The History of The Irish People

Note: Material on this page is courtesy of Damian Luby (1916 Easter Rising and later years; the Declaration of Independence; the Irish National Anthem), and the O'Kelly's Homepage (the early years).

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The history of Ireland is rich in the legends, myths and folklore of different races. It has been proven that the traditions of the Irish people are the oldest of any race in all western Europe and that they are the longest settled on their own land. The Irish, too, were one of the first peoples to adopt surnames. Many of these were fixed during or shortly after the reign of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland (AD941-1014AD). We Irish may indeed be justly proud of our tradition.

Pre Christian History

In earliest days the Tuatha De Danann, mysterious god like warriors with magical powers roamed Ireland, along with their servants the Firbolgs and their sea going henchmen, the Formorians. By the sixth century BC they had disappeared , probably annihilated by King Milesius and his forces from Spain. In about 350BC the Celts, Iron Age warriors from eastern Europe who had marched across the continent came to a halt in Ireland, the western most outpost. They controlled the country for 1000 years and left a legacy of language and culture that survives today, especially in Galway, Cork, Kerry and Waterford. From the 1st century AD the gaels started to emerge, having adopted the myths, genes and lifestyles of all those who had come before them. Gaelic culture was set to become a integral part of Irish history from then until the modern day and molded Ireland into the nation it is now.

The Romans never reached Ireland, and when the rest of Europe sank into the decline of the Dark Ages after the fall of the empire, the country became an outpost of European civilization, particularly after the arrival of Christianity, between the 3rd and 5th centuries. 

Early Christian

Ireland was a pagan country until the arrival of Saint Patrick in 432AD. He had been preceded by Palladius , who is believed to have been sent to Ireland, then called Scotia, by Pope Celestine I . Little trace of him now remains and there are several conflicting theories as to Saint Patrick's origins. Amongst those postulated are that he was either Welsh, Roman or French. His impact was, however, enormous. Christianity ushered in Ireland's Golden Age. Schools were opened , laws formulated , the era of the great manuscripts dawned, ancient folklore which had been passed down orally from generation to generation was committed to writing and the great monastic settlements, that were to form such an inherent part of society for centuries, thrived about this time. Beautiful metalwork , much of in it indigenous gold, was produced as were stone sculptures and books, many of which form part of modern day Ireland's national treasures. This was the era of the fabled "Land of Saints and Scholars" during which time many of her Saints and scribes went abroad to Europe to spread the gospel , and lay people, went to tend the sick in Europe, which was then descending into the Dark Ages. 

The Arrival of the Vikings

In the ninth century , the Vikings and Norsemen from Scandinavia arrived by longboat , plundering and looting the monasteries and treasures that lay close to the sea and rivers. The Vikings settled in Ireland and formed alliances with native families and chieftains. They founded Dublin, which in the 10th century was a small Viking kingdom, and the port of Waterford, originally known as Vadrefjord where artifacts continue to be unearthed even today. In 1014AD most, but by no means all, of the Norsemen were defeated at the Battle of Clontarf , four miles to the north of modern day Dublin City centre.

The Danes had , however, successfully laid the foundations of modern Dublin and their influence in building the capital is still very much in evidence today.

Brian Boru

Brian Boru (c. 940-1014) was born around 940, the youngest of two sons of Cennedig, head of Dal Cais, one of the royal free tribes of Munster. Brian grew up during the worst days of tyranny when the Dalcassians had been driven in to the present county of Clare. Brian’s brother, Mahon, being the eldest, succeeded Cennedig as chief of the Dalcassians. Being hemmed into Clare by the Norse Leader, Ivar of Limerick, Mahon was willing to accept terms but Brian, seeing almost all of the Dal Cais tribe including his mother brutally murdered by a Norse raid when he was only a child, refused to be any part of such a truce. He deserted Mahon with a group of soldiers. They lived in the hills of Munster attacking Norse settlements and disappearing in to the hills. His fame spread throughout the province and infuriated Ivar. Although having only a handful of men, Brian’s skill as a tactician led him to defeat vastly superior numerical forces and led to rumours of a mighty Dalcassian army.

After a number of petty battles, Brian had trained an excellent Dalcassian army to face the Norsemen. The stories of his triumphs had led to vast numbers of young men volunteering to join his side. The feud between himself and Mahon ended. Mahon renounced his truce with the Norsemen and the two brothers rejoined forces. The two men triumphed so far that Mahon took the throne of Cashel in 963 and in 968 at Sulchoid in Tipperary, the two brothers completely overtook Ivar’s forces and marched on Limerick while Ivar fled back to the Norse lands. The Norse tyranny in Munster thus collapsed and Mahon ruled peacefully for eight years. However, Ivar returned to Ireland and plotted the murder of Mahon. After Mahon’s death, Brian not wanting a bloodbath between his forces and Ivar’s, honourably challenged Ivar to open combat, which he won killing Ivar. Brian succeeded his brother as head of the Dal Cais and immediately took the field against his brothers enemies. In 978, he defeated the King of Cashel in battle. Step by step he established himself in the Kingship of Munster and fortified the province. In 983 and 988, his fleets ravaged Connaught and plundered Meath.

