“”Walking all the day,
by tall towers where falcons build their nests.
Silver-winged they fly;
they know the call of freedom in their breasts.
Saw Black Head against the sky
with twisted rocks that run down to the sea.
Living on your western shore:
saw summer sunsets, asked for more.
I stood by your Atlantic sea,
and sang a song for Ireland.
|—Phil Colclough, "Song for Ireland"|
The word "Ireland" can refer either to the island of Ireland or to the Republic of Ireland, which recognises the name "Éire or, in the English language, Ireland" in its constitution. The choice of name was demonstrably political, and some concern was voiced that Northern Ireland would choose the name "Ireland", having as much right. In fact, Northern Ireland considered using the name "Ulster" officially for a time. In the case of "Ulster", some of the territory of the traditional province of Ulster is located outside the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland. In the case of "Ireland", some of the territory of the island (namely all of Northern Ireland) is located outside the Republic's jurisdiction.
Most natives of Northern Ireland refer to the Republic of Ireland as "Southern Ireland", "the South" or "the Republic". It can cause significant confusion to refer to the Republic of Ireland as "Ireland". Especially with people foreign to Ireland. This, of course, was the intention.
Ireland is located in Europe, west from Great Britain across the Irish Sea. There are four historic provinces to Ireland; Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht, and thirty-two historic counties, six in Northern Ireland and twenty-six in the Republic. Leinster, Munster and Connacht are located in the Republic of Ireland, along with three of the nine counties of Ulster, the remaining six counties making up Northern Ireland, leading to Northern Ireland's unofficial title of "Ulster", as much of Ulster is located in Northern Ireland.
Pre-1801 (various invasions)
Ireland has a long and rich history but they neglected to write any of it down until the Christian missionaries came in the 5th century CE. Before then, it was settled by Celts at some point in the first millennium BCE, speaking the ancestor of the modern Irish language. The Romans don't seem to have seriously troubled Ireland. There is debate over exactly how Christians changed Irish civilisation: there were almost no pre-Christian records so it is hard to know how many native pre-Christian traditions persisted. The next major invasion was the Vikings who first arrived in significant numbers c. 795 CE, and in the 9th century established a number of settlements, most notably at Dublin, which remained a Viking settlement while the Irish fought back under kings like Brian Boru and briefly united the rest of the island. Dublin was recaptured by the Irish in 1052.
After the Norman conquest of England, the Normans and Anglo-Normans started arriving in the late 12th century during a period of civil war, with Henry II being the first King of England to set foot in Ireland. Supposedly he was invited over to help one warring Irish leader against his rivals (don't they always say that?) For a time the English ruled much of the east coast while the west remained under Irish nobles; but in the following centuries the English were occupied with other things (plague, Wars of the Roses), and English rule shrank to encompass only a small area around Dublin, known as the Pale (an old word for boundary, not a type of ale). Henry VIII decided to reconquer Ireland around 1536 but it took 100 years to accomplish. The English started a program of settlement of English (and later Scottish) people in Ireland, known as the Plantations, and the Church of Ireland was established as a Protestant church, but most of the Irish still remained Roman Catholic.
The so-called English Civil War saw a lot of bloodshed in Ireland, mostly thanks to Oliver Cromwell, and King William III ("King Billy" to his Protestant fans) continued later in the 17th century. A lot of Irish supported the Jacobite cause, and Irish soldiers fought in the rebellions in the early 18th century. Meanwhile an Anglo-Irish elite grew up, mostly in Dublin, with figures such as Jonathan Swift and Edmund Burke. But things were still very bad for the ordinary population, and a generally peaceful 18th century ended in tumult with the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798.
The 1800 Acts of Union, which came into force at the start of 1801, established Ireland as an integral part of the UK with Irish MPs sitting at Westminster alongside Scots, English, and Welsh, and the Irish parliament abolished. However Catholics were initially excluded from political participation despite promises otherwise; this was overturned in the 1820s.
