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Republic of Ireland
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Ireland is made up of four provinces, each containing several counties:
Leinster contains 12 counties in south-east Ireland.
Munster contains 6 counties in south-west Ireland.
Connacht contains 5 counties along Ireland's west coast.
Celtic tribes settled on the island in the 4th century B.C. Invasions by Norsemen that began in the late 8th century were finally ended when King Brian BORU defeated the Danes in 1014. English invasions began in the 12th century and set off more than seven centuries of Anglo-Irish struggle marked by fierce rebellions and harsh repressions. A failed 1916 Easter Monday Rebellion touched off several years of guerrilla warfare that in 1921 resulted in independence from the UK for 26 southern counties; six northern (Ulster) counties remained part of the United Kingdom. In 1949 Ireland withdrew from the British Commonwealth; it joined the European Community in 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful unification of Ireland and have cooperated with Britain against extra-state armed groups. A peace settlement for Northern Ireland, known as the Good Friday Agreement and approved in 1998, is currently being implemented.
The Republic of Ireland is served by two large international airports, Dublin (http://www.dub.aero) and Shannon (http://www.snn.aero). Dublin is connected to several cities in the US, Canada, the UK and continental Europe. Shannon, close to the cities of Limerick and Ennis, also has flights to the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. There are connections from Cork airport (http://www.ork.aero) in the south to Irish, UK and European cities. Smaller regional airports that operate domestic and UK services are Kerry, Knock, Waterford and Galway. There are airports in Northern Ireland in Derry and Belfast.
Discount airline Ryanair (http://www.ryanair.com) is a good source of cheap flights to Ireland, particularly from the UK, while the national carrier Aer Lingus (http://www.aerlingus.com) often has cheap deals available from continental Europe and the US, particularly in the winter. Comprehensive listings of airlines flying directly into Ireland, along with destinations and timetables, can be found on the Dublin, Shannon and Cork airport websites.
The only cross-border train is the Enterprise (http://www.irishrail.ie/) service from Belfast Central to Dublin Connolly.
Cross border services are operated by Ulsterbus (http://www.ulsterbus.co.uk/) and Bus Éireann (http://www.buseireann.ie/). Eurolines (http://www.eurolines.com/) operate services to Great Britain and beyond. Bus Éireann also operates frequent services to and from Eastern Europe, in particular Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Ireland is served by numerous services to Great Britain and France:
Aer Árann (http://www.aerarann.ie/) and Aer Lingus (http://www.aerlingus.ie/) operate domestic flights out of Dublin and Cork to various regional destinations. Ryanair recentely announced flights from Dublin to Cork to rival Irish Rail.
Most trains (http://www.irishrail.ie/) in Ireland operate to and from Dublin. Main destinations include Cork, Limerick, Galway, Westport, Tralee, Waterford, Rosslare, Belfast, Sligo. If your journey doesn't involve travelling to or from the capital, you might be better off taking the bus. In the Dublin city area the DART (http://www.irishrail.ie/dart/home/) coastal railway travels from Howth peninsula in the North to Bray and Greystones in Co. Wicklow via Dun Laoghaire, and a tram system (http://www.luas.ie) goes from the city centre to Tallaght or Sandyford.
Bus Éireann (http://www.buseireann.ie) operate an extensive intercity network. Additionally, Citylink (http://www.citylink.ie) provides frequent service from Galway to Shannon, Dublin and Dublin Airport.
There are many canals in Ireland, and it is possible to travel by barge on some of them.
Ireland is beautiful for biking, but have a good touring bike with solid tires as road conditions are not always excellent. Biking along the south and west coasts you can be prepared for variable terrain, lots of hills and often into the wind. There are plenty of campgrounds along the way for long distance cyclists.
The planned Eurovelo (http://www.eurovelo.org/) cycle route in Ireland will connect Belfast to Dublin via Galway, and Dublin to Rosslare via Galway and Cork. Visit their website for updates on the status of the path.
Dublin has a fairly advanced Bicycle lane network now and, for the streetwise, is a nice city to cycle in. Just remember to cycle on the left and not to assume that motorists will give you the right of way. Helmets are not a legal requirement but highly recommended.
Generally hitchhiking in Ireland is very easy. If you are alone, you will wait about 10 minutes, little bit longer in rural areas, where the traffic density is lower.
