Ireland is a small, modern, trade-dependent economy with growth averaging a robust 9% in 1995-99. Agriculture, once the most important sector, is now dwarfed by industry, which accounts for 39% of GDP and about 80% of exports and employs 28% of the labor force. Although exports remain the primary engine for Ireland's robust growth, the economy is also benefiting from a rise in consumer spending and recovery in both construction and business investment. Over the past decade, the Irish government has implemented a series of national economic programs designed to curb inflation, reduce government spending, and promote foreign investment. The unemployment rate has been halved; job creation remains a primary concern of government policy. Recent efforts have concentrated on improving workers' qualifications and the education system. Ireland joined in launching the euro currency system in January 1999 along with 10 other EU nations.
Ireland is knee deep in charm. So deep, in fact, that you might suspect it's more a Gaelic theme park than a place where everyday people live. In some places, it almost is. The Irish are very experienced at the tourist trade and aren't above playing up the crowd pleasers: fetching lasses plucking the harp, medieval banquets, Riverdance-style step dancers. But if you get away from the well-trodden tourist areas, you'll find that the charm doesn't end. There is still town after town filled with brightly painted buildings and crowded with cheeky kids in school uniforms. And in even the most out-of-the-way pub you're likely to find someone playing an accordion or fiddle or simply singing with no accompaniment at all. Everywhere, there is the sweet smell of burning peat.
Ireland has a knack for being hospitable to its guests without being overwhelmed by them. The services are there and you seldom get the feeling that tourism has taken over a community and turned it for the worse. There are few pushy vendors or salespeople and little crime aimed at visitors. Even the souvenir shops seem rather low key, almost tasteful.
Take your time when traveling around the country. While it's possible to drive the length of Ireland in less than a day and to traverse the width of the country in a few hours, try and settle in and explore a particular region, whether on foot, on horseback or behind the wheel, mindful of the wandering sheep on small back roads.