History of Ireland

Ireland lies west of Great Britain and the mainland of Europe. Its history, like that of other countries, has been influenced by its geographical position. Ireland received most of its early settlers and much of its early culture from the mainland of Europe.

But, from the A.D. 1100's onwards, the relationship between England and Ireland forms the central theme of Irish history. The English attempted to conquer Ireland, but the Irish put up a strong resistance. Irish history is characterized by devastating wars that impoverished the country, by plantations that placed nine-tenths of the land in the hands of English and Scottish landlords, by political and religious persecution, and by economic problems that forced many Irish people to emigrate to other countries.

Ancient Ireland (to A.D. 431)

Early peoples. The first people settled in Ireland about 6000 B.C. They crossed from Scotland and settled on the Antrim coast where the town of Larne is situated today. They lived on fish and other food that they gathered in the area. Their tools included knives and scrapers made of flint. Gradually, the settlers moved northwards along the coast to Magilligan Point, in County Londonderry; southwards to Dalkey Island, in County Dublin; and inland along the Bann and Lagan valleys.

About 3000 B.C., a second wave of settlers arrived who used domesticated animals and who knew how to make textiles and pottery. These settlers made tools of polished stone and tilled the land and grew cereals. They lived in small communities in round or rectangular wooden houses thatched with straw. The most striking survivals of these people in Ireland are the megaliths (great stone monuments) that they erected over their dead. The simplest type of megalith is the dolmen, which consists of three or more upright stones, with a flat capstone laid across them. An impressive dolmen is at Legananny, in County Down. The most striking megaliths are passage graves, of which the one at Newgrange, in County Meath, is world-famous.

About 2000 B.C., a group of metalworkers arrived in Ireland. They knew how to make bronze by mixing copper and tin. At that time, Ireland had abundant resources of copper and gold, and these people made the country an important centre of metalwork. They exported metal goods to Britain, France, Iberia (now Portugal and Spain), Crete, and some other areas. These exported goods included torques and twisted ribbons of gold.

The Celts.

From about 400 B.C. up to about the time of the birth of Christ, groups of invaders arrived in Ireland. These tall, fair-haired people came from the region between the Rhine and Danube rivers on the mainland of Europe. The invaders were called Celts. They were armed with iron swords and soon conquered the other peoples in the country. Their language was an old form of what is now Irish.

The Celts were farmers who grew cereals and flax. They also spent much of their time tending large herds of cattle and sheep. They are said to have worn tunics or tight-fitting breeches and loose cloaks fastened with small iron brooches. Historians do not know how the ordinary people lived, but Celtic kings dwelt in houses fortified by banks of earth, or in lake dwellings called crannogs.

Scholars have not discovered much about Celtic religious beliefs. The Celts believed in a life after death, and in another world, which is sometimes called Tir na nOg (land of youth). Their priests, called druids, not only offered sacrifices to the gods, but also served as teachers and judges.

The Celts divided the country into about 150 small communities called tuatha. A king, called a ri tuaithe, ruled over each tuath. Sometimes a number of these kings recognized one of their number as an overking and paid tribute to him.

In the same way, a number of overkings formed a kind of federation under a king of one of the five provinces into which the country was divided. The original provinces, sometimes called the five fifths of Ireland, were probably Ulster, Leinster, Munster, Connacht, and Mide. But the number of provinces and their boundaries were constantly changing. According to tradition, King Cormac mac Airt built a splendid palace at Tara, in Meath, formed the new kingdom of Meath, and called himself Ard Ri (high king). Though he was never the ruler of Ireland, his descendants claimed that he founded the high kingship of Tara.

The Island of Saints and Scholars (431-795)

The coming of Christianity. In 431, Pope Celestine sent Palladius as first bishop to the Irish. But Patrick, who landed in Ireland a year later, has become the patron saint of Ireland. Patrick was a native of Britain, the son of a wealthy official. When he was about 16 years of age, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland.

For six years, he herded sheep for his Irish master. He escaped and went to France to study. He became a bishop and returned to Ireland. According to tradition, Patrick landed at Saul, in Down, in 432, and built his first church there. He was called before the high king, Laoghaire, at Tara, but got his permission to preach. For thirty years he travelled the country, founding churches and ordaining priests. He died in 461.

Modern scholars dispute this traditional account of St. Patrick's life and argue that a number of missionaries converted the Irish to Christianity. But all scholars agree that the people eventually accepted the new religion without much opposition.

Irish missionaries. St. Patrick and other missionaries divided the country into dioceses and put a bishop in charge of each of them. In the years that followed, many monasteries were founded throughout the country. Gradually, monasteries became an important feature of Christian life in Ireland. The chief founders of Irish monasteries were St. Enda of the Aran Islands, St. Finnian of Clonard, St. Columba of Derry and Kells, who is also called Colmcille, St. Brendan of Clonfert, St. Brigid of Kildare, St. Comgall of Bangor, St. Finbarr of Cork, and St. Kieran of Clonmacnois. The monasteries became so important that the system of dioceses founded by St. Patrick broke down. Each monastery was independent, and the abbots of the monasteries eventually became more powerful than the bishops.

