Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Tuaisceart Éireann
Norlin Airlann
Location of  Northern Ireland  (orange)– in the European continent  (caramel & white)– in the United Kingdom  (caramel)
Location of  Northern Ireland  (orange)

– in the European continent  (caramel & white)
– in the United Kingdom  (caramel)

(and largest city)
54°35.456′N 5°50.4′W / 54.590933°N 5.84°W / 54.590933; -5.84
Official language(s) English
Ulster Scots1
Ethnic groups  99.15% White (91.0% Northern Ireland born, 8.15% other white)
0.41% Asian
0.10% Irish Traveller
0.34% others.[1]
Government Constitutional monarchy
 -  Monarch Elizabeth II
 -  First Minister Peter Robinson MLA
 -  deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA
 -  Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron MP
 -  Secretary of State (in the UK government) Owen Paterson MP
Legislature Northern Ireland Assembly
 -  Government of Ireland Act 3 May 1921 
 -  Total 13,843 km2 
5,345 sq mi 
 -  2009 estimate 1,789,000[2] 
 -  2001 census 1,685,267 
 -  Density 122/km2 
315/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2002 estimate
 -  Total £33.2 billion 
 -  Per capita £19,603 
Currency Pound sterling (GBP)
Time zone GMT (UTC+0)
 -  Summer (DST) BST (UTC+1)
Date formats dd/mm/yyyy (AD)
Drives on the left
ISO 3166 code GB
Internet TLD .uk2
Calling code +443
1 Officially recognised languages: Northern Ireland has no official language. The use of English has been established through precedent. Irish and Ulster Scots are officially recognised minority languages
2 .ie, in common with the Republic of Ireland, and also .eu, as part of the European Union. ISO 3166-1 is GB, but .gb is unused
3 +44 is always followed by 28 when calling landlines. The code is 028 within the UK and 048 from the Republic of Ireland

Northern Ireland (Irish: Tuaisceart Éireann, Ulster Scots: Norlin Airlann or Norlin Airlan) is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom.[3][4] Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west. At the time of the 2001 UK Census, its population was 1,685,000, constituting about 30% of the island's total population and about 3% of the population of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland consists of six of the nine counties of the Irish province of Ulster. It was created as a distinct division of the United Kingdom on 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920,[5] though its constitutional roots lie in the 1800 Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. For over 50 years it had its own devolved government and parliament. These institutions were suspended in 1972 and abolished in 1973. Repeated attempts to restore self-government finally resulted in the establishment in 1998 of the present-day Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly operates on consociational democracy principles requiring cross-community support.

Northern Ireland was for many years the site of a violent and bitter ethno-political conflict—the Troubles—which was caused by divisions between nationalists, who are predominantly Roman Catholic, and unionists, who are predominantly Protestant, which has been the most prevalent religion. Unionists want Northern Ireland to remain as a part of the United Kingdom,[6] while nationalists wish for it to be politically united with the rest of Ireland, independent of British rule.[7][8][9][10] Since the signing of the "Good Friday Agreement" in 1998, most of the paramilitary groups involved in the Troubles have ceased their armed campaigns.

Owing to its unique history, the issue of the symbolism, name and description of Northern Ireland is complex, as is the issue of citizenship and identity. In general, unionists consider themselves British and nationalists see themselves as Irish, though these identities are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Additionally, many people from both sides of the community consider themselves as Northern Irish.[11]




Signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912 in opposition to Home Rule

The region that is now Northern Ireland was the bedrock of the Irish war of resistance against English programmes of colonialism in the late 16th century. The English-controlled Kingdom of Ireland had been declared by the English king Henry VIII in 1542, but Irish resistance made English control fragmentary. Following Irish defeat at the Battle of Kinsale, though, the region's Gaelic, Roman Catholic aristocracy fled to continental Europe in 1607 and the region became subject to major programmes of colonialism by Protestant English (mainly Anglican) and Scottish (mainly Presbyterian) settlers. Between 1610 and 1717 perhaps as many as 100,000 Lowlanders came across from Scotland, and by the latter date there were some five Scots to every three Irishmen and one Englishman in Ulster.[12] A rebellion in 1641 by Irish aristocrats against English rule resulted in a massacre of settlers in Ulster in the context of a war breaking out between England, Scotland and Ireland fuelled by religious intolerance in government. Victories by English forces in that war and further Protestant victories in the Williamite War in Ireland toward the close of the 17th century solidified Anglican rule in Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the iconic victories of the Siege of Derry (1689) and the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in this latter war are still celebrated today by the Unionist community (both Anglican and Presbyterian).

Following the victory of 1691, and contrary to the terms of the Treaty of Limerick, a series of penal laws was passed by the Anglican ruling class in Ireland. Their intention was to materially disadvantage the Catholic community and, to a lesser extent, the Presbyterian community. In the context of open institutional discrimination, the 18th century saw secret, militant societies develop in communities in the region and act on sectarian tensions in violent attacks. These events escalated at the end of the century following an event known as the Battle of the Diamond, which saw the supremacy of the Anglican and Presbyterian Peep o'Day Boys over the Catholic Defenders and leading to the formation of the (Anglican) Orange Order. A rebellion in 1798 led by the cross-community Belfast-based Society of the United Irishmen and inspired by the French Revolution sought to break the constitutional ties between Ireland and Britain and unite Irishmen and -women of all communities. Following this, in an attempt to quell sectarianism and force the removal of discriminatory laws (and to prevent the spread of French-style republicanism to Ireland), the government of the Kingdom of Great Britain pushed for the two kingdoms to be merged. The new state, formed in 1801, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was governed from a single government and parliament based in London.

Between 1717 and 1775 some 250,000 people from Ulster emigrated to the American colonies.[13] It is estimated that there are more than 27 million descendants of the Scots-Irish migration now living in the U.S.[14]

Partition of Ireland

Following this, those who supported the continued union between Ireland and Great Britain are known as unionists. In what is now Northern Ireland, these were mainly Protestant (both Anglican and Presbyterian). During the 19th century, legal reforms started in the late 18th century removed legal discrimination against Catholics and progressive programmes enabled farmers to buy back land from landlords. By the close of the century, the possibility of autonomy for Ireland within the United Kingdom, known as home rule, was imminent. In 1912, it became a certainty. A clash between the House of Commons and House of Lords over a controversial budget produced the Parliament Act 1911, which enabled the veto of the Lords to be overturned. The House of Lords veto had been unionists' main guarantee that home rule would not be enacted because the majority of members of the House of Lords were unionists. In response, opponents to home rule from Conservative Party leaders such as Andrew Bonar Law and Dublin-based barrister Sir Edward Carson to militant unionists in Ireland threatened the use of violence. In 1914, they smuggled thousands of rifles and rounds of ammunition from Imperial Germany for use by the Ulster Volunteers, a paramilitary organisation opposed to the implementation of home rule.

Unionists were in a minority on the island of Ireland as a whole, but were a majority in the northern province of Ulster[citation needed] and a very large majority in County Antrim and County Down, with small majorities in County Armagh and County Londonderry. There were substantial numbers also concentrated in County Fermanagh and County Tyrone.[15] These six counties (i.e. four majority-unionist counties and two majority-nationalist counties) would later constitute Northern Ireland. All of the remaining 26 counties which later became the Republic of Ireland were overwhelmingly majority-nationalist.

