The Republic of Ireland (Poblacht na hÉireann), is a sovereign state in north-western Europe occupying about five-sixths of the island of Ireland. The capital and largest city is Dublin, which is located on the eastern part of the island, and whose metropolitan area is home to around a third of the country’s 4.75 million inhabitants. The state shares its only land border with Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. It is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the Celtic Sea to the south, Saint George’s Channel to the south-east, and the Irish Sea to the east. It is a unitary, parliamentary republic. The legislature, the Oireachtas, consists of a lower house, Dáil Éireann, an upper house, Seanad Éireann, and an elected President (Uachtarán) who serves as the largely ceremonial head of state, but with some important powers and duties. The head of government is the Taoiseach (Prime Minister, literally ‘Chief’, a title not used in English), who is elected by the Dáil and appointed by the President; the Taoiseach in turn appoints other government ministers.
The state was created as the Irish Free State in 1922 as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It had the status of dominion until 1937 when a new constitution was adopted, in which the state was named “Ireland” and effectively became a republic, with an elected non-executive president as head of state. It was officially declared a republic in 1949, following the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. Ireland became a member of the United Nations in December 1955. It joined the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor of the European Union, in 1973. The state had no formal relations with Northern Ireland for most of the twentieth century, but during the 1980s and 1990s the British and Irish governments worked with the Northern Ireland parties towards a resolution to “the Troubles”. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the Irish government and Northern Ireland Executive have co-operated on a number of policy areas under the North-South Ministerial Council created by the Agreement.
Ireland ranks among the top twenty-five wealthiest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita, and as the tenth most prosperous country in the world according to The Legatum Prosperity Index 2015. After joining the EEC, Ireland enacted a series of liberal economic policies that resulted in rapid economic growth. The country achieved considerable prosperity between the years of 1995 and 2007, which became known as the Celtic Tiger period. This was halted by an unprecedented financial crisis that began in 2008, in conjunction with the concurrent global economic crash. However, as the Irish economy was the fastest growing in the EU in 2015, Ireland is again quickly ascending league tables comparing wealth and prosperity internationally. For example, in 2015, Ireland was ranked as the joint sixth (with Germany) most developed country in the world by the United Nations Human Development Index. It also performs well in several national performance metrics, including freedom of the press, economic freedom and civil liberties. Ireland is a member of the European Union and is a founding member of the Council of Europe and the OECD. The Irish government has followed a policy of military neutrality through non-alignment since immediately prior to World War II and the country is consequently not a member of NATO, although it is a member in Partnership for Peace.
The 1922 state, comprising 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland, was “styled and known as the Irish Free State”. The Constitution of Ireland, adopted in 1937, provides that “the name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland”. Section 2 of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 states, “It is hereby declared that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland.” The 1948 Act does not name the state as “Republic of Ireland”, because to have done so would have put it in conflict with the Constitution. The government of the United Kingdom used the name “Eire” (without the diacritic), and, from 1949, “Republic of Ireland”, for the state; it was not until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that it used the name “Ireland”. As well as “Ireland”, “Éire” or “the Republic of Ireland”, the state is also referred to as “the Republic”, “Southern Ireland” or “the South”. In an Irish republican context it is often referred to as “the Free State” or “the 26 Counties”.
What is known of pre-Christian Ireland comes from references in Roman writings, Irish poetry and myth, and archaeology. While some possible Paleolithic tools have been found, none of the finds are convincing of Paleolithic settlement in Ireland. However a bear bone found in Alice and Gwendoline Cave, County Clare, in 1903 may push back dates for the earliest human settlement of Ireland to 10,500 BC. The bone shows clear signs of cut marks with stone tools, and has been radiocarbon dated to 12,500 years ago.
The earliest confirmed inhabitants of Ireland were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who arrived some time after 8000 BCE, when the climate had become more hospitable following the retreat of the polar icecaps (although remains thought to be from before 9000 BCE have been found at Kilgreany Cave in Munster). While some authors take the view that a land bridge connecting Ireland to Great Britain still existed at that time, more recent studies indicate that Ireland was separated from Britain by c. 14,000 BC, when the climate was still cold and local ice caps persisted in parts of the country. The people remained hunter-gatherers until about 6000 BCE.
It is argued this is when the world’s first signs of complex agriculture started to show with the discovery of the Céide Fields in Connacht, leading to the establishment of a high Neolithic culture, characterized by the appearance of pottery, polished stone tools, rectangular wooden houses and communal megalithic tombs. Some of these tombs, as at Knowth and Dowth, are huge stone monuments and many of them, such as the Passage Tombs of Newgrange, are astronomically aligned.
Four main types of Irish Megalithic Tombs have been identified: dolmens, court cairns, passage tombs and wedge-shaped gallery graves. In Leinster and Munster, individual adult males were buried in small stone structures, called cists, under earthen mounds and were accompanied by distinctive decorated pottery. This culture apparently prospered, and the island became more densely populated. Near the end of the Neolithic new types of monuments developed, such as circular embanked enclosures and timber, stone and post and pit circles.
