Home » Ireland: Geography, Topography, and a Political Perspective

Ireland: Geography, Topography, and a Political Perspective

There are four provinces in Ireland: Connacht (western Ireland), Munster (southern Ireland), Leinster (eastern Ireland), and Ulster (Northern Ireland). The Republic of Ireland is comprised of the provinces of Connacht, Munster, and Leinster; the province of Ulster is referred to as Northern Ireland and is under Britain’s jurisdiction. Northern and Southern Ireland are differentiated not only by geographical differences, but also by political and religious views. Approximately 5/6 of the 27,136 square mile island is referred to as the Republic of Ireland and claimed freedom during the year 1922, when it separated from Britain’s rule.

This was not an easy transition of political power for the Irish, but rather the beginning of a tumultuous war between Northern Ireland and the Republic. They fought not only because the Republic wanted Britain to relinquish power over Northern Ireland, but also because of a difference in religious values and beliefs (Spencer, 14). Primarily Roman Catholic prior to the mid 16th century, Ireland was influenced by England’s schism from the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Only a small percentage (about 10%) of the Republic of Ireland is Protestant, including Methodist and Presbyterian, however Northern Ireland is predominately Protestant and thus this religious rivalry has played an integral role in the separation of Northern and Southern Ireland and has been the foundation for many political issues and disputes. Interestingly, this religious division is not apparent within the Republic of Ireland because they do not feel threatened by the minority of Protestants politically or religiously (Spencer, 26).

Subsequently, religion plays an important part within the Irish culture, as well as its political history. It was not until The Good Friday Peace Agreement, signed in 1998, that the Protestants and Catholics reached a cease-fire and agreed to stop the fighting and vandalism (Spencer, 14) The importance of religion to the Irish culture is exemplified through the role of religious characters throughout literature and film, as apparent in Sheridan’s The Field. Topographically, there are several features unique to Ireland; the bogs are one of the most significant topographical features that exemplify Ireland’s uniqueness.

Ireland’s climate is conducive to the development of this wetland resource. There are two types of bogs that are found in Ireland: blanket bogs (man-made), and raised bogs (nature produced). The blanket bog is typically found in areas of western Ireland where it characteristically has exceptionally high rates of rainfall per year. It is referred to as the blanket bog because from a distance it appears to cover and protect the land. Ironically, the bog does protect Ireland’s history; archaeologists have found the exploration and research of bogs to be beneficial in acquiring artifacts and fossils from centuries past.

Additionally, the bogs offer access to clean water and enable the water supply to be preserved from environmental influences. Bogs also provide a source of fuel for the Irish; the top layer of the bog, referred to as peat or turf once cut, can be recycled and used as a source of fuel. Unfortunately, because it is used as such a valuable resource, the blanket bog is not able to reproduce as quickly as it is being destroyed (www. Wesleyjohnston. com). In contrast, the raised bogs are found primarily in central Ireland and are a naturally occurring wetland.

The raised bogs originally formed after the cessation of the Ice Age at which point many lakes formed throughout central Ireland. As time passed, the lakes became covered with peat and the water supply diminished. However, the raised bogs are still a significant wetland feature in Ireland and much is being done to conserve and preserver these wetlands. (http://www. wesleyjohnston. com). Industry and Economy Ireland has had a primarily agricultural and horticultural economy: cattle, sheep, hogs, horses, and poultry as well as wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, hay, turnips, and sugar beet crops.

Most of rural Ireland is found in the South Eastern portion of the country. More recently, there has been environmental action taken to preserve these agricultural areas and reforestation programs have been implemented. Although it is not a significant part of the Irish economy, the fishing industry does play a minute role. Most of the fishing industry exists near the coastal shores of Ireland, however, the inland water regions are known for eel, trout, and salmon. The Irish did not exploit the sea like most Island inhabitants.

Perhaps this reverence for the sea, as well as their fear of the unknown, originated amongst the folktales and myths about sea – maidens, mermaids, selkies, and merrows. Since it is believed that upon death the human soul can be transformed into a sea animal, insect, or other inhuman form, it would seem disrespectful to the Irish to fish among these creatures. Especially since those mythical creatures that inhabit the areas closest to the shoreline are most probably protecting their children and spouses.

Additionally, since merrows and mermaids were perceived as the bearer of tumultuous weather, I believe the Irish would prefer to stay away from the waters where there would be a greater opportunity to bear witness to one these mythical creatures. In addition to the fishing and agricultural industries, mining also plays a small, but significant, role in developing Ireland’s economy. Ireland is best known for its production of zinc, lead, limestone, and other mineral deposits (http://www. angelfire. com/ca/ irelandhistory/1998. html).