Prime Ministers
of Northern Ireland
Lord Craigavon (1922–1940)
John Miller Andrews (1940–1943)
Lord Brookeborough (1943–1963)
Captain Terence O'Neill (1963–1969)
James Chichester-Clark (1969–1971)
Brian Faulkner (1971–1972)
Infantry of the Royal Irish Rifles during the Battle of the Somme

In 1914, the Third Home Rule Act, which contained provision for a "temporary" partition of these six counties from the rest of Ireland, received Royal Assent. However, its implementation was suspended before it came into effect owing to the outbreak of the First World War. The war was expected to last only a few weeks but in fact lasted four years. By the end of the war (during which the 1916 Easter Rising had taken place), the act was seen as unimplementable. Public opinion in the majority "nationalist" community (who sought greater independence from Britain) had shifted during the war from a demand for home rule to one for full independence. In 1919, David Lloyd George proposed a new bill which would divide Ireland into two home rule areas: twenty-six counties being ruled from Dublin and six being ruled from Belfast. Straddling these two areas would be a shared Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who would appoint both governments and a Council of Ireland, which Lloyd George believed would evolve into an all-Ireland parliament.[16] Events had however overtaken government. In the general election of 1918, the pro-independence Sinn Féin won seventy-three of the one hundred and five parliamentary seats in Ireland and established an extrajudicial parliament in Ireland.

Ireland was partitioned between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland in 1921 under the terms of Lloyd George's Government of Ireland Act 1920[17] during the war of independence between Ireland and Britain. At the conclusion of that war on 6 December 1922, under the terms of the resulting treaty, Northern Ireland provisionally became an autonomous part of the newly independent Irish Free State.

Northern Ireland

However, as expected, the Parliament of Northern Ireland resolved the following day[18] to opt out of the Irish Free State at the earliest possible opportunity (they had one month to do so). Shortly afterwards, a commission was established to decide on the territorial boundaries between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Owing to the outbreak of civil war in the Free State, the work of the commission was delayed until 1925. Leaders in Dublin expected a substantial reduction in the territory of Northern Ireland, with nationalist areas moving to the Free State. However the commission decided against this and its report recommended that some small portions of land should be ceded from the Free State to Northern Ireland. To prevent argument, this report was suppressed and, in exchange for a waiver to the Free State's obligations to the UK's public debt and the dissolution of the Council of Ireland (sought by the Government of Northern Ireland), the initial six-county border was maintained with minor changes.

Signature page of the Anglo-Irish Treaty

In June 1940, to encourage the Irish state to join with the Allies, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill indicated to the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity, but believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer.[19] (The British did not inform the Government of Northern Ireland that they had made the offer to the Dublin government, and De Valera's rejection was not publicised until 1970).

The Ireland Act 1949 gave the first legal guarantee to the Parliament and Government that Northern Ireland would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without consent of the majority of its citizens.

The Troubles, starting in the late 1960s, consisted of about thirty years of recurring acts of intense violence between elements of Northern Ireland's nationalist community (principally Roman Catholic) and unionist community (principally Protestant) during which 3,254 people were killed.[20] The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the discrimination against the nationalist minority by the dominant unionist majority.[21] From 1967 to 1972 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, modelling itself on the US civil rights movement, led a campaign of civil resistance to anti-Catholic discrimination in housing, employment, policing, and electoral procedures (the franchise being limited to property-owning rate-payers, thereby excluding most Catholics). However NICRA's campaign, and the reaction to it, proved to be a precursor to a more violent period.[22] As early as 1969, armed campaigns of paramilitary groups began, including the Provisional IRA campaign of 1969–1997 which was aimed at the end of British rule in Northern Ireland and the creation of a new "all-Ireland", "thirty-two county" Irish Republic, and the Ulster Volunteer Force, formed in 1966 in response to the perceived erosion of both the British character and unionist domination of Northern Ireland. The state security forces – the British Army and the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary) – were also involved in the violence. The British government's point of view is that its forces were neutral in the conflict, trying to uphold law and order in Northern Ireland and the right of the people of Northern Ireland to democratic self-determination. Irish republicans regarded the state forces as "combatants" in the conflict, alleging collusion between the state forces and the loyalist paramilitaries as proof of this (loyalists are against the union of Ireland). The "Ballast" investigation by the Police Ombudsman has confirmed that British forces, and in particular the RUC, did collude with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and did obstruct the course of justice when such claims had previously been investigated,[23] although the extent to which such collusion occurred is still hotly disputed.

As a consequence of the worsening security situation, autonomous regional government for Northern Ireland was suspended in 1972. Alongside the violence, there was a political deadlock between the major political parties in Northern Ireland, including those who condemned violence, over the future status of Northern Ireland and the form of government there should be within Northern Ireland. In 1973, Northern Ireland held a referendum to determine if it should remain in the United Kingdom, or be part of a united Ireland. The vote went heavily in favour (98.9%) of maintaining the status quo with approximately 57.5% of the total electorate voting in support, but only 1% of Catholics voted following a boycott organised by the SDLP.[24]

Recent history

First Ministers deputy First Minsters
David Trimble (1999-2001) Seamus Mallon (1999-2001)
Reg Empey (acting) (2001)
David Trimble (2001-2002) Mark Durkan (2001-2002)
Ian Paisley (2007-2008) Martin McGuinness (2007-)
Peter Robinson (2008-) John O'Dowd (acting) (2011)
Arlene Foster (acting) (2010)

The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process which included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organisations and the complete decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of army troops from the streets and from sensitive border areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh, as agreed by the signatories to the Belfast Agreement (commonly known as the "Good Friday Agreement"). This reiterated the long-held British position, which had never before been fully acknowledged by successive Irish governments, that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom until a majority votes otherwise. Bunreacht na hÉireann, the constitution of the Irish state, was amended in 1999 to remove a claim of the "Irish nation" to sovereignty over the whole of Ireland (in Article 2), a claim qualified by an acknowledgement that Ireland could only exercise legal control over the territory formerly known as the Irish Free State. The new Articles 2 and 3, added to the Constitution to replace the earlier articles, implicitly acknowledge that the status of Northern Ireland, and its relationships within the rest of the United Kingdom and with Ireland, would only be changed with the agreement of a majority of voters in both jurisdictions (Ireland voting separately). This aspect was also central to the Belfast Agreement which was signed in 1998 and ratified by referendums held simultaneously in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. At the same time, the British Government recognised for the first time, as part of the prospective, the so-called "Irish dimension": the principle that the people of the island of Ireland as a whole have the right, without any outside interference, to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent.[25] The latter statement was key to winning support for the agreement from nationalists and republicans. It also established a devolved power-sharing government within Northern Ireland, which must consist of both unionist and nationalist parties.

These institutions were suspended by the British Government in 2002 after Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) allegations of spying by people working for Sinn Féin at the Assembly (Stormontgate). The resulting case against the accused Sinn Féin member collapsed.

On 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign and has since decommissioned what is thought to be all of its arsenal. This final act of decommissioning was performed in accordance with the Belfast Agreement of 1998, and under the watch of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and two external church witnesses. Many unionists, however, remain sceptical. This IRA decommissioning is in contrast to Loyalist paramilitaries who have so far refused to decommission many weapons. It is not thought that this will have a major effect on further political progress as political parties linked to Loyalist paramilitaries do not attract significant support and will not be in a position to form part of a government in the near future. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, with their (real and perceived) links to militant republicanism, are the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.

