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History of Northern Ireland & The Republic of Ireland

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Northern Ireland

Ireland is an island in the Atlantic Ocean (seen in red on the globe). Ireland is made up of two countries, one of them is Northern Ireland. The northeastern part of the island of Ireland is occupied by Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. It covers only one sixth of the total area of the island but has about one third of the population. The rest of the island is occupied by the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom shares the same flag as England and Scotland.

Northern Ireland is sometimes called Ulster because it includes six of the nine counties that made up the early Celtic kingdom, or province, of Ulster. The cultural links of most of the people of Northern Ireland with Scotland and England are quite strong, although some have closer familial ties with the Republic of Ireland. About two thirds of the people of Northern Ireland are descended from Scottish and English settlers who came to Ulster mainly in the 17th century, and most of them are Protestants. The remainder of the population are Irish in origin and are mainly Roman Catholics.

Politics in Northern Ireland has long been dominated by the issue of union or separation with the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, and this split has followed religious lines. The majority of the people have voted in favor of Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom. Elections on the issue must be held at not less than ten-year intervals.

The land area of Northern Ireland totals 5,462 square miles (14,153 square kilometers). Population (1991 estimate), 1,570,000.

Land and Climate

The land is shaped like a saucer, with lowlands in the center rimmed by highlands. Glaciations left the lowlands with a variety of drift deposits and gave the landscape its gentle, rolling hills, its marshy hollows and peat bogs, and its river valleys. The seashores are rocky, but deep inlets provide excellent harbors. On the northern coast of the country rises the striking natural formation called the Giant's Causeway, which is made up of thousands of columns of basalt rock.

Northern Ireland's temperate, maritime climate is dominated by low-pressure Atlantic storm systems, which cause cool and humid conditions that keep the country green in all seasons. Strong southwesterly winds are frequent. Rainfall varies between an annual average of 32 inches (825 millimeters) to 80 inches (2,000 millimeters). Temperatures in Northern Ireland range from an average daily maximum 65 F (18 C) in July to an average daily minimum of 34 F (1 C) in January.


Unlike the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is highly industrialized. Locally grown flax and an abundant supply of fresh water stimulated the development of the famous Irish linen industry in Ulster in the 18th century. Much of the flax is now imported, and the linen industry has been surpassed by the cotton and synthetic fiber industries. Northern Ireland has almost no native fuel supplies, and coal, natural gas, and oil are imported from Great Britain. Quarries supply basalt, sand and gravel, grit and conglomerate, limestone, granite, rock salt, chalk, and clay.

About one quarter of the people live in Belfast, the capital, a seaport on the east coast. Belfast has large shipbuilding, aircraft and aerospace, and automobile industries. It also makes textile, marine, and mining machinery; rope and twine; and cotton textiles. The second city in size is Londonderry, also called Derry, in the north on the River Foyle. It has a large clothing and footwear industry. The cool and rainy climate produces good grass and rich pastures, which support dairying and cattle and sheep raising. Pigs and poultry also boost the incomes generated from Northern Ireland's small farms. Apart from grass, hay, and turnips for stock feeding, the main crops grown are barley, potatoes, wheat, and oats. Commercial fisheries catch lobsters, cod, whiting, herring, and salmon in the sea and eels and trout in the inland waters.

Government and History

Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, is represented by 12 members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons in Westminster. The Northern Ireland government is at Stormont, near Belfast. It is directed and controlled by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a national government cabinet post as outlined in the Northern Ireland Act of 1974. The national government's concern has been principally with law and order, political and constitutional affairs, and security policy. General elections at the local government level take place every four years.

In ancient times there was a Celtic Kingdom of Ulster. Celtic Ulster had its chief fortress or center of rule, Navan Fort, at Emain Macha near Armagh. The power of the religious leaders of the Celts, known as druids, was diminished after Christianity was introduced in the 5th century by St. Patrick. The first appearance of the Norsemen, or Vikings, on the Irish coast is recorded in 795. They established settlements and controlled trade and commerce for about two centuries, until 1014. The last effort to establish Norse domination was by Magnus III, king of Norway, who was slain in 1103 during a raid on the Ulster coast.

