The History of Ireland is the history of a large island in the north-west of Europe. It has been heavily influenced by the concurrent History of Britain (its larger neighbour to the east) and by Europe as a whole.
The first humans inhabited Ireland from around 7500 BC and were later responsible for major Neolithic sites such as Newgrange. Following the arrival of St. Patrick and other Christian missionaries in the mid-fifth century, a syncretized form of Christianity subsumed the indigenous pagan religion by A.D. 600. Christianity has played a major role in Ireland's subsequent history and culture.
From around 800, more than a century of Viking invasions wreaked havoc upon the monastic culture and on the island's various regional dynasties, yet both of these institutions proved strong enough to survive and assimilate the invaders.
The coming of Cambro-Norman mercenaries under Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, nicknamed Strongbow, in 1169 marked the beginning of more than 800 years of direct English involvement in Ireland. The Crown of England did not gain full control until the 16th and 17th centuries, when the whole island had been subjected to numerous military campaigns in the period 1534–1691, and was colonised by English and Scottish Protestant settlers. Most of the Irish remained Roman Catholic. From this period on, sectarian conflict became a recurrent theme in Irish history.
Throughout this period, Ireland regained a form of self-governing status through the Parliament of Ireland, but power was limited to the Anglo-Irish, Anglican minority while the majority Roman Catholic population suffered severe political and economic privations. In 1801, this parliament was abolished and Ireland became an integral part of a new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland under the Act of Union.
In 1922, after the War of Independence, the southern and western twenty-six counties of Ireland seceded from this United Kingdom and became the independent Irish Free State — now legally described as the "Republic of Ireland". The remainder of the island, known as "Northern Ireland", remained part of the UK. The history of Northern Ireland has been dominated by sporadic sectarian conflict between (mainly Catholic) Nationalists and (mainly Protestant) Unionists. This conflict erupted into the Troubles in the late 1960s, until an uneasy peace 30 years later.
Early history: 8000 BC–AD 400
Ireland during the Ice Age.What little is known of pre-Christian Ireland comes from a few references in Roman writings, Irish poetry and myth, and archaeology. The earliest inhabitants of Ireland, people of a mid-Stone Age, or Mesolithic, culture, arrived sometime after 8000 BC, when the climate had become more hospitable following the retreat of the polar icecaps. About three or four millennia later, agriculture was introduced from the continent, leading to the establishment of a high Neolithic culture, characterized by the appearance of huge stone monuments, many of them astronomically aligned (most notably, Newgrange). This culture apparently prospered, and the island became more densely populated. The Bronze Age, which began around 2500 BC, saw the production of elaborate gold and bronze ornaments and weapons.
The Iron Age in Ireland began about 600 BC. By the historic period (AD 431 onwards) the main over-kingdoms of In Tuisceart, Airgialla, Ulaid, Mide, Laigin, Mumhain, Cóiced Ol nEchmacht began to emerge (see Kingdoms of ancient Ireland). Within these kingdoms, despite constant strife, a rich culture flourished. The society of these kingdoms was dominated by druids: priests who served as educators, physicians, poets, diviners, and keepers of the laws and histories.
Historians developed the concept from the 17th century onwards that the language spoken by these people could be called the Goidelic languages, a branch of the Celtic languages, and this was explained as a result of invasions of Celts. However, research during the 20th century indicated otherwise, and in the later years of the century the conclusion drawn was that the language and culture may have developed gradually and continuously. Very little archaeological evidence was found for large intrusive groups of Celtic immigrants in Ireland. The hypothesis that the native Late Bronze Age inhabitants gradually absorbed influences to create Celtic culture has since been supported by some recent genetic research. 1
The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia. Ptolemy in AD 100 records Ireland's geography and tribes. Ireland was never formally a part of the Roman Empire but Roman influence was often projected well beyond formal borders. Tacitus writes that an Irish tribal chieftain was with Agricola in Britain and would return to seize power in Ireland. Juvenal tells us that Roman "arms had been taken beyond the shores of Ireland". If Rome, or an ally, did invade, they didn't leave very much behind. The exact relationship between Rome and the tribes of Hibernia is unclear.
Early Christian Ireland 400–800
The middle centuries of the first millennium AD marked great changes in Ireland.