Politicians elected to the Assembly at the 2003 Assembly Election were called together on 15 May 2006 under the Northern Ireland Act 2006[26] for the purpose of electing a First Minister of Northern Ireland and a Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and choosing the members of an Executive (before 25 November 2006) as a preliminary step to the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Following the election held on 7 March 2007, devolved government returned to Northern Ireland on 8 May 2007 with Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin deputy leader Martin McGuinness taking office as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively.[27] The current First Minister is Peter Robinson, having taken over as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and the current deputy First Minister is Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin.


Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast, seat of the assembly.
Northern Ireland

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Politics and government of
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Northern Ireland has devolved government within the United Kingdom. There is a Northern Ireland Executive together with the 108-member Northern Ireland Assembly to deal with devolved matters with the UK Government and UK Parliament responsible for reserved matters. Elections to the Assembly are by single transferable vote with 6 representatives elected for each of the 18 Westminster constituencies. Northern Ireland is a distinct legal jurisdiction, separate from England & Wales and Scotland.[28] It is also an electoral region of the European Union.

Northern Ireland elects 18 Members of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons; not all take their seats, however, as the Sinn Féin MPs (currently five) refuse to take the oath to serve the Queen that is required of all MPs. The Northern Ireland Office represents the UK government in Northern Ireland on reserved matters and represents Northern Irish interests within the UK government. The Northern Ireland office is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.

The main political divide in Northern Ireland is between Unionists or Loyalists who wish to see Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom and Nationalists or Republicans who wish to see Northern Ireland join the rest of Ireland, independent from the United Kingdom. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions. Unionists are overwhelmingly Protestant, descendants of mainly Scottish, English, Welsh and Huguenot settlers as well as Old Gaelic Irishmen who had converted to one of the Protestant denominations. Nationalists are predominantly Catholic and descend from the population predating the settlement, with a minority from Scottish Highlanders as well as some converts from Protestantism. Discrimination against nationalists under the Stormont government (1921–1972) gave rise to the nationalist civil rights movement in the 1960s.[29]

Some Unionists argue that any discrimination was not just due to religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors.[30] Whatever the cause, the existence of discrimination, and the manner in which Nationalist anger at it was handled, were a major contributing factor which led to the long-running conflict known as the Troubles. The political unrest went through its most violent phase between 1968 and 1994.[31]

As of 2007, 36% of the population define themselves as Unionist, 24% as Nationalist and 40% define themselves as neither.[32] According to a 2009 opinion poll, 69% express longterm preference of the maintenance of Northern Ireland's membership of the United Kingdom (either directly ruled or with devolved government), while 21% express a preference for membership of a united Ireland.[33] This discrepancy can be explained by the overwhelming preference among Protestants to remain a part of the UK (91%), while Catholic preferences are spread across a number of solutions to the constitutional question including remaining a part of the UK (47%), a united Ireland (40%), Northern Ireland becoming an independent state (5%), and those who "don't know" (5%).[34]

Official voting figures, which reflect views on the "national question" along with issues of candidate, geography, personal loyalty and historic voting patterns, show 54% of Northern Ireland voters vote for Pro-Unionist parties, 42% vote for Pro-Nationalist parties and 4% vote "other". Opinion polls consistently show that the election results are not necessarily an indication of the electorate's stance regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Most of the population of Northern Ireland are at least nominally Christian. The ethno-political loyalties are allied, though not absolutely, to the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations and these are the labels used to categorise the opposing views. This is, however, becoming increasingly irrelevant as the Irish Question is very complicated. Many voters (regardless of religious affiliation) are attracted to Unionism's conservative policies, while other voters are instead attracted to the traditionally leftist, nationalist Sinn Féin and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and their respective party platforms for Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy.[35]

For the most part, Protestants feel a strong connection with Great Britain and wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Many Catholics however, generally aspire to a United Ireland or are less certain about how to solve the constitutional question. In the 2009 survey by Northern Ireland Life and Times, 47% of Northern Irish Catholics supported Northern Ireland remaining a part of the United Kingdom, either by direct rule (8%) or devolved government (39%).[35]

Protestants have a slight majority in Northern Ireland, according to the latest Northern Ireland Census. The make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly reflects the appeals of the various parties within the population. Of the 108 MLAs, 55 are Unionists and 44 are Nationalists (the remaining nine are classified as "other").

Citizenship and identity

People from Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, are British citizens. They are also entitled to Irish citizenship by birth under the 1998 Belfast Agreement between the British and Irish governments, which provides that: it is the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly [the two governments] confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

As a result of the Agreement, the Constitution of Ireland[36] was amended so that people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to be Irish citizens on the same basis as people from any other part of the island of Ireland.

Neither government, however, extends its citizenship to all persons born in Northern Ireland. Both governments exclude some people born in Northern Ireland (e.g. certain persons born in Northern Ireland neither of whose parents is a UK or Irish national). The Irish restriction was given effect by the Twenty-seventh amendment to the Irish Constitution in 2004.

Several studies and surveys performed between 1971 and 2006 have indicated that, in general, Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves primarily as 'British', whereas Roman Catholics regard themselves primarily as 'Irish'.[37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44]

This does not however account for the complex identities within Northern Ireland, given that many of the population regard themselves as "Ulster" or "Northern Irish", either as a primary or secondary identity. A 2008 survey found that 57% of Protestants described themselves as British, while 32% identified as Northern Irish, 6% as Ulster and 4% as Irish. Compared to a similar survey carried out in 1998, this shows a fall in the percentage of Protestants identifying as British and Ulster, and a rise in those identifying as Northern Irish. The 2008 survey found that 61% of Catholics described themselves as Irish, with 25% identifying as Northern Irish, 8% as British and 1% as Ulster. These figures were largely unchanged from the 1998 results.[45][46]


Northern Ireland's legal and administrative systems have evolved from those in place in the pre-partition United Kingdom, and were developed by its devolved government from 1921 until 1972. From 1972 until 1999 (except for a brief period in 1974), laws and administration relating to Northern Ireland were handled directly from Westminster. Between the years 1999 and 2002 (except during a brief suspension), and since May 2007, devolution has returned to Northern Ireland.

Demography of Northern Ireland

The population of Northern Ireland has increased annually since 1978.