English is spoken everywhere but Irish Gaelic is the first official language. Most people have some understanding of this but it is used as a first language by only about 60,000 people, most of whom live in rural areas known as the Gaeltacht. As these are generally scenic areas it is likely that visitors will go there. Tourists will not be expected to speak Irish but it will be noticeable on road signs etc. There is extensive Irish language broadcasting on TV and radio. Irish is related and similar to Scottish Gaelic.You will need to know very little Irish in order to get around in Ireland. See also: Irish phrasebook
Ireland is part of the Eurozone, so like in many other European Union countries the currency here is the euro (symbol: ?). Cash machines can only found in the cities, so plan the amount of cash carefully.
Be careful when using your cr card in this country. Most hotels and many shops and restaurants will automatically bill your cr card in your home currency, at a very poor exchange rate, typically 1% or 2% worse than if they'd billed you in euros. This sometimes makes for as much as a 4% commission, split between the store and the provider, Fexco (http://www.fexcodcc.com/).
Before using a cr card at a business that caters to tourists, ask if they use Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), and check your receipt afterwards, to make sure it doesn't show a charge in your home currency.
Food is expensive in Ireland, although quality has generally improved enormously in the last ten years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers' market. The cheapest option for eating out is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a carvery lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value. Selection for vegetarians is limited outside the main cities. Modern Irish cuisine emphasises fresh local ingredients, simply prepared and presented (sometimes with some Merranean-style twists). Meat (especially lamb), seafood and dairy produce can be of a very high quality. Try some soda bread, made with buttermilk and leavened with bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast. It is heavy, tasty and almost a meal in itself! In recent years many good quality, not too expensive restaurants have been set up.
One of Ireland's most famous exports is stout, a dark, dry beer. The strong taste can be initially off-putting but perseverance is well-rewarded! The most famous variety is Guinness, brewed in Dublin and available throughout the country. Murphy's and Beamish's stout are brewed in Cork and available mainly in the south of the country. Murphy's is slightly sweeter and creamier-tasting than Guinness, while Beamish has a strong, almost burnt taste. Several micro-breweries are now producing their own interesting varieties of stout, including O'Hara's, the Porter House in Dublin and the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork. Ales such as Smithwick's are also popular, particularly in rural areas. The other competitor for national drink of Ireland is tea. The Irish drink more tea per capita than any other people in the world. Cork, Dublin and Galway abound with slick, stylish coffee bars, but if you visit any Irish home you will probably be offered a cup of tea (usually served with milk, unless you explicitly state otherwise!). Coffee is also widely drunk in Ireland. (If you don't drink tea,you drink coffee!)
There are hotels of all standards including some very luxurious. Bed and Breakfast is widely available. These are usually very friendly and good value. There is an official youth hostel association - An Oige (http://www.anoige.ie). These hostels are often in remote and beautiful places, designed mainly for the outdoors. There are also independent hostels which are marketed as independent hostels of Ireland. These are nearly always found in towns. There are official campsites although fewer than many countries (given the climate). Wild camping is tolerated, although you should seek permission.
Fáilte Ireland (http://www.ireland.ie/), the national tourist organisation, maintains a searchable accommodation index.
There is a comprehensive list of Bed & Breakfasts in Ireland at The Detour Guide (http://www.thedetourguide.com) The Northern Irish Tourist Board (http://www.discovernorthernireland.com) site also has a list of places to stay
You can learn many interesting facts about Ireland's history and culture. One of the things Ireland is most famous for is Irish step dancing. ('Riverdance,' a popular show centered on Irish step dancing, started in Ireland.)
Ireland is part of the European Union/European Economic Area, and as such any EU/EEA or Swiss national has an automatic right to take up employment in Ireland. Non EU/EEA citizens will generally require a work permit and visa. Further information can be found on Oasis (http://www.oasis.gov.ie/employment/working_in_ireland/), the Irish government's public services information website.
The police force are known as an Garda Síochana, and are usually referred to using the Irish word Garda (singular) and Gardaí (pronounced Gahr-DEE), though occasionally the English word Guards is used. People will understand if you say Police. Regardless of what you call them, they are generally unarmed, courteous and approachable.
Crime is relatively low by most European standards but not very different. Late night streets in cities can be dangerous, as anywhere.
Since March 2004 almost all places of work, including bars, restaurants, cafés etc, in Ireland have been smoke-free (http://www.iol.ie/~discover/smoking.htm). Hotels and Bed&Breakfast are not required by law to be smoke-free, but many are.
Phone numbers in this guide are given in the form that you would dial them from within Ireland. This form in general is 0xx xxxxxxx, where the first section, the city code may be one or two digits long, and the local number may be five to seven digits. When you are using a land line within the city you are calling to, the 0xx may be dropped.
To make an international call to Ireland, dial your international access code, the country code for Ireland (353), then simply drop the leading 0 and dial the rest of the Irish number.
To make an international call from Ireland, dial 00-country code-local number.