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Northern Ireland, integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is situated in the northeastern portion of the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland is bounded on the north and northeast by the North Channel, on the southeast by the Irish Sea, and on the south and west by the Republic of Ireland. It includes Rathlin Island in the North Channel and several smaller offshore islands. It is also known as Ulster, because it comprises six of the nine counties that constituted the former province of Ulster.The total area of Northern Ireland is 14,148 sq km. The shoreline is characterized by numerous irregularities and is about 530 km (about 330 mi) long. The major indentations are Lough Foyle in the north and Belfast, Strangford, and Carlingford loughs in the east. A striking feature of the northern coast is the Giant's Causeway, a rock formation consisting of thousands of closely placed, polygonal pillars of black basalt. The country consists mainly of a low, flat plain in the approximate center of which is Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles. Other important lakes are Lough Erne and Upper Lough Erne.The climate of Northern Ireland is mild and damp throughout the year.The most valuable natural resources of Northern Ireland are its fertile soil and rich pasturelands. Natural waterpower is abundant. The chief minerals are basalt, limestone, sand and gravel, granite, chalk, clay, and shale; bauxite, iron ore, and coal also are found in small amounts.The capital and largest city of Northern Ireland is Belfast. The other major city in Northern Ireland is Londonderry.Originally, Northern Ireland was culturally indistinguishable from the remainder of Ireland. However, with the waves of colonization from England and Scotland during the 17th century, the northeastern province of Ulster evolved a distinctive cultural identity. There is a thriving theatrical movement in Belfast, and much literary activity. Belfast is the base of Opera Northern Ireland, which presents seasons at the Grand Opera House in the city, and also tours the province. A ballet company is based in the capital, as is the Belfast Philharmonic Society, one of Britain's leading choral societies. The Ulster Symphony Orchestra is among the leading orchestras of Britain. Queen's University hosts the annual Belfast Festival. Northern Ireland has two national museums: the Ulster Museum in Belfast, which houses a collection of Irish antiquities; and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Holywood, County Down.