Most of Ireland was buried in ice during the last glacial era, which lasted until approximately 9000 years ago. Sea levels were lower, and Ireland, like the rest of continental Europe, was part of it. Rising sea levels caused by glacier melting separated Ireland from Great Britain about 12,000 BC. Around 5600 BC, Great Britain was isolated from continental Europe for the first time. The oldest human presence in Ireland may be traced back to 10,500 BC. Mesolithic people who came by water from Britain between 8000 BC and 7000 BC were the oldest evidence of humans in Ireland until recently.
Neolithic immigrants came about 4500 BC, bringing with them grain cultivars, a house culture (similar to that of Scotland at the time), and stone monuments. The Céide Fields, buried under a layer of peat near present-day Tyrawley, were to establish a more sophisticated agriculture. Small divisions divided by dry-stone walls made up a vast field system, possibly the world’s oldest. Between 3500 BC and 3000 BC, the fields were cultivated for many decades. The main crops were wheat and barley, which were imported from the Iberian Peninsula.
The Bronze Age, defined by the use of metal, began around 2500 BC, with innovations such as the wheel, harnessing oxen, weaving textiles, brewing alcohol, and skilled metalworking, which produced new weapons and tools, as well as fine gold decoration and jewelry, such as brooches and torcs, changing people’s everyday lives. According to John T. Koch and others, Ireland was part of an Atlantic Bronze Age marine trade network that encompassed Britain, western France, and Iberia in the Late Bronze Age, and it was here that Celtic languages evolved. This is in contrast to the conventional belief that they originated with the Hallstatt civilization in continental Europe.
Emergence of Celtic Ireland
Ireland developed a Celtic language and civilization throughout the Iron Age. For almost a century, archaeologists and linguists have disputed how and when Ireland became Celtic, with the Celts’ migrations being one of the most persistent topics of archaeological and linguistic research. There are many schools of thought today on how this happened in Ireland.
The long-held conventional belief, formerly generally accepted, is that waves of invading or migrating Celts from mainland Europe introduced Celtic language, Ogham writing, and culture to Ireland. This idea is based on the Lebor Gabála Érenn, a medieval Christian pseudo-history of Ireland, as well as Celtic culture, language, and artefacts such as Celtic bronze spears, shields, torcs, and other beautifully made Celtic related items discovered in Ireland. According to the idea, Ireland was invaded by four distinct Celtic invasions. According to legend, the Priteni were the first, followed by the Belgae from northern Gaul and Britain. Later, Laighin tribes from Armorica (modern-day Brittany) were believed to have invaded Ireland and the United Kingdom at the same time. Finally, the Milesians (Gaels) are thought to have arrived in Ireland through northern Iberia or southern Gaul. Around the sixth century BC, a second wave known as the Euerni, descended from the Belgae people of northern Gaul, was said to have arrived. They were believed to be the ones who named the island after themselves.
Celtic culture and language arrived in Ireland as a consequence of cultural diffusion, according to a more modern hypothesis that has widespread acceptance among archaeologists. According to this view, Ireland’s Celticization was the conclusion of a lengthy period of social and economic contact between Ireland, Britain, and neighboring areas of Continental Europe.
The idea was promoted in part due to a lack of archeological evidence for large-scale Celtic immigration, but it is widely acknowledged that such migrations are notoriously difficult to trace. Some proponents of this hypothesis believe that smaller groups of Celts may have migrated to Ireland on a frequent enough basis to form a “migration stream,” but that this was not the primary cause of Insular Celticization. Historical linguists are skeptical that this approach alone can account for the Celtic language’s absorption, with others claiming that assuming a processional perspective of Celtic linguistic development is “an particularly dangerous exercise.” In contrast to portions of the Y-chromosome pattern, genetic lineage research into Celtic migration to Ireland has shown no substantial variations in mitochondrial DNA between Ireland and vast regions of continental Europe. Taking both into consideration, a recent research concluded that contemporary Celtic speakers in Ireland are European “Atlantic Celts,” with common ancestry across the Atlantic zone from northern Iberia to western Scandinavia, rather than being mostly central European.
Late antiquity and early medieval times
Classical Greco-Roman geographers left the first written accounts of Ireland. In his Almagest, Ptolemy refers to Ireland as Mikra Brettania (Little Britain), as opposed to Megale Brettania (Great Britain) (Great Britain). Ptolemy refers to Ireland as Iouernia and Great Britain as Albion in his later book Geography. These “new” names were very certainly the islands’ native names at the time. The early names, on the other hand, were most likely created before close interaction with local people.
