Referred to as ‘the small country with the big reputation,’ Ireland is a land of breathtaking scenery and distinctive cultural traditions. Ireland (Éire) is an island nation in the North Atlantic, separated from the United Kingdom by the North Channel, Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel. The country is divided, both geographically and politically, between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which forms part of the UK. Although both share the same land and cultural similarities, they are separate countries. Ireland is divided into four historical provinces – Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster and 26 counties. Despite its relatively small population of nearly 4.6 million, the Republic of Ireland is an advanced technological nation with a thriving economy. It is an EU member state and adopted the Euro in 2002. Ireland has a long history of emigration – over 80 million people worldwide claim Irish descent – which given the country a significant cultural presence around the world.
Ireland’s rich culture and gregarious and friendly people are instantly recognisable. This national character can best be summed up by the Irish enjoyment of ‘the craic’- deriving from the English word ‘crack’ – which encapsulates a passion for good conversation, fun and entertainment. Pubs play an important role in Irish culture and are central to many communities as places where people can listen to music, socialise and exchange ideas. Drawing on its long folk tradition and international influence, the country has one of Europe’s liveliest music scenes and has produced literary titans such as Oscar Wilde and James Joyce.
The Irish are intensely sociable and meeting up in pubs, restaurants or each other’s homes are among popular activities. The Irish love of music, storytelling and fun permeates many activities, with hundreds of live performances of traditional and modern music, dance and comedy held all over Ireland each year. Football and Rugby are the most followed sports and Gaelic football (a cross between rugby and football) is widely played and taught in many schools. Ireland’s stunning countryside and rugged coastline also offer innumerable opportunities for outdoor pursuits such as hiking, cycling, climbing and fishing.
Food and Drink
Traditional Irish cuisine is characterised by hearty dishes such as stews accompanied by hunks of bread. The food most commonly associated with Ireland is the potato, which was introduced in the late 1500s and quickly became the mainstay of the Irish diet. A variety of seafood such as mussels, lobster and oysters are eaten in coastal areas but meat such as beef, lamb and bacon remains the first choice for a family meal. Dishes to sample include Irish Stew (slow cooked meat and vegetables) colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage and cream) and boxty (potato pancakes), best served with a fried breakfast of bacon, sausages and eggs.
The most popular beer in Ireland is Guinness, which is enjoyed by millions around the world. It is often said ‘the closer you get to Dublin, the better the Guinness’ and there is probably some truth to this considering the city is home to the world-famous Guinness Storehouse which attracts thousands of visitors every year. Irish whiskey, such as Jameson, is another popular tipple and is often used to ‘Irish up’ an after-dinner coffee.
It is a common misconception that English is the official language of Ireland. However, Irish (or Gaelic) is the ‘official’ first language and around a third of the population are Gaelic speakers. Gaelic is taught in primary schools across Ireland and it is also an official language of the European Union. It can still be heard across the country and throughout the shops, pubs, streets fairs and festivals of the Gaeltacht (Irish/Gaelic speaking) regions. All Irish road signs are in both English and Gaelic. Despite this, English is the most prevalent language and the majority of Irish people view English as their mother tongue.
Accents and Dialects
The Irish-English accent is famous for its lyrical qualities and has many variations, from the Scottish-influenced accent in northern County Donegal to the Gaelic-influenced accents of the south of the Republic. English is the primary language of Ireland but can vary greatly from the English heard in the UK. The Irish-English dialect is known as ‘Hiberno-English’ and has its own unique sounds and phrases. However, foreigners who speak English well will have no problem understanding Irish-English, which shares most of its grammar, spelling and pronunciation rules with British English.
Irish weather can be unpredictable and is a frequent topic of discussion among residents. The Irish climate is influenced by the Atlantic, which brings high rainfall (an average 99cm per year) and mild – but never extreme – temperatures. The summer months (May to July) see temperatures of around 17°C to 23°C and although temperatures frequently drop below 0°C in winter, snow is rare. Visitors to Ireland will often find themselves putting on sunglasses one moment and opening their umbrella the next, so be prepared for the changeable weather.
