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Ireland History
Ireland History - TravelPuppy.com
The history of Ireland is a troubled and often tragic one. The most enduring features of it are an unswerving commitment to Catholicism on the part of the majority of the population, the origins of which can be go back to the pioneering monastic orders of the fifth and sixth centuries. Secondly, there is the uncertainty and instability governing Anglo-Irish relations: Ireland was never so fully conquered that it absorbed or adopted the culture and way of life of its larger neighbour.

Following the monastic age there was a long struggle against the Viking invaders who sought to use Ireland as a base for trade with continental Europe. The Vikings built fortified ports, thereby laying the foundations of some of the major cities, including Dublin, Limerick and Waterford.


It was the war between the Irish chieftains and the Vikings that led to the involvement of the English. Richard of Clare, Earl of Pembroke (nicknamed Strongbow), was asked by one the chieftains to support his claims, but instead Strongbow practically conquered the entire country with only a tiny force of archers and mounted knights in 1169-70. A stream of Norman families moved to Ireland, effectively colonising the country and coming into conflict with the Irish tribal system. Largely unsuccessful efforts from the 14th century onwards were made to bring the island under control. The increasingly polarised and turbulent political life of Ireland took a new and bitter twist after the English Civil War, when the Irish favoured the deposed monarchy in 1649.

The triumphant Oliver Cromwell led an army across the Irish Sea and the rebellion was ruthlessly put down. Over the next several years, all Catholic land was expropriated and given to a new wave of Protestant immigrants. The subsequent Act of Union, passed in 1801, incorporated the Ireland, along with England, Scotland and Wales, into the United Kingdom. However, the inadequate response of the Government to the potato famine of 1845-1846, which decimated the Irish population through death and emigration, demonstrated its lack of interest in the welfare of the Irish people.

Various independence movements followed an almost continuous struggle against the Government until Home Rule was granted in 1920 (the Easter Rising of 1916, centred on the Main Post Office in Dublin, was a principal landmark).

The terms of independence stipulated that Ireland be split into two parts. In the northern provinces, where most Protestants had settled three centuries earlier, there was fierce opposition to the prospect of being ruled by a government coming from the country’s Catholic majority.

Six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster therefore remained in the United Kingdom. The other 26 counties became known as the Irish Free State. The ensuing civil war in the south gave rise to the country’s two main political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

In 1937, the Irish Free State gained full sovereignty within the Commonwealth, a new constitution having been adopted, and remaining links with Britain were dissolved.

In 1949, the 26 counties became a republic and formal ties with the Commonwealth came to an end.

In 1973, at the same time as the UK and Denmark, Ireland became a member of the EEC. European membership proved to be a huge economic benefit to Ireland. Since the 1970s, the country has been governed alternately by Fianna Fáil, a coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Ireland’s impressive economic growth in the last 20 years has been accompanied by a new element of graft in Irish politics. Charles Haughey (‘The Boss’), who was Taioseach (Prime Minister) on several occasions during the 1980s and early 1990s, was typical of this trend.

At the 1997 election for the Dáil (lower chamber of Parliament), no single party secured an overall majority. Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern formed a new government in alliance with the support of the smaller Progressive Democrats (a split from Fianna Fáil) and several independents. Ahern’s new administration took office at the end of June with Mary Harney of the PD as Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste). She was the first woman ever to hold the position.
Ahern’s relatively successful career ensured that the electorate returned his Fianna Fáil-led coalition with an increased majority at the most recent poll in May 2002.

Under Ahern’s government, Ireland has continued its impressive economic growth. The political agenda has been dominated by two main issues. The first is the challenge to the orthodox morality of the Catholic Church, especially on the issues of abortion and divorce. Successive governments have consigned both matters to referendum, occasioning bitter national debates. Abortion remains illegal, but divorce was finally legalised after a referendum in November 1995 delivered a vote in favour.

Equally contentious is the other issue: the future of Northern Ireland. Dublin was excluded from any official role until the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985, which allowed Dublin consultative status over the future political development of the north. The Irish government has made a continuous and vital contribution, much of it behind the scenes, to the peace process in the province.

Dublin’s agreement to give up its formal territorial claim over Northern Ireland, previously enshrined in two articles of the Irish Constitution, was critical in reassuring Northern Unionists who want to retain the province’s links with Great Britain. Some in Dublin think that the lowering of barriers between countries, which is a key objective of European Union, will eventually bring about conditions where there is little difference between North and South.Yet many in the North remain suspicious of Dublin’s role, and are not keen to accept anything which may bring North and South closer together.

Ireland is generally a member of the European Union, from which it has derived huge economic benefits. However, in the fast-developing areas of defence and security policy, there is a problem of a clash with Ireland’s long-held and cherished neutrality.