Brief History of Ireland



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Brief History of Ireland

Early and Celtic Ireland


The earliest settlers in Ireland are believed to have lived as early as 8,000 BC. Ireland’s first farmers arrived from Europe about 6,000 years ago. They built permanent dwellings and built large monuments such as passage tombs like Newgrange.

During the bronze age the people used Ireland’s rich copper deposits to make tools, weapons, and personal ornaments of gold.

The first Celtic peoples arrived in Ireland around 400 BC. They left the Irish language and La Tène style art work. Dwellings were build and when the Roman Empire declined Irish colonies were made in Wales, Cornwall, and western Scotland. Ring forts became commonplace in Ireland and are still very evident all over Ireland today.

Christianity was brought to Ireland in the 5th century AD with St. Patrick, and thus a highly literate society developed, much surviving to the present in both irish and Latin. By the mid 6th century monastic settlements were widespread throughout the land becoming not just religious centres but educational and artistic centres also. Ireland earned the name the Island of Saints and Scholars. Missions spread to Europe followed by teachers and scholars.

7th and 8th century Ireland was and intensely hierarchical society with many kings. The Viking raids which began in the 9th century increased this violent society.


Dublin’s Origin


Although Dublin celebrated its official millennium in 1988, its quite clear there were settlements before 988AD. The city’s Irish name Baile Átha Cliath (The Town of the Hurdle Ford) comes from an ancient river crossing.

The Vikings, the Normans and the English.


Dublin only became a permanent settlement with the coming of the Vikings in the 9th century. They intermarried with the Irish and established a prosperous trading port where the River Poddle joined the River Liffey in a black pool, in Irish dubh linn (Dublin).

The Vikings were defeated in 1014 by the Irish led by Brian Ború, but many of the Danes remained in Dublin marrying with the Irish and adopting Christianity.

The Normans having conquered England in 1066 moved to Ireland around 1169 and like the Vikings merged with the Irish rather than ruling them. Dublin became the base of Anglo-Norman authority in Ireland.

Even at the time of Elizabeth I of England (1588-1603) English control in Ireland was restricted to a coastal strip around Dublin called the Pale. The rest of Ireland lived on under their own rule.


Medieval Dublin


Norman and early English Dublin centred around the black pool, dubh linn, but the city began to expand west. Misfortune struck Dublin for several centuries with the failed Scottish invasion in 1316, the failed revolt (of Silken Thomas Fitzgerald) against King Henry VIII of England in 1534, and the Black Death in 1348. However in 1592 Trinity College was founded beginning Dublin’s educational tradition which endures until the present day.

The Protestant Ascendancy


English and Scottish people began settling in Ireland, principally the north-east, after being granted land by the various English monarchs. This led to a sizeable portion of the Irish population being of foreign, protestant origin which is still evident today mainly in north-east Ulster. These people were privileged citizens (they could own land, the Catholics could not) and many of them became rich through exploitation of the Irish and the land.

In 1649, the victor of the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell, took the city, seized Ireland’s best land, and gave it to his soldiers. Ireland lost out again in 1690 when it backed the losing side in the war between the Catholic James II and the Protestant King William of Orange. James’ supporters found themselves excluded from parliament and the anti-catholic Penal laws were imposed on the Irish population.

The period of the Protestant Ascendancy led Dublin into its 18th Century boom years and the city became the fifth largest city in Europe. As the city grew the wealthy moved into northern suburbs of squares surrounded by Georgian mansions. The slums of Dublin followed them and the rich moved back south to the new squares such Merrion and Fitzwilliam.

Rebellions and Politics 1790-1890


The Georgian boom years were followed by more than a century of rebellions, unrest and political issues. An abortive French-backed invasion in 1796, a country-wide rebellion in 1798, and another failed French invasion in 1798, and another failed revolt in Dublin brought Ireland into the 19th Century. Martyrs were made by the British and are still held in high regard by Irish people today.

The Act of Union came into effect in 1801, which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and ended the limited Irish Home Rule. Many of the city’s leading people left for London and the city fell into decline.

In 1823, Daniel O’Connell launched his campaign to recover basic rights for Ireland’s Catholic population. He gained Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and began his campaign for the repeal of the Act of Union but only willing to agitate within the law his efforts faded.

Disaster struck Ireland yet again in 1845 when the potato crop, which the majority of the population depended on for food, failed. Over a million died and a million left before the famine ended in 1851, due to the British Government’s shameful ignorance. The ironic thing is that at the same time Ireland was exporting vast quantities of other food, which the people could not get.

Rebellions occurred in 1848 under the leadership of William Smith O’Brien and again in 1867 by the Fenians. Both failed but a political solution began to make better ground from 1870 on with Isaac Butt’s Home Rule ideas and more significantly by Charles Stewart Parnell. A Dublin parliament was campaigned for tirelessly by Parnell and his many followers however it was continually defeated by the British House of Lords.

The Struggle for Independence


Resentment against the British began to show a violent side again with the Irish Republican Brotherhood secretly plotting against the British. A Gaelic revival began in the 1880s with the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884 and various other organisations thereafter. The formation of the Republican political party Sinn Féin (Ourselves Alone) in 1905 was further evidence of anti-British sentiment growing in Ireland. Further dissatisfaction came to the surface in 1913 with a general strike in Dublin.

Parallel to this, opposition to Home Rule was growing within Ireland itself (in the Protestant dominated north-east) in the form of Unionism. Northern Protestants were worried about losing their privileged position in society, and scared of an independent Ireland. While the Unionist, Ulster Volunteer Force imported arms illegally and unopposed by the law, the Nationalist Irish Volunteers were harassed by the law.

