The Irish race of Celtic bloodlines, was by nature
fiercely territorial and independent and for centuries defended
their ways of life against foreign invaders like the Danes from Denmark,
Normans from France, English from England, and other alien influences.
First century BC & AD the Romans conquered
most of Wales and England, but failed to conquer Scotland.
The Romans left in the sixth century
and went home to defend Rome against invaders.
In the eighth century came the Vikings to Ireland
at first to rob and steal, but later set up fortified trading posts at most of
the best harbors
In the eleventh century the Ard ri, King of Ireland, marshelled
warriors to drive the Vikings into the sea at Clontarf and break the Viking
centuries old stranglehold on the best ports in Ireland.
Many Viking Danes stayed in Ireland peacefully as traders,
and history shows they never again seriously threatened the security and independence of
The Danish traders over time lost their
national identities and gradually absorbed into the rich
Irish culture. One does not often find surname Bloodaxe in Ireland anymore.
When Brian Boru's army defeated the
Vikings, there followed two hundred years of relative peace in Ireland,
occasionally broken by strife between
Clan Chiefs, mostly over control of territory.
But in the eleventh century came Norman Strongbow from Wales to Wexford and
Wicklow to attempt to conquer the Irish. The Normans were very skilled and
disciplined fighters who in 1066 defeated the
Anglo-Saxons and most of England in just one year, then eventually moved to impose their will
upon the Irish peoples.
The Normans easily took the rich farmlands
along the east coast of Ireland, but were constantly attacked by the Irish
people. Around Dublin in what became known by history as The Pale, Normans built strings of castles to
protect themselves. But beyond the Pale lived the wild Irish and no Norman dared
venture far without soldiers in force.
The Irish managed to capture some castles, and
more than one Norman Earl was thrown to his death from his own castle walls. The
Normans managed to control Ireland within the Pale for about 100 years, but then
came Robert The Bruce from Scotland to break the Norman strongholds.
In the mid seventeenth century came Cromwell to
take Irish land and deport or move Irish landowners. Then came British King Henry the VIII with a new idea; to depopulate Ireland by driving out the
Normans and the surviving Kings with their strong clans and take over Ireland.
Most of the strong and influential Irish leaders, in the "flight of the wild geese",
fled to mainland Europe where they could raise armies to better fight the British.
Meanwhile, Ireland was left well short of strong and respected leaders.
Then British King Henry VIII
decided to murder or drive Irish owners off of their lands,
suppress the Catholic religion and destroy the old Celtic customs.
The King's armies seized Irish lands in the name of the crown, then
give the stolen lands to English, Scots and even Normans considered loyal
to the crown. Uprisings by outraged Irish resulted in nearly constant guerilla warfare against England
King and his occupying armies.
Between 1509 and 1547 in a period known
as the "Protestant Ascendancy", King Henry sent Protestants to colonize Ireland.
Queen Elizabeth I, increased the efforts to install plantations across the island,
claiming the farmland for England and forcing the Irish to pay rent on their own land.
The plantation idea met with some success in areas like Dublin, but plantations
in Ulster were almost constantly at war with the native Irish. Britain sent large
numbers of soldiers to brutally suppress rebellion by the native Irish.
During the English Revolution of
1688, Dutch King William of Orange and his wife Mary assumed the
British throne, but brother James II, a Catholic, attempted to regain his
throne. That brought bloody strife again to Ireland, with the majority of
the Irish unwittingly caught in the middle. The great battle was fought
on the banks of the River Boyne, near Dublin, on July 1, 1690. While all
of that was going on, the dispossessed Irish killed all of the English settlers they could
get their hands on, about 12,000 in all.
Another great battle raged in Derry
where 30,000 Protestants loyal to King William walled themselves up in
the city while James II's forces laid siege to the city for three months.
When William's army arrived in July 1690, James had to retreat and Ireland
lost its only champion in England who could have set them free.
In time England grew weaker through
wars with America and France. Irish Protestants took advantage of that
weakness to press for independence from Britain. They also pressed for
rights for all people, and repeal of the harsh penal laws. Henry Grattan and Tone
believed that the penal laws were too harsh, and attempted to force Britain to
allow the Irish parliament more political independence.
Others rebels wanted more. Wolfe
Tone founded the Society of United Irishmen and with the assistance of the
French, tried to launch a full-scale rebellion against British rule in 1798.
For awhile at least, Grattan succeeded, but in 1801 the British by the Act of
Union seized full control of the Irish government.
