History of Ireland

The first evidence of human presence in Ireland dates to around 33,000 years ago,[1] further findings have been found dating to around 10,500 to 8,000 BC. The receding of the ice after the Younger Dryas cold phase of the Quaternary around 9700 BC, heralds the beginning of Prehistoric Ireland, which includes the archaeological periods known as the Mesolithic, the Neolithic from about 4000 BC, the Copper and Bronze Age from about 2300 BC and Iron Age beginning about 600 BC. Ireland's bronze age begins with the emergence of "protohistoric" Gaelic Ireland in the 2nd Millennium BC and ends with arrival of Celtic la Tène culture by central Europe.

By the late 4th century AD Christianity had begun to gradually subsume or replace the earlier Celtic polytheism. By the end of the 6th century it had introduced writing along with a predominantly monastic Celtic Christian church, profoundly altering Irish society. Viking raids and settlement from the late 8th century AD resulted in extensive cultural interchange, as well as innovation in military and transport technology. Many of Ireland's towns were founded at this time as Viking trading posts and coinage made its first appearance.[2] Viking penetration was limited and concentrated along coasts and rivers, and ceased to be a major threat to Gaelic culture after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. The Norman invasion in 1169 resulted again in a partial conquest of the island and marked the beginning of more than 800 years of English political and military involvement in Ireland. Initially successful, Norman gains were rolled back over succeeding centuries as a Gaelic resurgence[3] reestablished Gaelic cultural preeminence over most of the country, apart from the walled towns and the area around Dublin known as The Pale.

Reduced to the control of small pockets, the English Crown did not make another attempt to conquer the island until after the end of the Wars of the Roses (1488). This released resources and manpower for overseas expansion, beginning in the early 16th century. However, the nature of Ireland's decentralised political organisation into small territories (known as túatha), martial traditions, difficult terrain and climate and lack of urban infrastructure, meant that attempts to assert Crown authority were slow and expensive. Attempts to impose the new Protestant faith were also successfully resisted by both the Gaelic and Norman-Irish. The new policy fomented the rebellion of the Hiberno-Norman Earl of Kildare Silken Thomas in 1534, keen to defend his traditional autonomy and Catholicism, and marked the beginning of the prolonged Tudor conquest of Ireland lasting from 1534 to 1603. Henry VIII proclaimed himself King of Ireland in 1541 to facilitate the project. Ireland became a potential battleground in the wars between Catholic Counter-Reformation and Protestant Reformation Europe.

England's attempts to either conquer or assimilate both the Hiberno-Norman lordships and the Gaelic territories into the Kingdom of Ireland provided the impetus for ongoing warfare, notable examples being the 1st Desmond Rebellion, the 2nd Desmond Rebellion and the Nine Years War. This period was marked by the Crown policies of, at first, surrender and regrant, and later, plantation, involving the arrival of thousands of English and Scottish Protestant settlers, and the displacement of both the Hiberno-Normans (or Old English as they were known by then) and the native Catholic landholders. British colonies in Ireland go back to the 1550s Ireland was arguably the first English and then British colony colonised by a group known as the West Country Men. Gaelic Ireland was finally defeated at the battle of Kinsale in 1601 which marked the collapse of the Gaelic system and the beginning of Ireland's history as fully part of the English and later British Empire.

During the 17th century, this division between a Protestant landholding minority and a dispossessed Catholic majority was intensified and conflict between them was to become a recurrent theme in Irish history. Domination of Ireland by the Protestant Ascendancy was reinforced after two periods of religious war, the Irish Confederate Wars in 1641-52 and the Williamite war in 1689-91. Political power thereafter rested almost exclusively in the hands of a minority Protestant Ascendancy, while Catholics and members of dissenting Protestant denominations suffered severe political and economic privations under the Penal Laws.

On 1 January 1801, in the wake of the republican United Irishmen Rebellion, the Irish Parliament was abolished and Ireland became part of a new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland formed by the Acts of Union 1800. Catholics were not granted full rights until Catholic Emancipation in 1829, achieved by Daniel O’Connell. The catastrophe of the Great Famine struck Ireland in 1845 resulting in over a million deaths from starvation and disease and a million refugees fleeing the country, mainly to America. Irish attempts to break away continued with Parnell's Irish Parliamentary Party which strove from the 1880s to attain Home Rule through the parliamentary constitutional movement, eventually winning the Home Rule Act 1914, although this Act was suspended at the outbreak of World War I.

In 1916 the Easter Rising succeeded in turning public opinion against the British establishment after the execution of the leaders by British authorities. It also eclipsed the home rule movement. In 1922, after the Irish War of Independence most of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom to become the independent Irish Free State but under the Anglo-Irish Treaty the six northeastern counties, known as Northern Ireland, remained within the United Kingdom, creating the partition of Ireland. The treaty was opposed by many; their opposition led to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, in which Irish Free State, or "pro-treaty", forces proved victorious. The history of Northern Ireland has since been dominated by the division of society along sectarian faultlines and conflict between (mainly Catholic) Irish nationalists and (mainly Protestant) British unionists. These divisions erupted into the Troubles in the late 1960s, after civil rights marches were met with opposition by authorities. The violence escalated after the deployment of the British Army to maintain authority led to clashes with nationalist communities. The violence continued for 28 years until an uneasy, but largely successful peace was finally achieved with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Prehistory (10,500 BC–600 BC)

