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Ireland (Irish: Éire) is the third-largest island in Europe.
It lies in the Atlantic Ocean and it is composed of the Republic of Ireland
(officially, Ireland), which covers five sixths of the island (south, east, west
and north-west), and Northern Ireland; part of the United Kingdom, which covers
the northeastern sixth of the island.
The population of the island is approximately 5.8 million people; 4.1 million in
the Republic of Ireland (1.6 million in Greater Dublin) and 1.7 million in
Northern Ireland (0.6 million in Greater Belfast).
History of Ireland
The History of Ireland is the story of a large island at the
north-west of Europe. It begins between 8000 and 7000 BC, when the first humans
inhabited Ireland and were responsible for major Neolithic sites such as
Newgrange. Christianity had replaced Paganism by A.D. 600. Gaeilge (Irish) is
the indigenous language of the island's inhabitants, though settlers such as the
Vikings and Normans introduced others.
Overt English colonial interest in Ireland began 1171, after the arrival there
of an invasion force of Normans in 1169, but the Crown of England did not gain
full control until the whole island had been subjected to numerous military
campaigns in the period 1534-1691, which included the Desmond Rebellions, the
Nine Years War (Ireland), the Irish Confederate Wars, and the Williamite war in
Ireland, and was colonised in the Plantations of Ireland.
From 1782-1800, Ireland regained a form of self-governing status through the
Parliament of Ireland, but power was limited to the Anglo-Irish, Anglican
minority and the mostly Catholic population suffered severe political and
economic privations. This brief experiment was terminated following the outbreak
and vicious suppression of the 1798 rebellion. In 1801, this parliament was
abolished and Ireland became an integral part of a new United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Ireland under the Act of Union. The new political system led to a
massive decline in trade and investment as business activity switched to London.
In the 1840s, the population of Ireland fell due to famine and emigration from a
peak of 8m to 4.4m in 1911.
In 1922, after the War of Independence, the southern and western twenty-six
counties of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom and became the independent
Irish Free State (known today as the "Republic of Ireland"). The remainder of
the island, known as "Northern Ireland", remained part of the UK. After
independence in 1922, the Free State suffered from economic difficulties and
continuing mass emigration for many decades. However, since the 1990s the
Republic has been enjoying economic success, becoming known as the Celtic Tiger.
Meanwhile, since its establishment, the history of Northern Ireland has been
dominated by sectarian conflict between (mainly Catholic) Nationalists and
(mainly Protestant) Unionists. This conflict erupted into the Troubles in the
late 1960s, until an uneasy peace 30 years later.
Early history: 8000 BC–AD 400
What little is known of pre-Christian Ireland comes from a
few references in Roman writings, Irish poetry and myth, and archaeology. The
earliest inhabitants of Ireland, people of a mid-Stone Age, or Mesolithic,
culture, arrived sometime after 8000 BC, when the climate had become more
hospitable following the retreat of the polar icecaps. About three or four
millennia later, agriculture was introduced from the continent, leading to the
establishment of a high Neolithic culture, characterized by the appearance of
huge stone monuments, many of them astronomically aligned (most notably,
Newgrange). This culture apparently prospered, and the island became more
densely populated. The Bronze Age, which began around 2500 BC, saw the
production of elaborate gold and bronze ornaments and weapons.
The Iron Age in Ireland began about 600 BC. By the historic period (AD 431
onwards) the main over-kingdoms of In Tuisceart, Airgialla , Ulaid, Mide, Laigin,
Mumhain, Cóiced Ol nEchmacht began to emerge (see Kingdoms of ancient Ireland).
Within these five or more kingdoms, despite constant strife, a rich culture
flourished. The society of these kingdoms was dominated by druids: priests who
served as educators, physicians, poets, diviners, and keepers of the laws and
Historians developed the concept from the 17th century onwards that the language
spoken by these people could be called the "Goidelic languages", a branch of the
"Celtic languages", and this was explained as a result of invasions of "Celts".
However, research during the 20th century indicated otherwise, and in the later
years of the century the conclusion drawn was that the language and culture
developed gradually and continuously. No archaeological evidence was found for
large intrusive groups of Celtic immigrants in Ireland. The hypothesis that the
native Late Bronze Age inhabitants gradually absorbed influences to create
"Celtic" culture has since been supported by recent genetic research. 1.
The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia. Ptolemy in AD 100 records Ireland's
geography and tribes. Ireland was never formally a part of the Roman Empire but
Roman influence was often projected well beyond formal borders. Tacitus writes
that an Irish tribal chieftain was with Agricola in Britain and would return to
seize power in Ireland. Juvenal tells us that Roman "arms had been taken beyond
the shores of Ireland'. If Rome, or an ally, did invade, they didn't leave very
much behind. The exact relationship between Rome and the tribes of Hibernia is
Early Christian Ireland 400-800
The middle centuries of the first millennium AD marked great
changes in Ireland.
Niall Noigiallach (died c.450/455) laid the basis for the Uí Néill dynasty's
hegemony over much of western, northern and central Ireland. Politically, the
former emphasis on tribal affiliation had been replaced by the 700's by that of
patrilinial and dynastic background. Many formerly powerful kingdoms and peoples
disappeared. Irish pirates struck all over the coast of western Britain in the
same way that the Vikings would later attack Ireland. Some of these founded
entirely new kingdoms in Pictland, Wales and Cornwall. The Attacotti of south
Leinster even served in the Roman Legions in the mid-to-late 300's.
Perhaps it was some of the latter returning home as rich mercenaries, merchants,
or slaves stolen from Britain or Gaul, that first brought the Christian faith to
Ireland. Some early sources claim that there were missionaries active in
southern Ireland long before St. Patrick. Whatever the route, and there were
probably many, this new faith was to have the most profound effect on the Irish.
