The second-largest island of the British Isles, it lies to the W of Great Britain, across the Irish Sea. Under English and British rule for much of its history, it is now politically divided between the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland , which is part of the United Kingdom. The chief theme of Irish history has been the struggle to create a united and independent Ireland , and this issue continues to dominate politics in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Ireland was inhabited by Mesolithic people as early as the ninth millennium b.c. Flourishing Neolithic and Bronze cultures then arose until the island was invaded c. 500 b.c. by Celtic tribes who formed the kingdoms of Ulster, Connaught, Leinster, Meath, and Munster, all owing nominal allegiance to a high king at Tara. According to tradition Christianity was introduced by St. Patrick (c. a.d. 385– 461), and between the sixth and ninth centuries the country experienced an important cultural golden age centered in the Celtic Christian monasteries. The abbots of these houses served as both bishops of dioceses and as leaders of the Irish clans, thus wielding considerable political power as well. While European culture was at its lowest ebb they created a thriving world of the arts and literature, which preserved much ancient learning and passed it back to the continent through Irish missionaries and scholars, who were found through England and Europe. Beginning in 795 the coast of Ireland was raided by the Norsemen, who established trading towns at Limerick, Waterford, Dublin, Cork, and elsewhere, destroying Celtic culture as they came. They were defeated at Clontarf in 1014 by Brian Boru, high king of Ireland . The subjugation of the country by England began in 1169 when Anglo-Normans under the earl of Pembroke invaded and occupied an area of eastern Ireland around Dublin known as the “Pale.” These conquests were recognized by Henry II of England , who put Ireland under a justiciar, or viceroy, and in 1177 named his son John “Lord of Ireland .” As king, John held the country as a fief from the pope, who sanctioned his expansion of the Pale. John began a long series of wars carried out by the local English lords against the Irish kings. Edward I of England advanced the development of trade and urban life within the Pale, but he failed to persuade the Irish to give up their independence, despite granting the area Ireland ’s first parliament. Ireland “beyond the Pale” remained free under its various clans. Though the “wild Irish” were scorned by the English, they continued to produce some of the best and most imaginative art and literature of the Middle Ages. After the Reformation and beginning in 1563 the English imposed the Church of Ireland , modeled on the newly created Church of England , upon the country. The new church seized all Roman Catholic properties and positions, although the Irish themselves clung to their faith in the face of persecution and legal repression. During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558– 1603) English mismanagement spurred a general insurrection in 1598 that led to the defeat of Robert Devereux, the earl of Essex, by the Irish earl of Tyrone. The revolt was eventually repressed, however, and as a move to counter the anti-English mood of the Irish Catholics, Scottish Protestants were encouraged to settle in Ulster, dispossessing and replacing the Irish by force. An English aristocracy was set up, which soon became a class of absentee land lords, extorting huge rents from an impoverished and demoralized populace.
Another revolt in 1641 lasted 10 years before being crushed by Oliver Cromwell, who massacred the Irish garrisons at Drogheda and Wexford and carried out genocide against Catholic priests, women, and children. By the end of the war Cromwell had extended English rule over all Ireland . In 1689 the new Penal Laws were enacted for Ireland . These banished the Catholic clergy, forbade Catholics to vote for or sit in the Irish parliament, prohibited Catholic teachers from teaching, and Catholic children from attending Catholic schools. Catholics were also forbidden to buy land , to lease land for more than 31 years, to inherit from Protestants, to hold major moveable property, including horses, to serve as lawyers or constables, or to control large businesses. Irish trade was restricted to English ports, and it was forbidden to export Irish manufactures. By 1700 the Irish had become the most repressed people in Europe. In 1797 the Irish rebelled against the British and unsuccessfully invited the French to invade the country. Fears of Irish union with revolutionary and Napoleonic France shocked the British into action, and the 19th century was dominated by the “Irish Question.” In 1800, in the Act of Union, the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland (and thus the two countries) were united by William Pitt the Younger to stave off pro-French agitation. Although rights were granted to the Catholics in 1829, the plight of the Irish was exacerbated by increasing poverty, which climaxed in the Great Potato Famine of 1846 to 1848. It was caused by the failure of this cheap crop, upon which the Irish were almost completely dependent, resulting in mass starvation. Much of the population was forced to emigrate, chiefly to the United States. While Ireland ’s population before the famine was 8.25 million, by 1979 it had reached only approximately 3.5 million.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries further reforms attempted to ameliorate the Irish situation. The Church of Ireland was disestablished, the Irish tithes were stopped, and the British government adopted a plan to help the Irish buy out the estates of British land lords. Demand s for Home Rule, however, remained insistent. In 1914 it was finally granted, but the Ulstermen, backed by British Conservatives, threatened civil war if it were carried out. The power of Irish nationalism could no longer be resisted, however, and after the abortive Easter Rebellion of 1916 in Dublin, the country was torn by a guerrilla war launched by the Irish nationalist party, or Sinn Fein. Ireland was finally partitioned into its Catholic and Protestant parts in 1922. The six, chiefly Protestant, counties of Ulster were to be ruled from Belfast as part of the United Kingdom; while the rest of the country became the Irish Free State. After the establishment by treaty with Great Britain of the Irish Free State, civil war broke out between supporters of the treaty and opponents, who refused to accept the partition of Ireland and the retention of any ties with Britain. The antitreaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) led by Eamon De Valera were defeated by the protreaty groups. William Cosgrave became the first Irish prime minister, and De Valera and his Fianna Fail Party agreed to take the oath of allegiance to the British crown and entered the Dail (parliament) in 1927. In 1932, De Valera became prime minister, and in 1937, a new constitution established the sovereign nation of Ireland , or Eire, within the British Commonwealth of Nations. The loyalty oath to the British crown was abolished, and British economic concessions were abolished leading to an “economic war” with Britain during the 1930s. During World War II, Ireland remained neutral and vigorously protested Allied military activity in Northern Ireland . The British were denied the use of Irish ports, and German and Japanese agents were allowed to operate in the country. On the other hand , many Irishmen volunteered to serve with the British armed forces against the Axis. After the war, Ireland again experienced a population decline due to outmigration. In 1948, Ireland demand ed total independence from Great Britain and reunification with the six counties of Northern Ireland .