In the 11th and 12th centuries the reform movement in the Roman Catholic church was extended into Ireland. Pope Adrian IV granted Ireland to King Henry II of England on the condition that he bring order to the Irish church and state. Henry II arrived in Ireland in 1171, placing Ireland in a position of subordination. The lords of Ulster long challenged British rule.

In 1607 scores of Celtic chieftains fled from Northern Ireland forever. This of the earls marked the end of ancient Celtic Ulster. Britain declared the earls guilty of treason and seized their great estates. James I sent Scottish and English colonists to settle on the seized land. Presbyterian and Episcopal churches appeared in a country that had been wholly Roman Catholic. A general uprising in Ulster by the Catholics against the Protestants occurred in 1641, and thousands of colonists were murdered or forced to flee. Irish confederate armies could offer little resistance to the English forces led by Oliver Cromwell. By 1652 Irish resistance had ended and power remained with the Protestants.

In the 19th century the southern Irish began a movement for Home Rule. Ulster clung to the union with Great Britain. In 1920 the Government of Ireland Act created Northern Ireland out of the six predominantly Protestant counties of Ulster. The other three counties joined the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland). Fierce dissension arose in Ulster between the Catholic minority and the Protestant Unionists. The southern Irish almost brought on civil war by demanding Fermanagh and Tyrone counties and several border towns. In 1925 the dispute was settled in favor of Northern Ireland. Relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland began to improve in the early 1960s.

In 1968, however, tensions flared between Protestants and Catholics. The Catholic minority was protesting the government's denial of political and economic rights. In the following years civil violence plagued Ulster and British troops were sent to troubled areas. In 1972 the British government suspended the provincial government and the parliament of Northern Ireland and imposed direct rule from London. In March 1973, in a referendum boycotted by Catholics, the Ulster Protestants voted to remain part of the United Kingdom rather than join the Irish Republic. An experiment in political power-sharing began in 1973 between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority. A coalition Assembly was elected to replace the former parliament, and an 11-member Executive, which included four Catholics, took control of a provisional government. But violence intensified, and a general strike paralyzed the state. Britain resumed direct rule. The conflict raged through the 1970s.

In 1982 an Assembly was created in the hope that the two sides could compromise. In 1985 Britain and the Republic of Ireland signed an agreement giving the latter a voice in the affairs of Northern Ireland. In June 1986 the Assembly was dissolved by the British government because it had failed to unite Roman Catholics and Protestants.

In 1997 because of enormous public pressure on the poltical leaders, peace talks were resumed in Northern Ireland. Talks that are aimed at returning Northern Ireland to local rule. Lets hope that these conflicts will be shortly resolved and that Northern Ireland will finally enjoy lasting peace.

The Republic of Ireland

Ireland is an island in the Atlantic Ocean (seen in red on the globe). Ireland is made up of two countries, one of them is the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland occupies about five sixths of the island of Ireland, which lies across the Irish Sea from Great Britain. The British controlled the area for about 750 years, until 1921, when they made southern Ireland a dominion. The link with Great Britain ended when Ireland became a republic in 1949. Northern Ireland, however, which occupies the rest of the island, has remained a political part of the United Kingdom.

The Republic of Ireland has a different flag then its neighbor Northern Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland covers 27,137 square miles (70,285 square kilometers). It measures a maximum distance of 273 miles (440 kilometers) from north to south, and 186 miles (300 kilometers) from east to west. The Republic of Ireland consists of four provinces Leinster, Munster, Connaught, and part of Ulster.

