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Discover Ireland

Do you really know Ireland? Before you go to study in Ireland, you need to get a little knowledge of the country, its culture and its people. Going into the unknown will then be easier. As a French student, you have the opportunity to study higher education in an English-speaking country. Read the information below to help you prepare for your university experience.

Irelands geographical layout

Ireland is an island located to the west of Great Britain with an area of 84,412km². The island is divided in two: firstly Northern Ireland which belongs to the United Kingdom and secondly the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent country. Here we are talking about the independent state and not the country attached to its British neighbour.

Ireland extends over 70 273km² and is populated by 4.58 million inhabitants who share the country in twenty-six counties. The capital of Ireland is Dublin, which is located on the east coast of the island and is home to many universities, such as Griffith College Dublin, one of the only universities that offers non-English speaking students the opportunity to take English language courses while taking academic courses.

Although Ireland is known for its Great Plains of Connemara, know that the out-of-land is rather mountainous. The south-west of the island is the highest point with 1038m altitude. There are three major rivers, including the longest river in the British Isles which is River Shannon that is 386km long.

Ireland has an oceanic climate. In the summer there are some rather mild temperatures that don’t exceed 25°C, while winters are cooler and rainy, but temperatures do not drop below 0°C.

A bit of Irish history

It is well known that Ireland is associated with Celtic culture. According to History, the Celts arrived on the island around 500 BC by two separate routes. The first by the present Great Britain and the second, by Spain.

The society was led by the King who was in charge of waging war and distributing wealth by the priestly class. These were druids who represented religion, sacrifice, justice, teaching, poetry and divination and bards who were in charge of oral and sung poetry and who must praise, satire or blame. The bards were diviners that devoted themselves more particularly to divination and medicine. The second class were represented by the warriors and the third by the producers, artisans, farmers and breeders. Over time people came together to form 4 major regions: Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht.

At the time of the Roman Empire, only Ireland was not occupied by the Romans who felt that the Celts were too different to be able to agree with them.

After the Celtic era came the Christianisation of the country brought by St. Patrick. A very mysterious man of whom we do not know much except that he spread the Christianity in Ireland and put an end to the Celtic religion. Nowadays, it is a famous festival worldwide, Saint Patrick’s day, during which the Irish brandish their colours and cultural symbols (March 17).

In the 8th century the wars of succession led the Scandinavian people to leave their territories. Some went to Russia and some to the British Isles. Thus a wave of Vikings conquered Ireland, plunder and destroy churches and monasteries Christianity.

By the end of the twelfth century the English began their conquest of Ireland, and it was in 1541 that Ireland was entirely under English domination. Several kings succeeded them, and it was only in 1921 that the country regained its independence.

Meanwhile there was a very strong period of emigration to America due to the famine that hit the country between 1846 and 1848.

Today we have the image of a Catholic country with a Celtic past, breath-taking landscapes and warming people with extreme kindness.

Irish culture

There are two languages spoken in Ireland: Irish, which is the official language of the country yet it is the least spoken, and English, which is the most spoken language… Fortunately, since you are going to study there!

The Irish are used to living in small towns, and by saying small town, it means that everyone knows each other. The Irish are very kind people, friendly and especially warm. They may not be very tactile and will not hug you for a welcome hug, but they will not hesitate to come and talk to you, inform you, tell you their story and their Irish legends. They are very fond of foreign culture and sharing knowledge, so do not hesitate to ask for help if you have lostyour way, they will be happy to help you if you’re lost. It will also give you the opportunity to practise your English with strangers and you will realise that it is not rocket science to speak English.

Everyone knows that, in Ireland, it rains quite often. But that does not affect them; the Irish keep in a good mood. They paint their houses in vivid colours, such as, blue, pink, orange, purple, which makes their homes unique and gives them an identity, unlike workers’ houses, which are all the same. According to the Irish, it is also to be able to find their “home” after a well-watered night.

Ireland is also known for its ancestral beer, Guinness, which the Irish consume in large pints at the pub at least once a day! There are three types, the Guinness Draft, the Guinness Extra Draft and the Guinness Brewhouse Series. The first has a slightly lower percentage of alcohol (4.5%), the second is a little stronger (7%), while the third has become less common, and will only appear as a limited edition beer in some Irish pubs. Other Irish beers are also known as O’Hara’s Beer, Beamish, and Murphy’s. Irish people are also keen on Whiskey and Irish coffee. Go to the pub! Drinking is a language common to all cultures!