A page from the Book of Kells that opens the Gospel of John.Tradition maintains
that in AD 432, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that
followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. On the other hand,
Palladius was sent to Ireland by the Pope in 431 as "first Bishop to the Irish
believing in Christ", which demonstrates that, by whatever means, there were
already Christians living in Ireland. Palladius seems to have worked purely as
Bishop to Irish Christians in the Leinster and Meath kingdoms, while Patrick -
who is now believed to have arrived as late as 461 - worked first and foremost
as a missionary to the Pagan Irish, converting in the more remote kingdoms
located in Ulster and Connacht.
Ring fort on the island of Inishmaan, Aran Islands, Ireland. Photograph by
Jonathan Leonard.Patrick is credited, possibly too much so, with preserving the
tribal and social patterns of the Irish, codifying their laws and changing only
those that conflicted with Christian practices. He is credited with introducing
the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive
Celtic oral literature. While it is impossible to deny the very real effect
Patrick had on his contemporaries, the fact remains that there were Christians
in Ireland long before he came, and Pagans long after he died.
The druid tradition collapsed, first in the face of the spread of the new faith,
and ultimately in the aftermath of famine and plagues due to the Climate changes
of 535-536. Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian
theology in the monasteries that flourished shortly thereafter. Missionaries
from Ireland to England and Continental Europe spread news of the flowering of
learning, and scholars from other nations came to Irish monasteries. The
excellence and isolation of these monasteries helped preserve Latin learning
during the Early Middle Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking,
and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells,
ornate jewelry, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island. Sites
dating to this period include clochans, ringforts and promontory forts.
Early medieval era 800 - 1166
The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in
795 when Vikings from Norway looted the island of Lambay, located off the Dublin
coast. These early Viking raids were generally small in scale and quick.
These early raids interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture starting
the beginning of two hundred years of intermittent warfare, with waves of Viking
raiders plundering monasteries and towns throughout Ireland. Most of the early
raiders came from the fjords of western Norway. They are believed to have sailed
first to the Shetland Islands, then south to the Orkneys. The Vikings would have
then sailed down the Atlantic coast of Scotland, and then over to Ireland.
During these early raids the Vikings also traveled to the west coast of Ireland
to the Skellig Islands located off the coast of County Kerry.
The round tower at GlendaloughIreland and England were both being raided by
Vikings in the early 840's. The Vikings were beginning to establish settlements
along the Irish coasts at this time and began to spend the winter months there.
Vikings started settlements in Waterford, Wexford, and most famously, Dublin.
The archaeologicalevidence found in Kilmainham, on the western side of Dublin
city, is proof of the Viking settlements during this time period in Ireland.
Written accounts from this time (early to mid 840's) show that the Vikings were
moving further inland to attack (often using rivers such as the Shannon) and
then retreating to their coastal headquarters.
Thorgest (in Latin Turgesius) was the first Viking to attempt an Irish kingdom.
He sailed up the Shannon and the River Bann to Armagh in 839 where he forged a
realm spanning Ulster, Connacht and Meath which lasted from 839 to 845. In 845,
he was captured and drowned in Lough Owen by Maelsechlainn I, King of Mide.
In 848, Maelsechlainn, now High king, defeated a Norse army at Sciath Nechtain.
Arguing that his fight was allied with the Christian fight against pagans, he
requested aid from the Frankish emperor Charles the Bald, but to no avail.
In 852, the Vikings Ivar Beinlaus and Olaf the White landed in Dublin Bay and
established a fortress, on which the city of Dublin (from the Irish Gaelic Án
Dubh Linn meaning the "black pool") now stands. Olaf the White was the son of a
Norwegian king and made himself the king of Dublin. This moment is generally
considered to be the founding of Dublin, although Greek and Roman records do
mention a settlement called Eblana (or Deblana) on the same site as early as the
1st century. The death of Olaf the White's successor, Ivar, caused political
instability in the kingdom of Dublin and caused many Viking settlers to depart
for places such as France and England.
The Vikings founded many other coastal towns, and after several generations a
group of mixed Irish and Norse ethnic background arose (the so-called
Gall-Gaels, Gall then being the Irish word for "foreigners" - the Norse). This
Norse influence is reflected in the Norse-derived names of many contemporary
Irish kings (e.g. Magnus, Lochlann or Sitric), and DNA evidence in some
residents of these coastal cities to this day.
A new wave of Viking attacks on Ireland began in 914 which created an unstable
peace between the Irish and the Norse and evolved into a drawn-out war. This
time, the Vikings attacked from the south of Ireland at Waterford, and developed
a settlement there. From here, the Vikings set out to raid areas in southern
Ireland. The Vikings went to the west of Waterford and established another
settlement at Limerick.
The descendants of Ivar Beinlaus established a long dynasty based in Dublin, and
from this base succeeded in dominating much of the isle. This rule was
ultimately broken by the joint efforts of Maelsechlainn II, King of Meath, and
the famous Brian Boru (c. 941- 1014) at the Battle of Clontarf where Brian Boru
Although the Irish were subsequently free from foreign invasion for 150 years,
interdynastic warfare continued to drain their energies and resources. In 1150,
Christian Malone, Abbot of Clonmacnoise, wrote a famous book entitled "Chronicum
Scotorum". It is a chronology of Ireland from the Flood to the twelfth century.
Early Ireland had an unusual government. All men who owned land, all
professionals, and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of an
assembly, known as a tuath. Each tuath's members annually formed an assembly
which decided all common policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and
elected or deposed their 'kings'. The tuath was thus a body of persons
voluntarily united for socially beneficial purposes, and its territorial
dimension was the sum total of the landed properties of its members. About 80 to
100 tuatha coexisted at any time throughout Ireland.
The Coming of the Normans 1167-1185
By the 12th century, Ireland was divided politically into a
shifting hierarchy of petty kingdoms and over-kingdoms. Power was concentrated
into the hands of a few regional dynasties contending against each other for
control of the whole island. The Northern O'Neills ruled much of what is now
Ulster. Their kinsmen, the Southern O'Neills, were Kings of Meath. The kingship
of Leinster was held by the dynamic Ui Cheinnselaigh dynasty. A new kingdom rose
between Leinster and Munster, Osraige, ruled by the family of Mac Gilla Pádraig.
