Ireland, Northern, a part of the island of Ireland and a political division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It consists of the eastern part of the historic region of Ulster and is often called Ulster. It is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the northeast by the North Channel, on the southeast by the Irish Sea, and on the south and west by the Republic of Ireland. Slightly larger than Connecticut, Northern Ireland has an area of 5,452 square miles (14,120 km2). Its greatest length (east-west) is about 110 miles (180 km); its greatest width (north-south), 80 miles (130 km).

Facts in brief about Northern Ireland
Capital: Belfast.
Official language: English.
Area: 5,467 mi2 (14,160 km2).Greatest distances—east-west, 111 mi (179 km); north-south, 85 mi (137 km). Coastline–330 mi (531 km).
Elevation: Highest—Slieve Donard, 2,796 ft (852 m) above sea level. Lowest—The Marsh, near Downpatrick, 1.3 ft (0.4 m) below sea level.
Population: Current estimate—1,735,000; density, 317 per mi2 (123 per km2); distribution, 70 percent urban, 30 percent rural. 2001 census—1,685,267.
Chief products: Agriculture—cattle, chickens, eggs, hogs, sheep, milk, potatoes. Manufacturing—aircraft, automobile parts, chemicals, computer chips, Irish linen and other textiles, machinery, processed food, ships.
Flag and coat of arms: Northern Ireland's flag and coat of arms have a six-pointed star and the ancient Ulster symbol of a red hand. The star and hand appear over the St. George's cross of the English flag. Northern Ireland's flag and arms ceased to be official symbols after the United Kingdom took direct control of the country's government in 1972. The flag is often flown by private citizens, but the official flag has always been the British Union Flag.
Physical Geography
Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland is in the northeastern part of the island of Ireland. It is part of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland's landforms were influenced greatly by Ice Age glaciers. The terrain consists of rounded hills and low mountains separated by broad valleys. Only in a few areas do deep, steep-sided valleys cut the land. Principal mountain ranges include the Mourne Mountains in the southeast and the Sperrin Mountains in the northwest. Slieve Donard, in the Mournes, is the country's highest peak, reaching 2,796 feet (852 m) above sea level. Where the mountains extend to the sea, the coasts are marked by cliffs and steep slopes. Among them are the north coast's unusual columns of basalt, known as the Giant's Causeway.

In central Northern Ireland is Lough (lake) Neagh, Britain's largest lake. From it flows one of Northern Ireland's chief rivers—the Bann. Other streams include the Foyle, Blackwater, Erne, and Lagan. Two sizable lakes lie in the scenic Erne valley—Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne.

Lying in the path of tempering winds from the Atlantic, Northern Ireland has a maritime climate that is unusually mild considering the latitude. January temperatures average about 40° F. (4° C.). Extremely hot or cold weather is unusual. Rain, overcast skies, and high humidity are characteristic. Rain falls 200 or more days each year and totals 30 to 40 inches (760 to 1,020 mm). Snows are light and infrequent.

Counties and county boroughs in Northern Ireland until 1973
Economy

Northern Ireland has a fairly diversified industrial economy. Food processing, textile making, and shipbuilding are industries of long standing. Manufacturing activities developed more recently include oil refining and the making of synthetic fibers, automobiles, aircraft, and various kinds of machinery and electronic equipment.

Agriculture provides a livelihood for many people in Northern Ireland. Livestock raising and dairying are the primary activities. Cattle, sheep, and poultry are raised in large numbers. Principal crops are potatoes and barley; some fruits and vegetables are also grown.

Railways serve most of the larger cities. The best highways are concentrated in the east, around Belfast, but almost all of the country is easily accessible by roads. Public buses provide much of the passenger transportation. There is regular ship service to Great Britain for both passengers and freight. Belfast is the chief port and has the main airport.

The People

The population of Northern Ireland is a blend of peoples. Some two-thirds are the descendants of immigrant English and Scottish farm workers of the 16th and 17th centuries. The rest are of old Irish descent, with ancestry back to the Irish Celts. Both groups share a similar way of life except for religion and politics. Those of old Irish descent are mainly Roman Catholic and want to be united with the Republic of Ireland; those of English and Scottish descent are mainly Protestant and want to retain their union with Britain.

In 2001 Northern Ireland had a population of 1,685,267. The largest city is Belfast, the capital.

English is the official and common language. Only a few persons can still speak the Irish form of Gaelic. About a third of the people are Roman Catholics; the rest are mainly Protestants—Presbyterians, members of the Church of Ireland (Anglican), and Methodists.

Education is free and compulsory from the age of 5 to the age of 16. The publicly supported school system is similar to that in England and Wales. Most primary and secondary schools are segregated along religious lines between Catholics and Protestants. Nearly all the people are literate. Queen's University of Belfast and the University of Ulster, in County Londonderry, are the leading institutions of higher learning.

Government

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with 17 seats in the British House of Commons.

A British-Irish agreement of 1973 provides for Northern Ireland's autonomy in internal affairs, with a government consisting of an elected legislative assembly headed by a coalition executive body composed of both Protestants and Catholics. However, because of continued civil strife between Protestants and Catholics, Northern Ireland has been ruled directly by Great Britain since 1974. In December, 1999, a new government of Catholic and Protestant parties from Northern Ireland assumed direct rule.

For local administrative purposes, Northern Ireland is divided into 26 districts, which have popularly elected councils. (Formerly, Northern Ireland was divided into six counties—Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone.) The Supreme Court of Judicature heads the court system.