The first known settlement in Ireland began around 8,000 BC, when hunter-gatherers arrived from continental Europe, probably via a land bridge. When Saint Patrick and other Christian missionaries arrived in the early to mid-5th century AD, Christianity began to replace the local Celtic religion, a process that was completed around AD 800. More than a century of Viking invasions troubled monastic culture and the island's various regional dynasties, but both of these institutions proved strong.
The national flag of Ireland is a tricolour of green, white and orange. This flag, which bears the colours green for Roman Catholics, orange for Protestants, and white for the desired peace between them, dates back to the middle of the 19th century.
There are a number of languages used in Ireland. Irish is the main language that originated from within the island, while others have been introduced through foreign settlement. Since the later nineteenth century, English has been the predominant first language: a minority say they can speak some Irish, although it is the first language of only a small percentage of the population. Officialy, Irish is the first language but English is the most used.
The predominant religion in Ireland is Christianity, with the largest church being the Roman catholic Church.
The Government is headed by a prime minister called the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach is appointed by the president. The President then appoints the remaining members of the Government.
EARLY CHRISTIAN IRELAND
The middle centuries of the first millennium AD marked great changes in Ireland.
Some early sources claim that there were missionaries active in southern Ireland long before St. Patrick. 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, according to Prosper of Aquitaine Palladius was sent to Ireland by the Pope in 431 as "first Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ", which demonstrates that 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 may have arrived as late as 461 — worked first and principally as a missionary to the Pagan Irish, converting in the more remote kingdoms located in Ulster and Connacht.
Patrick is traditionally credited with preserving the tribal and social patterns of the Irish, codifying their laws and changing only those that conflicted with Christian practices. He is also credited with introducing the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive Celtic oral literature. This period was important in the production of illuminated manuscripts, metalworking, and sculpture which flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, the Ardagh Chalice, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island.
The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in 795 when Vikings from Norway looted the island. 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.
The Vikings were expert sailors, who travelled in Longships, and by the early 840s, had begun to establish settlements along the Irish coasts and to spend the winter months there. Vikings founded settlements in several places; most famously in Dublin. Written accounts from this time show that the Vikings were moving further inland to attack and then retreating to their coastal headquarters. In 852, the Vikings landed in Dublin Bay and established a fortress.
However, the Vikings never achieved total domination of Ireland, often fighting for and against various Irish kings.
The Normans consolidated their presence in Ireland by building hundreds of castles and towers. By the 12th century, Ireland was divided into kingdoms and over-kingdoms. Power was exercised by the heads of a few regional dynasties.
The first Norman knight landed in Ireland in 1167, followed by the main forces of Normans, Welsh and Flemings.
King Henry II of England 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.
Throughout the thirteenth century the policy of the English Kings was to weaken the power of the Norman Lords in Ireland.
Gaelic resurgence and Norman decline
By 1261 the weakening of the Normans had become obvious and in this chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land that their families had lost since the conquest.
By the end of the 15th century, central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared. England's attentions were diverted by the Wars of the Roses. 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. But the power of the Dublin government was seriously curtailed by the introduction of Poynings Law in 1494. According to this act the Irish parliament was essentially put under the control of the Westminster parliament.
THE BLACK DEATH
The Black Death was an epidemic of bubonic plague that spread over the whole of Europe, arrived in England in 1348 and killed as much as a third to half the population.
CONQUEST AND REBELLION
From 1536, Henry VIII decided to 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 1487. 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 become a base for future rebellions or foreign invasions of England.
In 1541, Henry upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a full Kingdom. Henry was proclaimed King of Ireland at a meeting of the Irish Parliament that year. 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. The Spanish Armada in Ireland suffered heavy losses during an extraordinary season of storms in the autumn of 1588. Among the survivors was Captain Francisco de Cuellar, who gave a remarkable account of his experiences on the run in Ireland.
The re-conquest was completed during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, after several extremely brutal conflicts. 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. From the mid-16th and into the early 17th century, crown governments carried out a policy of land confiscation and 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.
THE GREAT FAMINE
In 1800, some five million people lived in Ireland. By the autumn of 1845, when the Great Famine struck Ireland, there were more than eight million. Many of them were poor, living on tiny plots of land, and dependent on each year's potato crop. The Great Famine lasted from 1845 to 1848, and crop failure affected the whole island.
