integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland, situated in the northeastern portion of the island of Ireland.
Northern Ireland is bounded on the north and northeast by the North
Channel, on the southeast by the Irish Sea, and on the south and west by
the Republic of Ireland. It includes Rathlin Island in the North Channel
and several smaller offshore islands. Northern Ireland is also known as Ulster,
because it comprises six of the nine counties that constituted the
former province of Ulster. The total area of Northern Ireland is 14,148
sq km (5463 sq mi).
Land and Resources
Northern Ireland has an extreme northern to southern
extension of about 135 km (about 85 mi) and an extreme eastern to
western extension of about 175 km (about 110 mi). The shoreline is
characterized by numerous irregularities and is about 530 km (about 330
mi) long. The major indentations are Lough Foyle in the north and
Belfast, Strangford, and Carlingford loughs in the east. A striking
feature of the northern coast is the Giant's
Causeway, a rock
formation consisting of thousands of closely placed, polygonal pillars
of black basalt.
The country consists mainly of a
low, flat plain in the
approximate center of which is Lough Neagh (about 390 sq km/about 150 sq
mi), the largest lake in the British Isles. Other important lakes are
Lough Erne and Upper Lough Erne. Apart from several isolated elevations,
three major areas of considerable height are the Sperrin Mountains in
the northwest, the Antrim Plateau along the northeastern coast, and the
Mourne Mountains in the southeast. The highest point in the country is
Slieve Donard (852 m/2796 ft), a peak in the Mourne Mountains.
The chief rivers are the Foyle
River, which forms part
of the northwestern boundary and flows into Lough Foyle at Londonderry,
and the Upper Bann and Lower Bann rivers. The former rises in the Mourne
Mountains and empties into Lough Neagh; the latter flows out of Lough
Neagh to the North Channel. Among the many other rivers are the Main,
Blackwater, Lagan, Erne, and Bush. Because of the generally flat
drainage is poor, and the areas of marshland are extensive.
The climate of Northern Ireland is mild and damp
throughout the year. The prevailing westerly winds from the Gulf Stream
are largely responsible for the lack of extreme summer heat and winter
cold. The average annual temperature is approximately 10њ C (50њ F);
temperatures average about 14.4њ C (about 58њ F) in July and about 4.4њ
C (about 40њ F) in January. Rainfall is distributed evenly during the
year. The annual precipitation frequently exceeds 1016 mm (40 in) in the
north and is about 760 mm (about 30 in) in the south. The level of
humidity is high.
The most valuable natural resources of Northern Ireland
are its fertile soil and rich pasturelands. Natural waterpower is
abundant. The chief minerals are basalt, limestone, sand and gravel,
granite, chalk, clay, and shale; bauxite, iron ore, and coal also are
found in small amounts. Peat is important as a fuel.
Plants and Animals
In general, the plants and animals of Northern Ireland
are similar to those of the island as a whole. The only distinctive
plant is a species of wild orchid, Spiranthes stricta, found in
the valleys of the Upper and Lower Bann rivers. Distinctive species of
animal life include the pollan, a freshwater variety of whitefish found
in Lough Neagh and Lough Erne.
The majority of the people are of Scottish or English
ancestry and are known commonly as the Scotch-Irish. The remainder of
the population is Irish, principally native to Ulster.
English is the sole official language. Unlike the
Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland does not encourage the use of the
The population of Northern Ireland (1992 preliminary)
was 1,610,300. The overall density was about 113 persons per sq km
(about 295 per sq mi). The population is unevenly distributed, with
greater concentrations in the eastern half. It is almost equally divided
between urban and rural dwellers.
The capital and largest city of Northern Ireland is Belfast
(population, 1991 preliminary, 279,237), which is surrounded by heavy
industries including shipbuilding and textiles. The other major city in
Northern Ireland is Londonderry
Northern Ireland is divided into 26 districts. Each
district is governed by an elected council.
