Ireland, as an island, has a long (<7000 km), crenellate, and cliffed coastline. More than 50% of its population (ca. 5.4 million in 1998) live within 15 km of the coastline. But most of these people are concentrated in a few major urban centres. Effectively, large areas of the coast have a low-density population. These factors mean that Ireland is seen as having an overall low vulnerability to the impacts of sea-level rise. Even so, about 30% of its coastal wetlands could be lost given a 1-m sea-level-rise scenario. People's valuation and awareness of the coastal environment in Ireland has been limited for much of the 20th century by factors of history and emigration. Many coastal areas have remained relatively undeveloped since the 18th and 19th centuries. In the late 20th century, an island-wide awakening to the resource potential of coastal and marine environments began to change this former neglect. In the Republic of Ireland, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources was set up in 1988, and a separate Marine Institute was added in 1991. These developments established the coastal zone as an important element in future national strategic planning. This article examines the physical components of coastal vulnerability throughout Ireland under sea-level rise and climate change, coupled with the influences of people at the coast. These factors are placed in the context of the development of coastal zone management in Ireland and its links to reducing vulnerability.