Northern Ireland

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Great Britain

For an explanation of often confusing terms like Ulster, (Republic of) Ireland, (Great) Britain and United Kingdom see British Isles (terminology).
Northern Ireland (English)
Tuaisceart Éireann  ( Irish)
Norlin Airlann1 ( Ulster Scots)
Northern Ireland flags issue
Flag of Northern Ireland
(former official)
Coat of arms
(former official)
Motto: Dieu et mon droit
(French for "God and my right")2
Anthem: UK: God Save the Queen
Regional: (de facto) Londonderry Air
Location of Northern Ireland
Capital Belfast
54°35.456′N 5°50.4′W
Largest city Belfast
Official language(s) English ( de facto), Irish, Ulster Scots 3, NI Sign Language
Government Constitutional monarchy
 - Queen Queen Elizabeth II
 - Prime Minister Tony Blair MP
 - First Minister Office suspended
 - Deputy First Minister Office suspended
 - Secretary of State Peter Hain MP
 - Government of Ireland Act 1920 
 - Total 13,843 km² ( 4th in UK)
  5,345 sq mi 
 - 2004 est. 1,710,300 ( 4th in UK)
 - 2001 census 1,685,267
 - Density 122/km² (3rd in UK)
315/sq mi 
GDP ( PPP) 2002 estimate
 - Total $33.2 billion
 - Per capita $19,603
Currency Pound sterling ( GBP)
Time zone GMT ( UTC0)
 - Summer ( DST) BST ( UTC+1)
Internet TLD .uk4 .ie5 .eu6
Calling code +447
Patron Saint St Patrick5 
1 Norlin Airlann is a neologism which was not used by Scots speakers historically, but which has some official usage. The spelling Norn Iron is often used by indigenous speakers as an affectionate phonetic spelling to reflect local pronunciation.

2 In line with England
3 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
4 ISO 3166-1 is GB, but .gb is unused
5In common with the rest of Ireland.
6European Union shared domain
7+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 is part of the United Kingdom and covers 5,459  square miles (14,139  km²) in the northeast of the island of Ireland, about a sixth of the total area of the island. It has a population of 1,685,000 (April 2001) — between a quarter and a third of the island's total population. It consists of six counties situated within the province of Ulster, and in the UK is generally known as one of its four Home Nations, forming a constituent country of the United Kingdom. Some of these terms have controversial implications in relation to political ideologies concerning the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

As an administrative division of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland was defined by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and has had its own form of devolved government in a similar manner to Scotland and Wales. The Northern Ireland Assembly is, however, currently in suspension.

Northern Ireland has been for many years the site of a violent and bitter ethno-political conflict between those claiming to represent Nationalists (who are predominantly Catholic and want it to be unified with the Republic of Ireland) and those claiming to represent Unionists (who are predominantly Protestant and want it to remain part of the United Kingdom). Unionists are in the majority in Northern Ireland, though Nationalists do represent a significant minority. The campaign of violence has become known popularly as The Troubles. The majority of both sides of the community have had no actual association with the violent campaigns waged, and most have not supported the violent representatives of their respective communities. Since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, many of the major paramilitary campaigns have either been on ceasefire or have declared their "war" to be over.

Demographics and politics

Main article: Demographics and politics of Northern Ireland

The population of Northern Ireland was estimated as being 1,710,300 on 30 June 2004. In the 2001 census, 53.1% of the Northern Irish population were Protestant, (Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Methodist and other Protestant denominations), 43.8% of the population were Roman Catholic, 0.4% Other and 2.7% none.

A plurality of the present-day population (38%) define themselves as Unionist, 24% as Nationalist and 35% define themselves as neither, 59% express long term preference of the maintenance of Northern Ireland's membership of the United Kingdom, while 22% express a preference for membership of a united Ireland. Possible explanations for this discrepancy may be due to disillusionment with Northern Irish politics surrounding the constitutional question, and others who support the Union but only so long as that is the preference of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. (See demographics and politics of Northern Ireland) Official voting figures, which reflect both 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, and 42% voting 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 SDLP and its party platform for Social Democracy. A majority of Protestants feel a strong connection with Great Britain and wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Many Catholics desire a greater connection with the Republic of Ireland, with 42% of Catholics, according to a 2004 survey, supporting a united Ireland. According to the same 2004 survey, 24% of Northern Irish Catholics support Northern Ireland remaining a part of the United Kingdom (see Catholic Unionist). Official voting figures, again, have these figures much higher.

