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Belfast Background

Geography and History

Northern Ireland occupies the northeastern corner of the island of Ireland. It takes up about one-sixth of the island and is made up of six counties. This area was known as Ulster in 1920, when it was separated from the rest of Ireland. Along with England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It is slightly larger than the state of Connecticut, comprising 5,462 square miles. It is 85 miles long and 111 miles wide. Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and is a world center for shipbuilding and linen manufacturing.

Most of the people in Northern Ireland are of English or Scottish descent. Sixty percent are Protestant; their practicing religion in the Church of Ireland (C.O.I.) and Presbyterianism. Forty percent of the population are Roman Catholics. The disputes between the religions are not due to theological differences, but to political differences. It is likely that some of the Catholic children may be very "pro-Irish" and proud of their heritage. Likewise, some of the Protestant children may be very "pro-British" and equally proud of their British background.

Life Style and Education

With very few exceptions, houses in Northern Ireland are built of brick or concrete blocks. Some are state owned, and tenants pay rent to the government. Others are privately owned, often having been purchased through a building society or passed on through the family. Central heating is common. Plumbing facilities are modern, but some children may not be familiar with showers and will prefer a bath.

The average summertime temperature in Northern Ireland is about 65 degrees. Rainfall in the lowlands averages 40 inches a year. The average winter temperature is between 25-40 degrees. Northern Ireland does get snow, but usually only and inch or two falls at a time, and it normally melts with very little accumulation. Because of the differences in climate, your Irish child will be interesting in seeing pictures of our houses, snowplows, etc. in the winter, as well as winter outdoor wardrobes. Our summer clothing is similar to that worn in Northern Ireland, but going without shoes or shirts will be a new idea.

Your Irish child may not have a telephone, but their applications do include an emergency number. This may be a telephone in the home of a friend, neighbor or relative. Remember, there is a five hour time difference between New York and Northern Ireland. The international dialing code is 011; the Northern Ireland code is 44. When dialing, you must dial 011-44 followed by the remainder of the number.

Children will enjoy watching television and are familiar with most of the American TV programs. The American commercials are generally different from those they see at home. It is fun to compare products and terms. Many Irish families have VCRs and Nintendo. In many areas, children spend much of their free time indoors for safety reasons, and television helps fill the leisure time; however, American and Irish VCR tapes are recorded using different technical standards and are not interchangeable. Host families have been disappointed after sending home tapes of the child's summer, only to find they can't play them. While facilities exist in the Rochester to re-record VCR tapes and perform the necessary standards conversion, the processes is quite expensive. Expect to pay about $25 for the conversion.

Children between 4 and 5 are required to attend school. Their first year is P-1, which is comparable to our kindergarten. Nearly all children attend either a Protestant or Catholic school. Rarely are Protestant and Catholic children taught in the same facility. Schools are supported by public funds, and the standards are more strict than in our schools. At the end of grade school children must take extensive exams. Depending on the outcome of these exams, children are placed in specific types of schools to continue their education (i.e.: college prep, vocational, technical). Placement is based on ability and outcome of the exams. The children have no choice in the matter. At the university level, colleges choose the students.