What are the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?

The most basic differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are their names and that there are six counties in the North and 26 in the South, making up 32 counties.

There are conflicting views about where these counties belong or whether they are in fact separate, but that’s an argument for another day. 

Everyday life in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland may seem similar on the surface, but on an island with no physical border, things are surprisingly different. 

Below we indicate five of the main differences between ‘the North’ and ‘the South’.

5. Size – a huge difference

Size is one of the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Credit: picryl.com

The first thing you will notice when looking at Ireland as a whole is the actual size of the two areas.

Even though the island of Ireland is quite small, the Republic takes up the vast majority and is easily five times bigger than Northern Ireland.

The Republic covers around 27,000 square miles compared to the North’s relatively slight 5,000 square miles.

4. Currency – get your money changed early

Currency is one of the major differences.
Credit: pixabay.com / @PublicDomainPictures

Perhaps one of the strangest differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is the currency.

In the North, they use Sterling (GBP), and in the South, they use Euro (EUR).

Irish natives will usually know what part of the county they are in, but this can be quite confusing for tourists and the need for two different currencies can be slightly irritating.

Most places will have a sign with either Euro/Sterling accepted, but we advise using a card on the off chance they don’t.

Especially if you’re in the countryside with the wrong currency, where you will struggle to find a cash machine, you will need to make sure you have the right currency. 

3. Imperial vs metric system – keep an eye on where you are

One of the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is the imperial vs metric system.
Credit: geograph.ie / Chris Downer

Another difference to be aware of that some of us completely forget about is the different speed systems. 

Northern Ireland is one of the only places left in the world to use the imperial system, which is miles per hour.

On the other hand, the Republic use the metric system of kilometres like most other places.

The reasoning behind this is a mystery and can become confusing for tourists who are sticking to the speed limits close to our borders. You could be at 60 kmp/h on one road for an hour and yet have broken the speed limit as you’ve crossed into the North.

So, just listen to your sat nav as it will usually tell you what speed to travel at.

2. Politics – a different spectrum

Politics is also quite different in the Republic of Ireland when compared with Northern Ireland.

In the North, there are political divisions between those who believe in a unified Ireland (Nationalists) and those who wish to remain separate (Unionists).

However, as the Republic of Ireland is independent of the UK, these sorts of divisions don’t really exist.

Political divisions in the Republic of Ireland exist more on a ‘Left-Right political spectrum’ than a Nationalist-Unionist split.

1. Sovereignty – two jurisdictions 

One of the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is how the countries are recognised.

Finally, the most significant difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland —no matter whether you believe in a unified Ireland or swear allegiance to the United Kingdom—is sovereignty.

Northern Ireland falls under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland is a fully independent country.

A referendum on Irish unification could change this situation in the future. For now though, both are technically and legally two separate entities.

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