In the late 19th century there was again desire for home rule, culminating in the failed 1916 Easter Rising. The British pondered for decades how to offer Ireland some kind of home rule, while many Irish would settle for nothing but total independence, which was eventually settled by a guerrilla war in 1919-20, things for once going in Ireland's favour.
The most notorious event of the century was the 1845–49 Great Irish Famine (or Irish Potato Famine), when potato blight ruined the potato crop, and political decisions meant the Irish couldn't get wheat. While almost everyone accepts that British policies made the famine worse, debate rages about how much of it was Britain's fault, and there are even claims that it was more or less deliberate genocide. This has led to comparisons of the Famine with the Nazi Holocaust: AJP Taylor reportedly said "all Ireland was a Belsen".
Historian Tim Pat Coogan's The Famine Plot noted that a similar blight occurred in Scotland without any serious consequences, and suggested the difference was due to differing policies. According to Coogan, the disaster in Ireland was a deliberate attempt to depopulate Ireland. In the 1830s the British had studied Irish demographics, noted rapid population growth, and decided there was a desperate need both to improve food and to encourage emigration. Coogan quotes British civil servant Charles Trevelyan as writing that Ireland was over-populated and needed a reduction in numbers. British actions during the famine included instances where authority figures such as Trevelyan refused the Irish food which was available. In part this was done out of the common right-wing belief that if you give poor people they would become indolent and lazy and therefore, for the moral development of the poor as well as for the proper functioning of capitalism, you shouldn't provide aid. Coogan specifically quotes Trevelyan: "The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people."
Another view places the fault for the famine more at government policies on tariffs on cereals (the Corn Laws) which prevented the import of cheap foreign grains, although these were repealed in 1846 and the famine didn't get any better. It is clear that the British knew exactly what was happening (several MPs were Irish landowners or relatives thereof) so ignorance is not a defence. The extent to which the British specifically intended to starve the Irish either to death or into emigration is unclear, and it's not certain if the definition of genocide exactly fits, but the British government was culpable for its refusal to alleviate the famine.
The Irish War of Independence ended in 1921 with what is now known as the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The treaty was what separated the island in two. The provinces of Connacht, Munster and Leinster were relinquished while most of Ulster remained under British control. Of course there were certain people who disagreed with this treaty, which resulted in the Irish Civil War. Eventually the Irish managed to end this war and found their own Republic.
Until U.S. President Bill Clinton sent former Senator George Mitchell over to help with negotiations, instructing him not to come home until they stopped fighting, Ireland was the scene of ugly violence over the issue of Northern Ireland. The British Army acted as an occupation force, and the Irish Republican Army and "Loyalist" paramilitaries both engaged in terrorist attacks on civilians in various parts of Great Britain and Ireland. The Irish were also brutal to each other. The British Government claimed that the army prevented this violence and brutality from escalating further, despite the fact that the presence of the army and their brutal conduct towards civilians being one of the main contributing factors to the IRA taking up arms in the first place. This battle, essentially fought over whether to allow Northern Ireland to come under the control of the Republic of Ireland, was referred to colloquially as the "Troubles".
To understand the conflict in Ireland, one must understand the political ideals of both sides and the history of British (and English) control in Ireland. The Nationalists believe that the whole of Ireland should be united and that the British government has no valid claim or ownership over Ulster. The Loyalists believe the exact opposite, that British control in Ireland is right.
While the Republic Ireland was independent from 1921, the British continued their oppression of Catholics in the North. Catholics in Northern Ireland were perceived to have been treated like second class citizens and their votes had counted for less in certain local elections - this was largely due to the fact that the votes of landowners and landlords (the majority of whom were Protestant Unionists) held greater value in elections. The foundation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (also known as the "Provos") occurred well before any of these grievances took place, and had been brewing for decades, and a Civil Rights Movement had also started. This was an extremely dark time for the North and both sides were guilty of killing civilians.
