The country has become firmly associated with green fields covered with clover, lonely megaliths, and castles haunted by ghosts. The island lies to the west of Britain; the distance can be crossed via a short ferry ride. The histories of these two countries are interwoven but are very different. Modern Ireland seems to be distant from the international events that shape the face of the contemporary world, but the country’s history is turbulent and filled with fate-defining moments. So what do we know about the history of the Emerald Island?
In the first centuries AD the boundaries of the Roman world spread westwards. Though most the territories of modern-day Britain came under imperial rule, the Roman legions never reached Ireland. The island’s Iron Age was destined to continue for several more centuries. Throughout the Antiquity the island was divided into a number of clans, each ruled by a chieftain. An important year in the island’s history was 432 AD. That year St Patrick arrived on the island and the local population adopted Roman Catholicism, which has been playing an important role in Irish society since then. Nevertheless, a centralised state did not arise on the island during the medieval period. The Middle Ages broke the island’s isolation. Viking raids were a common in the ninth century, and the Norse were able to found colonies on the eastern and southern coasts of the island. The local clans resisted and ultimately managed to stop the Norse expansion. However, the Irish were unable to repel the Anglo-Norman forces that came to the island in the late twelfth century.
The resistance to the invasion was fierce, and it took England four centuries to subdue the island. Still, the last resisting chieftains had been defeated by 1607, and the country remained under foreign rule for 300 years. This period saw numerous uprisings that were crushed by the authorities, restrictions on use of the Irish language, the Great Irish Famine, and territorial changes that resulted in Ulster becoming a separate administrative area. Nevertheless, the eighteenth and nineteenth century was a time of Ireland’s cultural renaissance, and a number of famous writers of the British Empire were in fact Irish. Among them were Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Bernard Shaw.
The situation changed in the twentieth century. Ireland was granted Dominion status and became known as the Irish Free State in 1922. Full independence was achieved in 1937.