A Brief History of Ireland

By Tim Lambert

Ancient Ireland

The first humans arrived in Ireland between 7,000 and 6,000 BC after the end of the last ice age. The first Irish people lived by farming, fishing, and gathering food such as plants and shellfish. The Stone Age hunters tended to live on the seashore or on the banks of rivers and lakes where food was plentiful. They hunted animals like deer and wild boar. They also hunted birds and they hunted seals with harpoons.

About 4,000 BC farming was introduced to Ireland. The Stone Age farmers kept sheep, pigs, and cattle and raised crops. They probably lived in huts with wooden frames covered with turfs and thatched with rushes. The farmers made tools of stone, bone, and antler. They also made pottery. For centuries the farmers and the hunters co-existed but the old hunter-gatherer lifestyle gradually died out.

The Stone Age farmers were the first people to significantly affect the environment of Ireland as they cleared areas of forest for farming. They were also the first people to leave monuments in the form of burial mounds known as court cairns. The Stone Age farmers sometimes cremated their dead and then buried the remains in stone galleries covered in earth.

They also created burial places called dolmens, which consist of massive vertical stones with horizontal stones on top, and passage graves which have a central passage lined and roofed with stones with burial chambers leading off it. The passage graves were covered with mounds of earth.

About 2,000 BC bronze was introduced into Ireland and was used for making tools and weapons. The Bronze Age people also erected stone circles in Ireland. They also built crannogs or lake dwellings, which were easy to defend.

Then about 500 BC the Celts arrived in Ireland. They brought iron tools and weapons with them. The Celts were a warlike people. (According to Roman writers they were passionately fond of fighting) and they built stone forts across Ireland. At that time Ireland was divided into many small kingdoms and warfare between them was frequent. Fighting often took place in chariots.

The priests of the Celts were called Druids and they practiced polytheism (worship of many gods). At the top of Celtic society were the kings and aristocrats. Below them were the freemen who were farmers. They could be well off or could be very poor. At the bottom were slaves. Divorce and remarriage were by no means unusual in Celtic society and polygamy was common among the rich.

Christianity Comes to Ireland

In the 4th century, Christianity spread to Ireland, probably through trade with England and France. In 431 Pope Celestine sent a man named Palladius to Ireland. However, he was killed shortly after his arrival.

Then in 432, a man named Patrick arrived in Ireland. Patrick was probably born about 390 or 400. According to tradition he lived in Western England until he was captured by Irish raiders at the age of 16 and was taken to Ireland as a slave. Eventually, Patrick managed to escape back to England. However, he eventually returned to Ireland and he was a missionary until he died in 461.

Patrick tried to organize the church in Ireland along ‘Roman’ lines with Bishops as the leaders. However, the Irish church soon changed to a system based on monasteries with Abbots as the leaders.

From 500 to 800 was the golden age of the Irish church. Many monasteries were founded across Ireland and soon the Irish sent missionaries to other parts of Europe such as Scotland and Northern England. Irish monks also kept alive Greek-Roman learning during the Dark Ages. In Irish monasteries learning and the arts flourished. One of the greatest arts was making decorated books called illuminated manuscripts. The most famous of these is the Book Of Kells, which was probably made at the beginning of the 9th century. However, this golden age ended with the Viking raids.

The Vikings in Ireland

The Vikings first attacked Ireland in 795. They looted monasteries. They also took women and children as slaves. However, the Vikings were not only raiders. They were also traders and craftsmen. In the 9th century, they founded Ireland’s first towns, Dublin, Wexford, Cork, and Limerick. They also gave Ireland its name, a combination of the Gaelic word Eire and the Viking word land. In time the Vikings settled down. They intermarried with the Irish and accepted Christianity.

