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Discover Ireland

How well do you know Ireland ? Before leaving to study there, get to know the country, its culture and its inhabitants. It will make the transition that much easier. As an international student, you have the opportunity to pursue your higher education in an english-speaking country. The following information womm help you prepare for university life in Ireland.

The geography of Ireland

Ireland is an island west of Great Britain, with an area of 84 412 km ². The island is divided into two, the first being Northern Ireland which is a part of the United Kingdom, and the second being the Republic of Ireland which is an independent country. In this case we are referring to the independent country.


The Republic of Ireland itself has an area of 70 273km² and has 4.58 million inhabitants divided into 26 counties, of which the capital is Dublin. The city is on the east coast of the island and is home to many universities, like Griffith College Dublin, one of the only universities that allows non english-speaking students to take academic classes while studying english language.

Despite being famous for the great plains of Connemara, the interior of the country os mostly mountainous. The highest point is on the south-west part of the island, at 1038m of altitude. There are three major river systems, the longest of which is the river Shannon at 386km of length. There are also many lakes, rivers, and bogs (marshland).

The climate is strongly influenced by the ocean. In summer, temeperatures remain moderate, rarely exceeding 25°C, and the wet winters rarely witness temperatures below 0°C.

Some Irish History

It’s common knowledge that Ireland is the home of Celtic culture. Research suggests that the celts arrived on the island around 500 B.C by two main routes : the first through modern day Britain, and the second through Spain.

Society was governed by a king who is responsible for waging war and managing the land. There was also a strong druidic culture. Druid’s duties included such diverse elements as sacrifices, justice, teaching, poetry, and divination. Bards perpetuated oral tradition through oral and sung poetry, and satire. And finally, there were the vates who were seers very focused on divination and medicine. The second class of society was the warrior class, and the third the craftsmen, farmers and labourers. Over time, populations gravitated towards each other and formed 4 distinct regions : Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht.

During the roman era, Ireland was never occupied, the romans deeming the locals to be too different to be placated.

After the celtic period, conversion to christianity was brought about by Saint Patrick, a mysterious man whom we do not have much information other than his being responsible for spreading christianity in Ireland and effectively ending druidism and other cults. Nowadays he is the object of a famous holiday, St Patrick’s day, during which the Irish drink and proudly celebrate their culture (17th of March).

During the 8th century, various wars of succession lead scandinavian peoples to migrate. Some went towards Russia and others towards the british isles. As a result, the vikings conquered Ireland, and pillaged and destroyed the christian churches and monasteries.

By the end of the 12th century, the english were starting to assert control over Ireland, and in 1541 it fell completely under english control. Several kings and queens came and went, and the country was returned its independence in 1921.

In the meantime there was a significant wave of emigration to America due to the famine that ravaged the country between 1846 and 1848.

Today when we think of Ireland we think of catholicism and a celtic past, breathtaking landscapes, and a jovial and welcoming people.

Irish Culture

There are two languages spoken in Ireland. The first is irish, the official language but the least widespread, and english.

The irish are used to living in small towns, and small towns are synonymous with everyone knowing each other. They may not be particularly tactile and won’t embrace you in a hurry, but they will gladly talk to you, give you directions, and tell stories of irish myths. They are very keen on foreign cultures and the sharing of knowledge, and don’t hesitate to ask your way, you will make someone’s day and realize it’s not so difficult to speak english.

Everyone knows that in Ireland, it rains a lot. But that doesn’t affect their mood ! The irish are resolutely jovial, and they express it by painting their houses blue, pink, orange, purple… It also makes their house unique and gives them character unlike the standard rows of terraced houses. They also say it’s to make it easier to get home after a heavy night out.

Ireland is also famous for it’s ancestralbeer, Guiness, that the irish consume by the pint full in pubs at least once a day ! There are three kinds : Guiness Draught, Guiness extra Draught, and Guiness Brewhouse Series. The first contains relatively little alchohol (4.5%), the second is a little stronger (7%), and the third exists in several varieties in limited editions in some pubs. Other famous irish beers include O’Hara’s, Beamish, and Murphy’s. The irish are also fond of whisky and irish coffee. Go to the pub ! Drinking is a language common to all cultures !

