For centuries British dominion in Ireland gave rise to unrest which finally erupted into violence with the Easter Rising of 1916, when independence was proclaimed. The rising was crushed and many of its leaders executed, but the campaign for independence carried on through a bloody Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921.
It was in 1922 that 26 counties of Ireland gained independence from London following negotiations which led to the other six counties, part of the province of Ulster, remaining in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Partition was followed by a year of civil war.
Relations between Dublin and London remained strained for many years afterwards. Northern Ireland saw decades of violent conflict between those campaigning for a united Ireland and those wishing to stay in the United Kingdom.
In an unprecedented and concerted effort to resolve the situation, the Irish and UK governments worked closely together in negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement on the future of Northern Ireland in 1998.
A booming economy transformed Dublin in the 1990s
Boom to bust
Ireland's economy began to grow rapidly in the 1990s, fuelled by foreign investment. This attracted a wave of incomers to a country where, traditionally, mass emigration had been the norm.
The boom that earned Ireland the nickname of "Celtic Tiger" faltered when the country fell into recession in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008.
The property boom had been fuelled by massive lending from the banks, and when this collapsed - and lenders were unable to repay - the Irish banking system was plunged into crisis.
The Irish economy underwent one of the deepest recessions in the eurozone, with its economy shrinking by 10% in 2009.
In November 2010, Ireland and the EU agreed a financial rescue package for the republic worth 85bn euros, ending weeks of speculation about a bail-out.
Michael D Higgins, a veteran left-wing politician, poet and human rights activist was elected president in October 2011 and inaugurated in November.
He is a former Galway university lecturer and published poet who has dedicated his four-decade political career to championing Irish culture and left-wing causes worldwide. He is a fluent Irish speaker.
He also is also one of Ireland's most instantly recognized politicians, in part because of his short stature and much-imitated high voice.
Mr Higgins has served as a member of both houses of parliament in the Labour Party interest at various times, and was minister of the arts in the 1990s.
The Irish president wields little power beyond the ability to refer potentially unconstitutional legislation to the Supreme Court, but has an important symbolic role in representing Ireland at the national and international level.
Prime Minister: Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny heads a coalition which in the early elections of February 2011 ousted the party that had dominated Irish politics for 80 years.
Enda Kenny has taken on the task of rebuilding Ireland's financial reputation
Mr Kenny's centre-right Fine Gael won 76 seats and Labour 37 in the 166-member parliament.
The results reflected voter fury at the long-dominant Fianna Fail party, which was blamed for leading Ireland to the brink of bankruptcy.
The former ruling party's collapse came three months after it agreed an EU-IMF bailout worth 85 billion euro, which many Irish see as a humiliation.
Ireland's budget deficit reached an alarming 32% of gross domestic product after a state bailout of the country's banks, which had lent recklessly and fuelled an unsustainable property boom.
When Fine Gael and Labour agreed to work as coalition partners, they issued a joint document saying voters had chosen parties "to begin mending the pieces of a fractured society, a broken economy".
"It is no exaggeration to say that we now face one of the darkest hours in the history of our independent state. Our economy and our politics have been shattered. But our people's spirit has not," the parties said.
Mr Kenny said he would make renegotiating the terms of the economic bailout by the EU and the IMF his first priority.
Public Raidio Teilifis Eireann (RTE) dominates the radio and TV sector. It provides a comprehensive service in English and Irish. TV3 is the main commercial TV station.
Competition comes from British public and private terrestrial TV. Satellite and cable TV are widely available.
Print and broadcast media operate freely within the confines of the law. Broadcasting - commercial and public - is regulated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The Competition Authority safeguards against unfair competition in the press sector.
Cross-media ownership is permitted within limits - press groups may own up to 25% of local radio and TV stations.
A free-to-air digital terrestrial TV platform, Saorview, has been rolled out and the analogue TV signal will be switched off in 2012.
There were 3 million internet users by June 2010, comprising around 66 per cent of the population (Internetworldstats.com).
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