Niall Noigiallach (died c.450/455) laid the basis for the Uí Néill dynasty's hegemony over much of western, northern and central Ireland. Politically, the former emphasis on tribal affiliation had been replaced by the 700's by that of patrilinial and dynastic background. Many formerly powerful kingdoms and peoples disappeared. Irish pirates struck all over the coast of western Britain in the same way that the Vikings would later attack Ireland. Some of these founded entirely new kingdoms in Pictland, Wales and Cornwall. The Attacotti of south Leinster even served in the Roman Legions in the mid-to-late 300's.
Perhaps it was some of the latter returning home as rich mercenaries, merchants, or slaves stolen from Britain or Gaul, that first brought the Christian faith to Ireland. Some early sources claim that there were missionaries active in southern Ireland long before St. Patrick. Whatever the route, and there were probably many, this new faith was to have the most profound effect on the Irish.
A page from the Book of Kells that opens the Gospel of John.Tradition maintains that in AD 432, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. On the other hand, Palladius was sent to Ireland by the Pope in 431 as "first Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ", which demonstrates that, by whatever means, there were already Christians living in Ireland. Palladius seems to have worked purely as Bishop to Irish Christians in the Leinster and Meath kingdoms, while Patrick — who is now believed to have arrived as late as 461 — worked first and foremost as a missionary to the Pagan Irish, converting in the more remote kingdoms located in Ulster and Connacht.
Ring fort on the island of Inishmaan, Aran Islands, Ireland. Photograph by Jonathan Leonard.Patrick is credited, possibly too much so, with preserving the tribal and social patterns of the Irish, codifying their laws and changing only those that conflicted with Christian practices. He is credited with introducing the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive Celtic oral literature. While it is impossible to deny the very real effect Patrick had on his contemporaries, the fact remains that there were Christians in Ireland long before he came, and Pagans long after he died.
The druid tradition collapsed, first in the face of the spread of the new faith, and ultimately in the aftermath of famine and plagues due to the climate changes of 535–536. Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished shortly thereafter. Missionaries from Ireland to England and Continental Europe spread news of the flowering of learning, and scholars from other nations came to Irish monasteries. The excellence and isolation of these monasteries helped preserve Latin learning during the Early Middle Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewelry, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island. Sites dating to this period include clochans, ringforts and promontory forts.
Early medieval era 800–1166
Viking raids in 850.The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in 795 when Vikings from Norway looted the island of Lambay, located off the Dublin coast. Early Viking raids were generally small in scale and quick. These early raids interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture starting the beginning of two hundred years of intermittent warfare, with waves of Viking raiders plundering monasteries and towns throughout Ireland. Most of the early raiders came from the fjords of western Norway.
The round tower at Glendalough.By the early 840's, the Vikings began to establish settlements along the Irish coasts and to spend the winter months there. Vikings founded settlements in Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, and most famously, Dublin. Written accounts from this time (early to mid 840's) show that the Vikings were moving further inland to attack (often using rivers such as the Shannon) and then retreating to their coastal headquarters.
In 852, the Vikings Ivar Beinlaus and Olaf the White landed in Dublin Bay and established a fortress, on which the city of Dublin (from the Irish Gaelic An Dubh Linn meaning "the black pool") now stands. Olaf was the son of a Norwegian king and made himself the king of Dublin. After several generations a group of mixed Irish and Norse ethnic background arose (the so-called Gall-Gaels, Gall then being the Irish word for "foreigners" — the Norse). The descendants of Ivar Beinlaus established a long dynasty based in Dublin, and from this base succeeded in dominating much of the isle. This rule was ultimately broken by the joint efforts of Maelsechlainn II, King of Meath, and Brian Boru (c. 941–1014) at the Battle of Clontarf where Brian Boru died.
Early Ireland had an unusual government. Ireland was divided into many small kingdoms called tuaths. Each tuath's king was elected by all the free men on its territory. The tuath was thus a body of persons voluntarily united and its territorial dimension was the sum total of the landed properties of its members. About 80 to 100 tuatha coexisted at any time throughout Ireland. Above the tuaithe were larger provincial kingdoms.
