10 Things You Didn't Know About Ireland

In 1981, the death of Bobby Sands, the leader of the IRA hunger strikers, brought the world's attention on the seemingly intractable conflict in Northern Ireland. Two years before, the Iranian revolution brought the Ayatollah Khomeini into power in Iran. Presumably to annoy the British government , or perhaps as a token of solidarity with the hunger strikers (depending on your perspective), the Iranian government changed the street on which the British Embassy is located, from "Churchill Boulevard" (after the British prime minister) to "Bobby Sands Street." Pedram Moallemian, an Iranian student who was involved in renaming the street, wrote, "The larger victory, however, was when we discovered the embassy had been forced to change their mailing address and all their printed material to reflect a side door address in order to avoid using Bobby's name anywhere."

Up Until Around the Early 1990s, Ireland Had a Low Per Capita Consumption of Alcohol

Obviously whenever the word "Irish" comes up, "drinking" is never far behind. And it is true that today, Ireland's alcohol consumption, which has fallen in recent years, is still very high by international standards.

A survey in 2006, for example, found that the Irish spend a higher proportion of their income than any other country in Europe, and also found that the Irish were the worst binge drinkers in Europe. So the recent evidence certainly supports the old Irish drunkard stereotype. But prior to Ireland becoming a wealthy country, its alcohol consumption per population was actually quite moderate: throughout the 20th century in Ireland, there was a high level of alcohol abstinence, as this is a trait more commonly associated with Protestant countries.

But as the Catholic Church saw its moral authority decline toward the end of the 20th century, and as the country became wealthier, the Irish came to drink a lot more -- finally earning themselves the stereotype that has been fixed to them for so long. One likely reason the Irish had earned themselves this stereotype of being heavy drinkers was because of their immigrants: no doubt to drown out the pain of being dislocated from their home country, Irish immigrants in the U.K. and the U.S. tended to be big drinkers.

A Hospital in Belfast Is a World Leader in Kneecap Reconstruction

God knows, there have been many a kneecap that has had to have been reconstructed in Northern Ireland over the last few decades. (Shooting people in the kneecaps was a favored way for Republican and loyalist paramilitaries to control their own neighborhoods.) During the Troubles, the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast had one of the top trauma units in Europe. At one point as many as 100 victims of "limb executions" were being treated by the hospital every year, whose advances included external "limb scaffolding" that enables partial healing for bone damage too severe for reconstruction.

Ireland Has the Fourth Largest Stadium in Europe

Dublin's Croke Park, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, is the fourth largest stadium in Europe: since its redevelopment in 2005, and with a capacity of 82,300, only four venues in Europe are bigger: Barcelona's Camp Nou, Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu, Milan's Stadio San Siro and London's Wembley. Up until 2007, rugby and soccer were not allowed to be played in Croke park by the GAA, a rule that was relaxed when the main soccer and rugby stadium, Landsdown Road, was closed for renovation.

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