The Bronze Age, which came to Ireland around 2000 BC, saw the production of elaborate gold and bronze ornaments, weapons and tools. There was a movement away from the construction of communal megalithic tombs to the burial of the dead in small stone cists or simple pits, which could be situated in cemeteries or in circular earth or stone built burial mounds known respectively as barrows and cairns. As the period progressed, inhumation burial gave way to cremation and by the Middle Bronze Age, remains were often placed beneath large burial urns.
The Iron Age in Ireland began about 600 BC. The period between the start of the Iron Age and the historic period (431 AD) saw the gradual infiltration of small groups of Celtic-speaking people into Ireland, with items of the continental Celtic La Tene style being found in at least the northern part of the island by about 300 BC. The result of a gradual blending of Celtic and indigenous cultures would result in the emergence of Gaelic culture by the fifth century. It is also during the fifth century that the main over-kingdoms of In Tuisceart, Airgialla, Ulaid, Mide, Laigin, Mumhain, Cóiced Ol nEchmacht began to emerge. Within these kingdoms a rich culture flourished. The society of these kingdoms was dominated by an upper class consisting of aristocratic warriors and learned people, which possibly included Druids.
Linguists realized from the seventeenth century onwards that the language spoken by these people, the Goidelic languages, was a branch of the Celtic languages. This is usually explained as a result of invasions by Celts from the continent. However, other research has postulated that the culture developed gradually and continuously, and that the introduction of Celtic language and elements of Celtic culture may have been a result of cultural exchange with Celtic groups in southwest continental Europe from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. The hypothesis that the native Late Bronze Age inhabitants gradually absorbed Celtic influences has since been supported by some recent genetic research.
The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia. Ptolemy, in 100 AD, recorded Ireland’s geography and tribes. Ireland was never a part of the Roman Empire, but Roman influence was often projected well beyond its borders. Tacitus writes that an exiled Irish prince was with Agricola in Roman Britain and would return to seize power in Ireland. Juvenal tells us that Roman “arms had been taken beyond the shores of Ireland”. In recent years, some experts have hypothesized that Roman-sponsored Gaelic forces (or perhaps even Roman regulars) mounted some kind of invasion around 100 AD, but the exact relationship between Rome and the dynasties and peoples of Hibernia remains unclear. Irish confederations (the Scoti) attacked and some settled in Britain during the Great Conspiracy of 367. In particular, the Dál Riata settled in western Scotland and the Western Isles.
The middle centuries of the first millennium AD marked great changes in Ireland. Politically, what appears to have been a prehistoric emphasis on tribal affiliation had been replaced by the 8th century by patrilineal dynasties ruling the island’s kingdoms. Many formerly powerful kingdoms and peoples disappeared. Irish pirates struck all over the coast of western Britain in the same way that the Vikings would later attack Ireland. Some of these founded entirely new kingdoms in Pictland and, to a lesser degree, in parts of Cornwall, Wales, and Cumbria. The Attacotti of south Leinster may even have served in the Roman military in the mid-to-late 300s.
Perhaps it was some of the latter returning home as rich mercenaries, merchants, or slaves stolen from Britain or Gaul, that first brought the Christian faith to Ireland. Some early sources claim that there were missionaries active in southern Ireland long before St. Patrick. Whatever the route, and there were probably many, this new faith was to have the most profound effect on the Irish.
Tradition maintains that in 432 AD, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. St Patrick’s Confession, in Latin, written by him is the earliest Irish historical document. It gives some information about the Saint. On the other hand, according to Prosper of Aquitaine, a contemporary chronicler, Palladius was sent to Ireland by the Pope in 431 as “first Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ”, which demonstrates that there were already Christians living in Ireland. Palladius seems to have worked purely as Bishop to Irish Christians in the Leinster and Meath kingdoms, while Patrick — who may have arrived as late as 461 AD — worked first and foremost as a missionary to the pagan Irish, in the more remote kingdoms in Ulster and Connacht.
Patrick is traditionally credited with preserving and codifying Irish laws and changing only those that conflicted with Christian practices. He is credited with introducing the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive oral literature. The historicity of these claims remains the subject of debate and there is no direct evidence linking Patrick with any of these accomplishments. The myth of Patrick, as scholars refer to it, was developed in the centuries after his death.
Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished shortly thereafter. Missionaries from Ireland to England and Continental Europe spread news of the flowering of learning, and scholars from other nations came to Irish monasteries. The excellence and isolation of these monasteries helped preserve Latin learning during the Early Middle Ages. The period of Insular art, mainly in the fields of illuminated manuscripts, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, the Ardagh Chalice, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island. Insular style was to be a crucial ingredient in the formation of the Romanesque and Gothic styles throughout Western Europe. Sites dating to this period include clochans, ringforts and promontory forts.
The first English involvement in Ireland took place in this period. In the summer of 684 AD an English expeditionary force sent by Northumbrian King Ecgfrith invaded Ireland. The English forces seized spoils and several captives, but they apparently did not stay in Ireland for long. The next English involvement in Ireland occurred some 500 years later, when the Normans invaded in 1169.
The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in 795 AD when Vikings from Norway looted the island. Early Viking raids were generally fast-paced and small in scale. These early raids interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture and marked the beginning of two centuries of intermittent warfare, with waves of Viking raiders plundering monasteries and towns throughout Ireland. Most of those early raiders came from western Norway.
