Ireland is the third largest island in Europe. It lies to the north-west of continental Europe and is surrounded by hundreds of islands and islets. The name Ireland derives from the name Ériu (in modern Irish, Éire) with the addition of the Germanic word land. The Order of Hermes regards the great Isle of Eire as part of the Hybernian Tribunal.
Early history: 8000 BC–AD 400Edit
What little is known of pre-Christian Ireland comes from a few references in Roman writings, Irish poetry and myth, and archaeology. The earliest inhabitants of Ireland, people of a mid-Stone Age, or Mesolithic, culture, arrived sometime after 8000 BC, when the climate had become more hospitable following the retreat of the polar icecaps. About 4000 BC agriculture was introduced from the South West continent, leading to the establishment of a high Neolithic culture, characterized by the appearance of pottery, polished stone tools, rectangular wooden houses and communal megalithic tombs, some of which are huge stone monuments like the Passage Tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, many of them astronomically aligned (most notably, Newgrange). Four main types of megalithic tomb have been identified: Portal Tombs, Court Tombs, Passage Tombs and Wedge Tombs. In Leinster and Munster individual adult males were buried in small stone structures, called cists, under earthen mounds and were accompanied by distinctive decorated pottery. This culture apparently prospered, and the island became more densely populated. Towards the end of the Neolithic new types of monuments developed, such as circular embanked enclosures and timber, stone and post and pit circles.
The Bronze Age properly began once copper was alloyed with tin to produce true bronze artifacts; this took place around 2000 BC, when some Ballybeg flat axes and associated metalwork was produced. The period preceding this, in which Lough Ravel and most Ballybeg axes were produced, and is known as the Copper Age or Chalcolithic, commenced about 2500 BC. This period also saw the production of elaborate gold and bronze ornaments, weapons and tools. There was a movement away from the construction of communal megalithic tombs to the burial of the dead in small stone cists or simple pits, which could be situated in cemeteries or in circular earth or stone built burial mounds known respectively as barrows and cairns. As the period progressed inhumation burial gave way to cremation and by the Middle Bronze Age cremations were often placed beneath large burial urns.
The Iron Age in Ireland began about 600 BC. By the historic period (AD 431 onwards) the main over-kingdoms of In Tuisceart, Airgialla, Ulaid, Mide, Laigin, Mumhain, Cóiced Ol nEchmacht began to emerge (see Kingdoms of ancient Ireland). Within these kingdoms a rich culture flourished. The society of these kingdoms was dominated by an upper class, consisting of aristocratic warriors and learned people, possibly including druids.
The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia. Ptolemy in AD 100 records Ireland's geography and tribes. Ireland was never formally a part of the Roman Empire but Roman influence was often projected well beyond formal borders. Tacitus writes that an exiled Irish prince was with Agricola in Britain and would return to seize power in Ireland. Juvenal tells us that Roman "arms had been taken beyond the shores of Ireland". In recent years, some experts have hypothesized that Roman-sponsored Gaelic forces (or perhaps even Roman regulars) mounted some kind of invasion around 100,[ but the exact relationship between Rome and the dynasties and peoples of Hibernia remains unclear.
Irish confederations attacked and settled in Britain during the Great Conspiracy of 367.
Early Christian Ireland 400–800Edit
The middle centuries of the first millennium AD marked great changes in Ireland.
Niall Noigiallach (died c.450/455) laid the basis for the Uí Néill dynasty's hegemony over much of western, northern and central Ireland. Politically, the former emphasis on tribal affiliation had been replaced by the 700s by that of patrilineal and dynastic background. Many formerly powerful kingdoms and peoples disappeared. Irish pirates struck all over the coast of western Britain in the same way that the Vikings would later attack Ireland. Some of these founded entirely new kingdoms in Pictland, Wales and Cornwall. The Attacotti of south Leinster may even have served in the Roman military in the mid-to-late 300s.
Perhaps it was some of the latter returning home as rich mercenaries, merchants, or slaves stolen from Britain or Gaul, that first brought the Christian faith to Ireland. Some early sources claim that there were missionaries active in southern Ireland long before St. Patrick. Whatever the route, and there were probably many, this new faith was to have the most profound effect on the Irish.
Tradition maintains that in AD 432, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. On the other hand, according to Prosper of Aquitaine, a contemporary chronicler, Palladius was sent to Ireland by the Pope in 431 as "first Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ", which demonstrates that there were already Christians living in Ireland. Palladius seems to have worked purely as Bishop to Irish Christians in the Leinster and Meath kingdoms, while Patrick — who may have arrived as late as 461 — worked first and foremost as a missionary to the Pagan Irish, converting in the more remote kingdoms located in Ulster and Connacht.