Later Medieval Ireland
The Coming of the Normans 1167–1185
A tower house near Quin. The Normans consolidated their presence in Ireland by building hundreds of castles and towers such as this.By the 12th century, Ireland was divided politically into a shifting hierarchy of petty kingdoms and over-kingdoms. Power was concentrated into the hands of a few regional dynasties contending against each other for control of the whole island. One of their number, the King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada (anglicised as Diarmuid MacMorrough) was forcibly exiled from his kingdom by the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Fleeing to Aquitaine, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry II to use the Norman forces to regain his kingdom. The first Norman knight landed in Ireland in 1167, followed by the main forces of Normans, Welsh and Flemings in Wexford in 1169 Within a short time Leinster was regained, Waterford and Dublin were under Diarmait's control, and he had Strongbow as a son-in-law, and named him as heir to his kingdom. This caused consternation to King Henry II of England, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman state in Ireland. Accordingly, he resolved to establish his authority.
With the authority of a papal bull from Adrian IV, Henry landed with a large fleet at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. Henry awarded his Irish territories to his younger son John with the title Dominus Hiberniae ("Lord of Ireland"). When John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King John, the "Lordship of Ireland" fell directly under the English Crown.
The Lordship of Ireland 1185–1254
King John's Castle sits on the southern bank of the River Shannon. It was built in the Twelfth Century on the orders of King John of England.Initially the Normans controlled the entire east coast, from Waterford up to eastern Ulster and penetrated as far west as Galway and Mayo. The most powerful forces in the land were the great Hiberno-Norman Earldoms, who controlled vast territories almost independent of the governments in Dublin or London. The Lord of Ireland was King John, who visited Ireland in 1185 and 1210 and helped consolidate the Norman controlled areas, while at the same time ensuring that the many Irish kings were swore fealty to him.
However, the Hiberno-Norman community suffered from a series of events that ceased the spread of their settlement and power. Politics and events in Gaelic Ireland served to draw the settlers deeper into the orbit of the Irish.
Gaelic Resurgence, Norman Decline 1254–1360
In 1315, Edward Bruce of Scotland invaded Ireland, gaining the support of many Gaelic lords against the English. Although Bruce was eventually defeated, the war caused a great deal of destruction, especially around Dublin. In this chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land that their families had lost since the conquest and held them after the war was over.
The Black Death rapidly spread along the major European sea and land trade routes. It reached Ireland in 1348 and decimated the Hiberno-Norman urban settlements.The Black Death arrived in Ireland in 1348. Because most of the English and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements. After it had passed, Gaelic Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again. The English-controlled area shrunk back to the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin.
Outside the Pale, the Hiberno-Norman lords adopted the Irish language and customs, becoming known as the Old English, and in the words of a contemporary English commentator, became "more Irish than the Irish themselves." Over the following centuries they sided with the indigenous Irish in political and military conflicts with England and generally stayed Catholic after the Reformation. The authorities in the Pale grew so worried about the "Gaelicisation" of Ireland that they passed special legislation in a parliament in Kilkenny (known as the Statutes of Kilkenny) banning those of English descent from speaking the Irish language, wearing Irish clothes or inter-marrying with the Irish. Since the government in Dublin had little real authority, however, the Statutes did not have much effect.
By the end of the 15th century, central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared. England's attentions were diverted by its Wars of the Roses (civil war). The Lordship of Ireland lay in the hands of the powerful Fitzgerald Earl of Kildare, who dominated the country by means of military force and alliances with lords and clans around Ireland. Around the country, local Gaelic and Gaelicised lords expanded their powers at the expense of the English government in Dublin.
Reformation (1536–1654) and Protestant Ascendancy (1654–1801)
The Reformation, before which, in 1536, Henry VIII broke with Papal authority, fundamentally changed Ireland. While Henry VIII broke English Catholicism from Rome, his son Edward VI of England moved further, breaking with Papal doctrine completely. While the English, the Welsh and, later, the Scots accepted Protestantism, the Irish remained Catholic. This fact determined their relationship with the British state for the next four hundred years, as the Reformation coincided with a determined effort on behalf of the English state to re-conquer and colonise Ireland. The religious schism meant that the native Irish and the (Roman Catholic) Old English were excluded from power in the new settlement.