The Vikings were expert sailors, who traveled in longships, and by the early 840s AD, had begun to establish settlements along the Irish coasts and to spend the winter months there. Vikings founded settlements in several places; most famously in Dublin. Written accounts from this time (early to mid 840s) show that the Vikings were moving further inland to attack (often using rivers) and then retreating to their coastal headquarters.
In 852 AD, the Vikings landed in Dublin Bay and established a fortress. After several generations a group of mixed Irish and Norse ethnic background arose, the Gall-Gaels, ‘(Gall being the Old Irish word for foreign).
In 902 AD, the Vikings were pushed out of Ireland by the Irish king Muirecán. The Vikings fled to Wales by ship, but would however later return to retake Dublin. However, the Vikings never achieved total domination of Ireland, often fighting for and against various Irish kings. The Battle of Clontarf in 1014 began the decline of Viking power in Ireland but the towns which Vikings had founded continued to flourish, and trade became an important part of the Irish economy.
By the twelfth century, Ireland was divided politically into a shifting hierarchy of petty kingdoms and over-kingdoms. Power was exercised by the heads of a few regional dynasties vying against each other for supremacy over the whole island. One of these men, King Diarmait Mac Murchada of Leinster was forcibly exiled by the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair of the Western kingdom of Connacht. Fleeing to Aquitaine, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry II to recruit Norman knights to regain his kingdom.
The first Norman knight landed in Ireland in 1167, followed by the main forces of Normans, Welsh and Flemings. Several counties were restored to the control of Diarmait, who named his son-in-law, the Norman Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow, heir to his kingdom. This troubled King Henry, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman state in Ireland. Accordingly, he resolved to establish his authority.
With the authority of the papal bull Laudabiliter from Adrian IV, Henry landed with a large fleet at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. Henry awarded his Irish territories to his younger son John with the title Dominus Hiberniae (“Lord of Ireland”). When John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King John of England, the “Lordship of Ireland” fell directly under the English Crown.
The Normans initially controlled the entire east coast, from Waterford to eastern Ulster, and penetrated a considerable distance inland as well. The counties were ruled by many smaller kings. The first Lord of Ireland was King John, who visited Ireland in 1185 and 1210 and helped consolidate the Norman-controlled areas, while ensuring that the many Irish kings swore fealty to him.
Throughout the thirteenth century the policy of the English Kings was to weaken the power of the Norman Lords in Ireland. For example, King John encouraged Hugh de Lacy to destabilise and then overthrow the Lord of Ulster, before naming him as the first Earl of Ulster. The Hiberno-Norman community suffered from a series of invasions that ceased the spread of their settlement and power. Politics and events in Gaelic Ireland served to draw the settlers deeper into the orbit of the Irish.
By 1261 the weakening of the Normans had become manifest when Fineen MacCarthy defeated a Norman army at the Battle of Callann. The war continued between the different lords and earls for about 100 years, causing much destruction, especially around Dublin. In this chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land that their families had lost since the conquest and held them after the war was over.
The Black Death arrived in Ireland in 1348. Because most of the English and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements. After it had passed, Gaelic Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again. The English-controlled territory shrank to a fortified area around Dublin (the Pale), and had little real authority outside (beyond the Pale).
By the end of the fifteenth century, central English authority in Ireland had almost disappeared. England’s attentions were diverted by the Wars of the Roses. The Lordship of Ireland lay in the hands of the powerful Fitzgerald Earl of Kildare, who dominated the country by means of military force and alliances with Irish lords and clans. Around the country, local Gaelic and Gaelicised lords expanded their powers at the expense of the English government in Dublin but the power of the Dublin government was seriously curtailed by the introduction of Poynings’ Law in 1494. According to this act the Irish Parliament was essentially put under the control of the Westminster Parliament.
From 1536, Henry VIII decided to conquer Ireland and bring it under crown control. The Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare, who had become the effective rulers of Ireland in the fifteenth century, had become unreliable allies of the Tudor monarchs. They had invited Burgundian troops into Dublin to crown the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as King of England in 1487. Again in 1536, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald went into open rebellion against the crown. Having put down this rebellion, Henry resolved to bring Ireland under English government control so the island would not become a base for future rebellions or foreign invasions of England. In 1541, he upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a full Kingdom. Henry was proclaimed King of Ireland at a meeting of the Irish Parliament that year. This was the first meeting of the Irish Parliament to be attended by the Gaelic Irish chieftains as well as the Hiberno-Norman aristocracy. With the institutions of government in place, the next step was to extend the control of the English Kingdom of Ireland over all of its claimed territory. This took nearly a century, with various English administrations either negotiating or fighting with the independent Irish and Old English lords. The Spanish Armada in Ireland suffered heavy losses during an extraordinary season of storms in the autumn of 1588. Among the survivors was Captain Francisco de Cuellar, who gave a remarkable account of his experiences on the run in Ireland.
The re-conquest was completed during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, after several brutal conflicts. After this point, the English authorities in Dublin established real control over Ireland for the first time, bringing a centralized government to the entire island, and successfully disarmed the native lordships. However, the English were not successful in converting the Catholic Irish to the Protestant religion and the brutal methods used by crown authority (including resorting to martial law) to bring the country under English control, heightened resentment of English rule.