Patrick is traditionally credited with preserving the tribal and social patterns of the Irish, codifying their laws and changing only those that conflicted with Christian practices. He is also credited with introducing the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive Celtic oral literature. The historicity of these claims remains the subject of debate and there is no direct evidence linking Patrick with any of these accomplishments. The myth of Patrick, as scholars refer to it, was developed in the centuries after his death.
The druid tradition collapsed, first in the face of the spread of the new faith, and ultimately in the aftermath of famine and plagues due to the climate changes of 535–536. Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished shortly thereafter. Missionaries from Ireland to England and Continental Europe spread news of the flowering of learning, and scholars from other nations came to Irish monasteries. The excellence and isolation of these monasteries helped preserve Latin learning during the Early Middle Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewellery, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island. Sites dating to this period include clochans, ringforts and promontory forts.
The first English involvement in Ireland took place in this period. In 684 AD an English expeditionary force sent by Northumbrian King Ecgfrith invaded Ireland in the summer of that year. The English forces managed to seize a number of captives and booty, but they apparently did not stay in Ireland for long. The next English involvement in Ireland would take place a little more than half a millennium later in 1169 AD when the Normans invaded the country.
The Viking Era 800–1166Edit
The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in 795 when Vikings from Norway looted the island. Early Viking raids were generally small in scale and quick. These early raids interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture starting the beginning of two hundred years of intermittent warfare, with waves of Viking raiders plundering monasteries and towns throughout Ireland. Most of the early raiders came from the fjords of western Norway.
The Vikings were expert sailors, who travelled in Longships, and by the early 840s, had begun to establish settlements along the Irish coasts and to spend the winter months there. Vikings founded settlements in several places; most famously in Dublin. Written accounts from this time (early to mid 840s) show that the Vikings were moving further inland to attack (often using rivers) and then retreating to their coastal headquarters.
In 852, the Vikings landed in Dublin Bay and established a fortress. After several generations a group of mixed Irish and Norse ethnic background arose (the so-called Gall-Gaels, Gall then being the Irish word for "foreigners").
However, the Vikings never achieved total domination of Ireland, often fighting for and against various Irish kings. The Battle of Clontarf in 1014 marked the beginning of the decline of Viking power in Ireland. However the towns that the Vikings had founded continued to flourish and trade became an important part of the Irish economy.
The Norman Invasion 1167–1185Edit
By the 12th century, Ireland was divided politically into a shifting hierarchy of petty kingdoms and over-kingdoms. Power was exercised by the heads of a few regional dynasties vying against each other for supremacy over the whole island. One of these men, King Diarmait Mac Murchada of Leinster was forcibly exiled by the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobairof the Western kingdom of Connacht. Fleeing to Aquitaine, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry II to recruit Norman knights to regain his kingdom. The first Norman knight landed in Ireland in 1167, followed by the main forces of Normans, Welsh and Flemings. Several counties were restored to the control of Diarmait, who named his son-in-law, the NormanRichard de Clare, known as Strongbow, heir to his kingdom. This caused consternation to King Henry II of England, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman state in Ireland. Accordingly, he resolved to establish his authority.
With the authority of the papal bull Laudabiliter from Adrian IV, Henry landed with a large fleet at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. Henry awarded his Irish territories to his younger son John with the title Dominus Hiberniae ("Lord of Ireland"). When John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King John, the "Lordship of Ireland" fell directly under the English Crown.
The Lordship of Ireland 1185–1254Edit
Initially the Normans controlled the entire east coast, from Waterford up to eastern Ulster and penetrated far west in the country. The counties were ruled by many smaller kings. The first Lord of Ireland was King John, who visited Ireland in 1185 and 1210 and helped consolidate the Norman controlled areas, while at the same time ensuring that the many Irish kings swore fealty to him.
Throughout the thirteenth century the policy of the English Kings was to weaken the power of the Norman Lords in Ireland. For example King John encouraged Hugh de Lacy to destabilise and then overthrow the Lord of Ulster, before creating him to the Earl of Ulster. The Hiberno-Norman community suffered from a series of invasions that ceased the spread of their settlement and power. Politics and events in Gaelic Ireland served to draw the settlers deeper into the orbit of the Irish.
Norman decline 1254–1360Edit
By 1261 the weakening of the Normans had become manifest when Fineen Mac Carthy defeated a Norman army at the Battle of Callann. The war continued between the different lords and earls for about 100 years and the wars caused a great deal of destruction, especially around Dublin. In this chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land that their families had lost since the conquest and held them after the war was over.
The Black Death arrived in Ireland in 1348. Because most of the English and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements. After it had passed, Gaelic Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again. The English-controlled territory shrunk back to a fortified area around Dublin (the Pale), and had little real authority outside (beyond the Pale).