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History, Ireland

Ireland 101: A Two Minute History

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.

 The mid-19th century brought the worst devastation Ireland had ever seen, inthe form of a rare North American pathogen which caused a potato blight. One variety of potato had become a staple food all over the island, especially for the immense poor population. Massive crop failure occurred which, coupled with the laissez-faire policies of the British government, led to the death (by starvation and disease) of a million people. Over a million more people left Ireland for new homes. During The Great Famine (1845-52), the population fell by 25%. The country remained troubled for decades after, causing further emigration (there are over 70 million people across the globe today with Irish heritage).


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.

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About niagaraceltic

Since 2001, Niagara Celtic has hosted an annual Celtic Festival in Western New York to honor the history and heritage of everyone with Irish, Scottish and Welsh history, along with the other Celtic Nations. Our presence has expanded online to become a year-round way to connect with the worldwide Celtic Community.

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