During the Dark Ages in Europe (500-800), religion and scholarship almost disappeared in some other countries. But during this time, Ireland became a great centre of education and scholarship. Many scholars from Britain and the mainland of Europe travelled to Ireland to study in its famous monastery schools.

At least two kings from overseas were educated in Ireland: Dagobert II of the Western Franks and Aldfrid of Northumbria. Scripture and theology were the chief subjects of study at these schools.

The arts owed much to the monasteries. Some of the finest metalwork of this period was specially made for them. Examples of such metalwork are the Ardagh Chalice, the Innisfallen Crozier, and book shrines called Cumdachs. The supreme artistic achievements of the period were the illuminated manuscripts written by the scribes in the monasteries. Among the best known are the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow, and the Book of Armagh.

The Irish monks believed that the greatest sacrifice they could make was to go into exile "for the love of Christ." St. Columba of Derry was one of the first missionaries to leave Ireland. In 563, he founded a monastery on Iona, a small island off the coast of Scotland. From there, he and his successors taught the Christian religion throughout much of Scotland and northern England. Other missionaries went to the mainland of Europe.

Columbanus went to France and Italy; Gall, to Switzerland; Kilian, to Germany; and Livinius, to the Netherlands. They founded monasteries in many of the places that they visited. The monasteries of Bobbio, Iona, Lindisfarne, and Luxeuil were among the most famous of them.

In time, a decline in the religious fervour of the monks set in. Some monasteries passed into the control of lay people, and many kinds of abuses resulted. In the 700's, a reform movement began, led by men called Celi De (servants of God), who preached a return to the former strictness of monastic life. But, before they could achieve much, bands of warriors from Scandinavia, called Vikings, began to raid the country.

The Vikings in Ireland (795-950)

The first Viking raid occurred in 795, when Vikings plundered the monastery on Lambay Island, off the Dublin coast. At first, they came in small parties, made surprise attacks on places along the coast, and sailed away with their plunder. But, after about 830, the Vikings changed their tactics. They sailed up the rivers to plunder inland places. They set up bases and attacked the surrounding countryside from them. They also began to stay in the country during the winter. They wintered at Dublin, at the mouth of the River Liffey, for the first time in 841-842.

At first, the Irish were not successful in defending themselves against the invaders. Their weapons were inferior to those of the Vikings, and they had no permanent armies or fleets. Worse still, the country lacked political unity. Even during the worst periods of the Viking invasion, the provincial kings continued to quarrel among themselves. But, in the mid-800's, the Irish began to put up a stronger resistance and to win victories over Viking forces. But they did not drive the Vikings out of the country, and a second wave of Viking attacks on Ireland began in 914.

The Irish counterattacked with increasing success, and in 944 the kings of Tara and Leinster sacked Dublin. By this time, the Vikings had settlements at Wexford, Waterford, Cork, and Limerick, as well as at Dublin. These were the first towns in Ireland, and the Vikings who lived in them began to develop trade. They also married into Irish families and, eventually, became Christians. Viking leaders became like other rulers in Ireland and joined in the wars between rival Irish kings.

Rival kings (950-1169)

The struggle for power among provincial kings went on, in spite of the Viking invasions. By the end of the 900's, Brian Boru, the king of a small state in Clare called Dal Cais, had conquered his greater neighbours and made himself the strongest king in the southern half of Ireland. But Mael Morda, king of Leinster, began to plot against him. Mael Morda made an alliance with Sitric, the Viking king of Dublin, who got help from the Vikings of the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Man. Brian marched against them, and a great battle was fought at Clontarf, near Dublin, on Good Friday, 1014. It ended in victory for Brian's army, but Brian himself was killed in his tent by Vikings fleeing from the battle.

For a hundred years after the death of Brian, rulers of powerful provincial kingdoms fought bitterly for supremacy. But none of them had any lasting success. In 1106, Turlough O'Connor became king of Connacht. He was a skilful warrior. He strengthened his kingdom by building fortresses in it. He put bridges over the River Shannon, so that he could attack the other provinces swiftly, and he made great use of fleets in his wars. He tried to weaken his rivals by dividing their kingdoms. He partitioned Munster and Meath among a number of petty kings. For a time, he was the most powerful king in Ireland. But when he died, in 1156, Murtagh MacLoughlin, king of Ulster, with the help of Dermot MacMurrough, king of Leinster, made himself king of Ireland. Ten years later, he was overthrown, and Turlough's son, Rory O'Connor, became the last native king of Ireland.But Dermot MacMurrough refused to recognize his authority and fled from the country to seek help from King Henry II of England.