There have been moves to make Northern Ireland's political scene more in keeping with other parts of the United Kingdom, with some local voters frustrated by the endemically sectarian nature of local political parties. The British Conservative Party now accepts members from Northern Ireland and has contested elections — and has a strong presence in the parliamentary constituency of North Down. The Labour Party, because of a claimed affiliation to the (Irish Nationalist) SDLP, has been reluctant to contest elections locally. The Alliance Party is loosely aligned with the UK Liberal Democrat Party.

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 members, 59 are Unionists and 42 are Nationalist (the remaining seven are classified as "other"). Although the Protestant population is the majority, the largest religious denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, followed by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Church of Ireland (Anglican), and the Methodist Church.

The two opposing views of British unionism and Irish nationalism are linked to deeper cultural divisions. Unionists are predominantly Protestant and often descendants of mainly Scottish, English, Welsh and Huguenot settlers and indigenous Irishmen who had converted to one of the Protestant denominations.

Nationalists are predominantly Catholic and usually descend from the population predating the settlement. Discrimination against nationalists under the Stormont government (1921–1972) gave rise to the nationalist civil rights movement in the 1960s. Some Unionists argue that any discrimination was not just because of religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors. Whatever the cause, the existence of discrimination, and the manner in which Nationalist anger at it was handled, was a major contributing factor which led to the long-running conflict known as The Troubles. The political unrest has gone through its most violent phase in recent times between 1968–1994.

The main actors have been the Provisional IRA and other republican groups determined to end the union with Great Britain, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, British army and various loyalist paramilitary groups who were defending it. As a consequence of the worsening security situation, self-government for Northern Ireland was suspended in 1972. Since the mid 1990s, the main paramilitary group, the Provisional IRA, has observed an uneasy ceasefire. Following negotiations, the Belfast Agreement of 1998 provides for an elected Northern Ireland Assembly, and a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive comprising representatives of all the main parties. These institutions have been suspended since 2002 because of unionist impatience at the pace of Sinn Féin's movement away from its associations with the Provisional IRA, which reached breaking point after PSNI allegations of spying by people working for Sinn Féin at the Assembly ( Stormontgate). The resulting case against the accused Sinn Fein member collapsed and the defendant later admitted to being a British agent.

On 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign and have since decommissioned what is thought to be all of their arsenal. This final act of decommissioning was performed in accordance with the Belfast Agreement 1998, and under the watch of the International Decommissioning Body and two external church witnesses. Many unionists, however, remain sceptical. Many Loyalist paramilitaries also remain sceptical and have refused to decommission their arsenals. See Independent International Commission on Decommissioning

Nationality and identity

People from Northern Ireland are citizens of the UK on the same basis as people from any other part of the UK (i.e. by birth in the UK to at least one parent who is a UK permanent resident or citizen, or by naturalisation).

In addition to UK citizenship, people who were born in Northern Ireland on or before 31 December 2004 (and most persons born after this date) are entitled to claim citizenship of the Republic of Ireland. This is as a result of the Republic of Ireland extending its nationality law on an extra-territorial basis in 2001 as a result of the Belfast Agreement of 1998, which stated that:

The two governments recognise 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 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.

This was subsequently qualified by the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, which stated that, "notwithstanding any other provision of [the] Constitution," no-one would be automatically entitled to Irish citizenship unless they had at least one parent who was (or was entitled to be) an Irish citizen. The subsequent legislation (Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004) brought Irish nationality law into line with British citizenship laws with regard to parentage and ended the anomalous Northern Ireland situation.

In general, Protestants in Northern Ireland see themselves as being British, while Catholics regard themselves as being Irish. Details from attitude surveys are in Demographics and politics of Northern Ireland.