Re-conquest and rebellion
From 1536, Henry VIII decided to re-conquer Ireland and bring it under crown control. The Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare, who had become the effective rulers of Ireland in the 15th century, had become very unreliable allies of the Tudor monarchs. They had invited Burgundian troops into Dublin to crown the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as King of England in 1497. Again in 1536, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald went into open rebellion against the crown. Having put down this rebellion, Henry VIII resolved to bring Ireland under English government control so the island would not to become a base for future rebellions or foreign invasions of England. In 1541, Henry upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a full Kingdom. With the institutions of government in place, the next step was to extend the control of the English Kingdom of Ireland over all of its claimed territory. This took nearly a century, with various English administrations in the process either negotiating or fighting with the independent Irish and Old English lords.
The re-conquest was completed during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, after several bloody conflicts. (See the Desmond Rebellions (1569–1573 and 1579–1583 and the Nine Years War 1594–1603, for details). After this point, the English authorities in Dublin established real control over Ireland for the first time, bringing a centralised government to the entire island, and successfully disarmed the native lordships.However, the English were not successful in converting the Catholic Irish to the Protestant religion and the brutal methods used by crown authority to pacify the country heightened resentment of English rule.
From the mid-16th and into the early seventeenth century, crown governments carried out a policy of colonisation known as Plantations. Scottish and English Protestants were sent as colonists to the provinces of Munster, Ulster and the counties of Laois and Offaly (see also Plantations of Ireland). These settlers, who had a British and Protestant identity, would form the ruling class of future British adminstrations in Ireland. A series of Penal Laws discriminated against all faiths other than the established (Anglican) Church of Ireland. The principal victims of these laws were Catholics and later Presbyterians.
Civil Wars and Penal Laws
Oliver Cromwell, who re-conquered Ireland in 1649-1651 after Irish Catholic rebellion and civil war, on behalf of the English Commonwealth. Under his government, landownership in Ireland passed overwhelmingly to Protestant colonists.The seventeenth century was perhaps the bloodiest in Ireland's history. Two periods of civil war (1641-53 and 1689-91) caused huge loss of life and resulted in the final dispossesion of the Irish Catholic landowning class and their subordination under the Penal Laws.
In the mid-seventeenth century, Ireland was convulsed by eleven years of warfare, beginning with the Rebellion of 1641, when Irish Catholics rebelled against English and Protestant domination, in the process massacring thousands of Protestant settlers. The Catholic majority briefly ruled the country as Confederate Ireland (1642-1649) against the background of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms until Oliver Cromwell re-conquered Ireland in 1649-1653 on behalf of the English Commonwealth. Cromwell's conquest was the most brutal phase of a brutal war. By its close, up to a third of Ireland's pre-war population was dead or in exile. As punishment for the rebellion of 1641, almost all lands owned by Irish Catholics were confiscated and given to British settlers. The remaining native landowners were transplanted to Connacht.
James VII and II
Irish Catholics, known as Jacobites fought for James in 1698-91, but failed to restore him to the throne of Ireland, England and ScotlandForty years later, Ireland became the main battleground in the Glorious Revolution of 1689, when the Catholic James II was deposed by the English Parliament and replaced by William of Orange. Irish Catholics backed James to try to reverse the Penal Laws and land confiscations, whereas Protestants supported William to preserve their dominance in the country. James and William fought for the English, Scottish and Irish thrones in the Williamite War, most famously at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, where James's forces were defeated. Jacobite resistance was finally ended after the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691. The Penal laws (which had been allowed to lapse somewhat after the English Restoration) were re-applied with great harshness after this war, as the Protestant elite wanted to ensure that the Irish Catholic landed classes would not be in a position to repeat their rebellions of the 17th century.
Subsequent Irish antagonism towards England was aggravated by the economic situation of Ireland in the eighteenth century. Absentee Landlords managed some of their estates very badly, meaning that food tended to be produced for export rather than for domestic consumption. In the 1740s, these economic inequalities, along with two very cold winters, led directly to the Great Irish Famine (1740-1741), which killed about 400,000 people. In addition, Irish Trade was adversley affected by the Navigation Acts, which placed tarrifs on Irish produce entering England, but which exempted English goods from tariffs on entering Ireland. Some Irish Catholics remained attached to Jacobite ideology in opposition to the Protestant Ascendancy. Nevertheless, most of the eighteenth century was relatively peaceful in comparison with the preceding two hundred years.
