From NiagaraCeltic.com’s March 2013 Newsletter
The earliest settlers were hunter-gatherers who arrived around 8000 BCE. Impressive megalithic tombs remain throughout the Irish countryside. The Gaels, a Celtic-speaking people from Western Europe, found their way to the island sometime after 600 BCE, and subdued the previous inhabitants. By 400 CE, seven independent kingdoms had evolved, and their kings often allied armies to raid neighboring Roman Britain and the Continent. During one of these raids, a lad of 16 was captured, brought to Ireland and sold into slavery. During his enslavement, the boy turned to religion, and managed to escape after six years. He studied theology in the Roman church, and later returned to Ireland on a lifelong quest to spread Christianity. Today he’s honored worldwide as Ireland’s patron, Saint Patrick.
Ireland was an agricultural society and, in the absence of large towns or cities, large Catholic monasteries played a major role in social and political life. Their rise brought a golden age of Irish art and crafts, most notably in metalwork and the production of illuminated manuscripts, such as the world-renowned Book of Kells now housed in Trinity College in Dublin. By 795, Ireland was under regular attack by Viking raiders, who targeted the rich monasteries and caused their eventual decline. Vikings created trade outposts, which later developed into major towns and cities such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford.
By the 12th century, English monarchs repeatedly invaded for control. By 1601 they would succeed, and English settlements and laws would come with strenuous efforts to impose Protestantism on Catholics. Penal laws against Catholics were introduced, excluding them from holding public office, entering professions, owning firearms, restricting ownership of land and outlawing Catholic clergy. In 1798, Ireland formally became part of the United Kingdom, but tension between British rulers and the Irish population persevered.
Ongoing discontent with British rule led to repeated rebellions and eventually The War of Independence (1919-1921), which divided the country into the large independent Irish Free State, and the separate United Kingdom-maintained Northern Ireland. The Irish Free State became a Republic in 1949, severing the final links to the British monarchy.