This article is part of a series made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License by Wikipedia.com
Pre-history and Medieval Period – Norman and English Invasions
Union with Great Britain– Partition – Independent Ireland – Northern Ireland
Most of Ireland was covered with ice until the end of the last ice age over 9,000 years ago. Sea-levels were lower and Ireland, as with its neighbour Britain, were a part of continental Europe rather than being islands. Mesolithic stone age inhabitants arrived some time after 8,000 BC and agriculture followed with the Neolithic Age around 4,500 to 4,000 BC when sheep, goats, cattle and cereals were imported from the Iberian peninsula.
At the Céide Fields, preserved beneath a blanket of peat in present-day County Mayo, is an extensive field system, arguably the oldest in the world, dating from not long after this period. Consisting of small divisions separated by dry-stone walls, the fields were farmed for several centuries between 3,500 and 3,000 BC. Wheat and barley were the principal crops.
The Bronze Age – defined by the use of metal – began around 2,500 BC with technology changing people’s everyday lives during this period through innovations such as the wheel, harnessing oxen, weaving textiles, brewing alcohol, and skillful metalworking, producing new weapons and tools, and fine gold decoration and jewellery, such as brooches and torcs. The Uragh Stone Circle a Neolithic stone circle in Gleninchaquin Park, County Kerry.
The Iron Age in Ireland is traditionally associated with people known as the Celts. The Celts were commonly thought to have colonised Ireland in a series of invasions between the 8th and 1st centuries BC. The Gaels, the last wave of Celts, were said to have divided the island into five or more kingdoms after conquering it. However, academics now favour a view that emphasises the diffusion of culture from overseas as opposed to a military colonisation. Finds, such as Clonycavan Man, given as evidence for this view.
The earliest written records of Ireland come from classical Greco-Roman geographers. Ptolemy in his Almagest refers to Ireland as Mikra Brettania (Lesser Britain), in contrast to the larger island, which he called Megale Brettania (Great Britain). In his later work, Geography, Ptolemy refers to Ireland as Iwernia and to Great Britain as Albion. These “new” names were likely to have been the native names for the islands at the time. The earlier names, in contrast, were likely to have been coined before direct contact with local peoples were made.
The Romans would later refer to Ireland by this name too in its Latinised form, Hibernia, or Scotia. Ptolemy records sixteen tribes inhabiting every part of Ireland in 100 AD. The relationship between the Roman Empire and the tribes of ancient Ireland is unclear. Objective references that exist are from Roman writings whereas native accounts are confined to Irish poetry and myth. However, a number of finds of Roman coins have been found, for example at New Grange.
Ireland continued as a patchwork of rival tribes but, beginning in the 7th century AD, a concept of national kingship gradually became articulated through the concept of a High King of Ireland. Medieval Irish literature portrays an almost unbroken sequence of High Kings stretching back thousands of years but modern historians believe the scheme was constructed in the 8th century to justify the status of powerful political groupings by projecting the origins of their rule into the remote past.
The High King was said to preside over the patchwork of provincial kingdoms that together formed Ireland. Each of these kingdoms had their own kings but were at least nominally subject to the High King. The High King was drawn from the ranks of the provincial kings and ruled also the royal kingdom of Meath, with a ceremonial capital at the Hill of Tara. The concept only became a political reality in the Viking Age and even then was not a consistent one. However, Ireland did have a unifying rule of law: the early written judicial system, the Brehon Laws, administered by a professional class of jurists known as the brehons.
The Chronicle of Ireland records that in 431 AD Bishop Palladius arrived in Ireland on a mission from Pope Celestine I to minister to the Irish “already believing in Christ.” The same chronicle records that Saint Patrick, Ireland’s best known patron saint, arrived the following year. There is continued debate over the missions of Palladius and Patrick but consensus that they both took place and certainty that the older druid tradition collapsed in the face of the new religion. Irish Christian scholars excelled in the study of Latin and Greek learning and Christian theology. In the monastic culture that followed the Christianisation of Ireland, Latin and Greek learning was preserved in Ireland during the Early Middle Ages in contrast to elsewhere in Europe, where the Dark Ages followed the decline of the Roman Empire.
The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking and sculpture flourished and produced treasures such as the Book of Kells, ornate jewellery and the many carved stone crosses that still dot the island today.From the 9th century, waves of Viking raiders plundered Irish monasteries and towns. These raids added to a pattern of raiding and endemic warfare that was already deep seated in Ireland.