Religious affiliation has been a key determinant in
Northern Ireland's history, politics, and social life since the 17th
century. At various times it has determined access to voting and jobs,
standards of living, and education. In modern times it has come to
symbolize the differences between the descendants of the original Irish
inhabitants and those of the settler community. The descendants of the
Scottish and English settlers are predominantly Protestant; those of the
original Irish inhabitants are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. In the
early 1990s, almost 51 percent of the population regarded themselves as
Protestant, and almost 39 percent as Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholics
are the largest single denomination. The largest Protestant
denominations are the Presbyterian, the Church
of Ireland, and the Methodist. Unlike
England, Northern Ireland has no established, or state, church. The Church of
Ireland, at one time a branch of the Church of England, was disassociated from the state in 1871.
Education in Northern Ireland is free and compulsory for
children between the ages of 5 and 15. The educational system is
essentially similar to that of England. In the early 1990s Northern
Ireland had nearly 1100 primary schools, annually attended by
approximately 191,000 pupils and staffed by more than 8200 teachers.
Secondary and special schools numbered about 275 and were attended by
about 147,000 students taught by 10,300 instructors. The country has two
University of Belfast,
founded as Queen's College in 1845, and the University of Ulster (1984),
with campuses in Coleraine, Belfast, Jordanstown, and Londonderry. The
total annual university enrollment in the early 1990s was about 17,000.
Two colleges, the Belfast College of Technology (1901) and the Union
Theological College (1978), are in Belfast.
Originally, Northern Ireland was culturally
indistinguishable from the remainder of Ireland. However, with the waves
of colonization from England and Scotland during the 17th century, the
northeastern province of Ulster evolved a distinctive cultural identity.
The settlers, who came to form a majority in the region, were British in
culture and tradition, and Protestant in religion; their descendants are
committed to keeping the province constitutionally allied with Great
Britain. The Irish inhabitants, in a minority and for centuries
politically and economically marginalized, had as their goal the
reunification of the island of Ireland. In addition, Northern Ireland is
considerably more urbanized and industrialized than the Republic of
Northern Ireland shares the early cultural glories of
all Ireland. To Ulster belongs one of the two great cycles of Irish
myths that contain the exploits of CЯ Chulainn and the tragic story of
Deirdre (see Gaelic
Literature). There is
a thriving theatrical movement in Belfast, and much literary activity.
Belfast is the base of Opera Northern Ireland, which presents seasons at
the Grand Opera House in the city, and also tours the province. A ballet
company is based in the capital, as is the Belfast Philharmonic Society,
one of Britain's leading choral societies. The Ulster Symphony Orchestra
is among the leading orchestras of Britain. Queen's University hosts the
annual Belfast Festival.
Northern Ireland has two national
museums: the Ulster
Museum in Belfast, which houses a collection of Irish antiquities; and
the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Holywood, County Down.
Northern Ireland's gross domestic product in 1992 was
about $18.3 billion. In general, the economy of Northern Ireland is
based on agriculture and manufacturing and is closely tied to that of
Great Britain as a whole; almost half of manufacturing output is sold to
the rest of Britain; one quarter is sold locally. Northern Ireland has
been particularly hard hit by the decline of traditional industries like
shipbuilding, on which much of its prosperity and many jobs depended.
The lack of economic opportunities, particularly for young people,
played a role in the sectarian conflicts of the 1970s. At the same time,
however, the threat of terrorism hindered efforts to attract investment
and create new jobs in the 1980s. Considerable public expenditure has
been devoted to urban renewal in Belfast and Londonderry. Various
agencies have been established to attract new companies and encourage
small business, backed by tax and other incentives. Helped by moves
towards a peaceful settlement of the sectarian violence, several
important new investments were announced in the early 1990s.
Public finance comes predominantly from taxes (50
percent in 1994) and government grants in aid from Great Britain (41
percent); Northern Ireland also received considerable funding from the
Small farms predominate in Northern Ireland, and
production generally includes both crops and livestock. Livestock on
farms in the early 1990s numbered approximately 1.5 million cattle, 2.6
million sheep, 588,000 pigs, and 12.3 million poultry. The leading crops
in the country were potatoes, barley, hay, oats, turnips, apples, and
Forestry and Fishing
Northern Ireland is sparsely forested, but the state
afforestation program has made considerable progress, and in the early
1980s about 60,000 cu m (about 2.1 million cu ft) of timber were felled
annually. The annual catch of fish and shellfish in the early 1990s was
about 15,000 metric tons. Saltwater fishing is centered on the eastern
coast, principally off Newcastle; the most important species caught
include herring, whiting, and scallops. Freshwater fisheries operate in
Lough Neagh, Lough Erne, and Upper Lough Erne; the species caught
include salmon, trout, eel, and pollan.