Responding to pressure for land
and rents reform, secret agrarian societies, both Catholic and Protestant,
sprang up in the countryside. Members of these groups attacked property and
individuals. Some like the Whiteboys and Ribbonmen attacked mainly foreign landlords.
The Peep O'Day Boys, a Protestant group,
formed to intimidate Catholics whom were perceived as a threat to ownership
of their land. Catholics retaliated with a group called, "The Defenders."
And both both
groups waged small-scale wars against the English landlords throughout the countryside.
The Peep O'Day Boys formed the first
Orange Order, named after their hero William of Orange. Soon the Orange Order
began to attract Protestants of all classes and serves today as the highest authority
within the Loyalist communities.
The 19th century saw the repeal of some of the
harsher penal laws as many Protestants found them impossible to enforce. Many Catholics,
thanks to assistance from Protestant allies, managed through bribery to retain their middle-class
status, and their lands, during the height of the Penal Laws.
In 1803, in the wake of Robert Emmet's unsuccessful
attempt to resurrect the United Irishmen and lead a new rebellion in 1798, O'Connell stepped
forward and condemned the use of violence. He pushed for rights for his people and ultimately
called for Catholic emancipation. He gathered the support of thousands of Catholics in Ireland
for his Catholic Association, demanding among other things, the repeal of the Union, an end to
the enforced tithes to the Church of Ireland, and more respect for all Irish people regardless of
their religious beliefs.
At about this time, changes in
property qualifications enabled some Catholics to vote.
Entrenched Protestant landlords were defeated in elections by
those supported by the Catholic Association, and with pressure
growing, Britain passed the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which
among other issues, permitted Catholics to hold political office.
O'Connell was duly elected as the first Catholic MP after the
Penal Laws were repealed.
Now with Emancipation for
Catholics in hand, Protestants of all classes began to shift away
from dreams of independence such as Grattan and Tone had espoused
and began to cling to the Union with Britain as the best way to
retain their prestige and power. These men became bitter enemies
to O'Connell and his growing entourage of Irish Catholics who
pushed for repeal of the Union.
With his snowballing success, in
1843 O'Connell began to call large meetings with hundreds of
thousands attending all across the country and calling for Repeal
of the Union. Britain, worried about O'Connell's influence over
such numbers of people, threatened the use of force against the
meetings, and eventually, in October 1843, before a huge meeting
at Clontarf, O'Connell declined to call Britain's bluff and
cancelled the meeting. From then on, O'Connell lost his power
Meanwhile, Young Irelanders had
no distaste for violence. They began to quarrel with O'Connell
over tactics, and Duffy, William Smith O'Brien and Thomas Meagher
abandoned the Catholic Association in 1847. They formed the Irish
Confederation but in 1848 they split in part because John Mitchel
advocated taking on the landlords as well as Britain, a cause
which O'Brien, himself a landlord, would not support. That year
the remnants of the Young Ireland movement attempted to
capitalize on the rebellions occurring across Europe by staging
their own, but before they could act, most of them were
imprisoned or "transported" to a penal colony for
treason against Britain.
Starting in 1845, the potato
blight destroyed the food crops for several years. 1847 was the
worst for even though the blight was weaker, fewer tubers
remained for seed. Starvation increased and many were found dead
with grass stains on their mouths or seaweed in their stomachs as
they had struggled to live.What made their deaths the more tragic
was that there was no true famine. There was plenty of grain,
beef, butter and milk, but most of that was shipped to England.
The great Hunger had a profound
effect on Irish politics; it created an entire generation of
Irish living abroad in 1858 who hated the English, then rebels
who were able to survive, revived new vigor to the Young Ireland
movement, and a new determination to change the political
situation for Ireland.
In America, James Stephens and
John O'Mahony, with Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, formed the Fenian
Brotherhood, the first Irish organization to clearly state its
objectives as the creation of a democratic Irish Republic. The
Irish branch of the Fenians became known as the Irish Republican
Brotherhood. Combined they recruited men like John Mitchel and
plotted a large rebellion against England, drawing on the United
States for money,, horses, guns, ammunition and other supplies.
In 1867, under command of
American Col. Thomas Kelly, Fenians started another Irish
rebellion, but poor planning doomed the venture. Though the
leaders were imprisoned or forced to hide out, the IRB movement
continued to operate in secrecy for many years.
