HOW about a little question time. Let’s say Greenland is the largest island in the world. Some would say it’s Australia, but that would be wrong because you cannot classify continents as islands – the land mass is too large, so we will stick with Greenland.
So name the 20th largest? I will give you a clue: it is also considered the third-largest island in Europe. If your answer is Ireland you are dead right. The European order is: 1, Britain, 84,000 square miles; 2, Iceland, 39,315; 3, Ireland, 31,521. This encompasses all 32 counties. Northern Ireland accounts for one-sixth of the landmass, with the remainder belonging to the Republic.
The country is divided into four provinces, encompassing 32 counties. Leinster is the largest with 12 counties – Louth, Meath, Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly Longford, Westmeath and Kildare. Ulster is second with nine – Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal in the Republic, while the remaining six – Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Derry – are in Northern Ireland and under British sovereignty. Munster has six counties – Clare, Limerick, Kerry, Cork, Waterford and Tipperary, the only inland county in the province. Finally, Connaught has five counties – Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Leitrim and Roscommon.
The 32 counties have different dates of creation between the 13th and 17th centuries. In the early days we had ten county corporates, something similar to city councils. These were Carrickfergus in Antrim, 1326; Drogheda, 1412; Dublin city, 1548; Waterford city, 1574; the cities of Cork and Limerick in 1608 and 1609 respectively, followed by Kilkenny and Galway in 1610. Under the 1613 charter, the council known as Derry was renamed Londonderry and was merged with the county and town of Coleraine to become the county of Londonderry. This system remained unchanged for more than 200 years.
Why was it necessary to have counties? Well, the original thinking was that too many towns had the same name as the region around them. To differentiate, the word county was introduced. For example, Carlow town could not really be applied to Tullow, Hacketstown or Old Leighlin, so theses areas became part of County Carlow, with the town still the principal centre of the area. There would be many cases of the same breakdown, such as our neighbours in Wexford, Wicklow, Kilkenny and Waterford, to name but a few.
Of course, up to the 2014 local elections we had many more local authorities than we have now. In fact, the number has been reduced from 114 to 31. This has resulted in the loss of 677 seats, leaving just 950 councillors compared with 1,627 before the election.
The Republic has local authorities in all 26 counties, with Dublin divided into four councils – city, South County Dublin, Fingal and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, while city councils such as Waterford and Limerick have been merged with their county councils. Cork and Galway retain separate councils, while Tipperary north and south ridings have also merged. Constituencies for the European elections have also been withdrawn, and the Republic now elects 11 MEPs in three constituencies. In previous elections it returned 12 representatives from four constituencies.
I was curious about the way this election would function, with the three-seater Dublin constituency electing three MEPs. The south, with ten counties, would elect four, and the Midlands North West, with 15 counties, also returning four. So I decided to become involved and took part in the canvass, covering the county of Kildare for Independent candidate Marian Harkin. We had a team of three to five people during the week, rising to ten at weekends. Getting elected is much more difficult for the independent than the party candidate, who would have the support of members in each town and village. I worked as a tallyman in Punchestown as the boxes were opened and put in bundles of 50 for each candidate.
Next was the Royal Hotel in Castlebar for the main count. It was intense, as I had to watch every paper counted at the station to which I was assigned, which meant paying attention to every paper that was turned when votes were being counted. I would have to raise issues such as papers being in the wrong bundle. Our involvement went on for five days due to a recheck because of the closeness of the final vote between Marian Harkin and Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher. I learned a lot about how an election campaign is run and made some good friends like Pat and Anne Ryan (Marian’s sister), Paul Kelly and others. At the end of the exercise I swore I’d never do it again. The consolation here, or perhaps I should say elation, was the fact that Marian took that last seat after a 17-hour marathon recheck.
In Northern Ireland, changes also took place, with 11 new councils being elected in the May 2014 election. These will work as shadow councils until 1 April 2015 with the 26 current councils. They will work in tendem until that date, when the old councils will cease to exist. County boundaries are no longer used for local administration, though they are still recognised for sporting and other purposes.
