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Introduction - Ireland in Europe
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Ireland within Europe: Map [10kB]Ireland is a large island situated in the north Atlantic off north west Europe. In fact, at 82,463 km2, it is the 20th largest island in the world. It is the second largest member of the British Isles archipelago (Britian being the largest at 218,041 km2), which is also home to the Isle of Man, Shetlands, Orkneys, Scilly Isles, Western Isles and numerous other offshore islands.

Although it is on the same latitude as Canada's Hudson Bay, Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula and southern Alaska, Ireland enjoys a temperate maritime climate. This is caused by the so-called "Gulf Stream" - a current of warm water and air that flows from the Gulf of Mexico towards Europe. It is this that allows people in Europe to live more easily in northern latitudes. Without the Gulf Stream, Ireland's average January temperature would be around 15C cooler than today - between -10C and -15C.

Ireland lies between 50 and 60 north of the Equator and around 15 south of the Arctic circle. At this latitude, the difference in length between a winter day and a summer day is quite pronounced. A typical June day in Ireland is over 18 hours long while a December day can be less than 7 hours long. During some summer nights, the level of light never falls below twilight.

Ireland is famous for its unpredictable and wet weather. It can be hot one day and cold the next, wet one hour and sunny the next. This is because Ireland is situated right beneath a convergence zone where cold air from the pole, warm dry air from Asia and the wet air from the Gulf Stream meet. When they meet, they produce low pressure systems, called Depressions which are characterised by lines of wet weather followed by periods of hot or cold clear, dry weather. The point at which the meeting point happens to be on any day determines what kind of weather Ireland gets.

Although it is so close to mainland Europe (referred to as "the Continent"), the island of Britain lies in between. This means that two sea journeys can be necessary to get to Ireland, and it is partly for this reason that Ireland was not settled as densely as areas closer to the Continent and why, even today, Ireland is regarded as being on the perimeter of Europe. However, its location is growing in importance as world commerce takes off, since it is one of the closest parts of the European Union to the markets of North America.

The island of Ireland plays host to no less than two independent countries. Most of the island forms the Republic of Ireland, while the northeastern corner ("Northern Ireland") is part of the United Kingdom. Both these countries are members of the European Union, a loose federation of countries which are coloured blue on the map above and are striving to become ever more closely linked. As Ireland is one of the poorest parts of the European Union, both parts of the island have benefitted greatly from membership.


Countries on the island of Ireland
Republic of Ireland Republic of Ireland Flag [1kB] Dublin
Pop 915,115
68,894 km2 3,537,195
Northern Ireland
(part of United Kingdom)
United Kingdom Flag [1kB] Belfast*
Pop 297,983
14,121 km2 1,578,000

.*Capital of Northern Ireland. National capital is London, England.