Northern Ireland


Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and is situated in the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland is bounded on the north and north-east by the North Channel and on the south-east by the Irish Sea; on the south and west it has a 488 km border with the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is also known as Ulster, because it comprises six of the nine counties that constituted the former province of Ulster. Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland.

Land and Resources

Northern Ireland is about 135 km long, north-south, and about 175 km wide, west-east. The shoreline is characterised by numerous irregularities. A striking feature of the northern coast is the Giant's Causeway, a volcanic rock formation consisting of thousands of closely placed, polygonal pillars of black basalt.

The country consists mainly of a low, flat plain, at the approximate centre of which lies Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles. There are three major areas of upland: the Sperrin Mountains in the north-west, the Antrim Mountains along the north-eastern coast and the Mourne Mountains in the Southeast. The chief rivers of Northern Ireland are the Foyle, which forms part of the western boundary with the Republic of Ireland, Derry, and the Upper Bann and Lower Bann rivers.


The climate of Northern Ireland is mild and damp (feucht) throughout the year. The prevailing westerly winds from the warm Gulf Stream are largely responsible for the lack of extreme summer heat and winter cold.

Natural Resources

The most valuable natural resources of Northern Ireland are its fertile soils and rich pasturelands. Natural waterpower is abundant. The chief minerals are basalt, limestone, sand and gravel, granite, chalk, clay, and shale; bauxite, iron ore, and coal also are found in small quantities. Peat (Torf) is important as a fuel.

Plants and Animals

In general, the plants and animals of Northern Ireland are similar to those of the British Isles as a whole. The only distinctive plant is a species of wild orchid, Spiranthes stricta, found in the valleys of the Upper and Lower Bann rivers. Distinctive species of animal life include the pollan, a freshwater variety of whitefish found in Lough Neagh and Lough Erne.


In general, the economy of Northern Ireland is based on agriculture and manufacturing and is closely tied to that of the United Kingdom as a whole.


Small owner-occupied farms predominate in Northern Ireland. Livestock farming is most important; most of the land is under pasture, but the majority of farms combine crop production with animals. Sheep and cattle are grazed on the moorland areas. In common with much of the agricultural sector in the rest of Britain, farming in Northern Ireland has been adversely affected by changes in financial and marketing structures, especially associated with changes in the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union. Problems have been compounded by rural migration, and rural development programmes have been established.


Manufacturing is the leading sector of the economy after services. Traditionally, the manufacture of textiles and clothing has been one of the leading industries, but today the production of aircraft, ships and footwear grows more important.


The majority of the people are the descendants of Scots or English settlers who crossed from the mainland of the United Kingdom to north-eastern Ireland after 1607. The remainder of the population is descended from the original Irish inhabitants, principally those native to the province of Ulster.

Population Characteristics

Northern Ireland has a population of about 1,610,000, almost equally divided between urban and rural dwellers. About 50 per cent of the people are settled on the eastern coastal region, the centre of which is Belfast. Belfast is Northern Ireland's largest city and cultural, commercial, and industrial centre, as well as its capital. The only other major City is Londonderry, also known as Derry.


Religion, or rather religious affiliation, has been a key determinant in Northern Ireland's history, politics, and social life since the l7th century. At various times it has determined access to the franchise (Wahlrecht) and jobs, to standards of living, and education. In modern times it has come to symbolise the differing political aspirations of the descendants of the original Irish inhabitants and those of the settler community.

These differences escalated in the 1970s into sectarian violence and terrorism. The descendants of the Scottish and English settlers are predominantly Protestant; those of the original Irish inhabitants are mainly Roman Catholic. In the early 1990s, 51 per cent of the population were Protestants, and 39 per cent Roman Catholics.


Originally, Northern Ireland was culturally indistinguishable from the remainder of Ireland. However, with the waves of colonisation from England and, especially, Scotland after 1607, the north-eastern province of Ulster evolved a distinctive cultural identity. The settlers, who came to form a majority in the region, were British in culture and tradition, and Protestant in religion; their descendants are committed to keeping the province constitutionally part of the United Kingdom.

The Irish inhabitants, in a minority and for centuries politically and economically marginalized, had as their goal the reunification of the island of Ireland. The most important museum is the Ulster Museum in Belfast with many Irish relicts oft the Middle Ages. There are three daily papers the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish News and the News Letter.


At the beginning of the 19thCentury Thomas Moore, who wrote Irish Melodies and National Airs, was a very famous poet. Also to mention is Thomas Osborne Davis, who wrote the poem Lament of Owen Roe O'Neill, James Clarence Mangan (Dark Rosaleen) and Sir Samuel Ferguson with Lays of the Western Gael (1865).

In the 20thCentury there was the dramatist Sean O'Casey, with his plays Shadow of a Gunman and Juno and the Paycock. The most important Irish poet of the 20thCentury was William Butler Yeats. Today Brian Friel is quiet successful with his plays Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1965) and Translations (1981).