By the late eighteenth century, many of the Irish Protestant elite had come to see Ireland as their native country. A Parliamentary faction led by Henry Grattan agitated for a more favourable trading relationship with England and for legislative independence for the Parliament of Ireland. However, reform in Ireland stalled over the proposals of some radicals to enfranchise Irish Catholics. When this failed, some were attracted to the more militant example of the French revolution of 1789. They formed the Society of the United Irishmen to overthrow British rule and found a non-sectarian republic. Their activity culminated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which was bloodily suppressed. Partly in response to this rebellion, Irish self-government was abolished altogether by the Act of Union on January 1, 1801.
Union with Great Britain (1801-1922)
Daniel O'Connell.In 1800, after the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the British and the Irish parliaments (the latter controversially, as massive bribery was involved) enacted the Act of Union, which merged Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain (itself a union of England and Scotland, created almost 100 years earlier), to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Part of the deal for the union was that Catholic Emancipation would be conceded to remove discrimination against Catholics, Presbyterians and others. However King George III controversially blocked any change.
In 1823, an enterprising Catholic lawyer, Daniel O'Connell, known as "the Great Liberator" began a successful campaign to achieve emancipation, which was finally conceded in 1829. He later led an unsuccessful campaign for "Repeal of the Act of Union".
The second of Ireland's "Great Famines", An Gorta Mór struck the country severely in the period 1845-1849, with potato blight leading to mass starvation and emigration. (See Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849).) The impact of emigration in Ireland was severe; the population dropped from over 8 million before the Famine to 4.4 million in 1911.
Fall in Irish population (1841-1851).The Irish language, once the spoken language of the entire island, declined in use sharply in the nineteenth century as a result of the Famine and the creation of the National School education system, as well as hostility to the language from leading Irish politicians of the time; it was largely replaced by English.
Outside mainstream nationalism, a series of violent rebellions by Irish republicans took place in 1803, under Robert Emmet; in 1848, by the Young Irelanders, most prominent among them, Thomas Francis Meagher; and in 1867, by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. All failed, but physical force nationalism remained an undercurrent in the nineteenth century.
The late nineteenth century also witnessed major land reform, spearheaded by the Land League under Michael Davitt. From 1870 various British governments introduced a series of Land Acts that broke up large estates and gradually gave rural landholders and tenants what became known as the 3 Fs; Fair rent, free sale, fixity of tenure."
In the 1870s the issue of Irish self-government again became a major focus of debate under Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell and the Home Rule League. British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone made two unsuccessful attempts to introduce Home Rule in 1886 and 1893. Parnell's controversial leadership eventually ended when he was implicated in a divorce scandal, when it was revealed that he had been living with the wife of a fellow Irish MP, Katherine O'Shea, and was the father of some of her children.
The debate over Home Rule led to tensions between Irish nationalists and Irish unionists (those who favoured maintenance of the union). Most of the island was predominantly nationalist, Catholic and agrarian. The northeast, however, was predominantly unionist, Protestant and industrialised. Unionists feared a loss of political power and economic wealth in a predominantly rural, nationalist, Catholic home rule state. Nationalists believed that they would remain economically and politically second class citizens without self-government.
Home Rule, Easter 1916 and the War of Independence
The period from 1916-1921 was marked by political violence and upheaval, ending in the partition of Ireland and independence for 26 of its 32 counties.
The Easter Proclamation
It was issued by the Leaders of the Easter Rising.In September 1914, just as the First World War broke out, the UK Parliament finally passed the Third Home Rule Act to establish self-government for Ireland, but was suspended for the duration of the war. Before it ended, Britain made two concerted efforts to implement the Act, one in May 1916 and again during 1917-1918, but the Irish sides (Nationalist, Unionist) were unable to agree terms for the temporary or permanent exclusion of Ulster from its provisions.
A failed attempt was made to gain separate independence for Ireland with the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection in Dublin. Though support for the insurgents was small, the violence used in its suppression led to a swing in support of the rebels. In addition, the unprecedented threat of Irishmen being conscripted to the British Army in 1918 (for service in World War I) accelerated this change. (See: Conscription Crisis of 1918 (Ireland)). In the December 1918 elections most voters voted for Sinn Féin, the party of the rebels. Having won three-quarters of all the seats in Ireland, its MPs assembled in Dublin on 21 January 1919, to form a thirty-two county Irish Republic parliament, Dáil Éireann unilaterally, asserting sovereignty over the entire island.
