There's a lot to love about Ireland. It's a beautiful country filled with generally good folk, and it makes a fantastic vacation destination for those who don't want to leave the English-speaking world. It also happens to be a bright-green little growth haven as well.

Having written earlier on Allied Irish Bank (NYSE:AIB), today I turn my attention toward the other part of Ireland's banking duopoly -- the Bank of Ireland (NYSE:IRE).

First-quarter results maike it fair to say that business is solid. Profit from continuing operations climbed 5% to about $1.7 billion. Pre-tax profit, a similar $1.7 billion, rose 13% over the last year. Although the company saw a 20-basis-point compression in net interest margin, better cost focus did lead to a slight improvement in the bank's efficiency ratio.

As befits a duopolist in a relatively fast-growing developed economy, the Bank of Ireland's Irish results were superior. While the bank's UK operations were positive for the quarter, Ireland was the real winner. The Irish retail banking business saw 17% pre-tax income growth along with a 24% increase in lending volume and a 27% increase in mortgage balances. The pension-and-life business was also strong in the first quarter, as operating profit rose 17% and the company increased its market share by three percentage points to 24%.

Top that off with a solid increase in the dividend (10%) and only a slight drop in return on equity (22.4% vs. 23.7%), and you have yourself a decent bank. Combine that with a P/E of only about 10, and you have an interesting stock idea.

But is Bank of Ireland the best bet on the Emerald Isle? I'm tempted to say "nay" at this point.

While Bank of Ireland is cheaper and has a better return on equity, Allied Irish pays a better dividend. Analysts (for what little their opinion is worth) currently expect more growth out of Allied Irish.

That's not really the clincher for me, though. I like Allied Irish because it's more globally diversified than Bank of Ireland, and it appears to be growing better outside Ireland than within. Although Ireland is showing excellent economic growth today, it's a relatively small country. I'm not sure how much room there is to expand within its verdant confines.

Of course, liking Allied Irish more doesn't make Bank of Ireland a bad company or stock-- far from it. I happen to think that Bank of Ireland is a very good bank and a somewhat interesting stock at present. I just also happen to think that Allied Irish is a little more interesting for now.

At the end of the rainbow, you'll find these other Fool banking takes:

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).