Later on, the Romans would refer to Ireland as Hibernia, or Scotia, in its Latinized version. In 100 AD, Ptolemy reports sixteen countries occupying every portion of Ireland. The connection between the Roman Empire and the ancient Irish kingdoms is unknown. However, Roman coins have been discovered in a variety of locations, including the Iron Age town of Freestone Hill between Gowran and Newgrange.
Ireland remained a patchwork of competing kingdoms until the seventh century AD, when a notion of national monarchy was defined via the concept of a High King of Ireland. The scheme was created in the 8th century to justify the status of powerful political groupings by projecting the origins of their rule into the distant past, according to modern historians. Medieval Irish literature depicts an almost unbroken sequence of High Kings stretching back thousands of years, but modern historians believe the scheme was constructed to justify the status of powerful political groupings by projecting the origins of their rule into the distant past.
The regional kingdoms that made up Ireland were believed to be ruled by the High King. These kingdoms each had their own rulers, although they were all officially subordinate to the High King. The High King was chosen from among the provincial kings and reigned over the royal kingdom of Meath, which had a ceremonial capital at Tara Hill. Only in the Viking Age did the idea become a political reality, and even then it was not constant. The early written legal system, the Brehon Laws, was administered by a professional class of jurists known as the brehons, and it was a culturally uniting rule of law. A unified kingdom of Gaelic Ireland, on the other hand, was never realized.
According to the Chronicle of Ireland, Bishop Palladius came in Ireland in 431 AD on a mission from Pope Celestine I to minister to the Irish who were “already trusting in Christ.” Saint Patrick, Ireland’s most famous patron saint, came the next year, according to the same chronicle. The missions of Palladius and Patrick are still debated, but the general agreement is that they both happened and that the ancient druidic tradition crumbled in the face of the new faith. Irish Christian theologians excelled in Latin and Greek studies as well as Christian theology. Latin and Greek learning were maintained in Ireland throughout the Early Middle Ages, in contrast to the rest of Europe, where the Dark Ages followed the fall of the Roman Empire.
Manuscript illumination, metallurgy, and sculpting thrived, producing masterpieces like the Book of Kells, beautiful jewelry, and the numerous carved stone crosses that may still be seen on the island today. After the collapse of Rome, the Irish monk Saint Columba established a mission on Iona in 563, which began a legacy of Irish missionary activity that brought Celtic Christianity and learning to Scotland, England, and the Frankish Empire on Continental Europe. These missions lasted into the late Middle Ages, building monasteries and study centers, producing intellectuals like Sedulius Scottus and Johannes Eriugena, and wielding significant influence across Europe.
Viking pirates plundering Irish monasteries and towns began in the 9th century. These invasions contributed to an already well-established cycle of raiding and chronic warfare in Ireland. Most of Ireland’s main coastal communities were founded by the Vikings, including Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Wexford, and Waterford, as well as Carlingford, Strangford, Annagassan, Arklow, Youghal, Lough Foyle, and Lough Ree.
Norman and English invasions
An expedition of Cambro-Normanknights with a force of approximately 600 arrived at Bannow Strand in modern-day County Wexford on May 1, 1169. It was commanded by Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow because of his archery skill. Dermot Mac Murrough, the ruler of Leinster, invited the invasion, which took place at a time of increased Norman expansion.
Following a battle with Tighearnán Ua Ruairc of Breifne in 1166, Mac Murrough went to Anjou, France, and enlisted the help of the Angevin king, Henry II, to reclaim his realm. In 1171, Henry traveled to Ireland to assess the expedition’s overall progress. He desired to reassert royal authority over the invasion, which had grown out of his hands. Henry was able to reassert his power over Strongbow and the Cambro-Norman warriors, as well as convince many of the Irish monarchs to recognize him as their ruler, as the 1175 Treaty of Windsor affirmed.
The terms of Adrian IV’s Papal Bull Laudabiliter, published in 1155, legitimized the invasion. The bull urged Henry to seize control of Ireland so that he might supervise the Irish Church’s financial and administrative reorganization and absorption into the Roman Church structure. Following the Synod of Kells in 1152, some ecclesiastical reform had already started. The legitimacy of Laudabiliter has been a source of much debate, and there is no consensus as to whether the bull was real or a fake.