In 1981 the Republic of Ireland had a population of 3,443,405, compared with 1,490,228 for Northern Ireland. Many people have left Ireland to live elsewhere during the last century because of rural overpopulation, few jobs, and poor harvests of potatoes, by far the most important crop. The population of the entire island decreased steadily from about 8,200,000 in 1841 to 4,200,000 in 1961. Today, as a result of the vast migrations, more Irish live outside Ireland than in it. More than 4,700,000 people have migrated from the island to the United States since 1820. Large numbers of Irish also live in Great Britain and in most of the Commonwealth countries. Since the early 1960s the population decline has been reversed, and Ireland's economy has changed rapidly from an agricultural to an industrial base. In the early 1980s about a fifth of the work force was employed in manufacturing, mining, and construction, and about a third in agriculture. The shift from agriculture to industry has been greater in Dublin, the capital and largest city, and in the eastern and southern sections of the country than in the west.

The Land and Climate

Much of the interior is a relatively level plain surrounded by low mountains, particularly in the west and south. Most of the central plain is less than 500 feet (150 meters) above sea level, but the coastal mountains rise to more than 2,000 feet (600 meters) high. The character of the land surface and soils are the result of early activity by glaciers. The central plain has glacial ridges, and the surrounding mountains were severely eroded during the Ice Age. The glaciers also indented Ireland's coasts into many bays and spectacular rocky headlands. Rocky islands fringe the bays in the west and south. The glaciers also left behind many heaths and bogs, which are poorly drained lands.

The River Shannon, the longest in Ireland, flows sluggishly through the central plain on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. In many places the river has been dammed by nature or artificially to create loughs, or lakes. Small amounts of hydroelectric power are produced as a result of these dams. Peat from the heaths and bogs has long been used as fuel in Irish homes and industry. The other main rivers that drain the interior are the Blackwater and the Barrow in the southeast, the Boyne in the northeast, and the Corrib in the west.

The soils of Ireland are generally infertile. They are more productive in the eastern sections, particularly near Dublin. Much of the country is grassland used by grazing herds of cattle and sheep. Ireland's maritime climate is moderated by prevailing southwesterly winds. These winds blow over the warm drifting waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, keeping the temperatures mild during the winter and cool in summer. Rain is frequent and relatively abundant. The highest peaks in the western mountains receive about 100 inches (250 centimeters) of rain annually. The driest areas, around Dublin in the east, have about 30 inches (75 centimeters). Temperatures average about 42 F (5 C) during the coolest month, February, and about 60 F (15 C) in the warmest month, August.

Natural Resources, Plants, and Animals

Ireland lacks extensive mineral deposits, but important discoveries of lead and zinc created a small mining boom in the late 1970s. Small amounts of silver, sulfur, and barite are also produced. Exploration for natural oil and gas on the offshore continental shelf began in the late 1960s. One commercially exploitable natural gas field went into production in 1978.

The country has some poor quality coal, but peat is widely used as a fuel. Peat comes from peat moss, which consists of undecayed or partially decomposed plant matter at or near the surface of bogs. Peat moss varies from a few inches to 50 feet (15 meters) deep, and it covers about a tenth of Ireland's land area. The nation produced about 4 million tons of peat annually in the early 1980s.

The plant and animal life of Ireland has been influenced by both the climate and the island's separation from other land masses. Most of the island is covered by mosses, lichens, and grasses. There are relatively few trees. The original hardwood forests were cleared long ago for agriculture or cut for lumber, and most of the present softwood forests were planted by the government. Only about 5 percent of the land area consists of woodland, compared with 69 percent in permanent pasture and 14 percent in cropland.

Waterfowl are abundant, and Ireland has rich fishing grounds, particularly off the west coast. Herring, whiting, and mackerel are common saltwater species, and salmon and trout live in the inland rivers and lakes. The moles and weasels of Great Britain are not found in Ireland, and the island has no snakes.

The People

The Irish are descendants primarily of the ancient Celts, but the Vikings, Normans, and English contributed to the ethnic nature of the people. Centuries of English rule largely eliminated the use of the ancient Gaelic, or Irish, language. Since Ireland became independent in 1922, the government has attempted to revive Gaelic by requiring its use in schools. English is the dominant language in the educational system and is spoken throughout Ireland except in certain areas of the west coast. Government documents are printed in both Gaelic and English.

