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History of Ireland

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We receive messages from people with questions about Irish history. So, we thought we'd try and condense our 10,000 year background into just a few paragraphs to give you a nice overview on things, its a challenge but gonna give it a go...

Ireland's first inhabitants landed between 8000 BC and 7000 BC. Around 1200 BC, the Celts came to Ireland and their arrival has had a lasting impact on Ireland’s culture today. The Celts spoke Q-Celtic and over the centuries, mixing with the earlier Irish inhabitants, this evolved into Irish Gaelic. This language and their culture created a divide between the Irish Celts and the rest of Europe. The Celts wrote beautiful poetry and drew impressive artwork which still remains today. But the Celts were also extreme warriors and experts in one-to-one combat. Reputed to be born in 387 AD, St Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave when he was 16. He managed to escape but returned to Ireland after hearing the voice of God. When he returned he began preaching Christianity to the Irish people. He built several churches around Ireland and legend has it that he taught the Irish the concept of the ‘Trinity’, by showing them a shamrock, a 3-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of the three divine persons in God - the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Thus, giving Ireland its national symbol. St Patrick left a lasting impact on Ireland, with St Patrick Day still being celebrated around the world annually on the 17th of March. Around 795 AD the Vikings came to Ireland from Scandinavia with the aim to steal and pillage Irish treasure.

By the end of the tenth century, Viking power was diminishing. The Viking era in Ireland is said to of finished in 1014, when a large Viking Army was defeated in Clontarf by Brian Bórú (941 – 1014). While Brian Bórú was actually killed as he rested in his tent at the Battle of Clontarf, he was famed as a warrior and is considered as Ireland's greatest King.

In the twelfth century the Normans arrived in Ireland beginning Irelands 800 year struggle with England. In the 1600’s the Ulster Plantation occurred in which Irish land was taken from Irish landowners and given to English families. This plantation of Ulster divided the country and this division still remains today. At present British occupation still remains in Northern Ireland. The pinnacle of Ireland’s conflict with English occupation in Ireland was the arrival Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658). Cromwell is one of the most hated figures in Ireland’s turbulent history. Cromwell arrived to Dublin in August 1649 and was intent on eradicating, as he saw it, the Irish problem once and for all. He considered what he was doing was the work of God. He despised Irish Catholics and together with his army he slaughtered and murdered, burnt houses and unplanted crops. He destroyed Catholic Churches and murdered priests. He left a trail of murder and destruction across Ireland. He stole Irish land and granted it to moneylenders and English soldiers. He pushed most of the Irish and mainly Catholics, to the far side of Ireland where land was poor and unfertile. About 1/3 of Catholics had died through fighting, famine and disease.

The next 150 years saw more bloodshed and carnage on Irish soil between the Irish and English. There was a failed uprising against the English in 1798 by Wolfe Tone (1763 – 1798), who is seen today and as the father of Irish Republicanism.

One of the biggest events in Ireland’s history over the last 200 years was ‘The Great Famine’. And if you are American and have Irish roots, you could probably trace your ancestors to this period in Irish history. More than one million Irish died and more than one million emigrated due to the failure of their main crop, the potato, during the famine which lasted from 1845 to 1852. Trying to find a better way of life a lot of these Irish risked their lives travelling on ‘coffin ships’ to America where they settled on the East Coast upon arrival. The potato famine affected a lot of Europe. The Irish had other ways of supplying food such as cattle and sheep. However, they had to sell these due to the high rents on their stolen land that the English demanded. If the Irish could not pay the exuberant rent they were evicted from their houses and land. Therefore they had no means of producing food and either died or tried to emigrate. There are tales of roads strewn with dead Irish men, women and children with green around their mouths in a desperate attempt to quench their hunger by eating grass.

The late 1800’s saw another push for Irish independence from England with the rise of Charles Stuart Parnell (1846 – 1891), one of Ireland’s greatest politicians. The Land League was formed with Charles Stuart Parnell as President. He tried to promote a more political way of dealing with the English. He promoted ‘shunning’, which meant that the Irish should refuse to deal with any landlord who unfairly evicted tenants, or any Irish who took up the rent of new available land. This was known as the ‘Land War’. While Parnell never achieved Home Rule (Ireland run by its own independent Irish Parliament) it did lay the ground work for Ireland’s greatest uprising.

In 1916, Easter weekend, the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army launched an uprising. Britain was in the middle of World War 1. Padraig Pearse (1879 – 1916), who was one of the leaders of the rising, read the ‘Proclamation of the Irish Republic’ on the steps of the General Post Office (G.P.O) on O’Connell Street in Dublin before the start of the Rising. Around 1,200 members were involved and the leaders of the rising captured the G.P.O. and various other buildings around Dublin city. The rising was in a sense a failure but lay the groundwork for greater things. The British rounded up its leaders and executed them. The executed quickly became martyrs.

The momentum now began for Irish Independence. The next few years saw the rise of Michael Collins (1890 – 1922) and Eamon De Valera (1882 – 1975). A new style of guerilla warfare began. Bloodshed on Irish streets peaked with the execution of British Intelligence Agents in 1920 engineered by Michael Collins and the murder of many Irish, and innocent Irish at that, by the British ‘Black and Tans’. But by 1922, Ireland achieved independence from Britain, except for six counties in the Northern Ireland, which still remains part of Britain today. In 1922, post-boxes were painted green from the traditional British red, road signs were changed to contain both Irish and English language and the Tri-Colour flew high and proud around Ireland. Violence still continued though, with the ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland peaking in the 1970’s. Thankfully today, Ireland is relatively peaceful with power sharing in Northern Ireland between the main Catholic and Protestant Parties.

Phew! So there you have it, 10,000 years of history in a few paragraphs! We hope this has enlightened you a bit into Ireland’s past. Ireland’s history is very interesting so we suggest you read up on the country more if you liked what you have just read.