In 1172, the new pope, Alexander III, urged Henry to push for the Irish Church’s unification with Rome even further. Henry was given the authority to levy an annual tithe of one cent per hearth. This voluntary church tax, known as Peter’s Pence, is still in use in Ireland. Henry, in turn, accepted the title of Lord of Ireland, which he bestowed to his younger son, John Lackland, in 1185. The Lordship of Ireland was established as a result of this. [requires citation] When Henry’s successor died suddenly in 1199, John gained the English throne and the Lordship of Ireland.
Norman feudal law progressively supplanted Gaelic Brehon Law over the next century, and by the late 13th century, the Norman-Irish had created a feudal system over most of Ireland. The creation of baronies, manors, cities, and the seeds of the current county system were all hallmarks of Norman colonization. In 1216, a variant of the Magna Carta (the Great Charter of Ireland) was issued, replacing Dublin for London and the Irish Church for the Church of England, and the Irish Parliament was established in 1297.
Following the Black Death in the mid-14th century, Norman colonies in Ireland began to collapse. The Gaelic Irish aristocracy intermarried with the Norman rulers, and the regions under Norman control became Gaelicised. A mixed Hiberno-Norman culture developed in certain areas. In response, Ireland’s parliament enacted the Kilkenny Statutes in 1367. These rules were enacted to prevent the Normans from assimilating into Irish culture by forcing English subjects in Ireland to speak English, observe English traditions, and obey English law.
By the end of the 15th century, central English authority in Ireland had all but vanished, and a resurgent Irish culture and language, although influenced by Norman influences, had taken its place. In an amorphous stronghold surrounding Dublin known as The Pale, English Crown authority remained largely unshaken, and Irish Parliamentary legislation was subject to the approval of the English Parliament under the terms of Poynings’ Law of 1494.
The Kingdom of Ireland
The Tudor dynasty’s Henry VIII, then King of England, resurrected the title of King of Ireland in 1542. During the second half of the 16th century, the English rule of law was strengthened and extended in Ireland, culminating to the Tudor invasion of Ireland. Following the Nine Years’ War and the Flight of the Earls, a near-complete conquest was accomplished by the turn of the 17th century.
During the 17th century’s wars and battles, which saw English and Scottish colonization in the Plantations of Ireland, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and the Williamite War, this authority was further reinforced. 20,000 combat fatalities are believed to have occurred in Ireland during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (which encompassed the Irish Confederacy and the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland). Over the course of the conflict, 200,000 people are believed to have perished as a consequence of a mix of war-related hunger, displacement, guerrilla action, and disease. A further 50,000 were transported to the West Indies as indentured servants. According to some historians, the battle may have killed as much as half of Ireland’s pre-war population.
Ireland was deeply divided by sectarianism as a result of the religious conflicts of the 17th century. The perception in law of loyalty to the Irish King and Parliament was now decided by religious affiliation. Roman Catholics and nonconforming Protestant Dissenters were banned from sitting in the Irish Parliament after the passage of the Test Act 1672 and the triumph of the troops of the dual monarchy of William and Mary over the Jacobites. Irish Roman Catholics and Dissenters were progressively stripped of many civil rights, including the possession of inherited property, under the developing Penal Laws. 1703, 1709, and 1728 saw further regressive punitive laws. This was the culmination of a systematic attempt to materially disadvantage Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters while benefiting a new governing elite of Anglican conformists. The Protestant Ascendancy was the name given to the emerging Anglo-Irish governing elite.
After a decade of comparatively mild winters, an unprecedented climatic shock known as the “Great Frost” hit Ireland and the rest of Europe between December 1739 and September 1741. Winters ruined stored crops of potatoes and other essentials, while bad summers harmed yields significantly. The famine of 1740 was the consequence of this. The following plague and illness killed an estimated 250,000 individuals (about one-eighth of the population). The Irish government did nothing more than stop grain exports and keep the troops in quarters. Local gentry and charity organizations helped, but they couldn’t stop the deaths that followed.
Following the famine, a rise in industrial output and increased commerce led to a series of building booms. In the second half of the century, the population exploded, and the architectural heritage of Georgian Ireland was established. For the first time since 1495, Poynings’ Law was abolished in 1782, granting Ireland legislative independence from Great Britain. The British administration, on the other hand, maintained the power to appoint the Irish government without the approval of the Irish parliament.
Union with Great Britain
In 1798, members of the Protestant Dissenter tradition (mostly Presbyterians) joined forces with Roman Catholics in a republican uprising headed by the Society of United Irishmen with the goal of establishing an independent Ireland. Despite French help, British and Irish government and yeomanry troops put down the uprising. The British and Irish parliaments both approved Acts of Union in 1800, merging the Kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain on January 1, 1801, to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
After failing on the first try in 1799, the Act was eventually passed with large majorities in the Irish Parliament. This was accomplished, according to contemporaneous records and historical research, via a significant amount of bribery, with money supplied by the British Secret Service Office, and the granting of peerages, positions, and honors to obtain votes. As a result, the Irish parliament was dissolved and replaced by a unified parliament in London, but opposition continued, as shown by Robert Emmet’s unsuccessful Irish Rebellion of 1803.