Stone Age to Bronze Age

Ireland during the Ice Age

What is known of pre-Christian Ireland comes from references in Roman writings, Irish poetry, myth, and archaeology. While some possible Paleolithic tools have been found, none of the finds are convincing of Paleolithic settlement in Ireland.[4] However a bear bone found in Alice and Gwendoline Cave, County Clare, in 1903 may push back dates for the earliest human settlement of Ireland to 10,500 BC. The bone shows clear signs of cut marks with stone tools, and has been radiocarbon dated to 12,500 years ago.[5]

It is possible that humans crossed a landbridge during the warm period, referred to as the Bølling-Allerød warming, that lasted between 14,700 and 12,700 years ago towards the end of the last ice age, and allowed the reinhabitation of northern Europe. A sudden return to freezing conditions known as the Younger Dryas cold phase, which lasted from 10,900 BC to 9700 BC, may have depopulated Ireland. During the Younger Dryas, sea levels continued to rise and no ice-free land bridge between Great Britain and Ireland ever returned.[6]

The earliest confirmed inhabitants of Ireland were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, who arrived some time around 7900 BC.[7] While some authors take the view that a land bridge connecting Ireland to Great Britain still existed at that time,[8] more recent studies indicate that Ireland was separated from Britain by c. 14,000 BC, when the climate was still cold and local ice caps persisted in parts of the country.[9] The people remained hunter-gatherers until about 4000 BC. It is argued this is when the first signs of agriculture started to show, leading to the establishment of a Neolithic culture, characterised by the appearance of pottery, polished stone tools, rectangular wooden houses, megalithic tombs, and domesticated sheep and cattle.[10] Some of these tombs, as at Knowth and Dowth, are huge stone monuments and many of them, such as the Passage Tombs of Newgrange, are astronomically aligned. Four main types of Irish Megalithic Tombs have been identified: dolmens, court cairns, passage tombs and wedge-shaped gallery graves.[10] In Leinster and Munster, individual adult males were buried in small stone structures, called cists, under earthen mounds and were accompanied by distinctive decorated pottery. This culture apparently prospered, and the island became more densely populated. Near the end of the Neolithic new types of monuments developed, such as circular embanked enclosures and timber, stone and post and pit circles.

The Céide Fields[11][12][13] is an archaeological site on the north County Mayo coast in the west of Ireland, about 7 kilometres northwest of Ballycastle, and the site is the most extensive Neolithic site in Ireland and contains the oldest known field systems in the world.[14][15] Using various dating methods, it was discovered that the creation and development of the Céide Fields goes back some five and a half thousand years (~3500 BC).[16]

Newgrange, built c. 3200 BC, is an Irish passage tomb located at Brú na Bóinne.

The Bronze Age, which came to Ireland around 2000 BC, saw the production of elaborate gold and bronze ornaments, weapons and tools. There was a movement away from the construction of communal megalithic tombs to the burial of the dead in small stone cists or simple pits, which could be situated in cemeteries or in circular earth or stone built burial mounds known respectively as barrows and cairns. As the period progressed, inhumation burial gave way to cremation and by the Middle Bronze Age, remains were often placed beneath large burial urns. During the late bronze age, there was an increase in stored weapons, which has been taken as evidence for greater warfare.[17]

Iron Age (600 BC–400 AD)

The Iron Age in Ireland began about 600 BC. The period between the start of the Iron Age and the historic period (AD 431) saw the gradual infiltration of small groups of Celtic-speaking people into Ireland,[18][19] with items of the continental Celtic La Tene style being found in at least the northern part of the island by about 300 BC .[20][21] The result of a gradual blending of Celtic and indigenous cultures would result in the emergence of Gaelic culture by the fifth century.[18][22] It is also during the fifth century that the main over-kingdoms of In Tuisceart, Airgialla, Ulaid, Mide, Laigin, Mumhain, Cóiced Ol nEchmacht began to emerge (see Kingdoms of ancient Ireland). Within these kingdoms a rich culture flourished. The society of these kingdoms was dominated by an upper class consisting of aristocratic warriors and learned people, which possibly included Druids.

Linguists realised from the 17th century onwards that the language spoken by these people, the Goidelic languages, was a branch of the Celtic languages. This is usually explained as a result of invasions by Celts from the continent. However, other research has postulated that the culture developed gradually and continuously, and that the introduction of Celtic language and elements of Celtic culture may have been a result of cultural exchange with Celtic groups in southwest continental Europe from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.[23][24]

The hypothesis that the native Late Bronze Age inhabitants gradually absorbed Celtic influences has since been supported by some recent genetic research.[25]

In 60 AD, it is said that the Romans invaded Anglesey Ireland and concerned the rest of the island, but there is a small controversy[26] on if they even set foot into Ireland. The closest Rome got to conquering Ireland was in 80 AD. When, quote by Turtle Bunbury from the Irish times,[27] “Túathal Techtmar, the son of a deposed high king, who is said to have invaded Ireland from afar in order to regain his kingdom at about this time,” end quote.

The Romans referred to Ireland as Scotia AD 500, and later Hibernia. Ptolemy, in AD 100, recorded Ireland's geography and tribes. Ireland was never a part of the Roman Empire, but Roman influence was often projected well beyond its borders. Tacitus writes that an exiled Irish prince was with Agricola in Roman Britain and would return to seize power in Ireland. Juvenal tells us that Roman "arms had been taken beyond the shores of Ireland". In recent years, some experts have hypothesized that Roman-sponsored Gaelic forces (or perhaps even Roman regulars) mounted some kind of invasion around AD 100,[28] but the exact relationship between Rome and the dynasties and peoples of Hibernia remains unclear.

