‘What are the differences between Northern Ireland vs Ireland?, ‘Is there still an Ireland vs Northern Ireland conflict?’, ‘Is Dublin in Northern Ireland?’…
Questions like this hit our inbox an average of 10 times a week and, to be fair, anybody not from the island of Ireland could be forgiven for being slightly confused about the status of Northern Ireland.
A small island with two separate countries? Yep, but it goes much deeper than that. So today, we’re going to go through some of the key differences between Ireland vs Northern Ireland, with a bit of history thrown in too!
Some quick need-to-knows about the differences between Northern Ireland vs Ireland
Below, you’ll find some speedy bullet points that offer a quick insight into what is the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Take 60 seconds to read these, first, and then you’ll find more in-depth information about the Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland later in the guide.
1. They’re two separate countries on the one island
The main difference between Northern Ireland vs Ireland is that, while their landscapes may share many similarities, Ireland and Northern Ireland are two separate countries.
The Republic of Ireland (or Eire) is a sovereign state of around 5 million people that’s part of the European Union (EU), whereas Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom (UK) which is no longer a part of the EU.
2. There’s no physical border
Although many maps could lead you to believe otherwise, there is no physical border between the two countries despite their status as separate entities.
However, the Brexit referendum of 2016 has caused potential problems for the myriad complexities that lie within Northern Ireland’s status. Most notably for the border. In 2022, there is no physical border but questions of trade and immigration could have an effect on the border in the future.
3. Different currencies are used
If you’ve not been to this part of the world before, then it’s worth knowing that different currencies are used before you pack your bags!
Ireland uses the Euro (EUR) whereas in Northern Ireland they use the Pound Sterling (GBP), just like the rest of the UK.
Another key difference between Northern Ireland vs Ireland is that they are governed separately. The 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland are what’s called a ‘parliamentary constitutional republic’.
Ireland’s Head of State is the President of Ireland. Since 1998, Northern Ireland has had a devolved government within the United Kingdom, lead by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The main differences between the Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland explained
The story of Northern Ireland vs Ireland is a long one, so we’ve done out best to summarise it in several easy-to-follow bullet points.
While this is a brief history on the topic of the Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland, but it’ll give you all of the key points that you need to know.
1. Two countries
Ireland and Northern Ireland’s status as two completely separate countries on one is probably the key difference you’ll need to know.
We’ll get into the finer details of how this came about a little later, but essentially, after being ruled (officially) for over a century from London by the British, Ireland finally achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1922.
Owing to religious, cultural and trading links to the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland almost immediately rejoined the United Kingdom, leaving the Republic of Ireland a free state of 26 counties. It still remains that way to this day.
2. Governance: President v Queen
Another of the key differences between Ireland and Northern Ireland is that they have two very different heads of state. While they have some powers, both are essentially figureheads.
Ireland’s head of state is the President of Ireland (currently Michael D. Higgins), while Northern Ireland’s head of state is Queen Elizabeth II.
The day-to-day governing of both countries, however, is done by their respective Prime Ministers (known as the Taoiseach in Ireland).
3. Currency: Euro v Pound
Travelling between the two countries means that you’ll need separate currencies and is a really important difference to know if you’re visiting.
Ireland uses the Euro (EUR) and has done since January 1999, after spending most of the 20th century using the Irish Pound.
Just like the rest of their United Kingdom counterparts, Northern Ireland uses the Pound Sterling (GBP).
Even though many transactions these days are cashless (usually paid by card or phone), when travelling it’s always handy having some cash on you no matter where you are.
4. Different capitals: Dublin v Belfast
Another notable difference between Northern Ireland vs Ireland is that both have an official capital city.
With an urban population of 1,173,179, Dublin is Ireland’s capital and the largest city on the island of Ireland. Dublin is also where the national parliament of Ireland (Oireachtas) is located at Leinster House.
Northern Ireland’s largest city is Belfast and it’s the second-largest city on the island of Ireland, with a population of 483,418. Belfast is also home to Northern Ireland’s devolved government and power-sharing assembly (Stormont).
5. Languages: Irish vs English
Irish is the official language of Ireland although English is far more widely used. There are, however, some parts of Ireland where the Irish language is still kept alive and is the prominent language used at home.
Known as Gaeltacht regions, they’re largely found on the west coast. Counties with major concentrations of Irish speakers include Donegal, Mayo, Galway, and Kerry.
Northern Ireland is almost entirely English-speaking and English is the de-facto official language. Irish is recognised as a minority regional language, however.
6. Road signs
Another difference between Northern Ireland and Ireland is the road signs. When you cross the border in Ireland, the landscape probably won’t change much at first glance but the road signs will.
You’ll notice that all the road signs in Ireland are bilingual, with the Irish language and English both represented. English place names are all written in capital letters, while their Irish counterparts are all written in a distinctive oblique variant (that looks similar to italic).
All road signs are written in the same format that you would see in mainland Britain and are all entirely in English.