From the mid-sixteenth to the early seventeenth century, crown governments carried out a policy of land confiscation and colonization known as Plantations. Scottish and English Protestant colonists were sent to the provinces of Munster, Ulster and the counties of Laois and Offaly. These Protestant settlers replaced the Irish Catholic landowners who were removed from their lands. These settlers formed the ruling class of future British appointed administrations in Ireland. Several Penal Laws, aimed at Catholics, Baptists and Presbyterians, were introduced to encourage conversion to the established (Anglican) Church of Ireland.
The seventeenth century was perhaps the bloodiest in Ireland’s history. Two periods of war (1641–53 and 1689–91) caused huge loss of life. The ultimate dispossession of most of the Irish Catholic landowning class was engineered, and recusants were subordinated under the Penal Laws.
During the seventeenth century, Ireland was convulsed by eleven years of warfare, beginning with the Rebellion of 1641, when Irish Catholics rebelled against the domination of English and Protestant settlers. The Catholic gentry briefly ruled the country as Confederate Ireland (1642–1649) against the background of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms until Oliver Cromwell reconquered Ireland in 1649–1653 on behalf of the English Commonwealth. Cromwell’s conquest was the most brutal phase of the war. By its close, up to a third of Ireland’s pre-war population was dead or in exile. As retribution for the rebellion of 1641, the better-quality remaining lands owned by Irish Catholics were confiscated and given to British settlers commenced. Several hundred remaining native landowners were transplanted to Connacht.
Ireland became the main battleground after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Catholic James II left London and the English Parliament replaced him with William of Orange. The wealthier Irish Catholics backed James to try to reverse the Penal Laws and land confiscations, whereas Protestants supported William and Mary in this ‘Glorious Revolution’ to preserve their property in the country. James and William fought for the Kingdom of Ireland in the Williamite War, most famously at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, where James’ outnumbered forces were defeated.
From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, Irish, English, Scots and Welsh prisoners were transported for forced labor in the Caribbean to work off their term of punishment. Even larger numbers came voluntarily as indentured servants. In the eighteenth century, they were sent to the American colonies, and in the early 19th century to Australia. The Irish were dehumanized by the English, described as “savages,” so making their displacement appear all the more justified. In 1654 the British parliament gave Oliver Cromwell a free hand to banish Irish “undesirables”. Cromwell rounded up Catholics throughout the Irish countryside and placed them on ships bound for the Caribbean, mainly the island of Barbados. By 1655, 12,000 political prisoners had been forcibly shipped to Barbados and into indentured servitude.
The majority of the people of Ireland were Catholic peasants; they were very poor and largely inert politically during the eighteenth century, as many of their leaders converted to Protestantism to avoid severe economic and political penalties. Nevertheless, there was a growing Catholic cultural awakening underway. There were two Protestant groups. The Presbyterians in Ulster in the North lived in much better economic conditions, but had virtually no political power. Power was held by a small group of Anglo-Irish families, who were loyal to the Anglican Church of Ireland. They owned the great bulk of the farmland, where the work was done by the Catholic peasants. Many of these families lived in England and were absentee landlords, whose loyalty was basically to England. The Anglo-Irish who lived in Ireland became increasingly identified as Irish nationalists, and were resentful of the English control of their island. Their spokesmen, such as Jonathan Swift and Edmund Burke, sought more local control.
Jacobite resistance in Ireland was finally ended after the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691. The Penal Laws that had been relaxed somewhat after the Restoration were reinforced more thoroughly after this war, as the infant Anglo-Irish Ascendency wanted to ensure that the Irish Roman Catholics would not be in a position to repeat their rebellions. Power was held by the 5% who were Protestants belonging to the Church of Ireland. They controlled all major sectors of the Irish economy, the bulk of the farmland, the legal system, local government and held strong majorities in both houses of the Irish Parliament. They strongly distrusted the Presbyterians in Ulster, and were convinced that the Catholics should have minimal rights. They did not have full political control because the government in London had superior authority and treated Ireland like a backward colony. When the American colonies revolted in the 1770s, the Ascendency wrested multiple concessions to strengthen its power. They did not seek independence because they knew they were heavily outnumbered and ultimately depended upon the British Army to guarantee their security.
Subsequent Irish antagonism toward England was aggravated by the economic situation of Ireland in the 18th century. Some absentee landlords managed their estates inefficiently, and food tended to be produced for export rather than for domestic consumption. Two very cold winters near the end of the Little Ice Age led directly to a famine between 1740 and 1741, which killed about 400,000 people and caused over 150,000 Irish to leave the island. In addition, Irish exports were reduced by the Navigation Acts from the 1660s, which placed tariffs on Irish products entering England, but exempted English goods from tariffs on entering Ireland. Despite this most of the 18th century was relatively peaceful in comparison with the preceding two centuries, and the population doubled to over four million.
