The northwest European country of Ireland, which is just west of the island of Great Britain, traces its origins back to the prehistoric era (when Gaelic Ireland first existed – extending its time into the 17th century). British rule over the entire island of Ireland occurred in the early 1600s (with latter colonization of Northern Ireland by British settlers). By 1801, Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom, setting the stage for an eventual war of independence in the early 1900s. The outcome of that conflict created the Irish Free State (which included most of the country, except for Northern Ireland – which is still under British rule).
During World War II, Ireland was technically neutral. However, as many as 50,000 Irishmen volunteered to join the British forces to fight against Nazi Germany. Since Northern Ireland was still part of Britain, that part of the country was subject to German aerial bombings (especially Belfast).
Despite Ireland’s reputation for economic hardships (especially during the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s – which resulted in massive migration to the USA and elsewhere), it experienced economic prosperity during the 1990s (earning it the nickname, “the Celtic Tiger”). In 1999, Ireland joined the Euro zone. However, the financial crisis of 2008-2009 put an end to the country’s boom years –with recession and high unemployment bedeviling the local economy ever since.
With Ireland struggling to bring back its “Celtic Tiger” days, the local government recognizes that tourism is crucial for the country’s economic recovery (and job creation). In 2011, tourism represented 6% of the country’s GDP (€9.1 billion). With Britons representing nearly half of the 6.2 million tourists that visited Ireland in 2012, Americans (833,000) were the second-largest group of foreigners that visited the country (a sizable number were actually Irish-Americans, coming from states like Massachusetts – home of famed American president, John F. Kennedy). Those visiting Ireland conduct a variety of activities – from exploring its natural attractions, to touring the country’s famed breweries (such as Guinness), as well as coming across stone sites from the country’s Celtic past.