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Some information from our Irish Factfile.


Irish Quotations | Irish Toasts | Irish Names | Fact File

Chance Your Arm.

The rivalry between the Butlers Earls of Ormond and the Fitzgeralds Earls of Kildare, led to frequent conflict between the two families. In 1512 (1492 conflicting dates) one of the worst occurred when a row developed between the two factions. The Earl of Ormond was forced to flee and take refuge in the chapter house of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. He barricaded himself in and refused to come out until he got assurances from the Geraldines that he would not be harmed. Eventually a deal was made and it was agreed to shake hands on it, so a hole was chopped in the door, enabling both leaders to shake hands, giving us the expression to chance your arm. Apparently the hole can still be seen in the door.

Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have been the first to plant potatoes in Ireland in the year 1590 at Killua castle in County Westmeath.

The phrase Lynch law is derived from an event which took place in Galway in 1493 when the Lord Mayor of the town hanged his son Walter for murder.

In times past the term "The gentleman who pays the rent." referred to the pig which often was allowed to stay in the house with the family.




Passage graves at Newgrange and other sites in the Boyne Valley date from 3200 BC or perhaps earlier, pre dating the pyramids of Egypt by 500 years.

The Celts were a warlike people, often riding into battle on two man chariots, the warrior and his charioteer, they usually fought with iron swords, according to some historians they often fought naked.

The Celts used an unusual method of cooking, metal at the time was expensive and scarce. A hole was dug in the ground and presumably lined with clay to make it waterproof, it was filled with water which was heated by placing in it stones which had been heated in a nearby fire. Meat was then placed in the water to cook. A cooking pit like this was called a fulacht fia . Thousands of such pits have been discovered across Ireland.

See also Irish Cooking.

The first recorded raid by Vikings in Ireland was in 795 when the attacked and plundered the Monastery on Lambay island off the Dublin coast, by 830 their attacks were more frequent and they sailed up rivers to attack inland targets. They first wintered in Ireland at the mouth of the Liffey in 841-42.

In 796 AD the Vikings sailed up the River Shannon into Lough Ree with a fleet of sixty ships, they were led by Turgesius A great battle ensued, between Turgesius and King Malachy this lasted for three months. Half of Turgesius fleet of were sunk. Turgesius was captured and drowned in Lough Owel.

Brian Boru who died in 1014 at the battle of Clontarf, had earlier deployed a fleet of war galleys on Lough Ree to deal with the Viking threat.



Famous People of Ireland.

The Lord of Tyrconnell Turlough O'Donnell who died in 1423 was the father of eighteen sons by ten different women, he had fifty nine grandsons.

Ireland's smallest woman is alleged to have been Catherine Kelly, she was 34 inches tall and weighed 8 lbs which seems incredibly light even for someone so small, Catherine died in 1785, she was known as the "Irish Fairy."

In 1186 the Anglo Norman lord of Meath, Hugh de Lacy, was killed at Durrow abbey in Offaly by a workman, de Lacy was overseeing the demolition of the abbey to build a castle on the site, the workman was so enraged that he cut off de Lacy's head with an axe. Note This date conflicts with other sources.

The statuette given to Academy Award winners the 'Oscar' was designed by a Dublin man Cedric Gibbons, born in 1823 he emigrated to USA and eventually became one of MGM's top set designers in the early days of motion pictures. He is said to have worked on over 1,500 films, and was awarded the Oscar himself twelve times.

The only woman Freemason.

List of some Irish names and their origin.




The governor of Derry during the siege (1689) the Reverend George Walker issued a price list for food within the city.

Horse flesh 1s 8p LB; quarter of a dog (fattened on the body's of the slain Irish) 5s 6p LB; dogs head 2s 6p; Cat 4s 6p; Rat 1s; Mouse 6d;



Books and Printing.

The first book ever to be printed in Ireland was the Book of Common Prayer, produce in Dublin in 1551.

In June 1571 John Kearney's book the 'Gaelic Alphabet & Catechism' became the first Irish book to be printed in Ireland.

The oldest existing book of Irish Literature is the Book of Armagh, it was compiled by a scribe called Feardomhnach in the year 807 from other manuscripts. It is mainly in Latin but is also has the oldest continuous passage in the Gaelic language existing today. It contains the so called confessions of St Patrick which are believed to have been copied from Patrick's own writings. It also contains accounts of the lives of St Patrick and St Martin of Tours. It is now in Trinity College in Dublin.