Mining and Manufacturing
Mining and quarrying are relatively unimportant economic
activities in Northern Ireland. They employed only about 6200 workers in
the late 1980s. The chief minerals are basalt, sand and gravel, peat,
chalk, limestone, and granite.
Manufacturing is a major source of the national product.
In the early 1990s the industrial output of Northern Ireland was about
18 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Manufacturing and
construction accounted for about one-fifth of the employed work force.
Traditionally, the leading industries of Northern
Ireland have been the manufacture of textiles and clothing. Linen is the
most important textile manufactured; cotton cloth and fabrics woven of
synthetic fibers rank next in importance. Shipbuilding and the
manufacture of aircraft also are major industries; large shipyards are
located in Belfast. Other manufactures include textile machinery,
electrical and electronic equipment, processed food, liquor, tobacco
products, and chemicals.
About 80 percent of Northern Ireland's external trade is
with Great Britain, and the British pound is the legal tender of
Northern Ireland. A large portion of the exports to Great Britain is
transshipped to other countries, however. Northern Ireland exports linen
goods, textiles, clothing, machinery, and food, notably meat, potatoes,
and dairy products. Imports consist chiefly of petroleum and other fuels,
raw materials and metals, produce, and an assortment of manufactured
Transportation and Communications
Northern Ireland has about 23,730 km (about 14,745 mi)
of roads, including 113 km (70 mi) of motorway. The Northern Ireland
Railways Company provided passenger service on 357 km (222 mi) of
railroad track. Daily steamship and airline services connect Belfast
with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland has three daily newspapers, the Belfast
Telegraph, the Irish News, and the News Letter, all
published in Belfast. In the early 1990s they had a combined daily
circulation of about 272,000.
The system of labor relations in Northern Ireland is
based on the same principles as that of Great Britain. A major
proportion of trade unionists in Northern Ireland are members of trade
unions with headquarters in Great Britain.
Northern Ireland, an integral part of Great Britain,
elects members (now 17) to the British House of Commons. In recent years
some of those elected have chosen not to go to London (usually in order
to protest the domestic situation). The Government of Ireland Act,
passed by the British Parliament in 1920 and modified by several
subsequent agreements between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, is the
country's basic constitutional document. In 1972, however, because of
political and religious strife, London imposed direct rule. A 1973 act
gave Northern Ireland much local autonomy, while Great Britain retained
control over defense, foreign policy, currency, tariffs, and
communications. In January 1974, direct rule was relinquished, but it
was reimposed again that same year. The office of governor and the
Northern Ireland Parliament were abolished, and the secretary of state
for Northern Ireland became the head of government. The 78-member
assembly that met from 1982 to 1986 had only reviewing and consulting
responsibility. In 1985, an agreement granted the Republic of Ireland a
limited role in governing Northern Ireland and set up an
intergovernmental conference of British and Irish cabinet ministers.
The highest court is the Supreme Court of Judicature of
Northern Ireland, which consists of the High Court, the Court of Appeal,
and the Crown Court. Lower courts include county courts with criminal
and civil jurisdiction and magistrates' courts for minor offenses.
Northern Ireland is divided into 26 districts for the
purposes of local government. Each district is run by a council
responsible for a variety of administrative functions.
The Ulster Unionist Party governed Northern Ireland from
1921 to 1972. More recently, the party has split into two groups; the
Official Unionist and the Democratic Unionist; the latter are opposed to
any compromise on Northern Ireland's future in relation to Great Britain
and the most hostile to the Republic of Ireland. The other main
political parties are the Social Democratic and Labour Party, which
supports peaceful reunification with Ireland, the Alliance Party, and Sinn
Fein, the political
wing of the outlawed Irish
Until 1994 Sinn Fein was excluded from talks between Britain and the
Republic of Ireland on the future of Northern Ireland because it refused
to denounce violence. However, its candidates participated in local and