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History of Ireland

The Irish people today are descendants of a number of ethnicities, but first and foremost they identify with the Celts, who slowly arrived in waves over 2000 years ago. The first sign of large-scale organization came in the 400s AD when St. Patrick (along with other men later proclaimed saints) arrived to spread Christianity. The next sign of a unified group of people on the island came in the 600s when a single king came to power.

In the 900s the island was victim to numerous Viking raids, however these raids also led to new settlers and new settlements, including the modern-day cities of Dublin, Limerick, Cork, and others on or near the sea. The next people to land and settle in Ireland were the Normans, who continued their push through England and Great Britain to Ireland, arriving and taking full power in the 1100s. This led to the union of Ireland and Great Britain as both were ruled over by the same king beginning at this point.

The union between Great Britain and Ireland continued through the 1200s and 1300s as many of the changes made in Great Britain were also brought over to Ireland. However this Norman power on Ireland slowly declined as the Norman rulers intermarried with the local Irish and within 200 years there was little difference between the Normans and the Irish. This decline was followed by a growth in Irish pride, but power and rule over the island remained in England.

In the late 1500s Ireland was formally turned into a kingdom, but the king was still the English ruler. During this time, from the 1200-1500s Irish law and culture was strongly influenced by the English ruler's ability or willingness to impose English customs on the Irish people, creating numerous resurgences of Irish pride followed by strong English influence. This ended in the late 1500s when the English kings took firmer control over Ireland.

In the 1500s England altered church allegiance from the Catholic Church to the Anglican Church, a move that had great ramifications on the Irish people as the mostly Catholic population was forced to convert or failed to receive many basic rights and freedoms over the next couple centuries. This essentially ended in the late 1700s with a surge in population and the introduction of the Industrial Revolution. This however also encouraged further Irish pride, leading to independence movements, and later the Act of Union, passed in 1800, which, officially united Great Britain and Ireland.

In the 1840s Ireland was struck by the Great Irish Potato Famine, which devastated the population via death and emigration (particularly to the United States). Following this came another great surge in Irish pride, but this time independence from Great Britain was the only true goal. This campaign, led primarily by Irish Catholics, continued into the 1900s, but by then serious resistance had also begun as many Protestants believed an independent Ireland would be controlled by the Catholic majority.

Following delays, brought upon by British and Irish involvement in World War I, these independence movements again grew until Ireland gained the support it needed to form its own country in 1919 (although not all battles ended until 1923). There remained a number of counties that opposed this movement and remained a part of Great Britain, today known as Northern Ireland.

Ireland remained neutral in World War II (WWII), but with Northern Ireland a part of the United Kingdom, many national Irish volunteers joined the British army and many others assisted the Allies in multiple forms. Since WWII, Ireland has been somewhat unstable, but generally has grown, both in population and economics. Among these changes includes Ireland's decision to join the European Union (EU).

Finally, there has also been a lot of criticism regarding the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is a primarily Catholic group that is fighting to obtain the Republic of Ireland's union with Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Great Britain have tried to work with this group to stop the violence and have nearly succeeded, but the threat remains present.

This page was last updated: March, 2013