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Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of the European mainland, divided into two countries: Ireland, occupying five-sixths of the island of Ireland, west of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. This island is a strategic location on major air and sea routes between North America and northern Europe. Over 40% of the population resides within 100 km of Dublin. The coastline is about 1450 km.

What is now four provinces was probably in ancient times five, as is indicated by the Irish word for the provinces, cóiceda (which means fifths). These are Ulster (Ulaid), Connacht, Munster (Mumu), Leinster (Lagin) and Meath (Mide).

Ireland's population is approximately 5½ million, about 4 in the Republic and about 1½ in the North. Ireland's population is still less than it was before the famine, when it was around 8½ million . Over a million people died and more than a million had left by 1851. The population only began to grow again in the 1960s, so now over 50% of the people are under 28 and the population of Ireland is relatively young. In 1996 23.9% was less than 15 years old, the highest percentage in any EU country (1988 EU average = 18.6%). Only 11.5% of Ireland’s population was more than 65 years old (1988 EU average = 14.1%). Dublin's population is over 1 million but the Greater Dublin area contains at least 1½ million.

For over a two thousand years, Ireland has been a host to a surprising variety of languages and cultures: Irish Gaelic, English, French, German, Ulster Scots, Ancient Greek and Latin.
Nowadays most people speak Irish English, or like some claim, English with an Irish accent. A minority still speaks Irish Gaelic, one of the six Gaelic left forms of language. About 30% of the population is able to speak Irish Gaelic

Modern History

A failed 1916 Easter Monday Rebellion touched off several years of guerrilla warfare that in 1921 resulted in independence from the UK for the 26 southern counties; the six northern counties (Ulster) remained part of Great Britain. In 1948 Ireland withdrew from the British Commonwealth; it joined the European Community in 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful unification of Ireland and have cooperated with Britain against terrorist groups. A peace settlement for Northern Ireland, known as the Good Friday Agreement and approved in 1998, is currently being implemented.