Today, Northern Ireland comprises a diverse patchwork of communities, whose national loyalties are represented in some areas by flags flown from lamp posts. The Union Flag and former governmental Flag of Northern Ireland therefore appear in some loyalist areas, with the Irish national flag, the tricolour appearing in some republican areas. Even kerbstones in some areas are painted red-white-blue or green-white-orange, depending on whether local people express unionist/loyalist or nationalist/republican sympathies.

The only "official" flag of Northern Ireland is the Union Flag. The Northern Ireland Flag (also known as the ' Ulster Banner' or 'Red Hand Flag') is no longer used officially by government, due to the abolition of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1973. The Ulster Banner, however, still remains the main de facto flag used to uniquely represent Northern Ireland. The Ulster Banner is based on the flag of Ulster.

Some unionists tend to use the Union flag, the Ulster Banner, while some nationalists typically use the Irish Tricolour. Many people, however, prefer to avoid flags due to their divisive nature. Violent paramilitary groups on both sides have also developed their own flags. Some unionists also occasionally use the flags of secular and religious organizations to which they belong.

Some groups, including the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Church of Ireland have used the Flag of St. Patrick as a symbol of Ireland which lacks nationalist or unionist connotations. However, this is felt by some to be a loyalist flag, as 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, which represent general comparisons made by both sides with conflicts in the wider world.

The national anthem played at state events in Northern Ireland is God Save The Queen. At some cross-community events, however, the Londonderry Air, also known as the tune of Danny Boy, may be played as a neutral, though unofficial, substitute.

At the Commonwealth Games, the Northern Ireland team uses the Ulster Banner as its flag and Danny Boy is used as its National Anthem. The Northern Ireland football team also uses the Ulster Banner as its flag.

Geography and climate

Map of Northern Ireland
Map of Northern Ireland
Main articles: Geography of Ireland and Geography of the United Kingdom

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 (392 km²) the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles, and the third largest lake in Western Europe. A second extensive lake system is centred on Lower and Upper Lough Erne in Fermanagh.

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 848 m (2782 feet), Northern Ireland's highest point. The volcanic activity which created the Antrim Plateau also formed the eerily geometric pillars of the Giant's Causeway.

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: -17.5°C (0.5°F) at Magherally, near Banbridge, County Down on 1 January 1979.



Mussenden Temple in County Londonderry
Mussenden Temple in County Londonderry

Northern Ireland consists of six counties:

  • County Antrim
  • County Armagh
  • County Down
  • County Fermanagh
  • County Londonderry
  • 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. Coleraine Borough Council, on the other hand, derives its name from the town of Coleraine in County Londonderry.


There are 5 settlements with city status in Northern Ireland:

  • Belfast
  • Derry
  • Newry
  • Armagh
  • Lisburn

Towns and villages

  • Ahoghill, Antrim
  • Ballycastle, Ballyclare, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Bangor, Bushmills
  • Carnmoney, Carrickfergus, Castlerock, Comber, Coleraine, Cookstown, Craigavon, Crumlin
  • Donaghadee, Downpatrick, Dromore, Dundonald, Dungannon, Dungiven
  • Enniskillen
  • Glengormley, Garvagh
  • Garrison, County Fermanagh
  • Hillsborough, Holywood
  • Kilkeel
  • Larne, Limavady, Lurgan
  • Magherafelt, Macosquin
  • Newcastle, Newtownards, Newtownstewart
  • Omagh
  • Portrush, Portstewart, Portadown, Portaferry, Poyntzpass
  • Strabane
  • Warrenpoint

Places of interest

  • Belfast City
  • Walled City of Derry
  • Political Murals in Derry and Belfast
  • Cave Hill
  • Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
  • The Giant's Causeway
  • Castlerock and Mussenden Temple
  • The Glens of Antrim
  • Navan Fort Armagh, Emain Macha
  • Portstewart
  • The Sperrin Mountains
  • Rathlin Island
  • Lough Erne
  • The Mountains of Mourne
  • Lough Neagh
  • Strangford Lough
  • Carlingford Lough
  • River Foyle and Lough Foyle
  • National parks of Northern Ireland
  • National Trust Properties in Northern Ireland