  • White: 1,670,988 (99.15%)
    • Northern Ireland born: 91.0%
    • Other UK or Republic of Ireland born: 7.2%
    • Irish Traveller: 1,710 (0.10%)
  • Asian: 6,824
  • Black: 1,136
    • Black African: 494 (0.03%)
    • Black Caribbean: 255 (0.02%)
    • Other Black: 387 (0.02%)
  • Other ethnic groups: 1,290 (0.08%)
  • Mixed: 3,319 (0.20%)


Religion in Northern Ireland
Religion Percent
Roman Catholic
Presbyterian (Protestant)
Church of Ireland (Protestant)
No Religion
Other Christian (Other Protestant/Eastern Christianity/Nontrinitarian)
Methodist (Protestant)

The population of Northern Ireland was estimated as being 1,759,000 on 10 December 2008.[47] In the 2001 census, 45.57% of the population identified as belonging to Protestant or other non-Roman Catholic denominations (20.69% Presbyterian, 15.30% Church of Ireland, 3.51% Methodist, 6.07% other Christian/Christian related), 40.26% identified as Roman Catholic, 0.30% identified with non-Christian religions and 13.88% identified with no religion.[48] In terms of community background, 53.1% of the Northern Irish population came from a Protestant background, 43.8% came from a Catholic background, 0.4% from non-Christian backgrounds and 2.7% non-religious backgrounds.[49][50] The population is forecast to pass the 1.8 million mark by 2011.[51]

Symbols used in Northern Ireland

The floral logo for the Northern Ireland assembly is based on the flax plant.[52]

Northern Ireland comprises a patchwork of communities whose national loyalties are represented in some areas by flags flown from lamp posts. The Union Flag and the former Northern Ireland Flag are flown in some loyalist areas, and the Tricolour, adopted by republicans as the flag of Ireland in 1848, is flown in some republican areas. Even kerbstones in some areas are painted red-white-blue or green-white-orange (or gold), depending on whether local people express unionist/loyalist or nationalist/republican sympathies.[53]

The official flag is the Union Flag.[54] The Northern Ireland flag was previously the former Governmental Northern Ireland banner (also known as the "Ulster Banner" or "Red Hand Flag"). It was based on the arms of the former Parliament of Northern Ireland, and was used officially by the Government of Northern Ireland and its agencies between 1953 and 1972. Since 1972, it has had no official status. UK flags policy states that in Northern Ireland: The Ulster flag and the Cross of St. Patrick have no official status and, under the Flags Regulations, are not permitted to be flown from Government Buildings.[55]

The Union Flag and the Ulster Banner are mainly used by Unionists.[56]

The Irish Rugby Football Union and the Church of Ireland have used the Flag of St. Patrick. It was used to represent Ireland when the whole island was part of the UK and is used by some British army regiments. Foreign flags are also found, such as the Palestinian flags in some Nationalist areas and Israeli flags in some Unionist areas. This is also true during matches with Scottish teams.

The United Kingdom national anthem of "God Save the Queen" is often played at state events in Northern Ireland. At the Commonwealth Games, the Northern Ireland team uses the Ulster Banner as its flag and Londonderry Air (usually set to lyrics as Danny Boy) is used as its national anthem.[57][58] The Northern Ireland football team also uses the Ulster Banner as its flag but uses "God Save The Queen" as its national anthem.[59] Major Gaelic Athletic Association matches are opened by the Republic of Ireland national anthem, "Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldier's Song)", which is also used by some other all-Ireland sporting organisations.[60] Since 1995, the Ireland rugby union team has used a specially commissioned song, "Ireland's Call" as the team's anthem. The Republic of Ireland national anthem is also played at Dublin home matches as a courtesy to the host country.[61]

Northern Irish murals have become well-known features of Northern Ireland, depicting past and present divisions, both also documenting peace and cultural diversity. Almost 2,000 murals have been documented in Northern Ireland since the 1970s (see Conflict Archive on the Internet/Murals).

Geography and climate

Map of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland was covered by an ice sheet for most of the last ice age and on numerous previous occasions, the legacy of which can be seen in the extensive coverage of drumlins in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down. The centrepiece of Northern Ireland's geography is Lough Neagh, at 151 square miles (391 km2) the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles. A second extensive lake system is centred on Lower and Upper Lough Erne in Fermanagh. The largest island of Northern Ireland is Rathlin, off the north Antrim coast. Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 150 km2 (58 sq mi).

There are substantial uplands in the Sperrin Mountains (an extension of the Caledonian fold mountains) with extensive gold deposits, granite Mourne Mountains and basalt Antrim Plateau, as well as smaller ranges in South Armagh and along the Fermanagh–Tyrone border. None of the hills are especially high, with Slieve Donard in the dramatic Mournes reaching 849 metres (2,785 ft), Northern Ireland's highest point. Belfast's most prominent peak is Cavehill. The volcanic activity which created the Antrim Plateau also formed the eerily geometric pillars of the Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast. Also in north Antrim are the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Mussenden Temple and the Glens of Antrim.

The Lower and Upper River Bann, River Foyle and River Blackwater form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry.

The valley of the River Lagan is dominated by Belfast, whose metropolitan area includes over a third of the population of Northern Ireland, with heavy urbanisation and industrialisation along the Lagan Valley and both shores of Belfast Lough.

The whole of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate, rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is persistent across the region. The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 6.5 °C (43.7 °F) in January and 17.5 °C (63.5 °F) in July. The damp climate and extensive deforestation in the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in much of the region being covered in rich green grassland.

Highest maximum temperature: 30.8 °C (87.4 °F) at Knockarevan, near Garrison, County Fermanagh on 30 June 1976 and at Belfast on 12 July 1983.

Lowest minimum temperature: −18.7 °C (−1.7 °F) at Castlederg, County Tyrone on 23 December 2010.[62]

Climate data for Belfast
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 13
Average high °C (°F) 6
Average low °C (°F) 2
Record low °C (°F) −13
Precipitation mm (inches) 80
Source: [63]


Lower Lough Erne, County Fermanagh

Northern Ireland consists of six historic counties: County Antrim, County Armagh, County Down, County Fermanagh, County Londonderry,[64] County Tyrone

These counties are no longer used for local government purposes; instead there are twenty-six districts of Northern Ireland which have different geographical extents, even in the case of those named after the counties from which they derive their name. Fermanagh District Council most closely follows the borders of the county from which it takes its name. Most districts are based around large towns, for instance Coleraine Borough Council derives its name from the town of Coleraine in County Londonderry.

Although counties are no longer used for governmental purpose, they remain a popular means of describing where places are. They are officially used while applying for an Irish passport, which requires one to state one's county of birth. The name of county then appears in both Irish and English on the passport's information page, as opposed to the town or city of birth on the United Kingdom passport. The Gaelic Athletic Association still uses the counties as its primary means of organisation and fields representative teams of each GAA county. The original system of car registration numbers largely based on counties still remains in use. In 2000 the telephone numbering system was restructured into an 8 digit scheme with the first digit reflecting the county.

The county boundaries still appear on Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Maps and the Phillips Street Atlases, among others. With their decline in official use, there is often confusion surrounding towns and cities which lie near county boundaries, such as Belfast and Lisburn, which are split between counties Down and Antrim (the majorities of both cities, however, are in Antrim).


Carrickfergus Castle – a Norman castle built in 1177
Donaghadee Harbour and lighthouse

There are five major settlements with city status in Northern Ireland:

Towns and villages

The following is a list of towns (settlements with at least 4,500 inhabitants) in Northern Ireland.


Cranes at Harland & Wolff shipyard, now diversified into heavy manufacturing for the renewable energy industry

The Northern Ireland economy is the smallest of the four economies making up the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has traditionally had an industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services, primarily the public sector. Tourism also plays a big role in the local economy. More recently the economy has benefited from major investment by many large multi-national corporations into high tech industry. These large organisations are attracted by government subsidies and the skilled workforce in Northern Ireland.


Larne Harbour

Northern Ireland is served by three airports – Belfast International near Antrim, George Best Belfast City in East Belfast, and City of Derry in County Londonderry.

Major sea ports at Larne and Belfast carry passengers and freight between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Passenger railways are operated by Northern Ireland Railways. With Iarnrod Éireann (Irish Rail), Northern Ireland Railways co-operates in providing the joint Enterprise service between Dublin and Belfast.