Munster was nominally controlled by the Mac Cartaig, who were however in reality
often subject to the Ó Brians of Thomond. North of Thomond, Connacht's supreme
rulers were the Ó Conchobair.
After losing the protection of High King Muirchertach MacLochlainn - who died in
1166 - the King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada (anglicised as Diarmuid
MacMorrough) was forcibly exiled from his kingdom by a confederation of Irish
forces under the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Fleeing
first to Bristol and then to Aquitaine, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry
II to use his subjects to regain his kingdom. By 1167 he had obtained the
services of the brothers Robert fitz Stephen and Maurice fitz Gerald, their
first cousin, Prince of Dehurbarth Rhys ap Gruyffd, and most importantly, Earl
of Pembroke Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow.
The first Norman knight to land in Ireland was Richard fitz Godbert de Roche in
1167, but it was not until 1169 that the main forces of Normans, Welsh and
Flemings landed in Wexford. Within a short time Leinster was regained, Waterford
and Dublin were under Diarmait's control, and he had Strongbow as a son-in-law,
and named him as heir to his kingdom. This latter development caused
consternation to King Henry II of England, who feared the establishment of a
rival Norman state in Ireland. Accordingly, he resolved to visit Leinster to
establish his authority.
Pope Adrian IV (the first English pope, in one of his earliest acts) had already
issued a Papal Bull in 1155, giving Henry authority to invade Ireland as a means
of curbing ecclesiastical corruption and abuses.
Henry landed with a large fleet at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of
England to set foot on Irish soil. Both Waterford and Dublin were proclaimed
Royal Cities. Adrian's successor, Pope Alexander III ratified the grant of Irish
lands to Henry in 1172. Henry awarded his Irish territories to his younger son
John with the title Dominus Hiberniae ("Lord of Ireland"). When John
unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King John, the "Kingdom of Ireland" fell
directly under the English Crown.
Henry was happily acknowledged by most of the Irish Kings, who saw in him a
chance to curb the expansion of both Leinster and the Normans. This led to the
ratification of the Treaty of Winsor in 1175 between Henry and Ruaidhrí.
However, with both Strongbow and Diarmuid dead (in 1171 and 1176), Henry back in
England and Ruaidhrí unable to curb his nominal vassals, within two years it was
not worth the vellum it was inscribed upon. John de Courcy invaded and gained
much of east Ulster in 1177, Raymond le Gros had already captured Limerick and
much of north Munster, while the other Norman families such as Prendergast, fitz
Stephen, fitz Gerald, fitz Henry and le Poer were actively carving out virtual
kingdoms for themselves.
The Lordship of Ireland 1185-1254
Initially the Normans controlled large swathes of Ireland,
securing the entire east coast, from Waterford up to eastern Ulster and
penetrating as far west as Galway and Mayo. The most powerful forces in the land
were the great Anglo-Norman Earldoms such as the Geraldines, the Butlers and the
Burkes, who controlled vast territories which were almost independent of the
governments in Dublin or London. The Lord of Ireland was King John, who, on his
visits in 1185 and 1210, had helped secure the Norman areas from both the
military and the administrative points of view, while at the same time ensuring
that the many Irish kings were brought into his fealty; many, such as Cathal
Crobderg Ua Conchobair, owed their thrones to him and his armies.
The Normans also were lucky to have leaders of the caliber of the Butler,
Marshall, de Burgh, de Lacy and de Broase families, as well as having the
dynamic heads of the first families. Another factor was that after the loss of
Normandy in 1204, John had a lot more time to devote to Irish affairs, and did
so effectively even from afar.
However, the Anglo-Normans suffered from a series of events that slowed, and
eventually ceased, the spread of their settlement and power:
- numerous rebellious Gaelic lords who at best stretched resources, at worst
regained territory from the Normans.
- a lack of direction from both Henry III and his successor, Edward I who
were more concerned with events in England, Wales, Scotland and their
- outright war between leading Hiberno-Norman lords such as the de Burghs,
FitzGeralds, Butlers and de Berminghams.
- division of estates among heirs, the most damaging being that of the
Marshalls of Leinster, which split a large single lordship into five.
Politics and events in Gaelic Ireland served to draw the
settlers deeper into the orbit of the Irish, which on occasion had the effect of
allying them with one or more native rulers against other Normans.
Gaelic Resurgence, Norman Decline 1254-1536
Anglo-Norman Ireland was deeply shaken by three events of the
The first was the invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce of Scotland who, in 1315,
rallied many of the Irish lords against the English presence in Ireland.
Although Bruce was eventually defeated in Ireland at the battle of Faughart,
near Dundalk, his troops caused a great deal of destruction, especially in the
densely settled area around Dublin. In this chaotic situation, local Irish lords
won back large amounts of land that their families had lost since the conquest
and held them after the war was over.
The second was the murder of William Donn de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster, in June
1333. This resulted in his lands being split in three among his relations, with
the ones in Connacht swiftly rebelling against the Crown and openly siding with
the Irish. This meant that virtually all of Ireland west of the Shannon was lost
to the Anglo-Normans. It would be well over two hundred years before the Burkes,
as they were now called, were again allied with the Dublin administration.
The Black Death rapidly spread along the major European sea and land trade
routes. It reached Ireland in 1348 and decimated the Anglo-Norman urban
settlementsThe third calamity for the medieval English presence in Ireland was
the Black Death, which arrived in Ireland in 1348. Because most of the English
and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit
them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural
settlements. A celebrated account from a monastery in Kilkenny chronicles the
plague as the beginning of the extinction of humanity and the end of the world.
The plague was a catastrophe for the English inhabitations around the country
and, after it had passed, Gaelic Irish language and customs came to dominate the
country again. The English-controlled area shrunk back to the Pale, a fortified
area around Dublin.