Variations in geographic nomenclature

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

The most common names used are


  • Ulster - to suggest that Northern Ireland has an older ancestry that predates its founding in 1921, dating back both to the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th century and to the millennium-old province of Ulster, one of four provinces on the island of Ireland. The historic province of Ulster covers a greater landmass than Northern Ireland: six of its counties are in Northern Ireland, three in the Republic of Ireland.
  • The Province - to again link to the historic Irish province of Ulster, with its mythology. Also refers to the fact that NI is a province of the UK.


  • North of Ireland - to link Northern Ireland to the rest of the island, by describing it as being in the 'north of Ireland' and so by implication playing down Northern Ireland's links with Great Britain. (The northernmost point in Ireland, in County Donegal, is in fact in the Republic.)
  • The Six Counties - 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.) 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 Republic, whose legitimacy is not recognised by republicans opposed to the Belfast Agreement, is described as being "The Free State", referring to the Irish Free State, the Republic's old name.
  • British Occupied Ireland. Similar in tone to the Occupied Six Counties this term is used by more dogmatic anti- Belfast 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.
  • Fourth Green Field. From the song Four Green fields by Tommy Makem which describes Ireland as divided with one of the four green fields (the traditional provinces of Ireland) being In strangers hands, referring to the partition of Ireland.


  • The Black North - a term sometimes used in different ways - either pejoratively or ironically, depending on one's political affiliation / sympathies. Often used by people from the Republic of Ireland.
  • Norn Iron - a joke term used by both nationalists and unionists in reference to their own accent. Often refers to the Northern Ireland national football team.

Use of language for geography

Nationalist wall mural, Derry 1986
Nationalist wall mural, Derry 1986

Notwithstanding the ancient realm of Dal 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 newspapers in the Republic for still referring to the "Six Counties".

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". Some nationalist and republican-leaning media outlets in Ireland (such as Daily Ireland) almost always use "North of Ireland" or the "Six Counties".

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

Many news bulletins since the 1990s have opted to avoid all contentious terms and use the official name, Northern Ireland. The North is still used by some news bulletins in the Republic of Ireland, to the annoyance of some Unionists. 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, while others, such as The Guardian use the terms interchangeably. The media in the Republic of Ireland use the names preferred by nationalists. Whether this is an official editorial policy or a personal preference by the writers is unknown.

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 refused to intervene on the matter and thus the council is now called "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.


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 local economy has benefitted from major investment by many large multi-national corporations into high tech industry. These large organisations are attracted by government subsidies and the highly skilled workforce in Northern Ireland.


The area now known as Northern Ireland has had a diverse history. From serving as the bedrock of Irish resistance in the era of the plantations of Queen Elizabeth and James I in other parts of Ireland, it became itself the subject of major planting of Scottish and English settlers after the Flight of the Earls in 1607 (when the native Gaelic aristocracy fled to Catholic Europe).

The all-island Kingdom of Ireland (1541—1800) merged into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801 under the terms of the Act of Union, under which the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain merged under a central parliament, government and monarchy based in London. In the early 20th century Unionists, led by Sir Edward Carson, opposed the introduction of Home Rule in Ireland. Unionists were in a minority on the island of Ireland as a whole, but were a majority in the northern province of Ulster, and a very large majority in the counties of Antrim, and Down, small majorities in the counties of Armagh and Londonderry, with substantial numbers also concentrated in the nationalist-majority counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. These six counties, containing an overall unionist majority, would later form Northern Ireland.

The clash between the House of Commons and House of Lords of the controversial budget of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd-George, produced the Parliament Act 1911 which enabled the veto of the Lords to be overturned. Given that the Lords had been the unionists' main guarantee that a home rule act would not be enacted, because of the majority of pro-unionist peers in the House, the Parliament Act made Home Rule a likely prospect in Ireland. Opponents to Home Rule, from Conservative Party leaders like Andrew Bonar Law and Lord Randolph Churchill to militant unionists in Ireland threatened the use of violence, producing the Larne Gun Running incident in 1912, when they smuggled thousands of rifles and rounds of ammunition from Imperial Germany for the Ulster Volunteer Force. Randolph Churchill famously told a unionist audience in Ulster that "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right".

