Ireland History

Ireland History

From the origins up to the Anglo-Norman invasion

According to localcollegeexplorer, Ireland was inhabited, before the immigration of the Celts (or Gaeli), from Iberian populations; important remains of this Neolithic phase of its prehistory remain, especially numerous in the counties of Kerry and Sligo, such as the megalithic constructions of the cromlech and dolmen type. The subsequent Gaelic colonization, between 600 and 500 BC, spread the civilization of the Bronze Age and left decisive imprints on the ethnic and linguistic structure of the island, where the tribal regime introduced by the Celts persisted even in historical age (which begins with the first conversion to Christianity, by s. Patrician) within the larger political constituencies constituted by the provinces or fifths of Ulster, Leinster, Connacht, Desmond (Munster northern) and Thomond (Southern Munster), whose rulers paid homage to the supreme king (ard righ, or ardrì), residing in Tara. The socio-economic institutions of the Gaels in their basic structures were antithetical to those of the feudal system, which was introduced later by England: the land, except for what constituted by law the mark of the political power of the leaders, belonged in common to the tribe and family property was shared equally among the children. The strength of the tribal bond worked decisively against any socially individualistic tendency, as shown by the basic institution of altrum, for which children were removed from the paternal house and entrusted for education to other families of the same noble group.

Never subjected to Roman domination, the island was conquered by Christianity by a fruitful work of evangelization, begun in 432 by s. Patrician. In isolation from influences that could have come from the contemporary Roman-barbarian kingdoms of the Mediterranean West, Ireland Christian developed its own autonomous culture, while the Celtic Church, throughout the High Middle Ages, was forced to adapt its essentially monastic organization to the existing social structure, which, instead of on the traditional organs of the diocese and the parish, was based everywhere on the institution of the bishop-abbot, who has now become the effective head of the tribe.

The invasion, from about 807, of the Nordic peoples (called Danes in local sources), who for over two centuries sacked the island but also contributed to the formation of the future maximum urban centers, influenced the events of the infighting between the provincial kings. The Battle of Clontarf, in which king Brian del Thomond defeated the Nordic invaders and provincial kings, marked the end of Danish dominance on the island. Internal wars between the Celtic kings followed and it was one of these, Dermot Mac Murrough, who solicited English intervention.

The English domination up to the Stuarts

Enlisted in England by Dermot, Norman knights and archers in 1170 destroyed the Gaelic national army under the walls of Dublin. Henry II, fearing the aspirations of power of the Norman knights, personally took over the management of the enterprise, at the end of which he distributed part of the Irish land to the victorious barons and established the lord justiciar / “> justiciar of Ireland, representative of his authority. The Church remained an essential factor of political stabilization; however, the difference in language (French for the invaders and Gaelic for the vanquished) and in the institutions made the integration between English and Irish problematic. the country, three great feudal families dominated the Irish scene throughout the Middle Ages: the Fitzgeralds, the Butlers and the de Burghs. Meanwhile, the country reacted to foreign aggression with open rebellion; a gradual process of absorption of the invader clashed with the promulgation by Edward III of the statutes of Kilkenny (1367), which in legitimizing the separation of the island’s residents into three groups (the pure English; the “degenerate” English, as accused of infidelity towards the king, and the “Irish enemies”, excluded from the protection of the law), made impossible any understanding between the king of England and the Irish people. With the Poynings’ Law, Henry VII placed the Parliament of Ireland directly under the lord justiciar of Dublin and, for it, of the English sovereign (1495). The king also extended the Act of supremacy to the country, while assuming the new title of King of Ireland (1541): thus ended the legal fiction which made the Pope the Irish sovereign and the King of England only his representative. Under Elizabeth I the Ireland, rebel for the defense of Catholic traditions against the cultural innovations of the Common Prayer Book, it was the scene of bloody repression.