The period after the Viking invasion was a time of recovery for religion and culture, in spite of the disturbed political life of the country. The Irish Church was reformed and reorganized into dioceses. At the Synod of Kells in 1152, the country was divided into 36 dioceses, and grouped into 4 provinces under the archbishops of Armagh, Dublin, Cashel, and Tuam. St. Malachy of Armagh was the greatest of the religious reformers and introduced the Cistercian Order into Ireland. In 1142, the first Irish Cistercian monastery was founded in Louth. In the 1000's and 1100's, the economy of the country was mainly pastoral. A person's wealth was reckoned by the number of cattle he or she owned. The social unit was still the tuath, which was based on family groups. The ruler of a tuath lived in a fortified house called a rath, or dun, together with a brehon (lawyer), minstrel, physician, and several craftworkers. The ruler's subjects lived in huts of wattle and clay. The people were poorly armed and no match for the warlike Normans who invaded Ireland in the mid-1100's.

The Normans in Ireland (1169-1535)

The Normans were descended from Vikings who had been granted a large province in northern France in the 900's, on condition that they ceased to raid the rest of the country. This province was called Normandy. In 1066, its ruler, William the Conqueror, claimed the throne of England, crossed the English Channel with a large army, and won a decisive victory at Hastings. A hundred years later, when one of William's descendants, Henry II, was king of England, Dermot MacMurrough crossed to England and asked for help. Henry allowed Dermot to recruit allies among the Norman barons of Wales, who were his subjects. Among them was Richard de Clare (Strongbow). Dermot promised him his daughter Eva in marriage and the succession to the throne of Leinster if he would help him.

Arrival of the Normans

In 1169, a party of Normans under Robert Fitzstephen landed in Bannow Bay, on the southeast coast of Ireland. In 1170, Strongbow landed near Waterford with an army, captured the town, and married Eva MacMurrough there. The first part of the agreement had been kept. The second part soon followed. After the Normans had captured Dublin, MacMurrough died suddenly. Strongbow assumed the title king of Leinster, and the other Norman barons began to seize territories.

Henry II was alarmed by these events, because he had no intention of allowing any of his subjects to set up independent kingdoms in Ireland. In 1171, he crossed to Ireland to assert his authority over Strongbow and to find out whether he could repeat the rather easy successes his barons had already achieved. The Normans submitted to him at once, as did many Irish kings and princes. The Irish may have believed that, if they recognized Henry as their overlord, he would protect their property. They were disappointed. Henry confirmed Strongbow in his possession of Leinster. He made Hugh de Lacy his Justiciar (viceroy) and granted him the kingdom of Meath.

After Henry II returned to England, the Normans continued to seize the lands of the Irish princes. In the centre of Ireland, the territories under Norman rule stretched from Dublin across the central plain. The De Lacys held lands in Meath and Westmeath and the De Burghs controlled large areas of Connacht. In the south-west, the Fitzgeralds held lands in Leinster and on the south bank of the Shannon estuary, and the Butlers controlled territories in East Munster. In the north, John de Courcy seized the old kingdom of Ulster and ruled an area east of the Bann, from Fair Head to Carlingford Lough.

Failure of the conquest

By 1300, the Normans controlled most of the country. But they did not succeed in conquering Ireland as they had conquered England. Their task was more difficult in Ireland because there was no central government in the country that they could take control of. The Normans were not a united group of invaders. The various barons aimed to enrich themselves and fought not only with the Irish but also among themselves. This continuous warfare gradually reduced the strength of the Normans, and they were not replaced by fresh settlers. Those in remote areas began to adopt the language and customs of their Irish neighbours. Some Norman families adopted Irish name forms. The De Burgh family took the name Burke; the Barry family, MacAdam; and the Staunton family, McEvilly.

In 1366, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, son of King Edward III, summoned a parliament at Kilkenny that passed laws forbidding the Normans to adopt Irish customs. The Statutes of Kilkenny, as these laws were called, also forbade the Normans to intermarry with the Irish, to speak the Irish language, or to wear Irish dress. But in spite of these laws the number of Gaelicized Normans continued to increase.

The Irish Recovery

From about 1350, the Irish chieftains began to recover their territories. They had acquired many of the weapons used by the Normans, and had learnt some of their tactics. They also hired Scottish mercenaries, called gallowglasses, who were more than a match for the Normans. The MacCarthys regained power in Munster, Art MacMurrough Kavanagh became King of Leinster, and the O'Neill and O'Donnell families established strong kingships in Ulster. Finally, the area under the effective control of the English in Ireland was confined to a narrow stretch of territory on the east coast called the Pale or the English Pale. The Pale stretched from Dundalk to Dalkey, south of Dublin, and extended inland for no more than 48 kilometres. The lord deputy, who was the king's representative, ruled over the Pale, and a parliament in Dublin passed laws for its people from time to time.

During the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) in England, Ireland was left largely undisturbed. The Earl of Kildare, who was then lord deputy, became increasingly powerful. After the war, King Henry VII sent Edward Poynings to Ireland as lord deputy to curb the power of the Earl of Kildare and to subdue the country. In 1494, Poynings summoned a parliament in Dublin that passed laws forbidding the Irish parliament to be summoned or to pass laws without the king's consent. But the Kildare family remained powerful, and the next king, Henry VIII, decided to destroy them. He summoned the Earl of Kildare to London, goaded his son, Silken Thomas, into rebellion, and had most of the family hanged at Tyburn in 1537.