The author Brian O'Nolan became famous with his works At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman, which he wrote under the pseudonym Flann O'Brien. There was also Seán O'Faoláin,who was the author of essays, biographies and short stories. He wrote The Great O'Neill (1942) and The Vanishing Hero (1957).

The Educational System

The children between the age of five and fifteen have to go to school. The system is the same as in England. In the late 1980s there were about 1,100 primary schools and 275 secondary schools. North Ireland has two universities: The Queen's College in Belfast, which was founded in 1845 and the University of Ulster, which was founded 1984. The are also the College of Technology and the Theological College.


Northern Ireland elects members (now 17) to the British House of Commons. In September 1993 the British government initiated, because of many protests, bilateral discussions with three of the four Northern Irish parties, to explore a basis for a dialogue on the future of the province. In December of that year, the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland issued a declaration as a basis for all-party talks to achieve a political settlement.

Political Parties

The Ulster Unionist party governed Northern Ireland from 1921 to 1972. More recently the party has split into two groups; the Official Unionist and the Democratic Unionist, who are very hostile to any compromise on Northern Ireland's future within the United Kingdom, and most hostile to Ireland. The other main political parties are the Social Democratic and Labour party which supports peaceful reunification with Ireland, the Alliance party and Sinn FĂ©in, the political wing of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. Sinn FĂ©in was excluded from talks on the future of Northern Ireland until 1994, because of its refusal to denounce violence

Northern Ireland before the World War II

The Irish war for independence started in the 12thCentury, with the first Anglo-normanic conquests and ended with the founding of the Irish Free State, which is also called Republic of Ireland, in the year 1922. Because of the massacres on both sides in the year 1921 the erstwhile prime minister Lloyd George started talkings with the Sinn FĂ©in. After five months of discussions both sides arranged, that the Irish Free State should be founded, to which 26 of the total 32 counties belong. The other six shires united to the political union of North Ireland and were from now on a part of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland After World War II

In 1949, when Eire became the Republic of Ireland, the British Parliament affirmed the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom unless its own Parliament decided otherwise. In 1955, however, irregulars of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) began a campaign of terrorism aimed at securing the union of Northern Ireland with the republic.

Persistent economic difficulties through the post-war years led to the formation, in 1955, of a Northern Ireland Development Council, which met with considerable success. The people of Northern Ireland benefited from the social welfare programmes inaugurated (eingefĂĽhrt) after the war by the United Kingdom. More recently, however, Northern Ireland has not prospered, in part due to the violence that erupted in the early 1970s.

Growing Violence

From the beginning, Catholics in Northern Ireland were a disadvantaged minority in matters of employment, housing, education, and effective cultural and political participation - a situation which the British government failed significantly to address. In 1968 an active and articulate civil rights movement emerged to protest this discrimination, often provoking violent reactions within the Protestant Community. British troops, sent to Northern Ireland in 1969 to help the beleaguered (belagerten) local police, became a permanent presence, maintaining British authority and limiting Protestant reaction - but also becoming the focus of terrorist attacks.

In 1972 the British government suspended the Northern Ireland Parliament and imposed direct rule. Violence increased in the following years. Two Belfast women, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for working to reconcile Northern Ireland's religious communities. Meanwhile the so-called Provisional Wing of the IRA maintained steady terrorist pressure, including bombing campaigns on the British mainland. The division between the Northern Irish communities remained as sharp as ever, with no solution in sight.

As the 1990s began, British troops were still patrolling the streets of Londonderry and Belfast, and the Provisional IRA continued to launch sporadic terrorist attacks on British civilians and military personnel in the British Isles and continental Europe. In all, more than 3,000 people had been killed and 36,000 injured since the start of the Troubles in 1969. Between 1991 and 1992 four of the five main parties (Sinn Fein was excluded because of its support for the terrorist acts of the Provisional IRA) met to see if they could reach agreement on the political future of the province. The talks ended in November 1992 without agreement. In September 1993 the British government began bilateral talks with three of the four parties (the Democratic Unionists refused to join in). Three months later, on December 15, 1993, the British and Irish prime ministers signed the Downing Street Declaration, a statement of fundamental principles with regard to the future of the province.

On August 31, 1994, the Provisional IRA announced a complete cessation of its military Operations, ending 25 years of fighting. In December 1994, the British government held its first public talks with Sinn Fein. The cease-fire (Waffenruhe) held into 1995, despite severe strains at times. The failure of the Provisional IRA to hand over its arms delayed the start of all-party talks including Sinn Fein. However, during the year, the British government first scaled down the number of troops in Northern Ireland, and then, in March, ended routine patrols of British troops in the province. In the previous month, the British and Irish governments issued a framework document for all-party talks On a durable settlement in Northern Ireland.

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