Main motorways are:

The cross-border road connecting the ports of Larne in Northern Ireland and Rosslare Harbour in the Republic of Ireland is being upgraded as part of an EU-funded scheme. European route E01 runs from Larne through the island of Ireland, Spain and Portugal to Seville.


An Ulster fry, served in Belfast, Northern Ireland
The Twelfth is a Bank & Public Holiday and an annual Protestant event, involving Orange parades

With its improved international reputation, Northern Ireland has recently witnessed rising numbers of tourists. Attractions include cultural festivals, musical and artistic traditions, countryside and geographical sites of interest, public houses, welcoming hospitality and sports (especially golf and fishing). Since 1987 public houses have been allowed to open on Sundays, despite some opposition.

The Ulster Cycle is a large body of prose and verse centring around the traditional heroes of the Ulaid in what is now eastern Ulster. This is one of the four major cycles of Irish Mythology. The cycle centres around the reign of Conchobar mac Nessa, who is said to have been king of Ulster around the time of Christ. He ruled from Emain Macha (now Navan Fort near Armagh), and had a fierce rivalry with queen Medb and king Ailill of Connacht and their ally, Fergus mac Róich, former king of Ulster. The foremost hero of the cycle is Conchobar's nephew Cúchulainn.



The dialect of English spoken in Northern Ireland shows influence from the lowland Scots language.[65] There are supposedly some minute differences in pronunciation between Protestants and Catholics, the best known of which is the name of the letter h, which Protestants tend to pronounce as "aitch", as in British English, and Catholics tend to pronounce as "haitch", as in Hiberno-English. However, geography is a much more important determinant of dialect than religious background. English is spoken as a first language by almost 100% of the Northern Irish population, though under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish and Ulster Scots (one of the dialects of the Scots language), sometimes known as Ullans, have recognition as "part of the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland".[66]

Multilingual sign in English, Irish, and Ulster Scots
Areas in Northern Ireland where more than one third of the population can speak Irish, according to the 2001 Census


The Irish language (Gaeilge) is the native language of the whole island of Ireland.[67] It was spoken predominantly throughout what is now Northern Ireland before the Ulster Plantations in the 17th century. Most placenames throughout Northern Ireland are anglicised versions of their Gaelic originals. These Gaelic placenames include thousands of lanes, roads, townlands, towns, villages and all of its modern cities. Examples include Belfast- derived from Béal Feirste, Shankill- derived from Sean Cill and Lough Neagh- derived from Loch nEathach.

In Northern Ireland the Irish language has long been associated with Irish nationalism. The language was seen as a common heritage and indeed the object of affection by many prominent 19th century Protestant republicans and Protestant unionists. There are three main dialects in the island of Ireland—Ulster, Munster and Connacht. Speakers of each dialect often find others difficult to understand. Speakers in Northern Ireland speak the Ulster dialect.

In the early years of the 20th century, the language became a political football throughout Ireland as Republican activists became increasingly linked with it. In the 20th century, the language became in Unionist eyes increasingly polarised for political ends and many in that community would blame Sinn Féin in this regard. After Ireland was partitioned, the language was largely rejected in the education system of the new Northern Ireland. It is argued[68] that the predominant use of the English language may have served to exacerbate the Troubles.[dubious ]

The erection by some district councils of legal bilingual street names (English/Irish),[69] invariably in predominantly Catholic/Nationalist/Republican districts, may be perceived as creating a 'chill factor' by Unionists and as such not conducive to fostering good cross community relationships. However other countries within the United Kingdom, such as Wales and Scotland, enjoy the use of Bilingual signs in Welsh and Scots Gaelic respectively. Because of this, nationalists in Northern Ireland argue for equality in this regard. In responses to the 2001 census in Northern Ireland 10% of the population claimed "some knowledge of Irish",[70] 4.7% to "speak, read, write and understand" Irish.[70] It was not asked as part of the census but in a poll, 1% of respondents said they speak it as their main language at home.[71] Following a public consultation, the decision was taken not to introduce specific legislation for the Irish language at this time, despite 75% of the (self-selecting) respondents stating that they were in favour of such legislation.[72]

Ulster Irish[73][dead link] or Donegal Irish,[73] is the dialect which is nearest to Scots Gaelic. Some words and phrases of the dialect are shared with Scots Gaelic. The dialects of East Ulster – those of Rathlin Island and the Glens of Antrim – were very similar to the Scottish Gaelic dialect formerly spoken in Argyll, the part of Scotland nearest to Rathlin Island. The Ulster Gaelic is the most central dialect of Gaelic, both geographically and linguistically, of the once vast Gaelic speaking world, stretching from the south of Ireland to the north of Scotland. At the beginning of the 20th century, Munster Irish was favoured by many revivalists, with a shift to Connacht Irish in the 1960s, which is now the preferred dialect by many in Ireland. Many younger speakers of Irish experience less confusion with dialects due to the expansion of Irish-language broadcasting (TG4) and the exposure to a variety of dialects. There are fewer problems regarding written Irish as there is a standardised spelling and grammar, created by the Irish Government, which was supposed to reflect a compromise between various dialect forms. However, Ulster Irish speakers find that Ulster forms are generally not favoured by the standard.

All learners of Irish in Northern Ireland use this form of the language. Self-instruction courses in Ulster Irish include Now You’re Talking and Tús maith. The writer Séamus Ó Searcaigh, once warned about the Irish Government's attempts at producing a Caighdeán or Standard for the Irish language in Ireland in 1953, when he wrote that what will emerge will be "Gaedhilg nach mbéidh suim againn inntí mar nár fhás sí go nádúrtha as an teangaidh a thug Gaedhil go hÉirinn" (A Gaelic which is of no interest to us, for it has not developed naturally from the language brought to Ireland by the Gaels). The Ulster Irish dialect is spoken throughout the area of the historical nine county Ulster, in particular the Gaeltacht region of County Donegal and the Gaeltacht Quarter of West Belfast.[74] Mayo Irish has strong ties with Donegal Irish.

Ulster Scots

Ulster Scots comprises varieties of the Scots language spoken in Northern Ireland. Approximately 2% of the population claim to speak Ulster Scots,[75] however the number speaking it as their main language in their home is negligible.[71] Classes at colleges can now be taken[76] but for a native English speaker "[the language] is comparatively accessible, and even at its most intense can be understood fairly easily with the help of a glossary."[77] The St Andrews Agreement recognises the need to "enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture".[78]

Sign languages

Two sign languages are used in Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Sign Language (NISL) also known as British Sign Language (NI-BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL).

The most common sign language in Northern Ireland is Northern Ireland Sign Language (NISL), but in the past, Catholic families tended to send their deaf children to schools in Dublin (St Joseph's School for Deaf Boys and St. Mary's School for Deaf Girls), Irish Sign Language (ISL) is commonly used among many older deaf people from Catholic families. The two languages are not related: NISL has a large component from the British family (which also includes Auslan) while many borrowings is from American Sign Language, and ISL has some influence from the French family (which also includes American Sign Language).

