The island of Ireland is divided between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which belongs to the United Kingdom. Two countries sharing a common history but now divided on a religious and political level. In this blog post we will only talk about the Republic of Ireland, which covers most of the island. Ireland is also divided into 26 counties, an administrative system inherited from the Norman invaders of the 12th century and formalised by the British government in the 19th century. The counties are the basis of local administration but are also proof of the great diversity of the country.
32 counties, 4 provinces, 2 countries
Being still a rural country, Ireland has struggled to adapt to sustainable development. As in other European countries, it is the younger generation who is now promoting the transition to a greener society, and the growth of the Green Party is proof of this change of mentality. Different initiatives are now taking place, among which the development of wind energy or the protection of the biodiversity and the unique landscapes of the island.
Ireland is nicknamed the “Emerald Isle” for a good reason: lush, wild and unspoilt nature cover the island as far as the eye can see. Far from the traditional image of fields covered with sheep, the strength of Ireland lies in the diversity of landscapes encountered on this small island of 70.000km2. Mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers are among the many different landscapes that you can encounter during your trip.
Among the main points of interest are the sheer cliffs dropping into the sea along the rugged and jagged coastline. From north to south, from the Cliffs of Moher to the Giant's Causeway, nature, untamed and powerful, has created unique geological sites. Although less known, Irish beaches also have a lot to offer! The small isolated coves and the large sandy beaches are once again proof of the great diversity of landscapes but also of their preservation since 82 beaches boast the Blue Flag label. So why not go for a swim or a surf lesson? The water may be cool, but you might enjoy the company of a seal!
We cannot talk about Ireland without mentioning its towns and villages, the beating hearts of a living nation where human warmth, music and dance are of great importance. Dublin, Galway and Cork are just a few examples of the country's cultural and architectural diversity. The remains of Ireland's rich past are a must-see if you want to learn more about the country's complex history. From the arrival of the Celts, to the spread of Christianity in the 5th century, and to the Viking and English invasions, the history of the island is reflected in the various monasteries and castles that dot the landscape. A great invitation to take your bike and cycle around this green island.
Although famous for its greenness, Ireland is in fact one of the least wooded countries in Europe. The country faced deforestation during centuries. So many trees were being cut down that, at the beginning of the 20th century, forests covered only 1% of the island's surface. As is often the case, population growth, agriculture and industry are largely responsible. Since the country's independence in 1937, the government has encouraged the planting of trees and the figures are promising as forests now cover 11% of the country's surface. The aim for the future is to reach 18% by 2030, by subsidising farmers to reforest their lands for example, or by converting bogs (peat being a highly polluting source of energy), into forests rich in biodiversity.
Another interesting fact is that salmon production in Ireland is certified 100% organic according to European standards and is awarded with various labels such as the EU organic label or the AB label for example. The salmon are fed with natural ingredients and their welfare is taken into account, according to eco-responsible farming practices. In addition, Ireland has created its own Origin Green certification, the only national food and drink sustainability programme in the world that enables the farming sector to set and achieve sustainability targets. Launched in 2012, the programme brings together over 53,000 farmers as well as manufacturers, retail and foodservice groups, to reach across the country's agricultural production chain.
Green Sod Ireland (GSI) is an Irish land trust with charitable status established in 2007. Its main goal is to protect the land and the biodiversity in Ireland by establishing Wild Acres in every county, that is, land where biodiversity can flourish thanks to little human intervention and proper management. This re-wilding process is possible thanks to generous donators, which have already given more than 100 acres to the charity. Another important goal of GSI is to raise environmental awareness by managing some educational programs, teaching both children and adults a deeper understanding and experience of nature, thus developing a sense of pride and ownership among the local communities.
Finally, we wanted to talk about the growing cycle tourism activity in Ireland: more and more abandoned infrastructure, such as old railway lines and canals for example, are being converted into cycle paths. Cycling has many advantages, but above all it represents a great way to enjoy the unique landscapes and monuments that dot the Irish landscape. Some of the most famous scenic routes include the Wild Atlantic Way (2,500km long!), the Kingfisher trail and the Ring of Kerry in the southwest. All these trails, such as the Greenway for example, will allow you to discover Ireland off the beaten track. Finally, the country has two long-distance cycle routes: Eurovélo 1 and 2. Cycling is becoming a fashionable form of soft mobility, particularly since the Covid crisis which has led to the creation of many cycle paths in cities, Dublin alone boasting more than 120 miles of cycle routes.
• Population: 4.9 million
• Organic Agricultural Land: 73,952 ha (1.6% of the country's surface)
• Languages spoken: English and Gaelic
• Number of km of Greenways: 268 km – Length of hiking trails: 4000 km
• Surface area of protected land: 14.44%
• Number of national parks: 6
• Number of natural and cultural properties listed as UNESCO heritage: 2
• Number of intangible cultural assets & good safeguarding practices (UNESCO): 3
• Number of PDOs (1): 9
• Number of Eurovelo routes: 2 (Eurovelo 1 and 2)