Irish confederations (the Scoti) attacked and some settled in Britain during the Great Conspiracy of 367. In particular, the Dál Riata settled in western Scotland and the Western Isles.

Early Christian Ireland (400–800)

The middle centuries of the first millennium AD marked great changes in Ireland. Politically, what appears to have been a prehistoric emphasis on tribal affiliation had been replaced by the 8th century by patrilineal dynasties ruling the island's kingdoms. Many formerly powerful kingdoms and peoples disappeared. Irish pirates struck all over the coast of western Britain in the same way that the Vikings would later attack Ireland. Some of these founded entirely new kingdoms in Pictland and, to a lesser degree, in parts of Cornwall, Wales, and Cumbria. The Attacotti of south Leinster may even have served in the Roman military in the mid-to-late 300s.[29]

Perhaps it was some of the latter returning home as rich mercenaries, merchants, or slaves stolen from Britain or Gaul, that first brought the Christian faith to Ireland. Some early sources claim that there were missionaries active in southern Ireland long before St. Patrick. Whatever the route, and there were probably many, this new faith was to have the most profound effect on the Irish.

Tradition maintains that in A.D. 432, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. St Patrick's Confession, in Latin, written by him is the earliest Irish historical document. It gives some information about the Saint.[30] On the other hand, according to Prosper of Aquitaine, a contemporary chronicler, Palladius was sent to Ireland by the Pope in 431 as "first Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ", which demonstrates that there were already Christians living in Ireland. Palladius seems to have worked purely as Bishop to Irish Christians in the Leinster and Meath kingdoms, while Patrick – who may have arrived as late as 461 – worked first and foremost as a missionary to the pagan Irish, in the more remote kingdoms in Ulster and Connacht.

A page from the Book of Kells that opens the Gospel of John

Patrick is traditionally credited with preserving and codifying Irish laws and changing only those that conflicted with Christian practices. He is credited with introducing the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive oral literature. The historicity of these claims remains the subject of debate and there is no direct evidence linking Patrick with any of these accomplishments. The myth of Patrick, as scholars refer to it, was developed in the centuries after his death.[31]

Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished shortly thereafter. Missionaries from Ireland to England and Continental Europe 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 Early Middle Ages. The period of Insular art, mainly in the fields of illuminated manuscripts, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, the Ardagh Chalice, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island. Insular style was to be a crucial ingredient in the formation of the Romanesque and Gothic styles throughout Western Europe. Sites dating to this period include clochans, ringforts and promontory forts.

Francis John Byrne describes the effect of the epidemics which occurred during this era:

The plagues of the 660s and the 680s had a traumatic effect on Irish society. The golden age of the saints was over, together with the generation of kings who could fire a saga-writer's imagination. The literary tradition looks back to the reign of the sons of Aed Slaine (Diarmait and Blathmac, who died in 665) as to the end of an era. Antiquaries, brehons, genealogists and hagiographers, felt the need to collect ancient traditions before they were totally forgotten. Many were in fact swallowed by oblivion; when we examine the writing of Tirechan we encounter obscure references to tribes which are quite unknown to the later genealogical tradition. The laws describe a ... society that was obsolescent, and the meaning and use of the word moccu[32] dies out with archaic Old Irish at the beginning of the new century.[33]

The first English involvement in Ireland took place in this period. Tullylease, Rath Melsigi and Maigh Eo na Saxain were founded by 670 for English students who wished to study or live in Ireland. In summer 684, an English expeditionary force sent by Northumbrian King Ecgfrith raided Brega.

Early medieval and Viking era (800–1166)

Map showing the Viking settlements in Ireland

The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in 795 AD when Vikings from Norway looted the island. Early Viking raids were generally fast-paced and small in scale. These early raids interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture and marked the beginning of two centuries of intermittent warfare, with waves of Viking raiders plundering monasteries and towns throughout Ireland. Most of those early raiders came from western Norway.

The Vikings were expert sailors, who travelled in longships, and by the early 840s, had begun to establish settlements along the Irish coasts and to spend the winter months there. The longships were technologically advanced, allowing them to travel faster through the narrow rivers. Vikings founded settlements in several places; most famously in Dublin. Most of the settlements were near the water, allowing the Vikings to trade using their longships. Written accounts from this time (early to mid 840s) show that the Vikings were moving further inland to attack (often using rivers) and then retreating to their coastal headquarters.

In 852, the Vikings landed in Dublin Bay and established a fortress. Dublin became the centre for trade of many goods, especially slaves. Bringing back new ideas and motivations, they began settling more permanently. In the tenth century an earthen bank was constructed around the city with a second larger bank built outside that in the eleventh century. On the interior of the town, an extensive series of defences have been excavated at Fishamble Street, Dublin. The site featured nine waterfronts, including two possible flood banks and two positive defensive embankments during the Viking Age. The early embankments were non-defensive, being only one metre high, and it is uncertain how much of the site they encircled. After several generations a group of mixed Irish and Norse ethnic background arose, the Gall-Gaels, '(Gall being the Old Irish word for foreign).