7. The counties
So, the final difference between Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland is the counties. There’s 32 counties in Ireland – 6 of these counties (Antrim, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Down and Derry) are part of Northern Ireland.
26 (Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Cork, Clare, Wicklow, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford, Dublin, Meath, Louth, Wexford, Limerick, Kilkenny, Westmeath, Leitrim, Cavan, Tipperary, Kildare, Longford, Laois, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon and Carlow) are in the Republic of Ireland).
The Partition of Ireland: A Brief History
So, how did the whole Northern Ireland vs Ireland conflict come about?! The existence of these two separate countries on the same small island is one of the world’s more curious border situations, so we need to go back to the events of the early 20th-century to gain a better understanding of why Northern Ireland exists.
With its effects still being felt 100 years later, the Partition of Ireland was a seminal moment in Irish history and in the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain. Here’s a brief history of this seismic event:
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Comprising of the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a sovereign state that existed between 1801 and 1922. This was the last time that Ireland and Northern Ireland were part of the same constitutional entity before partition.
It should be pointed out before going any further that even before the existence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, there had long been a desire for total independence in Ireland.
One major problem though for the Irish throughout this time period was that Britain, through rapid modernisation and industrial revolution, had become the world’s dominant power.
With a massive empire and huge resources, the likelihood of independence from Britain for the majority of the 19th-century was unrealistic. Things began to change, however, towards the end of the century.
Lead by the likes of William Shaw and Charles Stewart Parnell, the question of possible Irish home rule was the dominant political question of British and Irish politics at the end of the 19th-century.
The concept of Home Rule that had risen from around 1870 differed from earlier demands for Repeal by Daniel O’Connell in the first half of the 19th-century.
Whereas Home Rule meant a constitutional movement towards a national All-Ireland parliament in part under Westminster, ‘Repeal’ meant completely undoing the 1801 Act of Union (which formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) and the subsequent creation of an entirely independent Irish state.
The Home Rule League campaigned strongly from 1873 and were eventually succeeded by the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1882.
The Home Rule Bill
The impassioned and eloquent campaigning from those involved eventually lead to the First Home Rule Bill in 1886. Introduced by Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone, was the first major attempt made by a British government to enact a law creating home rule for part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
While this bill ultimately failed, it lead to several more over the subsequent years with each one adding to the movement’s momentum. In fact, the Third Irish Home Rule Bill of 1914 was passed with Royal Assent as the Government of Ireland Act 1914, but never came into force thanks to the outbreak of the First World War.
The Interruption of the First World War
A seismic event that would go on to have ramifications for the rest of the century on a global scale, the outbreak of the First World War effectively put paid to any hope of having Home Rule implemented, at least for the time being.
With Britain now engaged in fighting across Europe as part of the Triple Entente alongside France and Russia, all of its resources and time were put into the war effort.
But while this was hugely frustrating to all the campaigners and architects of Home Rule who were so close to seeing their goal implemented, it also represented an opportunity for some who looked to take advantage while Britain had its back turned.
The 1916 Easter Rising
The 1916 Easter Rising is another key event in the Northern Ireland vs Ireland conflict. Taking place during Easter Week in April 1916, the Easter Rising in Dublin was an armed insurrection launched by Irish republicans against British rule in Ireland with the aim of establishing an independent Irish Republic while Britain was fighting the First World War.
Lead by the likes of Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, it was one of the biggest flash points in the Irish nationalist movement and a total of 455 people lost their lives in the fighting.
Eventually crushed after a week of heavy fighting in Dublin, the harsh British reaction (like the execution of Pearse, Connolly and other belligerents) to the Rising fuelled support for independence and laid the groundwork for independence and the future partition.
The First World War and the Easter Rising only served to exacerbate differences between the largely Unionist north and the rest of Ireland. In the Catholic south, the once-unpopular Easter rebels immediately became national heroes.
But in the Protestant north, their rebellion was regarded as a profound act of betrayal against Great Britain in its time of desperate need.
With reconciliation between the two communities virtually impossible, it’s no coincidence that partition took place in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Initially, the British government attempted to create two separate Home Rule territories for the north and south, both of which would remain in the United Kingdom. But Irish nationalists had unilaterally declared an independent Ireland, refusing to recognise the plan and launched the Irish War of Independence.
In December 1921, the British reconciled themselves to the nationalists’ demands, creating an Irish Free State in the 26 counties of the south and thus partitioning Northern Ireland from the rest of Ireland for good.
FAQs about the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is it called Ireland or Northern Ireland?’ (they’re two separate places) to ‘Is Dublin in Northern Ireland?’ (no).
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What are the key differences between Northern Ireland vs Ireland?
The main differences between Ireland vs Northern Ireland are 1, they’re 2 separate countries, 2 different currencies are used and 3, governance.
Is there still a conflict between the Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland?
There is no conflict between Northern vs Southern Ireland, however, parts of the north are still in conflict with each other (see guide above).