Around 940 the great High King Brian Boru was born. At that time the Danes had conquered much of the kingdom of Munster. Brian defeated them in several battles. In 968 he recaptured Cashel, the capital of Munster. After 976 Brian was king of Munster and in 1002 he became the High King of Ireland. However, in 1014 Leinster, the people of Dublin, and the Danes joined forces against him. Brian fought and defeated them at the battle of Clontarf on 23 April 1014, although he was killed himself. This victory ended the Viking threat to Ireland.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, the church in Ireland flourished once again. In the early and mid-12th century it was reformed. Synods (church meetings) were held at Cashel in 1101, at Rath Breasail in 1111, and at Kells in 1152. The church was reorganized on diocesan lines and bishops became the leaders rather than Abbots. However, Pope Adrian IV (actually an Englishman called Nicholas Breakspear) was not satisfied. He was determined to bring the Irish church to heel. In 1155 he gave the English king, Henry II, permission to invade Ireland to sort out the church.

However, Henry did not immediately invade Ireland. Instead, Dermait MacMurrough, the king of Leinster, brought events to a head. In 1166, another king, Tiernan O’Rourke forced MacMurrough to flee from Ireland. However, MacMurrough appealed to the English King Henry II for help. Henry permitted him to recruit in England. MacMurrough enlisted the support of a man named Richard FitzGilbert de Clare (better known as Strongbow) to help him regain his kingdom. In return, MacMurrough promised that Strongbow could marry his daughter and would become king of Leinster after him.

MacMurrough returned to South Leinster in 1167. The first English soldiers arrived in 1169. They landed at Bannow Bay in County Wexford and soon captured the town of Wexford. The High King, Rory O’Connor led an army against the English but Dermait came to terms with him. He agreed to submit to O’Connor as High King.

However the next year, in 1170, Strongbow led an army to Ireland and captured Waterford and Dublin. The king of Dublin sailed away. However the next year he returned with a Norwegian army but some English knights sallied out on horseback and defeated them. Askluv was captured and executed. Next Rory O’Connor led an army to Dublin and laid siege to the town. However, the English slipped out and made a surprise attack, routing the Irish.

Henry II became alarmed that Strongbow was becoming too powerful and ordered all English soldiers to return to England by Easter 1171. Strongbow made Henry an offer. He agreed to submit to King Henry and accept him as Lord if he was allowed to continue. Henry decided to accept the offer on the condition he could have the towns of Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford. In the meantime, Dermatit died and Strongbow became King of Leinster. The English king Henry landed in Ireland in October 1171. Strongbow submitted to him. So did most of the Irish kings. In 1175 Rory O’Connor submitted to Henry by the treaty of Windsor.

Ireland in the Middle Ages

In the early 13th century the English extended their control over all of Ireland except part of Connacht and Western Ulster. The English also founded the towns of Athenry, Drogheda, Galway, and New Ross. The first Irish parliament was called in 1264 but it represented only the Anglo-Irish ruling class.

However, after 1250, the English tide ebbed. In 1258 Brian O’Neill led a rebellion. The rebellion failed when O’Neill was defeated and killed in 1260. However, the English landowners were gradually absorbed into Irish society. Many of them intermarried and slowly adopted Irish customs. In 1366 the Kilkenny Parliament passed the Statutes of Kilkenny. The Anglo-Irish were forbidden to marry native Irish. They were also forbidden to speak Gaelic or to play the Irish game of hurling. They were not allowed to wear Irish dress or ride bareback but must use a saddle. However, all such attempts to keep the two races separate and distinct failed.

In 1315 the Scots invaded Ireland hoping to open up a second front in their war with the English. Robert the Bruce’s brother led the Scottish army with considerable success and was even crowned king of Ireland. However, the English sent an army to oppose him and he was defeated and killed in 1318.

In 1394 the English king Richard II led an army to Ireland to try and reassert English control. The Irish submitted to him but promptly rebelled once he had left. Richard returned in 1399 but he was forced to leave due to trouble at home. From then on English control continued to wane until by the middle of the 15th century the English only ruled Dublin and the surrounding ‘Pale’.