The second wave of Vikings made stations at winter-bases called longphorts to serve as control centres to exert a more localized force on the island through raiding. The third wave in 917 established towns as not only control centres, but also as centres of trade to enter into Irish economy and greater Western Europe. Returning to Dublin, they set up a market town. Over the next century a great period of economic growth would spread across the pastoral country. The Vikings introduced the concept of international trade to the Irish,[dubious (May 2019)

Home Rule became certain when in 1910 the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) under John Redmond held the balance of power in Commons and the third Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1912. Unionist resistance was immediate with the formation of the Ulster Volunteers. In turn the Irish Volunteers were established to oppose them and enforce the introduction of self-government.

The Easter Proclamation, issued by Leaders of the Easter Rising

In September 1914, just as the First World War broke out, the UK Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act 1914 to establish self-government for Ireland, but it was suspended for the duration of the war. To ensure implementation of Home Rule after the war, nationalist leaders and the IPP under Redmond supported Ireland's participation in the British and Allied war effort under the Triple Entente against the expansion of Central Powers. The core of the Irish Volunteers were against this decision, but the majority left to form the National Volunteers who enlisted in Irish regiments of the New British Army, the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions, their Northern counterparts in the 36th (Ulster) Division. Before the war ended, Britain made two concerted efforts to implement Home Rule, one in May 1916 and again with the Irish Convention during 1917–1918, but the Irish sides (Nationalist, Unionist) were unable to agree to terms for the temporary or permanent exclusion of Ulster from its provisions.

The period 1916–1921 was marked by political violence and upheaval, ending in the partition of Ireland and independence for 26 of its 32 counties. A failed militant attempt was made to gain separate independence for Ireland with the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection in Dublin. Though support for the insurgents was small, the violence used in its suppression led to a swing in support of the rebels. In addition, the unprecedented threat of Irishmen being conscripted to the British Army in 1918 (for service on the Western Front as a result of the German spring offensive) accelerated this change. In the December 1918 elections Sinn Féin, the party of the rebels, won three-quarters of all seats in Ireland, twenty-seven MPs of which assembled in Dublin on 21 January 1919 to form a 32-county Irish Republic Parliament, the first Dáil Éireann unilaterally declaring sovereignty over the entire island.

Irish parliaments
House of Lords of the Kingdom of Ireland (abolished 1800)
House of Commons of the Kingdom of Ireland (abolished 1800)
Leinster House, home of the Ireland's parliament since 1922.
Parliament Buildings (Stormont). Previously home of Parliament. Now used by the Assembly.

Unwilling to negotiate any understanding with Britain short of complete independence, the Irish Republican Army, the army of the newly declared Irish Republic, waged a guerilla war (the Irish War of Independence) from 1919 to 1921. In the course of the fighting and amid much acrimony, the Fourth Government of Ireland Act 1920 implemented Home Rule while separating the island into what the British government's Act termed "Northern Ireland" and "Southern Ireland". In July 1921 the Irish and British governments agreed to a truce that halted the war. In December 1921 representatives of both governments signed an Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Irish delegation was led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. This abolished the Irish Republic and created the Irish Free State, a self-governing Dominion of the Commonwealth of Nations in the manner of Canada and Australia. Under the Treaty, Northern Ireland could opt out of the Free State and stay within the United Kingdom: it promptly did so. In 1922 both parliaments ratified the Treaty, formalising independence for the 26-county Irish Free State (which renamed itself Ireland in 1937, and declared itself a republic in 1949); while the 6-county Northern Ireland, gaining Home Rule for itself, remained part of the United Kingdom. For most of the next 75 years, each territory was strongly aligned to either Catholic or Protestant ideologies, although this was more marked in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

Free State and Republic (1922–present)

Political map of Ireland

The treaty to sever the Union divided the republican movement into anti-Treaty (who wanted to fight on until an Irish Republic was achieved) and pro-Treaty supporters (who accepted the Free State as a first step towards full independence and unity). Between 1922 and 1923 both sides fought the bloody Irish Civil War. The new Irish Free State government defeated the anti-Treaty remnant of the Irish Republican Army, imposing multiple executions. This division among nationalists still colours Irish politics today, specifically between the two leading Irish political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

The new Irish Free State (1922–37) existed against the backdrop of the growth of dictatorships in mainland Europe and a major world economic downturn in 1929. In contrast with many contemporary European states it remained a democracy. Testament to this came when the losing faction in the Irish civil war, Éamon de Valera's Fianna Fáil, was able to take power peacefully by winning the 1932 general election. Nevertheless, until the mid-1930s, considerable parts of Irish society saw the Free State through the prism of the civil war, as a repressive, British-imposed state. It was only the peaceful change of government in 1932 that signalled the final acceptance of the Free State on their part. In contrast to many other states in the period, the Free State remained financially solvent as a result of low government expenditure, despite the Economic War with Britain. However, unemployment and emigration were high. The population declined to a low of 2.7 million recorded in the 1961 census.

The Roman Catholic Church had a powerful influence over the Irish state for much of its history. The clergy's influence meant that the Irish state had very conservative social policies, forbidding, for example, divorce, contraception, abortion, pornography as well as encouraging the censoring and banning of many books and films. In addition the Church largely controlled the State's hospitals, schools and remained the largest provider of many other social services.