Meanwhile, another great leader had arisen in the North, Malachy the second, the Ui Neill King of Tara. Malachy was born in 948, became King of Meath and in 980, High King. This he achieved at the battle of Tara in 980 where he overthrew a Norse Army and took Dublin. A clash between the two men was inevitable. At last, in 998, they met and divided Ireland between the two of them, Brian becoming the King of the South and Malachy of the North.

By 1002, the joint sway of Malachy and Brian could not last. Malachy, being unable to gather enough support to take on the mighty forces of Brian, allowed Brian peacefully to take over his lands. This was the greatest moment in the history of native Ireland. Brian, by his title, “Ard Ri”, was claiming the monarchy of the whole Gaelic race. Before Brian, and Malachy, Ireland was divided in to a number of petty kingdoms, sometimes at peace, sometimes at war with one another. The Vikings themselves joined in the struggles between the Irish kingdoms and also fought bitterly among themselves. There was no one king up to this who was responsible for the defence of Ireland against the Vikings and had control over the entire island.

Brian had much to do as High King to lift Ireland out of the ruins of the Norse Age. He rebuilt ruined churches, built others, he sent overseas to replace lost books and artefacts and all that he possibly could to heal the wounds of the past two centuries of Norse pillage.

In 1013, the Leinstermen and the Dublin Vikings revolted against Brian. Mael Morda, King of Leinster, allied himself with the Dublin Vikings and went to war with Brian. The Dublin Vikings sought allies overseas. The great sigurd, Earl of Orkney, came with a large contingent. While other Viking contingents came from as far afield as Iceland and Normandy. Brian gave them Battle at Clontarf on Good Friday, 1014 and defeated them. However, as the Vikings were retreating, one of their leaders, Bothair, murdered Brian.

After this, Malachy resumed his position as High King and the Dal Cais strength remained only in Munster. The Viking presence in Ireland continued after Brian’s death but their military power was crushed. They remained in the country as traders and intermarried amongst the native Irish. Ireland was never again to have a King to control the entire of the island and the cost to Ireland and to Brian of crushing the Viking power in this country was a great one, for Ireland was never again to have a true "ARD RI".


The Anglo Norman Invasion

Just as the arrival of Saint Patrick and the Vikings were turning points in Irish history so too was the arrival of the Normans. The Anglo Norman Invasion , which commenced in 1169 was not planned…it just happened! A bitter rivalry existed between two warrior kings; Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster and Tiernan O'Rourke of Breifne (now Cavan). MacMurrough had learned the wrath of O'Rourke by wooing his wife , Devorgilla, from him. Although she returned to her husband after a short interval , O'Rourke supported Rory O'Connor, King of Connacht, in a feud against Mac Murrough and his ally, Murtough Mac Lachlainn, the powerful king of Ulster. The sudden death of Mac Lachlainn left Mac Murrough isolated and helpless. His castle at Ferns in County Wexford was destroyed and he fled secretly to Europe to seek the assistance of Henry, Duke of Normandy, count of Anjou and Maine, who had been crowned King Of England in 1154 at the age of 21. Henry actively encouraged MacMurrough to recruit some of the Normans and Flemings who had invaded England in 1066, a turning point in English history which secured Duke William of Normandy's position on the English throne. 

Richard Fitzgilbert de Clare , an ambitious Norman known as "Strongbow" agreed to lead a force to Ireland in exchange for the hand in marriage of Aoife, MacMurrough's daughter and the rights of succession to the land of Leinster. In May 1169 the first of the Norman invaders landed on the beaches of County Wexford followed later by Strongbow. The indigenous Irish, supported by their allies and naturalized Normans fought valiantly against the invaders but were thwarted by superior military ingenuity. The English arrived with the Normans in 1169, taking Wexford and Dublin with ease. Within a year MacMurrough had died and his ambitions had come to nothing. The English king, Henry II, was recognized by the pope as Lord of Ireland and he took Waterford in 1171, declaring it a royal city. Anglo-Norman lords also set up power bases in Ireland, outside the control of England. The Normans, thrived in Ireland and in 1175 Henry II came to Ireland to stop the progress and set up centralized administration. During his time in Ireland he built the first Dublin Castle, introduced coinage and the legal jury system. 

Within eight years of their arrival the Normans dominated much of Irish life with the exception of parts of Munster and Connacht. The Normans were superb builders and administrators and gave much to the infrastructure of Ireland at that time. They did not however, completely conquer the country but integrated into the local population. So much so that the English initiated Poynings' Law .In an attempt to frustrate integration into the local population the Normans were forbidden to marry Irish, adopt the customs, dress or traditions of the local gaels or to speak the language. 

The Flight of the Earls 

To save the expense and administration of governing Ireland from abroad the English appointed the Fitzgeralds as Governors of Ireland. Garrett Mor Fitzgerald , the great Earl of Kildare, became known as "all but the King of Ireland" and was later succeeded by his son Garrett Og Fitzgerald, a man who lacked his fathers fine diplomacy and authority. In addition to that he had the arrogant young King Henry VIII to contend with. In 1541 Henry, after declaring himself head of the Church of England also declared himself King of Ireland. For the most part many of the Irish chieftains and Anglo Irish entertained this position and paid him patronage. However he also declared himself head of the church in Ireland which infuriated the devout Christian Church and led to revolt. 

