It's said that Ireland, once visited, is never forgotten, and for once the blarney rings true. The Irish landscape has a mythic resonance, due as much to the country's almost tangible history as its claim to being the home of the fairies and the 'little people'. Sure, the weather may not always be clement, but the dampness ensures there are fifty shades of green to compensate - just one of the reasons Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.

Although the 'Troubles' are far from over in the North, the recent referendum clearly signalled a willingness for peace and a genuine solution may be in sight. Meanwhile, the South has been busy shedding its quaintness tag to emerged as the darling of EU economies and a favourite among high-tech companies. If the country isn't quite the paradise that its misty-eyed emigrés tend to portray, it's nonetheless home to one of the most gregarious and welcoming people in Europe.

Full country name: Ireland & Northern Ireland (part of the UK)
Area: 84,421 sq km/52,341 sq mi (70,282 sq km/43,575 sq mi in the Republic; 14,139 sq km/8,766 sq mi in the North)
Population: 5.2 million (3.6 million in Ireland; 1.6 million in Northern Ireland)
Capital city: Dublin (population 1.5 million)
People: Irish
Language: English, Irish (around 83,000 native speakers)
Religion: 95% Roman Catholic, 3.4% Protestant in the Republic; 60% Protestant, 40% Roman Catholic in the Northern Ireland
Government: Democracy
Head of state: Mary McAleese (Republic), Queen Elizabeth II (Northern Ireland)
Prime Minister: Bertie Ahern (Republic), Tony Blair (Northern Ireland)

Figures refer to Eire only

GDP: US$67 billion
GDP per head: US$18,600
Annual growth: 10%
Inflation: 2.4%
Major industries: Computer software, information technology, food products, brewing, textiles, clothing
Major trading partners: EU (esp. UK, Germany, France), US
Member of EU: yes
Euro zone participant: yes

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