With the partition of Ireland in 1922, 92.6% of the Free State's population were Catholic while 7.4% were Protestant.[57] By the 1960s the Protestant population had fallen by half. Although emigration was high among all the population, due to a lack of economic opportunity, the rate of Protestant emigration was disproportionate in this period. Many Protestants left the country in the early 1920s, either because they felt unwelcome in a predominantly Catholic and nationalist state, because they were afraid due to the burning of Protestant homes (particularly of the old landed class) by republicans during the civil war, because they regarded themselves as British and did not wish to live in an independent Irish state, or because of the economic disruption caused by the recent violence. The Catholic Church had also issued a decree, known as Ne Temere, whereby the children of marriages between Catholics and Protestants had to be brought up as Catholics. From 1945, the emigration rate of Protestants fell and they became less likely to emigrate than Catholics.

President John F. Kennedy in motorcade in Cork on 27 June 1963

In 1937 a new Constitution re-established the state as Ireland (or Éire in Irish). The state remained neutral throughout World War II (see Irish neutrality), which saved it from much of the horrors of the war, although tens of thousands volunteered to serve in the British forces. Ireland was also impacted by food rationing, and coal shortages; peat production became a priority during this time. Though nominally neutral, recent studies have suggested a far greater level of involvement by the South with the Allies than was realised, with D Day's date set on the basis of secret weather information on Atlantic storms supplied by Ireland. For more detail on 1939–45, see main article The Emergency.

In 1949, Ireland left the British Commonwealth and was formally declared a republic.[58]

In the 1960s, Ireland underwent a major economic change under reforming Taoiseach (prime minister) Seán Lemass and Secretary of the Department of Finance T.K. Whitaker, who produced a series of economic plans. Free second-level education was introduced by Donogh O'Malley as Minister for Education in 1968. From the early 1960s, Ireland sought admission to the European Economic Community but, because 90% of exports were to the United Kingdom market, it did not do so until the UK did, in 1973.

Global economic problems in the 1970s, augmented by a set of misjudged economic policies followed by governments, including that of Taoiseach Jack Lynch, caused the Irish economy to stagnate. The Troubles in Northern Ireland discouraged foreign investment. Devaluation was enabled when the Irish Pound, or Punt, was established as a separate currency in 1979, breaking the link with the UK's sterling. However, economic reforms in the late 1980s, helped by investment from the European Community, led to the emergence of one of the world's highest economic growth rates, with mass immigration (particularly of people from Asia and Eastern Europe) as a feature of the late 1990s. This period came to be known as the Celtic Tiger and was focused on as a model for economic development in the former Eastern Bloc states, which entered the European Union in the early 2000s (decade). Property values had risen by a factor of between four and ten between 1993 and 2006, in part fuelling the boom.

Irish society adopted relatively liberal social policies during this period. Divorce was legalised, homosexuality decriminalised, and abortion in limited cases was allowed by the Irish Supreme Court in the X Case legal judgement. Major scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, both sexual and financial, coincided with a widespread decline in religious practice, with weekly attendance at Roman Catholic Mass dropping by half in twenty years. A series of tribunals set up from the 1990s have investigated alleged malpractices by politicians, the Catholic clergy, judges, hospitals and the Gardaí (police).

Ireland's new found prosperity ended abruptly in 2008 when the banking system collapsed due to the Irish property bubble bursting. Some 25-26% of GDP was needed to bail out failing Irish banks and force banking sector consolidation. This was the largest banking bailout for any country in history, in comparison only 7–8% of GDP was needed to bail out failing Finnish banks in its banking crisis in the 1990s. This resulted in a major financial and political crisis as Ireland entered a recession.[59] Emigration rose to 1989 levels as the unemployment rate rose from 4.2% in 2007 to reach 14.6% as of February 2012.[60]

However, since 2014, Ireland has seen strong economic growth, dubbed as the "Celtic Phoenix".

Northern Ireland (1921–present)

"A Protestant state" (1921–1972)

The 1920 Government of Ireland Bill created the state of Northern Ireland, which consisted of the six northeastern counties of Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Antrim, Down and Armagh.[61] From 1921 to 1972, Northern Ireland was governed by a Unionist government, based at Stormont in east Belfast. Unionist leader and first Prime Minister, James Craig, declared that it would be "a Protestant State for a Protestant People". Craig's goal was to form and preserve Protestant authority in the new state which was above all an effort to secure a unionist majority. In 1926 the majority of the population in the province were Presbyterian and Anglican therefore solidifying Craig's Protestant political power. The Ulster Unionist Party thereafter formed every government until 1972.[62]

Discrimination against the minority Catholic community in jobs and housing, and their total exclusion from political power due to the majoritarian electoral system, led to the emergence of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in the late 1960s, inspired by Martin Luther King's civil rights movement in the United States of America.[63] The military forces of the Northern Protestants and Northern Catholics (IRA) turned to brutal acts of violence to establish power. As time went on it became clear that these two rival states would bring about a civil war. After the Second World War, keeping the cohesion within Stormont seemed impossible; increased economic pressures, solidified Catholic unity, and British involvement ultimately led to Stormont's collapse. As the civil rights movement of the United States gained worldwide acknowledgement, Catholics rallied together to achieve a similar socio-political recognition. This resulted in the formation of various organisations such as the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in 1967 and the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) in 1964.[64]

Non-violent protest became an increasingly important factor in mobilising Catholic sympathies and opinion and thus more effective in generating support than actively violent groups such as the IRA. However, these non-violent protests posed a problem to Northern Ireland's prime minister Terrance O'Neil (1963) because it hampered his efforts to persuade Catholics in Northern Ireland that they too, like their Protestant counterparts, belong within the United Kingdom. Despite O'Neil's reforming efforts there was growing discontent amongst both Catholics and Unionists. In October 1968 a peaceful civil rights march in Derry turned violent as police brutally beat protesters. The outbreak was televised by international media, and as a result the march was highly publicised which further confirmed the socio-political turmoil in Ireland.[65] A violent counter-reaction from conservative unionists led to civil disorder, notably the Battle of the Bogside and the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969. To restore order, British troops were deployed to the streets of Northern Ireland at that time.