There were numerous uprisings .Eventually a strong army, led by the Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O'Neill , and Red Hugh O'Donnell marched south from Ulster to join a Spanish force which had sailed to the County Cork coast at Kinsale. The battle that ensued, the Battle of Kinsale, was another turning point in Irish history. O'Neill and O'Donnell retreated to Ulster and they along with almost ninety of Irelands most powerful families fled to continental Europe from Lough Swilly in County Donegal in what became known as "The Flight of the Earls." 

The Flight of the Earls left Ulster leaderless and primed the country for the English policy of colonization known as 'plantation'.

The Plantations of Henry VIII

It was not until Henry VIII (king 1509-1547) that English interference started to take its full toll on the Irish people. In order to subdue and rule Ireland, Henry sent Protestants to "plant" or colonize Ireland and wrest control of her from the Gaelic and Catholic native population. Additionally, non-Conforming Protestants often went to Ireland where they could worship as they chose with minimal interference from the Anglican church.

James I of England encouraged Protestant immigrants, mostly from Scotland, who were given land subsidies in the six counties of Ulster. The importation three hundred years ago of privileged immigrants with a distinct nationality and strict religious observances sowed the seeds for the division of Ulster still in existence today and could be said to have laid the foundation for the years of religious conflict that dogs modern Ireland.

Subsequent kings and queens, notably Elizabeth I, increased the efforts to install plantations across the island, claiming land for England and forcing the Irish to rent their own land back from their conquerors. This effort to "re-colonize" an already thriving civilization was largely successful, particularly in the area around Dublin and in the province of Ulster, and this began the period in Irish history known as the "Protestant Ascendancy".

 The newcomers did not intermarry or mingle with the impoverished and very angry population of native Irish and Old English Catholics, who rebelled in a bloody conflict in 1641. The native Irish and Old English Catholics supported the royalists in the English Civil War.

Ireland remained a considerable military risk to the English and after the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) arrived in Ireland in 1649 with his army. He left a trail of death and destruction which has never been forgotten. He began by capturing the town of Drogheda in County Louth after the infamous siege of Drogheda and went on to engulf the country, granting his soldiers confiscated lands in lieu of pay and wrecking the infrastructure of Ireland . He thus laid the foundation for the widespread Protestant ownership of land and the Protestant land-owning ascendancy.  

With England's Glorious Revolution of 1688, William of Orange and his wife Mary ascended the British throne, bloodlessly as history writes it. But James II, an overt Catholic, decided to make a last- ditch attempt to regain his throne. The decisive battle was that of the Boyne, a river near Dublin, on July 1, 1690. But another battle raged in Derry (renamed Londonderry in the 17th century when it was heavily planted with Englishmen and the charter given over to the City of London). Approximately 30,000 Protestants loyal to King William walled up in the city while James II's forces laid siege for 105 days. Eventually William's forces arrived and on July 28th, 1690, James' army retreated. With the end of the siege the cause of Ireland's native population had lost its main champion in England, and the Protestant Ascendancy had secured its position in Ireland.

The Penal Laws

 In 1695 harsh penal laws were enforced, known as the 'popery code': Catholics were forbidden from buying land, bringing their children up as Catholics, from entering the forces or practice law, from running for elected office, and from owning property (such as horses) valued at more than 5 pounds. These "Penal Laws" were passed by the ruling Protestants in Ireland to strip the "backwards" Catholic population of remaining land, positions of influence and civil rights. All Irish culture, music and education was banned. The religion and culture were kept alive by secret open-air masses and illegal outdoor schools, known as 'hedge schools'.

By 1778 Irish Catholics would own a meager 5% of Irish land. Furthermore, the Catholic educational system was outlawed and priests who did not conform to the laws could be branded on the face or castrated. As a result, much of Catholic church services and education was forced underground, to operate only under extreme secrecy.

Not all Protestants wished to persecute the Catholics. Some, feeding off of the ideals espoused in the American and French Revolutions, and taking advantage of England's weakness during the American Revolution, saw the reasons for and opportunity for independence from Britain. They also believed in certain inherent rights for all people. Some, such as Henry Grattan, believed the penal laws were too harsh, and tried to force Britain into giving the Irish parliament political independence, although he did not favor severing all ties to England. Others wanted more. Wolfe Tone founded the Society of United Irishmen and with the assistance of the French, tried to launch a full-scale rebellion against British rule in 1798. In the short run, Grattan succeeded where Tone failed. But alarmed by the level of unrest at the end of the 18th century, the Protestant gentry traded what remained of their independence for British security, and the 1800 Act of Union united Ireland politically with Britain, and bringing the business of Ireland's government firmly under English control.

