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|Introduction to Ireland
It's said that Ireland, once visited, is never forgotten, and for once the blarney rings true. The Irish landscape has a mythic resonance, the country's history is almost tangible, and its people seem put on earth expressly to restore faith in humanity.
The weather may sometimes give you the impression that you're swimming through an airborne ocean, but the truly luminous greens, luxuriant wildflowers, and afternoons spent holed up in riotous pubs will more than console you for the webbed feet you'll need to grow.
Ireland has recently been on an economic rollercoaster ride; if the Celtic Tiger's fur is looking a little shabby these days, the legacy of those heady days lingers in its cities' newfound gloss. The country may not be quite the paradise that its misty-eyed emigrés tend to portray, but it's nonetheless home to one of the most gregarious and welcoming people in Europe.
Full country name: Éire (Republic of Ireland)
Area: 69,000 sq km
Population: 3.96 million
Capital City: Dublin
People: Irish; small immigrant populations
Language: English, Gaelic,
Religion: 95% Roman Catholic, 3.4% Protestant
Head of State: President (Republic) Mary McAleese
Head of Government: Prime Minister (Republic) Bertie Ahern
GDP: US$113.7 billion
GDP per capita: US$29,300
Annual Growth: 4.3%
Major Industries: Computer software, information technology, food products, brewing, textiles, clothing, pharmaceuticals, tourism
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. UK, Germany, France, Netherlands), US
Member of EU: Yes
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Visas: For citizens of the EU and most Western countries no visa is required. UK nationals born in Great Britain or Northern Ireland do not require a passport to visit the Republic.
Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0
Dialling Code: 353
Electricity: 230V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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Many diverse events and festivals take place around the country over the year. February sees the Dublin International Film Festival. At Easter many small towns hold parades and townsfolk gorge themselves on chocolate eggs. June 16 is Bloomsday in Dublin, with re-enactments of Ulysses and readings throughout the city. Listowel in County Kerry holds a Writers' Week literary festival during June, and there's a Jazz & Blues Festival in Belfast. July is when marching really gets into its stride in Northern Ireland, and every Orangeman hits the streets on the Glorious 12th to celebrate the Protestant victory at the Battle of the Boyne.
August is equestrian month, with the Dublin Horse Show and races in Tralee. Also in county Kerry, at Killorglin, the ancient Puck Fair heralds unrestricted drinking for days and nights. In September, Cork has its Film Festival and Belfast has a Folk Festival. In October, Dublin has its Theatre Festival, Ballinasloe in County Galway hosts the country's largest cattle and horse fair, and Kinsale in County Cork is home to Ireland's gourmet festival. In Wexford the November Opera Festival is an international event. Christmas is a quiet affair in the countryside, though on 26 December the ancient practice of Wren Boys is reenacted, when groups of children, traditional musicians and Irish dancers perform at area homes, asking donations in exchange for a year's worth of good luck.
17 Mar - St Patrick's Day
1 Jan - New Year's Day
Mar/Apr - Easter (Good Friday to Easter Monday inclusive)
1 May - May Holiday
25 Dec - Christmas Day
26 Dec - St Stephen's Day
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|Best time to Visit
If you go to Ireland in July or August, you can expect reasonably warm weather, longer days and a lively menu of festivals. However, this is peak season, which presents some challenges if you're wanting a bit of solitude.
Spring and autumn can also be delightful seasons, with smaller crowds of tourists. Winter weather can be downright inhospitable, but Ireland (the west coast in particular) does look beautiful in the rain, and there's nearly always a pub nearby to duck into. However, in many Irish towns restaurants and B&Bs close down around October and don't reopen until Easter. With a few advance phone calls you can avoid getting stranded somewhere with no place to sleep or eat.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Ireland (especially Dublin) is expensive, but costs vary around the country. Assuming you stay at a hostel, eat a light pub lunch and cook your own meal in the evening, you could get by on USD25.00 a day. Once you factor in moving around the country, you'll need to increase your budget a bit. Added extras to account for the awful practice of charging an extra pound or two for a bath and the more pleasurable ruin of standing the assembled company expensive pints of Guinness.
Tipping is becoming more common than it once was, but is still not as prevalent as in the USA or the rest of Europe.
If a restaurant adds a service charge (usually 15%) no additional tip is required. If not, most people tip around 10% of the bill for waiting staff and round up taxi fares. For hotel porters EUR1.00 per bag is acceptable.
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In the wake of a remarkable economic boom, Dublin's landscape has changed immeasurably over the past decade. These days Dublin ranks among the top tourist destinations in Europe, and this vibrant city hums with a palpable sense that it is creating a new cultural heritage.
Though most people don't schedule too much gallery time into the pub crawl, Dublin museums offer a wealth of collectables. From the proverbial pot of Irish gold to the artistic riches of the Book of Kells to a host of quirky 'objets d'religious', it's a city of archives and artefacts.
The Irish Republic's second largest city is a surprisingly appealing place - you'll find time passes effortlessly during the day, and by night the pub scene is lively. The town centre is uniquely situated on an island between two channels of the Lee River.
North of the river, in the Shandon area, is an interesting historic part of the city, although it's a bit run down today. Sights to the south include the Protestant St Finbarr's Cathedral, the Cork Museum (largely given over to the nationalist struggle, in which Cork played an important role), the 19th century Cork Jail, the City Hall and numerous churches, breweries and chapels.
The River Foyle curves picturesquely around the old walled town of Derry, creating a cosy setting that jars horribly with the reality of this city's recent troubled history. The old centre of Derry is the small walled city on the west bank of the river, with Diamond Square at its heart.
Barbed-wire barriers mar the magnificence of the city walls while giving resonance to their history. From the top there are good views of the Bogside and its defiant murals ('No Surrender!') and the Free Derry monument. The Tower Museum descibes Derry from the days of St Columcille to today.
Galway (Gaillimh) is the administrative capital of County Galway. Its university attracts a notable bohemian crowd, and its boisterous nightlife and festivals fill the streets to bursting. Galway is also a departure point for the rugged Aran Islands.
Its tightly packed town centre lies on both sides of the fast flowing River Corrib; most of the main shopping areas are east of the river. Its many fine cultural festivals include the February Jazz Festival, the Easter Festival of Literature and the Galway Arts Festival in July.
Waterford has a decidedly medieval feel, with city walls, narrow alleyways and a Norman tower. Georgian times also left a legacy of fine buildings, in particular those on the Mall, a spacious 18th-century street. Important buildings include the City Hall and the Bishop's Palace.
The city's many churches are also noteworthy, especially the sumptuous interior of Holy Trinity Cathedral. Waterford is first and foremost a busy commercial port city, situated on the River Suir, whose estuary is deep enough to allow large ships to berth at the city's quays.
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