History of Ireland
History of Ireland ©HistoryMaps

4000 BCE - 2024

History of Ireland

Human presence in Ireland dates back to around 33,000 years ago, with evidence of Homo sapiens from 10,500 to 7,000 BCE. The receding ice after the Younger Dryas around 9700 BCE marked the beginning of prehistoric Ireland, transitioning through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper Age, and Bronze Age, culminating in the Iron Age by 600 BCE. The La Tène culture arrived around 300 BCE, influencing Irish society.

By the late 4th century CE, Christianity began to replace Celtic polytheism, transforming Irish culture. Vikings arrived in the late 8th century, founding towns and trading posts. Despite the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 curtailing Viking power, Gaelic culture remained dominant. The Norman invasion in 1169 initiated centuries of English involvement. The English control expanded after the Wars of the Roses, but the Gaelic resurgence confined them to areas around Dublin. Henry VIII’s proclamation as King of Ireland in 1541 began the Tudor conquest, marked by resistance to Protestant reforms and ongoing warfare, including the Desmond Rebellions and the Nine Years' War. The defeat at Kinsale in 1601 marked the end of Gaelic dominance.

The 17th century saw intensified conflict between Protestant landholders and the Catholic majority, culminating in wars such as the Irish Confederate Wars and the Williamite War. In 1801, Ireland was incorporated into the United Kingdom. Catholic Emancipation came in 1829. The Great Famine from 1845 to 1852 caused over a million deaths and mass emigration. The 1916 Easter Rising led to the Irish War of Independence, resulting in the 1922 establishment of the Irish Free State, with Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. The Troubles in Northern Ireland, starting in the late 1960s, were marked by sectarian violence until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which brought a fragile but lasting peace.

12000 BCE - 400
Prehistoric Ireland
11500 BCE Jan 1 - 8000 BCE

First Humans in Ireland


During the Last Glacial Maximum, between about 26,000 and 20,000 years ago, ice sheets over 3,000 meters thick covered Ireland, dramatically reshaping its landscape. By 24,000 years ago, these glaciers extended beyond Ireland's southern coast. However, as the climate warmed, the ice began to retreat. By 16,000 years ago, only an ice bridge connected Northern Ireland to Scotland. By 14,000 years ago, Ireland stood isolated from Britain, with the glaciation period ending around 11,700 years ago, transforming Ireland into an arctic tundra landscape. This glaciation is known as the Midlandian glaciation.

Between 17,500 and 12,000 years ago, the Bølling-Allerød warming period allowed northern Europe to be repopulated by hunter-gatherers. Genetic evidence points to reoccupation starting in southwestern Europe, while faunal remains suggest an Iberian refugium extending into southern France. Reindeer and aurochs migrated north during this pre-boreal period, attracting humans who hunted migratory game at glacial termini as far north as Sweden.

As the Holocene began around 11,500 years ago, humans reached the northernmost ice-free zones of continental Europe, including areas near Ireland. Despite a warming climate, early Holocene Ireland remained inhospitable, limiting human settlement to possible fishing activities. Although a hypothetical land bridge may have connected Britain and Ireland, it likely disappeared around 14,000 BCE due to rising sea levels, preventing most terrestrial flora and fauna from crossing. Conversely, Britain remained connected to continental Europe until around 5600 BCE.

The earliest known modern humans in Ireland date back to the late Paleolithic. Radiocarbon dating in 2016 of a butchered bear bone from Alice and Gwendoline Cave in County Clare revealed human presence around 10,500 BCE, shortly after the ice retreated. Earlier discoveries, such as a flint found in Mell, Drogheda, and a reindeer bone fragment from Castlepook Cave, suggest human activity dating back as far as 33,000 years ago, though these instances are less definitive and might involve materials carried by ice.

Evidence from an 11,000 BCE site on the British coast of the Irish Sea suggests a marine diet including shellfish, indicating that people may have colonized Ireland by boat. However, due to few resources beyond coastal areas, these early populations may not have permanently settled. The Younger Dryas (10,900 BCE to 9700 BCE) brought a return of freezing conditions, possibly depopulating Ireland and ensuring the land bridge with Britain never reappeared.

Mesolithic Ireland
Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Ireland lived on a varied diet that included seafood, birds, wild boar, and hazelnuts. ©HistoryMaps
8000 BCE Jan 1 - 4000 BCE

Mesolithic Ireland


The last ice age in Ireland fully ended around 8000 BCE. Before the 2016 discovery of a Paleolithic bear bone dating to 10,500 BCE, the earliest known evidence of human occupation was from the Mesolithic period, around 7000 BCE. By this time, Ireland was likely already an island due to lower sea levels, and the first settlers arrived by boat, probably from Britain. These early inhabitants were seafarers who relied heavily on the sea and settled near water sources. Although Mesolithic people heavily depended on riverine and coastal environments, ancient DNA suggests they ceased contact with Mesolithic societies in Britain and beyond.

Evidence of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers has been found throughout Ireland. Key excavation sites include the settlement at Mount Sandel in Coleraine, County Londonderry, the cremations at Hermitage on the River Shannon in County Limerick, and the campsite at Lough Boora in County Offaly. Lithic scatters have also been noted from County Donegal in the north to County Cork in the south. The population during this period is estimated to have been around 8,000 people.

Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Ireland lived on a varied diet that included seafood, birds, wild boar, and hazelnuts. There is no evidence of deer in the Irish Mesolithic, with red deer likely introduced during the Neolithic period. These communities used spears, arrows, and harpoons tipped with microliths and supplemented their diet with gathered nuts, fruit, and berries. They lived in seasonal shelters made by stretching animal skins or thatch over wooden frames and had outdoor hearths for cooking. The population during the Mesolithic probably never exceeded a few thousand. Artifacts from this period include small microlith blades and points, as well as larger stone tools and weapons, particularly the versatile Bann flake, which highlight their adaptive strategies in a post-glacial environment.

Neolithic Ireland
Neolithic Ireland ©HistoryMaps
4000 BCE Jan 1 - 2500 BCE

Neolithic Ireland


Around 4500 BCE, the Neolithic period began in Ireland with the introduction of a 'package' that included cereal cultivars, domesticated animals like sheep, goats, and cattle, as well as pottery, housing, and stone monuments. This package was similar to those found in Scotland and other parts of Europe, signifying the arrival of farming and settled communities.

The Neolithic transition in Ireland was marked by significant developments in agriculture and animal husbandry. Sheep, goats, and cattle, along with cereal crops such as wheat and barley, were imported from southwestern continental Europe. This introduction led to a significant population increase, as evidenced by various archaeological finds.

One of the earliest clear proofs of farming in Ireland comes from Ferriter's Cove on the Dingle Peninsula, where a flint knife, cattle bones, and a sheep's tooth dated to around 4350 BCE were discovered. This indicates that farming practices were established on the island by this time.

The Céide Fields in County Mayo provide further evidence of Neolithic farming. This extensive field system, considered one of the oldest known in the world, consists of small fields separated by dry-stone walls. These fields were actively farmed between 3500 and 3000 BCE, with wheat and barley as the principal crops.

Neolithic pottery also appeared around this time, with styles similar to those found in northern Great Britain. In Ulster and Limerick, wide-mouthed, round-bottomed bowls typical of this period have been excavated, indicating a shared cultural influence across the region.

Despite these advancements, some regions of Ireland exhibited patterns of pastoralism, suggesting a division of labor where pastoral activities sometimes dominated agrarian ones. By the height of the Neolithic, Ireland's population was likely between 100,000 and 200,000. However, around 2500 BCE, an economic collapse occurred, leading to a temporary decline in population.

Copper and Bronze Ages of Ireland
Copper and Bronze Ages of Ireland ©HistoryMaps
2500 BCE Jan 1 - 500 BCE

Copper and Bronze Ages of Ireland


The arrival of metallurgy in Ireland is closely associated with the Bell Beaker People, named after their distinctive pottery shaped like inverted bells. This marked a significant departure from the finely crafted, round-bottomed Neolithic pottery. The Beaker culture is linked with the commencement of copper mining, evident at sites like Ross Island, which began around 2400 BCE.

There is some debate among scholars about when Celtic language speakers first arrived in Ireland. Some associate this with the Beaker People of the Bronze Age, while others argue that the Celts arrived later, at the start of the Iron Age.

The transition from the Copper Age (Chalcolithic) to the Bronze Age occurred around 2000 BCE when copper was alloyed with tin to produce true bronze. This period saw the production of "Ballybeg-type" flat axes and other metalwork. Copper was predominantly mined in southwest Ireland, particularly at sites like Ross Island and Mount Gabriel in County Cork. Tin, necessary for making bronze, was imported from Cornwall.

The Bronze Age saw the manufacture of various tools and weapons, including swords, axes, daggers, hatchets, halberds, awls, drinking utensils, and horn-shaped trumpets. Irish craftsmen were renowned for their horn-shaped trumpets, made using the lost wax process. Additionally, Ireland's rich deposits of native gold led to the creation of numerous gold ornaments, with Irish gold items found as far away as Germany and Scandinavia.

Another significant development during this period was the construction of stone circles, particularly in Ulster and Munster. Crannogs, or timber homes built in shallow lakes for security, also emerged during the Bronze Age. These structures often had narrow walkways to the shore and were used over long periods, even into medieval times.

The Dowris Hoard, containing over 200 items mostly in bronze, highlights the end of the Bronze Age in Ireland (around 900-600 BCE). This hoard included bronze rattles, horns, weapons, and vessels, indicating a culture where elite feasting and ceremonial activities were important. The Dunaverney flesh-hook, from slightly earlier (1050-900 BCE), suggests continental European influences.

During the Bronze Age, Ireland's climate deteriorated, leading to extensive deforestation. The population at the end of this period was probably between 100,000 and 200,000, similar to the height of the Neolithic. The Irish Bronze Age continued until around 500 BCE, later than in continental Europe and Britain.

Iron Age in Ireland
Iron Age in Ireland. ©Angus McBride
600 BCE Jan 1 - 400

Iron Age in Ireland


The Iron Age in Ireland began around 600 BCE, marked by the gradual infiltration of small groups of Celtic-speaking people. The Celtic migration into Ireland is believed to have occurred in multiple waves over several centuries, with origins tracing back to various regions in Europe.