The oldest books of Christian Ireland still in existence are the Dombanach Airgid (The Silver Shrine) the Catbach (The Battler) and the book of Kells. The oldest is the Silver Shrine. It is a copy of the gospels enclosed in a shrine of silver, yew and copper. Only a small portion of it remains, it was once thought to have been written by St Patrick, but was in fact of a later date. The Battler so called because it was carried into battle as a good luck charm by the O'Donnell's of Ulster. It is a copy of the psalms supposedly secretly copied by St Colmcille from a manuscript belonging to St Finian. The Silver Shrine and the Battler are now in the National Museum of Dublin.

The Book of Kells is a copy of the four gospels, it is the work of monks in the monastery on Iona. It was brought to Kells in 796 when the Iona monastery was raided by Vikings. It is now in Trinity College Dublin.

The book of The Dun Cow was compiled in the monastery of Clonmacnoise in the year 1105. It contains the Tain an account of the war between the mythical Red Branch Knights and Queen Maeve of Connaught (See also the Annals)

The Bangor Antiphonar' is the oldest known Irish written hymn sheet, it was written in St Comgalls Abbey (Bangor Co Down) founded in AD 558. The document which dates from the 680's it is now in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, Italy.



Origin's of Names and Words.

The word Dolmen is derived from the Breton word 'tolmen' which means 'stone table'
Steeplechase discover the Irish connection.

Visit this page for a dictionary of Irish words and their meanings.

List of some Irish names and their origin.



Battle of the Books.

Probably the first copyright dispute in Ireland took place between St Columba or Colmcille and St Finian, Colmcille had borrowed a Palster and surreptitiously made a copy of it, when Finian found out he demanded the copy. Colmcille refused and the matter went to arbitration at the court of High King Diarmuid, who decided in favour of St Finian with the famous ruling 'To every cow its calf, to every book its copy.' Colmcille refused to accept the ruling and when Diarmuid killed a youth whom Colmcille had given sanctury, he persuaded his kinsmen the O'Neills to wage war on Diarmuid, the O'Neills were victorious at the Battle of Cooldrumman (Culdremna) north of Sligo in AD 561 which is reputed to have cost three thousand lives.

A Synod was held at Tailte, County Meath, at this Colmcille was ordered to convert a equal number of pagans. He moved to the island of Iona on the Scottish west coast, where he founded a monestary there he set about converting the Pictish tribes to Christianity, his actions were largely responsible for the foundation of the Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada which had close links with County Antrim.

It is possible that the Cathach a manuscript now preserved in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin may be the book in question.



Billy in the Bowl.

Billy was born in Dublin in the mid eighteenth century; without legs, he got about by propelling himself along in an iron bowl with his arms, He lived in the neighborhood of Stoneybatter, near Arbour Hill in northwest Dublin. He lured passersby to his side by appealing to their sympathy, using the exceptional strength in his arms he strangled them and stole their purse. Eventually he was caught and convicted, he was sentenced to 'As much hard labour as his condition would allow, for the rest of his days.'




Guinea Hunter's.

The term Guinea Hunter refers to a group of people, based chiefly around the markets area of Belfast. These people would get a gold guinea, which was worth 21 shillings £1 1s 0d or £1.05 in today's currency. They would file some of the milled edge off the coin with a triangular file, leaving it smaller and lighter but looking original. They then sold the gold when they had processes several coins. The normal term for this is clipping, the milled edge and lettering around coins were designed to eliminate this.

The above information was related by the late Tommy McClean of Killough Co Down, a gentleman and great character who I must stress was not involved in this himself, but acquired the information when working in Belfast in his youth.

Coins first came into use in Ireland in the tenth century. The union of England and Ireland took place in 1800 it was not until 1826 the Irish coins were withdrawn. Ireland has issued its own coins since 1928.




The Little Gentleman in Black Velvet.

This refers to a Jacobite toast during the reign of Queen Anne, and still drunk in some nationalist and Catholic circles. The little gentleman in question is the mole alleged to have killed William III when in Windsor Great Park on the 21st February 1702 his horse Sorrel stumbled on a mole hill throwing the king to the ground and fracturing his collar bone, the king dies two weeks later in London.

