Many visitors to the island of Ireland wonder about the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, so here we break down the top 10.
There is natural beauty to behold and culture to experience in every corner of Ireland, whether you’re in the North or the South of the island. That said, the Emerald Isle as a whole has a complex and troubled past, one of conflict and division—one that has seen generations of unrest and is still a sore subject to many.
In light of recent times, with Brexit forcing further “distance” (metaphorically, of course) between the North and South of the country, we find a lot of foreign tourists asking: what are the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic?
While some differences can be insignificant or almost unnoticeable, some are vast with huge cultural and social impact on its residents.
For those of you seeking some clarity, here are the top 10 differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
10. Miles versus kilometers
One of the slighter differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is that we use different units of length to measure distance.
In an instant, the moment you cross the (currently invisible) border between the North and South of Ireland, the road signs turn from kilometres into miles. A slight difference, but a difference nonetheless.
One of the most noticeable differences visitors will find when they are hopping between the North and the South is the accent. The dialect in Northern Ireland has been influenced by the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, and England, resulting in a unique accent different from that of the South.
In the Republic of Ireland, euros are used as currency, like most EU countries. In Northern Ireland, pound sterling is used, like in the United Kingdom. So if you’re traveling between the two regions, make sure you have both euros and pounds on hand.
7. Police force
While the police in Ireland are somewhat inconspicuous figures overseeing safety, the police force in Northern Ireland are ever-present and are—unlike the Republic—armed with Glock 17 pistols, a powerful handgun.
Northern Ireland is smaller than the Republic of Ireland in terms of both physical size and population. The Republic spans an area of about 27,133 square miles. In comparison, Northern Ireland occupies about 5,460 square miles. (Interestingly, though, Northern Ireland is home to the island’s largest lake, Lough Neagh, which covers an area of 151 square miles).
With more physical space, the Republic unsurprisingly also has a much larger population than Northern Ireland. An estimated 1.8 million people live in in the North, while the Republic is home to over 4.8 million. That translates to 179 persons per square mile, compared to Northern Ireland’s population density of 344 persons per square mile.
While citizens of both the Republic Ireland and Northern Ireland maintain political oppositions—that being those who believe in a unified Ireland and those who wish to remain separate—you don’t see much visible division in the South.
In Northern Ireland, however, political murals in housing estates, developments, and suburbs can definitively distinguish whether you’re in a Nationalist or Unionist territory.
Both people in both the North and South legally have the right to freedom of religion. With that said, religion plays a critical role in many facets of the island’s culture and politics.
Christianity is the religion with largest following throughout the whole island. The difference is that Northern Ireland has a higher proportion of people who identify as Protestant, whereas the Republic of Ireland’s population is predominately Catholic.
3. European Union
While the Republic of Ireland remains a part of the European Union, recent changes in British politics (notably Brexit) mean the United Kingdom (and thus Northern Ireland) is withdrawing from the EU.
The European Union includes 28 members of state (soon to be 27, after the United Kingdom withdraws) and is a political and economic union with a single European market for business and trade.
An obvious difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland is that officially, we do not share the same flag. Whilst the Republic’s flag is the Irish tricolour flag of orange, white and green, Northern Ireland’s official flag is the Union Jack.
The biggest difference would have to be that—no matter whether you believe in a unified Ireland or swear allegiance to the United Kingdom—the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are technically two separate counties currently.
In light of recent changes with Brexit, a sense of uncertainty looms in the shadows. Whilst the nation has been assured a “hard border” will not be erected, the potential for civil unrest is worrisome for a country that has seen such violence and trouble in the battle against those who wish to remain a part of the UK and those who wish to reclaim the six northern counties as part of the Republic of Ireland.