Waves of Migration

  • First Wave (Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age): The initial wave of Celtic migration into Ireland likely occurred during the late Bronze Age to early Iron Age (around 1000 BCE to 500 BCE). These early migrants might have come from the Hallstatt cultural sphere, bringing with them advanced metalworking techniques and other cultural traits.
  • Second Wave (Around 500 BCE to 300 BCE): The second significant wave of migration is associated with the La Tène culture. These Celts brought with them distinct artistic styles, including intricate metalwork and designs. This wave likely had a more profound impact on Irish culture and society, as evidenced by the archaeological record.
  • Third Wave (Later Periods): Some historians suggest there were later waves of migration, possibly into the first few centuries CE, although the evidence for these is less clear. These later waves could have included smaller groups that continued to bring Celtic cultural influences into Ireland.

This period saw a blending of Celtic and indigenous cultures, leading to the emergence of Gaelic culture by the fifth century CE. During this time, the main over-kingdoms of In Tuisceart, Airgialla, Ulaid, Mide, Laigin, Mumhain, and Cóiced Ol nEchmacht began to take shape, fostering a rich cultural environment dominated by an upper class of aristocratic warriors and learned individuals, possibly including Druids.

From the 17th century onwards, linguists identified the Goidelic languages spoken in Ireland as a branch of the Celtic languages. The introduction of Celtic language and cultural elements is often attributed to invasions by continental Celts. However, some researchers suggest that the culture evolved gradually through sustained cultural exchanges with Celtic groups from southwest continental Europe, starting as early as the Neolithic period and continuing through the Bronze Age. This hypothesis of gradual cultural absorption has gained support from recent genetic research.

In 60 CE, the Romans invaded Anglesey in Wales, raising concerns across the Irish Sea. Although there is some controversy regarding whether the Romans ever set foot in Ireland, it is suggested that the closest Rome came to invading Ireland was around 80 CE. According to accounts, Túathal Techtmar, a deposed high king's son, may have invaded Ireland from abroad to reclaim his kingdom around this time. The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia and, by 100 CE, Ptolemy had recorded its geography and tribes. Although Ireland was never part of the Roman Empire, Roman influence extended beyond its borders. Tacitus noted that an exiled Irish prince was with Agricola in Roman Britain and intended to seize power in Ireland, while Juvenal mentioned that Roman "arms had been taken beyond the shores of Ireland." Some experts hypothesize that Roman-sponsored Gaelic forces or Roman regulars might have mounted an invasion around 100 CE, though the exact nature of the relationship between Rome and the Irish dynasties remains unclear.

In 367 CE, during the Great Conspiracy, Irish confederations known as the Scoti attacked and some settled in Britain, particularly the Dál Riata, who established themselves in western Scotland and the Western Isles. This movement exemplified the ongoing interactions and migrations between Ireland and Britain during this period.

400 - 1169
Early Christian and Viking Ireland
Christianization of Ireland
Christianization of Ireland ©HistoryMaps

Before the 5th century, Christianity began to make its way to Ireland, likely through interactions with Roman Britain. By around 400 CE, Christian worship had reached the predominantly pagan island. Contrary to popular belief, St. Patrick did not introduce Christianity to Ireland; it had already established a presence before his arrival. Monasteries began to emerge as places where monks sought a life of permanent communion with God, exemplified by the remote monastery of Skellig Michael. From Ireland, Christianity spread to the Picts and Northumbrians, significantly influenced by Bishop Aidan.

In 431 CE, Pope Celestine I consecrated Palladius, a deacon from Gaul, as a bishop and sent him to minister to the Irish Christians, particularly in the east midlands, Leinster, and possibly east Munster. While little is known about his mission, it appears to have been relatively successful, although later overshadowed by the narratives surrounding St. Patrick. St. Patrick’s exact dates are uncertain, but he lived during the 5th century and served as a missionary bishop, focusing on regions like Ulster and north Connacht. Much of what is traditionally believed about him comes from later, unreliable sources.

In the 6th century, several prominent monastic establishments were founded: Clonard by St. Finian, Clonfert by St. Brendan, Bangor by St. Comgall, Clonmacnoise by St. Kieran, and Killeaney by St. Enda. The 7th century saw the establishment of Lismore by St. Carthage and Glendalough by St. Kevin.

Early Christian Ireland
Early Christian Ireland ©Angus McBride
400 Jan 1 - 800

Early Christian Ireland


Early Christian Ireland began emerging from a mysterious decline in population and living standards that lasted from about 100 to 300 CE. During this period, known as the Irish Dark Age, the population was entirely rural and scattered, with small ringforts serving as the largest centers of human occupation. These ringforts, of which around 40,000 are known and possibly as many as 50,000 existed, were primarily farm enclosures for the well-to-do and often included souterrains—underground passages used for hiding or escape.

The Irish economy was almost entirely agricultural, though raiding Great Britain for slaves and loot also played a significant role. Crannógs, or lakeside enclosures, were used for crafting and provided an important economic boost. Contrary to earlier views that medieval Irish farming focused mainly on livestock, pollen studies have shown that cereal farming, particularly of barley and oats, became increasingly important from around 200 CE. Livestock, especially cattle, were highly valued, with cattle-raiding being a major part of warfare. Large herds, especially those owned by monasteries, were common by the end of this period.

During the early medieval period, there was significant deforestation, reducing large forest tracts by the 9th century, though boglands remained relatively unaffected. By 800 CE, small towns began to form around larger monasteries, like Trim and Lismore, with some kings based in these monastic towns. Kings generally lived in larger ringforts, but with more luxury objects such as elaborate Celtic brooches. The period also saw the peak of Irish Insular art, with illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells, brooches, carved stone high crosses, and metalwork like the Derrynaflan and Ardagh Hoards.

Politically, the oldest certain fact in Irish history is the existence of a pentarchy in late prehistory, comprising the cóiceda or "fifths" of the Ulaid (Ulster), Connachta (Connacht), Laigin (Leinster), Mumu (Munster), and Mide (Meath). However, this pentarchy had dissolved by the dawn of recorded history. The rise of new dynasties, notably the Uí Néill in the north and midlands and the Eóganachta in the southwest, transformed the political landscape. The Uí Néill, along with their parent group the Connachta, reduced the Ulaid's territory to what are now counties Down and Antrim by the 4th or 5th centuries, establishing the tributary kingdom of Airgíalla and the Uí Néill kingdom of Ailech.

The Uí Néill also engaged in regular warfare with the Laigin in the midlands, pushing their territory south to the Kildare/Offaly border and claiming the kingship of Tara, which began to be seen as the High Kingship of Ireland. This led to a new division of Ireland into two halves: Leth Cuinn ("Conn's half") in the north, named after Conn of the Hundred Battles, the supposed ancestor of the Uí Néill and Connachta; and Leth Moga ("Mug's half") in the south, named after Mug Nuadat, the supposed ancestor of the Eoganachta. Although dynastic propaganda claimed this division dated back to the 2nd century, it likely originated in the 8th century, during the height of Uí Néill power.

Hiberno-Scottish mission
Saint Columba during a mission to the Picts. ©HistoryMaps
500 Jan 1 - 600

Hiberno-Scottish mission

Scotland, UK

In the 6th and 7th centuries, the Hiberno-Scottish mission saw Gaelic missionaries from Ireland spread Celtic Christianity across Scotland, Wales, England, and Merovingian France. Initially, Catholic Christianity spread within Ireland itself. The term "Celtic Christianity," which emerged in the 8th and 9th centuries, is somewhat misleading. Catholic sources argue that these missions operated under the Holy See's authority, while Protestant historians emphasize conflicts between Celtic and Roman clergy, noting the lack of strict coordination in these missions. Despite regional variations in liturgy and structure, Celtic-speaking areas maintained a strong veneration for the Papacy.

Dunod, a disciple of Columba, founded a significant Bible school at Bangor-on-Dee in 560. This school was notable for its large student body, organized under seven deans, each overseeing at least 300 students. The mission faced conflict with Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory I to Britain in 597 with authority over British bishops. At a conference, Deynoch, the abbot of Bangor, resisted Augustine's demand to submit to Roman Church ordinances, stating their readiness to listen to the Church and the Pope but rejecting the necessity of absolute obedience to Rome. Representatives from Bangor upheld their ancient customs and rejected Augustine's supremacy.

In 563, St. Columba, along with companions, traveled from Donegal to Caledonia, founding a monastery on Iona. Under Columba's leadership, the monastery flourished and became a center for evangelizing the Dalriadian Scots and the Picts. By Columba's death in 597, Christianity had spread throughout Caledonia and its western isles. In the subsequent century, Iona prospered, and its abbot, St. Adamnan, wrote the "Life of St. Columba" in Latin. From Iona, missionaries like the Irish Aidan continued the spread of Christianity to Northumbria, Mercia, and Essex.

In England, Aidan, educated at Iona, was invited by King Oswald in 634 to teach Celtic Christianity in Northumbria. Oswald granted him Lindisfarne to establish a Bible school. Aidan’s successors, Finan and Colman, continued his work, spreading the mission across the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It is estimated that two-thirds of the Anglo-Saxon population converted to Celtic Christianity during this time.

Columbanus, born in 543, studied at Bangor Abbey until around 590 before traveling to the continent with twelve companions. Welcomed by King Guntram of Burgundy, they established schools at Anegray, Luxeuil, and Fontaines. Expelled by Theuderic II in 610, Columbanus moved to Lombardy, founding a school at Bobbio in 614. His disciples founded numerous monasteries across France, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland, including St. Gall in Switzerland and Disibodenberg in the Rhine Palatinate.

In Italy, significant figures from this mission included Saint Donatus of Fiesole and Andrew the Scot. Other notable missionaries included Fridolin of Säckingen, who founded monasteries in Baden and Konstanz, and figures like Wendelin of Trier, Saint Kilian, and Rupert of Salzburg, who contributed to the spread of Celtic Christianity across Europe.