Safety and security
Ireland is a friendly, safe country with lower crime rates than many other European nations. The most common crime is theft, with burglaries, pickpocketing and car theft among the most prevalent. Although Ireland is a relatively safe country for visitors it’s a good idea to keep your eye on your personal belongings in large cities such as Dublin, where the crowded pubs and bars make handbags and wallets an easy target for thieves. If you need to contact the police, bear in mind that the Irish police force has a Gaelic name – Garda Síochána (Garda).
Education is compulsory in Ireland for all children aged between 6 and 16. There are four levels of education: primary, secondary (post primary), further and higher education. All education is state-funded, including higher education, which is free to all students from EU/European Economic Area (EEA) countries. State-funded schools are the responsibility of the Department of Education and Skills and include religious schools, non-denominational schools, multi-denominational schools and Gaelscoileanna (Gaelic/Irish taught schools). From the age of 16, students can choose to study for the Leaving Certificate, which is an entry qualification for university. Ireland has a high-performing education system and has been ranked 9th in the world for maths and science results (OECD 2014).
The academic year in Ireland runs from August or September to June or July, generally with three terms or semesters. Holidays vary depending on the school but most children have one week in autumn, two weeks at Christmas, a week in February and two weeks at Easter. The summer break is from the 1st July to the end of August. The Irish school day generally starts at 9am and finishes at 3pm.
Ireland has seven public universities and a number of specialist colleges and institutes of technology. All seven universities appear in the QS World Rankings, with the oldest -Trinity College Dublin – being also the most prestigious. Ireland’s universities are popular with international students as all degree programmes are taught in English and tuition is free (for students from the European Union). Admission to university is by successful completion of a secondary school Leaving Certificate or equivalent qualification. All students must apply through the Central Applications Office which gives additional information about entrance requirements and courses.
Students from countries within the EU/EEA and Switzerland pay no tuition fees at Irish universities. However, all students must contribute a one-off ‘registration fee’ of around €3,000 (£2,241) towards equipment, examinations and administration costs. Students from outside the EU can expect to pay annual tuition fees of around €10,000 (£7,476) to €21,600 (£16,148) and around €31,000 (£23,176) to €50,000 (£37,380) for medicine and related subjects. For more information about fees, consult the Irish Government’s Education in Ireland website. Student grants are available to EU nationals and a range of scholarships are offered by individual universities. You can find more information about grants here.
Irish universities offer a wide range of degree courses in varied subjects. As well as the seven principal universities, there are also 14 institutions of technology, seven colleges of education and a range of tertiary institutions providing specialist programmes in fields such as art and design, medicine, business, theology, music and law. Ireland operates a two-tier degree system consisting of Bachelor’s degrees (which take three to four years to complete) and Master’s degrees (one to two years to complete). Students generally need to complete both levels before considering doctoral (PhD) studies in Ireland.
Research in Irish universities has seen heavy investment in recent decades and is now ranked on a par with countries such as France and Australia. The country has two major funding programmes, Science Foundation Ireland and Programme for Research at Third Level Institutions. Research activities are further overseen by the Irish Research Council which was established in 2012 to fund research within all disciplines in order to enhance Ireland’s international reputation as a centre for innovation and learning.
Primary and Secondary Education
The Irish primary education sector consists of state-funded primary schools and private primary schools. State-funded primary schools are also known as ‘national schools’. State-funded schools include religious schools, non-denominational schools, multi-denominational schools and Gaelscoileanna (schools that teach through Irish). Children attend primary school from age 5 (Junior Infants) to age 12 (Senior Infants). Following primary education children attend secondary school (post primary) up to the compulsory age of 16 with approximately 90% of students staying on to take the Leaving Certificate exam at age 18 or 19. Secondary schools are divided into three types of school:
- Community and comprehensive schools: Provide a broad curriculum of core and vocational subjects.
