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Contributed by: Jean Rice

 

BRIEF HISTORY: The first people who settled in Ireland were hunters,
probably from Scotland, who arrived in Co. Antrim c. 7000 BC. By 3000 BC
tribes from the Mediterranean were building megalithic tombs all over
Ireland which reveal a high degree of civilization. The most spectacular are
the passage graves at Newgrange, Co. Meath, Carrowmore and Lough Crew, all
of which can be visited. The National Museum in Dublin has a collection of
masterpieces from this period: gold collars, torcs, dress fasteners and hair
ornaments. The Celts arrived around 300 BC bringing their distinctive
culture, laws and customs. The Irish language derives from a dialect of
Celtic, and "The Tain" is an epic account of Celtic life at that time. In
the 5th century ST. PATRICK brought Christianity from Britain, establishing
monasteries which became not only centres of learning but in effect small
towns. Places associated with Patrick include Slane, Co. Meath, where he lit
a Paschal fire in defiance of the Druids, Tara where he used the shamrock to
convince the high king about the Trinity and Downpatrick where a crude slab
marks his grave.

Irish monks produced a large number of beautifully illustrated manuscripts,
among them the Books of Durrow, Armagh and Kells, which can be seen in
Trinity College Dublin. The monasteries of Clonmacnoise, Glendalough and
Kildare drew scholars from all over Europe. In turn Irish missionaries took
education and religion to every corner of Europe. At the same time craftsmen
were producing exquisite reliquaries, brooches, belts and personal
adornments made of gold and studded with precious stones (see the Ardagh
Chalice and Cross of Cong in the National Museum). This period is rightly
known as the golden age.

The wealth of the monasteries and their towns attracted the Vikings, who
swept in burning and killing. Distinctive round towers and bell towers were
built as a refuge from them. Later the Vikings settled around the coast and
founded towns such as Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Dublin . They were
finally defeated by BRIAN BORU at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

On his death, inter-kingdom rivalry led to a century of chaos until the
Normans arrived from England and brought order and prosperity. They were so
well assimilated into Irish society that the English crown decided a
reconquest was needed. Ulster put up fierce resistance under Hugh O'NEILL
and Hugh O' DONNELL but they were finally defeated at the Battle of Kinsale
in 1601. Their exile and that of the Gaelic aristocracy is known as the
"flight of the earls." The systematic dispossession of the natives and
settlement of migrants from England and Scotland followed. This division of
Protestant settler and native Catholic has had repercussions ever since.

The campaign of Oliver CROMWELL in Ireland is infamous and lives on in folk
memory as the "curse of Cromwell." His approach to the Irish problem was
drastic: the remaining lands were taken from their owners; those who could
prove themselves loyal were exiled to Connacht, while others were put to
death. JAMES II was deposed from the English throne for trying to impose
Catholicism on the English by WILLIAM of ORANGE in 1688. William then
defeated him at the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July 1690. This battle is
celebrated each year as Orangeman's Day, a public holiday in Northern
Ireland.

James was replaced by Patrick SARSFIELD, and the war dragged on until the
signing of the Treaty of Limerick, which was accompanied by the imposition
of harsh penal laws. This oppression, coupled with grinding poverty and
recurring food shortages, set the pattern for more than a century. A series
of revolts at the end of the 18th century culminated with the French
invasion of Killala, Co. Mayo. Although initially successful it was finally
suppressed with great slaughter.

The Act of Union in 1800 abolished the Dublin parliament and removed power
to London. Daniel O' CONNELL's election to Westminster (which, as a
Catholic, he was forbidden to enter) led to the repeal of the more
oppressive laws and to Catholic emancipation. A firm believer in
non-violence, he came near to the repeal of the union but his final years
were clouded by the Great Famine when nearly a million died and two million
emigrated.

PARNELL became leader of the Home Rule Party in 1877, and, with GLADSTONE's
support, a home rule bill nearly succeeded. Other leaders followed: Arthur
GRIFFITH founded Sinn Fein as a non-violent movement and James LARKIN and
James CONNOLLY became key people in the labour movement. In 1912 the Commons
passed the home rule bill. Ireland was to have self-government after WWI.

There was no rejoicing among the Protestants in Ulster. They quickly armed
themselves to fight to maintain the link with Britain. In Dublin a group of
volunteers decided they could not wait for the end of the war, and began the
Easter Rising of 1916. Although unsuccessful and condemned by most Irish
people, the executing of its leaders changed public opinion. The Anglo-Irish
war lasted from 1919 to 1921.

The Treaty of 1921 gave independence to 26 of the 32 counties: six of the
Ulster counties remained under British rule with a parliament in Belfast. A
sector of the Republican movement opposed this compromise and a bitter civil
war followed, culminating in the death of Michael COLLINS, the young Cork
man who masterminded the war of independence. WWII imposed great strains on
the Free State (economically stagnant for many years) which stayed neutral.
Sean LEMASS later adopted a more vigorous, expansionist economic policy
which brought new prosperity and paved the way for Ireland's entry to the
European Economic Community (EEC) in 1972. Today the Republic of Ireland is
a parliamentary democracy with a president as head of state



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