Golden Age of Irish Monasticism
Golden Age of Irish Monasticism ©HistoryMaps
500 Jan 1 - 700

Golden Age of Irish Monasticism


During the 6th to 8th centuries, Ireland experienced a remarkable flourishing of monastic culture. This period, often referred to as the "Golden Age of Irish Monasticism," was characterized by the establishment and expansion of monastic communities that became centers of learning, art, and spirituality. These monastic settlements played a pivotal role in the preservation and transmission of knowledge during a time when much of Europe was experiencing cultural and intellectual decline.

Monastic communities in Ireland were founded by figures such as St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Brigid. These monasteries were not only religious centers but also hubs of education and manuscript production. Monks dedicated themselves to copying and illuminating religious texts, which led to the creation of some of the most exquisite manuscripts of the medieval period. These illuminated manuscripts are renowned for their intricate artwork, vivid colors, and detailed designs, often incorporating elements of Celtic art.

The Book of Kells is perhaps the most famous of these illuminated manuscripts. Believed to have been created around the 8th century, this Gospel book is a masterpiece of Insular art, a style that combines Christian iconography with traditional Irish motifs. The Book of Kells features elaborate illustrations of the four Gospels, with pages adorned by intricate interlacing patterns, fantastical animals, and ornate initials. Its craftsmanship and artistry reflect the high level of skill and devotion of the monastic scribes and illuminators.

Other notable manuscripts from this period include the Book of Durrow and the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Book of Durrow, dating from the late 7th century, is one of the earliest examples of Insular illumination and demonstrates the distinctiveness of Irish monastic art. The Lindisfarne Gospels, although produced in Northumbria, were heavily influenced by Irish monasticism and exemplify the cross-cultural exchange of artistic techniques and styles.

Irish monasteries also played a crucial role in the broader intellectual and cultural revival of Europe. Monastic scholars from Ireland traveled across the continent, establishing monasteries and centers of learning in places such as Iona in Scotland and Bobbio in Italy. These missionaries brought with them their knowledge of Latin, theology, and the classical texts, contributing to the Carolingian Renaissance in the 9th century.

The flourishing of monastic culture in Ireland during the 6th to 8th centuries had a profound impact on the preservation and dissemination of knowledge. The illuminated manuscripts produced by these monastic communities remain some of the most significant and beautiful artifacts of the medieval world, offering insights into the spiritual and artistic life of early medieval Ireland.

First Viking age in Ireland
First Viking age in Ireland ©Angus McBride
795 Jan 1 - 902

First Viking age in Ireland

Dublin, Ireland

The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in 795 CE when Vikings, possibly from Norway, looted the island of Lambay. This raid was followed by attacks on the coast of Brega in 798 and the coast of Connacht in 807. These early Viking incursions, generally small and swift, interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture and heralded two centuries of intermittent warfare. The Vikings, primarily from western Norway, typically sailed via Shetland and Orkney before reaching Ireland. Among their targets were the Skellig Islands off the coast of County Kerry. These early raids were characterized by aristocratic free enterprise, with leaders like Saxolb in 837, Turges in 845, and Agonn in 847 noted in the Irish annals.

In 797, Áed Oirdnide of the Cenél nEógain branch of the Northern Uí Néill became King of Tara following the death of his father-in-law and political rival Donnchad Midi. His reign saw campaigns in Mide, Leinster, and Ulaid to assert his authority. Unlike his predecessor, Áed did not campaign in Munster. He is credited with preventing major Viking attacks on Ireland during his reign after 798, although the annals do not explicitly mention his involvement in conflicts with the Vikings.

The Viking raids on Ireland intensified from 821 onwards, with the Vikings establishing fortified encampments, or longports, such as Linn Dúachaill and Duiblinn (Dublin). Larger Viking forces began targeting major monastic towns, while smaller local churches often escaped their attention. One notable Viking leader, Thorgest, connected with attacks on Connacht, Mide, and Clonmacnoise in 844, was captured and drowned by Máel Sechnaill mac Maíl Ruanaid. However, the historicity of Thorgest is uncertain, and his depiction may be influenced by later anti-Viking sentiment.

In 848, Irish leaders Ólchobar mac Cináeda of Munster and Lorcán mac Cellaig of Leinster defeated a Norse army at Sciath Nechtain. Máel Sechnaill, now High King, also defeated another Norse army at Forrach the same year. These victories led to an embassy to the Frankish emperor Charles the Bald. In 853, Olaf, possibly a "son of the king of Lochlann," arrived in Ireland and assumed leadership of the Vikings, alongside his kinsman Ivar. Their descendants, the Uí Ímair, would remain influential for the next two centuries.

From the mid-9th century, Norse alliances with various Irish rulers became common. Cerball mac Dúnlainge of Osraige initially fought against Viking raiders but later allied with Olaf and Ivar against Máel Sechnaill, though these alliances were temporary. By the end of the 9th century, the Uí Néill high kings faced opposition from their kinsmen and the Norse of Dublin, highlighting the persistent internal divisions in Ireland.

Áed Findliath, succeeding Máel Sechnaill as high king, counted some successes against the Norse, notably burning their longports in the north in 866. His actions, however, may have hindered the economic development of the north by preventing the growth of port towns. The last mention of Olaf in the annals is in 871 when he and Ivar returned to Dublin from Alba. Ivar died in 873, described as "king of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain."

In 902, Irish forces expelled the Vikings from Dublin, although the Norse continued to influence Irish politics. A group of Vikings led by Hingamund settled in Wirral, England, after being forced out of Ireland, with evidence of an Irish presence in the region.

The Vikings exploited Ireland's political fragmentation to invade, but the decentralized nature of Irish governance made it difficult for them to maintain control. Despite initial setbacks, the Vikings' presence ultimately influenced Irish cultural activity, leading to the formation of an Irish scholarly diaspora in Europe. Irish scholars like John Scottus Eriugena and Sedulius Scottus became prominent in continental Europe, contributing to the spread of Irish culture and scholarship.

Second Viking age of Ireland
Second Viking age of Ireland ©Angus McBride
914 Jan 1 - 980

Second Viking age of Ireland


After being expelled from Dublin in 902, the descendants of Ivar, referred to as the Uí Ímair, remained active around the Irish Sea, engaging in activities in Pictland, Strathclyde, Northumbria, and Mann. In 914, a new Viking fleet appeared in Waterford Harbour, followed by the Uí Ímair who reasserted control over Viking activities in Ireland. Ragnall arrived with a fleet in Waterford, while Sitric landed at Cenn Fuait in Leinster. Niall Glúndub, who became the Uí Néill overking in 916, attempted to confront Ragnall in Munster but without decisive engagement. The men of Leinster, led by Augaire mac Ailella, attacked Sitric but were heavily defeated at the Battle of Confey (917), enabling Sitric to re-establish Norse control over Dublin. Ragnall then left for York in 918, where he became king.

From 914 to 922, a more intensive period of Viking settlement in Ireland began, with the Norse establishing major coastal towns including Waterford, Cork, Dublin, Wexford, and Limerick. Archaeological excavations in Dublin and Waterford have unearthed significant Viking heritage, including burial stones known as Rathdown Slabs in South Dublin. The Vikings founded numerous other coastal towns, and over generations, a mixed Irish-Norse ethnic group, the Norse-Gaels, emerged. Despite the Scandinavian elite, genetic studies suggest that most inhabitants were indigenous Irish.

In 919, Niall Glúndub marched on Dublin but was defeated and killed by Sitric at the Battle of Islandbridge. Sitric left for York in 920, succeeded by his kinsman Gofraid in Dublin. Gofraid's raids showed some restraint, suggesting a shift in Norse strategies from mere raiding to establishing a more permanent presence. This shift was evident in Gofraid's campaigns in eastern Ulster from 921 to 927, aimed at creating a Scandinavian kingdom.

Muirchertach mac Néill, son of Niall Glúndub, emerged as a successful general, defeating the Norse and leading campaigns to force other provincial kingdoms into submission. In 941, he captured the king of Munster and led a fleet to the Hebrides. Gofraid, after a brief period in York, returned to Dublin, where he struggled against the Vikings of Limerick. Gofraid's son, Amlaíb, decisively defeated Limerick in 937 and allied with Constantine II of Scotland and Owen I of Strathclyde. Their coalition was defeated by Athelstan at Brunanburh in 937.

In 980, Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill became Uí Néill overking, defeating Dublin at the Battle of Tara and forcing its submission. Meanwhile, in Munster, the Dál gCais, led by Cennétig mac Lorcáin's sons Mathgamain and Brian Boru, rose to power. Brian defeated the Norse of Limerick in 977 and gained control over Munster.

By 997, Brian Boru and Máel Sechnaill divided Ireland, with Brian controlling the south. After a series of campaigns, Brian claimed kingship over all of Ireland by 1002. He forced the submission of provincial kings and in 1005, declared himself "Emperor of the Irish" at Armagh. His reign saw Ireland's regional kings submit, but in 1012, revolts began. The Battle of Clontarf in 1014 saw Brian's forces victorious but resulted in his death. The period after Brian's death was marked by shifting alliances and continued Norse influence in Ireland, with the Norse-Gaelic presence becoming a significant part of Irish history.

Battle of Clontarf
Battle of Clontarf ©Angus McBride
1014 Apr 23

Battle of Clontarf

Clontarf Park, Dublin, Ireland

The Battle of Clontarf, fought on April 23, 1014 CE, was a pivotal moment in Irish history. This battle took place near Dublin and involved forces led by the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, against a coalition of Irish kingdoms and Viking forces. The conflict was rooted in both political power struggles and cultural clashes between the native Irish and Viking settlers who had established significant influence in Ireland.

Brian Boru, originally the King of Munster, had risen to power by uniting various Irish clans and asserting his dominance over the entire island. His rise challenged the established order, particularly the Kingdom of Leinster and the Hiberno-Norse kingdom of Dublin, which was a major Viking stronghold. The leaders of these regions, Máel Mórda mac Murchada of Leinster and Sigtrygg Silkbeard of Dublin, sought to resist Brian's authority. They allied with other Viking forces from across the sea, including those from Orkney and the Isle of Man.