Additional causes of the Gaelic revival were political and personal grievances
against the Anglo-Normans, but especially impatience with procrastination and
the very real horrors that successive famines had brought. Pushed away from the
fertile areas, the Irish were forced to eke out a subsistence living on marginal
lands, which left them with no safety net during bad harvest years (such as 1271
and 1277) or in a year of famine (virtually the entire period of 1311-1319).
Outside the Pale, the Hiberno-Norman lords adopted the Irish language and
customs, becoming known as the Old English, and in the words of a contemporary
English commentator, became "more Irish than the Irish themselves." Over the
following centuries they sided with the indigenous Irish in political and
military conflicts with England and generally stayed Catholic after the
Reformation. The authorities in the Pale grew so worried about the "Gaelicisation"
of Ireland that they passed special legislation in a parliament in Kilkenny
(known as the Statutes of Kilkenny) banning those of English descent from
speaking the Irish language, wearing Irish clothes or inter-marrying with the
Irish. Since the government in Dublin had little real authority, however, the
Statutes did not have much effect.
Throughout the 15th century, these trends proceeded apace. Central English
authority in Ireland all but disappeared in this period. The monarchy of England
was itself in turmoil - being fought over in the Wars of the Roses. As a result,
English interest in Ireland diminished further. The (English) Kings of Ireland
effectively delegated their power over the Lordship of Ireland to the powerful
Fitzgerald Earl of Kildare, who dominated the country by means of military force
and alliances with lords and clans around Ireland.
Around the country, local Gaelic and Gaelicised lords expanded their powers at
the expense of the English government in Dublin. See Main article Anglo and
Gaelic Ireland 1367-1536 for details of the Irish kingdoms in this period.
Reformation and Protestant Ascendancy 1536-1801
The Reformation, during which, in 1536, Henry VIII broke with
Papal authority, fundamentally changed Ireland. While Henry VIII broke English
Catholicism from Rome, his son Edward VI of England moved further, breaking with
Papal doctrine completely. While the English, the Welsh and, later, the Scots
accepted Protestantism, the Irish remained Catholic. This fact determined their
relationship with the British state for the next four hundred years, as the
Reformation coincided with a determined effort on behalf of the English state to
re-conquer and colonise Ireland. The religious schism meant that the native
Irish and the (Roman Catholic) Old English were excluded from power in the new
Re-conquest and rebellion
There is some debate about why Henry VIII decided to re-conquer Ireland. However
the most immediate reason was that the Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare, who had
become the effective rulers of Ireland in the 15th century, had become very
unreliable allies of the Tudor monarchs. Most seriously, they had invited
Burgundian troops into Dublin to crown the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as
King of England in 1497. The final straw for the Tudor monarchs came in 1536,
when Silken Thomas Fitzgerald went into open rebellion against the crown. Having
put down this rebellion, Henry VIII resolved that pacifying Ireland and bringing
it all under English government control was necessary if the island was not to
become a base for foreign invasions of England (a concern that was to be
repeated for another 400+ years).
Ireland was upgraded from a lordship to a full kingdom under Henry VIII. From
the period of the original lordship in the twelfth century onwards, Ireland had
retained its own bicameral Parliament of Ireland, consisting of a House of
Commons and a House of Lords. It was restricted for most of its existence in
terms both of membership — Gaelic Irishmen were barred from membership — and of
powers, notably by Poynings Law of 1494, which said that no bill could be
introduced into the Irish Parliament without the approval of the English Privy
Council. After 1541, Henry VIII admitted native Irish lords into the Parliament
and recognised their land titles in return for their submission to him as King
of Ireland. With the institutions of government in place, the next step was to
extend the control of the English Kingdom of Ireland over all of its claimed
territory. Henry VIII's officials were tasked with extending the rule of this
new Kingdom throughout Ireland, in the process either negotiating or fighting
with the independent Irish Kings and lords. This took nearly a century to
achieve. This re-conquest was accompanied by a great deal of bloodshed, as it
meant annexing lordships that had been effectively independent for several
In the Elizabethan era, the English completed the re-conquest of Ireland, after
several bloody conflicts. The Desmond Rebellions (1569-1573 and 1579-1583 took
place in the southern province of Munster, when the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond
dynasty resisted the imposition of an English governor into the province. The
second of these rebellions was put down by means of a forced famine, which may
have killed up to a third of Munster's population. The most serious threat to
English rule in Ireland came during the Nine Years War 1594-1603, when Hugh
O'Neill, the most powerful chieftain in the northern province of Ulster rebelled
against English government. This war developed into a nation-wide revolt and
O'Neill successfully obtained military aid from Spain. A Spanish expeditionary
force was defeated by English forces at the battle of Kinsale in 1601. O'Neill
and his allies eventually surrendered in 1603. After this point, the English
authorities in Dublin established real control over all of Ireland for the first
time and successfully disarmed the Irish and Old English lordships.
However, the English were not successful in converting the Irish to
Protestantism, alienating much of the native population. In addition, the brutal
methods used to pacify the country heightened resentment of English rule. In the
16th and early seventeenth century, English governments instituted a policy of
colonisation known as Plantations. Scottish and English Protestants were sent as
colonists to the provinces of Munster, Ulster and the counties of Laois and
Offaly (see also Plantations of Ireland). These settlers, who had a British and
Protestant identity, would form the ruling class of future British government in
Ireland. A series of Penal Laws discriminated against all Christian faiths other
than the established (Anglican) Church of Ireland. The principal victims of
these laws were Roman Catholics and from the late 17th century on, adherents of
Presbyterianism. From 1607, Catholics were barred from public office and from
serving in the army. In 1615, the constituencies of the Irish Parliament were
altered so that Protestants would be a majority in it.
