An island nation, Ireland, is just west of Great Britain. The land was originally occupied by the Celtic people, known as the Gaels, who came from the north central region of Europe about 500 B. C. Even with the Roman Empire controlling the lands to the east, the Romans did not invade Ireland. Christianity came to the island in the 5th century. The island was invaded by the Vikings just before the 9th century and they held control for two centuries.
Irish Gaelic is the national language of Ireland, a difficult language to learn. English is a secondary language. There are three fairly distinct dialects; Ulster, Munster, and Connaught.
Most Irish are of the Roman Catholic faith, about 95 percent in Ireland. Over the centuries the Catholic Church has maintained considerable influence in social, cultural and educational affairs of the Irish people, a critical element in Irish genealogy.
Irish meals are an essential part of their culture. They love their food, especially dishes with meat, potatoes and vegetables such as onions and cabbages. Potatoes are a staple in an Irish meal. Irish stew, which is mutton and lamb cooked with potatoes, onions and other vegetables is popular. Dairy products; such as milk, cheese, butter are favorites to have with every meal. Their beverages of choice include beer and hot tea.
Being warm, outgoing, trustworthy, friendly and the most hospitable people summarizes the Irish. Their kindness to strangers and the needy are typical Irish traits. Friendship is an integral part of Irish culture. Loyalty to family and friends are highly cherished. They believe in closely-knit family life. It is common for Irish families to take care of their elderly relatives.
Great storytellers centered around mythological characters, kings, saints, historical people, fairies, folktales and short humorous stories have been long-standing traditions among the Irish. The verbal method over the early years led to many errors and lapses of memory when telling a story. However, in time an accurate rendition became essential and those with a good memory as well as the ability to tell an entertaining story excelled.
Entertainment is enjoying time spent with friends in the local pub. It is a place at the heart of Irish cultural, social and musical life. The Irish love to meet friends and family in pubs where they drink, chat, sing, listen to poetry reading and tap their feet to traditional music. Irish music is centered around the Celtic harp, an accordion, a fiddle, a tin whistle and a bodhram (drum) which all help provide traditional Irish music. Irish dancing is a great love of the people. For sports they love Gaelic football, riding horses, hurling, fishing and golf.
Irish immigration to other lands increased in the 17th century. Many left Ireland to be indentured servants in the colonies of North America. By the early 1800s a majority of those fleeing the country were unskilled, Catholic and peasant laborers. By this time Ireland was becoming Europe's most densely populated country, the population having increased from about three million in 1725 to over eight million by 1841. The land could not support such a number.
With the potato famine of 1845 to 1851, a major change was needed. For Irish genealogy, it is key to note that from the beginning of the famine in the mid-1840s until 1860 about 1.7 million Irish immigrated to the United States, mainly from the provinces of Connaught and Munster. The majority of Irish immigrants lived in cities, mostly in the northeast section of the United States. Many did go to Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. Only a small number went west to engage in farming. Another large wave of Irish immigrates came to the United States after World War One from 1918 to 1924.