The cause of the famine was a fungus disease which made the potato plants to rot in the ground, giving off an appalling stench. The blight first destroyed crops on the eastern seaboard of America in 1842, then appeared in England in the summer of 1845. More than half the Irish potato crop failed in 1845. Sir Robert Peel, the British prime minister, appointed a commission to investigate the problem, but scientists were unable to explain the disease, let alone find a cure In 1846, the potato crop was a total failure.
Peel, also introduced relief measures. In November 1845, the government spent £100,000 on buying grain from America, in the hope of keeping food prices down in Ireland. He appointed a relief commission which set about forming local committees to raise money and to distribute food.
Finally the new Whig government, led by Lord John Russell reformed the Poor Law system, so that outdoor relief was added to the limited accommodation of the workhouses. Medical services were improved with the establishment of temporary fever hospitals. By the end of 1849, the potato blight had passed and crops returned to normal. About one million people had died, and another million had emigrated.
FIRST WORLD WAR
In August 1914 the UK went to war with Germany as the First World War began.
Most of the Nationalist IVF did go to war alongside the British. However a small splinter group disagreed with this policy of helping the British and stayed at home. Thousands of Irishmen joined the war. On 1st July 1916, in France, the 10,000-strong 36th Ulster Division took part in a major offensive known as the Battle of the Somme. This offensive turned out to be one of the worst military routs of the war.
When the war had begun in 1914, the government had told troops that the war would be over by the end of 1914. By 1916 the war was still at a stalemate. The Irish Republican Brotherhood and the splinter IVF planned a huge rebellion to drive the British out of Ireland, taking advantage of the fact that the British had few troops to spare. It was led by a Dubliner, Patrick Pearse, along with Thomas MacDonagh and Joseph Plunkett.
1,500 rebels took over the Dublin Post Office and other key buildings in the city. They then raised the Irish Flag and read a proclamation of independence and formation of the Republic of Ireland. A fierce battle ensued between the rebels and the British. On 29 April, after 5 days of mortars, shells and gunfire, the rebels surrendered after 450 volunteers had been killed. Huge areas of Dublin city centre were in ruins and many locals sided with the British and shouted abuse as the rebels were lead away. Their opinions changed, when it was announced that the leaders should be executed for treason and collaboration with the enemy (Germany). Almost 100 men were shot after nominal trials.
In July 1917, Eamonn de Valera became the President of Sinn Fein. He had taken part in the Easter Rising, but had not been executed.
Sinn Féin gained even more support when they led the successful fight to prevent conscription in Ireland to feed the First World War trenches in 1918. After the war, which ended with German defeat in 1918, Sinn Féin won 73 seats compared to the Home Rule Party's 6. The Irish Unionist Party won 26 seats.
FREE STATE AND REPUBLIC
The treaty to sever the Union divided the republican movement into anti-Treaty and pro-Treaty supporters. 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, imposing multiple executions.
The new Irish Free State (1922–37) existed against the backdrop of the growth of dictatorships in mainland Europe and a major world economic downturn in 1929. 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. Nevertheless, up until the mid 1930s, considerable parts of Irish society saw the Free State through the prism of the civil war, as a repressive, British imposed state.
The Roman Catholic Church had a powerful influence over the Irish state for much of its history.
The state remained neutral throughout World War II 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. In 1949 the state was formally declared a republic and it left the British Commonwealth.
In the 1960s, Ireland underwent a major economic change under reforming Taoiseach, Seán Lemass and Secretary of the Department of Finance T.K. Whitaker, who produced a series of economic plans.
Global economic problems in the 1970s, augmented by a set of misjudged economic policies followed by governments, including that of Taoiseach Jack Lynch, caused the Irish economy to stagnate. This period came to be known as the Celtic Tiger. Irish society also adopted relatively liberal social policies during this period.
Ireland's economy has evolved greatly, becoming more diverse and sophisticated than ever before by integrating itself into the global economy. By the beginning of the 1990s Ireland had transformed itself into a modern industrial economy and generated substantial national income that benefited the entire nation. Although dependence on agriculture still remained high, Ireland's industrial economy produced sophisticated goods that rivaled international competition. Ireland's international economic boom of the 1990s is referred to as the "Celtic Tiger".
The Catholic Church, who once exercised an enormous amount of power, has reduced in influence on socio-political issues in Ireland. Irish bishops no longer have the right to advise and influence the Irish public on how to exercise their political rights.