Northern Ireland Sign Language is described as being related to Irish Sign Language (ISL) at the syntactic level while the lexicon is based on British Sign Language (BSL)[79] and American Sign Language (ASL).[citation needed]

As of March 2004 the British Government recognises only British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language as the official sign languages used in Northern Ireland.[80][81]

Other languages

There are an increasing number of ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland. Chinese and Urdu are spoken by Northern Ireland's Asian communities; though the Chinese community is often referred to as the "third largest" community in Northern Ireland, it is tiny by international standards. Since the accession of new member states to the European Union in 2004, Central and Eastern European languages, particularly Polish, are becoming increasingly common.

Variations in geographic nomenclature

Alternative names for Northern Ireland

Many people inside and outside Northern Ireland use other names for Northern Ireland, depending on their point of view.

Free Derry mural

Notwithstanding the ancient realm of Dál Riata which extended into Scotland, disagreement on names, and the reading of political symbolism into the use or non-use of a word, also attaches itself to some urban centres. The most famous example is whether Northern Ireland's second city should be called "Derry" or "Londonderry".

Choice of language and nomenclature in Northern Ireland often reveals the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the speaker. The first Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Seamus Mallon, was criticised by unionist politicians for calling the region the "North of Ireland" while Sinn Féin has been criticised in some Irish newspapers for still referring to the "Six Counties".[82]

Those who do not belong to any group but lean towards one side often tend to use the language of that group. Supporters of unionism in the British media (notably the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express) regularly call Northern Ireland "Ulster".[83] Some nationalist and republican-leaning media outlets in Ireland almost always use "North of Ireland" or the "Six Counties".

Government and cultural organisations in Northern Ireland, particularly those pre-dating the 1980s[citation needed], often use the word "Ulster" in their title; for example, the University of Ulster, the Ulster Museum, the Ulster Orchestra, and BBC Radio Ulster.

Although some news bulletins since the 1990s have opted to avoid all contentious terms and use the official name, Northern Ireland, the term "The North" remains commonly used by broadcast media in the Republic, to the annoyance of some Unionists.[citation needed] Bertie Ahern, the previous Taoiseach, now almost always refers to "Northern Ireland" in public, having previously only used "The North". For Northern Ireland's second largest city, broadcasting outlets which are unaligned to either community and broadcast to both use both names interchangeably, often starting a report with "Londonderry" and then using "Derry" in the rest of the report. However, within Northern Ireland, print media which are aligned to either community (the News Letter is aligned to the unionist community while the Irish News is aligned to the nationalist community) generally use their community's preferred term. British newspapers with unionist leanings, such as the Daily Telegraph, usually use the language of the unionist community. However the more left-wing Guardian recommends in its style guide using "Derry" and "Co Derry", and "not Londonderry".[84]

The division in nomenclature is seen particularly in sports and religions associated with one of the communities. Gaelic games use "Derry", for example. Nor is there clear agreement on how to decide on a name. When the nationalist-controlled local council voted to re-name the city "Derry" unionists objected, stating that as it owed its city status to a Royal Charter, only a charter issued by the Queen could change the name. The Queen has not intervened on the matter and thus the council is now called the Derry City Council while the city is still officially Londonderry. Nevertheless, the council has printed two sets of stationery – one for each term – and their policy is to reply to correspondence using whichever term the original sender used.

At times of high communal tension, each side regularly complains of the use of the nomenclature associated with the other community by a third party such as a media organisation, claiming such usage indicates evident "bias" against their community.


  • Ulster, strictly speaking, refers to the province of Ulster, of which six of nine historical counties are in Northern Ireland. The term "Ulster" is widely used by the Unionist community and the British press as shorthand for Northern Ireland.[85] In the past, calls have been made for Northern Ireland's name to be changed to Ulster. This proposal was formally considered by the Government of Northern Ireland in 1937 and again in 1949 but no change was made.[86]
  • The Province refers literally to the historic Irish province of Ulster but today is used as shorthand for Northern Ireland. The BBC, in its editorial guidance for Reporting the United Kingdom, states that "the Province" is an appropriate secondary synonym for Northern Ireland, while "Ulster" is not. It also suggests that "people of Northern Ireland" should be preferred to "British", and the term "mainland" should be avoided in reference to Great Britain in relation to Northern Ireland[87]


  • North of Ireland (Tuaisceart na hÉireann) or North-East Ireland (Oirthuaisceart Éireann)- to emphasise the link of Northern Ireland to the rest of the island, and so by implication playing down Northern Ireland's links with Great Britain.[88]
  • The Six Counties (na Sé Chontae) – language used by republicans e.g. Sinn Féin, which avoids using the name given by the British-enacted Government of Ireland Act 1920. (the Republic is similarly described as the Twenty-Six Counties.)[89] Some of the users of these terms contend that using the official name of the region would imply acceptance of the legitimacy of the Government of Ireland Act.
  • The Occupied Six Counties. The state of Ireland, whose legitimacy is not recognised by republicans opposed to the Belfast Agreement, is described as "The Free State", referring to the Irish Free State, which gained independence (as a Dominion) in 1922.[90]
  • British-Occupied Ireland. Similar in tone to the Occupied Six Counties this term is used by more dogmatic anti-Good Friday Agreement republicans who still hold that the First Dáil was the last legitimate government of Ireland and that all governments since have been foreign imposed usurpations of Irish national self-determination.[91]


  • The North (An Tuaisceart) – used to describe Northern Ireland in the same way that "The South" is used to describe the Republic.[citation needed]
  • Norn Iron – is an informal and affectionate[citation needed] local nickname used by both nationalists and unionists to refer to Northern Ireland, derived from the pronunciation of the words "Northern Ireland" in an exaggerated Ulster accent (particularly one from the Greater Belfast area). The phrase is seen as a light-hearted way to refer to Northern Ireland, based as it is on regional pronunciation. Often refers to the Northern Ireland national football team.

Descriptions for Northern Ireland

There is no generally accepted term to describe what Northern Ireland is: province, region, country or something else.[92][93][94] The choice of term can be controversial and can reveal the writer's political preferences.[93] This has been noted as a problem by several writers on Northern Ireland, with no generally recommended solution.[92][93][94]

Owing in part to the way in which the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland came into being, there is no legally defined term to describe what Northern Ireland 'is'. There is also no uniform or guiding way to refer to Northern Ireland amongst the agencies of the UK government. For example, the websites of the Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom[4] and the UK Statistics Authority[3] describe the United Kingdom as being made up of four countries, one of these being Northern Ireland. Other pages[95] on the same websites refer to Northern Ireland specifically as a "province" as do publications of the UK Statistics Authority.[96] The website of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency also refers to Northern Ireland as being a province[97] as does the website of the Office of Public Sector Information[98] and other agencies within Northern Ireland.[99] Publications of HM Treasury[100] and the Department of Finance and Personnel of the Northern Ireland Executive,[101] on the other hand, describe Northern Ireland as being a "region of the UK". The UK's submission to the 2007 United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names defines the UK as being made up of two countries (England and Scotland), one principality (Wales) and one province (Northern Ireland).[102]

Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland has no history of being an independent country or of being a nation in its own right.[103] Some writers describe the United Kingdom as being made up of three countries and one province[104] or point out the difficulties with calling Northern Ireland a country.[105] Authors writing specifically about Northern Ireland dismiss the idea that Northern Ireland is a "country" in general terms,[92][94][106][107] and draw contrasts in this respect with England, Scotland and Wales.[108] Even for the period covering the first 50 years of Northern Ireland's existence, the term country is considered inappropriate by some political scientists on the basis that many decisions were still made in London.[103] The absence of a distinct nation of Northern Ireland, separate within the island of Ireland, is also pointed out as being a problem with using the term[94][109][110] and is in contrast to England, Scotland and Wales.[111]