The battle itself was a brutal and chaotic affair, characterized by close-quarters combat typical of the time. The forces of Brian Boru were primarily composed of warriors from Munster, Connacht, and other Irish allies. The opposing side included not only the men of Leinster and Dublin but also a considerable number of Viking mercenaries. Despite the fierce resistance, Brian's forces eventually gained the upper hand.

One of the key turning points was the death of several prominent leaders on the Viking and Leinster side, which led to a collapse in their morale and structure. However, the battle did not end without significant loss for Brian's side as well. Brian Boru himself, despite being an elderly man at the time, was killed in his tent by fleeing Viking warriors. This act marked a tragic but emblematic end to the battle.

The immediate aftermath of the Battle of Clontarf saw the decimation of Viking power in Ireland. While Vikings continued to live in Ireland, their political and military influence was severely diminished. Brian Boru's death, however, also created a power vacuum and led to a period of instability and internal conflict among the Irish clans. His legacy as a unifier and a national hero persisted, and he is remembered as one of Ireland's greatest historical figures.

Clontarf is often viewed as a significant moment that symbolized the end of Viking dominance in Ireland, even if it did not immediately unify the country under a single rule. The battle is celebrated in Irish folklore and history for its demonstration of Irish resilience and the ultimate victory over foreign invaders.

Fragmented Kingship
Fragmented Kingship ©HistoryMaps
1022 Jan 1 - 1166

Fragmented Kingship


In the wake of Máel Sechnaill's death in 1022, Donnchad mac Brian attempted to claim the title of 'King of Ireland'. However, his efforts were in vain as he failed to gain widespread recognition. During this tumultuous period, the notion of a singular high king of Ireland remained elusive, as evidenced by the glossing of Baile In Scáil, which listed Flaitbertach Ua Néill as high king, despite his inability to control even the northern regions.

From 1022 to 1072, no one could convincingly claim kingship over all of Ireland, marking this era as a significant interregnum, recognized as such by contemporary observers. Flann Mainistrech, in his regnal poem Ríg Themra tóebaige iar tain written between 1014 and 1022, listed Christian kings of Tara but did not identify a high king in 1056. Instead, he mentioned several regional kings: Conchobar Ua Maíl Schechnaill of Mide, Áed Ua Conchobair of Connacht, Garbíth Ua Cathassaig of Brega, Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó of Leinster, Donnchad mac Briain of Munster, Niall mac Máel Sechnaill of Ailech, and Niall mac Eochada of Ulaid.

The internal strife within the Cenél nEógain allowed Niall mac Eochada of Ulaid to expand his influence. Niall formed an alliance with Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó, who controlled much of the east coast of Ireland. This alliance enabled Diarmait to seize direct control of Dublin in 1052, a significant departure from past leaders like Máel Sechnaill and Brian, who merely looted the city. Diarmait took on the unprecedented role of the kingship "of the foreigners" (ríge Gall), marking a notable shift in Irish power dynamics.

Following Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó's control over Dublin, his son, Murchad, maintained influence in the east. However, after Murchad's death in 1070, the political landscape shifted again. The High Kingship remained contested, with various rulers holding and losing power quickly.

One prominent figure of this period was Muirchertach Ua Briain, grandson of Brian Boru. Muirchertach aimed to consolidate power and revive his grandfather's legacy. His reign (1086–1119) involved efforts to dominate the High Kingship, though his authority faced constant challenges. He formed alliances, notably with the Norse-Gaelic rulers of Dublin, and engaged in conflicts to strengthen his position.

The early 12th century saw significant ecclesiastical reforms, with the Synod of Ráth Breasail in 1111 and the Synod of Kells in 1152 restructuring the Irish church. These reforms aimed to align the Irish church more closely with Roman practices, enhancing ecclesiastical organization and political influence.

In the mid-12th century, Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair (Turlough O'Connor) of Connacht emerged as a powerful contender for the High Kingship. He launched numerous campaigns to assert control over other regions and invested in fortifications, contributing to the political turbulence of the era.

A pivotal figure leading to the Anglo-Norman invasion was Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurrough), King of Leinster. In 1166, Diarmait was deposed by a coalition of Irish kings led by Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O'Connor), the reigning High King. Seeking to reclaim his throne, Diarmait fled to England and sought assistance from King Henry II.

1169 - 1536
Norman and Medieval Ireland
Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland
Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland ©HistoryMaps
1169 Jan 1 - 1174

Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland


The Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, beginning in the late 12th century, marked a pivotal moment in Irish history, initiating over 800 years of direct English and later British involvement in Ireland. This invasion was precipitated by the arrival of Anglo-Norman mercenaries, who gradually conquered and acquired large areas of land, establishing English sovereignty over Ireland, allegedly sanctioned by the papal bull Laudabiliter.

In May 1169, Anglo-Norman mercenaries landed in Ireland at the request of Diarmait mac Murchada, the deposed King of Leinster. Seeking to regain his kingship, Diarmait enlisted the help of the Normans, who quickly helped him achieve his goal and began raiding neighboring kingdoms. This military intervention was sanctioned by King Henry II of England, to whom Diarmait had sworn loyalty and promised land in return for assistance.

In 1170, additional Norman forces led by Richard "Strongbow" de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke, arrived and seized key Norse-Irish towns, including Dublin and Waterford. Strongbow's marriage to Diarmait's daughter Aoífe strengthened his claim to Leinster. Following Diarmait's death in May 1171, Strongbow claimed Leinster, but his authority was contested by the Irish kingdoms. Despite a coalition led by High King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair besieging Dublin, the Normans managed to retain most of their territories.

In October 1171, King Henry II landed in Ireland with a large army to assert control over the Normans and the Irish. Supported by the Roman Catholic Church, which saw his intervention as a means to enforce religious reform and collect taxes, Henry granted Strongbow Leinster as a fiefdom and declared the Norse-Irish towns crown land. He also convened the Synod of Cashel to reform the Irish church. Many Irish kings submitted to Henry, likely hoping he would curb Norman expansion. However, Henry's grant of Meath to Hugh de Lacy and other similar actions ensured continued Norman-Irish conflicts.

Despite the 1175 Treaty of Windsor, which acknowledged Henry as overlord of the conquered territories and Ruaidrí as overlord of the rest of Ireland, fighting persisted. Norman lords continued their conquests, and Irish forces resisted. In 1177, Henry declared his son John as "Lord of Ireland" and authorized further Norman expansion. The Normans established the Lordship of Ireland, a part of the Angevin Empire.

The arrival of the Normans significantly altered Ireland's cultural and economic landscape. They introduced new agricultural practices, including large-scale hay-making, cultivated fruit trees, and new breeds of livestock. The widespread use of coinage, introduced by the Vikings, was further established by the Normans, with mints operating in major towns. The Normans also built numerous castles, transforming the feudal system and establishing new settlements.

Inter-Norman rivalries and alliances with Irish lords characterized the period following the initial conquest. Normans often backed Gaelic lords competing with those allied to their rivals, manipulating the Gaelic political system. Henry II's strategy of promoting inter-Norman rivalry helped him maintain control while he was preoccupied with European affairs. The granting of Meath to Hugh de Lacy to counterbalance Strongbow's power in Leinster exemplified this approach. De Lacy and other Norman leaders faced continued resistance from Irish kings and regional conflicts, leading to ongoing instability.

After Henry II's departure in 1172, fighting continued between the Normans and the Irish. Hugh de Lacy invaded Meath and faced opposition from local kings. Inter-Norman conflicts and alliances with Irish lords continued, further complicating the political landscape. The Normans established their dominance in various regions, but resistance persisted.

In the early 13th century, the arrival of more Norman settlers and continued military campaigns consolidated their control. The Normans' ability to adapt to and integrate with Gaelic society, combined with their military prowess, ensured their dominance in Ireland for centuries to come. However, their presence also laid the groundwork for enduring conflicts and the complex history of Anglo-Irish relations.

Lordship of Ireland
Lordship of Ireland ©Angus McBride
1171 Jan 1 - 1300

Lordship of Ireland


The Lordship of Ireland, established following the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169-1171, marked a significant period in Irish history where the King of England, styled as the "Lord of Ireland," extended his rule over parts of the island. This lordship was created as a papal fief granted to the Plantagenet kings of England by the Holy See through the bull Laudabiliter.

The establishment of the Lordship began with the Treaty of Windsor in 1175, where Henry II of England and Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, the High King of Ireland, agreed upon terms that recognized Henry's authority while allowing Ruaidrí control over areas not conquered by the Anglo-Normans. Despite this treaty, the English crown's actual control waxed and waned, with much of Ireland remaining under the dominion of native Gaelic chieftains.

In 1177, Henry II attempted to resolve a familial dispute by granting the Lordship of Ireland to his youngest son, John, later known as King John of England. Although Henry wished for John to be crowned King of Ireland, Pope Lucius III refused the coronation. The subsequent failure of John's administration during his first visit to Ireland in 1185 led Henry to cancel the planned coronation. When John ascended to the English throne in 1199, the Lordship of Ireland fell under the direct rule of the English crown.

Throughout the 13th century, the Lordship of Ireland prospered during the Medieval Warm Period, which brought improved harvests and economic stability. The feudal system was introduced, and significant developments included the creation of counties, the construction of walled towns and castles, and the establishment of the Parliament of Ireland in 1297. However, these changes benefited primarily the Anglo-Norman settlers and the Norman elite, often leaving the native Irish population marginalized.

The Norman lords and churchmen in Ireland spoke Norman French and Latin, while many of the poorer settlers spoke English, Welsh, and Flemish. The Gaelic Irish maintained their native language, creating a linguistic and cultural divide. Despite the introduction of English legal and political structures, environmental decay and deforestation continued, exacerbated by increased population pressures.

Norman Decline in Ireland
Norman Decline in Ireland ©Angus McBride
1300 Jan 1 - 1350

Norman Decline in Ireland


The high point of the Norman lordship in Ireland was marked by the establishment of the Parliament of Ireland in 1297, which followed the successful Lay Subsidy tax collection of 1292. This period also saw the compilation of the first Papal Taxation register between 1302 and 1307, serving as an early census and property list akin to the Domesday Book.

