Little known facts about Ireland that may surprise you. 

1. Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and France all spoke Celtic until the Romans came. As a result the languages of these countries are closer to Gaelic than English is. 

2. The smallest Irish Gaeltacht is in Paris where 350 Irish speakers have formed an Irish-only group called An Gaeltacht-sur-Seine.

3. Winston Churchill lived in Ireland from the age of two to six, at what is now Aras an Uachtarain, the president’s home. His father was secretary to his grandfather, who was Viceroy in Ireland.

Churchill fondly remembers playing in Phoenix Park with his nanny Elizabeth Ann Everest, whom he called 'Old Woom.' She served as his confidante, nurse, and mother substitute.

4. Pope Francis lived in Dublin for three months in January 1980 learning English at the Jesuit center, in Milltown.

The July 1980 edition of the Jesuit bulletin, the Irish Province News, notes that among the "constant stream of visitors who found hospitality with us we may mention Fr Jorge Bergoglio, ex Provincial of Argentina and Rector of our Theologate in Buenos Aires."

5. Che Guevara was proud of his Irish roots.

“The first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of Irish rebels,” said Che Guevara’s father whose family descended from the Lynches of Galway.

Che visited Ireland and was interviewed on Irish television:

6. Ulysses S. Grant was the first US president (though he was out of office) to visit Ireland.

Grant landed in Dublin on January 3, 1879 and began his five-day visit to the island. He stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel, in Dublin. Later that evening, Grant was made an honorary citizen of Dublin – a title that would be offered to Presidents Kennedy and Clinton many years later. Grant was given a “tumultuous reception” in County Derry where he received another honorary citizenship. In Belfast he visited the Harland and Wolff shipyard, before returning to Dublin and departing for the Far East.

7. The great anti-slavery crusader Frederick Douglass spent two years in Britain and Ireland.

Writing about Ireland he said, “Instead of the bright, blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft, grey fog of the Emerald Isle [Ireland]. I breathe, and lo! the chattel [slave] becomes a man. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as his slave, or offer me an insult. I employ a cab—I am seated beside white people—I reach the hotel—I enter the same door—I am shown into the same parlor—I dine at the same table—and no one is offended... I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people. When I go to church, I am met by no upturned nose and scornful lip to tell me, 'We don't allow n*****s in here!'" – from "My Bondage and My Freedom."

8. The largest crowd in Irish history occurred when an estimated 1.25 million people attended the John Paul II papal mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park in September 1979. That is one in three of the population of the Irish Republic were there. The second largest was at Daniel O’Connell’s 1843 rally on the Hill of Tara in Meath to repeal of the Act of Union, which was passed in 1800. O’Connell himself claimed there were 1.5 million, but other sources claimed 500,000.

9. Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland. She was followed by Mary McAleese. This is the only instance in the world where one female President was replaced by another.

* Originally published in 2014.