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New Ireland

New Ireland is an island in the Pacific, and the most northeastern province of Papua New Guinea.

Table of contents
1 Physical Geography
2 Human Geography
3 Culture
4 History

Physical Geography

The island is part of the Bismarck Archipelago, and is often described as having the shape of a musket. The tropical island of New Ireland is long, narrow and mountainous. For much of its 320 km length, it is less than 10 km across, yet the central mountainous spine is very steep and rugged. The highest peak is Lambel (2,150 metres or 7,054 feet). The island lies between one and five degrees south of the equator.

Also part of the province are numerous smaller islands, including New Hanover, Mussau, Djaul, Tabar, Lihir, Feni, Anir and Tanga.

The land area of the province is around 9600 square km.

Human Geography

The current population is approximately 100,000, of which the vast majority are in small rural villages. The main town is Kavieng, the provincial capital, on the northern tip of the main island; Namatanai is another small town halfway along the island.

Around twenty languages are spoken in New Ireland, and the number of dialects and subdialects totals perhaps 45. All are in the Austronesian language family, except for one isolated language (Kuot).


New Ireland, like much of PNG, has a mixture of the old and the new: traditional cultural practices ("custom") are widespread and almost universally respected, yet society is changing as a result of church activity, urbanisation, and various aspects of global contemporary culture making their mark.

Probably the most famous cultural system of New Ireland is "Malagan", a Nalik word for an ancient and revered set of practices and ceremonies practiced throughout much of the main island.


There have been at least three waves of migration into New Ireland over the last 40,000 years. The famous Lapita pottery culture was present around 3,300 years ago.

Chinese and South-East Asian contact appears to have been longstanding, though evidence is thin.

Dutch explorers made the first European contact in 1516. Missionary activity did not begin until 1877, and New Ireland was colonised by Germany in 1886, along with the rest of the northern half of present-day Papua New Guinea.