Apart from the development of the linen industry, Ireland was largely ignored by the industrial revolution, partly due to a lack of coal and iron resources, and partly due to the influence of England’s structurally better economy, which viewed Ireland as a source of agricultural product and money.
One million Irish people died during the Great Famine of the 1840s, and over a million more fled to escape it. Ireland accounted for half of all immigration to the United States at the conclusion of the decade. The Land War refers to the era of civic instability that followed until the end of the nineteenth century. Mass emigration became established, and the population declined until the mid-twentieth century. The population was 8.2 million at the time of the famine, according to the 1841 census. Since then, the population has never recovered to this level. The population continued to decline until 1961, and it wasn’t until the 2006 census that Ireland’s final county (County Leitrim) recorded a population increase since 1841.
Modern Irish nationalism arose in the 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly among the Roman Catholic population. Daniel O’Connell was the most prominent Irish politician following the Union. Despite being unable to assume his position as a Roman Catholic, he was elected as Member of Parliament for Ennis in a surprise outcome. O’Connell led a ferocious campaign that was picked up by the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, an Irish-born soldier and politician. Wellington persuaded a hesitant George IV to sign the Catholic Relief Bill and proclaim it into law by guiding it through Parliament with the help of future Prime Minister Robert Peel. Following the Union of 1801, George’s father rejected the intention of the previous Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger, to propose such a measure, believing that Catholic Emancipation would clash with the Act of Settlement 1701.
A later effort to repeal the Act of Union was spearheaded by Daniel O’Connell, but it was unsuccessful. Later in the century, Charles Stewart Parnell and others fought for “Home Rule,” or autonomy inside the Union. Home Rule was fiercely opposed by Unionists, particularly those in Ulster, who believed it would be controlled by Catholic interests. After many failed efforts in parliament, it seemed that a Home Rule measure would finally succeed in 1914. The Ulster Volunteers, led by Edward Carson, were established in 1913 to prevent this from occurring.
Following its creation in 1914, the Irish Volunteers were formed with the goal of ensuring the passage of the Home Rule Bill. The Act was approved, but the six counties of Ulster that would form Northern Ireland were “temporarily” excluded. The Act was halted for the length of the First World War before it could be enacted. Two groups of Irish Volunteers were formed. Under John Redmond’s leadership, the majority, about 175,000 people, adopted the moniker National Volunteers and backed Irish participation in the war. A small group of 13,000 people, known as the Irish Volunteers, continued to resist Ireland’s participation in the war.
The latter organization, together with a smaller socialist militia known as the Irish Citizen Army, carried out the 1916 Easter Rising. The British reaction, which included the execution of fifteen leaders of the Rising over the course of 10 days and the imprisonment or internment of over a thousand individuals, shifted public opinion in favor of the rebels. Due to the continuing war in Europe and the Conscription Crisis of 1918, support for Irish republicanism grew even more.
Sinn Féin, a pro-independence republican party, won a landslide victory in the 1918 general election and declared an Irish Republic in 1919, establishing its own parliament (Dáil Éireann) and administration. At the same time, the Volunteers, afterwards known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), began a three-year guerrilla campaign that concluded in a ceasefire in July 1921. (although violence continued until June 1922, mostly in Northern Ireland).
The British Government and members of the Second Dáil signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921. It granted Ireland full domestic autonomy and practical foreign policy autonomy, but it also included an opt-out provision that enabled Northern Ireland to stay part of the United Kingdom, which it promptly exercised. An oath of loyalty to the King had to be taken as well. Disagreements over these clauses divided the nationalist movement, resulting in an Irish Civil War between the new Irish Free State government and those opposed to the treaty, headed by Éamon de Valera. When de Valera issued a cease-fire order in May 1923, the civil war was formally over.
The newly created Irish Free State was administered by the civil war winners for the first decade of its existence. When de Valera came to power, he used the Statute of Westminster and political conditions to expand on the previous government’s gains in terms of increased sovereignty. The oath was repealed in 1937, and a new constitution was enacted. This brought to a close a process of progressive disengagement from the British Empire that had been underway since the country’s independence. It was not until 1949, however, that the state was formally designated as the Republic of Ireland.
