ulster is one of the four professional provincial teams in Ireland and competes in the Celtic League and European Cup and won the European Cup in 1999. In international competitions, the Ireland national rugby team recent successes include four Triple Crowns between 2004 and 2009 and a Grand Slam in 2009 in the Six Nations Championship.
The Ireland national rugby league team has participated in the Emerging Nations Tournament (1995), the Super League World Nines (1996), the World Cup (2000 and 2008), European Nations Cup (since 2003) and Victory Cup (2004). The Ireland A rugby league team compete annually in the Amateur Four Nations competition (since 2002) and the St Patrick's Day Challenge (since 1995).
The Ireland cricket team is an associate member of the International Cricket Council. It participated in 2007 Cricket World Cup and qualified for the Super 8s and did the same in the 2009 ICC World Twenty20. Ireland are current champions of ICC Intercontinental Cup. One of Ireland's regular international venues is Stormont in Belfast.
Gaelic games include Gaelic football, hurling, handball and rounders. Of the four, football is the most popular in Northern Ireland. Players play for local clubs with the best being selected for their county teams. The Ulster GAA is the branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association that is responsible for the nine counties of Ulster, which include the six of Northern Ireland. These nine county teams participate in the Ulster Senior Football Championship, Ulster Senior Hurling Championship, All-Ireland Senior Football Championship and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. Recent successes for Northern Ireland's teams include Armagh's 2002 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship win and Tyrone's wins in 2003, 2005 and 2008.
Perhaps Northern Ireland's most notable successes in professional sport have come in golf. Northern Ireland has contributed more major champions in the modern era than any other European country, with three in the space of just 14 months from the US Open in 2010 to the Open Championship in 2011. Notable golfers include Fred Daly (winner of The Open in 1947), Ryder Cup players Ronan Rafferty and David Feherty, leading European Tour professionals David Jones, Michael Hoey (a winner on Tour in 2011) and Gareth Maybin, as well as three recent major winners Graeme McDowell (winner of the US Open in 2010, the first European to do so since 1970), Rory McIlroy (winner of the U.S. Open in 2011) and Darren Clarke (winner of The Open in 2011). Northern Ireland has also contributed several players to the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team, including Alan Dunbar and Paul Cutler who played on the victorious 2011 team in Scotland.
The Golfing Union of Ireland, the governing body for men's and boy's amateur golf throughout Ireland and the oldest golfing union in the world, was founded in Belfast in 1891. Northern Ireland's golf courses include the Royal Belfast Golf Club (the earliest, formed in 1881), Royal Portrush Golf Club, which is the only course outside Great Britain to have hosted The Open Championship, and Royal County Down Golf Club (Golf Digest magazine's top-rated course outside the United States).
Northern Ireland has produced two world snooker champions; Alex Higgins, who won the title in 1972 and 1982, and Dennis Taylor, who won in 1985. The highest-ranked Northern Ireland professional on the world circuit presently is Mark Allen from Antrim. The sport is governed locally by the Northern Ireland Billiards and Snooker Association who run regular ranking tournaments and competitions.
Although Northern Ireland lack an international automobile racecourse, two Northern Irish drivers have finished inside the top two of Formula One, with John Watson achieving the feat in 1982 and Eddie Irvine doing the same in 1999. Irvine actually led the championship prior to the final round, but ultimately had to settle for second. The largest course and the only MSA-licensed track for UK-wide competition is Kirkistown.
Unlike most areas of the United Kingdom, in the last year of primary school many children sit entrance examinations for grammar schools.
Integrated schools, which attempt to ensure a balance in enrolment between pupils of Protestant, Roman Catholic and other faiths (or none) are becoming increasingly popular, although Northern Ireland still has a primarily de facto religiously segregated education system. In the primary school sector, forty schools (8.9% of the total number) are Integrated Schools and thirty two (7.2% of the total number) are Gaelscoileanna.
The BBC has a division called BBC Northern Ireland with headquarters in Belfast. As well as broadcasting standard UK-wide programmes, BBC NI produces local content, including a news break-out called BBC Newsline. The ITV franchise in Northern Ireland is Ulster Television (UTV). The state-owned Channel 4 and the privately owned Channel 5 also broadcast in Northern Ireland and access is also available to satellite and cable services. All Northern Ireland viewers must obtain a UK TV licence to watch live television transmissions.
RTÉ, the national broadcaster of the Republic of Ireland, is available over the air to some parts of Northern Ireland via reception overspill and via satellite or cable. After the digital switchover, RTÉ and the Irish-language channel, TG4, will be available over the air from signals broadcast inside Northern Ireland.
As well as the standard UK-wide radio stations from the BBC, Northern Ireland is home to many local radio stations, such as Cool FM, CityBeat, and Q102.9. The BBC has two regional radio stations which broadcast in Northern Ireland, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle.
Northern Ireland uses the same telecommunications and postal services as the rest of the United Kingdom at standard domestic rates and there are no mobile roaming charges between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland who live close to the border with the Republic of Ireland may inadvertently switch over to the Irish mobile networks, causing international roaming fees to be applied. Northern Ireland can be called from the Republic of Ireland at trunk rates, as opposed to international rates, using the 048 prefix.
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