Green hilly Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its capital is Belfast. Around 280 thousand people live in this city. Northern Ireland's history is turbulent and seems to be in contrast with the peace and serenity of the landscape.
Those who love mountains, sea and pasture get a breath of air in the land of Celtic myths. A day spent in the country, or in the crowded streets of Belfast and Derry, will stimulate the appetite that can be satisfied in one of the Irish pubs. Irish culture is warm and cozy, while nature is fresh and rough; a dynamic diversity. Over a pint of Guinness or an Irish whiskey, visitors can submerge in the din of the pub, while listening to traditional folk music.
The history of Northern Ireland being an autonomous region inside the United Kingdom is not very old. In 1922 the entire island became independent. However, Northern Ireland broke away from the rest of Ireland and remained a divided society ever since.
Little is known about prehistoric Ireland. During the Ice Age the country was covered by a vast layer of snow and ice, because of which all tracks of the past were wiped out.
The first evidence of human settlement in Ireland dates from around 8000 BC. Settlements of hunters-gatherers were found in places like the county of Antrim. These settlements were concentrated along the coast.
Between 4500 and 2500 BC the land became cultivated. Cattle and grain made their entrance on the island and the number of people started to grow extensively.
Most of the remains that were found from this period are megalithic places of worship and ceremonies.
During the seventh century BC the inhabitants of the island were influenced by the Celts. This is how the Celtic languages, and more specific Gaelic, arrived here.
The oldest writings go back to 431 BC. In 400 BC King Niall 'of the Nine Hostages' became ruler over the country for 27 years. Niall and his sons undertook the duty to conquer Ulster (present-day Northern Ireland and part of Ireland). Ulster was then divided into three kingdoms: Ulidia, Airgialla and Ailech. These were governed by the sons of Niall.
After his death Niall's son Lóegaire mac Néill became king of the bigger kingdom of Tara. He introduced Christianity. All kings of Ireland, except for two, descend from the legendary King Niall of the Nine Hostages. The dynasty of Uí Néill continues from the fifth century till the eleventh century AD.
The arrival of Christianity profoundly affected the Irish society. In 432 St. Patrick landed on the island and worked hard in the following years to convert the Irish to the new religion. This is how Ulster became Christianized. St. Patrick is especially renowned for his method of working. He left the social aspects of society as they were and respected the laws when they were not in conflict with the Christian values. Besides this, St. Patrick introduced the Roman alphabet. What is and what isn't true of this merits continues to be debated. What is evident however is that the old religion of druids disappeared over the following centuries.
Around that time, in 684 AD, the English king Ecfrith invaded Ireland. He arrived to help King Diarmatt Mac Murchada of Leinster regain his kingdom. King Henry II of England feared that because of this, a Norman state would emerge in Ireland and hurried to Ireland in 1171. He gave the Irish territories to his son. Eventually this son John became king of England. This is how Ireland became part of the English kingdom. For centuries war raged between the English and the Normans.
When in 1348 Black Death broke out, the English and the Normans were hit much harder than the Irish who lived more scattered over the country and primarily in rural areas. After the decease had waned, the Gaelic Irish language and traditions of the natives revived. By the fifteenth century the English had disappeared completely.
In 1536 Henry VIII decided to reconquer Ireland. It took centuries before the English king ruled over entire Ireland. During the reign of Elizabeth and James I the English completely controlled Ireland. The government was decentralized and the native kings lost their power. Catholicism, which the English wanted to be replaced by Protestantism, turned out to be persistent.
The seventeenth century was characterized by two civil wars. The consequences were considerable. Many lost their lives and the Catholic land owners were often forced to hand over their property to the Anglicans and convert themselves. Some remained untouched however, like the count of Antrim. Today still his descendants own the land.
In 1649 Oliver Cromwell restored the power of England in Ireland. In 1688 the Protestant William of Orange invaded England on behalf of his wife Maria Stuart. He received support from the Protestant Ulster, while the king of that time Jacob II was backed by the Irish parliament. William of Orange defeated the army of Jacob II at the Battle of Boyne in 1690 and at the capture of Limerick in 1691. Ireland came under English rule again. This war was never properly concluded and has caused a division of the country ever since.
During the nineteenth century there came a demand for self-government. However, the demand was denied twice in the House of Lords in London. When Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of the movement for autonomy, died the perspective of an Irish parliament died with him. As a reaction to this, nationalism revived among the population. With it, radical movements emerged in Irish politics. This is how Sinn Féin was founded.
Eventually, in 1912 it was decided that Ireland could have its right to self-government. In the county of Ulster this led to great resistance. In the meanwhile the First World War broke out and the self-government as well as the protests against it, were postponed. Not everyone agreed to this and in 1916, on Easter Monday, two Irish parties declared the Irish Republic in Dublin. The revolt failed, but did have major consequences.
In Ulster it intensified the resistance against an independent republic. At the elections in 1918 Sinn Féin got three-quarters of the votes and formed its own parliament in Dublin. What followed was the Irish War of Independence in which the Irish attacked British goals and the Brits held reprisals.
In 1920 the British parliament accepted a new law in which the south of Ireland gained a status similar to that of Canada and Australia, while Northern Ireland got self-government and kept its close ties to London. For both parts however, the new law was not acceptable. This led to a battle for independence.
In 1921 the south of Ireland became a free state. This meant that Northern Ireland became a Protestant state. From 1921 till 1971 Northern Ireland was ruled by the Ulster Unionist Party in Belfast. From then on, the Catholic minority was discriminated against. Peace never really settled again completely in Northern Ireland.
