Today, Ireland is a country with a bright future. In 2005, “Economist” magazine selected it as the best place in the world to live. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world share that opinion and have moved there in the last decade. But this optimistic outlook was not always the case. Ireland has a long, often bloody and tragic history.Ireland was first settled around the year 8000 BC, when hunter-gatherers came from Great Britain and Europe, possibly by land bridge. They lived by hunting and fishing for about four thousand years. Around 4000 BC they began to farm, and the old hunter-gatherer lifestyle gradually died out.
The descendants of these original settlers built burial mounds and impressive monuments such as Ireland’s mostfamous prehistoric site, Newgrange.
Newgrange is a stone tomb dated to sometime before 3000 BC: older than the pyramids in Egypt.
Early Irish society was organized into a number of kingdoms, with a rich culture, a learned upper class, and artisans who created elaborate and beautiful metalwork with bronze, iron, and gold.
Irish society was pagan for thousands of years. This changed in the earlyfifth century AD, when Christian missionaries, including the legendary St. Patrick, arrived. Christianity replaced the old pagan religions by the year 600. The early monks introduced the Roman alphabet to what had been largely an oral culture. They wrote down part of the rich collection of traditional stories, legends and mythology that might have otherwise been lost.
Two centuries later, fromthe early ninth century AD, Vikings invaded Ireland.
These attacks went on for over 100 years. At first the Vikings raided monasteries and villages. Eventually, they built settlements on the island, many of which grew into important towns. Irish cities founded by the Viking invaders include Dublin, the capital city of the Republic of Ireland, as well as Limerick, Cork, and Wexford. Irish societyeventually assimilated the descendants of the Vikings.
The year 1169 saw another invasion that had severe consequences for the island. An invasion of Norman mercenaries marked the beginning of more than
Seven centuries of Norman and English rule in Ireland. The Norman/English control over Ireland was expanded until the beginning of the 13th century, when the new rulers began to be assimilatedinto Irish society, as had the Vikings before them.
The Reformation brought this time of relative peace to a brutal end. Beginning in 1534, military campaigns put down Irish chiefs who would not submit to the English king. People were massacred. A policy of “plantations” began: land was confiscated from Catholic Irish landowners, and given to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland. Duringthe next century and a half, Catholic Ireland was conquered, and religion became a source of division and strife, a role it held until recent times.
During the 18th century, many laws were passed that discriminated against Catholics. The native Gaelic language was banned in schools. By 1778, only five percent of the land was owned by Catholics. In 1801, the Irish parliament was abolished andIreland became part of “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”. Catholics could not hold parliamentary office until 1829.
Poverty was widespread. For many Irish, potatoes were the most important food. In 1845, disaster struck: the potato blight. This disease destroyed much of the potato crop for the next few years. The cause of the blight was not immediately understood, and the English rulersdid little to help the situation.
About a million people died of starvation or disease. Another million emigrated to escape poverty and starvation. Because of the potato blight, the population of Ireland fell from more than eight million in 1841 to about six million in 1852.
The population continued to decline more slowly until the second half of the 20th century. Efforts to gain home rule...