During World War II, the state remained neutral but provided covert aid to the Allies, especially in the possible defense of Northern Ireland. Despite their country’s neutrality, over 50,000 volunteers from independent Ireland served in the British troops throughout the war, four of whom were awarded Victoria Crosses.
In Ireland, the Abwehr was also active. German intelligence activities were essentially halted in September 1941, when police arrested suspects based on monitoring of major diplomatic missions in Dublin, notably the US embassy. Counterintelligence was a crucial line of defense for the authorities. With a regular army of just over 7,000 soldiers at the outset of the war and inadequate supply of modern weaponry, the state would have had a hard time defending itself against invasion from either side of the fight.
The majority of the postwar era (especially the 1950s and 1980s) was characterized by large-scale emigration, but the economy began to recover in 1987, and the 1990s witnessed the start of significant economic development. The Celtic Tiger was the name given to this era of expansion. Between 1995 and 1999, when the Republic joined the euro, the Republic’s real GDP increased at a rate of 9.6% per year on average. In terms of GDP per capita, it was the world’s sixth wealthiest nation in 2000.
During this period, there were also social changes, the most notable of which was the Catholic Church’s loss in power. This era of prosperity was abruptly interrupted by the financial crisis that started in 2008. In 2008, GDP dropped by 3%, and in 2009, it plummeted by 7.1 percent, the lowest year since records started (although earnings by foreign-owned businesses continued to grow). Since then, the state has been in a severe recession, with unemployment staying at 14% in 2012, having doubled in 2009.
Northern Ireland was established as a partition of the United Kingdom by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, and it was a self-governing territory within the UK with its own parliament and prime minister until 1972. Northern Ireland was not neutral during WWII since it was part of the United Kingdom, and Belfast was bombed four times in 1941. Northern Ireland was not included in conscription, and approximately the same number of people volunteered from the north as from the south. One of them, James Joseph Magennis, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery.
Although Northern Ireland was mostly spared from the civil war’s ravages, there were occasional outbreaks of intercommunal violence in the decades after separation. Nationalists, mostly Roman Catholics, wanted Ireland to become an independent republic, while unionists, mostly Protestants, wanted Northern Ireland to stay part of the UK. Northern Ireland’s Protestant and Catholic populations voted mainly along sectarian lines, ensuring that the Ulster Unionist Party controlled the Northern Ireland government (which had been elected by “first-past-the-post” since 1929). Over time, the minority Catholic population felt more isolated, with additional dissatisfaction fueled by gerrymandering and housing and job discrimination.
Nationalist concerns were publicly aired in large civil rights demonstrations in the late 1960s, which were often met by loyalist counter-protests. The government’s response to clashes was viewed as biased and heavy-handed in favor of unions. As instability and intercommunal violence grew, law and order crumbled. The British Army was asked by the Northern Ireland administration to assist the police, who were tired following three nights of severe rioting. After a split in the Irish Republican Army in 1969, the paramilitary Provisional IRA, which supported the establishment of a united Ireland, launched a campaign against what it termed the “British occupation of the six counties.”
Other factions, both unionist and nationalist, were involved in violence, and the Troubles started. Over the next three decades of warfare, over 3,600 people died. In 1972, the British government suspended home rule and imposed direct control due to public instability during the Troubles. The Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 was one of many failed political efforts to settle the Troubles. The Good Friday Agreement was signed as a treaty between the British and Irish governments in 1998, after a ceasefire by the Provisional IRA and multi-party negotiations. It annexed the text negotiated in the multi-party talks.
The Agreement’s content (officially known as the Belfast Agreement) was subsequently ratified by referendums in both Irelands. Power-sharing in a regional Executive chosen from the major parties in a new Northern Ireland Assembly returned self-government to Northern Ireland, with established safeguards for the two main populations. A First Minister and Deputy First Minister from the unionist and nationalist parties jointly lead the Executive. After the Provisional IRA and loyalist ceasefires in 1994, violence dropped dramatically, and in 2005, the Provisional IRA declared the end of its armed campaign, with an independent commission overseeing its disarmament as well as that of other nationalist and unionist paramilitary groups.
The Assembly and the power-sharing Executive have been suspended numerous times, but in 2007 they were reinstated. In that year, Britain’s military assistance for Northern Ireland’s police (Operation Banner) came to an end, and soldiers started to leave. Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and a former IRA leader, clasped hands with Queen Elizabeth II in Belfast on June 27, 2012, symbolizing peace between the two sides.