Baile Atha Cliath

Currency unit





Northern Ireland



War NI







Ireland has a long history.

This country has three main periods in its history, after a mythical aboriginal period - the time of the Fomorians and the Fir Bolg.

The first is the pre-Christian Celtic civilization. The Celts who inhabited the land were the earliest people that we know of to enter western Europe in the wave of Indo-European peoples emerging from Central Asia. At least one of the many waves of immigration appears to have come via the Iberian peninsula (the Milesians). The language they spoke was related (distantly) to Latin and Greek. The political culture of this far western island was characterized by what is sometimes described as Homeric quality - that is of a very loose governing structure with tribal warfare as the main political activity. Its literary and religious culture on the other hand was highly developed, being in the hands of a bardic class sometimes known as druids. These appear to have had some similarities with mystic schools in other parts of the world. The land was not conquered by Rome - but some archaeology suggests there may have been a skirmish across the sea and even a temporary camp or fort in the Dublin area.

Christian Ireland
The second phase lasted from the end of the Roman Empire to the coming of the English. During this period Christianity was added to the culture - attributed to St Patrick - and the land was attacked by the Vikings who created settlements represented today by the main towns: Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford, Wexford and Belfast. These Viking kingdoms were added to the complex of Gaelic kingdoms. During this period the English entered what is now England and conquered it, gradually forming a single English kingdom. Wales, the nearest part to Ireland, remained Celtic in a similar political state to Ireland.

The fluid political condition, still Homeric, did not prevent a high culture. The Irish during this period maintained the most learned establishments in Europe. It was Irish missionaries who brought Christianity back to the paganized areas of what had been the Roman Empire, including the north of Britain. Religion was based in monasteries where the learned could work in peace unaffected by what we would classify as political chaos. These monasteries preserved and studied the classical Greek and Latin literature which in other parts of Europe had been forgotten or forbidden. The monasteries appear to have been related to the pre-Christian Bardic tradition (and are believed also to have been in contact with the mystical elements of the new Muslim religion). This was the great age of Irish culture. Irish missionaries took the religion to Scotland, northern England and then to Carolingian Europe, especially to what is now Germany.

  In the Irish church the Bishop was not the most important official. The Abbot of the monastery was the important person. Bishops were monks who lived in the monastery and performed their functions when required. Some have suggested that the Irish version of Christianity resembled some allegedly Eastern philosophical systems in its organization and practices rather than the more political system of the Roman church. That is, the Abbot corresponded to the teacher. (But they were also often hereditary and related to the local king.)

Ireland was traditionally divided into four main kingdoms: Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught, with Meath as a central kingdom usually controlled by the High King whose ceremonial center was at Tara. But there were also numerous minor kingdoms, whose rulers were often the younger sons of the more important king. Even then, Ulster was seen as different from the others, being the closest to Scotland and less under the control of the High King. From Ulster the Irish-speaking Scots entered Scotland.

The political situation during this period was that there was recognized a High King and a number of lesser kings in a state of continually jostling for power (a situation not unlike the traditional condition of Afghanistan). Who the High king was to be was a matter of continual dispute. From 380 until 1022 the high kings were from the family of Ui Neill, descendants of Niall of the Nine hostages (380-405). In 1022 the death of Malachy ended the direct line and brought in a period of disputes.

It was one of these disputes which ushered in the third phase of Ireland's history when one of the petty kings, Dermott MacMurrough, invited in help from Wales, now occupied in part by the Normans.

Norman Ireland
The third phase was when the feudally organized Norman kingdom of England began to interfere in and then attempt to rule Ireland. The theory of feudalism was quite different from that of the Celts. It was that the King owned all the land in the country and then parceled it out to the lesser lords who in turn gave it to their dependents. In every case the land could be resumed by the superior person in the hierarchy. The Celtic land tenure assumed that the rights belonged to the person who occupied the land and it was his allegiance to the person above which could be given or withheld. In modern terms Ireland was a federation; Norman England was an Empire. It was the feudal system which prevailed in the centuries of struggle which followed the first invasion in 1171 by the English king Henry the second sanctioned by the English Pope Hadrian the fourth. The purpose of the invasion was supposed to be to reform the Church to the Roman style - that is to bring to an end the monastic system and introduce a territorial episcopacy as found in the rest of Europe and modeled on the method of government of the Roman Empire. (In fact this had already been begun by the Irish king Brian Boru - died 1014). In the end this project succeeded and the distinctive Irish version of Christianity came to an end, after it had seeded monasteries all over Europe.

