Although Ireland was invaded and colonized within historical times by Celts, Norsemen, Normans, English, and Scots, there are no corresponding ethnic distinctions. Ethnic and racial minorities make up less than 5 percent of the population. However, immigration from Europe, Africa, and Asia was significant in the last two decades of the 20th century. Although they are small in number, the nomadic Travellers (“Tinkers”) are perhaps the most prominent ethnic minority group.
The constitution provides that Irish be the first official language and English the second. All official documents are published in both Irish and English. The modern Irish language, which is very similar to Scottish Gaelic, was widely spoken up to the time of the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and the subsequent emigrations. The use of Irish continued to decline even after 1922, when the language was introduced into schools; despite its decline, Irish never ceased to exert a strong influence on Irish consciousness. Although its use as a vernacular has decreased and is concentrated in several small Gaeltacht (i.e., Irish-speaking) areas, Irish is more widely read, spoken, and understood today than it had been during most of the 20th century. English is universally spoken. The Celtic religion had a major influence on Ireland long before the adoption of Christianity in the 5th century. Its precise rituals and beliefs remain somewhat obscure, but the names of hundreds of Celtic gods have survived, and elements of the religion—particularly the cults of Mary (an echo of Danu, the Earth Mother goddess whom the Celts worshiped) and St. Brigit (one of Ireland’s patron saints) and several seasonal festivals—carried into the Christian period.
Since the conversion to Christianity, Roman Catholicism, with its ecclesiastical seat at Armagh in Northern Ireland, has been the island’s principal religion. After the Reformation, Catholicism became closely associated with Irish nationalism and resistance to British rule.
However, church support for nationalism—both then and now—has been ambivalent. After the devastating Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, there was a remarkable surge in devotional support of the Catholic church, and over the next century the number of Irish priests, nuns, and missionaries grew dramatically. Today, some nine-tenths of the republic’s population is Roman Catholic, with small numbers of other religious groups (including Church of Ireland Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Muslims, and Jews).
There is no officially established church in Ireland, and the freedoms of conscience and religion are constitutionally guaranteed.
The republic’s marriage, birth, and death rates are comparable to those of nearby countries. For example, life expectancy is about 75 years for men and 80 for women. Historically, the rate of emigration—which had been greatly in excess of the next highest rate in Europe—depleted Ireland’s population. As a result of emigration, hundreds of thousands of Irish-born people now live outside their native land, and millions of citizens of other countries are of Irish extraction. However, in the 1990s immigration to Ireland outpaced emigration from the country. New immigrants included a large number of Irish Americans moving back to the country. "Ireland" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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