Civil Wars and Penal Laws
Oliver Cromwell, who re-conquered Ireland in 1649-1651 after Irish Catholic
rebellion and civil war, on behalf of the English Commonwealth. Under his
government, landownership in Ireland passed overwhelmingly to Protestant
In the mid-seventeenth century, Ireland was convulsed by eleven years of
warfare, beginning with the Rebellion of 1641, when Irish Catholics rebelled
against English and Protestant domination. The rebellion was marked by the
massacre of Protestant settlers, an event which scarred communal relations in
Ireland for centuries afterwards. As a result of the outbreak of the English
Civil War in 1642, no English troops were available to put down the uprising and
the rebels were left in control of most of Ireland. The Catholic majority
briefly ruled the country as Confederate Ireland (1642-1649) during the
subsequent Wars of the Three Kingdoms in Britain and Ireland. The Confederate
regime allied themselves with Charles I and the English Royalists and had they
won the English Civil War, the result could have been an autonomous Catholic
ruled Ireland. However, the Royalists were defeated by the Parliamentarians,
Charles I was executed and Oliver Cromwell re-conquered Ireland in 1649-1653 on
behalf of the English Commonwealth. As punishment for the rebellion of 1641,
almost all lands owned by Irish Catholics were confiscated and given to British
settlers. In addition, Catholics were barred from the Irish Parliament
altogether, forbidden to live in towns and from marrying Protestants (although
not all of these laws were strictly enforced). It has been calculated that up to
a third of Ireland's population (4-600,000 people) died in these wars, either in
fighting, or in the accompanying famine and plague. The Cromwellian conquest
therefore left bitter memories in Irish popular culture. An uneasy peace
returned with the Restoration of the monarchy in England and Charles II made
some efforts to conciliate Irish Catholics with compensation and land grants.
(See also Act of Settlement 1662).
James VII and II
Irish Catholics, known as Jacobites fought for James in 1698-91, but failed to
restore him to the throne of Ireland, England and ScotlandHowever, within a
generation, Ireland was at war again. Ireland became the main battleground in
the Glorious Revolution of 1689, when the Catholic James II was deposed by the
English Parliament and replaced by William of Orange. Irish Catholics backed
James to try to reverse the Penal Laws and land confiscations, whereas Irish and
British Protestants supported William to preserve their dominance in the
country. James and William fought for the English, Scottish and Irish thrones in
the Williamite War, most famously at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, where
James's forces were ultimately defeated. Jacobite resistance was finally ended
after the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691. The Penal laws (which had been allowed
to lapse somewhat after the English Restoration) were re-applied with great
harshness after this war, as the Protestant elite wanted to ensure that the
Irish Catholic landed classes would not be in a position to repeat their
rebellions of the 17th century. In addition, as of 1704, Presbyterians were also
barred from holding public office, bearing arms and entering certain
professions. This was in part due to the distrust the mostly English Anglican
establishment had for the mostly Scottish Presbyterian community, which by now
had become a majority in Ulster.
Subsequent Irish antagonism towards England was aggravated by the economic
situation of Ireland in the eighteenth century. Throughout the century English
trade with Ireland was the most important branch of English overseas trade2. The
Protestant Anglo-Irish absentee landlords drew off some £800,000 in the early
part of the century, rising to £1 million, in an economy that had a GDP of about
£4 million. Completely deforested of timber for exports (usually to the Royal
Navy) and for a temporary iron industry in the course of the seventeenth
century, Irish estates turned to the export of salt beef, pork, butter, and hard
cheese through the slaughterhouse and port city of Cork, which supplied England,
the British navy and the sugar islands of the West Indies. The bishop of Cloyne
wondered "how a foreigner could possibly conceive that half the inhabitants are
dying of hunger in a country so abundant in foodstuffs?"3. In the 1740s, these
economic inequalities led directly to the Great Irish Famine (1740-1741), which
killed about 400,000 people. In the 1780's, due to increased competition from
salted-meat exporters in the Baltic and North America, the Anglo-Irish
landowners rapidly switched to growing grain for export, while the Irish
themselves ate potatoes and groats.
By the late eighteenth century, many of the Irish Protestant elite had come to
see Ireland as their native country. A Parliamentary faction led by Henry
Grattan agitated for a more favourable trading relationship with England and for
legislative independence for the Parliament of Ireland. Many of their demands
were met, in part through a campaign led by Grattan, amongst others. However,
reform in Ireland stalled over the proposals of some radicals to enfranchise
Irish Catholics. When this failed, some in Ireland were attracted to the more
militant example of the French revolution of 1789. They formed the Society of
the United Irishmen to overthrow British rule and found a non-sectarian
republic. Republicanism was particularly attractive to the Ulster Presbyterian
community, who were discriminated against for their religion, and who had strong
links with Scots-Irish American emigrants who had fought against Britain in the
American Revolution. Their activity culminated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798,
which was bloodily suppressed. Partly in response to this rebellion, Irish
self-government was abolished altogether by the Act of Union on January 1, 1801.
Union with Great Britain (1801-1922)
In 1800, after the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the British and
the Irish parliaments (the latter controversially, as massive bribery was
involved) enacted the Act of Union, which merged Ireland and the Kingdom of
Great Britain (itself a union of England and Scotland, created almost 100 years
earlier), to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Part of the
deal for the union was that Catholic Emancipation would be conceded to remove
discrimination against Catholics, Presbyterians and others. However King George
III controversially blocked any change.
In 1823, an enterprising Catholic lawyer, Daniel O'Connell, "the Great
Emancipator" began a successful campaign to achieve emancipation, which was
finally conceded in 1829. He later led an unsuccessful campaign for "Repeal"
(i.e., the repeal of the Act of Union).
The second of Ireland's "Great Famines", An Gorta Mór struck the country
severely in the period 1845-1849, with potato blight leading to mass starvation
and emigration. (See Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849).) The impact of emigration
in Ireland was severe; the population dropped from over 8 million before the
Famine to 4.4 million in 1911.