Another movement to Home Rule
for Ireland, was called for by Issac Butt in 1870. By 1877 the
Home Rule MP's elected Charles Stewart Parnell as their
representative. His strategy was to challenge the British
government head-on, and by 1880s the Home Rule MP's held the
balance of power in Parliament. The first Home Rule bill was
introduced in 1886, but it and the next Home Rule bill failed
when Parnell was discredited by a plot to accuse him of
complicity in murder and and by his own tragic love affair.
Ulster Unionists began to put pressure on their own Parliament.
The Irish Volunteers, a militia
created by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and soon numbering
180,000, had thrown its support behind John Redmond, the new
leader of the Home Rule Party. The potential for violence
encouraged the British to introduce a third Home Rule bill in
1912, and it had passed but suspended when England entered World
War I. Promises were made that if Ireland helped England defeat
Germany, Ireland whoul have Home Rule.
The IRB leadership had other
ideas. Counting on the support of the Volunteers as well as the
Socialist James Connolly's army, IRB leaders planned an Easter
rebellion in Dublin in 1916, to spark a country-wide, revolt.
Several men, including Patrick Pearse of the Gaelic League and
the labor agitator and socialist , planned with help of German
weapons to rebel at several key points across the island. Sir
Roger Casement was to secure Germany's assistance, including
ammunition, weapons and manpower.
Eoin MacNeill, the leader of the
Volunteers, feared a rebellion would lead to the slaughter of the
Irish, and when word reached them of the impending riot, they
tried to stop it at the last minute. Too late, the leaders took
over the General Post Office in Dublin on Easter Monday. From the Post Office
steps Pearse read the newly-written Proclamation of the Irish Republic. From there 1500 rebels held the British
at bay for six days
until most of their leaders were captured and imprisoned and later
The British thought that by
executing the leaders of the rebellion they would quell any
further notions of Irish independence. But the harsh action had
the opposite result. In the months that followed, the Irish
Volunteers continued to train, and the leaders used Sinn Fein as
a platform to get members elected to Parliament, which they then
refused to enter. In 1919, with WWI over, Home Rule due to the
British government's catering to the Ulster unionists,
frustration led the Irish Sinn Feiners to form their own
parliament, known as Dail Eireann. And from there it was easy to
recruit Irish Volunteers into a War of Independence.
For the next two years the Irish
Republican Army, fought the British armies, including the brutal
Black & Tans in Ireland. England's resources had been taxed
by the war with Germany, and that, with the unorthodox guerrilla
warfare employed by the Irish, turned the effort in Ireland's
favor. It cost many Irish lives, but the people were tired of
fighting. When Britain again offered to meet in treaty talks in
December 1921, the leaders were ready to negotiate. Michael
Collins, the IRA leader, agreed to British terms for peace, which
among other things created a twenty-six county Irish Free State
with dominion status.
Men like Eamon DeValera, escaped
execution, who became president of the Dail, had opposed the
Treaty because six counties were left out. Most of the ancient
province of Ulster was retained by the British to appease the
Unionist Protestants living there. It eas a British plan to
indefinitely occupy part of Ireland under British control
Because of British treachery,
DeValera resigned his position, and Irish Civil War began. This
war pitted former allies against one another and the terms of the
Treaty were contested by force, and the war resulted in many
Irish being killed by other Irishmen. It ended in 1923 when the
Treaty side, now the Free State Army (after Michael Collins was
assassinated early in the conflict) finally wore down its IRA
opposition The IRA was outlawed by the Free State. Even though an
illegal organization, the IRA and the Sinn Fein, the political
party which reputiated the Treaty, continued to fight the Irish
government through the 1950s with many of its members regularly
In 1926, Eamon DeValera,
repudiated the more radical elements of Sinn Fein and still found
a way to avoid taking an oath of allegiance to Britain. As the
leader of new party, Fianna Fail, he was elected Prime Minister
in 1932 and in 1937 promoted another Treaty, which declared
Ireland a Republic. The new Constitution provided to make Gaelic
the official language of the Republic and renewed a territorial
claim to the entire 32 counties of Ireland.
During WWII some Irishman
believed England's enemies should be Ireland's allies, and
therefore Ireland should side with Germany. Many more were
unsympathetic to the Nazi cause. Ultimately the Irish Government
retained a neutral stance during the war, but in reality allowed
both Britain and the US to call upon Irish ports and airstrips
The serious crisis for Ireland
today has shifted north to the partitioned province of Ulster.
People who never experienced the bad times are prone to take
stances of the head which they do not fully understand. When
loyalists claim to own Northern Ireland and claim to be a nation
separate from Ireland, the reality of their stance is that they
are standing on ground soaked with the blood of a million Irishman who died to keep their lands free from domination by