Ireland. The Emerald Isle. Or the Emerald Toilet, depending on your perspective.
Anyway, it's an island next to a bigger island, best known for Guinness and crap weather. The biggest city on the island of Ireland is Dublin, followed by Belfast, which is, of course, in Northern Ireland.
The island is split into 32 counties, of which 6 belong to the United Kingdom. The other 26 belong to the Republic of Ireland. Historically, there were four provinces: Ulster, Munster, Connacht and Leinster. Today, they serve no administrative function, though the 6 counties which form Northern Ireland are often wrongly called Ulster.
The Republic (or South) had for many years exported gazillions of people to work in the UK. Today, the UK reciprocates by sending its stag and hen nights to Ireland, and most notably Temple Bar in Dublin. There, the simple pub owners carefully measure each and every pint sold, before selling it to the party-goers for as little as possible. Often, the party goers must force the pub owners to take money for their lovingly handcrafted product. Of course, these above sentence may be being economical with the truth as Dublin is the 13th most expensive city in the world, on par with New York.
Anyway, some history. the first mention of "Ireland" is as "Hibernia" by the Romans or Greeks. It is generally believed that the Romans did not establish permanent settlements in Ireland, though trading between Wales and Ireland did occur at this time. After the fall of the Roman empire, Christianity took root, and the period between 400AD and 1000AD is best known for its establishment of monastic settlements, as well as Viking raids and the establishment of the first Irish towns.
In 1169 Dermot McMurrough, king of Leinster, invited Richard de Clare- Strongbow- to Ireland to provide military assistance. Strongbow and his followers proved reluctant to leave, and over the next few hundred years the whole island came under British control, despite various risings, rebellions and wars. In 1801 the Irish parliament, which had existed since the thirteenth century, was abolished by the Act of Union, and Britain and Ireland became one entity. Henceforth, Irish MPs would sit in London. 1845-47 brought the the Great Famine, caused by the dangerous reliance amongst the Irish poor on a single crop, the potato. Blight in the potatoes lead to massive crop failures. This lead to a serious decline in the Irish language (for it was the Irish-speaking areas which were hit the heaviest), which has continued to this day. Massive numbers of people took the Famine as the cue to emigrate. Though emigration was nothing new to the Irish- thousands from Ulster had left for America and Canada and thousands of others had moved to Britain- the sheer volume and concentration was unprecedented. It also begat a culture of emigration which lasted until the late 1980s.
Irish nationalism, dormant for so long, began to rear its head once again in the 1870s, riding on the back of calls for land reform, which was eventually granted. Calls then grew- lead by Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant landowner- for Home Rule, which was defeated on a number of occasions in parliament. Eventually, using the Parliament Act, the government of the day forced it through the Lords, which had been blocking Home Rule legislation. It now became clear that Home Rule would arrive in September 1914. In opposition to Home Rule were the Unionists, who feared that a Dublin parliament would ignore their interests and kowtow to the Vatican. The Conservative Party allied themselves to the Unionist cause. To prepare for this eventuality, in 1912 the Ulster Volunteer Force was formed, a private army which had the background support of a number of army officers. This support became public with the Curragh Muitiny, when cavalry officers declared that they would not march on Ulster- and the union flag. The UVF was well financed and organsied, and was armed with German weapons. Nationalists had also formed their own army, the Irish Volunteers, to further their own ambitions. It was feared that civil war would break out in the early autumn of 1914.
However, with the outbreak of World War One, tensions subsided somewhat. Virtually all eligible memebers of the UVF enlisted in the British Army, and formed the 36th (Ulster) Division, which was to receive its baptism of fire in July 1916, on the Somme.The Irish Volunteers split; those who wanted Home Rule opted to join the British Army, while those who did not- and wanted, instead, a republic- formed what came to be known as the Irish Republican Army.
At Easter 1916, while most of the British Army was distracted by having to rescue the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys (or French), Republicans staged a Rising.Most of the fighting took place in Dublin city centre, lasted a week, and killed around 800 people. Many of the buildings in the city centre were reduced to rubble.
In 1918 the first post-war General Election was held. In Ireland, Sinn Fein won 82 seats, while the Unionists won over 20 and Parnells old party, the Irish Parliamentary Party, collapsed to single figures. Among the Sinn Fein MPs elected were Eamonn de Valera and Michael Collins. In January 1919, those Sinn Fein MPs (MPs from the other parties were invited to attend, but did not) who were not in jail met at the Mansion House in Dublin and declared themselves to be Dail Eireann- the Irish parliament. This was subsequently declared to be an illegal organisation by the British and from then until 1921 the Dail met in secret. On the same day of the inagural Dail the War of independence began when two RIC officers were shot dead by IRA members in Co. Tipperary.
The war, which lasted until 1921, was much more of a protracted guerilla campaign. The IRA used hit-and-run tactics to great success; the British easily defeated them in large-scale confrontations. The British, however, had to be mindful of public opinion at a time when people were tired from four years of world war. By mid-1921, when a truce was declared, the IRA were only capable of continuing operations for a further fortnight. Treaty negotiations began shortly afterward in London.
In December the Treaty was signed. The 26 counties became known as the Irish Free State and became a member of the Commonwealth; the other 6 counties remained firmly inside the UK, but with their own parliament. The Royal Navy retained bases at Berehaven, Lough Swilly and Cork Harbour. These became known as the Treaty Ports. Their handover to the Free State in 1938 ensured Irish neutrality in the ensuing world war.
In 1949 the Irish Free State became the Republic of Ireland and left the Commonwealth. Six years later the country became a member of the United Nations. Rumours have abounded for years that Ireland could not join the U.N. until Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin died, as he was reputed to have looked unfavourably on Ireland's neutrality during the Second World War.
Ireland has, over the centuries, contributed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight for the British Army. This proud heritage can still be seen today in the Royal Irish Regiment. This, of course, persudes the government of the day that they should spend as little money as possible on defence, as most of the soldiers are in the British Army anyway!
The 26 Counties remained officially neutral during the Second World War, though this neutrality favoured the Allies much more so than the Axis. Despite this, there were a number of invasion scares, most notably in 1944 when the "American Note" raised fears of an invasion from Northern Ireland. It is estimated that in the region of 50,000 Irish from the 26 counties served with British forces during the war.
After the frantic buildup caused by the war, the Defence Forces were once again allowed to lapse in importance. Admission into the UN in 1955, and with it the possibility of participating in UN overseas missions, improved the situation somewhat, though it was only after (1) poor performance of weapons during the UN mission in the Congo and (2) the outbreak of the Troubles that serious investment (by Irish standards) began. In 1978 Irish troops were sent to the Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL mission, a committment which lasted over 20 years.
Today, the Irish Defence Forces comprise the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army.The Naval Service has its own reserve component, known as the Naval Reserve, formerly An Slua Muiri.The Army Reserve was formerly known as An Forsa Cosanta Aituil (FCA). The Irish equivalent of "Them" is the Army Ranger Wing (ARW).
At present the largest Irish overseas troop deployments are in Liberia and the former Yugoslavia.
Asides Eastern Europeans, there are many Irish in the ranks of the French Foreign Legion.
Ireland from wikipedia.