The Irish are fond of sports, especially the national Gaelic sports that the country is trying to preserve. First of all, there is Gaelic Handball which has nothing to do with the Handball as we know it, but rather looks like racketball or squash. Then there is Hurling, which has its origins in Celtic mythology. It is known to be a sport as violent as rugby and the goal is to score goals with a stick or your foot. This sport has been adapted for women under the name of Camogie. The principle remains the same, only a few rules differ in order to be able to adapt this sport of man to the physical condition of a woman. And finally Gaelic football which is mainly played with your hands, except from when it comes to picking up the ball, it is necessary to use all parts of his body, except your hands…! Want to play sports? The Irish universities, like any other university have sports clubs that any student can join.

Do not be surprised if you see an Irishman wearing the Kilt. This traditional dress is still worn today, most often at wedding or festive events. It is part of the Irish heritage; the Kilt features the family colours that signify belonging to a clan, sometimes dating back several centuries.

Iconic Irish symbols

The Triskell

The Triskell is a very present symbol in the Celtic countries and consequently in Ireland. It is composed of three spirals that meet at the centre. There are thousands of interpretations that are more or less plausible, you choose the one that suits you best: the three gods of Celtic mythology (Lu, Ogme and Dagda), the three elements (water fire and earth) the three ages of life (youth, middle age and old age), the three times (past, present, future), the sun or the trinity.

Sheep

The sheep alone could represent Ireland! They are found mostly in the plains of Connemara, do not be surprised to see them cross the road – this is completely normal! So why sheep? Sheep require very little maintenance and they are economical to farm for their meat and their wool. Their wool is used for textile production, for the creation of musical instruments, as well as for the production of insulating materials for roofing.

The Dullahan

This is a mischievous little fairy born from Irish folklore. Legend says that as a mower, when it appears, it means that death would not be very far. And sometimes she would walk around without her head. Whether it’s reality or fiction, she has inspired many stories, including Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.

The Claddagh

It is an Irish ring with a heart crowned and held by two hands. There are different ways to wear it, and each has its own meaning.

On the right hand:

– Crown on the inside: your heart is free.

– Crown on the outside: it is a message addressed to the chosen one of your heart and which says that “love is possible”.

On the left hand outwards: your heart is with your beloved.

Lepprechaun

Little mischievous and recurring character of Irish legends. The Lepprechaun is a shoemaker, who is very small, green and stocky, who always walks with his cauldron of gold he hides, in fear that someone may steal from him. It would be born fused between a human and a spirit. This character is particularly present during Saint Patrick’s Day. The Lepprechaun is also fast and if one day you see it, do not blink or you could lose sight of it.

The story of Jack O’lantern

Do you know the origins of the Halloween pumpkin? No? Well, let’s find out!

Jack, a malicious drunkard, was drinking in a tavern, when one night he came across the Devil and shoved him. Not happy to have been jostled, the devil condemned Jack to hell for eternity. The unlucky man had to accept the sentence, and asked for a last drink from the Devil who granted it to him. After drinking one last time, Jack fumbled in his pockets for something to pay, but could not find a thing. The Devil turned into a 6 pence to regulate the expense. Jack dashed to grab the coin and stuffed it into his pocket where he held a silver cross and prevented the devil from forming back into shape. Jack asked him in exchange for his release, to leave him alone for ten years. Which the Devil accepted.

Ten years later the Devil came back to claim his dues and this time Jack asked him if he could pick an apple before taking him away. What he accepted. The devil then climbed up the ladder to reach a branch of the apple tree, and Jack rearranged the ladder so that the devil could not get down from the tree. This time he asked him to leave him alone for eternity, which the devil was obliged to accept. Jack released him and the Devil went back to hell.

When Jack died many years later, having spent a lifetime drinking and deceiving, he found himself in front of Saint Peter at the gates of Paradise. But because of his behaviour Saint Peter denied him access. Jack was forced to set out for the door of the underworld. When he arrived in front of the Devil, he begged him to let him in. The devil refused, since he had promised to leave him alone for eternity. He let Jack go, giving him some embers from hell, so that he could wander between the world of the dead and humans until the end of time.

At the Halloween party, formerly known as La Samain, the Irish thought that the dead would return to their old home to find some warmth and friendliness. That’s why we disguise ourselves, to scare these spirits so that they stay in the realm of the dead. The pumpkin represents the embers brought back from the underworld that lights the way.

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