Ireland in the 16th Century

Henry VII (1485-1509) tried to bring Ireland to heel. In 1494 he made Sir Edward Poynings Lord-Deputy of Ireland. In 1495 Poyning persuaded the Irish parliament to pass ‘Poynings Law’ which stated that the Irish parliament could only meet with the permission of the English king and could only pass laws previously approved by the king and his ministers.

Henry VIII (1509-1547) continued his father’s policy of trying to bring Ireland under his control but he adopted a ‘softly, softly’ approach of trying to win over the Irish by diplomacy. In 1536 the Irish parliament agreed to make Henry head of the Irish Church. In 1541 the Irish parliament agreed to recognize Henry VIII as king of Ireland.

Under Henry’s son Edward VI (1547-1553) English policy hardened. The English undertook military campaigns against Irish chiefs in Laois and Offaly who refused to submit to the king. They then made the first attempt to ‘plant’ loyal English people in Ireland as a way of controlling the country. Land confiscated from the Irish was given to English settlers. However, in the face of attacks from the Irish the English colonists were forced to abandon the ‘plantation’. After Edwards’s death, his sister Mary (1553-1558) became queen. She carried out the first successful plantation of Ireland. Again people were settled in Laois and Offaly but this time they were better prepared for war.

Further plantations took place under Elizabeth (1558-1603). From 1579 to 1583 the Earl of Desmond led a rebellion against the English. When the rebellion was finally crushed much of the land in Munster was confiscated and given to English colonists.

Then in 1592, Elizabeth founded the first university in Ireland, Trinity College, Dublin.

Finally in 1593 rebellion broke out in Ulster. Hugh O’ Neill the Earl of Tyrone, joined the rebellion in 1595. At first, the rebellion was successful. The rebels won a victory at Yellow Ford in 1598. However, O’Neill was severely defeated at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. The rebellion ended in 1603.

Ireland in the 17th Century

After the rebellion O’Neil was, at first, treated leniently. He was allowed to return to his land. However, after 1605 English attitudes hardened. In 1607 Hugh O’Neil and Rory O’Donnell, the Earl of Tyrconnell fled to France with their supporters. This event became known as the Flight of the Earls.

Afterwards, their land in Ulster was confiscated by King James decided on a plantation in Ulster. This time the plantation was to be far more thorough. This time Protestant settlers would outnumber the native Irish. Between 1610 and 1613 many English people and Scots settled in Ulster on confiscated land. Many new towns were founded. However, the native Irish resented the plantation and in 1641 Ulster rose in rebellion, and massacres of Protestants occurred.

In the South in 1642 the Anglo-Irish and the native Irish formed an alliance called the Confederation of Kilkenny. They quickly took over all of Ireland except Dublin and some other towns and parts of Ulster. Meanwhile, in England, civil war was raging between the English king and parliament so Ireland was largely left to its own devices for several years. However, divisions between the Anglo-Irish and the native Irish weakened the rebellion. Moreover, the English Civil War ended in 1646. King Charles, I was executed in January 1649. Afterward, the English parliament turned its attention to Ireland.

Oliver Cromwell was determined to crush Irish resistance and impose Protestantism on Ireland. He also sought revenge for the massacres of 1641. When Cromwell captured Drogheda in 1649 the defenders were massacred. A similar massacre took place in Wexford. Cromwell left Ireland in 1650 and his Son-in-law took over. By 1651 all of Ireland was in English hands.

In 1653-1654 another plantation took place. Land belonging to Irish Catholics was confiscated. Those who could prove they had not taken part in the rebellion of 1641 were given other (less fertile) land west of the Shannon. The confiscated lands were given to Englishmen.

In 1660 Charles II became king of England and Scotland. At first, it looked as if he would undo the Cromwellian confiscation of Irish land. However, the king did not, fearing a backlash among his own people.

Furthermore, during the 1660s, the export of cattle from Ireland to England was banned. Yet exports of meat and butter boomed. The population of Ireland also rose rapidly in the late 17th century. English merchants also resented competition from the Irish wool trade. Labor costs were lower in Ireland than in England and Irish wool was exported to many other countries. In 1699 the Irish were forbidden to export wool to any country except England. However, the English already charged high import duties on Irish wool and there was little demand for it. So exports of Irish wool were effectively ended.

