Americans traveling to Ireland don't really have to worry about the language barriers that they often face in other European countries. While school-age students in Ireland must study their mother tongue for more than a decade, they don't necessarily leave school knowing how to speak Irish, or Gaelic, as it is commonly called. In fact, only about 30 percent of Irish citizens profess to feeling confident about their Irish language abilities. That figure is even lower in Northern Ireland, where only 8 percent say that they speak Irish fluently. English is the primary language, largely due to the isle's long and difficult history as part of the British Empire. The Great Famine of the mid-19th century is also to blame for the loss of native Irish speakers. During that time, Ireland's rural areas (which were historically strongholds for the Irish language) lost half of their population due to emigration and famine.
Behind the scenes in Ireland:
- Many Irish surnames begin with "Mac" (i.e. MacDonald) or "O" (i.e. O'Casey); the former means "son of," while the latter means "descendant of" or "grandson of."
- Irish author Bram Stoker is thought to have based his Dracula character on his friend, the stage actor Henry Irving. The novel was originally titled The Dead Un-Dead.
- Irish physicist John Tyndall was the first person to prove that the Earth's atmosphere has a so-called "greenhouse effect."