The last Ice Age melted away some 10,000 years ago, and that dramatic event created the English Channel, Irish Sea and hundreds of rivers and lakes. Great Britain and Ireland (long attached to the European continent) were now islands, and cultural history was about to change.
The Celtic people occupied great stretches of land across central Europe by 500 BC. They first arrived in Ireland around 300 BC, subsequently controlling and influencing this land that the powerful Roman culture never reached.
The Pope in Rome (Celestinus the First) sent the first Christian missionaries to Ireland in the 5th century, including St. Patrick. The Catholic faith spread rapidly, and by the turn of the century abbeys and monasteries were beacons of hope across Ireland.
This somewhat peaceful Celtic world was first invaded by the Vikings in the late 8th century. Their overpowering raids of monasteries and villages continued through the 10th century, and they eventually built permanent power base settlements at Cork, Dublin and Waterford.
Localized fighting over land and property continued for decades, but over time, some Celtic family groups and Vikings reached alliances - sort of a workable, live together understanding. That ended when the Irish King Brian Boru defeated the Danish Vikings in 1014.
In 1169, aggressive English and Norman forces crossed the Irish Sea; Dublin (a Viking stronghold) and other cities quickly fell, and the all-powerful Pope (in Rome) declared that Henry II (the English King) was now the "Lord of Ireland." As you can imagine, that didn't sit very well with the locals.
Centuries of conflicts and localized wars continued, and finally, the embattled Irish chiefs were forced to retreat into the northern province of Ulster (parts of which are now Northern Ireland). By 1607, most, if not all, would flee this land and the English saw an opening.
They quickly instigated a policy called 'plantation,' where waves of Scottish and English Protestants literally took the available land from the now weakened Catholics, laying the groundwork for the strong differences and bitterness that remain to this day.
Understandably, the now angry and proud Celts rebelled, and bloody riots soon followed. Then, after the native Irish supported the losing side in England's Civil War, the worst for Ireland was yet to come.
In 1649, Oliver Cromwell, England's "Protestant" Lord Protector, (on the winning side in that war) led a punitive expedition into Ireland. The massacre was bloody, brutal and most destructive - and not yet forgotten.
As the English enforced strict (none of this, none of that) new laws on the Catholics, Protestant powers increased, and Ireland and its northern areas grew further apart, primarily for economic reasons.
After more than seven centuries of Anglo-Irish struggle, marked by fierce rebellions and harsh repressions, Ireland and Britain were on paper (politically united) in 1800 by the Act of Union, however, countrywide unrest was still on the front burner. Adding more misery to that smoldering fire, the Great Famine of the mid-1800's served up starvation and death, and mass emigration followed, especially to the United States.
The Home Rule movement of the late-1800's would be the catalyst for the separation of Northern Ireland from Ireland, because the southern Catholics desired total independence from the British, while northern Protestants feared rule by the Catholic majority.
On Easter Sunday, 1916, a group of approximately 2,500 Irish patriots, brave souls all, stood up to the English to form the Irish Republic. On Easter Monday, one of the leaders, Patrick Pearse, stood on the post office steps and read the 'Proclamation of the Republic.'
A few days later, following this so-called 'Easter Rising,' the 14 nationalist leaders that supported an independent Irish Republic were all court-martialed, then brutally shot (executed) at Dublin's Kilmainham Gaol (prison) by the British. Pictures of the prison and the execution site are here.
Those heroic men inspired the Irish population, and the Anglo-Irish War began. When that guerrilla warfare ended in 1921, a treaty was signed giving (26) Irish counties independence and permitted (6) Protestant counties (in Ulster) to fend for themselves. This act divided Ireland into two political entities, each with some powers of self-government. Though rejected by the Catholics, it was put into place, and thus the modern day geographic and political separations of Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland gained its independence from Britain in 1948; Northern Ireland, though independent in many ways, remains (today) under British governmental control. Ireland joined the United Nations in 1957, the European Economic Community (EU) in 1973, and began the process of modernizing its rural based economy.
In 1991, the economy exploded and Mary Robinson was elected the first female President of the Republic. International investment poured in, electronic firms built factories and the long-suffering job market improved.
Since joining the EU, Ireland's economy and employment numbers have fluctuated up and down, mostly down. Some blame the Euro's impact on the working class, while others take a wait-and-see attitude as the EU moves aggressively into the future.
In this country of infectious, get-up-and-dance music, warm pubs on most every corner, and friendly, outgoing people, the survival of the Republic of Ireland is a foregone conclusion.
There's a rich mixture of ancestry, culture and tradition in this land of the green (home of Saint Patrick and the Shamrock), and all visitors are welcome.