In 1685 a Catholic, James II, succeeded Charles II. The Irish hoped James would treat them more kindly but he was deposed in 1688 and fled to France. The Dutchman William of Orange and his English wife Mary were invited to come and rule in James’s place. However, James was not willing to give up his crown so easily. The Lord-Deputy of Ireland, the Earl of Tyrconnell was still loyal to him. So were most of the Irish. In March 1689 James landed at Kinsale and quickly took most of Ireland.

Derry was one of the few places that stood by William. In December 1688 Catholic troops attempted to enter but 13 apprentice boys shut the gates against them. In April 1689 James laid siege to Derry and his men laid a boom across the River Foyle to prevent supplies reaching it by water. However, in July a ship called the Mountjoy broke the boom and relieved the town.

William’s army landed in Ireland in August 1689 and on 1 July 1690 the two armies met at the battle of the Boyne near Drogheda. James was decisively defeated. William entered Dublin on 6 July 1690. The next year his army laid siege to Limerick. That town surrendered in October 1691. The Treaty of Limerick ended the war in Ireland.

Ireland in the 18th Century

From 1704 all members of the Irish parliament and all holders of office had to be members of the Church of Ireland. (This Act excluded Presbyterians as well as Catholics. As a result, many Presbyterians left Ireland for North America during the 18th century).

Another Act of 1704 stated that Catholics could not buy land. They could not leave their land to a single heir, and they could not inherit land from Protestants. These measures meant that by 1778 only 5% of the land in Ireland was owned by Catholics. Both Catholics and Dissenters (Protestants who did not belong to the Church of Ireland) had to pay tithes to the Church of Ireland, which caused resentment.

An Act of 1719 reaffirmed the British parliament’s right to legislate for Ireland. The Irish parliament was made subordinate.

There was a great deal of dire poverty in Ireland during the 18th century, at its worst during the famine of 1741. This disaster killed hundreds of thousands of people. In the 1760s the grievances of Irish peasants boiled over into violence. In Munster the ‘white boys’, so-called because they wore white smocks or shirts to disguise themselves burned buildings and maimed cattle. In the 1770s they were followed in the north by the Oak Boys and the Steel Boys.

From 1778 the laws restricting the rights of Catholics were gradually repealed. From that year Catholics were allowed to lease land for 999 years. From 1782 they were allowed to buy land. In 1782 Poynings Law was repealed after nearly 300 years. The law of 1719, which gave the British parliament the right to legislate for the Irish, was also repealed. In 1792 Catholics were allowed to practice as lawyers and to marry Protestants. From 1793 Catholics were allowed to vote (but were not allowed to sit as MPs).

In the 1700s a linen industry grew up in Northern Ireland. A Linen Board was formed in Dublin in 1711. However, the linen industry soon became concentrated in the north and another Linen Board opened in Belfast in 1782. From the late 18th century Britain began to industrialize. In Ireland, industrialization was limited to the north. The south of Ireland remained agricultural, exporting huge quantities of meat and butter to Britain. During the 18th century, the population of Ireland rapidly increased from less than 2 million in 1700 to nearly 5 million in 1800. Trade with Britain boomed and the Bank of Ireland opened in 1783.

However at the end of the 18th century the ideas of the American Revolution and the French Revolution reached Ireland. They influenced a Protestant lawyer, Theobald Wolf Tone who, in 1791, founded the Society of United Irishmen. The society wanted Ireland to become an independent republic with religious toleration for all. In 1794 Britain went to war with France. The United Irishmen were regarded as a dangerous organization and were suppressed. Wolf Tone fled abroad and tried to persuade the French to invade Ireland. In 1796 they sent a fleet but it was prevented from landing by a storm.