The most infamous is Bloody Sunday, where civil rights protesters were gunned down by British paratroopers without provocation in 1972. This particular event has provoked much controversy over the years as no arrests were made and the soldiers claimed that the protesters had weapons and fired first. This has since been proven to be a lie, and British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the soldiers involved in the massacre. In 2021, the British government announced that none of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre would be charged, including the notorious David James Cleary, known as "Soldier F", who murdered two people in unprovoked shootings.
Amazingly, things have quieted down tremendously since the agreements were forged. This has led to a skyrocketing of tourism, since so many Irish emigrated over the last century or two with very few of them returning (Frank McCourt and his family were extremely unusual in this regard), and they are prime candidates for nostalgia and genealogy trips to the "Emerald Isle". Ireland's economy was growing at almost double-digit rates for many years after the blowing things up stopped after a liberalization of their economy.
In May 2015, The Republic voted by a large margin to modify the Irish constitution allowing same sex marriage on equal terms with heterosexual marriage. This happened despite opposition from the Irish Roman Catholic Church. Northern Ireland also allows gay marriage.
Except in very limited situations, abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland until 22 October 2019. Before that date, women could and did travel to other parts of the UK for abortions but had to pay for the procedure as well as travel and accommodation costs. Effectively the poorest women were denied abortions. Pills that induced abortions were readily available online and many women took them even though it was illegal.
In the Republic of Ireland, a referendum on the 25th of May 2018 passed allowing the constitution to be modified permitting abortion. This was then reflected in law on the 18th of September 2018 allowing abortion in most cases before 12 weeks. As of 2019 abortion services are available but have suffered some growing pains.
Historically Ireland since the Great Famine and then later continuing with the founding of the Saorstát Éireann and the An Poblacht, the country has always been predominantly a land of emigration rather immigration. However, since the economic boom of the 1990s which created the Celtic Tiger, the country has become an attractive place to move to. The first wave of immigrants came from the UK, many of which have Irish extraction. Later comes in the 2000's a mixture of refugees and Central and Eastern Europe immigrants arrived, helped by the country's liberal immigration and asylum policies and the expansion of the EU to including the poorer former Eastern Bloc in 2004. Also, another factor was until 2004, Ireland was the only country in Europe that had unconditional jus soli citizenship and many asylum seekers took advantage of this to create a version of "anchor-babies" with a large number of pregnant refugee women giving birth in Irish maternity hospitals.  This changed when a constitutional amendment was passed, removing this clause. 
While in general many of these immigrants have been welcomed and happily settled in the new homes, there has been a growing momentum by the nascent far-right in Ireland like the conspiracy theorist Gemma O'Doherty. They often use the same language and tones like other far-right movements in Europe and North America, in that they change the colour of the country and not integrating into Irish society.
The Republic's political system has long been trapped in the 1920s with the main division between the neoliberal Fine Gael (who supported the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty that established the partition of Ireland) and the also neoliberal Fianna Fáil (who opposed the treaty). The left has been represented by the Labour Party (traditionally the third or fourth-strongest party) and the southern branch of the renewed Sinn Féin (there was an older Sinn Féin which split into Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil). There is also a Green Party and various other minor parties.
Fortunately the extreme right wing is not strong. Renua was founded in 2015 by Lucinda Creighton who quit Fine Gael because of her opposition to abortion. In the 2016 general election it campaigned on a manifesto heavy on law and order (three strikes and you're in jail for life) and a flat tax. It won 2% of the vote, not enough for any seats in parliament but enough to get a bit of government money, before losing that government funding in the 2020 election.
More extreme than Renua, but no more successful electorally, is the National Party and its predecessor the anti-abortion campaign group Youth Defence. Justin Barrett features prominently in both, and is leader of the National Party. He and they are opposed to abortion, immigration, the European Union, homosexuality, and much more, but fond of the death penalty. Youth Defence was initially formed to oppose divorce in the 1986 referendum on the subject, and later focused on opposition to abortion; its chief tactic seemed to be picketing politicians' houses and reproductive health clinics. It shared offices with eurosceptic group Cóir and also had connections with the German neo-nazi party the National Democratic Party of Germany.
