Northern Ireland is the other country on the Island of Ireland, and though both countries used to be joined, they are now separate. Unlike Ireland, Northern Ireland remains a part of Britain and therefore isn’t part of the EU! Here are some interesting facts about the northern country.
1. English is the de facto official language of Northern Ireland, as almost everyone speaks it, and the country is in the United Kingdom. There are two other officially recognised regional languages: Ulster-Scots and Irish Gaelic. Northern Irish Sign Language is also different from Irish Sign Language.
2. In Irish, the country is called Tuaisceart Éireann, and in Ulster-Scots it is Norlin Airlann
3. Culturally, Northern Ireland has a complex mix of British culture and Irish culture! For example, at the Olympics, Northern Irish athletes have the choice of competing for Britain or Ireland.
4. There are several alternative names for the country used by various groups of people, many of which are based on politics. Some of these are:
- The Region
- The North of Ireland (or The North or North-East)
- The Six Counties
5. Norn Iron (mostly used as an affectionate joke based on pronunciation!)There are six historic counties: County Antrim, County Armagh, County Down, County Fermanagh, County Londonderry, and County Tyrone. However, these are no longer used in politics, and instead, the country is split into 11 districts. The counties still appear on their passports! The capital city is Belfast, and the second biggest city, Derry, has about a third of Belfast’s population.
6. Though the divide in Ireland is heavily associated with religion – with Protestants to the North and Catholics to the South – the ratio of Protestants to other religions in N.I. is around 42: 41: 1, with about 16% stating no religion or not stating at all.
7. The version of English which is spoken there is very close to some Lowland Scottish accents.
8. Parades are so popular that there is an official marching season each year during the summer. These tend to be highly political events.
9. At the end of primary school, Northern Irish children can sit exams to go to a prestigious grammar school!
10. Though there are more and more mixed schools, most schools in Ireland are separated by religion (Protestant schools, Catholic schools, and secular schools for everyone else). Currently, less than 10% of schools are now integrated.
11. Though it is Northern, the most northern point on the island actually belongs to the Republic; County Donegal in Ireland is northwest of the island and more northernly than N.I.
12. Narnia creator C. S. Lewis, poet Seamus Heaney, painter John Butler Yeats, actor and filmmaker Kenneth Brannagh, the band Snow Patrol, and many more famous artists hail from the North.
13. The landmass taken up by the six counties is approximately a sixth of the whole island of Ireland.
14. Though the UK government rules over much of the country’s laws, there are several areas that are taken care of by the devolved government of N.I. The country is one of three legal areas in the UK, each of which has slightly different laws: England and Wales, Scotland, and N.I.
15. The words “country”, “region”, “part of the UK”, and “province” are all used to describe the country by different people, though many people object strongly to one or the other depending on their politics. This is because, unlike Scotland and Wales (both of which are countries), N.I. was never an independent entity from the UK.
16. The country has one of the least amounts of forest in the whole of Europe and the least in the UK. This is because of extensive lumber usage by humans since the middle ages, changing a once-heavily forested area into a land with only 8% tree coverage!
17. Less than 3% of UK citizens live in N.I., while around 30% of the Irish island’s population live within its borders.
18. According to numbers from a few years ago, the people of the North claimed their national identity as the following (by numbers). There is a correlation between identifier, informal social class, age, area of residence, and, most importantly, affiliation:
- British only (40%) – Mostly over 65, overwhelmingly Protestant
- Irish only (25%) – Mostly under 34, overwhelmingly Catholic
- Northern Irish only (21%) – Mostly under 34, mostly Catholic
- Other (any combination of the above or another identity entirely)
19. The citizens qualify for both British and Irish passports. Around 19% of the population have no passport, 59% have a British passport, 21% an Irish passport, and the rest another country’s passport. The Union Flag, the flag of Britain, is the official flag of the North. However, in sports and other events, several other symbols are used, including:
- The Ulster Banner (white with a red vertical cross and a crowned Hand of Ulster)
- Saint Patrick’s Saltire (red diagonal cross on a white background)
- The Irish tricolour (for political republicans)
- The Northern Irish Assembly flag or Stormont (six blue flowers stemming from the same spot in a semicircle).