Discovered by Dutch explorers in 1516, it was 1877 when the first missionaries arrived. With the development of copra plantations it soon became one of Germany's most profitable colonies. During World War 2, New Ireland fell to the Japanese and many of the island's towns, infrastructure and industry was destroyed.
New Ireland was also the setting for the saga of the Marquis de Ray who advertised Cape Breton as a thriving settlement, sold hundred of hectares of land to gullible settlers who were dumped with three weeks supplies, including a mill, note books and bricks, into a tangled jungle, with perpetual rainfall and unfriendly neighbours. Most died of starvation or malaria before being rescued and sent to Australia. Parts of the grinding stone for the never used grain mill can still be found in Kavieng. As for the Marquis de Ray, he ended his days in a lunatic asylum in France.
The provincial centre of Kavieng is situated at the northern tip of the island. It has often been described as a "typical Somerset Maughan south sea island port". It has a large, beautiful harbour and is a popular destination for game fishing enthusiasts. Along the edge of the harbour is Kavieng's Harbour Drive, a gently curving road, shaded by huge trees, which passes many points of historical interest. A couple of kilometres out of Kavieng, along the Buluminski Highway, a little pathway leads off the road to a limestone cave filled with crystal clear water. At Utu village, the high school has a small museum with exhibitions of Malagan carvings - carved totem-like poles used in initiation ceremonies and rituals; ancient stone tools and vessels and a shark catching propeller.
New Ireland is the centre for the art of shark calling. Certain men have the ability to 'call up" sharks. The unfortunate shark swims up to the caller's boat where they can be speared and netted. Alternatively the shark propeller is used - a noose is hung with half coconut shells which make a rattling noise, attracting the shark up through the noose. A rope attached to the noose is connected to a wooden propeller which is spun round to tighten the noose and simultaneously pull in the rope. The shark, unable to keep moving, effectively drowns.
New Ireland Province includes a number of offshore islands. From the northeast coast are the islands of Tabar, Tanga, Feni and Lihir. Lihir Island is the site of the Lihir gold mine, reputed to have the second largest gold deposit in the world.