There are no snakes in Ireland (unless you count those heartless bastards who ran the Magdalene laundries). Legend has it that St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, banished them. St Patrick was so efficient at this that not only did he banish the snakes from Ireland, but he also removed all paleontological evidence of them having ever been there in the first place. There is a popular legend that the "snakes" are Pagans but St. Patrick's role in stopping Paganism is very exaggerated by Christians, and according to author P. Sufenas Virius Lupus "St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE."
Irish is a Celtic language, closely related to Scottish Gaelic (which derived from Irish immigrants to Scotland in the latter part of the first millennium CE). Irish derived from the language brought by Celtic settlers who arrived in Ireland maybe around 500 BCE. The earliest form is known from Ogham inscriptions around 200-400 CE. Early Christians brought Latin after 400 CE, but wrote Irish marginal notes and later homilies and glosses; soon there were collections of myths and legends such as the Ulster Cycle. In the 19th century, Irish was replaced by English for many speakers, part of a common process of imposing linguistic conformity and eliminating regional languages: the UK government schools did not teach it, and the Latin-loving Roman Catholic church did not use Irish in their schools or even authorise a Bible in Irish until 1981 (the Protestant William Bedell had organised a translation in the 17th century, which gas man Robert Boyle republished). The Famine mostly killed rural Irish speakers. In the mid 18th century it is estimated two thirds of the population used Irish primarily; by 1911 only 17.6% spoke Irish. There were attempts to revive Irish and Irish culture (e.g. Gaelic sports) from the late 19th century. After independence, there were halfhearted attempts to promote the language but government and official business still used English. Attempts at spelling reform proved controversial. Recently Irish has become no longer the language of the rural poor but of the middle-class elite who send their kids to Irish-medium independent schools.
- David Norris
- Ian Paisley
- United Kingdom
- Magdalene laundry
- Irish slaves
- Irish Constitution
- It would be useful to have a report on your conversation with the Foreign Office. When informing the German Government of the change of the name of the State, you should not emphasise the Irish form. The change of name would not, of course, have the same political or national significance if 'Éire' were to be used by foreigners. As you are aware, it is the hope of everybody in this country that the use of 'Ireland' to describe the Twenty-six Counties will have a definite psychological effect in favour of the unity of this country on both Irish and foreign minds. National Archives of Ireland, document dated 2nd December 1937.
- Review: Early Irish History: The State of the Art, lva Johnston, Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 33, No. 131 (May, 2003), pp. 342-348 (7 pages)
- Oliver Cromwell’s war crimes, the Massacre of Drogheda in 1649, Irish Central
- Oliver Cromwell, BBC Bitesize
- A Tale of Two Generals: Cumberland & Cornwallis, History Ireland, Issue 3 (Autumn 1999), Volume 7
- The 1798 Irish Rebellion, Thomas Bartlett, BBC History, 2011
- Famine movie on its way but was it genocide by the British?, Irish Central, August 20, 2018
- Was the Famine genocide by the British?, Irish Independent, 5 January 2013
- The Great Famine, UK Parliament website
- Ireland becomes first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote
- Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Act 2018
- Country's emigrant past lies forgotten as Irish accused of racism. The Guardian
- Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Act 2004
- See the Wikipedia article on List of political parties in the Republic of Ireland.
- See the Wikipedia article on Renua.
- See the Wikipedia article on Justin Barrett.
- See the Wikipedia article on Youth Defence.
- Blood and Mistletoe: A Pagan History of Britain
- History of Translating the Bible into Irish, Bible Baptist Church Ballincollig
- Is there an educational advantage to speaking Irish?, Watson, Iarfhlaith; Nic Ghiolla Phádraig, Máire, International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2009
- See the Wikipedia article on History of the Irish language.