The violent outbreaks in the late 1960s encouraged and helped strengthen military groups such as the IRA, who served as the protectors of the working class Catholics who were vulnerable to police and civilian brutality. During the late sixties and early seventies recruitment into the IRA organisation dramatically increased as street and civilian violence worsened. The interjection from the British troops proved to be insufficient to quell the violence and thus solidified the IRA's growing military importance.[66] On 30 January 1972 the worst tensions came to a head with the events of Bloody Sunday. Paratroops opened fire on civil rights protesters in Derry, killing 13 unarmed civilians. Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday, and other violent acts in the early 1970s came to be known as the Troubles.

The Stormont parliament was prorogued in 1972 and abolished in 1973. Paramilitary private armies such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army, resulted from a split within the IRA, the Official IRA and Irish National Liberation Army fought against the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Moreover, the British army and the (largely Protestant) Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) also took part in the chaos that resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 men, women and children, civilians and military. Most of the violence took place in Northern Ireland, but some also spread to England and across the Irish border.

Irish police forces
Defunct Irish police forces
Royal Irish Constabulary
Dublin Metropolitan Police
Irish Republican Police
(Irish Republic 1920—1922)
Royal Ulster Constabulary
Current Irish police forces
Northern Ireland
Belfast Harbour Police
Larne Harbour Police
Royal Military Police
Belfast International Airport Constabulary
Police Service of Northern Ireland
Ministry of Defence Police
Republic of Ireland
Garda Síochána
Póilíní Airm
Garda Síochána Reserve

Direct rule (1972–1999)

For the next 27½ years, with the exception of five months in 1974, Northern Ireland was under "direct rule" with a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the British Cabinet responsible for the departments of the Northern Ireland government. Direct Rule was designed to be a temporary solution until Northern Ireland was capable of governing itself again. Principal acts were passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in the same way as for much of the rest of the UK, but many smaller measures were dealt with by Order in Council with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. Attempts were made to establish a power-sharing executive, representing both the nationalist and unionist communities, by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973 and the Sunningdale Agreement in December 1973.

Both acts however did little to create cohesion between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Constitution Act of 1973 formalised the UK government's affirmation of reunification of Ireland by consent only; therefore ultimately delegating the authoritative power of the border question from Stormont to the people of Northern Ireland (and the Republic of Ireland). Conversely, the Sunningdale Agreement included a "provision of a Council of Ireland which held the right to execute executive and harmonizing functions". Most significantly, the Sunningdale Agreement brought together political leaders from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the UK to deliberate for the first time since 1925.[67] The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention and Jim Prior's 1982 assembly were also temporarily implemented; however all failed to either reach consensus or operate in the longer term.

During the 1970s British policy concentrated on defeating the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) by military means including the policy of Ulsterisation (requiring the RUC and British Army reserve Ulster Defence Regiment to be at the forefront of combating the IRA). Although IRA violence decreased it was obvious that no military victory was on hand in either the short or medium terms. Even Catholics who generally rejected the IRA were unwilling to offer support to a state that seemed to remain mired in sectarian discrimination, and the Unionists were not interested in Catholic participation in running the state in any case. In the 1980s the IRA attempted to secure a decisive military victory based on massive arms shipments from Libya. When this failed, senior republican figures began to look to broaden the struggle from purely military means. In time this began a move towards military cessation.

In 1985 the Irish and British governments signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement signalling a formal partnership in seeking a political solution. The Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) recognised the Irish government's right to be consulted and heard as well as guaranteed equality of treatment and recognition of the Irish and British identities of the two communities. The agreement also stated that the two governments must implement a cross-border co-operation.[68] Socially and economically Northern Ireland suffered the worst levels of unemployment in the UK and although high levels of public spending ensured a slow modernisation of public services and moves towards equality, progress was slow in the 1970s and 1980s. Only in the 1990s, when progress toward peace became tangible, did the economic situation brighten. By then the demographics of Northern Ireland had undergone significant change, and more than 40% of the population was Catholic.

Devolution and direct rule (1999–present)

More recently, the Belfast Agreement ("Good Friday Agreement") of 10 April 1998 brought – on 2 December 1999 – a degree of power sharing to Northern Ireland, giving both unionists and nationalists control of limited areas of government. However, both the power-sharing Executive and the elected Assembly were suspended between January and May 2000, and from October 2002 until April 2007, following breakdowns in trust between the political parties involving outstanding issues, including "decommissioning" of paramilitary weapons, policing reform and the removal of British army bases. In new elections in 2003, the moderate Ulster Unionist and (nationalist) Social Democrat and Labour parties lost their dominant positions to the more hard-line Democratic Unionist and (nationalist) Sinn Féin parties. On 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA announced the end of its armed campaign and on 25 September 2005 international weapons inspectors supervised the disarmament of the majority of weapons of the PIRA. Eventually, devolution was restored in April 2007.