Protestants in the ruling and merchant classes tended to be Anglican, belonging to the Church of Ireland. But not all Protestants were wealthy. Many were farmers like the Catholics and a good number of these belonged to the Presbyterian church, as their ancestors had frequently emigrated from Scotland. Although these Protestant farmers did not feel the impact of the Penal Laws like the Catholics, they too suffered from economic and political frustrations. Like Catholics, many had to sell the best and largest share of their crops to the landlords to pay their rent. The poorer farmers, Catholic and Protestant alike, were forced onto smaller and smaller plots of land which were barely sufficient for subsistence farming while the wealthier ones forced tenants off the land in order to raise cattle. Because of their position, however, many of these small Protestant farmers were the biggest advocates of the Penal Laws because the restrictions on Catholics freed up land for the Protestants. Even though the Presbyterian farmers also felt the brunt of the high rents and restrictive laws, it was more convenient to follow the loyalties of faith rather than similarity of circumstance, and therefore Catholics became their main enemies.

Occasionally as a result of the pressure for land and rents, secret agrarian societies, Catholic and Protestant, developed in the countryside. Members of these groups directed violence at both property and individuals. Some, such as the Whiteboys and Ribbonmen attacked the landlords, while others fought amongst themselves. The Peep O'Day Boys, a Protestant group, formed to intimidate Catholics who they perceived were a threat to their land. The Catholics retaliated with a group called the Defenders, and the groups waged a small-scale war in the countryside. In 1795 these groups clashed at a town "diamond" in Armagh, and afterwards the victorious Peep O'Day Boys formed the Orange Order, named for their hero William of Orange. Although at first an agrarian organization, the Orange Order soon attracted Protestants of all classes and serves even today as the foremost authority within the Protestant Loyalist communities.

The Great Liberator - Daniel O'Connell

The 19th century saw the repeal of some of the harshest penal laws as many Protestants found them impossible to enforce. A few Catholics, thanks to covert assistance from Protestant allies, had also managed to retain their middle-class status during the height of the Penal Laws. The family of Daniel O'Connell was one such family, and Daniel was able to receive a degree in Law.

In 1803, in the wake of Robert Emmet's unsuccessful attempt to resurrect the United Irishmen and lead a new rebellion, O'Connell condemned the use of violence. He wanted to push for rights for his people and ultimately called for Catholic emancipation. He gathered the support of thousands of Catholics in Ireland for his Catholic Association, demanding among other things, repeal of the Union, an end to the enforced tithes to the Church of Ireland, and respect for all Irish people regardless of religious persuasion. Even when the British outlawed the Catholic Association, O'Connell's support continued to grow.

At about this time, changes in property qualifications enabled some Catholics to vote. Entrenched Protestant landlords were defeated in elections by those supported by the Catholic Association, and with pressure growing, Britain passed the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which among other things, allowed Catholics to hold political office and overturned the remaining Penal Laws. O'Connell was duly elected as the first Catholic MP since the Penal Laws.

But with Emancipation won, even Protestants who had sided with suffering Catholics in the past now felt threatened by the new power block, and it was at this time that Protestants of all classes began to shift away from dreams of Irish independence such as Grattan and Tone had espoused and instead began to cling to the Union with Britain as the best way to retain their prestige and power. These men became bitter enemies to O'Connell and his growing entourage of Irish Catholic MP's that pushed for repeal of the Union.

During the early days in Parliament, O'Connell found allies in the Young Ireland movement, which was made up of young intellectuals who published the Nation, a newspaper dedicated to the cause of Irish nationalism. Young Irelanders such as Charles Gavan Duffy, John Mitchel, John Dillon and Thomas Davis wanted to see Ireland free herself from political and economic subservience, but they also began to promote cultural nationalism and pride in "Irishness."

With his snowballing success, in 1843 O'Connell began to call "monster meetings", with hundreds of thousands attending all across the country and calling for Repeal of the Union. Britain, worried about O'Connell's influence over such numbers of people, threatened the use of force against the meetings, and eventually, in October 1843, before a huge meeting to occur at Clontarf, O'Connell was unwilling to call Britain's bluff, and the meeting was canceled. From then on, O'Connell, unwilling to commit his followers to violent means of protest, and finding that many of his supporters were suffering from the potato blights beginning in 1845, saw his support ebb from him.

Meanwhile, the Young Irelanders did not have the same distaste for violence. They began to quarrel with O'Connell over tactics, and Duffy, William Smith O'Brien and Thomas Meagher abandoned the Catholic Association in 1847. They formed the Irish Confederation but by 1848 experienced their own split when John Mitchel joined and advocated taking on the landlords as well as Britain, a cause O'Brien, himself a landlord, could not espouse. That year the remnants of the Young Ireland movement attempted to capitalize on the rebellions occurring across Europe by staging their own, but before they could accomplish much, most of them found themselves imprisoned or "transported" to a penal colony as penalties for treason against Britain.