The new administrations will be Belfast City Council, North Down and Ards District Council, Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council, Lisburn and Castlereagh District Council, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council, Mid- and East-Antrim District Council, Causeway Coast and Glens District Council, Mid-Ulster District Council, Derry and Strabane District Council, and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.
The current population of the Republic is approximately 4.5 million. In the North, it’s 1.5 million. And although the figures represent a substantial increase since the 1960s, it is well below the eight million-plus of pre-Famine years. The island usually transcends divisions, with practically all sports except soccer played under a 32-county governing body. These include Gaelic games, rugby, hockey, golf, cricket and boxing. All the leading religions also operate countrywide. Trade union membership in Northern Ireland is open to either Britain’s TUC or Ireland’s Congress of Trade Unions. You can choose either or be a member of both. The ***Belfast Accord*** allowed the setting up of the North-South Ministerial Council, giving ministers from both governments a forum to discuss matters of mutual concern and set up other cross-border organisations.
So now for a look at some facts. The longest river is the Shannon. It meanders 386km from Cavan to Limerick. The highest mountain at 1,041 metres is Carrauntoohill in County Kerry. The largest lake is Lough Neagh, which has a shoreline that touches most counties in Northern Ireland. Dublin is the capital and largest city in the Republic, while Belfast occupies the same status in the North. Munster is the largest province, covering an area of 24,608 square kilometres, with Cork its largest city. The next biggest is Ulster, with an area of 24,181 square kilometres. Next it’s Leinster at 19,774, and finally Connaught, with 17,113, and Galway its largest city.
The warmest recorded air temperature is 33.3 degrees Celsius (91.9F) in Kilkenny on 26 June 1887. The coldest was -19.1C (2.3F), which was recorded in Sligo on 16 January 1881. The longest drought was in Limerick in 1938 when no rainfall was recorded for 38 days in April-May, while the driest year was 1887, with only 14 inches recorded in Dublin. The wettest was 1960, when 156.1 inches was recorded in numerous parts of the country. Galway and East Mayo suffer most from lightening, with five to ten days a year. Ulster is hit with the most snow, while Munster has the least, and lying snow has not been recorded in parts of the south and southwest coast since 1991.
Inland areas are warmer than along the coast in summer but colder in winter. Below-freezing temperatures occur on approximately 40 days, compared with ten at the seaside. Ireland also suffers from heatwaves – the last being in, wait for it, 2006. It started at the beginning of June and lasted to the end of July, the hottest day in June being recorded in Derrylin, Fermanagh at 27C (80.6F), while in Kikenny there were 29 consecutive days of temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (68F). And on nine of those days it exceeded 25C/77F. In July, we saw temperatures above 30 degrees all over the country. The hottest spot was on the 19th in Elphin, County Roscommon, with 32.3 Celsius. Despite the hot days, the nights were actually cold, with temperatures only reaching six to 11 degrees. The coldest night was recorded in Birr, County Offaly on 23 June at just 3.8C, but this was considered a blessing as it made the heatwave more bearable. Now, who has a bad memory and cannot remember a good summer?
Because we are an island nation, Ireland has fewer species of wildlife that any other area of Europe. We separated from the continent about 10,000 years ago, as the glacial meltdown caused the seas to rise. This cut us off from Britain which, in turn, was cut off from the rest of Europe. Our habitats are very mixed, from farmland to forest to peat bogs and mountains, giving a wide diversification of uses.
Only 26 species of mammal are native to Ireland. The most common are the fox, badger, hare and the hedgehog, while some more infrequently-seen creatures are deers, weasels, otters and squirrels. Most birds are migratory. We have no snakes and only one reptile, the common lizard. At one time we had the wolf and the elk but not anymore.
It is believed the first inhabitants might have arrived in or about 8,000BC and that agriculture would have started between 4,500BC and 4,000BC with the arrival of goats, sheep, cattle and cereals from the continent. Mayo’s Ceide Fields are believed to be the oldest Neolithic site in the world. Wheat and barley were the main crops that were grown in this period, so agriculture and farming was on its way and is still a mainstay of our economy today.
This article is written to provide a little piece of information of the island we live on, and I hope you glean something useful from it. Climate statistics are taken from Met Éireann records and other archives.