About 96 percent of the people are Roman Catholics. Most of the rest are Anglicans and belong to the Church of Ireland. The nation has no official religion. Roman Catholic priests and nuns are commonly seen in cities and villages throughout the country.

In the early 1980s about 56 percent of Ireland's people lived in urban areas. The importance of cities has grown, especially since the late 1950s when the government began to carry out policies promoting industrialization. The largest cities after Dublin are Cork and Limerick. The population of the area that now makes up the Republic of Ireland fell steadily from about 6,500,000 in 1841 to 2,800,000 in 1961. This decline had a major impact on the nature of the country and people, and it was caused largely by emigration from rural areas. About 1,200,000 people left Ireland soon after the terrible potato famine of 1846 to 1848, most of them to the United States. From 1853 to 1900 about 3,300,000 more left the country. Most of these people also went to the United States, but some settled in Great Britain. Young, unmarried adults made up a large percentage of those who emigrated, resulting in a significant decline in the nation's marriage and birth rates. This condition was reversed in the 1970s. During that period a slight decrease in the death rate, combined with more immigration than emigration resulted in considerable population growth.

The Irish have a rich literary and artistic heritage. Irish literature has been largely in English rather than Gaelic, however. The late 1800s and early 1900s, a period known as the Irish literary renaissance, produced such great writers as William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, George Augustus Moore, and Samuel Beckett. They presented Irish thought and life in a manner that gained international acclaim. Irish theater is well established, and the Royal Hibernian Academy of Dublin has developed many Irish painters. High-quality craftwork on jewelry and religious objects, such as Celtic crosses, reflects an ancient artistic tradition.

Folk songs and dances, along with traditional storytelling, are featured at folk festivals that help to preserve Ireland's way of life. The island's colorful customs have spread wherever the Irish have settled throughout the world.

The Economy

For centuries the Irish economy depended heavily upon agriculture, but industry has contributed an increasing share to the gross national product since the 1960s. In 1991 about 17 percent of the workforce was employed in manufacturing; 12 percent in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; 18 percent in commerce, insurance, and finance; 6 percent in construction; and 47 percent in all other fields. Industry. The Industrial Development Authority, established in the 1950s, encouraged new industry from abroad. It granted such incentives as cash grants, tax concessions, and ready-to-operate factories to attract such industries. Most of the foreign industries manufacture such products as electronic equipment, computers, word-processing machines, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, textiles, plastics, and recreational goods. Most of these products are exported, and the value of manufactured goods exported in 1991 was worth 40 percent of the gross national product. Ireland's entry into the European Communities in 1973 was a great boon to the nation's economy. By 1978 Irish exports had gained duty-free access to the European Communities population market of 270 million people. Foreign companies, especially from the United States, established businesses or branch firms in Ireland to gain tax advantages in exporting to the European market. By 1990 about 850 foreign firms, 300 from the United States, owned operations in Ireland, resulting not only in new products and jobs, but also in additional skills, markets, and technology. The new manufacturing plants now dominate economically the traditional Irish industries that emphasize the processing of agricultural products. Meatpacking, dairy products, grain milling, and brewing and malting are widespread throughout the better farming areas of Ireland. In 1991 about 22 percent of the value of exports came from the processing of agricultural products. Membership in the European Communities (now the European Union) has stimulated the agricultural-processing industries, and cooperatives have promoted agricultural production and marketing.


The first inhabitants of the island of Ireland were hunters and fishers who arrived on the eastern coast from the European mainland in about 6000 BC. Later settlers brought knowledge of agriculture in about 3000 BC and skills in bronze working by about 2000 BC. Celts who came from Europe in about 300 BC dominated the earlier peoples, mainly because the Celts had iron working knowledge. During its early period, Ireland had one of the more advanced civilizations of Western Europe. The people built hill forts and established minor kingdoms, and skilled artisans designed metalwork.

Christianity had been established in Ireland by the beginning of the 5th century, before the arrival of the bishop Palladius from Gaul in 431 and the later arrival of St. Patrick. The monasteries established by St. Patrick and other missionaries enabled a world of classical learning to be introduced on the island, and this learning was later carried to many parts of Europe.