The Great Potato Famine

Part of the reason both the Young Irelanders and O'Connell lost support was due to a situation well beyond their control. Beginning in 1845, the Great Hunger, or as some refer to it, the Irish Potato Famine, decimated the Irish population, affecting people of all religions but especially the poor Catholic tenant farmers who were most likely to support Irish nationalism in one form or another. The farmers had to sell the majority of their crops to their landlords or face eviction. In order to survive and feed their families, these farmers grew potatoes, a crop which required the least amount of land for the greatest yield, on a small plot on their land. There had been many blights in the past which had affected the potatoes, causing the plants to die and tubers to rot, but the one which hit in 1845 was the first to affect the entire island on such a scale. People who depended on their potatoes to survive suddenly had no food, and if they ate the other crops they faced evictions and a life of homelessness, an even worse fate. Many of the poorest simply died, and those with relatives elsewhere or any form of assistance bought the cheapest passages possible to America and crammed into what became known as "coffin ships" to escape certain death in Ireland.

The potato blight destroyed the food crops for several years. 1847 was the worst year, for even though the blight was weaker, few tubers remained from previous years to plant, and starvation increased. Many were found dead with grass stains on their mouths or seaweed in their stomachs as they had attempted to stave off death. What made their deaths the more tragic was that there was no true famine, as there was plenty of grain, beef, butter and milk, but it was all destined for English mouths.

The Hunger had a profound effect on Irish politics. First of all, it created an entire generation of Irish living abroad who had reason to hate the English. Second, rebels who remained-those who were able to rise from the ashes of the Young Ireland movement in particular-had a new determination to change the situation for Ireland and her people. In 1858 members from the Young Ireland movement regrouped. In America, James Stephens and John O'Mahony, with Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, formed the Fenian Brotherhood, the first Irish organization to clearly state its objectives as the creation of a democratic Irish Republic. The Irish branch of the Fenians became known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Together, the Fenians recruited men such as John Mitchel and plotted to raise an armed force in rebellion against England, drawing on the Irish in United States as sources for money and weaponry. Later, under control of American Col. Thomas Kelly, in 1867 the Fenians made a bold stab at another Irish rebellion, but disorganization and poor planning got the best of them. Although the leaders again were imprisoned or forced underground, the movement did not disappear, but instead operated in secret for several decades to come.

Home Rule

A new movement, one calling for Home Rule for Ireland, was created by Issac Butt in 1870. By 1877 the Home Rule MP's elected Charles Stewart Parnell as their representative. Parnell wished to combine agrarian and political concerns together within the Home Rule Movement, and by 1879 led the National Land League as well. His strategy was to challenge the British government head-on, and by the 1880s the Home Rule MP's held the balance of power in Parliament. As a result, the first Home Rule bill was introduced in 1886, but it and the next Home Rule bill did not succeed for many reasons. Parnell was discredited by both a plot to accuse him of complicity in the Phoenix Park murders and by his own tragic love affair. And the Ulster Unionists began to put pressure of their own on Parliament.

Many people did not think that Home Rule went far enough. The Irish Republican Brotherhood had made a dramatic resurgence around the turn of the century. Its members infiltrated several organizations, including Sinn Fein, formed in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, the Gaelic League, formed in 1893 to promote the Irish language and culture, and the Gaelic Athletic Association. Socialist agitation added to the mix. The IRB believed that England would never release Ireland unless forced to do so through the use of violence. The Irish Volunteers, a militia created by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and soon numbering 180,000, had thrown its support behind John Redmond, the new leader of the Home Rule Party. The potential for violence encouraged the British to introduce a third Home Rule bill in 1912, and it had passed but suspended when England was pulled into World War I. Promises were made that if Ireland helped England defeat Germany, Home Rule would be a certainty.

Suspension of the bill stimulated the growth of the Citizen Army, an illegal force of Dublin citizens organized by the labour leader Jim Larkin (died 1948) and the socialist James Connolly (1870-1916); of the Irish Volunteers, a national defense body; and of the extremist Sinn Féin. The uprising was planned by leaders of these organizations, among whom were the British consular agent Sir Roger David Casement, the educator Padhraic Pearse (1879-1916), and the poet Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916).

The 1916 Easter Rising

Counting on the support of the Volunteers as well as the Socialist James Connolly's citizen army, IRB leaders planned a rebellion to occur in Dublin on Easter, 1916, which was to spark off a full-scale, country-wide, revolt. Several men, including Patrick Pearse of the Gaelic League and the labor agitator and socialist James Connolly, planned with the help of German weapons to simultaneously rebel at several key points across the island. Sir Roger Casement was to secure Germany's assistance, including ammunition, weapons and manpower.

Some, such as Eoin MacNeill, the leader of the Volunteers, believed a rebellion would lead to the slaughter of the Irish, and when word reached them of the impending rising, they tried to stop it at the last minute. Word was already circulating to call off the rising when hostilities began about noon on April 24,Easter Monday, April 24, 1916.

Centred mainly in Dublin, about 2000 men led by Pearse seized control of the Dublin post office and other strategic points within the city. Shortly after these initial successes, the leaders of the rebellion proclaimed the Independence of Ireland and announced the establishment of a provisional government of the Irish Republic. Pearse read the newly-written Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Additional positions were occupied by the rebels during the night, and by the morning of April 25 they controlled a considerable part of Dublin. The counteroffensive by British forces began on Tuesday with the arrival of reinforcements. Martial law was proclaimed throughout Ireland. Bitter street fighting developed in Dublin, during which the strengthened British forces steadily dislodged the Irish from their positions. By the morning of April 29, the post office building, site of the rebel headquarters, was under violent attack. Recognizing the futility of further resistance, Pearse surrendered unconditionally in the afternoon of April 29.