On May 1, 1169, an expedition of Cambro-Norman knights with an army of about six-hundred landed at Bannow Strand in present-day County Wexford. It was led by Richard de Clare, called Strongbow due to his prowess as an archer. The invasion, which coincided with a period of renewed Norman expansion, was at the invitation of Dermot Mac Murrough, king of Leinster.
In 1166, Mac Morrough had fled to France following a war involving Tiernan O’Rourke, king of Breifne, and sought the assistance of the the Angevin king, Henry II, in recapturing his kingdom. In 1171, Henry arrived in Ireland in order to review the general progress of the expedition. He wanted to re-exert royal authority over the invasion which was expanding beyond his control. Henry successfully re-imposed his authority over Strongbow and the Cambro-Norman warlords and persuaded many of the Irish kings to accept him as their overlord, an arrangement confirmed in the 1175 Treaty of Windsor.
The invasion was legitimised by the provisions of Laudabiliter, a Papal bull, purportedly issued by Adrian IV in 1155 (co-incidentally, the only Englishman to have been elected Pope). The bull facilitated Henry to take Ireland in order to overhaul the financial and administrative reorganisation of the Irish Church along Roman lines. This restructuring was already in progress at the ecclesiastical level since the Synod of Kells in 1152. There is some controversy over the bulls authenticity. If real it granted King Henry II dominion over Ireland in the name of the papacy.
In 1172, the new pope, Alexander III, further encouraged Henry to advance the integration of the Irish Church with Rome. Henry was authorised to impose a tithe of one penny per hearth as an annual contribution. This church levy, was called Peter’s Pence, is still extant in Ireland as a voluntary donation. In turn, Henry accepted the title of Dominus Hiberniae (Lord of Ireland) which Henry granted to his younger son, John Lackland, in 1185. This defined the Irish state as the Lordship of Ireland, a feudal possession of the Papacy under the overlordship of the Lord of Ireland. When Henry’s successor died unexpectedly in 1199, John inherited the crown of England and the Lord of Ireland and the King of England became one person.
Over the century that followed, Norman feudal law gradually replaced the native brehon law so that by the late 13th century the Norman-Irish had established a feudal system throughout much of Ireland. Normal settlements were characterised by the establishment of baronies, manors, towns and the seeds of the modern-day county system. A version of Magna Carta (the Great Charter of Ireland), substituting Dublin for London and Irish Church for Church of England, was published in 1216 and the Parliament of Ireland was founded in 1297.
However, from the mid-fourteenth century, after of the Black Death, Norman settlements in Ireland went into a period of decline. The Norman rulers and the native Irish elites intermarried and the areas under Norman rule became Gaelicised. In some parts, a hybrid Hiberno-Norman culture emerged. In response, the Irish parliament passed the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1367. These were a set of laws designed to prevent the assimilation of the Normans into Irish society by requiring English subjects in Ireland to speak English, follow English customs and abide by English law. However, by the end of the 15th century central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared and a renewed Irish culture and language, albeit with Norman influences, was dominant again. However, English Crown control remained relatively unshaken in an amorphous foothold around Dublin known as The Pale and under the provisions of Poynings’ Law of 1494, the Irish Parliamentary legislation was subject to the approval of the English Parliament.
English rule of law was reinforced and expanded, however, in the sixteenth century leading to the Tudor reconquest of Ireland. A near complete conquest was achieved by the turn of the seventeenth century following the Nine Years’ War and the Flight of the Earls. This control was further consolidated during the wars and conflicts of the seventeenth century, which witnessed English and Scottish colonisation in the Plantations of Ireland, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the Williamite War. Irish losses during the Wars of the three Kingdoms (which, in Ireland, included the Irish Confederacy and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland) are estimated to include 20,000 battlefield casualties. 200,000 civilians are estimated to have died as a result of a combination of war related famine, displacement, guerilla activity and pestilence over the duration of the war. A further 16,000 were tried and sent to slavery in the West Indies. Some historians estimate that as much as half of the pre-war population of Ireland may have died as a result of the conflict.
The religious struggles of the seventeenth century left a deep sectarian division in Ireland. Religious allegiance now determined the perception in law of loyalty to the Irish King and Parliament. After the passing of The Test Act 1673 and with the victory of the forces of the dual monarchy of William and Mary over the Jacobites, Roman Catholics and nonconforming Protestant Dissenters were barred sitting as members in the Irish Parliament. Under the emerging penal laws, recusant Irish Roman Catholics and Dissenters were increasingly deprived of various and sundry civil rights even to the ownership of hereditary property. Additional regressive punitive legislation followed 1703, 1709 and 1728. This completed a comprehensive systemic effort to materially disadvantage Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters, while enriching a new ruling class of Anglican conformists. The new Anglo-Irish ruling class became known as the Protestant Ascendancy.
