is the third-largest island in Europe, and the twentieth-largest
island in the world. It lies to the north-west of continental
Europe and is surrounded by hundreds of islands and islets.
To the east of Ireland, separated by the Irish Sea, is the
island of Great Britain. Politically, the sovereign country
of Ireland (described as the Republic of Ireland) covers
five-sixths of the island, with Northern Ireland, part of
the United Kingdom, covering the remainder in the north-east.
The first settlements in Ireland date from 8000 BC. By
200 BC Celtic migration and influence had come to dominate
the island. Relatively small scale settlements of both
the Vikings and Normans in the Middle Ages gave way to
complete English domination by the 1600s. Protestant English
rule resulted in the marginalisation of the Catholic majority,
although in the north-east, Protestants were in the majority
due to the Plantation of Ulster. Ireland became part of
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.
A famine in the mid-1800s caused deaths and emigration.
The Anglo-Irish War ended in 1921 with a stalemate and
the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, creating the Irish
Free State, a Dominion within the British Empire, with
effective internal independence but still constitutionally
linked with the British Crown. Northern Ireland, consisting
of six of the 32 Irish counties which had been established
as a devolved region under the 1920 Government of Ireland
Act, immediately exercised its option under the treaty
to retain its existing status within the United Kingdom.
The Free State left the Commonwealth to become a republic
in 1949. In 1973 both parts of Ireland joined the European
Community. Conflict in Northern Ireland led to much unrest
from the late 1960s until the 1990s, which subsided following
a peace deal in 1998.
population of the island is slightly under 6 million (2006),
with 4.2 million in the Republic and an estimated almost
1.75 million in Northern Ireland. This is a significant
increase from a modern historical low in the 1960s, but
still much lower than the peak population of over 8 million
in the early 19th century, prior to the Great Famine.
The name Ireland derives from the name of the Celtic
goddess Ériu (in modern Irish, Éire) with
the addition of the Germanic word land. Most other western
European names for Ireland, such as French Irlande, derive
from the same source.