The British immediately brought the leaders of the uprising to trial before a field court-martial. Fifteen of the group, including Pearse, Connolly, and MacDonagh, were sentenced to death and executed by firing squad. Four others, including the American-born Eamon de Valera, received death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment, although de Valera and some others were granted amnesty the next year. Casement was convicted of treason and hanged. Many others prominently connected with the rebellion were sentenced to long prison terms. The uprising was the first of a series of events that culminated in the establishment of the Irish Free State (predecessor of the Republic of Ireland) in 1921. Casualties were about 440 British troops and an estimated 75 Irish . Property damage included the destruction of about 200 buildings in Dublin.

Picture of the seven men who signed the declaration
The seven signatories of the Irish Proclamation (from the left):

Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Sean MacDermott, Joseph Plunkett & Eamonn Ceannt

A poem:

Awaiting freedom from my mother’s womb
At Resurrection time, some glint of rebel steel
Pierced deep my soul, so deep
That fifty years have not erased the thrill
The names of Pearse and Plunkett, 
Clarke, MacDonagh, Connolly
Ceannt and Sean Mac Diarmada arouse,
Of freedom born in blood.

Wresting freedom from a tyrant’s hand
Had often been essayed on Ireland’s soil.
Essayed at cost, at bitter cost
By men of eager hearts and giant mind, yet still
Each century brought fourth the poets, princes of pen,
To thrill with their philosophy
A nation’s captive hearts.

No lust of blood inflamed the freedom verse
To turn the ploughshare to the sword;
They unlocked hearts, e'en timid hearts
To dreams undreamt of within captive breasts,
And set vast floods of liberty afloat
Upon a sea too long content
With anchored hopes,
And flotsam fears.

Who can recall an Emmet or a Tone,
A Mitchel or a Davitt or Devoy,
Without a glorious surging of the blood
And anticipation of emancipation
From the long-remembered wrongs
Upon a nation's rights?
Just tribute must be paid by
Freedmen to felon's heirs.

Half a century ago our resurrection came
Heralded by another name, the name of Pearse,
An Apollo with a quiver of words,
Music-tipped arrows to reach the very souls
Of those who longed and longed for freedom's balm;
Gentle leader of a quiet few
Who braved a tyrant's might
To make a bondman free.

Let me praise him who close by Rossa’s grave
Praised the virtue of a valiant man
From a heart and tongue pregnant then
With death-decision made for
Freedom's urgent birth;
A man whose spiritual eye could see the joy
Of a ladybird upon a stalk,
Or a rabbit in a field at play.

There were no deaths in Dublin on that
Easter day some fifty years ago-
Such music makers cannot die
As many mercenary soldiers do
With battles lost or won.
They have but set the music to a song
That ever holds us bound,
Yet leaves us ever free.

Like Pearse or Plunkett,
MacDonagh and Mac Diarmada
Ceantt and Clarke,
And Connolly


The Liberation

The British thought that by executing the leaders of the rebellion they would quell any further notions of Irish independence. But the harsh action had the opposite result. In the months that followed, the Irish Volunteers continued to train, and the leaders used Sinn Fein as a platform to get members elected to Parliament, which they then refused to enter. Sinn Féin became the most influential political party in Ireland. This party, founded in 1900 by Arthur Griffith, a Dublin journalist, campaigned in the parliamentary election of 1918 on a program that called for the severance of all ties with Great Britain, an end to the separatist movement in northern Ireland, and the establishment of an Irish republic. Candidates of Sinn Féin won 73 of the 106 seats allotted to Ireland in the British Parliament. In 1919, with WWI over, frustration over the lack of Home Rule (due to the British government's continuing efforts to cater to the Ulster unionists), led the Irish Sinn Feiners to form their own parliament, known as Dail Eireann. And from there it was an easy next step to engage the Irish Volunteers in the Irish War of Independence.

The Irish Revolution (1919-22)

In January 1919 the Sinn Féin members of Parliament assembled in Dublin as the Dáil Éireann, or national assembly. Proclaiming the independence of Ireland, the Dáil forthwith formed a government, with Eamon De Valera as president. There followed guerrilla attacks by Irish insurgents, later called the Irish Republican Army, on British forces, particularly the Royal Irish Constabulary, called the Black and Tans; and the British instituted vigorous reprisals. In the course of the war, the British Parliament enacted, in December 1920, a Home Rule Bill, providing separate parliaments for six counties of Ulster Province and for the remainder of Ireland. By the terms of the bill, Great Britain retained effective control of Irish affairs. The people of Northern Ireland, as the six counties in Ulster Province were known, ratified the legislation in May 1921 and elected a parliament. Although the rest of Ireland also elected a parliament in May, the Sinn Feiners, constituting an overwhelming majority outside of Ulster, refused to recognize the other provisions of the Home Rule Bill. The warfare against the British continued until July 10, 1921, when a truce was arranged. Subsequent negotiations led to the signing, in December 1921, of a peace treaty by representatives of the second Dáil Éireann and the British government. By the terms of the treaty, all of Ireland except the six counties constituting Northern Ireland was to receive dominion status identical with that of Canada. After considerable debate, in which the opposition, led by De Valera, objected strenuously to a provision that virtually guaranteed a separate government in Northern Ireland and to an article that required members of the Dáil to swear allegiance to the British sovereign, the Dáil ratified the treaty on January 15, 1922, by a vote of 64 to 57. Ratification brought into being the Irish Free State, with Arthur Griffith as president and Michael Collins, who was another prominent member of Sinn Féin, as chairman of the provisional government.