Then in May 1798 risings took place in Wexford, Wicklow, and Mayo. However, the rebellion was defeated at Vinegar Hill near Enniscorthy on 21 June. French soldiers landed at Killala in August but they were forced to surrender in September. The French sent another fleet but their ships were intercepted by the British navy and most of them were captured. Onboard one was Wolf Tone. In November he committed suicide in prison.

Ireland in the 19th Century

The British government then decided that radical reform was needed. They decided the answer was to abolish the Irish parliament and unite Ireland with Britain. In 1800 they managed to persuade the Irish parliament to agree to the measure. It came into effect in 1801.

In 1803 Robert Emmet (1778-1803) and a small group of followers attempted an uprising in Dublin. They killed the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and his nephew but the rising was quickly crushed. Robert Emmet was hung, drawn and quartered.

In the early 19th century a movement to remove remaining restrictions on Catholics was led by Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847). In 1823 he founded the Catholic Association. In 1829 their wishes were granted. The Catholic Emancipation Act allowed Catholics to become MPs and to hold public office.

In 1840 O’Connell began a Repeal Association to demand the repeal of the Act of Union. He arranged ‘monster meetings’ of his supporters. In 1843 he called for one at Clontarf. However, the British government banned the meeting. O’Connell canceled the meeting and his movement collapsed.

The Potato Famine

In 1845 a large part of the Irish population lived on potatoes and buttermilk. It was an adequate diet but if anything happened to the potato crop there would be a disaster. In 1845 potato blight hit Ireland. Peel, the British Prime Minister, appointed a scientific committee to study the disease. Unfortunately, they did not understand its true nature.

Faced with famine Peel started relief works to provide work for the starving. (Peel was reluctant to give away free food). The potato blight returned in 1846. By 1847 the situation was so bad that Peel’s successor, Lord John Russell realized direct relief was necessary and soup kitchens were set up. Private charities also struggled to cope with the calamity.

However, hundreds of thousands of people died each year of starvation and diseases such as cholera, typhus, and dysentery. (In their weakened condition people had little disease resistance). The famine was worst in Southern and Southwest Ireland. The North and the East Coast were less affected. Many people fled aboard. In 1851 alone some 250,000 people emigrated from Ireland. (Many of them died of disease while onboard the ship). The population of Ireland fell dramatically. From over 8 million in 1841, it fell to about 6 1/2 million in 1851 and it continued to fall. An estimated 1 million people died during the famine. Many others emigrated. The failure of the British government to deal with the famine caused a lasting bitterness in Ireland.

The Home Rule Movement

In 1842 an organisation called Young Ireland was formed to campaign for Irish independence. (They were called ‘Young Ireland’ because they were opposed to O’Connell’s ‘Old Ireland’, which advocated peaceful methods. In 1848 Young Ireland attempted an uprising. Led by William Smith O’Brien 1803-64 a group of Irish peasants fought with 46 members of the Irish Constabulary at Ballingarry in County Tipperary. The skirmish later became known as ‘the battle of the Widow McCormack’s cabbage patch’. Afterward, O’Brien was arrested. He was sentenced to death but instead was transported to Tasmania.

In 1858 another movement called the Fenians was formed. In 1867 they attempted a rising in England, which did not succeed. In 1870 they were banned by the Catholic Church but they continued to operate.

Also in 1870, a lawyer named Isaac Butt (1813-1879) founded the Irish Home Government Association. The aim was to gain MPs in the British parliament and fight for independence. The Association was a success in that it soon gained a large number of MPs but Butt was regarded as too moderate. He soon lost control of the movement to a Protestant Lawyer called Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891).

In the late 1870s Irish agriculture entered a recession and many tenant farmers were evicted. Then in 1879, a Fenian called Michael Davitt (1846-1906) founded the Irish National Land League to demand land reform. He asked Parnell to lead the movement. The land war of 1879-1882 followed. Rents were withheld until the last moment. Anyone who took the land of an evicted tenant was boycotted. This word came from Captain Charles Boycott. He managed an estate in Mayo. Local people refused to work for him but in 1880 50 laborers from Ulster, protected by troops, were sent to harvest his farm. However, life was made so unpleasant for Boycott he was forced to leave.

