Ireland was first settled in about
6000 BC by a race of Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherers who lived there
and hunted such creatures as the megaceros, a giant variety of deer so
large that their antlers spanned 10 feet. Around 3000 BC, they made
significant technological improvements which moved them into the
classification of Bronze Age people. These people eventually came to
be known as the Picts, who ruled over Ireland for millenia and even
expanded to Scotland. Irish folklore tells that during these very
early times, two sons of King Milesius of Iberia conquered Ireland,
becoming King Heremon, and his brother Heber. It is said that after
assuming power in Ireland Heremon slew his brother, took the throne
and fathered a line of kings of Ireland that includes Malachi II and
King Niall of the Nine Hostages.
Around 900 BC, a race known as the
Celts appeared. They were the result of cross-breeding between
European Bronze Age people and wanderers from central Asia. They
dominated the country for many years to follow, building many of the
characteristic ring forts which are found all over Ireland. They did
not confine themselves to Ireland, however, dominating Western Europe
for a long time, sacking Rome in 390 BC, and Delphi a century later.
In the early 5th century AD, St.
Patrick came to Ireland to convert the Irish, who were all Druidic, to
Christianity. He had amazing success, as today nearly everyone living
in Ireland is Christian and Druids are almost unheard of. This feat
was made even more impressive by the fact that the Celtic nobility
held their power through the Druidic religion; because of this, they
were exceptionally difficult to convert.
The years that were the Dark Ages
for the rest of Europe, between 410 and 800 AD, were a golden age for
Ireland. Ireland flourished while the Roman Empire fell, fragmented
and was plagued by attacks from Vikings, Muslims and Magyars. It was
not to last however; Ireland was to have its own Dark Age.
In 795, Vikings from Scandinavia
landed on the Gaelic island of Iona and plundered a monastery there.
By the early 800s, they had begun raids on Ireland itself, plundering
it on a regular basis. At first, they were only interested in rape,
pillage and plunder, but eventually they stayed, rather than taking
their loot and leaving. By 841, they had established several
well-fortified settlements in Louth and expanded aggressively
thereafter, eventually conquering all of Ireland with a decisive
victory in the Battle of Dublin in 919. The Celts slowly regained
land, however, and in 1014, led by Brian Boru, they almost completely
eliminated the Viking presence in Ireland with the Battle of Clontarf.
Next came the Normans, who were of
originally Viking origin. While some Vikings were raiding Ireland in
the previous centuries, the Normans had settled in northern France and
were intermarrying with the natives. From there, they swept through
England and Scotland, and eventually came to Ireland in 1169. Within a
few years they had captured Dublin and most other major cities, and so
Ireland belonged to them. They intermarried with the Celts (who now
called themselves the Gaels), giving rise to many powerful
Norman-Irish feudal families.
For a long time thereafter,
Ireland was divided between the Normans and the Gaels. Though the
Normans controlled most of the Island, there was eventually a Gaelic
resurgence and the Norman territories were vastly reduced. Once this
happened, the Normans began to be assimilated and eventually became
"more Irish than the Irish."
Though still affiliated with
England, Ireland was essentially independent. The Tudor Dynasty
(1485-1607) put an end to this, engaging in another conquest of
Ireland and instating laws which, among other things, decreed that the
King of England was automatically the King of Ireland, essentially
making the two a single country. They also ousted the Catholic church,
making Protestantism the religion of Ireland and also imposed laws
which created a huge class distinction, setting the stage for the
bloody conflicts that rage to this day.
The so called Plantation of Ulster
occured during the reign of King James I, in the early 17th century,
six entire counties, (Armagh, Tyrone, Coleraine, Donegal, Fermanagh
and Caven) of Ireland were 'planted' with English and Scottish
settlers. The settlers were Protestants, sent by the English crown to
make the territory easier to rule. More than 8,000 people of British
birth were found in these counties by 1620. The Plantation of Ulster
was to have a profound impact on Ireland and it's relation to the
United Kingdom for centuries to come.
From 1740 onwards, the population
of Ireland began to soar. For the next eighty years, the largely
agricultural economy of Ireland enjoyed a period of prosperity due to
increased production and high British grain demands. However, by the
1830s, the once-fertile soil had grown depleted from heavy
overproduction, and agricultural productivity fell off. The mid-1840s
marked the onset of catastrophe for the Irish potato crop. A partial
failure of the vital staple crop in 1845 was followed by a complete
failure the following year, which was in turn followed by an
especially cruel winter. In 1848, the crop failed once again.
Starvation and disease became common as many farmers were driven
penniless from their homes. The Irish Potato Famine resulted in one of
the most dramatic waves of migration in history. From 1845 to 1851,
Ireland lost almost a quarter of its population. Of these, half
emigrated to Britain, North America, and Australia. The other half
perished. Most Irish immigrants were virtually penniless and were
often perceived to be lower-class and less hard-working, but nothing
could be further from the truth. Time would prove their critics very
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