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Ireland is a large island located in the northwestern portion of continental Europe; the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest on Earth, with a total land area of roughly 32,000 square miles.  Just to its east is the larger island of Great Britain, from which Ireland is separated by the Irish Sea.  There are essentially two sections on the island of Ireland, divided politically between the Republic of Ireland, comprising nearly five-sixths of the land area, and Northern Island, a component of the United Kingdom located in the northeastern portion of the island and covering the remainder of the land space.  Ireland’s geography is comprised of low-lying mountains surrounding a large central plain, and its lush vegetation can be attributed to the local oceanic climate that all but eliminates temperature, be it very cold or hot.  The capital and largest city in the Republic of Ireland is Dublin, while the largest city of the UK’s Northern Island is Belfast.
 
The total population of Ireland is an estimated 6.4 million, with 4.6 million living in the Republic of Ireland and the remaining 1.8 million occupying Northern Ireland.  Ethnic Irish account for an overwhelming majority of the population, followed by Ulster Scots, Traveling Irish and a significant number of people from other Western European nations.  Chinese and Nigerians account for the largest non-European ethnic groups.  Two main languages are spoken in Ireland:  Irish and English.  Over the years, both of these languages have widely contributed to literature and others aspects of the Irish culture.  In more recent years, Irish, which is still considered an official language in the Republic of Ireland, has become a minority language among its people, most commonly spoken only by older Irish citizens.  English, on the other hand, is spoken most frequently among the remainder of the population and is now used for all official matters of the state, including education. 
 
Christianity is far and away the most predominant religious faith in Ireland, and the largest denomination practiced by the Irish people is Roman Catholicism, representing 73 percent of the island in total and about 87 percent of the Republic of Ireland.  The various Protestant religions, including the Anglican Church of Ireland, are practiced by most of the rest of the population, accounting for about 53 percent of believers in Northern Island.  Ireland also has a small, but growing Muslim community, and an even smaller Jewish community, and while nearly all of the residents of the Republic of Ireland claim some form of religious belief, 14 percent of Northern Irish inhabitants practice no religion whatsoever.
 
Education in Ireland
 
Education in Ireland is overseen by the Department of Education and Skills—a body under the direction of the Ministry of Education and Skills that controls educational policy, funding and organization.  Education is free for each level of schooling, including colleges and universities, and compulsory for all Irish children between the ages of 6 and 15 or until they have completed a minimum of three years of post-primary education.  Education is divided between three general levels:  primary, secondary and higher or third-level education, with several grades or subdivisions within each level.  Ireland also offers two years of free “preschool” education for four and five-year old children, although this level is non-compulsory.

Bunscoil, or primary school, spans six years for children between the ages of 6 and 12, and the first stage of secondary education, called Timthriall Sóisearach or Junior Cycle, spans three years for students aged 12 to 15.  These are the only compulsory levels of education, after which students must sit for the national Junior Certificate Examination, a measurement tool that aims to suitably place students should they wish to continue their secondary education, which most do. After the junior cycle of secondary education, one transitional year, called Idirbhliain, is offered, followed by the final or senior cycle of secondary education, called Timthriall Sinsearach in Irish, which is a two year program for students ages 16-18. Higher education in Ireland is provided by colleges, universities and vocational and technical institutions.  In the last 40 years, participation at this level has continued to climb, even skyrocket recently, largely due to the growth and ever-increasing complexity of the Irish economy.

Map of Ireland

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