Prime Ministers
of Northern Ireland
Sir James Craig (1922—1940)
Sir James Craig (1922—1940)
John Millar Andrews (1940—1943)
John Millar Andrews (1940—1943)
Sir Basil Brooke (1943—1963)
Sir Basil Brooke (1943—1963)
Captain Terence O'Neill (1963—1969)
Captain Terence O'Neill (1963—1969)
Brian Faulkner (1971—1972)
Brian Faulkner (1971—1972)

The prospect of civil war in Ireland was seen by some as likely. In 1914 the Third Home Rule Act, which contained provision for a temporary partition, received the Royal Assent. However its implementation was suspended for the duration of the intervening First World War, which was only expected to last a few weeks but lasted four years. But by the time it concluded, the Act was seen as dead in the water, with public opinion in the majority nationalist community having moved from a demand for home rule to something more substantial, independence. Lloyd-George proposed in 1919 a new bill which would divide Ireland into two Home Rule areas, twenty-six counties being ruled from Dublin, six being ruled from Belfast, with a shared Lord Lieutenant of Ireland appointing both executives and a Council of Ireland, which Lloyd-George believed would evolve into an all-island parliament.

Partition of Ireland, partition of Ulster

In United Kingdom law, Ireland was partitioned in 1921 under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Six of the nine Ulster counties in the north-east formed Northern Ireland and the remaining three counties joined those of Leinster, Munster and Connacht to form Southern Ireland. Whilst the former came into being, the latter had only a momentary existence to ratify (in United Kingdom law) the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the Anglo-Irish War.

Under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Northern Ireland was provisionally scheduled to be included in the Irish Free State, though it could opt out should the Parliament of Northern Ireland elect so to do. As expected it did so immediately. Once that happened, as provided for, an Irish Boundary Commission came into being, to decide on the territorial boundaries between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Though leaders in Dublin expected a substantial reduction in the territory of Northern Ireland, with nationalist areas like south Armagh, Tyrone, southern Londonderry and urban territories like Derry and Newry moving to the Free State, it appears that the Boundary Commission decided against this. The British and Irish governments agreed to leave the boundaries as they were defined in the 1920 Act. The Council of Ireland provided for in the Treaty, to link Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, did not come into being.

1925 to the present

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. The British did not inform the Northern Ireland government that they had made the offer to the Dublin government.

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, and this was most recently reaffirmed by the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This status was echoed in the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, which was signed by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Bunreacht na hÉireann, the constitution of the Republic, 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 the southern state only could exercise legal control over the territory formerly known as the Irish Free State. The new Articles 2 and 3, added to the Bunreacht to replace the earlier articles, implicitly acknowledge that the status of Northern Ireland, and its relationships with the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, would only be changed with the agreement of a majority of voters in Northern Ireland. An acknowledgement that a decision on whether to remain in the United Kingdom or join the Republic of Ireland rests with the people of Northern Ireland was also central to the Belfast Agreement, which was signed in 1998 and ratified by plebiscites held simultaneously in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, many unionist leaders equivocate when asked if they would peacefully accept a reunited Ireland if a majority in Northern Ireland sought it.

A plebiscite within Northern Ireland on whether it should remain in the United Kingdom, or join the Republic, was held in 1973. 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 most nationalists boycotted the poll (see Northern Ireland referendum, 1973 for more). Though legal provision remains for holding another plebiscite, and former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble some years ago advocated the holding of such a vote, no plans for such a vote have been adopted as of 2006.

Lives lost and injured in the “Troubles”

Bombings in Great Britain tended to have had more publicity since attacks in Britain were comparatively rare (in the context of the troubles) indeed 93% of killings happened in Northern Ireland. Republican paramilitaries have contributed to nearly 60% (2056) of these. Loyalists have killed nearly 28% (1020) while the security forces have killed just over 11% (362) with 9% percent of those attributed to the British Army.

