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Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth.

To its east is the larger island of Great Britain, from which it is separated by the Irish Sea.

Farming and rural tradition

As archaeological evidence from sites such as the Cide Fields in County Mayo and Lough Gur in County Limerick demonstrates, farming in Ireland is an activity that goes back to the very beginnings of human settlement. In historic times, texts such as the Tin B Cailinge show a society in which cattle represented a primary source of wealth and status. Little of this had changed by the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century.

Giraldus Cambrensis portrayed a Gaelic society in which cattle farming and transhumance was the norm.
Holidays and festivals

Much of the Irish calendar still today reflects the old pagan customs, with later Christian traditions also having significant influence. Christmas in Ireland has several local traditions, some in no way connected with Christianity. On 26 December (St. Stephen's Day), there is a custom of "Wrenboys who call door to door with an arrangement of assorted material (which changes in different localities) to represent a dead wren "caught in the furze", as their rhyme goes. The national holiday in the Republic is Saint Patrick's Day, 17 March and is marked by parades and festivals in cities and towns across the island of Ireland, and by the Irish diaspora around the world. The festival is in remembrance to Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Pious legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, and legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of 'three divine persons in the one God'. The Twelfth of July, which commemorates William III's victory at the Battle of the Boyne and existence of the Orange Order, is celebrated by many Protestants throughout Northern Ireland. Brigid's Day (1 February, known as Imbolc or Candlemas) also does not have its origins in Christianity, being instead another religious observance superimposed at the beginning of spring. The Brigid's cross made from rushes on this day represents a pre-Christian solar wheel.

Other pre-Christian festivals, whose names survive as Irish month names, are Bealtaine (May), Lnasa (August) and Samhain (November). The last is still widely observed as Halloween, followed by All Saints' Day, another Christian holiday associated with a traditional one. Important church holidays include Easter, and various Marian observances.
Food in Ireland today

In the 20th century the usual modern selection of foods common to Western cultures has been adopted in Ireland. Both US fastfood culture and continental European dishes have influenced the country, along with other world dishes introduced in a similar fashion to the rest of the Western world. Common meals include pizza, curry, Chinese food, and lately, some west African dishes have been making an appearance. Supermarket shelves now contain ingredients for, among others, traditional, European, American (Mexican/Tex-Mex), Indian, Polish and Chinese dishes. The proliferation of fast food has led to increasing public health problems including obesity, and one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. Due to the current "anti-meat fad", the government has broadcasted television advertisements to discourage meat consumption. In the north, the Ulster fry has been particularly cited as being a major source for a higher incidence of cardiac problems, quoted as being a "heart attack on a plate". All the ingredients are fried, although more recently the trend is to grill as many of the ingredients as possible. These advertisements however, do not explain the health and vigor of native Irish people while eating their traditional diets high in both fat and meat. In tandem with these developments, the last quarter of the century saw the emergence of a new Irish cuisine based on

traditional ingredients handled in new ways. This cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish, especially salmon and trout, oysters and other shellfish, traditional soda bread, the wide range of handmade cheeses that are now being made across the country, and, of course, the potato. Traditional dishes, such as the Irish stew, Dublin coddle, the Irish breakfast and potato bread, have enjoyed a resurgence. Schools like the Ballymaloe Cookery School have emerged to cater for the associated increased interest in cooking with traditional ingredients. Irish (Gaeilge), also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a small minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of the population. Irish enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is an official language of the European Union and an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland. Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought their Gaelic speech with them to other countries, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man, where it gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx. It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe. It began to decline under English and British rule after the seventeenth century. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic decrease in the number of speakers especially after the Great Famine of 18451852 (where Ireland lost 2025% of its population either to emigration or death). Irish-speaking areas were especially hard hit. By the end of British rule, the language was spoken by less than 15% of the national population. Since then, Irish speakers have been in the minority except in areas collectively known as the Gaeltacht.

Ongoing efforts have been made to preserve, promote and revive the language, particularly the Gaelic Revival. Around the turn of the 20th century, estimates of native speakers ranged from 20,000 to 80,000 people. In the 2006 census for the Republic, 85,000 people reported using Irish as a daily language outside of the education system, and 1.2 million reported using it at least occasionally in or out of school. In the 2011 Census, these numbers had increased to 94,000 and 1.3 million, respectively. There are also thousands of Irish speakers in Northern Ireland, and viable communities of native speakers in the United States and Canada.