Official name: Ireland
Area: 70,280 square kilometers (27,135 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Carrantuohil (1,041 meters/3,416 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: Noon = noon GMT
Longest distances: 275 kilometers (171 miles) from east to west; 486 kilometers (302 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 360 kilometers (224 miles) total boundary length; all with the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)
Coastline: 1,448 kilometers (900 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Ireland is located on an island in the eastern part of the North Atlantic Ocean. Situated on the European continental shelf, it lies at the westernmost edge of Europe, to the west of Great Britain. The northeastern corner of the island is occupied by Northern Ireland, which belongs to Britain and is separated from the independent republic to its south by a winding border. Covering an area of 70,280 square kilometers (27,135 square miles), Ireland is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia.
Ireland has no territories or dependencies.
Ireland's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean gives it a mild maritime climate. Average temperatures range from 4°C to 7°C (39°F to 45°F) in January, and from 14°C to 16°C (57°F to 61°F) in July. Ireland's weather is humid and highly changeable. A common saying about Irish weather is "If you don't like it, wait a couple of minutes!" Average annual rainfall ranges from roughly 76 centimeters (30 inches) in the eastern part of the country to over 250 centimeters (100 inches) in the western highlands.
Ireland's low, central limestone plateau rimmed by coastal highlands has been compared to a gigantic saucer. In spite of these coastal highlands, Ireland is generally a low country. Only about 20 percent of its terrain is higher than 150 meters (500 feet) above sea level, and even its mountains rarely exceed altitudes of 900 meters (3,000 feet).
Ireland is bounded on the east and southeast by the Irish Sea and St. George's Channel, and on the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean. The North Channel separates Northern Ireland from Scotland.
There are deepwater coral reefs off the western coast of Ireland. Their presence is considered a possible indicator of underwater oil and gas reserves.
The western and northwestern parts of the Irish coast have numerous bays and inlets, of which the largest are Donegal Bay and Galway Bay, where the Aran Islands are located. The deepest coastal indentation is at the mouth of the Shannon River in the southwest. The southwestern corner of Ireland has deep, fjord-like indentations between a series of capes, where the mountains of Kerry and Cork jut out into the sea.
Of the several small islands off the western coast, the best-known are the three Aran Islands situated at the mouth of Galway Bay.
Ireland's eastern coast, which faces England and Wales, is smooth, while the coasts to the west and northwest are deeply indented. Much of the Irish coastline is rocky; however, there are also long stretches of sandy beach known as strands. Many are lined with dunes.
Ireland's slow-moving rivers widen into loughs (lakes) at many points in the central lowlands before moving on to the sea. Among the largest loughs are Lough Corrib, Lough Mask, and Lough Conn, all in the western counties of Galway and Mayo.
The rivers of Ireland are among the most attractive features of the landscape. The Shannon, which is the longest river, rises near Sligo Bay. Altogether, it drains over 10,360 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) of the central lowlands. Other rivers of the lowlands include the Boyne and the Barrow. The Clare and Moy Rivers flow through the west, the Finn flows in the north, and the Barrow, Suir, and Blackwater are among the southern rivers.
There are no deserts in Ireland.
The average elevation of the central lowlands is about 60 meters (200 feet), although various hills, ridges, and loughs break up this terrain in many places. The Irish peat bogs, although rapidly diminishing in number, are still the country's most distinctive physical feature. Ireland also has both coastal and interior wetlands.
Ireland has a number of mountain systems. The highest rise to elevations of about 914 meters (3,000 feet), while the lower ranges have peak elevations between 610 and 914 meters (2,000 and 3,000 feet). Among the higher ranges are the Wicklow Mountains between Dublin and Wexford. The country's highest peak, Mount Carrantuohil (1,041 meters/3,416 feet), is found in Macgillycuddy's Reeks, in the southwest.
Lough Hyne, which lies below sea level, is one of Europe's only saltwater lakes (or inland seas).
Areas of limestone karst are widespread in Ireland, resulting in a large number of caves throughout the country. Major cave sites are found in the counties of Cork and Tipperary in the south, Clare and Kerry in the west, and Sligo and Cavan in the north. The Poulnagollum/Poll Elva cave, the longest in Ireland, is found in the Burren, located in County Clare.
Distinctive areas of karst plateau are found in northwestern Ireland, in the counties of Leitrim, Cavan, Sligo, and Fermanagh. Among these areas is the plateau known as the Burren in County Clare.
There are a number of bridges in the capital city of Dublin, which is divided into two parts by the River Liffey. Among these are the Grattan, O'Connell, Butt, Queen Maeve, Ha'Penny, and Heuston Bridges.
The Grand Canal connects Dublin with Ireland's longest river, the Shannon.
De Breffny, Brian. In the Steps of St. Patrick . New York: Thames and Hudson, 1982.
Hawks, Tony. Round Ireland with a Fridge . New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000.
Wilson, David A. Ireland a Bicycle and a Tin Whistle . Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1995.