From Giacomo I Stuart to the Act of union

The advent to the English throne of James I (1603) saw the establishment of a more accentuated administrative centralism, while a High Court sat permanently imposing severe sanctions on Irish Catholics who refused the oath prescribed by the Act of supremacy ; around 1610 began the colonization (the so-called plantations) of the country with Scottish and Presbyterian elements. The Catholic rebellion of 1641 (the British were massacred) demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the policy of partial expropriation: Parliament proceeded to the total expropriation of the lands (Adventurers’ Act, 1642). The English Civil War saw the clergy / “> clergy divided in favor of the king or parliamentarians; Dublin fell into the hands of the latter and the Ireland was open to the conquest of O. Cromwell. With the Act of settlement (1652) about 11 million acres were confiscated; a new class of owners, Protestants, therefore settled on the lands, now only a third in the hands of Catholics. During the reigns of Charles II and James II the policy of the Parliament of London, which sacrificed the interests of Irish ranchers to the English economy, resulted in the union of Protestants and Catholics.

In 1690, however, James II’s attempt at restoration polarized the Catholic and Gaelic opposition against the Protestants around the Jacobite and French allied forces, whose victory (1690) freed England from the Jacobite threat and ensured the possession of the Ireland to William III of Orange. The Peace of Limerick, signed by William, which ensured religious freedom for Catholics and their property for rebels, was not respected by Parliament, which subjected Catholics to severe religious, economic and political restrictions with special ‘criminal laws’: many preferred the ‘exile. With George III (king of England from 1760) the severity of sanctions decreased: obtained the relaxation of the criminal laws and the recognition in Dublin of the rank of capital, seat of a viceroy (1767).

The aspirations for normal relations with England were disappointed by the repercussions of the French Revolution: the Irish United they allied themselves with the French Directory which attempted the invasion of the island several times. W. Pitt, convinced that a parliamentary union between England and Ireland could avoid collusion with Bonaparte’s French in the future, had the English Parliament vote the Act of union (1800), for which the Dublin Parliament was abolished. and Ireland he sent a representation of 100 deputies to the Commons and 28 equal to the Lords, while swearing allegiance to the English crown “in the Protestant succession.”


In 1829, with the repeal of the Test Act of 1692, which discriminated against Catholics by preventing them from sitting in Parliament, the political minority of most of the Irish ended. The confessional problem remained in the foreground, closely linked to the social one since the suppression of a State Church in Ireland was connected with the economic improvement of the peasant class, oppressed by the obligations of tithing, the tax intended for the maintenance of the Anglican Church. Against the oppressive regime of land ownership, the Repeal association asked for the revocation of the Act of union and independence, while the political movement of Young Ireland (1842) placed himself on the level of direct action. This was however interrupted by the famine which in 1845-47 decimated the population. In 1848 Young Ireland attempted the revolutionary adventure, but was defeated and its leaders sentenced to death or deported; the internal situation then worsened due to the appearance, from 1858, of the Fenian terrorist movement.

Under the first ministry Gladstone was deprived (1869) of the Irish Episcopal Church the recognition of official confession and the first protective law (Land Act) of the tenants was promulgated. The decision to grant Ireland there Home rule (autonomy within the Union) brought about the fall of the second Gladstone government (1886). The Home rule was finally passed in 1910, but the outbreak of the WWI he suspended its application and laid the foundations for a new cycle of anti-British violence; the Sinn Féin, the Irish national movement since the birth (1905) of the cause of an independent republic, and the clandestine military organization of the IRA. In 1916, the revolution which broke out in Dublin during Easter week and its merciless repression by the British led to the Anglo-Irish War, aggravated by civil strife within the island.

In January 1919, the 73 deputies belonging to the Sinn Féin independence movement gathered in Dáil Éireann (“Assembly of Ireland”) and proclaimed a republic, designating its president É. De Valera then held in English prisons. The treaty establishing the Free State of Ireland, which granted to Ireland the status of dominion within the Commonwealth, and from which, by the will of the Protestant majority, Ulster, which had already been granted (1920) a limited autonomy, was signed on 6 December 1921. Since then the Ireland it was divided into two parts: six of the nine counties of Ulster, located in the North and mostly Protestant (but with a sizeable Catholic minority), continued to be part of the United Kingdom (➔ Northern Ireland); the rest of the country, predominantly Catholic, gained independence within the Commonwealth (➔ Ireland, Republic of).

Ireland History