40+ Interesting Tidbits About the Emerald Isle
Updated: Mar 18
Ireland is a culture and land as unique as it is beautiful. The following historical, interesting and even obscure facts will add to your knowledge base about the people and island of Ireland!
The Irish flag is a tricolor of green, white and orange. The green represents the native people of Ireland (most of whom are Roman Catholic). The orange represents the British supporters of William of Orange who settled in Northern Ireland in the 17th century (most of whom are Protestant). The white in the center represents peace between these two groups.
Ireland is Éire in Irish. It’s also known as the Republic of Ireland.
The population of the Republic of Ireland was 4,829,311 million in 2019. This makes it the 122nd largest country in the world.
The island of Ireland is almost the size of the state of Indiana (U.S.). Ireland covers 32,599 square miles and Indiana is 35,910 square miles in area.
You can road trip from the northernmost point of Malin Head to the southern city of Mizen Head in less than 8 hours.
Dublin is the capital of Ireland and is located in the province of Leinster.
There are over 30,000 castles and castle ruins across the Irish landscape. Many are in sad disrepair, but still quite moving to visit.
The castle above is Charleville, located in County Offaly. It’s situated in Ireland’s most ancient oak woods – where the first druids of Ireland lived. It's considered the scariest castle in Ireland.
Killyleagh Castle. located in the village of Killyleagh in Northern Ireland, dates back to 1180. It’s listed as the oldest castle in Ireland, as well as one of the 8 oldest castles in the world by Oldest.org.
Malahide Castle in County Dublin is also listed as one of the most haunted. It's the longest continuously inhabited home by the same family – over 800 years!
The largest Norman castle in Ireland is Trim Castle, located on the south bank of the River Boyne in Trim, County Meath. It covers an area of 30,000 square meters, or 322,917 square feet.
The three most famous symbols of Ireland are the green shamrock, the harp, and the Celtic cross. The harp is the official symbol of Ireland.
The longest river is the River Shannon.
The tallest waterfall is Powerscourt Waterfall in County Wicklow. It has a drop of 121 meters.
The longest name of any location in Ireland is Muckanaghederdauhaulia, County Galway.
The Irish consume an average 131.1 liters of beer per year – the 2nd highest per-capita consumption after the Czech Republic.
The original Guinness Brewery in Dublin has a 9,000-year lease on its property, at a perpetual rate of 45 Irish pounds per year. Watch Conan O’Brian tour the Guiness Brewery here.
Many Irish family names start with “Mac” or “O” – respectively meaning”son of …” and “grandson of …” in Gaelic.
The “Fitz” prefix is typically thought of as Irish, however, it was actually the Anglo-Normans who brought this one to Ireland.
Ancient Ireland history shows an interesting naming pattern. For example, it’s thought that O’Clery is the earliest Irish surname and it came from the occupation of clerk, probably within the church.
Traditional Irish naming patterns included the first born son being named after the father’s father, second born son named after the mother’s father, and the third born son named after the father. First born daughter was named after the mother’s mother, second after the father’s mother, and the third after the mother.
Murphy was the most common Irish surname in the mid-19th century, followed by Kelly and O’Sullivan.
The Central Statistics Office in the Republic of Ireland reports the top three surnames of babies registered in 2016 were Murphy, Kelly and O’Brien.
The Neolithic site of Newgrange (3200 BCE), County Meath, is the best-preserved passage grave in Europe. It pre-dates the beginning of Stonehenge by 1000 years and the Egyptian pyramids by 400 years.
One of the most popular radio shows in rural Ireland is still the weekly broadcast of local obituaries.
Speaking of death, bog people are a popular display at the National Museum in Dublin. Peat bogs have the ability to preserve human bodies in good condition. The remains of the first bog bodies were found in County Meath and County Offaly in 2003. They were examined by the Bog Bodies Research Project and date back to between 400 BC and 200 BC.
Peat is dug up in bricks and used for heating. Thus, the discovery of the bodies in the peat bogs.
Halloween traces its origins back to the Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), a harvest festival held on October 31st to mark the end of summer and to honor our ancestors. Samhain became associated with All Saints on November 1st from the early Middle Ages and the two progressively merged over the centuries, creating Halloween.
The story of the world-famous vampire Count Dracula was written in 1897 by Bram Stoker, from Dublin. Sir Henry Irving, a friend of the writer, was the inspiration for the character.
Ireland is home to many famous literary figures, including Oscar Wilde, W.B.Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.
There are an estimated 5.2 million sheep in the country.
Horse racing is quite popular. It’s said to be a multi-billion-dollar industry.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was founded in 1824 by Richard Martin. He was an Irish politician and one of the first animal rights activists.
Ireland has no snakes on the island due to its isolation from the European mainland. It also lacks moles, weasels, polecats and roe deer.
Gaelic football and hurling are traditional sports, and to this day are still the most popular sports in the country.
The world’s first suburban commuter railway opened between Dublin and Dun Laoghaire in 1834 (two years before the London and Greenwich Railway).
The famous Atmospheric Railway opened in 1844. The line ran from Dalkey to nearby Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) on the southside of the city. This unique system used atmospheric pressure to force the railway carriage up the hill to Dalkey and then relied on gravity to return to Kingstown. The system was utilized for a decade until it was abandoned due to the success of steam-driven engines.
The country’s official language is both English and Irish Gaelic. Most people speak a dialect of English, however, families who have lived in Ireland for generations understand and speak Irish. Children are required to take Gaelic classes in school.
Irish genealogy has become quite popular–but it can also be a bit frustrating. This is due to number of reasons, including poor record keeping, difficulty in understanding names on records, and the fact that much of Ireland’s genealogical heritage went up in flames at the Public Records Office in June 1922.
Saint Patrick’s Day is an official national holiday. Celebrated on March 17th, it’s also a favorite of many people from other countries around the world.
Sláinte is a term used as a salutation or toast in both Ireland and Scotland.
Ireland is certainly a multifaceted country with a wealth of culture and history. Did I miss something? Please share in the comments below!