Many commentators prefer to use the term "province", although that is also not without problems. It can arouse irritation, particularly among nationalists, for whom the title province is properly reserved for the traditional province of Ulster, of which Northern Ireland occupies six out of nine counties.[93][105] The BBC style guide is to refer to Northern Ireland as a province, and use of the term is common in literature and newspaper reports on Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. Some authors have described the meaning of this term as being equivocal: referring to Northern Ireland as being a province both of the United Kingdom and of the traditional country of Ireland.[109]

"Region" is used by several UK government agencies and the European Union. Some authors choose this word but note that it is "unsatisfactory".[93][94] Northern Ireland can also be simply described as "part of the UK", including by UK government offices.[4]


In Northern Ireland, sport is popular and important in the lives of many people. Sports tend to be organised on an all-Ireland basis including both Northern Ireland and the Republic, as in the case of Gaelic football, rugby union, hockey, basketball, cricket and hurling.[112] The main exception is association football, which has separate governing bodies for each jurisdiction.[112]

Association football (soccer)

The Irish Football Association (IFA) is the organising body for association football in Northern Ireland. The highest level of competition within Northern Ireland is the IFA Premiership. There is also an all-island tournament, the Setanta Cup, which includes six IFA Premiership teams and six teams from the Republic's league. The best Northern Irish players tend to play for clubs in the English or Scottish leagues. Despite Northern Ireland's small population, its international team made it to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1958 and 1982.


The Ireland cricket team, which represents both the Republic and Northern Ireland, is an associate member of the International Cricket Council. It participated in 2007 Cricket World Cup and qualified for the Super 8s and did the same in the 2009 ICC World Twenty20. Ireland are current champions of ICC Intercontinental Cup. One of Ireland's regular international venues is Stormont in Belfast.

Gaelic games

Gaelic games include Gaelic football, hurling, Gaelic handball and rounders. Of the four, football is the most popular in Northern Ireland. Players play for local clubs with the best being selected for their county teams: Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone. The Ulster GAA is the branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association that is responsible for all nine counties of Ulster, including the six that are in Northern Ireland. All nine field teams in the Ulster Senior Football Championship, Ulster Senior Hurling Championship, All-Ireland Senior Football Championship and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. Recent successes for Northern Ireland's teams include Armagh's 2002 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship win and Tyrone's wins in 2003, 2005 and 2008.


Perhaps Northern Ireland's most notable successes in professional sport have come in golf. Northern Ireland alone has contributed more major champions in the modern era than any other European country, with three in the space of just 14 months from the US Open in 2010 to the Open Championship in 2011.

Northern Ireland's golf courses include the Royal Belfast Golf Club (the earliest, formed in 1881), Royal Portrush Golf Club (the only course outside Great Britain to have hosted The Open Championship), and Royal County Down Golf Club (Golf Digest magazine's top-rated course outside the United States).[113][114]

Notable golfers include Fred Daly (winner of The Open in 1947), Ryder Cup players Ronan Rafferty and David Feherty, leading European Tour professionals David Jones (now a prominent course designer) Michael Hoey (a winner on Tour in 2011) and Gareth Maybin, as well as three recent major winners Graeme McDowell (winner of the US Open in 2010, the first European since 1970), Rory McIlroy (winner of the U.S. Open in 2011) and Darren Clarke (winner of The Open in 2011).[115][116]

Northern Ireland has also contributed several players to the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team, including Alan Dunbar and Paul Cutler who played on the victorious 2011 team in Scotland.

Rugby union

Northern Ireland's six counties are among the nine governed by the Ulster branch of the all-island governing body, the Irish Rugby Football Union. Ulster is one of the four professional provincial teams in Ireland and competes in the Celtic League and European Cup. Ulster won the European Cup in 1999. In international competition, players from Northern Ireland represent the Ireland national rugby team, whose recent successes include four Triple Crowns between 2004 and 2009 and a Grand Slam in 2009.


Northern Ireland has produced two world snooker champions; Alex Higgins who won the title in 1972 and 1982, and Dennis Taylor who won in 1985. The highest ranked Northern Ireland professional on the world circuit presently is Mark Allen from Antrim. The sport is governed locally by the Northern Ireland Billiards & Snooker Association who run regular ranking tournaments and competitions.


Unlike most areas of the United Kingdom, in the last year of primary school many children sit entrance examinations for grammar schools.

Integrated schools, which attempt to ensure a balance in enrolment between pupils of Protestant, Roman Catholic and other faiths (or none) are becoming increasingly popular, although Northern Ireland still has a primarily de facto religiously segregated education system. In the primary school sector, forty schools (8.9% of the total number) are Integrated Schools and thirty two (7.2% of the total number) are Gaelscoileanna.


The two main universities in Northern Ireland are The Queen's University of Belfast, and the University of Ulster.

Media and communications

The BBC has a division called BBC Northern Ireland with headquarters in Belfast. As well as broadcasting standard UK-wide programmes, BBC NI produces local content, including a news break-out called BBC Newsline. The ITV franchise in Northern Ireland is Ulster Television (UTV). The privately-operated Channel 4 and Channel 5 also broadcast in Northern Ireland and access is also available to satellite and cable services.[117] All Northern Ireland viewers must obtain a UK TV licence to watch live television transmissions.

RTÉ, the national broadcaster of the Republic of Ireland, is available over the air to some parts of Northern Ireland via reception overspill[118] and via satellite or cable. After the digital switchover, RTÉ and the Irish-language channel, TG4, will be available over the air from signals broadcast inside Northern Ireland.[119]

As well as the standard UK-wide radio stations from the BBC, Northern Ireland is home to many local radio stations, such as Cool FM, CityBeat, and Q102.9. The BBC has two regional radio stations which broadcast in Northern Ireland, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle.

The Belfast Telegraph is the leading newspaper, and UK and Irish national newspapers are also available. There is a range of local newspapers such as the News Letter and the Irish News.[120]

Northern Ireland uses the same telecommunications and postal services as the rest of the United Kingdom at standard domestic rates and there are no mobile roaming charges between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.[121][122] People in Northern Ireland who live close to the border with the Republic of Ireland may inadvertently switch over to the Irish mobile networks, causing international roaming fees to be applied.[123] Northern Ireland can be called from the Republic of Ireland at trunk rates, as opposed to international rates, using the 048 prefix.