Home Rule was to be introduced in 1914 but was put-off because of World War One. Hundreds of thousands of young Irish Volunteers were sent of to the trenches to fight, misguided in the belief that Ireland would be peacefully granted Home Rule by their leader John Redmond. (Over 50,000 young Irishmen died in the trenches).

At home in Ireland, opposition to British Rule came to the boil in 1916 in another rebellion, in Central Dublin, which would change Ireland forever.

On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, approximately 2,000 Irish Volunteers took over key positions in Dublin City and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read. The British had gained a the upper hand by the end of the week employing artillery, machine guns, and bombs and destroying much of the city in the process. Through bad tactics on the British side and accurate rebel fire the British lost many times more than the Irish forces. The rebels surrendered and most were sent off to prison but 77 were sentenced to death. After the execution of the 15 principal figures, public opinion went against the British and by the end of 1916 most supported the Irish volunteers.

Sinn Féin gained a huge majority in the 1918 General Election, Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament) was formed and Independence was declared on 21 January 1919. The Irish War of Independence began the same day. Although the British forces were evident on the ground most people only recognized the authority of the Irish courts and the guerilla forces (Irish Republican Army, IRA, under the leadership of Michael Collins) of the Irish Republic were constantly attacking British Army units throughout the country. The British tried to hang on with the coming to Ireland of their ruthless “Black and Tans” paramilitary-style force; they roamed the country murdering civilians, massacring a football crowd, burning villages and even Cork city but they failed to stop the Irish. By the summer of 1921 the British were exhausted from the war and the Irish were willing to make a truce with them.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed between the British and Irish governments on 6 December 1921. It recognised Irish independence in 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, 6 north-eastern ones remaining part of the British Empire. Most of Ireland was now independent but Northern Ireland was born

However the Treaty did not satisfy all of Ireland’s soldiers and politicians and there was a split over the treaty as it did not recognise Ireland as a full republic only a free state, and an oath of allegiance to the English crown was still necessary. The anti-treaty side seized areas of the country and the Irish Civil War began on 22 June 1922 when they refused to surrender to the pro-treaty forces. Hostilities continued until the next May when the anti-treaty forces surrendered because of tough government action against them.


Free State to Republic


Ireland was finally at peace but a substantial minority of the Dáil refused to take their seats there because they opposed the treaty and desired a full republic. In 1926 the Republican leader Éamon De Valera formed Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny) and the next year nearly won the General Election. They won it, however, in 1932 and would remain in power until 1948. While in power they soon ignored the treaty clauses; the oath of allegiance, the British representative, and the treaty ports (Ports used by the British Navy). Ireland made abundantly clear its independence when she was declared neutral in World War Two by the Irish Government.

Ireland became officially recognized as a republic in 1949 when she left the British commonwealth.


Ireland Today


Seán Lemass’ government (Fianna Fáil) came to power in 1959 and sought to stem emigration and improve the country’s economy. By the mid-60s they were successful and things were on the up. Ireland became a member of the European Economic Community in 1973 and things improved more with grants and funding from them. Things went bad once again in the early 1980s with economic difficulties and it was not until the early 1990s that things picked up again, when Ireland saw a dramatic change it her economic fortunes. Tumbling interest rates encouraged new business and foreign investment in the country began to bring substantial benefits, and unemployment nearly disappeared. Ireland’s strong economy (known as the “Celtic Tiger”) has become a model for other European countries.

In 1997 Fianna Fáil was re-elected under the leadership of Bertie Ahern. The current president of Ireland is Mary McAleese. She has non-executive powers however she can veto a bill, she is seen by many as an ambassador of the Irish people representing Ireland worldwide.

Dublin has grown from a large town in 1919 to a large city of about 1.3 million people today. This is still evident if you look at the skyline of Dublin, full of cranes and construction, the city is now catering for a sizeable immigrant population from all parts of Europe and the World.

Northern Ireland 1921-2001


From 1921 Northern Ireland was dominated by a protestant government. Street violence was part of everyday life and sectarian equality was non-existent. Catholics were discriminated against and jobs for them were few. The semi-independent government acting under the British authority introduced notorious paramilitary-style police forces to keep the Catholics at bay. The Irish Republlican Army commenced a war against the British again in 1939 but it fizzled out when in 1940 the Irish government interned almost all IRA volunteers in camps for the duration of World War Two.

Things continued much the same in the North through the 40s and 50s and the IRA began another campaign against the British in 1956 but by 1962 it was obvious that it lacked popular support. The civil rights (for Catholics) Movement began in the 1960s and under people such as John Hume got much support. In the late 1960s attacks were made on the Catholic community by Unionist (Loyalist) paramilitaries and the British Army was brought in to protect them. Initially the British protected them but things became worse and the Catholic (Nationalist) community came to resent their presence and the IRA commenced a campaign against the British Army which would last 25 years until 1994.



By the 80s things in Northern Ireland were very bad. They had already endured war for a decade, the main parties involved were the IRA fighting the British Army and the Loyalists attacking the Catholic community. The most horrific incident was “Bloody Sunday” in Derry City in 1972 when the British Army murdered 14 civilians on a protest march. In 1981 a IRA prisoners went on Hunger Strike and 11 died. Attempts were made at power-sharing governments in 1973 and 1985 but both failed. In 1995 after the IRA and Loyalist ceasefires came into effect negotiations started between the different parties and on Good Friday 1998 the historical Good Friday Agreement was signed between most of the parties in the North and ratified in referendums by the Irish people on both sides of the border.

Today the semi-independent government in the North is made up of parties of all allegiances and shades and things are moving closer towards normality. The IRA campaign remains at ceasefire but many Loyalist terrorist groups continue attacking the Catholic community in certain areas within the North. On the other side of the divide a small splinter group of the IRA, the continuity IRA, are making some attacks also.

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