The History of Ireland
Below is a brief history of Ireland. To find information other than history for Ireland then visit
the Ireland Country Page.
The Irish people are mainly of Celtic origin, with the country's only significant sized minority having descended from the Anglo-Normans. English is the common language, but Irish (Gaelic) also is an official language and is taught in the schools.
Anglo-Irish writers, including Swift, Sheridan, Goldsmith, Burke, Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett, have made a major contribution to world literature over the past 300 years. The earliest inhabitants--people of a mid-Stone Age culture--arrived about 6000 BC. About 4,000 years later, tribes from southern Europe arrived and established a high Neolithic culture, leaving behind gold ornaments and huge stone monuments. The Bronze Age people, who arrived during the next 1,000 years, produced elaborate gold and bronze ornaments and weapons.
The Iron Age arrived abruptly in the fourth century BC with the invasion of the Celts, a tall, energetic people who had spread across Europe and Great Britain in the preceding centuries. The Celts, or Gaels, and their more numerous predecessors divided into five kingdoms in which, despite constant strife, a rich culture flourished.
The coming of Christianity from across the Irish Sea brought major changes and civilizing influences. Tradition maintains that in 432 AD, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity.
The pagan druid tradition collapsed in the spread of the new faith, and Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished. Missionaries from Ireland to England and the continent 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 Dark 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.
Two hundred years of Viking invasion and settlement was later followed by a Norman Conquest in the twelfth century.
The Norman conquest resulted in the assimilation of the Norman settlers into Irish society. The early 17th century saw the arrival of Scottish and English Protestants, sent as colonists to the north of Ireland and the Pale around Dublin.
From 1800 to 1921, Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom. Religious freedom was restored in 1829. But this victory for the Irish Catholic majority was overshadowed by severe economic depression and mass famine from 1846-48 when the potato crop failed. The famine spawned the first mass wave of Irish emigration to the United States. A decade later, in 1858, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB--also known as the Fenians) was founded as a secret society dedicated to armed rebellion against the British. An above-ground political counterpart, the Home Rule Movement, was created in 1874, advocating constitutional change for independence.
Galvanized by the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, the party was able to force British governments after 1885 to introduce several home rule bills. The turn of the century witnessed a surge of interest in Irish nationalism, including the founding of Sinn Fein ("Ourselves Alone") as an open political movement.
Nationalism was and is a potent populist force in Irish politics. While Home Rule was granted in 1914, its enactment was to be suspended until war in Europe ended. Believing the mantra: "England's problem is Ireland opportunity" and tapping into a mood of Gaelic revivalism, Padraic Pearse and James Connolly led the unsuccessful Easter Rising of 1916. Pearse and the 1916 leaders declared an independent Irish republic, only to be driven out of their Headquarters in the General Post Office and formally surrendering less than a week later. The decision by the British-imposed court structure to execute the leaders of the rebellion, coupled with the British Government's threat of conscription, alienated public opinion and produced massive support for Sinn Fein in the 1918 general election. Under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, the elected Sinn Fein deputies constituted themselves as the first Dail. Tensions only increased: British attempts to smash Sinn Fein ignited the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-21.
The end of the war brought the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State of 26 counties within the British Commonwealth and recognized the partition of the island into Ireland and Northern Ireland, though supposedly as a temporary measure. The six predominantly Protestant counties of northeast Ulster--Northern Ireland--remained a part of the United Kingdom with limited self-government. A significant Irish minority repudiated the treaty settlement because of the continuance of subordinate ties to the British monarch and the partition of the island. This opposition led to further hostilities--a civil war (1922-23), which was won by the pro-treaty forces. In 1932, Eamon de Valera, the political leader of the forces initially opposed to the treaty, became prime minister, and a new Irish constitution was enacted in 1937. The last British military bases were soon withdrawn, and the ports were returned to Irish control. Ireland was neutral in World War II. The government formally declared Ireland a republic in 1948; however, it does not normally use the term "Republic of Ireland," which tacitly acknowledges the partition but refers to the country simply as "Ireland."