By the eighteenth century, the Anglo-Irish ruling class had come to see Ireland, not England, as their native country. A Parliamentary faction led by Henry Grattan agitated for a more favorable trading relationship with Great Britain and for greater legislative independence for the Irish Parliament. However, reform in Ireland stalled over the more radical proposals toward enfranchising Irish Catholics. This was partially enabled in 1793, but Catholics could not yet become members of the Irish Parliament, or become government officials. Some were attracted to the more militant example of the French Revolution of 1789.
Presbyterians and Dissenters too faced persecution on a lesser scale, and in 1791 a group of dissident Protestant individuals, all of whom but two were Presbyterians, held the first meeting of what would become the Society of the United Irishmen. Originally they sought to reform the Irish Parliament which was controlled by those belonging to the state church; seek Catholic Emancipation; and help remove religion from politics. When their ideals seemed unattainable they became more determined to use force to overthrow British rule and found a non-sectarian republic. Their activity culminated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which was bloodily suppressed.
Ireland was a separate kingdom ruled by King George III of Britain; he set policy for Ireland through his appointment of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland or viceroy. In practice, the viceroys lived in England and the affairs in the island were largely controlled by an elite group of Irish Protestants known as “undertakers.” The system changed in 1767, with the appointment of An English politician who became a very strong Viceroy. George Townshend served 1767-72 and was in residence in The Castle in Dublin. Townsend had the strong support of both the King and the British cabinet in London, and all major decisions were basically made in London. The Ascendancy complained, and obtained a series of new laws in the 1780s that made the Irish Parliament effective and independent of the British Parliament, although still under the supervision of the king and his Privy Council.
Largely in response to the 1798 rebellion, Irish self-government was ended altogether by the provisions of the Acts of Union 1800 (which abolished the Irish Parliament of that era).
In 1800, following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the British and the Irish parliaments enacted the Acts of Union. The merger created a new political entity called United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with effect from January 1, 1801. Part of the agreement forming the basis of union was that the Test Act would be repealed to remove any remaining discrimination against Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists and other dissenter religions in the newly United Kingdom. However, King George III, invoking the provisions of the Act of Settlement 1701 controversially and adamantly blocked attempts by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Pitt resigned in protest, but his successor Henry Addington and his new cabinet failed to legislate to repeal or change the Test Act.
In 1823, an enterprising Catholic lawyer, Daniel O’Connell, known in Ireland as ‘The Liberator’ began an ultimately successful Irish campaign to achieve emancipation, and to be seated in the Parliament. This culminated in O’Connell’s successful election in the Clare by-election, which revived the parliamentary efforts at reform. The Catholic Relief Act 1829 was eventually approved by the UK parliament under the leadership of the Dublin-born Prime Minister, the Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. This indefatigable Anglo-Irish statesman, a former Chief Secretary for Ireland, and hero of the Napoleonic Wars, successfully guided the legislation through both houses of Parliament. By threatening to resign, he persuaded King George IV to sign the bill into law in 1829. The continuing obligation of Roman Catholics to fund the established Church of Ireland, however, led to the sporadic skirmishes of the Tithe War of 1831–38. The Church was disestablished by the Gladstone government in 1867. The continuing enactment of parliamentary reform during the ensuing administrations further extended the initially limited franchise. Daniel O’Connell M.P. later led the Repeal Association in an unsuccessful campaign to undo the Act of Union 1800.
Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland when the world’s first postage stamps were issued in 1840. These stamps, and all subsequent British issues, were used in Ireland until the new Irish Government assumed power in 1922. To identify postage stamps used in Ireland between 1840 and 1922, it is necessary to identify the postmark canceling the stamp as being from an Irish town. Stamps used during this period are referred to as Great Britain used in Ireland.
From 1840 to 1844, the Penny Black, and other stamps issued, were obliterated with the Maltese Cross cancellation. There was no text or numeral to help identify any of these cancels as Irish, but some Maltese Crosses are uniquely identifiable with certain Irish towns, including Belfast, Eyrecourt, Cork, Hollymount, Limerick and Mullingar. From 1844 on, the cancels used included text or numerals that identified the post town. Cancels of both types are easier to identify if the stamp is still affixed to a cover, since this makes the complete postmark visible, but a stamp no longer affixed to a cover may still permit identification of the town of use if enough of the postmark can be seen on the stamp itself.
The second of Ireland’s “Great Famines”, An Gorta Mór struck the country during 1845–49, with potato blight, exacerbated by the political factors of the time leading to mass starvation and emigration. The impact of emigration in Ireland was severe; the population dropped from over 8 million before the Famine to 4.4 million in 1911. Gaelic or Irish, once the island’s spoken language, declined in use sharply in the nineteenth century as a result of the Famine and the creation of the National School education system, as well as hostility to the language from leading Irish politicians of the time; it was largely replaced by English.
Outside mainstream nationalism, a series of violent rebellions by Irish republicans took place in 1803, under Robert Emmet; in 1848 a rebellion by the Young Irelanders, most prominent among them, Thomas Francis Meagher; and in 1867, another insurrection by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. All failed, but physical force nationalism remained an undercurrent in the nineteenth century.