- Vocational schools and community colleges: Provide a wide range of practical and academic subjects. They are also the main providers of adult education in Ireland.
- Voluntary secondary schools: Privately owned and managed schools which may be fee paying or non-fee paying.
The Irish Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides a free year of early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age. Children are eligible for free pre-school funding if they are over the age of 3 years and 2 months. The scheme funds pre-school care for 3 hours per day over 38 weeks. Parents must contribute additional fees for nursery or pre-school care over this time limit. Children follow a play-centred curriculum with basic numeracy and literacy tuition. While pre-school in Ireland is voluntary, just over 90% of children are currently enrolled.
The cost of living in Ireland is comparable to the UK, France and Germany, however this varies according to area. Dublin is the most expensive area to live and was ranked the 49th most expensive city of 207 cities surveyed by Mercer (2015). The cost of living in Ireland decreases the further you are from Dublin and can be considerably lower in rural areas. Accommodation takes the largest chunk of salaries, which are higher than average – around €2,284 (£1,699) per month after tax – compared to many other European countries.
Ireland is traditionally a nation of homeowners with a relatively small rental market. Therefore, finding a rental property in Ireland can be difficult, with desirable properties being snapped up quickly, particularly in Dublin. The cost of renting can be very expensive in Ireland, where a one-bed apartment in Dublin city centre will set you back from around €1,000 (£744) to €1,700 (£1264) per month. Rents outside Dublin are only marginally less. The best way for expats to find accommodation in Ireland is through a letting agent, such as My Home but beware that you may be charged an administration fee on top of the rent.
There are no restrictions on non-Irish nationals wishing to buy a property in Ireland. However, buyers must consider the extra fees and charges (stamp duty, legal and registration fees) involved in purchasing a property. Since the economic crisis of 2008, property prices have fallen dramatically but there remains a distinct shortage of affordable homes, so it’s a good idea to rent first before jumping in.
Landlords usually require a rental deposit of one to two month’s rent in Ireland. The deposit acts as security against damage to the property and is refunded when the tenant leaves. Letting agencies may also charge an administration fee on top of the deposit.
An annual Local Property Tax (LPT) was introduced in Ireland in 2013. All owners of residential property, including rental properties, are liable to pay the tax, which is calculated according to the market value of the property. The standard rate of LPT is 18%, which equates to an annual payment ranging from €90 (£66.95) for properties under €100,000 up to €1,755 (£1,305) in the higher value band (properties between €900,000 and €1m in value).
Utilities in Ireland include electricity, gas, water and waste removal and are known as ‘the bills’. The Electricity Supply Board is the largest electricity provider. A more competitive market has been created through the recent emergence of other smaller providers, however electricity prices in Ireland are high in comparison to other European countries. Gas is comparably cheaper and provided by the partially state-run Ervia (previously Gas Board). Water rates are a contentious issue in Ireland as, before 2009, water was provided free of charge. Households are now billed for water consumption by the newly-established Irish Water. Domestic refuse removal and recycling is charged annually and rates depend on the local authority providing the service.
The cost of basic utilities for an 85m² apartment in Ireland is around €150 (£111.57) per month. A TV/Broadband Internet/phone package ranges from around €35 (£26) to €60 (44.64) per month.
All television owners must pay a yearly licence fee in Ireland. The fee contributes to the running of Ireland’s public broadcaster RTE. The current cost of a television licence is €160 (£119).
Healthcare and medical costs
The healthcare system in Ireland is modern and efficient. All Irish citizens are entitled to free healthcare, which is managed by the Health Service Executive. Healthcare costs are funded through general taxation, although residents on a median-level income and above are liable to pay extra medical charges (such as for prescription medicine). Those on a low income can apply for a Medical Card which grants free access to GP services, prescription medicine and dental, optical and aural services. If you are an EU/EEA or Swiss national, or if you are normally resident in Ireland, you are entitled to receive the same level of free healthcare as Irish citizens. For more information about free healthcare in Ireland, consult the Citizens Information service. Those from outside the EU will need to have a private health insurance policy until Irish residency status is granted.
