Ireland is an island situated in the British Isles. The island is politically divided into two distinct regions; Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The political dichotomy of the island was done in the early 20th century in what was known as the partitioning of Ireland. Northern Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland are countries that form the UK, officially known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Despite Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland sharing much of their history, the two countries are quite different. As an example, speed limits in the Republic of Ireland are indicated in kilometers per hour while those in Northern Ireland are indicated in miles per hour. The differences between the two parts of Ireland go beyond speed limits, with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland differing in culture, economy, geography, and governance.
An estimated 1.8 million people reside in Northern Ireland, most of whom live in the country’s urban centers. The Republic of Ireland is home to over 4.8 million people which translates to a population density of 179 persons per square mile, compared to Northern Ireland’s 344 persons per square mile. Most of the Republic of Ireland’s inhabitants reside in the nation’s capital, Dublin. Northern Ireland’s largest city is Belfast which is also its capital while Dublin is the Republic of Ireland’s capital city. Dublin is also the island’s most-populous city as it is home to about 1.8 million people, nearly as many people are the entire population of Northern Ireland. English is the most popular language in both countries and it is the official language in the Republic of Ireland (there is no official language in Northern Ireland). The Polish language has more speakers in the Republic of Ireland than the Irish language, something that is attributed to increased immigration of Polish people to the Republic of Ireland. Irish is on a decline in Northern Ireland where less than 4% of the population has proficient knowledge of the language.
The Republic of Ireland is larger than its northern neighbor, covering an area of 27,133 square miles. In comparison, Northern Ireland occupies an area of 5,460 square miles. The island’s largest lake, Lough Neagh, which covers an area of 151 square miles is situated in Northern Ireland. The lake is also recognized as the largest lake in the British Isles. The two countries have a long land border separating them. The border was heavily patrolled in the late 20th century when Northern Ireland experienced violent internal conflict.
Freedom of religion is provided for by law in both countries. Christianity is the island’s largest religion, having more followers than any other religion in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The largest Christian denomination in Northern Ireland is Protestant Christianity where over 41.5% of the population identify themselves as Protestants. In contrast, only 4.2% of the Republic of Ireland’s population are Protestants. The Roman Catholic Church is the Republic of Ireland’s largest Christian denomination with more than 78% of residents identifying themselves as Roman Catholic. Religion plays a critical role in many facets of the island’s culture and politics.
The Euro is used in the Republic of Ireland as the country’s official currency, after adopting the currency in 2002. The country is rich in fossil fuels, having some of the largest oil and natural gas deposits in Europe. The Republic has also invested heavily in renewable energy and has set up wind power stations with the capacity of producing 3000 MW for domestic use as well as for export. Northern Ireland uses the Sterling Pound as its official currency. The service industry is the primary economic driver in Northern Ireland, accounting for about 70% of the country’s revenue. Dublin Airport in the Republic of Ireland is the largest and busiest airports in the country. Unlike Northern Ireland, which does not have a national carrier, the Republic of Ireland has Aer Lingus as its flag carrier.
The demonym associated with people who reside in the Republic of Ireland is Irish. On the other hand, residents of Northern Ireland have divergent preferences on their desired demonym. Most Catholics in Northern Ireland prefer being identified as Irish while the majority of Protestants in the country regard themselves as British.
Since Northern Ireland is not recognized as a sovereign state, it does not have any international relations of its own, but instead, it is part of the United Kingdom. The country has no representative in major global organizations such as the United Nations. In contrast, the Republic of Ireland is recognized as a sovereign country and an important partner in Europe’s geopolitics and the world in general. The Republic is a member of the United Nations, after gaining membership into the international organization in 1955. The Republic of Ireland has deeply-entrenched ties with the neighboring United Kingdom which is also its major trading partner. Despite being close to the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland has practiced military neutrality during international conflicts. However, the country did participate indirectly in the Second World War by sending 50,000 people to be enlisted as part of the British Army.
In major international sporting events such as the Olympics, Northern Ireland can choose to participate under the United Kingdom (also known as Team Britain) or as Ireland. Northern Ireland has also participated in some competitions as a separate entity including the 1982 and 1986 editions of the World Cup. As a sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland can participate in all major sporting competitions and has had athletes representing it in the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup among other major sporting events.
Another area where the two countries differ is in governance. Northern Ireland is recognized as a devolved government under a constitutional monarchy and is, therefore, headed by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In contrast, the Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary constitutional republic with its own head of state and government.
The Partitioning of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland came into existence in 1921 after Ireland was politically divided into the two distinct regions. The partitioning was done in line with the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which was provided under the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The treaty was signed in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish War of the early 20th Century.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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