The English prime minister Sir Robert Peel acquired the nickname 'Orange Peel' after it was revealed he had drunk to anti Catholic orange toasts.

See also Irish Toasts.


Fact's About Ireland.

Total Area
84,415.54 Sq Km
32,593 sq miles
Area; Republic
70,284.56 Sq Km
27,137 sq miles
Area: North 14,130.99 Sq Km
5,456 sq miles
Total Land Area 81,732.31 Sq Km
31,557 sq miles
Land Area Republic 68,378.33 Sq Km
26,401 sq miles
Land Area North 13,353.99 Sq Km
5,156 sq miles
Total Area of Water 2,683.23 Sq Km
1,036 sq miles
Water Area Republic 1,906.23 Sq Km
736 sq miles
Water Area North 777 Sq Km 300 sq miles
Total Length of Coastline 3,170.40 Km
1,970 miles
Coastline Republic 2,795.42 Km
1,737 miles
Coastline North 373.37 Km
232 miles
Greatest Length N to S 486.02 Km
302 miles
Greatest Width E to W 275.20 Km
171 miles
Irish Mile (2,240 Yards) 2.049 Km
1.272 miles
Statute or English Mile (1,760 Yards) 1.61 Km 1 mile
Nautical Mile (6,080 ft) 1.853 Km 1.15 Miles
League 4.83 Km
3 miles


Highest Recorded Temperature Kilkenny Castle 26/06/1887 92F : 33.3 C
Lowest Recorded Temperature Omagh Co Tyrone 23/01/1881 -29.2 F : -19.4 C
Heaviest Rainfall Orra Beg Antrim 01/08/1980 3.82 inches in 45 minutes
Highest Recorded Wind Speed Kilkeel Co Down Jan 1974 108 knots
Longest Recorded Drought Limerick 03/04 to 10.05 1938 . 37 days

Miscellaneous Facts.

Argentina has the largest non English speaking Irish community in the world.
The Fasnet Rock lighthouse off the south coast of Ireland is built with 2,074 granite blocks weighing between 1 3/4 and 3 tons.
County Donegal has the largest herd of wild red deer in Europe.
Irelands oldest bridge is situated in Glanworth Co Cork it was built in 1446
3,501,683 Irish people entered America between the years 1820-90
Irelands only salt mine is at Carrickfergus County Antrim.
The annals record that on more than 1,000 people were killed in storms in the west of Ireland. 17th March 803
Freak winds destroy forests, churches and houses. 11th November 892
The Royal Cork Yacht Club stage the worlds first power boat race. 11th July 1903
The Hon Charles Rolls, sets up a world land speed record of 93 mph in Phoenix Park. 1903
The Volta, Irelands first cinema opens in Dublin 20th Dec 1909
First recorded use of firearms in Ireland 1487
Driest Year 1887
Heaviest Snowfall January 1917

Highest Point Carrantuohill Co Kerry 3,404 Ft 1,041 meters
Largest Island Achill Co Mayo 36,248 Acres 14,669.20 Ha
Longest River Shannon 224 Miles 360.49 Km
Largest Lake Lough Neagh 149.61 Sq Miles 387.49 Sq Km
Highest Waterfall Powerscourt Co Wicklow 350 ft 106 M
Oldest Bridge Glanworth Co Cork Built 1446
Highest Cliff Croaghan Co Mayo 2,192 ft 668 M
Longest Stalactite Polan Ionain Co Clare 20 ft 4 in 6.2 M

Population Census.

1841 8,175,124. All Ireland
1851 6,552,385 All Ireland
1861 5,798,967 All Ireland
1871 5,412,377. All Ireland
1881 5,174,836. All Ireland
1891 April 4,704,750. All Ireland
1901 March 4,458,775. All Ireland
1911 April 4,390,219. All Ireland
1936 April 2,968,420 Eire
1937 October 1,279,745 NI
1946 May 2,955,107. Eire
1951 April 1,370,921. NI
1951 April 2,960,593 Eire
1961 April 1,425,042. NI
1961 April 2,818,341. Eire
1966 October 1,484,775 NI
1966 April 2,884,002. Eire
1971 April 1,536,065 NI
1971 April 2,978,248 Eire
1981 April 1,481,959 NI
1981 April 3,443,405 Eire
1991 April 1,577,836. NI
1991 April 3,525,719. Eire
2001 April 1.685,000 NI
See also our Chronology page.