The choice of shopping in Ireland is huge, with large chain department stores, such as Arnotts and smaller shopping outlets in rural areas. There are also a number of large shopping malls such as the St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre in Dublin. For grocery shopping, Ireland has a wide range of supermarket chains such as Tesco Ireland, Dunnes Stores and SuperValu, as well as budget chains such as Aldi and Lidl.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged on most goods and services in Ireland. The current rate is 23%.
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – €1,014.51 (£747.15)
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – €851.73 (£627.26)
- Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – €4,812.69 (£3,544.33)
- Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – €3,186.70 (£2,346)
- Loaf of bread – €1.44 (£1.06)
- Milk (1 litre) – €1.05 (£0.78)
- Bottled water (1.5 litre) – €1.30 (£0.96)
- Draught beer (0.5 litre) – €2.48 (£1.95)
- Packet of cigarettes – €10.00 (£7.36)
- Petrol (1 litre) – €1.37 (£1.01)
- Cinema ticket – €10.00 (£7.36)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed January 2016)
Budgeting and Savings
Ireland has a number of price comparison and money advice services to help you switch and save. The most popular are Bonkers and Compare Ireland. The Citizens Advice Service also has a useful budgeting tool and information about taxation, pensions and salaries.
Touring Ireland by car is one of the best ways of exploring this small country. The Irish road network is relatively well-maintained, although care should be taken in rural areas where secondary roads have a tendency to be very narrow and winding. All major cities and towns are connected by motorways, which are indicated by the letter ‘M’ followed by a number. Speed limits are 120km/h (70mph) on motorways, 100km/h (60mph) on secondary roads and 50km/h (30mph) in built up areas. Bear in mind that cars drive on the left and have right hand steering controls. Drivers pay toll fees to use motorways, which can be paid online at eToll or at one of the many toll plazas. Those with a driving licence issued by an EU member state do not need to apply for an Irish licence. Drivers from outside the EU must apply for an Irish licence after one year’s residency in Ireland (with the exception of some countries).
Taxis in Ireland can be recognised by their yellow and blue roof signs and are regulated by the National Transport Authority. Taxis may be hailed from the street or from a designated stand and all fares are calculated by meter. Although most Irish taxi drivers are honest, beware of any ‘extras’ or unnecessary detours. Few taxis accept credit or debit cards so be sure to carry enough cash to pay your fare.
Buses are the most widely used form of public transport in Irish cities and rural areas. The bus network is regulated by the National Transport Authority and timetables and ticket prices can be found at Transport for Ireland website. The largest operator is Bus Éireann, easily recognised by its ‘red setter’ logo and which has routes all over Ireland (except Dublin, which is served by Dublin Bus). Most services operate until midnight in urban areas. You can pay your bus fare in cash on boarding the bus or with a public transport pass such as the Leap Card valid in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.
Travelling by coach is a relaxed way to take in Ireland’s scenery and reach its more far flung places. Bus Éireann run coaches all over the country and there is also a huge selection of private coach tour operators, such as Chambers.
Ireland’s state-owned rail network is run by Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) and links Belfast in Northern Ireland with Dublin and all other major cities in the Republic. The rail network consists of fast intercity trains connecting large cities and local commuter and cross-country services. Cheap tickets can be purchased in advance at Irish Rail where you can also find discounted travel cards.
Trams and Light Rail
Dublin operates a light rail system called Luas which carries millions of passengers across the city each year. There are two main lines (Red and Green) and 54 stations connecting the centre and suburbs. There are currently no underground metro networks in Ireland. However, a new system is planned for Dublin – to be completed in 2026
Ireland has four international airports – Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Knock. The national carrier is Aer Lingus but the most popular, and the second largest airline in Europe, is the no frills Ryanair which flies to destinations all over Europe at low prices.