The Tudor conquest (1535-1603)

Under Henry VIII. In 1534, Henry VIII refused to recognize the authority of the Pope. He persuaded the English Parliament to recognize him, the king, as head of the Church in England. He tried to impose a similar policy on Ireland, and, in 1536, acts were passed forbidding people to appeal to Rome or to make payments to the Pope. Between 1537 and 1541, a number of monasteries were suppressed and their property confiscated. But, in areas under Irish rule, where the king had no real power, most of the people were unaware that any changes had taken place.

The political changes of this period were more important. They were the work of the new lord deputy, Sir Anthony St. Leger. He negotiated agreements with more than 40 Irish chiefs and Anglo-Irish lords, by which they surrendered their lands to Henry and received them back from him as his feudal vassals (see FEUDALISM).

They agreed to recognize Henry as their overlord, and in return he gave them English titles. For example, Conn O'Neill became Earl of Tyrone and Murrough O'Brian became Earl of Thomond. In order to give effect to this new policy, the lord deputy summoned a parliament in Dublin in 1541 that conferred on Henry VIII the title king of Ireland. The king was pleased with the success of this new policy, and for the rest of his reign he allowed the Irish and Anglo-Irish nobles to rule their lands.

Under Mary Tudor. When Henry's daughter Mary succeeded to the throne in 1553, she reversed this arrangement. She believed that the best way to subdue Ireland was to introduce colonies of English people into the country. In 1556, she confiscated the territory of the O'Mores and O'Connors in Laois and Offaly and sent English settlers there. The settlers were to take to Ireland with them English tenants and servants. They were also to build stone houses, and to provide the Crown with a certain number of troops when required. In honour of the queen and her husband, the king of Spain, the area was made into shires and these were called Queen's County and King's County. But the plantation was not successful. Under Elizabeth I. Queen Mary was a fervent Roman Catholic who worked hard to restore the old religion in both England and Ireland. Her half-sister, Elizabeth, who succeeded her in 1558, was at first tolerant in her dealings with Roman Catholics. But, from about 1575 onwards, she adopted a harsher attitude, and a number of Irish bishops and priests were executed. This persecution drove the Irish and those of the Anglo-Irish who had remained Roman Catholics closer together. A new national spirit developed that was both Roman Catholic and anti-English in outlook.

The arrangement made by Henry VIII did not endure. In 1559, when Conn O'Neill died, the men of Tyrone elected his son Shane to succeed him. Shane took  the Irish title O'Neill, completely ignoring the English title, Earl of Tyrone. But Shane quarrelled with his neighbours and was killed in a brawl in 1567. Elizabeth was concerned about the south of Ireland, because she feared that the Spanish might make a landing there. In 1597, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, cousin of the Earl of Desmond, raised a revolt and appealed to the Pope and the king of Spain for help. The English army crushed the rebellion.

To improve England's control of Ireland, Elizabeth decided on a plantation of Munster. The Crown confiscated 202,000 hectares from the Earl of Desmond and his followers. These lands were divided into estates varying in size from 1,620 to 4,860 hectares. They were given to English gentlemen, called undertakers, who undertook (promised) to plant them with English settlers. Among the undertakers were Sir Walter Raleigh and Edmund Spenser. But few English farmers could be persuaded to live in the Munster plantation, and the plantation failed.

The greatest threat that Elizabeth had to face in Ireland was the combined revolt of Hugh O'Neill of Tyrone and Red Hugh O'Donnell of Tyrconnell in the 1590's. O'Neill, believing that Elizabeth aimed to conquer Ireland, built up an alliance of the Ulster chiefs to oppose her. War began in 1595, and in the early stages O'Neill won victories at Clontibret, in Monaghan, and at the Yellow Ford, in Armagh.

In 1600, Elizabeth made Lord Mountjoy lord deputy and Sir George Carew president of Munster. Mountjoy strengthened English garrisons in the north and began to destroy crops and cattle in the area. Meanwhile, Carew laid waste Munster. Soon they broke the power of the Irish chiefs who would have helped O'Neill. O'Neill's only hope lay in the arrival of foreign aid. A force of 4,000 Spaniards landed at Kinsale, in Cork, and there, on Christmas Eve, 1601, the English won a decisive battle.

The Irish lost the war because they were not as well armed or experienced as the English, and because O'Neill did not succeed in building up a real national movement. After the arrival of Mountjoy and Carew, O'Neill was confined to Ulster, short of food, and blockaded from the sea by the English navy.

The Spanish came too late and landed too far away from the centre of Irish resistance in Ulster. The defeat at Kinsale was a turning point in Irish history. It ended the power of the Irish chiefs and hastened the decline of the old Gaelic way of life.