Civilians killed

Civilians account for the highest death toll at 53% or 1798 fatalities. Loyalist paramilitaries account for a higher proportion of civilian deaths (those with no military or paramilitary connection) according to figures published in Malcolm Sutton’s book, “Bear in Mind These Dead: An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969 - 1993”. According to research undertaken by the CAIN organisation, based on Sutton's work, 85.6% (873) of Loyalist killings, 52.9% (190) by the security forces and 35.9% (738) of all killings by Republican paramilitaries took the lives of civilians between 1969 and 2001. The disparity of a relatively high civilian death toll yet low Republican percentage is explained by the fact that they also had a high combatant's death toll, while on the other hand the Loyalists focused almost exclusively on civilians as they rarely discriminated between the Catholic community and Republicans.

Combatants killed

Republican paramilitaries account for a higher proportion of combatants killed (those within paramilitaries or the military) Again from Malcolm Sutton's research Republicans killed 1318 combatants, the security forces killed 192 the Loyalists killed 147. Both Republicans and Loyalists killed more of their own than each other, over twice as many for Loyalists and nearly four times as many for Republicans.

80 people, mainly civilians, have died without any organisation claiming responsibility. The British Army has also lost 14 soldiers to Loyalists while the security forces overall in the Republic have lost 10 to Republicans.

According to a Submission by Marie Smyth to the Northern Ireland Commission on Victims 40,000 people have also been injured though she believes that to be a conservative figure.


See Culture of Northern Ireland, Culture of Ulster, Culture of Ireland, Culture of the United Kingdom

With its improved international reputation, Northern Ireland has recently witnessed rising numbers of tourists who come to appreciate the area's unique heritage. Attractions include cultural festivals, musical and artistic traditions, countryside and geographical sites of interest, pubs, welcoming hospitality and sports (especially golf and fishing). In 1987, pubs were allowed to open on Sundays, despite vocal opposition.


The Mid Ulster dialect of English spoken in Northern Ireland shows influence from both the West Midlands and Scotland, thereby giving it a distinct accent compared to Hiberno-English, along with the use of such Scots words as wee for 'little' and aye for 'yes'. Some jocularly call this dialect phonetically by the name Norn Iron. 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 ethnic background. English is by far the most widely spoken language in Northern Ireland.

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". Often the use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland has met with the considerable suspicion of Unionists, who have associated it with the largely Catholic Republic of Ireland, and more recently, with the republican movement in Northern Ireland itself.

Ulster Scots comprises varieties of the Scots language spoken in Northern Ireland. Mac Póilin (1999: 116) states that "While most argue that Ulster-Scots is a dialect or variant of Scots, some have argued or implied that Ulster-Scots is a separate language from Scots. The case for Ulster-Scots being a distinct language, made at a time when the status of Scots itself was insecure, is so bizarre that it is unlikely to have been a linguistic argument."

Chinese and Urdu are also 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, Eastern European languages, particularly Polish, are becoming increasingly common.

The most common sign language in Northern Ireland is British Sign Language (BSL), but as Catholics tended to send their deaf children to schools in Dublin ( St Joseph's Institute for Deaf Boys and St Mary's Institute for Deaf Girls, in Cabra), Irish Sign Language (ISL) is commonly used in the Nationalist community. The two languages are not related: BSL is in the British family (which also includes Auslan), and ISL is in the French family (which also includes ASL/ Amerislan). A third language, Northern Ireland Sign Language, is also attested by some.


Education in Northern Ireland differs slightly from systems used elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, in the last year of Primary school, children sit the eleven plus transfer test, and the results determine whether they attend Grammar schools or Secondary schools. This system is due to be changed in 2008 amidst some controversy. Integrated Education is increasing, although Northern Ireland still has a highly religiously segregated education system.


  • List of Primary schools in Northern Ireland
  • List of Grammar schools in Northern Ireland
  • List of Secondary schools in Northern Ireland
  • List of Integrated Schools in Northern Ireland

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