Republic of Ireland
Ireland is a country in north-western Europe. The modern sovereign state occupies five-sixths of the island of Ireland, which was partitioned in 1921. It is bordered by Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) to the north, by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and by the Irish Sea to the east. The term Republic of Ireland (Irish: Poblacht na hÉireann) is officially used as "the description of the State."
The island of Ireland extends over 84,421 Square kilometers or 32,556 square miles, of which 83% (approx. five-sixths) belong to the Republic (70,280 km²; 27,103 sq mi) and the remainder constituting Northern Ireland. It is bound to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the northeast by the North Channel. To the east is found the Irish Sea which reconnects to the ocean via the southwest with St George's Channel and the Celtic Sea. The west-coast of Ireland mostly consists of cliffs, hills and low mountains (the highest point being Carrantuohill at 1,038 m or 3,406 ft). The interior of the country is relatively flat land, traversed by rivers such as the River Shannon and several large lakes or loughs. The centre of the country is part of the River Shannon watershed, containing large areas of bogland, used for peat extraction and production.
The local temperate climate is modified by the North Atlantic Current and is relatively mild. Summer temperatures exceed 30ºC (86ºF) usually once every decade, though commonly reach 29ºC (84ºF) most summers, and freezes occur only occasionally in winter, with temperatures below -6ºC (21ºF) being uncommon. Precipitation is very common, with up to 275 days with rain in some parts of the country.
Chief city conurbations are the capital Dublin 1,045,769 on the east coast, Cork 190,384 in the south, Limerick 90,757 in the mid-west, Galway 72,729 on the west coast, and Waterford 49,213 on the south east coast (see Cities in Ireland).
The education systems are largely under the direction of the government via the Minister for Education and Science (currently Mary Hanafin, TD). Recognized primary and secondary schools must adhere to the curriculum established by authorities that have power to set them.
The education systems in Ireland are complex due to a confusion of ownership, control and curricular assessment. This has arisen because the systems developed over long periods of time with variable influence by several key players, including the Irish state. Unlike in countries such as France, Ireland's state education system is largely limited to the content of the curriculum, although this too is mediated by voluntary interests.
Primary, Secondary and Third (University/College) level education are all free in the Republic of Ireland for all EU citizens.
The Republic of Ireland is 86.8% Roman Catholic, and has one of the highest rates of regular and weekly church attendance in the Western World. However, there has been a major decline in this attendance among Irish Catholics in the course of the past 30 years. Between 1996 and 2001, regular Mass attendance, declined further from 60% to 48% (it had been above 90% before 1973), and all but two of its sacerdotal seminaries have closed (St Patrick's College, Maynooth and St Malachy's College, Belfast). A number of theological colleges continue to educate both ordained and lay people.