However, the prosperity of the Hiberno-Normans began to decline in the 14th century due to a series of destabilizing events. Gaelic lords, having lost direct confrontations with the Norman knights, adopted guerrilla tactics such as raids and surprise attacks, stretching Norman resources thin and enabling the Gaelic chieftains to reclaim significant territories. Simultaneously, the Norman colonists suffered from a lack of support from the English monarchy, as both Henry III and Edward I were preoccupied with affairs in Great Britain and their continental domains.

Internal divisions further weakened the Norman position. Rivalries between powerful Hiberno-Norman lords such as the de Burghs, FitzGeralds, Butlers, and de Berminghams led to internecine warfare. The division of estates among heirs fragmented large lordships into smaller, less defensible units, with the division of the Marshalls of Leinster being particularly detrimental.

The invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce of Scotland in 1315 exacerbated the situation. Bruce's campaign rallied many Irish lords against the English, and although he was eventually defeated at the Battle of Faughart in 1318, the invasion caused significant destruction and allowed local Irish lords to reclaim lands. Additionally, some English partisans, disillusioned with the monarchy, sided with Bruce.

The European famine of 1315-1317 compounded the chaos, as Irish ports could not import necessary food supplies due to widespread crop failures. The situation was further aggravated by the widespread burning of crops during Bruce’s invasion, leading to severe food shortages.

The murder of William Donn de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster, in 1333 led to the partition of his lands among his relatives, igniting the Burke Civil War. This conflict resulted in the loss of English authority west of the River Shannon and the rise of new Irish clans such as the McWilliam Burkes. In Ulster, the O'Neill dynasty seized control, renaming the earldom's lands Clandeboye and assuming the title of King of Ulster in 1364.

The arrival of the Black Death in 1348 devastated the Hiberno-Norman settlements, which were primarily urban, whereas the dispersed rural living arrangements of the native Irish spared them to a greater extent. The plague decimated the English and Norman populations, leading to the resurgence of Irish language and customs. Following the Black Death, the English-controlled area contracted to the Pale, a fortified region around Dublin.

The overarching backdrop of the Hundred Years' War between England and France (1337-1453) further diverted English military resources, weakening the Lordship's ability to fend off attacks from both autonomous Gaelic and Norman lords. By the end of the 14th century, these cumulative events had significantly diminished the reach and power of the Norman lordship in Ireland, leading to a period of decline and fragmentation.

Gaelic Resurgence
Gaelic Resurgence ©HistoryMaps
1350 Jan 1 - 1500

Gaelic Resurgence


The decline of Norman power in Ireland and the resurgence of Gaelic influence, known as the Gaelic revival, were driven by a combination of political grievances and the devastating impact of successive famines. Forced into marginal lands by the Normans, the Irish engaged in subsistence farming, which left them vulnerable during poor harvests and famines, particularly during the period of 1311-1319.

As Norman authority waned outside the Pale, the Hiberno-Norman lords began to adopt Irish language and customs, eventually becoming known as the Old English. This cultural assimilation led to the phrase "more Irish than the Irish themselves" in later historiography. The Old English often aligned with the indigenous Irish in their political and military conflicts against English rule and largely remained Catholic following the Reformation.

The authorities in the Pale, concerned about the Gaelicisation of Ireland, passed the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1367. These laws attempted to prohibit those of English descent from adopting Irish customs, language, and intermarriage with the Irish. However, the Dublin government had limited enforcement power, rendering the statutes largely ineffective.

The English lordships in Ireland faced the threat of being overrun by Gaelic Irish kingdoms, prompting the Anglo-Irish lords to urgently request the King's intervention. In the autumn of 1394, Richard II embarked for Ireland, staying until May 1395. His army, exceeding 8,000 men, was the largest force deployed to the island during the late Middle Ages. The invasion proved successful, with several Irish chieftains submitting to English rule. This was one of the most notable achievements of Richard's reign though the English position in Ireland was only temporarily consolidated.

During the 15th century, English central authority continued to erode. The English monarchy faced its own crises, including the latter stages of the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses (1460-1485). As a result, direct English involvement in Irish affairs dwindled. The Fitzgerald earls of Kildare, wielding significant military power and maintaining extensive alliances with various lords and clans, effectively controlled the lordship, further distancing the English Crown from Irish political realities.

Meanwhile, local Gaelic and Gaelicised lords expanded their territories at the expense of the Pale. This era of relative autonomy and cultural resurgence for the Irish was marked by a divergence from English governance and customs, a situation that persisted until the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland in the late 16th century.

War of the Roses in Ireland
War of the Roses in Ireland © wraithdt
1455 Jan 1 - 1487

War of the Roses in Ireland


During the War of the Roses (1455-1487), Ireland was a politically and militarily strategic region for the English crown. The conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York for control of the English throne had a significant impact on Ireland, largely due to the involvement of the Anglo-Irish nobility and the shifting allegiances among them.

The Anglo-Irish lords, who were descendants of the Norman invaders and held significant power in Ireland, played a crucial role during this period. They were often caught between their loyalty to the English crown and their local interests. Key figures included the Earls of Kildare, Ormond, and Desmond, who were prominent in Irish politics. The Fitzgerald family, particularly the Earls of Kildare, were especially influential and known for their extensive land holdings and political power.

In 1460, Richard, Duke of York, who had strong ties to Ireland, sought refuge there after his initial setbacks in England. He was appointed as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1447, a position he used to build a base of support among the Anglo-Irish lords. Richard’s time in Ireland strengthened his position in the ongoing conflict in England, and he utilized Irish resources and troops in his campaigns. His son, Edward IV, continued to leverage Irish support when he claimed the throne in 1461.

The Battle of Piltown in 1462, fought in County Kilkenny, was a significant conflict in Ireland during the War of the Roses. The battle saw forces loyal to the Yorkist cause, led by the Earl of Desmond, clash with those supporting the Lancastrians, commanded by the Earl of Ormond. The Yorkists emerged victorious, consolidating their influence in the region.

Throughout the War of the Roses, Ireland's political landscape was marked by instability and shifting alliances. The Anglo-Irish lords used the conflict to their advantage, maneuvering to strengthen their own positions while pledging loyalty to the contending factions as it suited their interests. This period also saw the decline of English authority in Ireland, as the focus of the crown remained firmly on the struggle for power in England.

The end of the War of the Roses and the rise of the Tudor dynasty under Henry VII brought significant changes to Ireland. Henry VII sought to consolidate his control over Ireland, leading to increased efforts to subdue the Anglo-Irish lords and centralize authority. This period marked the beginning of more direct English intervention in Irish affairs, setting the stage for future conflicts and the eventual imposition of English rule over Ireland.

1536 - 1691
Tudor and Stuart Ireland
Tudor conquest of Ireland
Tudor conquest of Ireland ©Angus McBride
1536 Jan 1 - 1603

Tudor conquest of Ireland


The Tudor conquest of Ireland was a 16th-century effort by the English Crown to restore and extend its control over Ireland, which had diminished significantly since the 14th century. Following the initial Anglo-Norman invasion in the late 12th century, English rule had gradually receded, with much of Ireland falling under the control of native Gaelic chiefdoms. The FitzGeralds of Kildare, a powerful Hiberno-Norman dynasty, managed Irish affairs on behalf of the English monarchy to reduce costs and protect the Pale—a fortified area on the east coast. By 1500, the FitzGeralds were the dominant political force in Ireland, holding the position of Lord Deputy until 1534.

The Catalyst for Change: Rebellion and Reformation

The FitzGeralds' unreliability became a serious issue for the English Crown. Their alliances with Yorkist pretenders and foreign powers, and finally the rebellion led by Thomas "Silken Thomas" Fitzgerald, prompted Henry VIII to take decisive action. Silken Thomas's rebellion, which offered control of Ireland to the pope and Emperor Charles V, was quashed by Henry VIII, who executed Thomas and several of his uncles and imprisoned Gearóid Óg, the head of the family.

This rebellion highlighted the need for a new strategy in Ireland, leading to the implementation of the policy of "surrender and regrant" with the assistance of Thomas Cromwell. This policy required Irish lords to surrender their lands to the Crown and receive them back as grants under English law, effectively integrating them into the English system of governance. The Crown of Ireland Act 1542 declared Henry VIII the King of Ireland, transforming the lordship into a kingdom and aiming to assimilate the Gaelic and Gaelicised upper classes by granting them English titles and admitting them to the Irish Parliament.

Challenges and Rebellions: The Desmond Rebellions and Beyond

Despite these efforts, the Tudor conquest faced significant challenges. The imposition of English law and central government authority was met with resistance. Successive rebellions, such as those in Leinster during the 1550s, and conflicts within Irish lordships persisted. The Desmond Rebellions (1569-1573, 1579-1583) in Munster were particularly severe, with the Fitzgeralds of Desmond rebelling against English interference. The brutal suppression of these rebellions, including forced famine and widespread destruction, resulted in the deaths of up to a third of Munster's population.

The Nine Years' War and the Fall of the Gaelic Order

The most significant conflict during the Tudor conquest was the Nine Years' War (1594-1603), led by Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Hugh O'Donnell. This war was a nationwide revolt against English rule, supported by Spanish aid. The conflict culminated in the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, where English forces defeated a Spanish expeditionary force. The war ended with the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603, and the subsequent Flight of the Earls in 1607 marked the departure of many Gaelic lords, leaving their lands open for English colonization.

Plantations and the Establishment of English Control

Following the Flight of the Earls, the English Crown implemented the Plantation of Ulster, settling large numbers of English and Scottish Protestants in the north of Ireland. This colonization effort aimed to secure English control and spread English culture and Protestantism. Plantations were also established in other parts of Ireland, including Laois, Offaly, and Munster, though with varying degrees of success.

The Tudor conquest resulted in the disarmament of native Irish lordships and the establishment of central government control for the first time over the entire island. Irish culture, law, and language were systematically replaced by English equivalents. The introduction of English settlers and the enforcement of English common law marked a significant transformation in Irish society.

Religious and Political Polarization

The conquest also intensified religious and political polarization. The failure of the Protestant Reformation to take hold in Ireland, combined with the brutal methods used by the English Crown, fueled resentment among the Irish population. Catholic powers in Europe supported Irish rebels, further complicating English efforts to control the island. By the end of the 16th century, Ireland was increasingly divided between Catholic natives (both Gaelic and Old English) and Protestant settlers (New English).

