The Irish Republic is governed under a constitution adopted in 1937 that provides for a president, a prime minister, and a bicameral national parliament.
Ireland consists of a central limestone plain rimmed by low, often rugged mountain ranges along the coasts. Gaps in the rim permit the plain to extend to the coast in several regions, notably along the eastern coast to the north of Dublin. Most of the central plain lies 60 to 90 m above sea level. It includes numerous lakes and large areas of marsh and peat bog, as well as some fertile agricultural land. Scattered ridges rise above the plain, but none reach any great height.
Ireland is a country of many rivers and lakes, known as loughs. The principal rivers of Ireland are the Erne and the Shannon. The Shannon begins in the northwest and flows southwest before reaching the Atlantic Ocean through a wide, lengthy estuary. The Shannon, like the Erne, actually consists of a chain of lakes joined by stretches of river; half the length of the Shannon is made up of Loughs Allen, Ree, and Derg. The southeastern part of the island is drained by a river system made up of the Suir, Nore, and Barrow and their tributaries.
The eastern coast of Ireland is fairly regular with few deep indentations; the only sizable inlets are Dundalk Bay and Dublin Bay. In the south the largest harbor is Cork Harbour. Hundreds of small islands are scattered along the western coast. Among the largest are Achill Island and the Aran Islands.
Ireland’s population descends from a variety of ethnic groups and reflects intermixing over millennia by successive waves of immigrants. Ireland’s population is predominantly of Celtic origin, but ancient tribes had inhabited Ireland for thousands of years when Celtic peoples settled the island in the 4th century BC. Over the centuries Ireland absorbed significant numbers of Vikings, Normans, and English. Ireland also has a small indigenous minority known as Travellers.
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