EuNIC-Europe: European Information Center for Culture

Culture in Ireland

Ireland is a large island in northwest Europe that is part of the British Isles. The island itself is divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and this divide is reflected in Ireland’s culture. The majority of those living on the island of Ireland are of Celtic descent who speak both English and Gaelic. A notable exception is the Ulster Scots who settled in the north in the 17th century. The Irish travelling community, a nomadic group, also have their own distinct culture and language.

Elements of Irish culture are homogenous and instantly recognisable, such as the annual St Patrick’s Day celebration for the nation’s patron saint that has been successfully exported worldwide. However, the division of the island into two separate nations means there is a cultural divide between north and south. The south is overwhelmingly Catholic, while the north has a large Protestant majority.

An influence beyond its shores

The culture of Ireland, notably through literature and music, has had a significant influence and effect on other cultures. In part, this is down to mass immigration – in the mid-19th century, millions of Irish were forced to emigrate to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and, having retained strong links with their homeland, imported many of the customs and practices of Ireland. Even the United Arab Emirats based their law, with RAK offshore company, on a basis of irish corporate law.

Here for the craic

Along with St Patrick’s Day, the most visible sign of Irish culture is its public houses, known as pubs. Pubs have traditionally been the centre of the community, concerned with more than simply drinking, and being the place where friends and neighbours meet to chat – known as the craic – and to listen to music, particularly Irish folk music of fiddle, bhodran (drum) and penny whistle. Today Irish pubs can be found in virtually every other nation in the world, a quite extraordinary export for a tiny island.

Distinctly Irish

Culture in Ireland is expressed no more eloquently than through literature and the canon of Irish writers is an extraordinary one, including the likes of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce. The Irish remain fiercely protective of their heritage, banishing English influence, and this is reflected in the distinctly Irish games of Gaelic football and hurling.