Fall in Irish population (1841-1851)The Irish language, once the spoken language
of the entire island, declined in use sharply in the nineteenth century as a
result of the Famine and the creation of the National School education system,
as well as hostility to the language from leading Irish politicians of the time;
it was largely replaced by English. The form of English used in Ireland differs
somewhat from British English and its variants. Blurring linguistic structures
from older forms of English (notably Elizabethan English) and the Irish
language, it is known as Hiberno-English and was in the twentieth century
strongly associated with writers like J.M. Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Sean
O'Casey, and had resonances in the English of Dublin-born Oscar Wilde.
In the 1870s the issue of Irish self-government again became a major focus of
debate under Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell and the Home Rule
League. British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone made two unsuccessful
attempts to introduce Home Rule in 1886 and 1893. Parnell's controversial
leadership eventually ended when he was implicated in a divorce scandal, when it
was revealed that he had been living with the wife of a fellow Irish MP,
Katherine O'Shea, and was the father of some of her children. However, with the
introduction of the First Home Rule Bill of 1886 to the British House of
Commons, Parnell was known throughout the country as the Uncrowned King of
The debate over Home Rule led to tensions between Irish nationalists and Irish
unionists (those who favoured maintenance of the union). Most of the island was
predominantly nationalist, Catholic and agrarian. The northeast, however, was
predominantly unionist, Protestant and industrialised. Unionists feared a loss
of political power and economic wealth in a predominantly rural, nationalist,
Catholic home rule state. Nationalists believed that they would remain
economically and politically second class citizens without self-government.
Outside mainstream nationalism, a series of violent rebellions by Irish
republicans took place in 1803, under Robert Emmet; in 1848, by the Young
Irelanders, most prominent among them, Thomas Francis Meagher; and in 1868, by
the Irish Republican Brotherhood. All failed, but physical force nationalism
remained an undercurrent in the nineteenth century.
The late nineteenth century also witnessed major land reform, spearheaded by the
Land League under Michael Davitt. From 1870 various British governments
introduced a series of Land Acts that broke up large estates and gradually gave
rural landholders and tenants what became known as the 3 Fs; Fair rent, free
sale, fixity of tenure."
Dublin, however, remained a city marked by extremes of poverty and wealth,
possessing some of the worst slums anywhere in the British Empire. It also
possessed one of the world's biggest "red light districts" known as Monto (after
its focal point, Mountgomery Street, on the northside of the city). Monto was to
feature in many novels set in Dublin, most notably in the writings of James
War of Independence (1916-1922) and "Home Rule"
The division of the island into "Northern" and "Republic" is
a relatively recent development, brought about by the Fourth Government of
Ireland Act 1920 which, amid much acrimony, (and the fact that the Island of
Ireland was uncompromisingly divided within itself), separated the island into
what the British government termed Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. A
bi-lateral Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 formalised independence for the twenty-six
county Irish Free State, (which in 1949 became the Republic of Ireland), while
the six county Northern Ireland, gaining Home Rule for itself, remained part of
the United Kingdom.
It was issued by the Leaders of the Easter Rising.In September 1914, just as the
First World War broke out, the UK Parliament finally passed the Third Home Rule
Act to establish self-government for Ireland, but was suspended for the duration
of what was expected to be a very short war. Before it ended, Britain made two
concerted efforts to implement the Act, one in May 1916 and again during
1917-1918, but the Irish sides (Nationalist, Unionist) were unable to agree
terms for the temporary or permanent exclusion of Ulster from its provisions.
A failed attempt was made to gain separate independence for Ireland with the
1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection largely confined to Dublin. Though support
for the insurgents was small, the violence used in its suppression (being
considered by the British to be a serious treason in time of war) led to a swing
in support of the rebels. In addition, the unprecedented threat of Irishmen
being conscripted to the British Army in 1918 (for service in France)
accelerated this change. In the December 1918 elections most voters voted for
Sinn Féin, the party of the rebels. Having won three-quarters of all the seats
in Ireland, its MPs assembled in Dublin on 21 January 1919, to form a thirty-two
county Irish Republic parliament, Dáil Éireann unilaterally, asserting
sovereignty over the entire island.
Unwilling to negotiate any understanding with Britain (by international law
Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom), a War of Independence (or
Anglo-Irish War) was waged from 1919 to 1921. In mid-1921, the Irish and British
governments signed a truce that halted the war. In December 1921, an Anglo-Irish
Treaty was signed between representatives of both governments. The Irish
delegation was led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. This abolished the
Irish Republic and created the self-governing Irish Free State, a Dominion of
the British Empire. Under the Treaty, Northern Ireland could opt out of the Free
State and stay within the United Kingdom and promptly did so. For most of the
next 75 years, each territory was strongly aligned to either Catholic or
Protestant ideologies, although this was more marked in the six counties of
Free State/Republic (1922-present)
After the treaty to sever the Union was ratified, the republican movement
divided into pro-treaty and anti-treaty supporters. Between 1922 and 1923 both
sides fought the bloody Irish Civil War. This division among Nationalists still
colours Irish politics today, specifically between the two leading Irish
political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael The new Irish Free State (1922–37)
existed against the backdrop of the growth of dictatorships in Europe and a
major world economic downturn in 1929. In contrast with many contemporary
European states it remained a democracy, in which the losing faction in the
Irish civil war, Eamon de Valera's Fianna Fáil, was able to take power by
winning the 1932 general election. In contrast to many other states in the
period, the Free State remained financially solvent. However, unemployment and
emigration were high. The Catholic Church had a powerful influence over the
state for much of its history.
In 1937, a new Constitution of Ireland proclaimed the state of Éire (or
Ireland). The state remained neutral throughout World War II (see Irish
neutrality) and this saved it from much of the horrors of the war, although tens
of thousands volunteered to serve in the British forces. Ireland was also hit
badly by rationing of food, and coal in particular (peat production became a
priority during this time). Though nominally neutral, recent studies have
suggested a far greater level involvement by the South with the Allies than was
realised, with D Day's date set on the basis of secret weather information on
Atlantic storms supplied by the Republic. For more detail on 1939–45, see main
article The Emergency.
