A boat in a lake in Ireland. Ireland is the third-largest island in Europe, and the twentieth largest island in the world. It lies to the north west of continental Europe and is surrounded by hundreds of islands and islets. To the east of Ireland, separated by the Irish Sea, is the island of Great Britain. Politically, the state Ireland (described as the Republic of Ireland) covers five sixths of the island, with Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, covering the remainder in the north east.
The first settlements in Ireland date from 8000 BC. By 200 BC Celtic migration and influence had come to dominate the island. Relatively small scale settlements of both the Vikings and Normans in the Middle Ages gave way to complete English domination by the 1600s. Protestant English rule resulted in the marginalisation of the Catholic majority, although in the north-east, Protestants were in the majority. A famine in the mid-1800s caused deaths and emigration. Following a war of independence, Ireland was split into: the independent Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, which remains a part of the United Kingdom. The Free State left the Commonwealth to become a Republic in 1949. In 1973 both parts of Ireland joined the European Economic Community. The Troubles in Northern Ireland led to much unrest from the late 1960s until the 1990s, which subsided following a peace deal in 1998.
The population of the island is slightly under 6 million (2006), with 4.2 million in the Republic of Ireland and an estimated almost 1.75 million in Northern Ireland. This is a significant increase from a modern historical low in the 1960s, but still much lower than the peak population of over 8 million in the early 19th century, prior to the Great Famine.
The name Ireland derives from the name of the Celtic goddess Ériu (in modern Irish, Éire) with the addition of the Germanic word land. Most other western European names for Ireland, such as French Irlande, derive from the same source.