See also



  1. ^ "Northern Ireland Census 2001 Commissioned Output". NISRA. 2001. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  2. ^ "Population and Migration Estimates Northern Ireland (2009) – Statistical Report" (PDF). Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. 24 June 2010. Retrieved 11 November 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "The Countries of the UK". – geography – beginners' guide to UK geography. UK Statistics Authority. 11 November 2005. Archived from the original on 11 November 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2009. "The top-level division of administrative geography in the UK is the 4 countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland." 
  4. ^ a b c "countries within a country". The Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. 10 January 2003. Archived from the original on 11 November 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2009. "The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its full name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland...Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom with a devolved legislative Assembly and a power sharing Executive made up of ministers from four political parties representing different traditions." 
  5. ^ Statutory Rules & Orders published by authority, 1921 (No. 533); Additional source for 3 May 1921 date: Alvin Jackson, Home Rule – An Irish History, Oxford University Press, 2004, p198.
  6. ^ Standing up for Northern Ireland[dead link] Retrieved 2 August 2008.
  7. ^ Richard Jenkin, 1997, Rethinking ethnicity: arguments and explorations, SAGE Publicatoins: London: "In Northern Ireland the objectives of contemporary nationalists are the reunification of Ireland and the removal of British government."
  8. ^ Peter Dorey, 1995, British politics since 1945, Blackwell Publishers: Oxford: "Just as some Nationalists have been prepared to use violence in order to secure Irish reunification, so some Unionists have been prepared to use violence in order to oppose it."
  9. ^ "Strategy Framework Document: Reunification through Planned Integration: Sinn Féin’s All Ireland Agenda". Archived from the original on 16 July 2006.  Sinn Fein. Retrieved 2 August 2008.
  10. ^ Policy Summaries: Constitutional Issues[dead link] SDLP. Retrieved 2 August 2008.
  11. ^ "Which of these best describes the way you think of yourself?". Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Scotch-Irish[dead link]". American Heritage Magazine. December 1970. Volume 22, Issue 1.
  13. ^ Thernstrom, Stephan (1980). Harvard encyclopedia of American ethnic groups. Harvard University Press. p. 896. ISBN 0674375122. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  14. ^ "Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America". 12 August 2009. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  15. ^ Gwynn, Stephen. The birth of the Irish Free State. Retrieved 14 July 2010. 
  16. ^ Pilkington, Colin (2002). Devolution in Britain Today. Manchester University Press. p. 75. ISBN 0719060761. 
  17. ^ Northern Ireland became a distinct region of the United Kingdom, by Order in Council on 3 May 1921 (Statutory Rules & Orders published by authority (SR&O) 1921, No. 533). Its constitutional roots remain the Act of Union, two complementary Acts, one passed by the Parliament of Great Britain, the other by the Parliament of Ireland.
  18. ^ On 7 December 1922 (the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State) the Parliament resolved to make the following address to the King so as to opt out of the Irish Free State: ”Most Gracious Sovereign, We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland". Source: Northern Ireland Parliamentary Report, 7 December 1922 and Anglo-Irish Treaty, sections 11, 12
  19. ^ "Anglo-Irish Relations, 1939–41: A Study in Multilateral Diplomacy and Military Restraint" in Twentieth Century British History (Oxford Journals, 2005), ISSN 1477-4674
  20. ^ Malcolm Sutton’s book, “Bear in Mind These Dead: An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969–1993.
  21. ^ "The Cameron Report – Disturbances in Northern Ireland (1969)". Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  22. ^ Richard English, “The Interplay of Non-violent and Violent Action in Northern Ireland, 1967–72”, in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-955201-6, pp. 75–90. [1]
  23. ^ The Ballast report: "...the Police Ombudsman has concluded that this was collusion by certain police officers with identified UVF informants."
  24. ^ "1973: Northern Ireland votes for union". BBC News. 9 March 1973. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  25. ^ Parliamentary debate: "The British government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish."
  26. ^ "Northern Ireland Act 2006 (c. 17)". Retrieved 16 June 2010. 
  27. ^ (BBC)
  28. ^ pdf filePDF (64.6 KB) "For the purposes of the English conflict of laws, every country in the world which is not part of England and Wales is a foreign country and its foreign laws. This means that not only totally foreign independent countries such as France or Russia... are foreign countries but also British Colonies such as the Falkland Islands. Moreover, the other parts of the United Kingdom—Scotland and Northern Ireland—are foreign countries for present purposes, as are the other British Islands, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey." Conflict of Laws, JG Collier, Fellow of Trinity Hall and lecturer in Law, University of Cambridge
  29. ^ "Professor John H. Whyte paper on discrimination in Northern Ireland". Retrieved 16 June 2010. 
  30. ^ "CAIN website key issues discrimination summary". 5 October 1968. Retrieved 16 June 2010. 
  31. ^ Lord Scarman, "Violence and Civil Disturbances in Northern Ireland in 1969: Report of Tribunal of Inquiry" Belfast: HMSO, Cmd 566. (known as the Scarman Report)
  32. ^ "Ark survey, 2007. Answer to the question "Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a unionist, a nationalist or neither?"". 17 May 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2010. 
  33. ^ Answers to the question "Do you think the long-term policy for Northern Ireland should be for it (one of the following)"
  34. ^ Ark survey, 2009. Answers to the question "Do you think the long-term policy for Northern Ireland should be for it to [one of the following]"
  35. ^ a b "NI Life and Times Survey – 2009: NIRELND2". 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2010. 
  36. ^ "Department Of the Taoiseach". Retrieved 16 June 2010. 
  37. ^ Breen, R., Devine, P. and Dowds, L. (editors), 1996: ISBN 0-86281-593-2. Chapter 2 'Who Wants a United Ireland? Constitutional Preferences among Catholics and Protestants' by Richard Breen (1996), in, Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Fifth Report Retrieved 24 August 2006; Summary: In 1989—1994, 79% Protestants replied "British" or "Ulster", 60% of Catholics replied "Irish."
  38. ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999; Module:Community Relations, Variable:NINATID Summary:72% of Protestants replied "British". 68% of Catholics replied "Irish".
  39. ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. Module:Community Relations. Variable:BRITISH. Summary: 78% of Protestants replied "Strongly British."
  40. ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999; Module:Community Relations, Variable:IRISH Summary: 77% of Catholics replied "Strongly Irish."
  41. ^ Institute of Governance, 2006 "National identities in the UK: do they matter?" Briefing No. 16, January 2006; Retrieved from "IoG_Briefing". Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. PDF (211 KB) on 24 August 2006. Extract:"Three-quarters of Northern Ireland’s Protestants regard themselves as British, but only 12 per cent of Northern Ireland’s Catholics do so. Conversely, a majority of Catholics (65%) regard themselves as Irish, whilst very few Protestants (5%) do likewise. Very few Catholics (1%) compared to Protestants (19%) claim an Ulster identity but a Northern Irish identity is shared in broadly equal measure across religious traditions."Details from attitude surveys are in Demographics and politics of Northern Ireland.
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Further reading

  • Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1992), ISBN 0-85640-476-4
  • Brian E. Barton, The Government of Northern Ireland, 1920–1923 (Athol Books, 1980)
  • Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon and Henry Patterson The State in Northern Ireland, 1921–72: Political Forces and Social Classes, Manchester (Manchester University Press, 1979)
  • Tony Geraghty (2000). The Irish War. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7117-4. 
  • Robert Kee, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism (Penguin, 1972–2000), ISBN 0-14-029165-2
  • Osborne Morton, 1994, Marine Algae of Northern Ireland. Ulster Museum, Belfast. ISBN 0-900761-28-8
  • Henry Patterson, "Ireland Since 1939: The Persistence of Conflict" (Penguin, 2006), ISBN 978-1-84488-104-8
  • Hackney, P. (Ed) 1992, Stewart's and Corry's Flora of the North-east of Ireland Third edition. Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen's University of Belfast, ISBN 0 85389 446 9(HB)
  • Betts, N.L. in Hackney, P. 1992, Stewart & Corry's Flora of the North-east of Ireland Third Edition, Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen's University of Belfast, ISBN 0 85389 446 9 (HB)

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