The Differences Between Northern & Southern Ireland

In Belfast's Shankill neighborhood, murals belie the area's loyalist leanings.
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Everyday life in Northern and Southern Ireland may seem similar on the surface, but beyond the lilting accents and similar foods and faces, there are larger differences in philosophy and religion. These differences have resulted in centuries of conflict that extend even into modern times.

1 Nationalist vs. Unionist Mindset

In the 12th century, Anglo-Norman troops, aided by the English king, came to the aid of the Irish King of Leinster, Diarmait MacMurchada, helping to restore him to his throne. After that, the British basically never left. Over the next 800 years, Irish people were divided into two basic groups: those who opposed British intervention, called Nationalists, and those who favored it, called Unionists or Loyalists. These philosophical and political differences remain one of the biggest differences between the two parts of the island even today.

2 Existing Power Structure

After many years of civil war, in 1921 the southern and northwestern parts of the island became the independent Republic of Ireland. Nine counties in the northern part of the island were allowed to remain part of the British Empire. As of 2014, Northern Ireland, sometimes called Ulster, remains part of Great Britain, though the Belfast Agreement, also called the Good Friday Agreement, of 1998 has allowed Nationalists and Unionists to share power in Northern Ireland.

3 Other Differences

Political affiliations lead to other noticeable differences. In Ireland, the currency is the euro -- the same as most of western Europe. In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, the currency is the British pound. Both countries drive on the left-hand side of the road, but in Northern Ireland, distances are marked in miles, following the British standard. In the Republic, distances are marked in kilometers, following the European standard.

4 Religion

The Republic of Ireland remains largely a Catholic country. In the north, meanwhile, people tend to be a mix of Protestant and Catholic, which can be a cause of conflict. In the city of Belfast, for example, Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods may be situated side by side, but they're often separated by gates and barbed wire, and children are taught to stay on their side of the gates. The 30 years before the Belfast Agreement are often called "The Troubles," as they were marked by car bombings and various acts of violence against one group or another. Though the violence has since diminished, occasional conflicts still erupt from time to time.

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.