During the land war, some people became violent. As a result in 1881, the British government passed the Coercion Act, which allowed them to imprison people without trial. The leaders of the land league were arrested. At the same time, Gladstone passed another land act. Tenants could apply to a special land court for fair rent. Gladstone’s land acts of 1881 and 1882 also gave tenant farmers greater security of tenure.

The land war ended with an agreement called the Kilmainham Treaty. The government released the leaders and agreed to some more concessions and the violence died down (although the Chief Secretary for Ireland Lord Frederick Cavendish and the Under Secretary were murdered in Phoenix Park, Dublin).

In 1886 Gladstone introduced his first Home Rule bill but it was rejected by the House of Commons. Gladstone introduced a second Home Rule bill in 1893. This one was passed by the House of Commons but it was rejected by the House of Lords.

Gladstone introduced a second Home Rule bill in 1893. The House of Commons passed this one but the House of Lords rejected it. Nevertheless, some reforms were made to land ownership. In 1885 money was made available for leaseholders to borrow to buy their land. The loans were repaid at low rates of interest. The loan system was extended in 1891. More land acts were passed in 1903 and 1909. As a result, many thousands of tenant farmers purchased their land. In 1893 the Gaelic League was founded to make Gaelic the main language of Ireland once again.

Meanwhile, Protestant opposition to Home Rule was growing. The Ulster Unionist Party was formed in 1886. Other unionist organizations were also formed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. However, Sinn Fein (Gaelic ‘we ourselves’) was formed in 1905.

Ireland in the 20th Century

In the 1900s Ireland moved towards civil war. The Ulster Volunteer Force was formed in 1913. In the South, Nationalists formed the Irish Volunteers. Both sides obtained arms.

Finally, a Home Rule Bill received the Royal Assent on 15 September 1914. However, it was put on hold for the duration of the First World War. The war split opinion in Ireland. Some people were willing to wait for the end of the war believing that Ireland would then become independent. Some were not. The Irish Volunteers split. About 12,000 men broke away but kept the name Irish Volunteers. The rest (over 100,000 men) called themselves the Irish National Volunteers).

In the early years of the 20th century, the Irish Republican Brotherhood remained a powerful secret organization. Many of them joined the Irish Volunteers. In May 1915 the IRB formed a military council. In January 1916 they planned an uprising and set Easter Day (April 24) as the date. MacNeill, the leader of the Irish Volunteers, was only informed about the planned uprising on 21 April. At first, he agreed to cooperate. He ordered the Volunteers to mobilize on 24 April. However, a German ship called the Aud, which was carrying rifles to Ireland was intercepted by the British Navy and her captain scuttled her. MacNeill changed his mind and canceled the Volunteer Movements. As a result, the uprising was confined almost entirely to Dublin and therefore had no chance of success.

The insurgents occupied the Post Office in O’Connell Street where their leader Patrick Pearse announced the Irish Republic. However, the British crushed the rebellion, and the insurgents surrendered on 29 April and 15 of them were executed. Public opinion in Ireland was appalled and alienated by the executions.

Irish Independence

In December 1918 a general election was held and Sinn Fein won 73 seats. However, the Sinn Fein MPs refused to sit in the British parliament. Instead, they formed their own parliament called the Dail Eireann, which met in Dublin.

In January 1919 the Irish Volunteers renamed themselves the IRA and began a guerrilla war when they shot two RIC men. The guerrilla war continued through 1920 and 1921. The British recruited a force of ex-soldiers called the Black and Tans to support the RIC. The Black and Tans were sent to Ireland in March 1920. They undertook reprisals against the IRA by burning buildings. In Dublin on 21 November 1921, they fired upon a crowd watching a football match killing 12 people. Shortly afterward the Black and Tans burned part of Cork’s city center.

The war continued into 1921. On 25 May 1921, the IRA burned Dublin Customs House However 5 of them were killed and 80 were captured. Shortly afterward, in July 1921, the war ended.