Modern Ireland

Ireland's economy became more diverse and sophisticated than ever before by integrating itself into the global economy. In 1973, Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC), precursor to the European Community (EC) and the European Union (EU), at the same time as the United Kingdom. By the beginning of the 1990s Ireland had transformed itself into a modern industrial economy and generated substantial national income that benefited the entire nation. Although dependence on agriculture still remained high, Ireland's industrial economy produced sophisticated goods that rivaled international competition. Ireland's international economic boom of the 1990s became known as the Celtic Tiger.

The Catholic Church, which once exercised great power, found its influence on socio-political issues in Ireland much reduced. Irish bishops were no longer able to advise and influence the public on how to exercise their political rights. Modern Ireland's detachment of the Church from ordinary life can be explained by the increasing disinterest in Church doctrine by younger generations and the questionable morality of the Church's representatives. A highly publicised case was that of Eamonn Casey, the Bishop of Galway, who resigned abruptly in 1992 after it was revealed that he had had an affair with an American woman and had fathered a child. Further controversies and scandals arose concerning paedophile and child-abusing priests. As a result, many in the Irish public began to question the credibility and effectiveness of the Catholic Church.[69] In 2011 Ireland closed its embassy at the Vatican, an apparent result of this growing trend.[70]

Flags in Ireland

The national flag of Ireland is a tricolour of green, white and orange. This flag, which bears the colours green for Irish Catholics, orange for Irish Protestants, and white for the desired peace between them, dates to the mid-19th century.[71] The tricolour was first unfurled in public by Young Irelander Thomas Francis Meagher who, using the symbolism of the flag, explained his vision as follows: "The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the "Orange" and the "Green," and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood". Fellow nationalist John Mitchel said of it: "I hope to see that flag one day waving as our national banner."

After its use in the 1916 Rising it became widely accepted by nationalists as the national flag, and was used officially by the Irish Republic (1919–21) and the Irish Free State (1922–37).

In 1937 when the Constitution of Ireland was introduced, the tricolour was formally confirmed as the national flag: "The national flag is the tricolour of green, white and orange." While the tricolour today is the official flag of Ireland, it is not an official flag in Northern Ireland although it is sometimes used unofficially.

The only official flag representing Northern Ireland is the Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland however its use is controversial.[72] The Ulster Banner is sometimes used unofficially as a de facto regional flag for Northern Ireland.

Since Partition, there has been no universally-accepted flag to represent the entire island. As a provisional solution for certain sports fixtures, the Flag of the Four Provinces enjoys a certain amount of general acceptance and popularity.

Historically a number of flags have been used, including:

  • Saint Patrick's Flag (St Patrick's Saltire, St Patrick's Cross) which represented Ireland on the Union Flag after the Act of Union;
  • a green flag with a harp (used by most nationalists in the 19th century and which is also the flag of Leinster);
  • a blue flag with a harp used from the 18th century onwards by many nationalists (now the standard of the President of Ireland);
  • the Irish tricolour.

St Patrick's Saltire was formerly used to represent the island of Ireland by the all-island Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), before adoption of the four-provinces flag. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) uses the tricolour to represent the whole island.


Ireland has a very large historiography, contributed by scholars in Ireland, North America, and Britain.[73] There has been both a standard interpretation and, since the late 1930s, a good deal of revisionism.[74] One of the most important themes has always been Irish nationalism—what Alfred Markey, calls:

the received nationalist tale replete with heroes, villains and a host of stock elements, has a long history and has exercised a particularly important influence on the development of Irish identity.[75]

Nationalism has led to numerous monographs and debates.[76][77]

A great deal of attention has focused on the Irish revolutionary period, 1912-23. Starting in 2012 a series of conferences on "Reflecting on a decade of War and Revolution in Ireland 1912-1923: Historians and Public History" brought together hundreds of academics, teachers, and the general public.[78]

Relations with Britain

Ireland in some ways was the first acquisition of the British Empire.[79] Marshall says historians continue to debate whether Ireland should be considered part of the British Empire.[80] Recent work by historians pays special attention to continuing Imperial aspects of Irish history,[81] Atlantic Ocean history,[82] and the role of migration in forming the Irish diaspora across the Empire and North America.[83][84][85]

Recent approaches

As historiography evolves, new approaches have been applied to the Irish situation. Studies of women, and gender relationships more generally, had been rare before 1990; they now are commonplace with over 3000 books and articles.[86] Postcolonialism is an approach in several academic disciplines that seeks to analyze, explain, and respond to the cultural legacies of colonialism and imperialism. The emphasis is usually on the human consequences of controlling a country and establishing settlers for the economic exploitation of the native people and their land.[87][88][89]

According to L.A. Clarkson in 1980, the 18th and 19th centuries are the best covered time frames. Recent research on 18th-century overseas trade and 19th-century agrarian conditions has broken the nationalist approach that traditionally structured Irish economic historiography. Understudied areas include economic growth and fluctuations, the labor market, capital formation and business, history. Except for emigration, little has been written on Ireland's external economic relations in the 19th century.[90][91]