In 1949 the state was formally declared the Republic of Ireland and it left the
In the 1960s, Ireland underwent a major economic change under reforming
Taoiseach (prime minister) Seán Lemass and radical senior civil servant T.K.
Whitaker, who produced a series of economic plans. Free second-level education
was introduced by Brian Lenihan as Minister for Education in 1968. From the
early 1960s, the Republic sought admission to the European Economic Community
but, because of its economy's dependence on the United Kingdom's market, it
could not do so until the UK did, in 1973.
Economic downturn in the 1970s, augmented by a set of misjudged economic
policies followed by Taoiseach Jack Lynch, caused the Irish economy to stagnate.
However, economic reforms in the late 1980s and considerable investment from the
European Community led to the emergence of one of the world's highest economic
growth rates, with mass immigration (particularly of people from Asia and
Eastern Europe) as a feature of the late 1990s. This period came to be known as
the Celtic Tiger and was focused on as a model for economic development in the
former Eastern Bloc states, which entered the European Union in the early 2000s.
Irish society also adopted relatively liberal social policies during this
period. Divorce was legalised, homosexuality decriminalised, while a right to
abortion in limited cases was granted by the Irish Supreme Court in the X Case
legal judgement. Major scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, both sexual and
financial, coincided with a widespread decline in religious practice, with
weekly attendance at Roman Catholic Mass halving in twenty years.
"A Protestant State" (1921-1971)
From 1921 to 1971, Northern Ireland was governed by the Ulster Unionist Party
government, based at Stormont in East Belfast. The founding Prime Minister,
James Craig, proudly declared that it would be "a Protestant State for a
Protestant People" (in contrast to the anticipated "Papist" state to the south).
Discrimination against the minority nationalist community in jobs and housing,
and their total exclusion from political power due to the majoritarian electoral
system, led to the emergence of a civil rights campaign in the late 1960s,
inspired by Martin Luther King's civil rights movement in the United States of
America. A violent counter-reaction from right-wing unionists and the Royal
Ulster Constabulary (RUC) led to civil disorder. To restore order, British
troops were deployed to the streets of Northern Ireland at this time.
Tensions came to a head with the events of Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday, and
the worst years (early 1970s) of what became known as The Troubles resulted. The
Stormont government was prorogued in 1971 and abolished totally in 1972.
Paramilitary private armies such as the Provisional IRA, the Official IRA, the
INLA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force fought each
other and the British army and the (largely Unionist) RUC, resulting in the
deaths of well over three thousand men, women and children, civilians and
military. Most of the violence took place in Northern Ireland, but some also
spread to England and across the Irish border.
Direct Rule (1971-1998)
For the next 27 years, Northern Ireland was under "direct rule" with a Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland in the British Cabinet responsible for the
departments of the Northern Ireland executive/government. Principal acts were
passed by the United Kingdom Parliament in the same way as for much of the rest
of the UK, but many smaller measures were dealt with by Order in Council with
minimal parliamentary scrutiny. Throughout this time the aim was to restore
devolution but three attempts - the power-sharing executive established by the
Northern Ireland Constitution Act and the Sunningdale Agreement, the 1975
Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention and Jim Prior's 1982 assembly all
failed to either reach consensus or operate in the longer term.
During the 1970s British policy concentrated on defeating the IRA by military
means including the policy of Ulsterisation (requiring the RUC and (British Army
reserve) Ulster Defence Regiment to be at the forefront of combating the IRA).
Although IRA violence decreased it was obvious that no military victory was on
hand in either short or medium terms. Even Catholics that generally rejected the
IRA were unwilling to offer support to a state that seemed to remain mired in
sectarian discrimination and the Unionists plainly were not interested in
Catholic participation in running the state in any case. In the 1980s the IRA
attempted to secure a decisive military victory based on massive arms shipments
from Libya. When this failed - probably because of MI5's penetration of the
IRA's senior commands - senior republican figures began to look to broaden the
struggle from purely military means. In time this began a move towards military
cessation. In 1986 the British and Irish governments signed the Anglo Irish
Agreement signaling a formal partnership in seeking a political solution.
Socially and economically Northern Ireland suffered the worst levels of
unemployment in the UK and although high levels of public spending ensured a
slow modernisation of public services and moves towards equality, progress was
slow in the 70s and 80s, only in the 1990s when progress towards peace became
tangible, did the economic situation brighten. By then, too, the demographics of
Northern Ireland had undergone significant change, and more than 40% of the
population are Catholics.
Devolution and Direct Rule (1998-present)
More recently, the Belfast Agreement ("Good Friday Agreement") of April 10, 1998
brought a degree of power sharing to Northern Ireland, giving both unionists and
nationalists control of limited areas of government. However, both the
power-sharing Executive and the elected Assembly have been suspended since
October 2002 following a breakdown in trust between the political parties.
Efforts to resolve outstanding issues, including "decommissioning" of
paramilitary weapons, policing reform and the removal of British army bases are
continuing. Recent elections have not helped towards compromise, with the
moderate Ulster Unionist and (nationalist) Social Democrat and Labour parties
being substantially displaced by the hard-line Democratic Unionist and
(nationalist) Sinn Féin parties.
A ring of coastal mountains surrounds low central plains. The
highest peak is Carrauntuohill (Irish: Corrán Tuathail), which is 1041 m (3414
feet). The island is bisected by the River Shannon, at 259 km (161 mi) the
longest river in Ireland or Britain. The island's lush vegetation, a product of
its mild climate and frequent but soft rainfall, earns it the sobriquet "Emerald
Isle". The island's area is 84,079 km² (32,477 mile²).