The late nineteenth century witnessed major land reform, spearheaded by the Land League under Michael Davitt demanding what became known as the 3 Fs; Fair rent, free sale, fixity of tenure. Parliament passed laws in 1870, 1881, 1903 and 1909 that enabled most tenant farmers to purchase their lands, and lowered the rents of the others. From 1870 and as a result of the Land War agitations and subsequent Plan of Campaign of the 1880s, various British governments introduced a series of Irish Land Acts. William O’Brien played a leading role in the 1902 Land Conference to pave the way for the most advanced social legislation in Ireland since the Union, the Wyndham Land Purchase Act of 1903. This Act set the conditions for the break-up of large estates and gradually devolved to rural landholders, and tenants’ ownership of the lands. It effectively ended the era of the absentee landlord, finally resolving the Irish Land Question.
In the 1870s the issue of Irish self-government again became a major focus of debate under Charles Stewart Parnell, founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Prime Minister Gladstone made two unsuccessful attempts to pass Home Rule in 1886 and 1893. Parnell’s leadership ended when he was implicated in a divorce scandal that gained international publicity in 1890. He had been secretly living for years with Katherine O’Shea, the long-separated wife of a fellow Irish MP. Disaster came quickly: Gladstone and the Liberal Party refused to cooperate with him; his party split; the Irish Catholic bishops led the successful effort to crush his minority faction at by-elections. Parnell fought for control to the end, but his body was collapsing and he died in 1891 at age 45.
After the introduction of the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 which broke the power of the landlord-dominated “Grand Juries”, passing for the first time democratic control of local affairs into the hands of the people through elected Local County Councils, the debate over full Home Rule led to tensions between Irish nationalists and Irish unionists (those who favored maintenance of the Union). Most of the island was predominantly nationalist, Catholic and agrarian. The northeast, however, was predominantly unionist, Protestant and industrialized. Unionists feared a loss of political power and economic wealth in a predominantly rural, nationalist, Catholic home-rule state. Nationalists believed they would remain economically and politically second-class citizens without self-government. Out of this division, two opposing sectarian movements evolved, the Protestant Orange Order and the Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Home Rule became certain when in 1910 the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) under John Redmond held the balance of power in Commons and the third Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1912. Unionist resistance was immediate with the formation of the Ulster Volunteers. In turn, the Irish Volunteers were established to oppose them and enforce the introduction of self-government.
In September 1914, just as the First World War broke out, the U.K. Parliament passed the Third Home Rule Act to establish self-government for Ireland, but was suspended for the duration of the war. To ensure implementation of Home Rule after the war, nationalist leaders and the IPP under Redmond supported with Ireland’s participation in the British and Allied war effort under the Triple Entente against the expansion of Central Powers. The core of the Irish Volunteers were against this decision, but the majority left to form the National Volunteers who enlisted in Irish regiments of the New British Army, the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions, their Northern counterparts in the 36th (Ulster) Division. Before the war ended, Britain made two concerted efforts to implement Home Rule, one in May 1916 and again with the Irish Convention during 1917–1918, but the Irish sides (Nationalist, Unionist) were unable to agree to terms for the temporary or permanent exclusion of Ulster from its provisions.
The period 1916–1921 was marked by political violence and upheaval, ending in the partition of Ireland and independence for 26 of its 32 counties. A failed militant attempt was made to gain separate independence for Ireland with the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection in Dublin. Though support for the insurgents was small, the violence used in its suppression led to a swing in support of the rebels. In addition, the unprecedented threat of Irishmen being conscripted to the British Army in 1918 for service on the Western Front as a result of the German Spring Offensive accelerated this change. In the December 1918 elections, Sinn Féin, the party of the rebels, won three-quarters of all seats in Ireland, twenty-seven MPs of which assembled in Dublin on January 21, 1919, to form a 32-county Irish Republic Parliament, the first Dáil Éireann unilaterally declaring sovereignty over the entire island.
Unwilling to negotiate any understanding with Britain short of complete independence, the Irish Republican Army, the army of the newly declared Irish Republic, waged a guerilla war (the Irish War of Independence) from 1919 to 1921. In the course of the fighting and amid much acrimony, the Fourth Government of Ireland Act 1920 implemented Home Rule while separating the island into what the British government’s Act termed “Northern Ireland” and “Southern Ireland”. In July 1921, the Irish and British governments agreed to a truce that halted the war. In December 1921, representatives of both governments signed an Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Irish delegation was led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. This abolished the Irish Republic and created the Irish Free State, a self-governing Dominion of the Commonwealth of Nations in the manner of Canada and Australia. Under the Treaty, Northern Ireland could opt out of the Free State and stay within the United Kingdom: it promptly did so. In 1922, both parliaments ratified the Treaty, formalizing independence for the 26-county Irish Free State (which renamed itself Ireland in 1937, and declared itself a republic in 1949); while the six-county Northern Ireland, gaining Home Rule for itself, remained part of the United Kingdom. For most of the next 75 years, each territory was strongly aligned to either Catholic or Protestant ideologies, although this was more marked in the six counties of Northern Ireland.