In 1970 the tensions mounted to the events that would go down in history as Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday. The early seventies are now known as 'the Troubles'. In 1972 the Northern Irish parliament was dismissed. For some the Troubles didn't end until 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. This agreement gives the unionists as well as the nationalists power over Northern Ireland. Since 2002 both parties have cancelled their faith in one another.
The IRA (The Irish Republican Army) fights for the termination of the present status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom since 1969. The eventual goal of the IRA is to found a socialist republic that covers both parts of the island. In 2005 the IRA announced that it would continue its battle only in the political sphere and that it would give up its armed struggle.
Northern Ireland has approximately 1.75 million inhabitants. One third lives in the capital. Most Irish live in the country. Large cities of Northern Ireland are, apart from Belfast, for example Londonderry or Derry, Newry and Lisburn.
The turbulent war past is still visible and noticeable in Northern Ireland. In spite of this, the Irish have picked up the thread, something that can be noticed in cities such as Belfast and Derry. The capital is a lively city nowadays, with plenty of possibilities for a great night out.
Those who visit Northern Ireland will eventually end up in one of the cozy pubs. The atmosphere is pleasant and the drinks taste good. The meals in pubs are usually very tasty.
Irish speak English, Ulster Irish and Irish Gaelic. The last language is from Celtic origin and is only spoken by few.
Well attended sites of Northern Ireland are the abbeys, the old houses and gardens. Also, the Giant's Causeway is a natural phenomenon that draws many visitors. The Giant's Causeway lies at the northern shore. It consists of naturally formed geometrical basalt blocks.
Irish nature is phenomenal. Hikers can stretch their legs to their heart's content in the National Parks.
Together with England, Scotland, and Wales, Northern Ireland forms the United Kingdom. As the country is not an independent state, it plays no part in international relations. Northern Ireland has its own laws though, its own bank notes and a domestic administration. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. Since 2007 Gordon Brown serves as prime minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
The country is divided in six districts. These are called 'counties'. The names of the counties are: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone. They no longer have an administrative role.
Of old the Northern Irish economy runs on industry. It has concentrated mainly on shipbuilding, textiles and rope manufacture. The heavy industry has been replaced by the public sector. Tourism plays an important role in the local economy.
In Northern Ireland the currency is the Pound Sterling, better known as the British Pound.
Northern Ireland lies in the northeast of Ireland. The country covers 14,139 square kilometers which counts for one sixth of the island.
Northern Ireland borders on four different waters: the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Sea, Donegal Bay and the North Channel. Lough Neagh is the largest lake of the British islands and lies thirty kilometers from Belfast. Lough Neagh's length is approximately thirty kilometers and its width is about fifteen kilometers.
The country is mountainous and has several mountain ranges. The highest part of Northern Ireland lies in the Sperrin hills. Their slopes can be found in the centre of the country and are known to be exceptionally beautiful. In the east of Northern Ireland, in the county of Down, lie the Granite Mountains of Mourne. The highest peak is 848 meters and bears the name 'Slieve Donard'. Apart from these mountains there is also the Antrim Plateau.
One of the sites of Northern Ireland is the Giant's Causeway. On the northern shore lie perfectly shaped geometrical basalt blocks. They were once formed by a volcanic eruption and are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The rivers Bann, Foyle and Blackwater flow through the land and make it exceptionally fertile. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century a large part of the Irish forests were cut and replaced by extensive pastures.
The Northern Irish climate is very unpredictable. The country has a moderate maritime climate. A warm Gulf Stream flows along the coast, but temperatures are never remarkably high. Northern Ireland is a humid country. There are often clouds hanging over the cities and pastures.
The best way to admire Northern Ireland is by car. In Ireland, like in the rest of Great Britain, cars drive on the left side of the road. The roads are in a good condition and lead over hills and through the countryside.
Travelling by public transport is not very easy in Northern Ireland. The buses as well as the trains leave much to be desired. There are considerable gaps in the railway network for example. Transportation by train is maintained by National Irish Rail (NIR).
The only international airport of Northern Ireland lies near Belfast. Besides this airport, the city has another City Airport, which primarily provides flights to the rest of Ireland and Great-Britain. Derry Airport and Londonderry Airport do not provide flights to destinations outside the country.
The Irish cuisine does not differ that much from its English neighbors. There are some specifically Irish dishes and drinks though.
The well known national breakfast is 'Ulster fry'. It is very much the same as the typical English breakfast. Ulster fry is heavy. Bacon, sausages, eggs and white pudding are its ingredients. It is served with bread.
Northern Ireland is part of an island. Fish can therefore be recommended. Brown bread with smoked salmon is a delicious lunch for those who love fish.
Irish stew is a popular dish among the Irish population as well as the tourists. Stews are on the menu of all pubs and guarantee a full stomach.
The most famous alcoholic drink from Northern Ireland is whiskey. Well known brands are Jameson and Bushmills.
Guinness is the most famous Irish beer. Since 1759 is brewed in Dublin which makes it officially not Northern Irish.
The Northern Irish Time is GMT/UTC +0. In summer the clock is put forward one hour. Therefore, local time in summer is GMT/UTC +1.
Spending the night in hotels, apartments, Bed & Breakfasts and Inns is possible on the country side as well as in cities.
Belfast has plenty of hostels as well. In Londonderry the budget traveler can also find a place to sleep in one of the hostels.
Northern Ireland has a marvelous nature. Those who want to wake up among green hills can sleep on one of the camp sites. They are generally well-kept and are located peacefully.
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