See also


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Further reading

  • Richard Bourke and Ian McBride, eds. (2016). The Princeton History of Modern Ireland. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400874064.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Brendan Bradshaw, 'Nationalism and Historical Scholarship in Modern Ireland' in Irish Historical Studies, XXVI, Nov. 1989
  • S. J. Connolly (editor) The Oxford Companion to Irish History (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • Tim Pat Coogan De Valera (Hutchinson, 1993)
  • John Crowley et al. eds., Atlas of the Irish Revolution (2017). excerpt
  • Norman Davies The Isles: A History (Macmillan, 1999)
  • Patrick J. Duffy, The Nature of the Medieval Frontier in Ireland, in Studia Hibernica 23 & 23, 1982–83, pp. 21–38; Gaelic Ireland c.1250-c.1650:Land, Lordship & Settlement, 2001
  • Nancy Edwards, The archaeology of early medieval Ireland (London, Batsford 1990)
  • Ruth Dudley Edwards, Patrick Pearse and the Triumph of Failure,1974
  • Marianne Eliot, Wolfe Tone, 1989
  • R. F. Foster Modern Ireland, 1600–1972 (1988)
  • B.J. Graham, Anglo-Norman settlement in County Meath, RIA Proc. 1975; Medieval Irish Settlement, Historical Geography Research Series, No. 3, Norwich, 1980
  • J. J. Lee The Modernisation of Irish Society 1848–1918 (Gill and Macmillan)
  • J.F. Lydon, The problem of the frontier in medieval Ireland, in Topic 13, 1967; The Lordship of Ireland in the Middle Ages, 1972
  • F. S. L. Lyons Ireland Since the Famine1976
  • F. S. L. Lyons, Culture and Anarchy in Ireland,
  • Nicholas Mansergh, Ireland in the Age of Reform and Revolution 1940
  • Dorothy McCardle The Irish Republic
  • R. B. McDowell, Ireland in the age of imperialism and revolution, 1760–1801 (1979)
  • T. W. Moody and F. X. Martin "The Course of Irish History" Fourth Edition (Lanham, Maryland: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 2001)
  • Seán Farrell Moran, Patrick Pearse and the Politics of Redemption, 1994
  • Austen Morgan, James Connolly: A Political Biography, 1988
  • James H. Murphy Abject Loyalty: Nationalism and Monarchy in Ireland During the Reign of Queen Victoria (Cork University Press, 2001)
  • the 1921 Treaty debates online
  • John A. Murphy Ireland in the Twentieth Century (Gill and Macmillan)
  • Kenneth Nicholls, Gaelic and gaelicised Ireland, 1972
  • Frank Pakenham, (Lord Longford) Peace by Ordeal
  • Alan J. Ward The Irish Constitutional Tradition: Responsible Government & Modern Ireland 1782–1992 (Irish Academic Press, 1994)
  • Robert Kee The Green Flag Volumes 1–3 (The Most Distressful Country, The Bold Fenian Men, Ourselves Alone)
  • Carmel McCaffrey and Leo Eaton In Search of Ancient Ireland: the origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the English (Ivan R Dee, 2002)
  • Carmel McCaffrey In Search of Ireland's Heroes: the Story of the Irish from the English Invasion to the Present Day (Ivan R Dee, 2006)
  • Paolo Gheda, I cristiani d'Irlanda e la guerra civile (1968–1998), prefazione di Luca Riccardi, Guerini e Associati, Milano 2006, 294 pp., ISBN 88-8335-794-9
  • Hugh F. Kearney Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History (NYU Press, 2007)
  • Nicholas Canny "The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland"(London, 1976) ISBN 0-85527-034-9
  • Waddell, John (1998). "The prehistoric archaeology of Ireland". Galway: Galway University Press. hdl:10379/1357. Cite journal requires |journal= Alex vittum
    • Brown, T. 2004, Ireland: a social and cultural history, 1922-2001, Rev. edn, Harper Perennial, London.


  • Bourke, Richard. "Historiography" in Bourke and Ian McBride, eds. The Princeton History of Modern Ireland (Princeton University Press, 2016), ch 11.
  • Boyce, D. George and Alan O'Day, eds, The Making of Modern Irish History: Revisionism and the Revisionist Controversy, 1996
  • Brady, Ciaran, Interpreting Irish History:The Debate On Irish Revisionism, 1994
  • Clarkson, L. A. "The writing of Irish economic and social history since 1968." Economic History Review 33.1 (1980): 100-111. DOI: 10.2307/2595549 online
  • Elton, G.R. Modern Historians on British History 1485-1945: A Critical Bibliography 1945-1969 (1969), annotated guide to 1000 history books on every major topic, plus book reviews and major scholarly articles. online pp 206–16
  • Frawley, Oona. Memory Ireland: History and Modernity (2011)
  • Gibney, John. The Shadow of a Year: The 1641 Rebellion in Irish History and Memory (2013)
  • King, Jason. "The Genealogy of Famine Diary in Ireland and Quebec: Ireland's Famine Migration in Historical Fiction, Historiography, and Memory." Éire-Ireland 47#1 (2012): 45-69. online
  • Louis, Wm Roger and Robin Winks, eds. The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume V: Historiography (2001)
  • McBride, Ian, History and Memory in Modern Ireland (2001)
  • McCarthy, Mark, ed. Ireland's Heritages: Critical Perspectives On Memory and Identity (2005)
  • McCarthy, Mark, ed. Ireland's 1916 Rising: Explorations of History-making, Commemoration & Heritage in Modern Times (2012)
  • Noack, Christian, Lindsay Janssen, and Vincent Comerford. Holodomor and Gorta Mór: histories, memories and representations of famine in Ukraine and Ireland (Anthem Press, 2012).
  • Quinn, James. Young Ireland And the Writing of Irish History (2015)

External links

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