The treaty to sever the Union divided the republican movement into anti-Treaty (who wanted to fight on until an Irish Republic was achieved) and pro-Treaty supporters (who accepted the Free State as a first step towards full independence and unity). Between 1922 and 1923, both sides fought the bloody Irish Civil War. The new Irish Free State government defeated the anti-Treaty remnant of the Irish Republican Army, imposing multiple executions. This division among nationalists still colors Irish politics today, specifically between the two leading Irish political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Beginning on February 17, 1922, existing British stamps were overprinted with Irish text to provide some definitives until separate Irish issues became available. Three printing firms held overprinting contracts: Dollard Printing House Ltd., Alex. Thom & Co Ltd., and Harrison & Sons. In June 1925, the Government Printers, Dublin Castle, obtained the contract and completed all overprinting until 1937, when the final, high-value stamps were issued.
Collecting and identifying the overprints can be an arduous task as there are numerous variations in the overprint settings. Feldman states “the complex details of plating, shading, overprint colors, accurate measurements, to mention a few, often discourage even the most enthusiastic collector”. Three specialized books, or catalogue chapters, (Freeman & Stubbs, Munk and Meredith), issued within five years of issue have concentrated on this topic and Meredith is regarded as unequaled.
Two distinct overprints were made, before and after the formal independence of the state on December 6, 1922. The Provisional Government of Ireland (Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann) overprints were initially issued on February 17, 1922, with eight low-value and three high-value stamps overprinted by Dollard and four by Thom. This overprint is composed of the four words Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann and the numeral date 1922 arranged in five lines of seriffed text. The unoverprinted stamps remained valid for postage in Ireland until March 31, 1922.
The Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) overprints debuted on December 11, 1922. This is a three-line overprint using a sans-serif typeface and was done by Thom, Harrison and the Government Printers. The last overprinted stamps were the Waterlow & Sons re-engraved King George V 2/6, 5/- and 10/- values that appeared in 1934 and were overprinted in 1937 for use in Ireland.
Following the overprints, a regular series of definitive stamps was produced by the new Department of Posts and Telegraphs, using domestic designs. These definitives were issued starting on December 6, 1922; the first was a 2-pence stamp, depicting a map of Ireland (including Northern Ireland, which remained a part of the United Kingdom). The first twelve stamps, the low values up to 1 shilling, were issued during 1922–1923, while the three high values, 2/6, 5/- and 10/-, did not appear until September 8, 1937. Designs included: Sword of Light, Map of Ireland, Celtic Cross, Arms of the Four Provinces and St. Patrick. Watermark and extra values were made until new designs, known as the Gerl definitives, using early Irish art motifs, were produced in 1968.
Commemorative stamps first appeared in 1929, and these now appear several times a year, celebrating many aspects of Irish life, such as notable events and anniversaries, Irish life and culture, and many famous Irish people. Some definitive and commemorative stamps have been produced in miniature sheet, booklet and coil configurations in addition to the common sheet layout. Postage dues and airmails complete the stamp issues of the two, sequential, Irish stamp-issuing authorities. Two styles of watermark were used though the overprinted issues came with the watermarks of the British stamps provided for overprinting by the British Post Office.
The new Irish Free State (1922–37) existed against the backdrop of the growth of dictatorships in mainland Europe and a major world economic downturn in 1929. In contrast with many contemporary European states it remained a democracy. Testament to this came when the losing faction in the Irish civil war, Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil, was able to take power peacefully by winning the 1932 general election. Nevertheless, until the mid-1930s, considerable parts of Irish society saw the Free State through the prism of the civil war, as a repressive, British-imposed state. It was only the peaceful change of government in 1932 that signaled the final acceptance of the Free State on their part. In contrast to many other states in the period, the Free State remained financially solvent as a result of low government expenditure, despite the Economic War with Britain. However, unemployment and emigration were high. The population declined to a low of 2.7 million recorded in the 1961 census.
The Roman Catholic Church had a powerful influence over the Irish state for much of its history. The clergy’s influence meant that the Irish state had very conservative social policies, forbidding, for example, divorce, contraception, abortion, pornography as well as encouraging the censoring and banning of many books and films. In addition the Church largely controlled the State’s hospitals, schools and remained the largest provider of many other social services.
With the partition of Ireland in 1922, 92.6% of the Free State’s population were Catholic while 7.4% were Protestant. By the 1960s the Protestant population had fallen by half. Although emigration was high among all the population, due to a lack of economic opportunity, the rate of Protestant emigration was disproportionate in this period. Many Protestants left the country in the early 1920s, either because they felt unwelcome in a predominantly Catholic and nationalist state, because they were afraid due to the burning of Protestant homes (particularly of the old landed class) by republicans during the civil war, because they regarded themselves as British and did not wish to live in an independent Irish state, or because of the economic disruption caused by the recent violence. The Catholic Church had also issued a decree, known as Ne Temere, whereby the children of marriages between Catholics and Protestants had to be brought up as Catholics. From 1945, the emigration rate of Protestants fell and they became less likely to emigrate than Catholics.
In 1937, a new Constitution re-established the state as Ireland (or Éire in Irish). The state remained neutral throughout World War II, which saved it from much of the horrors of the war, although tens of thousands volunteered to serve in the British forces. Ireland was also impacted by food rationing, and coal shortages; peat production became a priority during this time. Though nominally neutral, recent studies have suggested a far greater level of involvement by the South with the Allies than was realized, with D Day’s date set on the basis of secret weather information on Atlantic storms supplied by Ireland.