Under James I, the suppression of Catholicism continued, and the Plantation of Ulster further entrenched Protestant control. The Gaelic Irish and Old English landowners remained a majority until the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the subsequent Cromwellian conquest in the 1650s, which established the Protestant Ascendancy that dominated Ireland for centuries.

Irish Confederate Wars
Irish Confederate Wars ©Angus McBride
1641 Oct 1 - 1653 Apr

Irish Confederate Wars


The Irish Confederate Wars, also known as the Eleven Years' War (1641-1653), were a critical part of the broader Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which involved England, Scotland, and Ireland under Charles I. The wars had complex political, religious, and ethnic dimensions, revolving around issues of governance, land ownership, and religious freedom. Central to the conflict was the struggle between Irish Catholics and British Protestants over political power and land control, and whether Ireland would be self-governing or subordinate to the English Parliament. The conflict was one of the most destructive in Irish history, resulting in significant loss of life from combat, famine, and disease.

The conflict began in October 1641 with a rebellion in Ulster led by Irish Catholics. Their goals were to end anti-Catholic discrimination, increase Irish self-governance, and roll back the Plantations of Ireland. Additionally, they sought to prevent an invasion by anti-Catholic English Parliamentarians and Scottish Covenanters, who opposed King Charles I. Although rebel leader Felim O'Neill claimed to act on the king's orders, Charles I condemned the rebellion once it began. The uprising quickly escalated into ethnic violence between Irish Catholics and English and Scottish Protestant settlers, particularly in Ulster, where significant massacres occurred.

In response to the chaos, Irish Catholic leaders formed the Irish Catholic Confederation in May 1642, which controlled most of Ireland. This Confederation, comprising both Gaelic and Old English Catholics, acted as a de facto independent government. Over the subsequent months and years, the Confederates fought against Royalist forces loyal to Charles I, English Parliamentarians, and Scottish Covenanter armies. These battles were marked by scorched earth tactics and significant devastation.

The Confederates initially had success, controlling large parts of Ireland by mid-1643, except for key Protestant strongholds in Ulster, Dublin, and Cork. However, internal divisions plagued the Confederates. While some supported a complete alignment with the Royalists, others were more focused on Catholic autonomy and land issues. The Confederates' military campaign included notable successes, such as the Battle of Benburb in 1646, but they failed to capitalize on these gains due to infighting and strategic missteps.

In 1646, the Confederates signed a peace treaty with the Royalists, represented by the Duke of Ormonde. This agreement was controversial and unacceptable to many Confederate leaders, including the Papal Nuncio Giovanni Battista Rinuccini. The treaty created further divisions within the Confederation, leading to a fracturing of their military efforts. The inability to capture strategic locations like Dublin weakened their position significantly.

By 1647, Parliamentarian forces had inflicted severe defeats on the Confederates at battles like Dungan's Hill, Cashel, and Knocknanauss. These defeats forced the Confederates to negotiate and ultimately align with the Royalists. However, internal disputes and the broader context of the English Civil War complicated their efforts. Despite their temporary cooperation, the Confederates could not withstand the combined pressures of internal divisions and external military challenges.

The Irish Confederate Wars were devastating for Ireland, with massive loss of life and widespread destruction. The wars ended with the defeat of the Confederates and their Royalist allies, resulting in the suppression of Catholicism and significant confiscation of Catholic-owned lands. This period marked the effective end of the old Catholic landed class and set the stage for future conflicts and political changes in Ireland. The conflict fundamentally reshaped Irish society, governance, and demographics, with long-lasting repercussions that influenced Ireland's political and religious landscape for centuries.

Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland
Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland ©Andrew Carrick Gow
1649 Aug 15 - 1653 Sep 27

Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland


The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–1653) was a pivotal chapter in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, involving the re-conquest of Ireland by the forces of the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell. This campaign aimed to consolidate English control over Ireland following the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the subsequent Irish Confederate Wars. The conquest was marked by significant military actions, harsh policies, and widespread devastation, and it had a lasting impact on Irish society.

In the wake of the 1641 rebellion, the Irish Catholic Confederation controlled much of Ireland. In 1649, they allied with the English Royalists, hoping to restore the monarchy under Charles II. This alliance posed a direct threat to the newly established English Commonwealth, which had emerged victorious in the English Civil War and executed Charles I. The Rump Parliament of England, led by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, aimed to neutralize this threat, punish the Irish Catholics for the 1641 rebellion, and secure control over Ireland. Parliament also had financial incentives to conquer Ireland, as it needed to confiscate land to repay its creditors.

Cromwell landed in Dublin in August 1649 with the New Model Army, following the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Rathmines, which secured a crucial foothold. His campaign was swift and brutal, beginning with the Siege of Drogheda in September 1649, where his forces massacred the garrison and many civilians after taking the town. This act of extreme violence was intended to terrorize and demoralize the Royalist and Confederate forces.

Following Drogheda, Cromwell's army moved south to capture Wexford, another port city, where similar atrocities occurred during the Sack of Wexford in October 1649. These massacres had a profound psychological impact, leading some towns to surrender without resistance, while others dug in for prolonged sieges.

The Parliamentarians faced significant resistance in fortified towns like Waterford, Duncannon, Clonmel, and Kilkenny. Clonmel was particularly notable for its fierce defense, which inflicted heavy casualties on Cromwell’s forces. Despite these challenges, Cromwell managed to secure most of southeastern Ireland by the end of 1650.

In Ulster, Robert Venables and Charles Coote led successful campaigns against Scottish Covenanters and remaining Royalist forces, securing the north. The Battle of Scarrifholis in June 1650 resulted in a decisive Parliamentarian victory, effectively destroying the last major field army of the Irish Confederates.

The remaining resistance centered around the cities of Limerick and Galway. Limerick fell to Henry Ireton in October 1651 after a long siege, despite outbreaks of plague and famine within the city. Galway held out until May 1652, marking the end of organized Confederate resistance.

Even after the fall of these strongholds, guerrilla warfare continued for another year. Parliamentarian forces employed scorched earth tactics, destroying food supplies and forcibly evicting civilians to undermine support for the guerrillas. This campaign exacerbated famine and spread bubonic plague, leading to significant civilian casualties.

The conquest had devastating consequences for the Irish population. Estimates of the death toll range from 15% to 50% of the population, with famine and plague contributing heavily. In addition to the loss of life, approximately 50,000 Irish people were transported as indentured servants to English colonies in the Caribbean and North America.

The Cromwellian Settlement dramatically reshaped land ownership in Ireland. The Act of Settlement 1652 confiscated the lands of Irish Catholics and Royalists, redistributing them to English soldiers and creditors. Catholics were largely banished to the western province of Connacht, and strict Penal Laws were enforced, barring Catholics from public office, towns, and intermarriage with Protestants. This land redistribution reduced Catholic landownership to as low as 8% during the Commonwealth period, fundamentally altering the social and economic landscape of Ireland.

The Cromwellian conquest left a lasting legacy of bitterness and division. Cromwell remains a deeply reviled figure in Irish history, symbolizing the brutal suppression of the Irish people and the imposition of English rule. The harsh measures and policies implemented during and after the conquest entrenched sectarian divides, setting the stage for future conflicts and the long-term marginalization of the Irish Catholic population.

Williamite War in Ireland
The Boyne; a narrow Williamite victory, in which Schomberg was killed (bottom right) ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1689 Mar 12 - 1691 Oct 3

Williamite War in Ireland


The Williamite War in Ireland, taking place from March 1689 to October 1691, was a decisive conflict between the supporters of the Catholic King James II and the Protestant King William III. This war was closely tied to the larger Nine Years' War (1688-1697), which involved a broader conflict between France, led by Louis XIV, and the Grand Alliance, which included England, the Dutch Republic, and other European powers.

The war's roots lay in the November 1688 Glorious Revolution, which saw James II deposed in favor of his Protestant daughter Mary II and her husband, William III. James retained significant support in Ireland, primarily due to the country's Catholic majority. Irish Catholics hoped James would address their grievances related to land ownership, religion, and civic rights. Conversely, the Protestant population, concentrated in Ulster, supported William.

The conflict began in March 1689 when James landed in Kinsale with French support and sought to regain his throne by leveraging his Irish base. The war quickly escalated into a series of skirmishes and sieges, including the notable siege of Derry, where Protestant defenders successfully resisted Jacobite forces. This allowed William to land an expeditionary force, which defeated James's main army at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, a turning point that forced James to flee to France.

Following the Boyne, the Jacobite forces regrouped but suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691. This battle was particularly devastating, leading to significant Jacobite casualties and effectively ending organized resistance. The war concluded with the Treaty of Limerick in October 1691, which offered relatively lenient terms to the defeated Jacobites, though these terms were later undermined by subsequent penal laws against Catholics.

The Williamite War significantly shaped the political and social landscape of Ireland. It solidified Protestant dominance and British control over Ireland, ushering in over two centuries of Protestant Ascendancy. The penal laws enacted in the war's aftermath severely restricted the rights of Irish Catholics, exacerbating sectarian divisions.

The Treaty of Limerick initially promised protections for Catholics, but these were largely ignored as the penal laws expanded, particularly during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Williamite victory ensured James II would not regain his thrones through military means and reinforced Protestant rule in Ireland. The conflict also fostered a lasting Jacobite sentiment among Irish Catholics, who continued to view the Stuarts as rightful monarchs.

The legacy of the Williamite War is still commemorated in Northern Ireland, particularly by the Protestant Orange Order during the Twelfth of July celebrations, which mark William's victory at the Battle of the Boyne. These commemorations remain a contentious issue, reflecting the deep-seated historical and religious divisions stemming from this period.

Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland
Richard Woodward, an Englishman who became the Anglican Bishop of Cloyne. He was the author of some of the staunchest apologetics for the Ascendancy in Ireland. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1691 Jan 1 - 1800

Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland


During the eighteenth century, the majority of Ireland's population were impoverished Catholic peasants, politically inactive due to severe economic and political penalties that led many of their leaders to convert to Protestantism. Despite this, a cultural awakening among Catholics was beginning to stir. The Protestant population in Ireland was divided into two main groups: the Presbyterians in Ulster, who, despite better economic conditions, held little political power, and the Anglo-Irish, who were members of the Anglican Church of Ireland and held significant power, controlling most of the farmland worked by Catholic peasants. Many Anglo-Irish were absentee landlords loyal to England, but those who resided in Ireland increasingly identified as Irish nationalists and resented English control, with figures like Jonathan Swift and Edmund Burke advocating for more local autonomy.

The Jacobite resistance in Ireland ended with the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691. In the aftermath, the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy enforced the Penal Laws more rigorously to prevent future Catholic uprisings. This Protestant minority, about 5% of the population, controlled major sectors of the Irish economy, the legal system, local government, and held a strong majority in the Irish Parliament. Distrusting both the Presbyterians and Catholics, they relied on the British government to maintain their dominance.

Ireland's economy suffered under absentee landlords who managed estates poorly, focusing on export rather than local consumption. Severe winters during the Little Ice Age led to the famine of 1740-1741, killing around 400,000 people and causing 150,000 to emigrate. The Navigation Acts imposed tariffs on Irish goods, further straining the economy, although the century was relatively peaceful compared to previous ones, and the population doubled to over four million.

By the eighteenth century, the Anglo-Irish ruling class saw Ireland as their native country. Led by Henry Grattan, they sought better trading terms with Britain and greater legislative independence for the Irish Parliament. While some reforms were achieved, more radical proposals for Catholic enfranchisement stalled. Catholics gained the right to vote in 1793 but could not yet sit in Parliament or hold government positions. Influenced by the French Revolution, some Irish Catholics sought more militant solutions.

Ireland was a separate kingdom ruled by the British monarch through the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. From 1767, a strong Viceroy, George Townshend, centralized control, with major decisions made in London. The Irish Ascendancy secured laws in the 1780s making the Irish Parliament more effective and independent, though still under the king's supervision. Presbyterians and other dissenters also faced persecution, leading to the formation of the Society of the United Irishmen in 1791. Initially seeking parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation, they later pursued a non-sectarian republic through force. This culminated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which was brutally suppressed and prompted the Acts of Union 1800, abolishing the Irish Parliament and integrating Ireland into the United Kingdom from January 1801.

The period from 1691 to 1801, often called "the long peace," was relatively free of political violence compared to the previous two centuries. However, the era began and ended with conflict. By its end, the Protestant Ascendancy's dominance was challenged by a more assertive Catholic population. The Acts of Union 1800 marked the end of Irish self-government, creating the United Kingdom. The violence of the 1790s shattered hopes of overcoming sectarian divisions, with Presbyterians distancing themselves from Catholic and radical alliances. Under Daniel O'Connell, Irish nationalism became more exclusively Catholic, while many Protestants, seeing their status tied to the Union with Britain, became staunch unionists.

1691 - 1919
Union and Revolutionary Ireland
Great Famine of Ireland
An Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of their Store. ©Daniel MacDonald
1845 Jan 1 - 1852

Great Famine of Ireland


The Great Famine, or the Great Hunger (Irish: an Gorta Mór), was a catastrophic period of starvation and disease in Ireland lasting from 1845 to 1852, which had profound effects on Irish society and history. The famine was most devastating in the western and southern regions where the Irish language was dominant, and contemporaneously it was referred to in Irish as an Drochshaol, meaning "the bad life." The peak of the famine occurred in 1847, infamously known as "Black '47." During this period, approximately 1 million people died and over 1 million emigrated, leading to a population decline of 20–25%.

The immediate cause of the famine was the infestation of potato crops by the blight Phytophthora infestans, which spread throughout Europe in the 1840s. This blight led to the deaths of around 100,000 people outside Ireland and contributed to the unrest of the 1848 European Revolutions. In Ireland, the impact was exacerbated by underlying issues such as the system of absentee landlordism and heavy reliance on a single crop—the potato. Initially, there were some government efforts to alleviate the distress, but these were cut short by a new Whig administration in London that favored laissez-faire economic policies and was influenced by beliefs in divine providence and a prejudiced view of the Irish character.

The British government’s inadequate response included failing to stop large food exports from Ireland, a policy that had been enacted during previous famines. This decision was a significant point of contention and contributed to growing anti-British sentiment and the push for Irish independence. The famine also led to widespread evictions, exacerbated by policies that barred those with more than a quarter acre of land from receiving workhouse aid.

The famine profoundly altered Ireland’s demographic landscape, leading to a permanent population decline and the creation of an extensive Irish diaspora. It also intensified ethnic and sectarian tensions and fueled nationalism and republicanism in Ireland and among Irish emigrants. The famine is remembered as a critical point in Irish history, symbolizing betrayal and exploitation by the British government. This legacy played a significant role in the increasing demand for Irish independence.

The potato blight returned to Europe in 1879, but the socio-political landscape in Ireland had changed significantly due to the Land War, an agrarian movement led by the Land League that began in response to the earlier famine. The League's campaign for tenant rights, including fair rents, fixity of tenure, and free sale, mitigated the impact of the blight when it returned. Actions such as boycotting landlords and preventing evictions reduced homelessness and deaths compared to the earlier famine.

The famine has left a lasting impact on Irish cultural memory, shaping the identity of both those who remained in Ireland and the diaspora. Debates continue over the terminology used to describe this period, with some arguing that "Great Hunger" more accurately reflects the complexity of the events. The famine remains a poignant symbol of suffering and a catalyst for Irish nationalism, underscoring the strained relationship between Ireland and Britain that persisted into the twentieth century.

Irish Emigration
Irish Emigration ©HistoryMaps
1845 Jan 1 00:01 - 1855

Irish Emigration

United States

Irish emigration after the Great Famine (1845-1852) was a significant demographic phenomenon that reshaped Ireland and the countries to which the Irish emigrated. The famine itself, caused by a potato blight, resulted in the death of approximately one million people and forced another million to emigrate in a desperate bid to escape starvation and economic ruin. This mass exodus had profound social, economic, and cultural impacts both in Ireland and abroad.

Between 1845 and 1855, more than 1.5 million Irish people left their homeland. This marked the beginning of a prolonged period of emigration, with the Irish population continuing to decline for decades. The majority of these emigrants traveled to the United States, but significant numbers also went to Canada, Australia, and Britain. In the United States, cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago saw a dramatic increase in Irish immigrants, who often settled in impoverished urban neighborhoods. These immigrants faced significant challenges, including prejudice, poor living conditions, and difficult working environments. Despite these hardships, the Irish quickly became a vital part of the American workforce, taking on jobs in construction, factories, and domestic service.

The journey across the Atlantic was fraught with peril. Many emigrants traveled on "coffin ships," so named because of the high mortality rates due to disease, malnutrition, and overcrowding. Those who survived the voyage often arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, requiring them to rely on relatives, friends, or charitable organizations for initial support. Over time, Irish communities established themselves and began to build institutions, such as churches, schools, and social clubs, which provided a sense of community and support for new arrivals.

In Canada, Irish immigrants faced similar challenges. Many arrived in ports like Quebec City and Saint John and often had to endure quarantine on Grosse Isle, a quarantine station in the St. Lawrence River. Conditions on Grosse Isle were harsh, and many died there from typhus and other diseases. Those who survived the quarantine process moved on to settle in both rural and urban areas, contributing significantly to the development of Canada's infrastructure and society.

Australia also became a destination for Irish emigrants, particularly after the discovery of gold in the 1850s. The promise of economic opportunity drew many Irish to the Australian colonies. Like their counterparts in North America, Irish Australians faced initial hardships but gradually established themselves, contributing to the agricultural and industrial development of the region.

The impact of Irish emigration was profound and long-lasting. In Ireland, the mass departure led to a significant demographic shift, with many rural areas becoming depopulated. This had economic repercussions, as the labor force shrank and agricultural production declined. Socially, the loss of such a large portion of the population altered community structures and family dynamics, with many families permanently separated by the vast distances involved.

Culturally, the Irish diaspora helped to spread Irish traditions, music, literature, and religious practices around the world. Irish immigrants and their descendants played crucial roles in the cultural and political life of their new countries. In the United States, for example, Irish Americans became influential in politics, labor unions, and the Catholic Church. Notable figures of Irish descent, such as John F. Kennedy, rose to prominent positions in American society, symbolizing the successful integration of the Irish into their adopted homeland.

The legacy of Irish emigration after the Great Famine is still evident today. In Ireland, the memory of the famine and the subsequent wave of emigration is commemorated in various ways, including museums, monuments, and annual remembrance events. Globally, the Irish diaspora remains connected to their heritage, maintaining cultural practices and fostering a sense of solidarity and identity among Irish communities worldwide.

Irish Home Rule movement
Gladstone at a debate on the Irish Home Rule Bill, 8 April 1886 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1870 Jan 1 - 1918

Irish Home Rule movement


Until the 1870s, most Irish people elected MPs from the main British political parties, including Liberals and Conservatives. In the 1859 general election, for instance, the Conservatives secured a majority in Ireland. Additionally, a significant minority supported Unionists who staunchly opposed any dilution of the Act of Union.

In the 1870s, Isaac Butt, a former Conservative barrister turned nationalist, founded the Home Rule League, promoting a moderate nationalist agenda. After Butt’s death, leadership passed to William Shaw and then to Charles Stewart Parnell, a radical Protestant landowner. Parnell transformed the Home Rule movement, rebranded as the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), into a dominant political force in Ireland, marginalizing the traditional Liberal, Conservative, and Unionist parties. This shift was evident in the 1880 general election when the IPP won 63 seats, and even more so in the 1885 general election when it secured 86 seats, including one in Liverpool.

Parnell’s movement advocated for Ireland’s right to self-govern as a region within the United Kingdom, contrasting with earlier nationalist Daniel O'Connell's demand for a complete repeal of the Act of Union. Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone introduced two Home Rule Bills in 1886 and 1893, but both failed to become law. Gladstone faced opposition from rural English supporters and a Unionist faction within the Liberal Party led by Joseph Chamberlain, which allied with the Conservatives.