Ireland was proclaimed part of the English king's domains. However, like the earlier Norse invaders, the settlers learned Irish and often behaved like the Irish kings they had replaced. The English king could not exert much real control outside the land surrounding the city of Dublin. This was the Pale. Beyond the Pale the Norman settlers were regarded by the English as being as wild as the Irish.

English Ireland
The second invasion in the Elizabethan period (late 16th century) led to a settlement of English and Scots people in some parts of the country on land expropriated from the native Irish. It also added a new religious dispute as the English and Scots had become Protestant while the Irish remained Catholic. The situation grew worse in the 17th century during the English civil war when the Catholic Irish supported the king and were suppressed with great brutality (typical of the time) by Oliver Cromwell, the English military ruler. The result was that the Irish were forbidden to own land, get an education and practice their religion.

In the late 18th century the Catholic priests advised them to learn English in order to survive in the desperate conditions so that by 1891 only about 15% spoke Irish and even fewer spoke it alone.

Act of Union
Ireland was formally and constitutionally united with Britain in 1801. This was the lowest point of Ireland's history.

A nationalist uprising, led by the Protestant Wolfe Tone, during the Napoleonic wars in sympathy with the French revolution led to a revival of the Irish nationalist tradition, through an Irish Parliamentary Party in the British Parliament and through the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians) as a secret revolutionary society.

Catholic emancipation in 1829 and voting reform in 1832 began the recovery of Irish sovereignty. However, the last catastrophe was the famine of the 1840s caused by the failure of the one crop (monoculture) grown by the peasants (due to potato blight) in an overcrowded land, which we now recognize as typical of some parts of Africa and Asia. It led to a dispersal of the Irish into America, Britain and Australia (as well as many deaths at home). Their descendants carried a hatred of Britain for its indifference to the causes of the famine and refusal to help, expressed by the claim that any English aid would distort the free market. The wheat crop, which did not fail, continued to be exported according to market forces (the starving peasants, like modern Ethiopians, had no money to buy it but donation of money was seen by the ideologues in power in Britain as harmful - "creating dependence" ). Import of Maize (American Corn) was not enough and Food for Work programs were set at wages too low to feed the people.

The result was an Irish Diaspora throughout the world which makes them, along with the Jews and Chinese, a transnational people.

Home Rule
Sometimes the Irish Party held the balance of power in the British Parliament so that the Liberals had an incentive to deal with Irish problems, first through land reform - buying out the absentee landlords and selling the land to the peasants - then through proposed political reforms. As the possibility of some measure of Home Rule grew nearer - a devolved parliament in Dublin, the descendants in Ulster of the Scots Protestants became afraid of being oppressed by the descendants of those they had displaced and by the Catholic religion.

When Home Rule (the Ireland Act) was finally enacted in 1914 the northern Protestants demanded to be excluded. Both north and south started organizing private armies and civil war seemed near but before it could start war broke out in Europe. Six of the nine counties of Ulster were promised a "temporary" exclusion from the proposed subordinate government in Dublin.

During the first world war the Ireland Act was suspended for the duration and many of the volunteers of both sides joined the British army. At Easter 1916 a conspiratorial group from the Irish Republican Brotherhood (the Fenians) seized the Post Office and other buildings in Dublin in an armed uprising and their leader Patrick Pearse proclaimed an independent Irish Republic. The British put this rising down and executed most of the leaders (except Eamonn De Valera who was an American citizen). The British blamed the rising on a minority party, Sinn Fein (Ourselves Alone), although this party had actually opposed the rising. It was the British executions which ended all talk of Home Rule - local government - and made independence the only possible outcome.

In 1920 the British passed a new Ireland Act which set up a Parliament in Belfast for the six counties and another in Dublin for the 26 counties. There was to be a Council of Ireland to co-ordinate all-Ireland affairs. The Council never met. The Dublin Parliament (British version), except for four university members, never met either, as Sinn Fein gained all the parliamentary seats in southern Ireland and proclaimed themselves the Dail Eireann (assembly of Ireland).

The Irish Republican Brotherhood then conducted a guerrilla war against the British, probably against the wishes of Sinn Fein whose leader, Arthur Griffith, still hoped for a negotiated solution. However, Michael Collins who belonged to both Sinn Fein and the IRB preferred war. The British sent in irregular forces of former soldiers (Black and Tans and Auxiliary police) who fought the guerrillas with brutality.