In 1949, the state was formally declared a republic and it left the British Commonwealth.
In the 1960s, Ireland underwent a major economic change under reforming Taoiseach (prime minister) Seán Lemass and Secretary of the Department of Finance T.K. Whitaker, who produced a series of economic plans. Free second-level education was introduced by Donogh O’Malley as Minister for Education in 1968. From the early 1960s, Ireland sought admission to the European Economic Community but, because 90% of exports were to the United Kingdom market, it did not do so until the UK did, in 1973.
Global economic problems in the 1970s, augmented by a set of misjudged economic policies followed by governments, including that of Taoiseach Jack Lynch, caused the Irish economy to stagnate. The Troubles in Northern Ireland discouraged foreign investment. Devaluation was enabled when the Irish Pound, or Punt, was established as a separate currency in 1979, breaking the link with the UK’s sterling. However, economic reforms in the late 1980s, helped by investment from the European Community, led to the emergence of one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, with mass immigration (particularly of people from Asia and Eastern Europe) as a feature of the late 1990s. This period came to be known as the Celtic Tiger and was focused on as a model for economic development in the former Eastern Bloc states, which entered the European Union in the early 2000s (decade). Property values had risen by a factor of between four and ten between 1993 and 2006, in part fueling the boom.
Irish society adopted relatively liberal social policies during this period. Divorce was legalized, homosexuality decriminalized, and abortion in limited cases was allowed by the Irish Supreme Court in the X Case legal judgment. Major scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, both sexual and financial, coincided with a widespread decline in religious practice, with weekly attendance at Roman Catholic Mass dropping by half in twenty years. A series of tribunals set up from the 1990s have investigated alleged malpractices by politicians, the Catholic clergy, judges, hospitals and the Gardaí (police).
Ireland’s new-found prosperity ended abruptly in 2008 when the banking system collapsed due to the Irish property bubble bursting. Some 25-26% of GDP was needed to bail out failing Irish banks and force banking sector consolidation. This was the largest banking bailout for any country in history, in comparison only 7–8% of GDP was needed to bail out failing Finnish banks in its banking crisis in the 1990s. This resulted in a major financial and political crisis as Ireland entered a recession. Emigration rose to 1989 levels as the unemployment rate rose from 4.2% in 2007 to reach 14.6% as of February 2012.
However, since 2014, Ireland has seen strong economic growth, dubbed as the “Celtic Phoenix”.
In the Northern Ireland question, the British and Irish governments started to seek a peaceful resolution to the violent conflict involving many paramilitaries and the British Army in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles”. A peace settlement for Northern Ireland, known as the Good Friday Agreement, was approved in 1998 in referendums north and south of the border. As part of the peace settlement, the territorial claim to Northern Ireland in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland was removed by referendum. In its white paper on Brexit the United Kingdom government reiterated its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. With regard to Northern Ireland’s status, it said that the UK Government’s “clearly-stated preference is to retain Northern Ireland’s current constitutional position: as part of the UK, but with strong links to Ireland”.
Scott #65 was released on April 20, 1923, the lowest value in the initial set of unoverprinted Irish Free State definitive stamps. Printed using typography by the Government Printing Works in Dublin using plates made by the Royal Mint in London, the ½-penny emerald stamp is perforated 15×14 on paper bearing an “Es” watermark. Designed by J. J. O’Reilly, the stamp depicts Claidheamh Soluis which is rendered “Sword of Light”, or “Shining Sword”, or “a white glaive of light” in English. This is a trope object that appears in a number of Irish and Scottish Gaelic folktales. The sword has been regarded as a legacy to the god-slaying weapons of Irish mythology by certain scholars, such as T. F. O’Rahilly: the anologue in the Irish Mythological Cycle being Lugh’s sling that felled Balor, and their counterparts in heroic cycles are many, including the popular hero Cúchullain’s supernatural spear Gae bulga and his shining sword Cruaidín Catutchenn. A group of Sword of Light tales bear close resemblance in plot structure and detail to the Arthurian tale of Arthur and Gorlagon.
The folk tales featuring the claidheamh soluis typically compels the hero to perform (three) sets of tasks, aided by helpers, who may be a servant woman, “helpful animal companions”, or some other supernatural being. The majority of are also bridal quests (or involve the winning of husbands in e.g., Maol a Chliobain).
The sword’s keeper is usually a giant (gruagach, fermór) or hag (cailleach), who oftentimes cannot be defeated except by some secret means. Thus the hero or helper may resort to the sword of light as the only effective weapon against this enemy. Often the sword is not enough, and the supernatural enemy has to be attacked on a single vulnerable spot on his body. The weak spot, moreover, may be an external soul concealed somewhere in the world at large (inside animals, etc.), and in the case of “The Young King of Esaidh Ruadh”, this soul is encased within a nested series of animals. The crucial secret to the hero’s success is typically revealed by a woman, i.e., his would-be bride or the damsel in distress (the woman servant held captive by giants), etc. And even when the secret’s revealant is an animal, she may in fact be a human transformed into beast (e.g. the great grey cat in “The Widow and her Daughters”).