The Irish Free State (1922-37)

Under the leadership of De Valera, the dissident Sinn Féin group, termed the Republicans and later known as Fianna Fáil, called for a resumption of the struggle against Great Britain and instituted a campaign, including insurrectionary acts, against the provisional government. With the question of the treaty the chief issue, an election for a provisional Dáil was held in June 1922. Candidates supporting the treaty won a majority of the seats. The Republicans, refusing to recognize the authority of the new Dáil, proclaimed a rival government and intensified their attacks on the Irish Free State. In the course of the ensuing struggle, hundreds were killed on both sides, and many prominent Republican leaders were executed. while, the Dáil, headed now by William Thomas Cosgrave, drafted a constitution providing for a bicameral legislature (Dáil and Saenad, or senate), which was adopted on October 11, 1922. Following approval by the British Parliament, it became operative on December 6. The official government of the Irish Free State was instituted at once, with Cosgrave assuming office as president of the executive council. In April 1923 the Republicans declared a truce in hostilities in order to participate in the forthcoming national elections, and public order was gradually restored. Neither the Sinn Féin party nor the Republican party secured a majority in the elections held late in August 1923. The Republicans boycotted the Dáil, however, and Cosgrave, supported by a coalition of parties, retained power. The boundary between the Free State and Northern Ireland was established in December 1925. During the next few years, agreement was reached with the British government on various mutual problems, and the national economy was substantially strengthened by a series of measures, including the initiation of a hydroelectric project on the Shannon River.

Although the Republicans gradually increased their representation in the Dáil during this period, they continued their boycott until August 1927. They then assumed their 57 seats in the newly elected Dáil. Partly as a result of the failure of the government to cope with domestic difficulties brought on by the world economic crisis of the early 1930s, Cosgrave's party lost several seats to the Republicans in the elections of February 1932. De Valera thereupon became head of the government. Legislation that he sponsored in the following April included provisions for the abrogation of the oath of allegiance to the British crown. This bill, which also would have virtually ended the political ties between Great Britain and the Free State, received the approval of the Dáil, but was rejected, in effect, by the Saenad. In his next move against the British, De Valera withheld payment of certain land purchase annuities that the British claimed were legally due them. The withholding of the payment of annuities led to a protracted tariff war between the two countries, with serious damage to the economy of the Free State. In another significant move, De Valera secured repeal of a law restricting the activities of the IRA. The electorate registered approval of his program in elections held in January 1933, in which a majority of Republicans were returned to the Dáil.

With this mandate from the people, De Valera systematically developed his program for the gradual elimination of British influence in Irish affairs, obtaining abrogation of the oath of allegiance, restrictions on the role of the governor-general who represented the British crown, and other measures. Simultaneously, the government initiated measures designed to give the country a self-sufficient economy. Steps taken included high income taxes on the rich, high protective tariffs, and control of foreign capital invested in Irish industry. In June 1935, De Valera severed his political ties with the IRA, which had been extremely critical of many of his policies, and imprisoned a number of its leaders. It became general knowledge, meanwhile, that the draft of a new constitution was in progress. In 1936 the Republicans, in coalition with other groups in the Dáil, finally secured passage of legislation abolishing the Saenad, long inimical to De Valera's policies. The Dáil functioned as a unicameral legislature for the remainder of its term. In connection with the events surrounding the abdication of Edward VIII, king of Great Britain, the Dáil enacted in 1936 a bill that deleted all references to the king from the constitution of the Free State and abolished the office of governor-general. Parallel legislation, which was known as the External Relations Act of 1936, restricted the association of the Free State with the British Commonwealth of Nations to joint action on certain questions involving external policy, specifically the approval of the trade treaties of the Free State and the appointment of its foreign envoys in the name of the British crown.

Éire (1937-49)

The 5-year term of office of the Dáil expired in June 1937. In the subsequent election the Republican party won a plurality of the seats in the Dáil. The new constitution, which abolished the Irish Free State and established Éire as a 'Sovereign independent democratic state,' was approved by the voters in a plebiscite conducted simultaneously with the election. This document provided for a new senate of 60 members. Although the constitution specifically applied to all Ireland, it provided that the laws of Éire should be executed, pending unification with Northern Ireland, only within the territory of the republic. The constitution contained no references to the British sovereign or to the Commonwealth of Nations. A subsequent statement by De Valera indicated, however, that Éire's relations with Great Britain would be governed by the External Relations Act of 1936. In 1938 the Irish writer and patriot Douglas Hyde became the first president of Éire, and De Valera became prime minister.