Parliament House in College Green, Dublin, during the Kingdom of Ireland.
House of Lords of the Kingdom of Ireland. (abolished 1800)
House of Commons of the Kingdom of Ireland.(Abolished 1800)
First Dáil meeting in the Mansion House, Dublin (1919)
Leinster House, home of the Republic's parliament since 1922.
Seanad Chamber in the Republic of Ireland.
Dáil Chamber in the Republic of Ireland.
Stormont Parliament buildings in Northern Ireland. (opened 1932)
The Northern Ireland Assembly of 1998.
Unwilling to negotiate any understanding with Britain short of complete independence, the Irish Republican Army — the army of the newly declared Irish Republic — waged a guerrilla war (the Anglo-Irish War) from 1919 to 1921. In the course of the fighting and amid much acrimony, the Fourth Government of Ireland Act 1920 separated the island into what the British government termed "Northern Ireland" and "Southern Ireland". In mid-1921, the Irish and British governments signed a truce that halted the war. In December 1921, representatives of both governments signed an Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Irish delegation was led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. This abolished the Irish Republic and created the Irish Free State, a self-governing Dominion of the British Empire in the manner of Canada and Australia. Under the Treaty, Northern Ireland could opt out of the Free State and stay within the United Kingdom: it promptly did so. In 1922, both parliaments ratified the Treaty, formalising independence for the twenty-six county Irish Free State (which went on to become became the Republic of Ireland in 1949); while the six county Northern Ireland, gaining Home Rule for itself, remained part of the United Kingdom. For most of the next 75 years, each territory was strongly aligned to either Catholic or Protestant ideologies, although this was more marked in the six counties of Northern Ireland.
Free State/Republic (1922-present)
Political map of Ireland.The treaty to sever the Union divided the republican movement into anti-Treaty (who wanted to fight on until an Irish Republic was achieved) and pro-Treaty supporters (who accepted the Free State as a first step towards full independence and unity). Between 1922 and 1923 both sides fought the bloody Irish Civil War. The new Irish Free State government defeated the anti-Treaty remnant of the Irish Republican Army. This division among nationalists still colours Irish politics today, specifically between the two leading Irish political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
The new Irish Free State (1922–37) existed against the backdrop of the growth of dictatorships in Europe and a major world economic downturn in 1929. In contrast with many contemporary European states it remained a democracy. Testament to this came when the losing faction in the Irish civil war, Eamon de Valera's Fianna Fáil, was able to take power peacefully by winning the 1932 general election. In contrast to many other states in the period, the Free State remained financially solvent. However, unemployment and emigration were high. The Catholic Church had a powerful influence over the state for much of its history.
In 1937, a new Constitution of Ireland proclaimed the state of Éire (or Ireland). The state remained neutral throughout World War II (see Irish neutrality) and this saved it from much of the horrors of the war, although tens of thousands volunteered to serve in the British forces. Ireland was also hit badly by rationing of food, and coal in particular (peat production became a priority during this time). Though nominally neutral, recent studies have suggested a far greater level involvement by the South with the Allies than was realised, with D Day's date set on the basis of secret weather information on Atlantic storms supplied by the Republic. For more detail on 1939–45, see main article The Emergency.
In 1949 the state was formally declared the Republic of Ireland and it left the British Commonwealth.
In the 1960s, Ireland underwent a major economic change under reforming Taoiseach (prime minister) Seán Lemass and radical senior civil servant T.K. Whitaker, who produced a series of economic plans. Free second-level education was introduced by Brian Lenihan as Minister for Education in 1968. From the early 1960s, the Republic sought admission to the European Economic Community but, because of its economy's dependence on the United Kingdom's market, it could not do so until the UK did, in 1973.
Economic downturn in the 1970s, augmented by a set of misjudged economic policies followed by Taoiseach Jack Lynch, caused the Irish economy to stagnate. However, economic reforms in the late 1980s and considerable investment from the European Community led to the emergence of one of the world's highest economic growth rates, with mass immigration (particularly of people from Asia and Eastern Europe) as a feature of the late 1990s. This period came to be known as the Celtic Tiger and was focused on as a model for economic development in the former Eastern Bloc states, which entered the European Union in the early 2000s.