An extraordinary climatic shock “The Great Frost” struck Ireland and the rest of Europe between December 1739 and September 1741, after a decade of relatively mild winters. The winters destroyed stored crops of potatoes and other staples and the poor summers severely damaged harvests. This resulted in the famine in 1740. An estimated 250,000 people (about one in eight of the population) died from the ensuing pestilence and disease. The Irish government halted export of corn and kept the army in quarters but did little more. Local gentry and charitable organisations provided relief but could not contain the ensuing mortality.
In the aftermath of the famine, an increase in industrial production and a surge in trade brought a succession of construction booms. The population soared in the latter part of this century and the architectural legacy of Georgian Ireland was built. In 1782, Poynings’ Law was repealed giving Ireland virtual legislative independence from Great Britain for the first time since the Norman invasion. However, the British government still retained the right to nominate the government of Ireland above the consent of the Irish parliament.
In 1798, members of the Protestant Dissenter tradition (mainly Presbyterian) made common cause with Roman Catholics in a republican rebellion inspired and led by the Society of United Irishmen with the aim of creating an independent Ireland. Despite assistance from France the rebellion was put down by British and Irish government and yeomanry forces. In 1800, the British and Irish parliaments passed the Act of Union which, effective as of January 1st 1801, merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain to create a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament was ultimately achieved with substantial majorities, having failed on the first attempt in 1799. According to contemporary documents and historical analysis, this was achieved through a considerable degree of bribery, with funding provided by the British Secret Service Office, and a the awarding of peerages, places and honours to secure votes. Thus, Ireland became part of an extended United Kingdom, ruled directly by the parliament at Westminster in London. A Viceregal administration was established and under the government appointed the Chief Secretary at Dublin Castle.
The Great Famine of the 1840s caused the deaths of one million Irish people and over a million more emigrated to escape it. By the end of the decade, half of all immigration to the United States was from Ireland. Mass emigration became deeply entrenched and the population continued to decline until the mid 20th century. Immediately prior to the famine, the population was recorded as 8.2 million by the 1841 census. The population has never returned to this level since. The population continued to fall until 1961 and it was not until the 2006 census that the last county of Ireland (County Leitrim) to record a rise in population since 1841 did so.
The 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of modern Irish nationalism, primarily among the Roman Catholic population. Pre-eminent among these was Daniel O’Connell. He was elected as member of parliament for Ennis in a surprise result despite being unable to take his seat as a Roman Catholic. O’Connell spearheaded a vigorous campaign which was taken up by the Prime Minister, the Irish born soldier and statesman, the Duke of Wellington. Steering the Act through the Westminster parliament, aided by future prime minister Robert Peel, Wellington prevailed upon a reluctant George IV to sign the bill and proclaim it into law. George’s father had opposed the earlier Prime Minister’s, Pitt the Younger, plan to introduce such a bill following the Union in 1801 fearing Catholic Emancipation to be in conflict with the Act of Settlement 1701.
A subsequent campaign led by O’Connell for the repeal of the Act of Union failed. Later in the century, Charles Stewart Parnell and others campaigned for autonomy within the Union, or “Home Rule”. Unionists, especially those located in the northern part of the island, were strongly opposed to Home Rule, which they felt would be dominated by Catholic interests. After several attempts to pass a Home Rule bill through parliament, it looked certain that one would finally pass in 1914. To prevent this from happening, the Ulster Volunteers were formed in 1913 under the leadership of Lord Carson.
Their formation was followed in 1914 by the establishment of the Irish Volunteers, whose aim was to ensure that the Home Rule Bill was passed. The Act was passed but with the “temporary” exclusion of the six counties of Ulster that would become Northern Ireland. However, before it could be implemented the Act was suspended for the duration of the Great War (World War I). The Irish Volunteers split into two groups. The majority, approximately 175,000 in number, under John Redmond, took the name National Volunteers and supported Irish involvement in the war. A minority, approximately 13,000, retained the name, the Irish Volunteers, and opposed Ireland’s involvement in the war.
The failed Easter Rising of 1916 was carried out by the latter group and the British response, executing the leaders of the Rising one by one over seven weeks, changed the national mood towards Home Rule. The pro-independence party, Sinn Féin, received overwhelming endorsement in the General Election of 1918 and in 1919 declared its own parliament and government. British authorities attempted to extinguish this challenge, sparking a guerilla war from 1919 to July 1921, ending in a truce.
