The Emerald Isle is a small island that packs a big punch. At 84,421 square kilometres (32,595 square miles), Ireland is only a little larger than the State of West Virginia. You could fit approximately 202 Irelands inside Russia. Beyond the friendly welcomes and the good craic, it’s a fascinating place with rich mythological traditions, a diverse and difficult history, and a cutting-edge cultural scene. What’s more, it boasts an incredibly diverse terrain, from the 400-foot-high Cliffs of Moher and craggy emerald green islands to candy-coloured fishing villages in County Cork and never-ending sandy stretches. Looking to learn more? Here are seven little-known interesting facts about Ireland.
Seven Interesting Facts About Ireland
1. The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal driving route in the world
The Wild Atlantic Way winds along the jagged coastline on the west of Ireland. At 2,500 km (1600miles) it’s the longest defined coastal road in the world. It incorporates nine different Irish counties, covering spectacular scenery from bucolic countryside and enchanting villages to remote beaches and ancient monuments. The route begins in Inishowen Peninsula in the north, meandering through six different coastal regions, all the way down to picture-perfect Kinsale, County Cork, in the south.
If you’re thinking about driving the whole thing, it’s wise to split up the journey into 14 bitesize stages.
2. Halloween started in Ireland
We might think of Halloween as an Americanism, but the spooky celebration actually originated in Ireland over a thousand years ago. Back then the Celts believed that on the eve of Halloween, dead spirits would visit the mortal world. In order to keep the evil spirits away, they would dress in disguises and light bonfires. Known as the Festival of Samhain, meaning ‘darker half’, it also marked the start of winter.
Original traditions that have stuck include bonfires, lanterns and costumes. Even trick or treating is said to have started in Ireland when the poor would go from door to door asking for food, kindling or money to mark the event.
Londonderry’s Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival is the oldest Halloween celebration in Ireland, as well as Ireland’s largest street party.
3. More Irish people live outside of Ireland
That’s right. Ireland has a population of around six million, but there are more than 80 million people with Irish passports living outside of the country. Ireland lost a significant number of lives during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852 and today the population is around half what it was before then.
Other countries boasting large Irish diasporas including the UK, where there are approximately 500,000 Irish citizens. Around 39 million US citizens believe they are part Irish too. According to recent research, Ireland has the highest proportions of adults living abroad out of all OECD countries.
4. Ireland produces 10 million pints of Guinness every day…
But they aren’t the biggest Guinness consumers in the world. It might be the Emerald Isle’s favourite tipple, but more people consume Guinness in Nigeria than Ireland. Guinness has been available in Nigeria since 1827, but you won’t find it in a traditional pint glass though – in Nigeria, it’s popular to drink it out of a glass bottle.
Brits love it best though, representing the largest number of sales in the world. The first UK-based brewery opened in 1936 and pubs haven’t looked back since. Ireland comes in as the third-largest Guinness consumer, followed by the United States and Cameroon. Around 40% of the worldwide total Guinness volume is brewed and sold in Africa, with four breweries in Nigeria and two in Ghana and Cameroon.
5. They’re masters of the Eurovision Song Contest
Ireland has won the Eurovision song contest more times than any other country. It’s won the contest a grand total of seven times, first in 1970. The 1990s was a golden era, famously winning four out of five contest in a decade and becoming the first country to win three times in a row. They’re due another win though, the last time Ireland won was in 1996.
Ireland also holds the record for winning with the same contestant on two separate occasions. Johnny Logan won the contest with ‘What’s Another Year’ in 1980, then once more with ‘Hold Me Now’ in 1987.
6. St. Patrick wasn’t Irish
You’d be forgiven for thinking that St. Paddy’s day, a celebration of all things Irish, marks the life of an Irish man. There are a few different versions of his life story, but most agree that he was born in Wales around 386 AD. The story goes that he was captured by the Irish and sold into slavery, working as a shepherd in County Antrim. After a few years of heavy labour, he managed to return home to Wales. Having returned home, however, he was summoned back to save Ireland and convert the Irish people to Christianity.
It’s been a feast day in the Catholic Church since the early 17th century and today it’s a national holiday.
7. The harp is the official symbol of Ireland
Most people associate the shamrock with Ireland, wrongly mistaking it for the country’s official symbol. A harp is actually Ireland’s official emblem and has been for centuries. The history of the Irish harp dates back at least a thousand years and today you’ll find it on flags, coats of arms, passports, currency – even Guinness.
There are major disagreements on when the harp first made its appearance on the island. Some say, Brian Boru, the last King of Ireland who ruled until 1014, was an accomplished player. It didn’t become a national symbol until 1531, when Henry VIII assumed the position of King of Ireland. With the decline of the Irish courts and power, the instrument became a symbol of resistance to the crown. At one point, it was even outlawed by England because of its subversive power.
The shamrock or three-leaf clover is still an iconic symbol of Irish culture and heritage. It’s also the unofficial national flower of Ireland and widely associated with St. Patrick’s Day. It’s said that Saint Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity – The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit – to nonbelievers.