Plantations and Insurrections (1603-1691)

The Flight of The Earls  The rebels were not treated harshly after the defeat of Kinsale. By the terms of his surrender at Mellifont in 1603, O'Neill gave up his Irish title, O'Neill, and took the title Earl of Tyrone. He was allowed to retain most of the lands that had been granted to Conn O'Neill in 1542. Rory O'Donnell, younger brother of Red Hugh, became Earl of Tyrconnell on the same terms. The two earls travelled to London, where the new king, James I, confirmed the Treaty of Mellifont. But the English officials who ruled Ulster were unfriendly and tried to turn the lord deputy in Dublin against the earls. They spread a rumour that O'Neill and O'Donnell were planning another rebellion, and the earls were summoned to London for questioning. Fearing for their safety, the earls decided that the best course would be to leave the country and, in 1607, they sailed from Lough Swilly for the mainland of Europe.

The Plantation of Ulster

After the flight of the earls, the government confiscated their lands and decided to plant six counties of Ulster--Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh, and Tyrone--with new settlers. The plantations of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I had not been successful, and the government planned the new settlement more carefully. It divided the land into estates of three sizes: 810 hectares, 607 hectares, and 405 hectares. Estates were granted to three kinds of people: English and Scottish settlers, who were not allowed to have Irish tenants; Servitors (men who had served in the English army in Ireland), who might take both British and Irish tenants; and Irishmen, who could have Irish tenants. Rents were low, but settlers were expected to build fortified houses. The City of London Companies received all the lands between the Foyle and the Bann rivers. They undertook to build up the towns of Coleraine and Derry (renamed Londonderry) and to spend 20,000 pounds in developing their grant. At the same time, two more counties of

Ulster, Antrim and Down, were settled, mainly by people from Scotland. The Ulster settlement was the most successful of the plantations. Its success helped to give the area the Protestant character it has today. The Cromwellian Settlement In the years that followed, the government made other settlements--in Carlow, King's County, Leitrim, Longford, and Wexford. Even Old English nobles (descendants of Norman settlers) lost their lands. As a result of these plantations, bitter feelings were aroused, and Roman Catholic landowners became alarmed. None of them felt secure in their lands. Religion was another cause of discontent. Roman Catholics had enjoyed a certain degree of religious freedom under King James I and King Charles I. But they feared that the Puritans, who were coming to power in England, would persecute them. In 1641, the Irish rebelled, and for 10 years war raged throughout the country. The Irish Catholics fought for independence. The Old English joined them, but all through the war they declared that they were loyal to the king and were fighting only for religious freedom. The Protestants were also divided into two groups: those who supported the king and those who supported Parliament.

In 1642, the leaders of the rebellion formed the Confederation of Kilkenny and appointed Owen Roe O'Neill and Thomas Preston as generals. O'Neill won a great victory at Benburb, in County Tyrone, in 1646. But O'Neill died three years later, just before Oliver Cromwell landed in Dublin with a large army. Cromwell marched north against Drogheda, took the town, and massacred its people. His ruthlessness struck fear into Irish hearts, and many of the southern and eastern towns surrendered without a struggle. When Cromwell returned to England in 1650, the war was almost over, but the Irish army did not surrender for another two years. After the war, Ireland was in a wretched condition. Its population was halved. Most of its leaders were either dead or living in exile, and about 30,000 of its armed men had left to join the armies of France or Spain.

The English government then undertook what it hoped would be the final settlement of Ireland. Irish landowners were ordered to move west of the River Shannon to the province of Connacht before May 1, 1652, on pain of death. The  Provinces of Ulster, Leinster, and Munster were divided among Cromwellian soldiers and adventurers (Englishmen who had subscribed money to pay for Cromwell's campaign in Ireland). Only the Irish landowners were transplanted. The poor people were allowed to remain as tenants, tradespeople, and labourers. The Cromwellian settlement was not a complete success. Many of the settlers sold their farms and returned home. Others married into Irish families, and their descendants lost their English characteristics. But the settlement did succeed in creating a new landlord class. Before 1641, Roman Catholics owned about three-fifths of the land. By the 1680's, they owned one-fifth of it.

The Williamite War

The Irish welcomed the accession of King James II to the English throne in 1685. James was a Roman Catholic, and the Irish hoped that he would allow them to recover their lands. James appointed a Roman Catholic, Richard Talbot, as lord deputy. He made him Earl of Tyrconnell and instructed him to give Roman Catholics a fairer share of political power in Ireland. Talbot carried out the king's instructions and also built up a large Roman Catholic army.

In 1688, the English people deposed James and offered the throne to William of Orange, a Dutch prince. James fled to France, but, in the following year, he went to Ireland with French support, in the hope that the Roman Catholics would help him to recover his throne. The Protestants proclaimed their allegiance to King William III and fortified the towns of Londonderry and Enniskillen against James. The Protestants became even more defiant when they learnt that a parliament, which James had summoned in Dublin, had declared its intention of giving back the lands occupied by the Cromwellian settlers to Roman Catholics.