The irish love sport, and particularly the national gaelic sports that the country is trying to preserve. There is gaelic handball, which has little in common with handball as we know it, and bears more resemblance to racketball or squash. Then there is hurling which originates in celtic myth. It’s famous for being as violent as rugby, and the objective is to score goals with a stick or your feet. There is a female version called Camogie, which is the same except for a few rules that adapt the sport to the female physique. And finally, gaelic football is played primarily with one’s hands, except when retrieving the ball from the ground, in which case any body part is legal except for the end of the arms ! Want to play sports ? Irish universities, just like any other university, have sports clubs that any student can join.

Don’t be surprised if you spot an irishman wearing a kilt. This traditional garment is still worn and most often for a wedding or other festive event. It is part of irish heitage : the kilt bears family colour and signifies allegiance to a clan.

Irish Symbols

The Triskell

The Triskell is a common symbol in celtic countries and therefore Ireland. It’s made of three spirals that merge in the centre. There are many different interpretations, some more plausible than others, but it’s up to you to choose which one makes the most sense : three gods from celtic mythology (Lu, Ogme and Dagda), the three elements (water, fire, and earth), the three phases of life (youth, middle age, and old age), the three tenses (past, present, and future), the sun or even the holy trinity.

The Sheep

The sheep could be the symbol of Ireland all by itself ! They are mainly found in the plains of Connemara, so don’t be surprised if you see them crossing the road and not get out of the way when a car comes, you are trespassing on their turf. Why the sheep ? Because it’s a low maintenance animal, cheap to feed, and its wool is used in the textile industry, the crafting of musical instruments, as well insulation for housing. But most of all, it’s tasty !


Dullahan is a type of mischievous fairy from irish folklore. Legends say that, similar to the grim reaper, they appear when death is near. Sometimes it wanders around without a head. It has inspired many stories, such as the Tim Burton film « Sleep Hollow »


Is an type of ring bearing a crowned heart cupped by two hands. There are different ways to wear it, and it means different things to different people.

On the right hand :

  • If the crown is on the inside : your heart is free
  • If the crown is on the outside : a message to the object of your affections that says that romance is still possible.

On the left hand : your heart is merged with that of your significant other.

The Lepprechaun

A mischievous little creature that is recurrent in irish legends. The Leprechaun is a tiny green cobbler who hides a pot full of gold, out of fear that someone will steal it. Supposedly the product of a human and a spirit, this character is particularly prominent during St Patrick’s day. They are quick, so if you spot one, if you blink you might miss it.

The Jack O’lantern

Do you know where Halloween comes from ? No ? Well here you go.

Jack, a malicious drunk, was drinking in a tavern one night, when he bumped into the devil. Aggrieved at being bumped into, he condemned Jack to an eternity in hell. After having one last drink, Jack searched his pockets to find something to pay with, but he didn’t have any coins. The devil then transformed into a 6 pence coin to pay for the drink. Jack grabbed the coin and stuffed it in his pocket where he also kept a silver cross, blocking the devil from restoring himself to his original form. Jack offered to let him out in exchange for his being left alone for ten years. The Devil agreed

Ten years later, the Devil returned to claim what was owed to him, and this time Jack asked him if he could pick an apple for him before taking him away. The Devil accepted, and climbed up a ladder to get to the apple. In the meantime, Jack dropped crosses around the ladder, trapping the Devil on the ladder. This time, Jack asked him to leave him alone for eternity, which the Devil was forced to accept. Jack freed him and the Devil returned to hell.

When Jack died many years later, after spending a lifetime drinking and gambling, he found himself in front of Saint Pierre at the gates of heaven. Due to his appalling behaviour, Saint Pierre denied him entry. Jack was then forced to make his way to the gates of hell. When he arrived in front of the Devil, Jack begged him to let him in. The Devil refused, as he’d promised to leave Jack alone for all eternity. He turned Jack away, but not before giving him some embers from hell, so that he could wander the world between that of the humans and the dead for the rest of time.

During Halloween, formerly known as Samain, the irish thought the dead were coming back to their former homes to find some warmth and comfort. That’s why people dress up, in order to scare the spirits back to the realm of the dead. The pumpkin represents the embers of hell that help guide them.







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