In 1949, the Republic of Ireland was proclaimed as an independent republic with formal claims upon the northern Ulster counties. The Irish population continued to decline through the 1950s and Britain continued to ignore Irish claims to Ulster. In the late 1960s the IRA (headquartered in Ireland ) started civil war with the Protestant majority in Ulster. In 1973, Ireland joined the European Community (now the European Union). The economy improved in the 1970s partially due to EC economic development aid and free trade zone development, but declined in the 1980s due to the worldwide recession. During the 1990s, the economy boomed and Ireland became a place of higher wages and lower unemployment, capitalizing on its highly educated workforce. Large numbers of outmigrants returned to Ireland . In 1991, Mary Robinson became Ireland ’s first female president.
Ireland remained a stronghold of the Roman Catholic Church, but in 1995, a referendum legalizing divorce passed by a narrow margin. Unemployment was below the EU average, although pockets of poverty persisted. In late 1994, after the IRA and Protestant militias agreed to a cease-fire, efforts were begun to negotiate a settlement of the Northern Ireland issue. Despite some setbacks, agreements were reached in April 1998, and approved by voters in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland in May. Women’s issues, such as the government’s strong anti-abortion stance and the constitutional ban on divorce, also became a focus in the 1990s. A referendum legalizing divorce passed by a narrow margin in 1995. In 1998, the Belfast Agreement laying the groundwork for peace in Northern Ireland was approved by referendum on both sides of the border. In 1999, Ireland joined the euro currency bloc, aband oning the Irish punt. The economy has continued to grow such that Ireland had the fourth-highest gross domestic product per capita in the world in 2005. Dublin is the capital and cultural and economic center of the Irish Republic. Cork, Waterford, and Limerick are other major cities. Belfast and Londonderry are the chief cities of Northern Ireland .
|Dublin||1,024,027||Leinster||-6.27 x 53.34||Europe/Dublin|
|Cork||190,384||Munster||-8.47 x 51.90||Europe/Dublin|
|Dun Laoghaire||185,400||-6.14 x 53.29||Europe/Dublin|
|Limerick||90,054||Munster||-8.62 x 52.66||Europe/Dublin|
|Galway||70,686||Connaught||-9.05 x 53.27||Europe/Dublin|
|Tallaght||64,282||Leinster||-6.37 x 53.29||Europe/Dublin|
|Waterford||47,904||Munster||-7.11 x 52.26||Europe/Dublin|
|Drogheda||33,441||Leinster||-6.35 x 53.72||Europe/Dublin|
|Dundalk||33,428||Leinster||-6.42 x 54.00||Europe/Dublin|
|Bray||32,317||Leinster||-6.10 x 53.20||Europe/Dublin|
|Swords||29,816||Leinster||-6.22 x 53.46||Europe/Dublin|
|Navan||24,545||Leinster||-6.68 x 53.65||Europe/Dublin|
|Ennis||24,427||Munster||-8.99 x 52.84||Europe/Dublin|
|Tralee||22,941||Munster||-9.70 x 52.27||Europe/Dublin|
|Kilkenny||21,589||Leinster||-7.25 x 52.65||Europe/Dublin|
|Blackrock||20,701||Leinster||-6.18 x 53.30||Europe/Dublin|
|Naas||20,554||Leinster||-6.67 x 53.22||Europe/Dublin|
|Sligo||20,228||Connaught||-8.47 x 54.27||Europe/Dublin|
|Carlow||20,055||Leinster||-6.93 x 52.84||Europe/Dublin|
|Droichead Nua||18,860||Leinster||-6.80 x 53.18||Europe/Dublin|
|Celbridge||18,167||Leinster||-6.54 x 53.34||Europe/Dublin|
|Loch Garman||17,708||Leinster||-6.46 x 52.33||Europe/Dublin|
|Clonmel||17,394||Munster||-7.70 x 52.36||Europe/Dublin|
|An Muileann gCearr||17,262||Leinster||-7.35 x 53.53||Europe/Dublin|
|Letterkenny||16,901||Ulster||-7.73 x 54.95||Europe/Dublin|
|Baile Atha Luain||15,951||Leinster||-7.95 x 53.43||Europe/Dublin|
|Leixlip||15,729||Leinster||-6.50 x 53.37||Europe/Dublin|
|Malahide||14,057||Leinster||-6.15 x 53.45||Europe/Dublin|
|Portlaoise||13,622||Leinster||-7.30 x 53.03||Europe/Dublin|
|Carrigaline||12,902||Munster||-8.40 x 51.81||Europe/Dublin|