Through a treaty adopted in April 1938, the tariff war between Éire and Great Britain was concluded. The latter agreed to withdraw its forces from naval bases in Éire, and Éire agreed to a settlement of the annuities owed to Great Britain. The slight improvement in relations between the two nations was marred by a violent terrorist campaign in Great Britain conducted by the IRA.

Éire maintained neutrality in World War II, although many thousands of Irish citizens joined the Allied forces or worked in British war industry. In the immediate post-war era, the economic dislocations in Great Britain and Europe subjected the economy of Éire to severe strains, resulting in a period of rapid inflation and, indirectly, in the defeat of Fianna Fáil in the elections of February 1948. De Valera was defeated in the Dáil for the prime ministry by John Aloysius Costello, candidate of a six-party coalition opposed to Fianna Fáil. Costello, a former attorney general, called for lower prices and taxes, the expansion of industrial production, and closer commercial relations with Great Britain.

Republic of Ireland

On Easter Monday, April 18, 1949, by the terms of the Republic of Ireland Bill approved by the Dáil in November 1948, Éire became the Republic of Ireland, formally free of allegiance to the British crown and the Commonwealth of Nations. In the following month, the British Parliament approved a bill continuing the status of Northern Ireland as a part of Great Britain and extending to citizens of the republic resident in Britain the same rights as British citizens. Similar legal provision was made by the Éire government in respect of British citizens resident in Éire. The republic became a member of the United Nations on December 14, 1955, when the General Assembly approved the admission of 4 communist and 12 non-communist nations.

Economic Gains

Although inflation and an unfavourable balance of trade remained difficult problems, Ireland made significant strides toward economic stability through the 1950s and '60s. In 1964 the government completed a five-year plan of economic development, which exceeded its goals. A feature of the program was the offer of tax incentives to foreign investors.

Partly as a result of such programs, the rate of economic growth increased from about 1 percent per year in the 1950s to more than 4.5 percent in the late 1960s. It was officially reported in 1964 that more than 200 factories had begun production since 1955, most of them with foreign participation. A second plan began that year with a goal by 1970 of a net increase of 50 percent in the gross national product over the 1960 level. The improving economic circumstances were regarded as the main cause of a decline in emigration, ending a population decline that had continued unabated for more than a century.

Political Developments

With economic stability came a new measure of political stability and a decline in traditional anti-British feeling. As early as 1957 Prime Minister Costello, who regarded the terrorist activities of the IRA as damaging to relations with Great Britain and tending to prolong the partition of Ireland, had called for forceful action against the organization. Costello was defeated for reelection, but early in 1958 his successor, De Valera, publicly agreed that unity could not be achieved by force. In June 1959, De Valera, at the age of 77, was elected president, and Seán Francis Lemass (1899-1971), deputy prime minister, became prime minister. Opposition to IRA activity, plus a decline in the active membership, led to the announcement in February 1962 that the group had abandoned violence. Nevertheless, Ireland continued to suffer occasional acts of terrorism. In 1966 Prime Minister Lemass resigned. The Fianna Fáil won the ensuing elections, and John Mary Lynch became prime minister. To reduce unemployment and increase exports, he tried to build up industry in order.

An increase of violence between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland was followed by IRA terrorist activity in the Irish Republic. In 1971 the Dáil banned the purchase or holding of arms for use outside Ireland. In 1972 the government required the surrender of all firearms.

Also in early 1972 Ireland signed a treaty joining the European Community, effective January 1, 1973,a move favored by 83 percent of the voters; and, by referendum, ended the special constitutional status of the Roman Catholic church.

Shifts in Power

Hoping to strengthen his party, Lynch called elections in February 1973. A coalition of the Fine Gael and Labour parties gained a slim majority, however, and Fine Gael leader Liam Cosgrave became prime minister. Fianna Fáil returned to power in a government headed by Lynch in 1977, in 1979 Lynch was replaced by Charles Haughey (1925- ).

In the late 1970s and early '80s the Irish government faced increased domestic terrorism by extremist Irish nationalists. Ireland also had a high rate of inflation and suffered some economic dislocation from membership in the European Community. Amid rising unemployment, elections were held in 1981, and the coalition government was led briefly by Garret FitzGerald (1926- ), head of Fine Gael. Inconclusive elections in February 1982 returned Haughey to power, but another election, in late 1982, brought FitzGerald back. In 1985 FitzGerald signed a pact with Great Britain giving the Irish Republic a consultative role in governing Northern Ireland. The collapse of the FitzGerald government in January 1987 led to new elections one month later. Haughey won a single-vote majority in the Dáil Éireann and became prime minister once again. FitzGerald subsequently resigned as Fine Gael leader. After inconclusive elections in June 1989, Haughey formed a new coalition government. In November 1990, Mary Robinson (1944- ), a feminist lawyer who ran with Labour and Workers' party backing, became the first woman ever to win election as president of Ireland. Haughey resigned as prime minister and leader of Fianna Fáil in early 1992, amid allegations of scandal; his former finance minister, Albert Reynolds (1932- ), was chosen to replace him. In June, Irish voters ratified a treaty strengthening political and monetary integration within the European Community.