In 1689, James besieged Derry for three months but failed to take it. In the following year, William landed at Carrickfergus, in Antrim, with a large army. The war was short and decisive. James was defeated at the Boyne and returned to France. The Irish and their French allies continued the fight. But they were again defeated, at Aughrim, and driven back to Limerick. Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, defended the town, but when no French help arrived he surrendered.

On Oct. 13, 1691, the Treaty of Limerick was signed. All Irish soldiers who wanted to leave the country were allowed to do so, and several thousand of them accompanied Sarsfield to France. Many of them later won fame on the battlefields of Europe. All who submitted under the Treaty of Limerick were allowed to keep their lands, if they took an oath of allegiance. One clause of the treaty seemed to promise that Roman Catholics would be free to practise their religion. This promise was not kept.

The Irish Parliamentary Party Parnell's followers were reunited under John Redmond in 1900. This Irish Parliamentary Party had the support of most of the Irish people. It hoped that the Liberal Party would give Ireland home rule. In 1906, the Liberal Party returned to power. In 1911, it passed a Parliament Act, limiting the powers of the House of Lords, so that a bill would become law if passed by the House of Commons in three successive sessions. In 1912, a third Home Rule Bill was passed by the House of Commons. Though rejected by the House of Lords, it became law in 1914. By this time, new Irish nationalist movements had been founded.

The Gaelic League

In 1893, Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill founded the Gaelic League to preserve and extend the use of the Irish language. The organization was not political, but many of the young men who joined it became ardent nationalists. The Labour Movement In the early 1900's, James Connolly organized the Irish trade union movement. His aim was a socialist republic. During labour troubles in Dublin in 1913, workers formed the Citizen Army. Connolly led it in the 1916 insurrection.

Sinn Fein

In 1899, Arthur Griffith, a Dublin journalist, started a weekly newspaper called The United Irishman, in which he advised the people of Ireland to be more self-reliant. He wanted the Irish members of Parliament to stop attending the House of Commons and to set up a Council of Three Hundred in Ireland. He intended this council to take over as much of the government as possible. Griffith was not a republican. His aim was to restore the constitution of 1782. In 1905, Griffith founded a party called Sinn Fein (we ourselves) to propagate his views, but at first it had little success. He did not believe in the use of force to achieve political aims, but many of his followers did.

The Volunteer Movements

The Protestants of Ulster were determined to resist home rule. They chose a dynamic leader, Sir Edward Carson, and formed a provisional government to rule Ulster in the event of the Home Rule Bill becoming law. They formed the Ulster Volunteer Force and imported arms from Germany, in case the British government insisted on the measure.

Radical nationalists in the south followed Ulster's example and formed the Irish Volunteers. They also imported arms. In 1914, World War I broke out, and it was agreed that the start of home rule should be postponed until the war was over. Most of the southern Volunteers followed the example of John Redmond and supported Britain in the war.

The Easter Rebellion. The rest of the Volunteers passed under the control of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who were preparing for rebellion. The leaders of the group--Thomas Clarke, Patrick Pearse, and Sean MacDermott--decided to start a rebellion on Easter Sunday, April 23, 1916. They took James Connolly into their confidence, but they did not reveal their plans to Eoin MacNeill, the nominal head of the Volunteers. Roger Casement had gone to Germany for help, and the leaders hoped that the rising would coincide with the arrival of German arms.

On Good Friday, Casement was arrested shortly after landing in Kerry. MacNeill then heard of the planned rebellion, and tried to stop it. His orders caused confusionamong the Volunteers outside the Dublin area. But the rising took place on Easter Monday. The Volunteers hoisted the Republican flag over the General Post Office in Dublin, and Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. British troops crushed the rebellion in one week. Fifteen of the leaders were shot. Roger Casement was executed in London. One of the commandants, Eamon de Valera, was sentenced to death, but was later reprieved.

The War of Independence

At first, the rising had little support, but the execution of the leaders caused the people to turn to Sinn Fein. In 1917, Sinn Fein declared itself in favour of an Irish republic. At the general election in the following year, Sinn Fein won 73 parliamentary seats. The Irish Parliamentary Party held only 6 seats.

The Sinn Fein members assembled in Dublin on Jan. 21, 1919, and formed a parliament, which they called Dail Eireann. The Dail reaffirmed the republic that had been declared on Easter Monday and elected de Valera as its president. The Volunteers became the Irish Republican Army. The Dail authorized the army to wage war on British troops in Ireland.

In 1920, the British government under David Lloyd George passed the Government of Ireland Act, dividing the country into two areas, one consisting of 6 north-eastern counties, the other of the remaining 26 counties. Dail Eireann refused to accept the act, and Lloyd George sent over a large force of auxiliary police, recruited from former soldiers, to enforce it. This force became known as Black and Tans. He sent over another force, recruited from former officers, who became known as Auxiliaries. Almost two years of bitter guerrilla warfare followed, until July 11, 1921, when a truce was declared.