Republic of Ireland
Southern Ireland gained its independence from Britain in December 1921 when a treaty was signed between a provisional government and the British. This recognized the Irish Free State (Saorstat Eireann) as a Dominion of the British Empire similar to Canada and Australia. In practice this amounted to independence, though the Statute of Westminster had not yet been passed which recognized the formal independence of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, promised the southern negotiators that the border with the north would be assessed and counties inhabited mainly by Nationalists would be transferred to the new state. But he seems to have told the northerners that no change would be made. No land was transferred. A boundary commission met in 1925 but did not transfer the two counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone and parts of Armagh which might have voted for accession to the South. Its recommendations for small changes were not adopted.

There was a civil war between the party led by Michael Collins which signed the treaty and a more extreme group led by Eamonn De Valera holding out for symbolic independence as well - the removal of the Governor General, and also the incorporation of the North. Though Collins and many others of the 1922 leaders were killed, the extreme group lost, but later succeeded to power democratically. A symbolic Republic was proclaimed in 1949 by a Fine Gael government (the descendants of the Moderates of the Civil War). This was influenced by the fact that India became a republic and remained in the Commonwealth. Ireland, however, left the Commonwealth.

The constitution of the Irish Republic continues to recognize Northern Ireland as part of the territory of Ireland. Nevertheless unity with the north is by now an aspiration rather than a policy to be achieved by persuasion or force. That is, few people other than the IRA actually want to unite the island by force because most people recognize that it is the Protestant Unionist community who have to be persuaded (short of forcible expulsions - ethnic cleansing).

Both Britain and Ireland are now members of the European Union, Ireland having adopted the euro as its currency. An Anglo-Irish agreement signed in 1985 provides for regular consultation between the two governments, and for the government of the Irish Republic to be consulted on matters concerning Nationalists in the north. The majority of the northerners continue to resist any cooperation with the south.

The Irish Republican Army is a guerrilla or terrorist organization which operates in both parts, financing itself by bank robberies and money from Libya and supporters in the United States. Its electoral support in the south is limited. It has more support in the north. It claims to be the descendant of the Army of the Irish Republic which fought against the British in the War of Independence. But those people mostly became the official army of the new state. The danger is that the IRA and the similar Protestant organizations may evolve towards the condition of the Mafia - alleged to have once been a Sicilian patriotic organization.

The rise in unemployment on both sides of the divide may have been significant as a reservoir of recruits for violence. But unemployment in the South was then low following a period of rapid economic growth. How many of the civil wars in the world are really the result of economic failure?

What will be the effect of the 2008 world wide crash? Poverty and unemployement, with a resumption of emigration.

The most interesting development in Ireland is the collapse in the prestige of the Catholic Church since the predatory activities of some priests was publicly admitted.

BBC investigation of the Cardinal's role in suppressing news of priestly abuse>



Irish Gaelic c11%

Irish Gaelic c11%

 Interesting reading

Edmund Curtis - A History of Ireland 1936, 1963

Berresford - Chronicles of the Celts

Zaczek - Celtic Chronicles

Thomas Cahill - How the Irish saved civilisation

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe

Wie die Iren die Zivilisation retteten







The Republic of Ireland has a two chamber parliament and ceremonial President. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) has to be elected by a majority of the Dail (lower house). Members of the Dail are elected by Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies.

The president is elected by the people using the same electoral system.

There are three main parties: Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny); Fine Gael (People's Party); Labour and several smaller parties. Governments are usually coalitions. Until December 1992 the government was composed of Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats (a strong Free Market party, similar to European Liberals).

The first two parties represent the sides of the Irish civil war of the 1920s. Eamonn De Valera the leader of the extreme nationalists founded FF. It is perhaps the equivalent of the Indian Congress Party. The party at present uses the rhetoric of a united Ireland (the absorption of the North) but does not take active steps. Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith the leaders of the signatories of the Treaty founded FG. Elections have been more about personalities than policies. Voters were traditionally believed to vote according to family tradition (who shot whom in the civil war).

A sign that this may be coming to an end was the election of Mary Robinson, a former Labour Party member, as president in 1990, representing the non-party left, with the defeat of the government's candidate. The Progressive Democrats also represent people who wish to go beyond the issues of the civil war.

There is a party called Sinn Fein, generally believed to be the political section of the IRA, but it is not a descendant of the original party of that name, which tended towards non-violence. It has a very small following, as revealed by voting figures.

The voters in general are believed not to support an active desire to absorb the north.

