Wednesday, February 13, 2013

History of Ireland

For most of the last millennium Ireland was buried underneath thick masses of ice. As the ice melted and sea levels rose, Ireland's land bridges to Britain submerged, isolating it from the British Isles. The earliest records of habitation were a disparate unorganized migration over 9000 years ago. It has been a land in turmoil since the invasion of the Celts from the Iberian Peninsula.

The Celts

Approximately 2,500 years ago, the Celts invaded Ireland and norther Britain. They introduced a naturalist culture, a common language, and what is still know today as an "Irish" attitude towards life. The most salient feature of Celtic paganism is their extensive practice of human sacrifice and they believed in reincarnation. According to Greek and Roman accounts, in Gaul, Britain and Ireland, there was a priestly caste of "magico-religious specialists" known as druids, although very little is definitely known about them. The druids then also appear in some of the medieval tales from Christianized Ireland like the Tain Bo Cuailnge, where they are largely portrayed as sorcerers who opposed the coming of Christianity. In the wake of the Celtic revival during the 18th and 19th centuries, fraternal and Neopagan groups were founded based on ideas about the ancient druids, a movement which is known as Neo Druidism. As Irish language and customs began to separate from British Celts, the Irish culture began to be know as Gaelic culture.

Christianity (5th Century AD)

However, the Romans who had occupied up to the center of Britain, introduced Catholicism with Saint Patrick being the most notable. Christianity became the dominant religion of Ireland. Through the support of the church, great centers of learning helped create a land of scholars, saints, storytellers, and musicians.

The Vikings (8th Century)

Three hundred years later, the Vikings invaded from the north and began to dominate the land, they founded the cities of Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Limerick and they were the first to introduce the concept of money to the island; but, they integrated into the Irish culture, leaving little of their original Viking roots.

The Normans (12th Century)

Four hundred years later, the Normans who had invaded England from Normandy also invaded Ireland. They built imposing castles and constructed a few roads; but, within a generation or so they too had fallen for the Irish lifestyle.

The Religious Wars (16th Century)

Another four hundred years and Henry VIII attacked Catholic influence on his Kingdom by supporting the rise of Protestantism and stamping out Catholics who were loyal to the Pope. Following Henry VIII, his daughter Elizabeth sent armies to drive out the populace, replacing them with British settlers. The Irish chieftains fought back, only to be vanquished by British forces in the Battle of Kinsale.

Green and Orange (17th Century)

To consolidate its power,the King drove thousands of poor Protestants from Scotland to Northern Ireland so that English Noblemen could take over Scotland and raise sheep. This caused resentment among the Irish local locals, who rebelled in 1641 and attacked the Scottish settlers. Finally, Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell, was sent to Ireland in the fall of 1649 to kill the Catholic native, securing the dominance of the Protestants in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile in England, the battles between Catholic Kings William of Orange, ensured that Protestants and Catholics would fight to the end. The fighting culminated in the Battle of the Boyne, a key event in Irish history, where the forces of William of Orange defeated the forces of the Catholic King, James.

Penal Times and Rebellion (18th Century)

In the early 1700, laws that restricted Catholic practice while making it extremely advantageous to become a Protestant continued to choke the influence of Catholicism in Ireland. Then in 1798, agitation for freedom led to rebellion, a failed invasion by the French, and finally suppression of the rebels by English forces where over 40,000 people were killed in Wexford. In 1801, Ireland became part of the United Kingdom, and for a while, this arrangement worked well. Restrictions on Catholic practice were eased, and life in Ireland returned to normal.

The Famine (Early 19th Century)

In 1845 a potato disease hit the country, causing all the crops to fail. Potatoes were the primary staple of Ireland and thousand upon thousands of people began to starve. Over the following four years, the potato crop failed completely each time. By the time the famine was over, an estimated one million people had died and another million had left Ireland, arriving in the US and Britain, penniless and desperate. The Irish potato famine created a legacy of emigration from Ireland that did not stop until the late 20th Century when the population of four and a half million was less that half what it was at the beginning of the famine.

The Late 19th Century

Following this devastation, those that survived organized into, strong political movements who battled between two principles -  greater rights and greater autonomy from Britain and greater integration into the Union. While England began focusing on its empire and world issues, the question of what to do about Ireland was in the back of every one's mind, but the lobby from the Protestants of Northern Ireland kept the issue of Irish Independence at bay.

Partial Independence

In 1912, a bill to permit Home Rule in Ireland was passed in the British Parliament, but before it could be enacted, Europe was plunged into the nightmare of the First World War, and Irish autonomy was deferred. While the war was still raging in Europe, British and Irish loyalists continually fought, making life in Ireland a nightmare.  Finally, Britain decided to press ahead with Irish Home Rule. Ireland signed a treaty allowing for  independence of all of Ireland except the North, where Northern Ireland would remain under British control.
This was so unpopular that a civil war broke out resulting in over 3,000 deaths on both sides.

Most of today's political parties of the Irish Republic originate from this deeply divisive political split. Ireland became an independent republic in 1948. However the Irish Republican Army (Catholics) and Britain continued a low intensity war in Northern Ireland for 25 years until the signing and ratification of an historic accord (The Good Friday Agreement) in 1998.
Since then, normal life in Northern Ireland has improved and Nationalist and Unionist ministers share power.

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