In 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was concluded between the British Government giving all of Ireland complete independence towards their home affairs and practical independence for foreign policy. However, an oath of allegiance to the British Crown had to be exercised. Northern Ireland was to form a home rule state within the new Irish Free State but held an opt-out clause, which it exercised immediately opted out as expected. Disagreements over the provisions of the treaty led to a split in the nationalist movement and a subsequent civil war. The civil war officially ended in May 1923 when Éamon de Valera (the most prominent surviving member of the 1916 uprising) issued a cease-fire order.
During its first decade, the newly-formed Irish Free State state was governed by the victors of the civil war. When de Valera achieved power, he proceeded took advantage of the Statute of Westminister and political circumstances to build upon inroads to greater sovereignty made by the previous government. The oath was abolished and in 1937 a new constitution was adopted. This completed a process of gradual separation from the British Empire that governments had pursued since independence. It was not, however, until 1949 that the state was declared, officially, to be a republic.
The state was a neutral during World War II but offered clandestine assistance to the Allies, particularly in the potential defence of Northern Ireland. Despite being neutral, approximately 50,000 volunteers from independent Ireland joined the British forces during the war, four being awarded the Victoria Crosses.
Ireland also had links to German Intelligence. Both the Abwehr (the German military intelligence service) and the SD (the Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence service of the SS) sent agents to Ireland. This chain of Irish-German intelligence was broken in September 1941 when the southern Irish police made arrests on the basis of electronic surveillance carried out on the key diplomatic legations in Ireland, including the United States. To the southern Irish, counterintelligence was more than mere luxury but a fundamental line of defense. With a regular army of only slightly over seven thousand men at the start of the war, and hopelessly devoid of modern weapons, a determined German attack with even just a few divisions would have meant certain occupation.
Large-scale emigration marked the 1950s and 1980s but, beginning in 1987, the economy improved and the 1990s saw the beginning of unprecedented economic growth. The phenomenon became known as the Celtic Tiger. By 2007, Ireland had become the fifth richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita. Social changes followed quickly on the heels of economic prosperity ranging from the ‘modernization’ of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin to the decline in authority of the Catholic Church.
Northern Ireland was created as a division of the United Kingdom by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and until 1972 it was a self-governing jurisdiction within the United Kingdom with its own parliament and prime minister. Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, was not neutral during the Second World War and Belfast suffered a bombing raid in1941. Conscription was not extended to Northern Ireland and roughly an equal number volunteered from Northern Ireland as volunteered from the south. One, James Joseph Magennis, receiving the Victoria Cross for valour.
Although Northern Ireland was largely spared the strife of the civil war, in decades that followed partition there were sporadic episodes of inter-communal violence. Nationalists, mainly Roman Catholic, wanted Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom, whereas unionists, mainly Protestant, wanted Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom. The Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland voted largely along sectarian lines, meaning that the Government of Northern Ireland (elected by “first past the post” from 1929) was controlled by the Ulster Unionist Party. Over time, the minority Catholic community felt increasingly alienated with further disaffection fueled by practices such as gerrymandering and discrimination in housing and employment.
In the late 1960s, nationalist grievances were aired publicly in mass civil rights protests, which were often confronted by loyalist counter-protests. The government’s reaction to confrontations was seen to be one-sided and heavy-handed in favour of unionists. Law and order broke down as unrest and inter-communal violence increased. The Northern Ireland government was forced to request the British Army to aid the police, who were exhausted after several nights of serious rioting. In 1969, the paramilitary Provisional IRA, which favoured the creation of a united Ireland, emerged from a split in the Irish Republican Army and began a campaign against what it called the “British occupation of the six counties”.
Other groups, on both the unionist side and the nationalist side, participated in violence and a period known as the Troubles began. Over 3,600 deaths resulted over the subsequent three decades of conflict. Owing to the civil unrest during the Troubles, the British government suspended home rule in 1972 and imposed “direct rule” from the Parliament of the United Kingdom. There were several ultimately unsuccessful attempts to end the Troubles politically, such as the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973.
In 1998, following a ceasefire by the Provisional IRA and multi-party talks, the Belfast Agreement was concluded and ratified by referendum across the entire island. The Agreement restored self-government to Northern Ireland on the basis of power-sharing between the two communities. Violence decreased greatly after the signing of the accord and in 2005 the Provisional IRA announced the end of its armed campaign and an independent commission supervised its disarmament. The power-sharing assembly was suspended several times but was restored again in 2007. In that year, the British government officially ended its military support of the police in Northern Ireland and began withdrawing troops.