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Geography - Northern Ireland
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flag of Northern Ireland


Although, this information may not be needed for gathering information concerning genealogy, I thought it may be beneficial for people to understand where our ancestors came from, and what it is like in Northern Ireland in general. I never really realized how small Northern Ireland actually is. Nor, all the agricultural and industrial resources it has.


Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. It is situated in the northeastern portion of the island of Ireland. Known as Ulster, because it consists of six of the nine counties that were parts of the former province of Ulster: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone. Belfast is the Capital City and the Seat of Government. It comprises about one-sixth of the entire island with 5,463 square miles (14, 148 square kilometers). Where the entire island consists of 32,595 square miles (84,431 square kilometers). The measurements of the island are 174 miles (280 kilometers) width, and 302 miles (486 kilometers) length. Northern Ireland measures about 85 miles (135 kilometers) north and south, and about 110 miles (175 kilometers) east and west. There is a spot in Northern Ireland that is only thirteen and one-half miles from Scotland, although most sea crossings were fifty miles in the southern part of the island and 70 miles in the northern part. In the past this island has been called "the last outpost of Eurasia".


The shorelines of Northern Ireland (NI) are characterized by many irregularities. It consists of mountains surrounding Lough Neagh (about 150 square miles/390 suare kilometers) on it�s northwest, northeast, and southeast. Lough Neagh is the largest lake in the British Isles. The highest point in the country is Slieve Donard, a peak in the Mourne Mountains, it is 2796 feet/852 meters tall.


I was really amazed by the climate that NI has. It is a temperate climate with mild winters and cool summers. The westerly winds are responsible for this climate. The average normal temperature is 50 degrees F/10 degrees C.

In July, you may find the temperature 58 degrees F./14.4 degrees C., or in January it will be about 40 degrees F./4.4 degrees C. Annual precipitation frequently exceeds 40 inches/1016 millimeters; therefore, you can expect moderate to heavy rainfall. Humidity is high.


Fertile soil and rich pasturelands are considered NI�s most valuable natural resource. There is an abundance of natural waterpower. Basalt, limestone, sand and gravel, granite, chalk, clay, and shale are the countries chief minerals. Found in small amounts are bauxite, iron ore, and coal. Utilized as an important fuel is peat.


The Scotch-Irish are the majority of the population, consisting mainly of Scottish and English. The rest of the population consists of Irish, native to Ulster. The official language is English. Gaelic is not encouraged in NI, although some private Catholic schools do teach it.


In 1891 the population was 1,236,056, 1961--1,425,462 people, 1981--1,738,000 and in 1992 there were 1,610,300 people. More than half of the population live in cities and towns. The boundary of Belfast is very restricted, with 279,237 people. A "Greater Belfast" extends into Antrim and Down counties, to more than 500,000 people. Londonderry is the only other town to exceed 50,000. There is a high birthrate and longevity rate. Life expectancy in the early 1970�s was 67 years for males and 74 years for females. In 1975, there were seventeen births per every 1000 people. This was a higher birthrate than in England, Wales, and the Republic of Ireland.


1961 Statistics

CountySquare MilesUrban% of TotalTotalDensity
Belfast Co. borough 28416,094100.0416,09414,860.5
Londonderry exc. borough 81420,18618.1111,565137.1
Londonderry inc. borough 453,744100.053,74413,436.0

Northern Ireland is divided into 26 districts, governed by an elected council. The population is mainly Protestant, although the largest denomination is the Roman Catholic--38 % of the total population.


Religions of the entire population of NI
Roman Catholic38%475,000
Church of Ireland18%334,000

Education is free in NI. Required for children ages 5-15. There were 1100 schools in the early 1990�s, with 191,000 pupils attending annually, staffed by more than 8200 teachers. Special and secondary schools numbered 275, with 147,000 students taught by 10,300 instructors. There are two universities: Queen�s University of Belfast, founded as Queen�s College in 1845. The University of Ulster (1984) with campuses in Coleraine, Jordanstown, Londerry and Belfast. 17,000 students attend these two universities annually. Belfast College of Technology and the Union Theological College are in Belfast.


Small farms are everywhere in NI, raising: approx. 1.5 million cattle, 2.6 million sheep, 588,000 pigs, and 12.3 million poultry. Crops consist of the following: Oats, hay, potatoes (three most common crops), wheat and barley are grown in the lowlands, grass seed and seed potatoes are grown for export, apples and soft fruits, and turnips.

NI�s economy consists of the following: Agriculture and Forestry, Fisheries, Tourism, Industry--linens, ropeworks, and clothing--, Mining and Power, Trade and Finance, and Transport and Communications. Being the most industrialized part of the island, NI supports one-third of the island�s total population. With 80 % of the land still in farmland, NI is still the poorest part of the United Kingdom. In 1986, Northern Ireland had a high unemployment rate of around 21 percent.


Large shipyards are located in Belfast. In the earlier 1900�s NI was one of Britain�s main shipping routes. Belfast constructed 600,000 tons of merchant shipping, one-tenth of the output of the whole United Kingdom. This includes the building of 6 aircraft carriers, 3 cruisers and several other large ships, making a total of 140 warships of all sizes and 123 merchant ships. Due to this, Belfast was the target of several destructive air raids during WWII. It was a landing place for United States forces. It has very valuable key agricultural and industrial resources of the province. This is why NI is of such strategic importance.


Most of the country�s trade is with Great Britain, about 80 % of it. The British pound is the legal tender. Exports consist of : linen goods, textiles, clothing, machinery, and food--mainly meat, potatoes, and dairy products. Imports consist of: petroleum, and other fuels, raw materials and metals, produce, and various manufactured goods.


Daily steamship and airline services connect NI with the rest of the world. Motorways and railways transport people and goods about the country. There are three newspapers in NI: Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, and News Letter. Combined circulation is about 272,000.


I hope some of this information has helped you. Look in the future for political information as well as government.



Encyclopaedia Britanica, William Benton, Publisher, 1969


Colliers Encyclopaedia, Macmillan Educational Company, New York, P.F. Collier, Inc., London and New York 1987


Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopaedia, Microsoft, 1993-1995--1996 edition



Submitted by flipper

For History, which is quite complicated(!), one might try a couple of books.

"The Scotch-Irish, A Social History" by James G. Leyburn is an excellent and interesting book on the times. Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press ISBN 0-8078-4259-1.

A far more concise history is "A Traveller's History of Ireland" by Peter Neville, Interlink Books, New York. ISBN 1-56656-259-7.

Or "A History of Ireland" by Edmund Curtis, Routledge London and New York. ISBN 0-415-02786-1

"A History of Ulster" by Jonathan Bardon, The Blackstaff Press, Belfast ISBN 0-85640-476-4.

Ulster Scots and Blandford Scouts
by Sumner Gilbert Wood
has been reissued by Heritage
Books Inc. 1540-E Pointer Ridge Place, Suite 300, Bowie MD 20716.

Peacewatch, some current facts
New Ulster, Journal of the Ulster Society

See our "Scotch Irish" page
Back to the Guide OR Timeline or
Look around the Hideaway

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