Since the 1970s, Ireland’s economy has been influenced by both the technological/computing and chemical industries. These industries have provided the Irish with a more metropolitan way of life by offering better paying jobs and an incentive to move from rural Ireland to the city. Consequently, tourism has also increased and has been an important factor in the success of the Irish economy. Additionally, the exportation of textiles, such as Donegal tweed, Irish linen, and Aran sweaters, have helped the economy because they are in high demand throughout the world (Spencer, 18).

Language and the Oral Tradition Prior to the early 16th century, Gaelic was the predominate language of Ireland. Presently, Ireland is an English speaking country although there is still a small percentage, about 11% who speak the traditional Irish language, Gaelic, fluently; only 2% speak the language regularly. Unlike English’s 26-letter alphabet, Gaelic consists of an 18-letter alphabet, 5 vowels and 13 consonants. A derivative of the Celtic language, the language is unique because emphasis is continually placed on the first syllable of the word (Spencer, 28).

Storytelling plays a significant role within the Irish culture, especially prior to the advancement of technology and the invention of radio and television. The oral tradition not only places emphasis on the eloquence of the Irish language, but also became a means by which one could entertain and share the legends, myths, and folktales of their Irish ancestors. The stories were shared among family members, during festivals and seasonal celebrations, and in other social atmospheres, like pubs.

It is believed that it is Ireland’s emphasis on the oral tradition that has led many to pursue writing as a career (to name a few, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, and Frank McCourt) (Spencer, 28-29). Travelers: Ireland’s Sub-Culture Unlike America’s “melting Pot,” Ireland consists of a homogenous group of people whose ancestors are primarily of Celt, Norse, or English ethnicity. This is significant because, unlike America which is representative of a vast compilation of ethnic diversity, Ireland has not yet been infiltrated with excessive numbers of immigrants from neighboring regions.

Although there is a significant geographical difference between rural and suburban Ireland, there is less of a class distinction due to wealth compared to other countries such as America. The exception to this, however, is the poor group of individuals known as the “Travelers”, or more derogatorily referred to as Tinkers. The origin of these traveling people is not well-known; it is believed the Travelers’ ancestors were traveling tradesmen or tins men, thus the nickname tinker originated.

Having been evicted from their land and home, partly due to the British influence in Ireland, the Travelers journeyed from one place to another begging for food and money. The Travelers are perceived as unhygienic, uncivilized, and uneducated individuals. More recently, there has been governmental intervention to encourage and support Travelers to receive assistance and live in tenements and project housing in the hopes of pursuing a more stable and healthy lifestyle (the life of the travelers and their inability to settle down is conveyed through the movie Into the West).

Presently, there are still a minority of Travelers that continue to reside in aluminum trailers, which contain all their belongings. They travel along the side of the road. During the early 60’s it would have been more common for someone to witness the Travelers living in a caravan, drawn by horse; or in a tent near the roadside. The common conception of the Travelers is that they live a disease infested lifestyle and are unhygienic due to poor cleansing habits.

Subsequently, Traveler’s have a very low life expectancy and a relatively high infant mortality rate; this is also exemplified in the movie Into the West with the premature death of the young woman during childbirth. (http://www. irish-society. org). Geographic Exploration of Ireland through Film Through viewing the films, The Secret of Roan Inish, The Field, and Into the West, one can take a geographical journey through the uniquely beautiful and ethereal Ireland. We begin our journey with The Field set in the “Connemara village of Leeane, overshadowed by the wet and misty mountains of Connemara and Mayo (http://www. ompleatseanbean. com/field). ” One of the more dramatic scenes in the film, where the wealthy American, Bull, and Bull’s son (Tadgh) confront each other concerning the sale of a sentimental piece of land, is set near the Erriff River, which is located at Aasleagh Falls near the village of Leenane. As our cinematic journey progresses, we are taken to Dublin where young Fiona, the main character of The Secret of Roan Inish, had initially resided with her father until he deemed it in her best interest to return to her grandparents fishing village in Ireland’s County Donegal to live.

Fiona is intrigued by the view of the Island of Roan Inish which can be seen from the coast line of this western Irish village (The Secret of Roan Inish). On a journey similar to Fiona’s, the two young boys, Ossie and Tito in Into the West also begin their journey in the urban and metropolitan eastern Ireland city of Dublin. The boys, guided by a magical horse named Tir na nOg, journey into the western regions of Ireland. Our cinematic journey is an excellent means by which to expose students to the various geographical characteristics of Ireland and the significant differences between the eastern and western regions.

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