Irish society also adopted relatively liberal social policies during this period. Divorce was legalised, homosexuality decriminalised, while a right to abortion in limited cases was granted by the Irish Supreme Court in the X Case legal judgement. Major scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, both sexual and financial, coincided with a widespread decline in religious practice, with weekly attendance at Roman Catholic Mass halving in twenty years.
From 1921 to 1971, Northern Ireland was governed by the Ulster Unionist Party government, based at Stormont in East Belfast. The founding Prime Minister, James Craig, proudly declared that it would be "a Protestant State for a Protestant People" (in contrast to the anticipated "Papist" state to the south). Discrimination against the minority nationalist community in jobs and housing, and their total exclusion from political power due to the majoritarian electoral system, led to the emergence of a civil rights campaign in the late 1960s, inspired by Martin Luther King's civil rights movement in the United States of America. A violent counter-reaction from right-wing unionists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) led to civil disorder. To restore order, British troops were deployed to the streets of Northern Ireland at this time.
Tensions came to a head with the events of Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday, and the worst years (early 1970s) of what became known as The Troubles resulted. The Stormont government was prorogued in 1971 and abolished totally in 1972. Paramilitary private armies such as the Provisional IRA, the Official IRA, the INLA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force fought each other and the British army and the (largely Unionist) RUC, resulting in the deaths of well over three thousand men, women and children, civilians and military. Most of the violence took place in Northern Ireland, but some also spread to England and across the Irish border.
Irish Police forces
Royal Irish Constabulary. (All Ireland police force 1822—1922)
Dublin Metropolitan Police (1836—1925).
Irish Republican Police (Irish Republic 1920—1922)
An Garda Síochána (Republic of Ireland 1922—present)
Royal Ulster Constabulary (Northern Ireland 1922—2001)
Police Service of Northern Ireland (2001—present)
Direct Rule (1971-1998)
For the next 27 years, Northern Ireland was under "direct rule" with a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the British Cabinet responsible for the departments of the Northern Ireland executive/government. Principal acts were passed by the United Kingdom Parliament in the same way as for much of the rest of the UK, but many smaller measures were dealt with by Order in Council with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. Throughout this time the aim was to restore devolution but three attempts - the power-sharing executive established by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act and the Sunningdale Agreement, the 1975 Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention and Jim Prior's 1982 assembly all failed to either reach consensus or operate in the longer term.
During the 1970s British policy concentrated on defeating the IRA by military means including the policy of Ulsterisation (requiring the RUC and (British Army reserve) Ulster Defence Regiment to be at the forefront of combating the IRA). Although IRA violence decreased it was obvious that no military victory was on hand in either short or medium terms. Even Catholics that generally rejected the IRA were unwilling to offer support to a state that seemed to remain mired in sectarian discrimination and the Unionists plainly were not interested in Catholic participation in running the state in any case. In the 1980s the IRA attempted to secure a decisive military victory based on massive arms shipments from Libya. When this failed - probably because of MI5's penetration of the IRA's senior commands - senior republican figures began to look to broaden the struggle from purely military means. In time this began a move towards military cessation. In 1986 the British and Irish governments signed the Anglo Irish Agreement signaling a formal partnership in seeking a political solution. Socially and economically Northern Ireland suffered the worst levels of unemployment in the UK and although high levels of public spending ensured a slow modernisation of public services and moves towards equality, progress was slow in the 70s and 80s, only in the 1990s when progress towards peace became tangible, did the economic situation brighten. By then, too, the demographics of Northern Ireland had undergone significant change, and more than 40% of the population are Catholics.
Devolution and Direct Rule (1998-present)
More recently, the Belfast Agreement ("Good Friday Agreement") of April 10, 1998 brought a degree of power sharing to Northern Ireland, giving both unionists and nationalists control of limited areas of government. However, both the power-sharing Executive and the elected Assembly have been suspended since October 2002 following a breakdown in trust between the political parties. Efforts to resolve outstanding issues, including "decommissioning" of paramilitary weapons, policing reform and the removal of British army bases are continuing. Recent elections have not helped towards compromise, with the moderate Ulster Unionist and (nationalist) Social Democrat and Labour parties being substantially displaced by the hard-line Democratic Unionist and (nationalist) Sinn Féin parties.
On July 28, 2005, the Provisional IRA (PIRA) announced the end of its armed campaign and on September 25, 2005 international weapons inspectors supervised the full disarmament of the PIRA.