Meanwhile, in 1920 the British government passed the Government of Ireland Act. By it, there would be 2 parliaments in Ireland, one in the north and one in the south. However, both parliaments would be subordinate to the British parliament. An election was held for the Southern Irish parliament in May 1921. Sinn Fein won almost all the seats but their MPs refused to sit in the new parliament. Instead, the Dail continued to meet.

Then in October 1921, a group of 5 men was appointed by the Dail to negotiate with the British. The British prime minister demanded that Ireland be partitioned and he threatened the delegates with war if they did not sign a treaty. Therefore they did so.

The Dail approved the treaty on 7 January 1922. However, opinion split over the treaty with some people willing to accept it as a temporary measure, and some people bitterly opposing it. Fighting broke out between the IRA and the National Army. Michael Collins was killed in an ambush on 22 August 1922. The civil war in Ireland lasted until May 1923.

During the 1920s and 1930s unemployment was high in Ireland. Furthermore, many people lived in overcrowded conditions. As a result, emigration continued. However, things slowly improved. In the years 1925-1929, the government created a hydroelectricity scheme called the Shannon scheme. By 1943 all the towns in Ireland had electricity. So did most of the villages. In the 1930s the government tried to help the unemployed with a road-building scheme. Furthermore, some industry developed in Ireland at that time.

In 1937 a new constitution made an elected president head of state. Furthermore, the name ‘Irish Free State’ was replaced with either Eire or Ireland. Then in 1948, Ireland was made a republic, and the last ties with Britain were cut.

In the 1930s Ireland fought an ‘economic war’ with Britain. Before 1922 many tenant farmers borrowed money from the British government to buy their farms. As part of the treaty of 1922, the Irish state was to collect this money and pass it on to the British. However, in 1932 de Valera stopped paying. In response, the British imposed a tariff of 20% on Irish goods. This caused great harm to the Irish cattle trade. However, de Valera imposed import duties on British goods such as coal. He hoped Ireland would become economically self-sufficient and Irish industries would develop. In reality, the war hurt both sides. In 1935 they made a coal-cattle pact, which made the trade in the two commodities easier. In 1938 a general trade treaty brought the economic war to an end.

In 1949 an Industrial Development Authority was founded to promote industrialization and from the late 1950s, the Irish economy developed rapidly. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish economy grew an average of 4% per year. The first Irish motorway opened in 1962.

However Irish people continued to emigrate abroad during the 1950s and 1960s. Despite emigration, the population of Ireland rose in the 1960s and 1970s (for the first time since the mid-19th century.

In 1973 Ireland joined the EEC (forerunner of the EU). Membership brought great benefits to Ireland both in direct aid and in investment by foreign companies.

During the 1980s the Irish economy was in the doldrums. Unemployment was only 7% in 1979 but it rose to 17% in 1990. Then in the 1990s, the situation changed completely. The Irish economy boomed and it became known as the Celtic Tiger. By 2000 unemployment in the Irish Republic had fallen to less than 4%.

Irish society also changed rapidly in the late 20th century and the early 21st century. The Catholic Church lost a great deal of its influence in Ireland and church attendance fell sharply. Today Ireland is an increasingly secular society. Meanwhile, Mary Robinson was elected the first woman president in 1990. In 1995 the Irish people voted in a referendum to allow divorce.

Ireland in the 21st Century

Trinity College Dublin

In 2015 the people of Ireland voted in a referendum to allow same-sex marriage. In 2018 they voted in a referendum to reform the law on abortion. Also in 2018, the Irish people voted in a referendum to end a ban on blasphemy.

In the early 21st century the Irish economy grew rapidly. In 1999 Ireland joined the Euro. However, in 2008 Ireland entered a recession. Unemployment in Ireland rose to 13.2% in the autumn of 2010. However, Ireland began to recover in 2011. By March 2017 unemployment fell to 6.4%. In January 2024 it stood at 4.5%. Today the Irish economy is growing steadily. In 2024 the population of Ireland was 5 million.

Last revised 2024