During the 9th and early 10th centuries, Viking raiders overran the south and east coasts of Ireland. They ravaged the monasteries and churches and later became traders in the coastal towns. The Vikings were finally defeated in 1014 at Clontarf, near Dublin, but some remained in coastal settlements and were accepted by the Irish.

The English conquest of Ireland began when a local ruler asked King Henry II and his barons to help him regain his kingdom. Some of the barons arrived first, in 1169, and Henry followed in 1171. Henry encouraged his followers to seize parts of the island and hold them as fiefs of the crown. Henry's descendants intermarried with the local population and increasingly adapted Irish customs.

However, the English did not control the island effectively, and they regarded the Irish and the English-Irish as their enemies. The authority of the English crown was eventually restored over the entire island during the 16th century by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, who also attempted to suppress the Roman Catholic church. King James I settled English and Scottish Protestants in the northern province of Ulster. Roman Catholics in Ulster rebelled in 1641 and killed thousands of Protestant settlers. This revolt spread to the south but was put down by Oliver Cromwell from 1649 to 1650. He took much land and many rights away from Irish Catholics.

James II, a Roman Catholic, tried to reverse the discriminatory policies of the preceding rulers. After being driven from the throne by the revolution of 1688, James went to France and then to Ireland. There he was welcomed by the Irish Catholics who hoped he could lead them in regaining their land. In 1690 James and the Irish were defeated by the Protestant forces of the English king William III in the battle of the Boyne.

Protestants of the Church of England, or Anglicans, then dominated Ireland for about 150 years. Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants had few legal rights, and they could not vote or hold office. In 1801 the Act of Union joined Great Britain and Ireland into the United Kingdom. Struggle for Home Rule. In 1823 the Catholics, led by Daniel O'Connell, began agitating for emancipation. In 1829 Parliament passed an act giving the Catholics political equality for most purposes. O'Connell then began a struggle to eliminate the Act of Union. This struggle turned into a movement later called Home Rule. However, such efforts were stifled by famine and mass emigration that were the result of a blight that destroyed Ireland's vital potato crop in the mid-1800s.

Several attempts to put through Home Rule bills for Ireland failed during the late 1800s. The Catholics in southern Ireland were determined to have the right to Home Rule, but the Protestants in Ulster insisted on maintaining the Act of Union with Great Britain. In 1914 the British Parliament passed a Home Rule bill setting up a separate parliament for all Ireland, but World War I soon broke out and the Home Rule act was suspended.

On Easter Monday in 1916 armed Irish Volunteers and members of the Citizen Army staged an unsuccessful rebellion in Dublin. The British executed 14 of the leaders, which aroused public support for an independent Ireland. In the 1918 elections Sinn Fein, the Irish revolutionary party, won most of the Irish seats. Sinn Fein had earlier pledged not to take their seats in the English Parliament, however, and after the election they set up an Irish parliament, the Dail Eireann, in Dublin. The Dail issued a declaration of independence and was headed by Eamon de Valera, a surviving leader of the Easter uprising. The English attempted to suppress the new government, and violence erupted between British troops and the Volunteers, who became the Irish Republican Army.

In 1920 Ireland was partitioned, and separate parliaments were set up for northern and southern Ireland. Fighting continued until a truce was called in 1921. The terms of the truce established the southern part of Ireland as the Irish Free State, which became part of the Commonwealth. Renewed fighting broke out between the Irish who accepted the dominion status and those who demanded complete independence. A new constitution went into effect in 1937.

The new Republic of Ireland was proclaimed on April 18, 1949. In 1973 the republic acknowledged British sovereignty over Northern Ireland as long as this was the wish of the majority of the people in the north. But fighting continues in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics. Over Protestant opposition in Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland signed an agreement in 1985 that gave the latter a voice in Northern Ireland affairs.

SOURCE: Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, 1995

SOURCE: Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Third Edition 1994


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