The Fianna Fail government was accused of involvement in numerous financial irregularities during 1991. The December 1992 elections resulted in a rise in support for the left (especially Labour) and a fall in support for the old Civil War parties. A Labour/FF coalition took office, replaced in Dec 94 by a FG/Labour coalition.

This was followed by a FF led coalition.

The 2011 elections saw the Fianna Fail party reduced to a small rump and was replaced by a Labour-Fine Gael coalition, with the task of persuading people to accept a drastically reduec standard of living, as required by the European institutions. Even now there is still the question of whether Ireland may give up the euro and adopt its own currency again.

dvd Michael Collins

DVD Magdalene sisters

The Catholic Church at its most authoritarian
In the name of the father

Im Namen des Vaters







Ireland is still predominantly agricultural but since the 1960s has a growing industrial sector which is strong in electronics.

But there is also a large outflow of educated people to America and Britain (the emigration) so that although Ireland has a high Catholic birth rate the population grows only slowly and many rural areas continue to suffer depopulation.

Until the 1960s the government, usually led by De Valera, followed a policy of attempted autarky, which fossilized the economy in its 1920 form and very great poverty.

Now the industrial sector is dependent on foreign investment, often from Germany, Japan and the United States. This leads to fear of remaining a "branch office economy".

The agricultural strengths are in pollution free produce and meat fed on grass rather than grain. Some have called Ireland the New Zealand of Europe.

Ireland was called the Celtic Tiger as there had been such a high rate of economic growth since joining the euro. One problem is that interest rates set by the European Central Bank may be too low for the needs of Ireland with the result of overheating (while Germany may find the rates too high).

The 2008 world wide crash has affected Ireland. Some of the incoming east Europeans have returned home and unemployment is rising and even emigration may be rising again. One of the interesting economic questions now is whether membership of the eurozone will help or hinder Ireland to recover from the depression, after its principle banks have collapsed and been nationalised. Whereas there was a period when the prices of goods was lower in the south than in the north, now (2009) southern shoppers are travelling to the North.

The economic crash has resulted in unemployment, huge debts and the collapse of the banks.

It is not at all clear how the government will solve the financial problems. The government guaranteed the debts of the banks, to prevent them collapsing, but cannot in fact repay these debts. At the moment of writing this, there are talks going on that the European Central Bank and other sources may loan the government large sums of euros.

Ken Loach - The Wind that Shakes the Barley
A film about the Irish civil war

Good value train and ferry to Ireland







Ireland has the cleanest air in Europe but the pollution of both Europe and America can be detected even in the west of Ireland. Ireland has apparently no policy on carbon emissions. Its clean air comes from a low density of population rather than policy, as CO2 emissions increase and the cities have a typical western motor pollution.

There has also been a reluctance to recognize the dangers of inviting petrochemical companies to locate factories in hitherto clean areas. Like many Third World countries the government prefers the jobs even if they are dirty. There is also a high birth rate, perhaps reflecting the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. But this has been offset by a high rate of emigration to Britain and America. The recent high rate of economic growth has led to a return of some of those emigrants. As with Britain there are many immigrants from other EU countries.






Human Rights

As in the north there are special powers to imprison terrorists and have been restrictions of members of named organizations to appear on television. Special Courts can try terrorists without a jury.

Like many of the new post 1919 states in Europe, Ireland went through a period of authoritarian government, first under Eamonn De Valera. Although there were the forms of democratic government the real power seems to have been the Catholic Church. There has been a considerable list of banned books on political and religious grounds: no advocacy of the IRA, abortion, indecency or obscenity. This partly reflects the influence of the Catholic Church which in the past intimidated politicians into authoritarian acts. As a political organisation it behaved like a totalitarian Party.

However, its influence is said to be weakening since the 1980s and in modern conditions censorship is less effective. The European Court of Human Rights may soon rule that bans on books are inadmissible, as well as bans on the sale of contraceptives. Divorce and abortion were both forbidden by the constitution until recently - some of the things that deterred northern Protestants from agreeing to join the state. Human rights would seem to be better now than at any time since independence.

Irish Catholic church abuse in industrial schools - a nine volume report covering the period since independence until the present day.

Climate effects

As with Britain the climate is likely to remain fairly benign, even with a two degree rise in global temperatures because changes would be buffered by the Atlantic. However, intense rain storms with serious flooding are likely to become more frequent.

However, if the Gulf Stream were to cease, Ireland would become colder.

Last revised 3/05/12


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