Ireland is divided into four provinces: Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
These were further divided into 32 counties for administrative purposes. Six of
the Ulster counties remain under British sovereignty as Northern Ireland
following Ireland's partition in 1922 (the remaining 26 forming present-day
Republic of Ireland); since the UK's 1974 reshuffle these county boundaries no
longer exist in Northern Ireland for administrative purposes, although Fermanagh
District Council is almost identical to the county. In the Republic, the county
boundaries are still adhered to for local government, albeit with Tipperary and
Dublin subdivided (some cities also have their own administrative regions). For
election constituencies, some counties are merged or divided, but
constitutionally the boundaries have to be observed. Across Ireland, the 32
counties are still used in sports and in some other cultural areas and retain a
strong sense of local identity.
Ireland's least arable land lies in the south-western and western counties.
These areas are largely spectacularly mountainous and rocky, with beautiful
Politically, Ireland is divided into:
The Republic of Ireland, with its capital in Dublin. This
state is often simply referred to internally and internationally as "Ireland" in
English or "Éire" in Irish. Technically Ireland and Éire are the official names
of the state while the "Republic of Ireland" is its official description.
Northern Ireland is unofficially known as the 'North of
Ireland', and 'Ulster' (although the province of Ulster also includes Donegal,
Cavan, and Monaghan in the Republic). Northern Ireland is a region of the United
Prior to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 the island had
been a unified political entity within the United Kingdom (see United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Ireland) from 1801. From 1541 the Kingdom of Ireland was
established by the King of England, though this realm did not cover the whole
island till the early 17th century. Up to then, Ireland had been politically
divided into a number of different Irish kingdoms (Leinster, Munster, Connacht,
Mide, Ulster, and others). Contrary to some assertations, at no time did a
national kingdom headed by an Ard Ri exist (see Irish States (1171-present)).
In a number of respects, the island operates officially as a single entity, for
example, in most kinds of sports. The major religions, the Roman Catholic
Church, the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, are
organised on an all-island basis. Some 92% of the population of the Republic of
Ireland and over 40% of Northern Ireland is Roman Catholic. Some trade unions
are also organised on an all-Irish basis and associated with the Irish Congress
of Trades Unions (ICTU) in Dublin, while others in Northern Ireland are
affiliated with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the United Kingdom - though
such unions may organise in both parts of the island as well as in Britain. The
island also has a shared culture across the divide in many other ways.
Traditional Irish music, for example, though showing some variance in all
geographical areas, is, broadly speaking, the same on both sides of the border.
Irish and Scottish traditional music have many similarities. The Ireland Funds,
an international fund-raising organisation, tries to help people on both sides
find peace and reconciliation through community development, education, arts and
The island is often referred to as being part of the British Isles. However,
some people, especially in Ireland, take exception to this name, which seems to
suggest that both islands belong to Britain. For this reason, "Britain and
Ireland" is commonly used as a more neutral alternative. Another suggestion,
although much less used, is the Islands of the North Atlantic (IONA).
Flag of Ireland
There is no universally agreed flag that represents the
island of Ireland. Historically a number of flags were used, including St
Patrick's Saltire, the flag sometimes used for the Kingdom of Ireland and which
represented Ireland on the Union Jack after the Act of Union, a green flag with
a harp (used by some radical nationalists in the 19th century and which is also
the flag of Leinster), a blue flag with a harp used from the 18th century
onwards by many nationalists (now the standard of the President of Ireland), and
the Irish tricolour. However as the tricolour is the flag of the Republic of
Ireland it is not used to represent the island of Ireland, given that the island
also includes Northern Ireland.
The Royal Standard also shows a version of an ancient Irish flag in one of its
St Patrick's Saltire is used to represent the island of Ireland by the
all-island Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). In contrast the Gaelic Athletic
Association (GAA) uses the tricolour to represent the whole island.
Literature and the arts
For a comparatively small country, Ireland has made a disproportionately large
contribution to world literature in all its branches, mainly in English.
Poetry in Irish represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe with the
earliest examples dating from the 6th century. In more recent times, Ireland
has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: George Bernard
Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Although not a
Nobel Prize winner, James Joyce is widely considered one of the most
significant writers of the 20th century. His 1922 novel Ulysses is sometimes
cited as the greatest English-language novel of the 20th century and his life
is celebrated annually on June 16th in Dublin as the Bloomsday celebrations.
The early history of Irish visual art is generally considered to begin with
early carvings found at sites such as Newgrange and is traced through Bronze
age artefacts, particularly ornamental gold objects, and the religious
carvings and illuminated manuscripts of the mediæval period. During the course
of the 19th and 20th centuries, a strong indigenous tradition of painting
emerged, including such figures as John Butler Yeats, William Orpen, Jack
Yeats and Louis le Brocquy.
Music and dance
The Irish tradition of folk music and dance is also widely known. In the
middle years of the 20th century, as Irish society was attempting to modernise,
traditional music tended to fall out of favour, especially in urban areas.
During the 1960s, and inspired by the American folk music movement, there was
a revival of interest in the Irish tradition. This revival was led by such
groups as The Dubliners, The Chieftains, the Clancy Brothers and Sweeney's Men
and individuals like Sean Ó Riada and Danny O'Flaherty. Irish and Scottish
traditional music are similar.
Before long, groups and musicians including Horslips, Van Morrison and even
Thin Lizzy were incorporating elements of traditional music into a rock idiom
to form a unique new sound. During the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction
between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals
regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course.
This trend can be seen more recently in the work of bands and individuals like
U2, Clannad, The Cranberries, The Corrs, Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, and The
Nevertheless, Irish music has shown an immense inflation of popularity with
many attempting to return to their roots. There are also contemporary music
groups that stick closer to a "traditional" sound, including Altan, Gaelic
Storm, Lúnasa, and Solas. Others incorporate multiple cultures in a fusion of
style, such as Afro Celt Sound System and Canadian Loreena McKennitt.
Ireland has done well in the Eurovision Song Contest, being the most
successful country in the competition with seven wins. This achievement evokes
mixed feelings in many Irish people.