The push for Home Rule polarized Ireland, particularly in Ulster, where Unionists, supported by the revived Orange Order, feared discrimination and economic harm from a Dublin-based parliament. Riots erupted in Belfast in 1886 during debates on the first Home Rule Bill.

In 1889, Parnell’s leadership suffered a blow due to a scandal involving his long-term relationship with Katharine O’Shea, the estranged wife of an MP. The scandal alienated Parnell from both the pro-Home Rule Liberal Party and the Catholic Church, leading to a split within the Irish Party. Parnell lost his struggle for control and died in 1891, leaving the party and the country divided between pro-Parnellites and anti-Parnellites.

The United Irish League, founded in 1898, eventually reunified the party under John Redmond by the 1900 general election. After a failed attempt by the Irish Reform Association to introduce devolution in 1904, the Irish Party held the balance of power in the House of Commons following the 1910 general election.

The last significant barrier to Home Rule was removed with the Parliament Act 1911, which curtailed the House of Lords' veto power. In 1912, Prime Minister H. H. Asquith introduced the Third Home Rule Bill, which passed its first reading in the House of Commons but was again defeated in the House of Lords. The ensuing two-year delay saw escalating militancy, with both Unionists and Nationalists arming and drilling openly, culminating in a Home Rule crisis by 1914.

Land War
Family evicted by their landlord during the Irish Land War c1879 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1879 Apr 20 - 1882 May 6

Land War


In the wake of the Great Famine, many thousands of Irish peasant farmers and laborers either died or emigrated. Those who remained began a protracted struggle for better tenant rights and land redistribution. This period, known as the "Land War," combined nationalist and social elements. Since the 17th century, the land-owning class in Ireland had consisted mainly of Protestant settlers from England, who maintained a British identity. The Irish Catholic population believed the land had been unjustly taken from their ancestors during the English conquest and given to this Protestant Ascendancy.

The Irish National Land League was formed to defend tenant farmers, initially demanding the "Three Fs" – Fair rent, Free sale, and Fixity of tenure. Members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, including Michael Davitt, led the movement. Recognizing its potential for mass mobilization, nationalist leaders like Charles Stewart Parnell joined the cause.

One of the most effective tactics employed by the Land League was the boycott, which originated during this period. Unpopular landlords were ostracized by the local community, and grassroots members often resorted to violence against landlords and their properties. Eviction attempts frequently escalated into armed confrontations. In response, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli introduced the Irish Coercion Act, a form of martial law, to contain the violence. Leaders like Parnell, Davitt, and William O'Brien were temporarily imprisoned, held responsible for the unrest.

The land issue was gradually resolved through a series of Irish Land Acts by the United Kingdom. The Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act 1870 and the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881, initiated by William Ewart Gladstone, granted significant rights to tenant farmers. The Wyndham Land Purchase (Ireland) Act 1903, championed by William O'Brien following the 1902 Land Conference, allowed tenant farmers to purchase their plots from landlords. Further reforms, such as the Bryce Labourers (Ireland) Act 1906, addressed rural housing issues, while the J.J. Clancy Town Housing Act 1908 promoted urban council housing development.

These legislative measures created a substantial class of small property owners in rural Ireland and weakened the power of the Anglo-Irish landed class. Additionally, the introduction of agricultural cooperatives by Horace Plunkett and the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, which transferred control of rural affairs to local hands, brought significant improvements. However, these changes did not quell support for Irish nationalism as the British government had hoped. After independence, the Irish government completed the final land settlement with the Free State Land Acts, further redistributing land through the Irish Land Commission.

Easter Rising
Easter Rising ©HistoryMaps
1916 Apr 24 - Apr 29

Easter Rising

Dublin, Ireland

The Easter Rising (Éirí Amach na Cásca) in April 1916 was a pivotal event in Irish history, aiming to end British rule and establish an independent Irish Republic while the UK was embroiled in World War I. This armed insurrection, the most significant since the 1798 rebellion, lasted six days and was organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood's Military Council. The uprising involved members of the Irish Volunteers, led by Patrick Pearse, the Irish Citizen Army under James Connolly, and Cumann na mBan. They seized key locations in Dublin, declaring an Irish Republic.

The British response was swift and overwhelming, deploying thousands of troops and heavy artillery. Despite fierce resistance, the outnumbered and outgunned rebels were forced to surrender. Key leaders were executed, and martial law was imposed. This brutal suppression, however, shifted public sentiment, increasing support for Irish independence.


The Acts of Union 1800 had merged Great Britain and Ireland, abolishing the Irish Parliament and granting representation in the British Parliament. Over time, many Irish nationalists opposed this union, especially after the Great Famine and subsequent British policies. Several failed rebellions and movements, such as the Repeal Association and the Home Rule League, highlighted the growing desire for Irish self-governance.

The Home Rule movement aimed for self-government within the UK, but it faced staunch opposition from Irish Unionists. The Third Home Rule Bill of 1912, delayed by World War I, further polarized opinions. The Irish Volunteers formed to defend Home Rule, but a faction within, led by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, secretly planned an uprising.

In 1914, the IRB's Military Council, including Pearse, Plunkett, and Ceannt, began organizing the rebellion. They sought German support, receiving arms and ammunition. Tensions rose as rumors of an impending uprising spread, leading to preparations among the Volunteers and the Citizen Army.

The Rising

On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, about 1,200 rebels seized strategic locations in Dublin. Patrick Pearse proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic outside the General Post Office (GPO), which became the rebel headquarters. Despite their efforts, the rebels failed to capture key locations like Trinity College and the city's ports.

The British, initially unprepared, quickly reinforced their troops. Heavy fighting occurred, especially at Mount Street Bridge, where British forces suffered significant casualties. The GPO and other rebel positions were heavily bombarded. After days of intense fighting, Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender on 29 April.

Aftermath and Legacy

The Rising resulted in 485 deaths, including 260 civilians, 143 British personnel, and 82 rebels. The British executed 16 leaders, fueling resentment and increasing support for Irish independence. About 3,500 people were arrested, with 1,800 interned. The brutality of the British response shifted public opinion, leading to a resurgence in republicanism.

The Rising's impact was profound, reinvigorating the Irish independence movement. Sinn Féin, initially not directly involved, capitalized on the changing sentiment, winning a landslide victory in the 1918 election. This victory led to the establishment of the First Dáil and a declaration of independence, setting the stage for the Irish War of Independence.

The Easter Rising, despite its immediate failure, was a catalyst for change, highlighting the Irish people's desire for self-determination and ultimately leading to the establishment of the Irish Free State. The legacy of the Rising continues to shape Irish identity and its historical narrative of struggle and resilience against colonial rule.

Irish War of Independence
A group of "Black and Tans" and Auxiliaries in Dublin, April 1921. ©National Library of Ireland on The Commons
1919 Jan 21 - 1921 Jul 11

Irish War of Independence


The Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) was a guerrilla war waged by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) against British forces, including the British Army, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and paramilitary groups like the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. This conflict followed the 1916 Easter Rising, which, although initially unsuccessful, galvanized support for Irish independence and led to the 1918 electoral victory of Sinn Féin, a republican party that established a breakaway government and declared Irish independence in 1919.

The war began on January 21, 1919, with the Soloheadbeg ambush, where two RIC officers were killed by IRA volunteers. Initially, the IRA's activities focused on capturing weapons and freeing prisoners, while the newly formed Dáil Éireann worked to establish a functioning state. The British government outlawed the Dáil in September 1919, marking an intensification of the conflict. The IRA then began ambushing RIC and British Army patrols, attacking barracks, and causing the abandonment of isolated outposts.

In response, the British government bolstered the RIC with the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries, who became notorious for their brutal reprisals against civilians, often sanctioned by the government. This period of violence and retaliation became known as the "Black and Tan War." Civil disobedience also played a role, with Irish railway workers refusing to transport British troops or supplies.

By mid-1920, republicans had gained control of most county councils, and British authority waned in the south and west of Ireland. Violence escalated dramatically in late 1920. On Bloody Sunday (November 21, 1920), the IRA assassinated fourteen British intelligence officers in Dublin, and the RIC retaliated by firing into a crowd at a Gaelic football match, killing fourteen civilians. The following week, the IRA killed seventeen Auxiliaries in the Kilmichael Ambush. Martial law was declared in much of southern Ireland, and British forces burned Cork city in reprisal for an ambush. The conflict intensified, resulting in approximately 1,000 deaths and the internment of 4,500 republicans.

In Ulster, particularly in Belfast, the conflict had a pronounced sectarian dimension. The Protestant majority, largely unionist and loyalist, clashed with the Catholic minority who mostly supported independence. Loyalist paramilitaries and the newly formed Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) attacked Catholics in retaliation for IRA activities, leading to a violent sectarian conflict with nearly 500 deaths, most of them Catholics.

The Government of Ireland Act of May 1921 partitioned Ireland, creating Northern Ireland. A ceasefire on July 11, 1921, led to negotiations and the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on December 6, 1921. The treaty ended British rule in most of Ireland, establishing the Irish Free State as a self-governing dominion on December 6, 1922, while Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.

Despite the ceasefire, violence continued in Belfast and border areas. The IRA launched an unsuccessful Northern Offensive in May 1922. Disagreement over the Anglo-Irish Treaty among republicans led to the Irish Civil War from June 1922 to May 1923. The Irish Free State awarded over 62,000 medals for service during the War of Independence, with more than 15,000 issued to IRA fighters of the flying columns. The Irish War of Independence was a critical phase in Ireland's struggle for independence, resulting in significant political and social changes and laying the groundwork for the subsequent civil war and the eventual establishment of an independent Ireland.

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James Connolly

James Connolly

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Daniel O'Connell

Political leader

Saint Columba

Saint Columba

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Brian Boru

Brian Boru

Irish king

Charles Stewart Parnell

Charles Stewart Parnell

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Isaac Butt

Home Rule League

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James II of England

King of England

Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera

President of Ireland

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

Lord Protector

Saint Patrick

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John Redmond

John Redmond

Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

Irish revolutionary leader

Patrick Pearse

Patrick Pearse

Republican political activist

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

Anglo-Irish satirist


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