Other ways to get around
Ireland is a small country and driving is by far the easiest way of getting around. However, there are number of ferry services available which connect the mainland to the numerous tiny islands which surround Ireland’s coast. In general, these ferries do not carry cars and run limited services – more information and timetables can be found here. Regular ferries also connect Dublin and Belfast to the UK via Holyhead and Liverpool. More information about tickets and prices can be found at Stena Line or Irish Ferries. Given its small size, long distance cycling has become an immensely popular way to explore Ireland. There are a number of guided cycling tours and events to choose from, such as the annual Ireland Coast to Coast cycle ride from Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland to Cork in the south. The popular route is 360 miles long and takes in some of Ireland’s best scenery along the way.
Working hours in Ireland are regulated by the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and EU directives which state the maximum average working week cannot exceed 48 hours. Some professions, such as Garda (police), Army and farming, are exempt. Under the Organisation of Working Time Act, extra pay or time in lieu should be available to employees working on Sundays. Most employees work a 39-hour week, from 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday and many office and government departments close between 12.30pm and 2pm for lunch.
Holiday entitlement in Ireland is protected by law and allows workers an average of four weeks paid leave a year. While most EU countries calculate leave from April to March, many Irish employers calculate it based on the calendar year (January to December). Generally, both full-time and part-time workers are entitled to 8% of the hours worked in a year. For more details, visit the Citizens Information website here.
There are nine public holidays in Ireland, which are mainly religious festivals or celebrations. Most places of work observe national holidays with many closing for the day or operating reduced services and hours.
Public holiday dates 2019
New Year’s Day: 1st January
St Patrick’s Day: 18th March
Easter Monday: 22nd April
May Day: 6th May
June Bank Holiday: 3rd June
August Bank Holiday: 5th August
Bank Holiday: 28th October
Christmas Day: 25th December
St Stephen’s Day: 26th December
Visas and eligibility to work
The freedom of movement with the European Union means the majority of EU citizens are permitted to enter Ireland with a passport but no other documentation. For EU citizens, a national identity card will also suffice. You do not require a visa to visit Ireland if you are from an EU country. Apart from UK citizens, you will need a visa to enter Northern Ireland. An Irish Short Stay Visa Waiver is available to workers from 18 Eastern European, Middle East and Asian countries in order to boost tourism and jobs. These visas usually allow workers to stay in Ireland for up to 180 days. There are several types of visa available for foreign workers which depend on the job the person will do in the country. A D-type visa will be required for those working in the country for longer than three months and can be applied for at the Garda National Immigration Bureau. The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) is responsible for visas and immigration into the country.
In Ireland the tax year runs from 1st January to 31st December. Workers are taxed if they are considered a resident in Ireland (if a worker spends 183 days or more in Ireland during a tax year or 280 days over two consecutive years). Workers are taxed 20% on their taxable income up to a certain threshold. There may be some tax breaks for expats living in Ireland but it is advisable to seek the advice of an expat tax planner to find out if you are eligible. The Irish government is keen to attract foreign investment to the country, which has seen low corporate tax rates of below 12.5% levied on most businesses. Ireland operates a progressive personal tax system, with most workers being on a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, with tax deducted by their employer. VAT is charged on most goods and services and is currently set at 23%. For more information, visit the www.revenue.ie website.
There are three types of pension in Ireland; two which are based on social insurance contributions and a state pension. To be eligible, workers need to be a permanent resident in Ireland and have made sufficient contributions during their working lives. To register you will need to complete Form SPT/SPC1 at your local Social Welfare Office or Department of Social Protection. People who do not qualify for a contributory pension can apply for a non-contributory pension, which is means-tested and available to people aged 66 or over.
Social welfare is split into three types in Ireland: Social Insurance, Means-tested payments and Universal payments. Benefits available include Jobseeker’s Allowance, Illness Benefit, Maternity Benefit and Carer’s Benefit. Certain criteria must be met to qualify for state welfare payments. You can apply to the Department of Social Protection to find out if you are eligible for benefits.
