Geography Ireland is an island lying in Western Europe. It is bound on the North, West and South by the Atlantic Ocean and on the East by the Irish Sea, on the North-East by the North Channel and on the South-East by St. Georges Channel.
Ireland is divided into four provinces - Ulster (North), Leinster (East), Munster (South) and Connaught (West) - each of which is sub-divided into counties. There are thirty-two counties in all, six of which are ruled by Britain (Ulster: Down, Antrim, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh). The other twenty-six counties form the Republic of Ireland (Ulster: Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan; Leinster: Louth, Meath, Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford; Munster: Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford and Clare; Connaught: Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon and Leitrim).
Ireland has many hills and low mountains.The main mountains in the Republic of Ireland are: Wicklow Mountains in Co. Wicklow, Comeragh Mountains in Co. Waterford, Galty Mountains in Cos. Limerick and Tipperary, Knockmealdown Mountains in Co. Tipperary, Boggeragh Mountains and Nagles Mountains in Co. Cork, Caha Mountains, Macgillycuddy Reeks and Brandon Mountains in Co. Kerry, Slieve Bloom in Cos.Offaly and Laois, Slieve Aughty and Connemara Hills in Co. Galway, Ox Mountains and Benbulbin Mountain in Co. Sligo and Derryveagh Mountains in Co. Donegal.
The island's main rivers are: the Boyne, the Liffey, the Slaney, the Barrow, the Nore and the Suir in Leinster, the Blackwater and the Lee in Munster, the Moy in Connaught and the Shannon, (the longest river in Ireland) on the borderline of Connaught and Leinster.
Since Ireland is an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the North, West and South, it benefits from the ocean's moderating effects and the Gulf Stream. The climate is generally mild but slightly erratic in winter, when the temperature can average seven degrees centigrade daily. The main characteristic of the Irish weather is 'rain', especially in the South West.
Environment The formation of the island of Ireland was influenced by volcanic eruptions, earthmoving forces and alternating periods of intense heat (interglacials) and cold (glaciations). Ireland now enjoys a great diversity of landscape from mountainous and rocky areas to stretches of green and fertile pastureland, lakes, rivers and bogs.
Wicklow is most famous for its impressive landscapes. The county borders on Dublin with the Wicklow Mountains dividing the two. The county has been described as the 'Garden of Ireland'.
Irish fauna includes lichen, ferns, rushes, sedges, rushes and, of course, the shamrock. There are also buttercups, primroses and heathers.
Cloghernagh, Wicklow Mountains, Ireland, Image via Wikipedia
Among the birds on the island are gannets, gulls, razorbills, kestrals, blackbirds and robins. Each winter some ten thousand white-fronted geese arrive from Greenland to rest on sandbanks and islands of the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve. Puffins are found on the Blasket Islands. The animals of Ireland are small, for instance, the bat, grey squirrel, fox, badger, Irish otter and deer.
Architecture During the Neolithic era in Ireland, rectangular houses made of split planks of wood were built. The settlers had a great respect for their dead. Around 3,200 BC, at Newgrange in Co. Meath, a grave was constructed with a passage about 18.95 m. long, leading to a central chamber and three side recesses. The gravedisplays architectural excellence and astronomical knowledge. During the Winter Solstice, the rays of the sun penetrate a small cavity in the outer wall (known as the 'roof-box') and reach the central point of the tomb. Other equally impressive tombs (out of a total of about 1000) in the same area are Knowth and Dowth.
In the late Stone Age, Crannogs (lake dwellings), were built, situated either at a lake edge or on an island in the middle of a lake. They were made of wood and stone.
An interesting site, related to the Iron Age, is that of Dun Aengus on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. The great fortress is made up of four semi-circular walls, enclosing an area to the edge of a steep cliff, with a sheer drop into the Atlantic Ocean. Circular walls can be seen in other parts of Ireland but these other sites may have been used for ritual rather than defence.
With the coming of Christianity to Ireland, monasteries were founded. Two of the most notable of these are worth a special mention. One is the great monastery at Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon in Co. Offaly. This was founded by St. Ciaran in 548. Monks from all over Europe came to study there. High Kings of Connaught and Tara (including Tara's last High King, Rory O'Connor) were brought there for burial. The other is Glendalough in the picturesque setting of the Wicklow Mountains. St. Kevin, an early Christian bishop, established the monastery there in the sixth century. Further buildings within its enclosure are dated to the tenth and twelfth centuries, including the famous Round Tower, 33.5m high. Plundered many times over the centuries, the sites of the two monasteries remain as tourist attractions.