The Treaty of 1921

The Dail sent Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Eamon Duggan, Robert Barton, and George Gavan Duffy to London to negotiate a settlement. On Dec. 6, 1921, a treaty was signed. The 26 counties were constituted the Irish Free State and given the status of a dominion. A governor general was to represent the British sovereign in Dublin. The members of Dail Eireann were to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown. The British Navy was to retain control of some Irish ports. The treaty caused a split in the Sinn Fein party, and Dail Eireann ratified it by only 64 votes to 57.

Two nations (1691-1801)

The penal laws. After the Williamite War, the government confiscated another 405,000 hectares of land. By 1704, Roman Catholics owned no more than one-seventh of the land. Even this amount was later reduced by the operation of the extremely harsh religious laws that were passed between 1692 and 1727 in violation of the Treaty of Limerick. These laws are known as the Penal Laws. Bishops and members of religious orders were banished. Parish priests were allowed to remain, but no new priests could be ordained. The government expected that Roman Catholicism would die out.

Other laws aimed to keep Roman Catholics poor and without power. When a Roman Catholic landowner died, his estate had to be divided equally among his sons. No Roman Catholic could purchase land or lease land for more than 31 years. A Roman Catholic could not carry arms or own a horse worth more than five pounds. Roman Catholics could not teach in a school or send their children abroad to be educated. No Roman Catholic could sit in Parliament or vote in a parliamentary election. Also, they could not take part in local government, or serve on a jury, hold any government office, or become a lawyer or army officer.

The religious laws could not be enforced, but the other penal laws were. By the 1770's, Roman Catholics held only one-twentieth of the land. A few prospered in trade, but most of them were tenant farmers, paying high rent to their Protestant landlords and tithes to the Protestant state church, or landless labourers, living in great poverty. As the population grew, competition for land increased. More poor people had to eat potatoes as their only food. After the Irish aristocracy lost their lands, a decline in Gaelic learning set in and the poets and chroniclers were reduced to poverty. But Irish was still spoken by poor people, though the ruling class and the Protestants in Ulster used English.

The Presbyterians of Ulster were allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, and a few of them became Members of Parliament. But they did not have full civil rights, and they had to pay tithes. Thousands of them became discontented and moved to America.

The Protestant ascendancy

The Protestant landowning class created by the plantations ruled Ireland. But the British government did not allow them complete freedom. Restrictions were put on Irish trade, and only the linen industry was encouraged. The Irish Parliament could not pass laws without the permission of the British government, and, in 1719, the British Parliament claimed to be able to make laws for Ireland. At first, the Protestant ruling class felt too insecure to protest. But gradually some members of the Irish Parliament, who became known as Patriots, began to resent the restrictions on their power.

When the American War of Independence broke out in 1775, the government withdrew troops from Ireland to serve abroad. The Protestant landlordsformed companies of Volunteers to defend the country. The Patriots gained control of the Volunteers, and, with their help, Henry Grattan was able to force the British government to remove the restrictions on Irish trade and on the Irish Parliament.

In 1782, the Irish Parliament began its 18 years of independence. These were prosperous years for Ireland. Industry was expanding, and there was a demand in Britain for Irish wheat, beef, and butter. Parliament tried to increase prosperity by giving bounties and subsidies. But most of the Irish people had little share in this prosperity.

The Irish Parliament was still corrupt. The lord lieutenant of Ireland was able to control its decisions by distributing titles, posts, and pensions among its members. It was also unrepresentative. By this time, most of the penal laws had been repealed.

Roman Catholics got the vote in 1793, but they could not become Members of Parliament. Grattan tried to get Parliament to reform. After the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, a radical movement began to advocate more extreme reforms. It was particularly strong among the Presbyterians of Ulster. In 1791, a young Dublin lawyer, Theobald Wolfe Tone, founded the Society of United Irishmen. The United Irishmen wanted to unite Irish people of all religious beliefs and to make Parliament representative of all the people. Later, they decided to establish an Irish republic with French help.

A French force landed in County Mayo in 1798 and won an action often referred to as the Races of Castlebar. But the French and United Irishmen were both soon defeated.

The Irish Parliamentary Party

Parnell's followers were reunited under John Redmond in 1900. This Irish Parliamentary Party had the support of most of the Irish people. It hoped that the Liberal Party would give Ireland home rule. In 1906, the Liberal Party returned to power. In 1911, it passed a Parliament Act, limiting the powers of the House of Lords, so that a bill would become law if passed by the House of Commons in three successive sessions. In 1912, a third Home Rule Bill was passed by the House of Commons. Though rejected by the House of Lords, it became law in 1914. By this time, new Irish nationalist movements had been founded.