The rights of disabled people are protected by the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011 which make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of their disability. The law also compels employers to make adjustments in the workplace to accommodate disabled workers. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 also forces employers to take worker’s disabilities into account, especially regarding doors, passageways, stairs, work stations and toilets. Under the Disability Act 2005, 3% of jobs in public sector bodies are reserved for people with disabilities.
Since the early 1990s Ireland has been transformed into a modern and thriving economy and is now viewed as one of the most progressive European nations. A range of multinational companies have offices in Dublin, which has become a magnet for technology and industry.
Business structures in Ireland tend to be hierarchical, where decisions are made at the top. However, the relationship between managers and subordinates is generally relaxed and the Irish view themselves as team players who conduct business in a friendly and informal manner. Networking and relationship-building between colleagues and business partners is essential to the successful Irish business model.
Depending on the organisation, managers in Ireland are generally open and inclusive of the opinions of their subordinates and prefer to work as a team, rather than taking an authoritarian role. Relationship-building between employees and managers is seen as paramount to the success of the business. Managers will endeavour to build a good rapport through taking an interest in their employees and engaging in banter with the team. It is customary for Irish managers to take into account all employees’ views before making an important decision.
Business in Ireland tends to be less formal than in other European countries. Irish business people are comfortable using first names instead of titles and appreciate a friendly approach. However, although meetings can be informal, physical contact such as kissing or hugging is not viewed as appropriate behaviour.
Irish people are warm and friendly and this permeates business relationships. Face-to-face meetings are preferred to the telephone and a direct, conversational style is expected. The Irish are famous for their razor-sharp wit and workplace banter can often leave some foreigners bewildered. If you find yourself on the receiving end of some well-intentioned ribbing, don’t take offence, it is more likely to mean you have become accepted into the team. It is not uncommon to continue meetings in a more social setting or over lunch, however bear in mind that family is central to Irish life so it’s best not to make too many demands on people’s personal time.
Business attire in Ireland tends to be smart and formal. Women usually wear smart business suits and blouses while most men opt for dark suits, shirts and ties. It’s advisable to carry a raincoat and umbrella to avoid turning up to meetings soaked from the inevitable Irish downpour.
The handshake is the accepted business greeting in Ireland. On meeting Irish business people, shake hands with everyone in the room and maintain eye contact, as this will put people at ease. Having a friendly demeanor and open communication style will take you far in an Irish business meeting.
Good time-keeping is important in business meetings and appointments, however the Irish have a more relaxed attitude to punctuality in social situations, where you may be waiting up to an hour for your counterparts to turn up. However, if you are going to be late to a meeting it is a good idea to phone ahead, particularly in Dublin where severe traffic congestion can mean that being on time is somewhat out of your hands.
Business meetings in Ireland generally follow a pre-determined structure but tend to be informal and conversational in comparison to other countries. It is quite common for a meeting to be conducted in a restaurant or pub and negotiations are personable and relaxed. Expect lengthy and eloquent discussions at business meetings, where everyone is encouraged to participate. To get the most out of an Irish business meeting it is important to get to know all the participants and not be over aggressive in trying to get the deal done.
The Irish are tolerant and friendly people and are not quick to take offence at good natured humour or banter. Indeed a few jokes would be actively encouraged in order to break the ice. However, there are a few controversial subjects you should avoid bringing up in a business setting such as; present and historical Anglo-Irish relations, religion and laws relating to sexual identity and family planning. Giving opinions on people’s private lives or personal appearance in the workplace would also be frowned upon.
Most business in Ireland is conducted in English. However, be aware that Irish-English has many different words and phrases to British English. Regional accents in Ireland vary greatly and Irish people have a tendency to speak rather quickly, so non-English speakers may have some difficulty understanding what is being said. It is perfectly acceptable to ask someone to repeat themselves or to politely ask them to speak more slowly.