Independence (1921-1990's)

The Irish Free State

After Dail Eireann ratified the treaty on Jan. 7, 1922, de Valera resigned as president and Arthur Griffith succeeded him. A week later, a provisional government was established, under the leadership of Michael Collins, to take over authority from the British. But the country did not find peace. The disagreement between the Free Staters, who supported the treaty, and the Republicans, who opposed it, was so great that efforts to reach an agreement failed. The country drifted into disorder, and in June 1922, a civil war began. The civil war was a tragic end to the struggle for freedom, resulting in the loss of many valuable lives. In its early stages, Arthur Griffith died, worn out by overwork  and anxiety, and Michael Collins was killed in an ambush in the county of Cork.

Many of the leaders on the Republican side, including Erskine Childers and Cathal Brugha, also lost their lives. The war went on until April 1923, when de Valera ordered his followers to stop fighting.

Meanwhile, the Irish Free State had been established on Dec. 6, 1922, and a government had been formed under William T. Cosgrave. De Valera and his followers took no part in these proceedings. They did not take their seats in the Dail, because they were not prepared to take the Oath of Allegiance. But, in 1926, de Valera resigned from Sinn Fein and formed a new party called Fianna Fail. He announced that he and his party intended to enter the Dail, and indicated that he regarded the oath as "an empty formula." The government party called itself Cumann na nGaedheal (later Fine Gael).

The Fianna Fail Party won the general election in 1932, and de Valera became president of the executive council. The new government abolished the Oath of Allegiance and severed the links that bound the Irish Free State and Britain. It forbade appeals from Irish courts to the British Privy Council. It passed an Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act and, in 1936, by the External Relations Act, removed the sovereign from the Constitution except for diplomatic purposes.

Finally, on Dec. 29, 1937, a new Constitution was introduced, which described Ireland as "a sovereign, independent, democratic state," with the name Eire. The head of the state was to be a president, and the Prime Minister was to be called An Taoiseach. The Constitution was accepted by the people in a referendum. In 1938, the British government restored the Irish ports that were held under the Treaty of 1921.

The Republic of Ireland

In 1948, a coalition government under the Fine Gael leader John A. Costello repealed the External Relations Act, severing the only remaining link between Britain and Eire. The Republic of Ireland was formally declared on April 18, 1949, and the Republic received international recognition.

All the political parties in the Republic of Ireland support the reunification of the country by peaceful means. But the Irish Republican Army has tried to end the partition of the country by launching guerrilla attacks in Northern Ireland from time to time since the 1930's.

The main industry in the Republic of Ireland is agriculture. Various governments have tried to create a more balanced economy by encouraging the growth of new industries and by introducing tariffs to protect Irish manufacturers. They formed state-sponsored companies to undertake essential projects and encouraged firms from other countries to establish new industries in Ireland.

Between 1926 and 1960, the number of people employed in industry increased by 112,000. But, in the same period, the number of people working on the land dropped by 250,000. Enough jobs could not be created for these people, and thousands of Irish workers had to emigrate, mainly to the United Kingdom and the United States. But from the late 1950's onward, economic conditions improved greatly, with the result that the annual rate of emigration decreased steadily.

On Jan. 1, 1973, the Republic of Ireland joined the European Community (now called the EUROPEAN UNION). A period of great economic growth followed.

During the late 1960's, and through the 1970's and 1980's, guerrilla activities in Northern Ireland were often intense. A considerable amount of related violence occurred in the Republic of Ireland. The partition of Ireland remained an important issue. In 1985, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom signed an agreement that established an advisory council for Northern Ireland. The council gave the Republic an advisory role, but no direct powers, in the government of Northern Ireland. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was eventually widely accepted by all parties in the Republic, but was bitterly opposed by Unionists in Northern Ireland.

Also in 1985, a new political party, the Progressive Democrats, was formed in Ireland. In elections in 1987 and 1989, the Fianna Fail party won most seats in the Dail but failed to gain a majority. Charles Haughey, leader of the party, became prime minister of a coalition government formed by Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats. In 1990, Mary Robinson, a Dublin lawyer, was elected president of Ireland. She became the first woman to hold that office.

As a result of political scandal, Haughey resigned in 1992 and Albert Reynolds became party leader and prime minister. The coalition of Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats collapsed later that year, and Reynolds called an election.

Support fell for both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. The Labour Party doubled its number of seats, and the Progressive Democrats gained four. In 1993, Fianna Fail and the Labour Party formed a coalition government with Reynolds as prime minister.

Reynolds' time in office was distinguished by his work toward peace in Northern Ireland. In 1993, he and UK Prime Minister John Major signed the Downing Street Declaration--an agreement setting out terms for peace in the province. In 1994, Reynolds resigned over controversy surrounding his appointment of a High Court president. Reynolds was replaced by Fine Gael leader John Bruton at the head of a coalition with Labour.


The Coalition today is between The PD's and Fianna Fail under the leadership of Bertie Ahern. The Economy is stronger than ever and Ireland is enjoying the such benefits as surplus budgets and tax reductions. The leading commodity is  tourism.

The Next Millenium of the Irish....to be continued.........................................

Print a copy from here

An Irishman's Virtual Home