The History of Ireland

At Wild N Happy, we believe in a one-to-one relationship with each of our guests. In order to make you feel “at home” even before you set foot on our green Irish shores, we would like to share with you the history of Ireland.

Like every country, Ireland too, has been shaped by its past. From the period of pre-Celtic to modern day, Ireland has evolved, but still retains its traditional values of ancient times and its respect for its unique environment. Outlined for you in chronological order is a brief history of Ireland’s good old days. Enjoy! 

The earliest signs of human life in Ireland date back from 7 500 B.C. During this era, the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, the first primitive settlers were hunter gatherers and fishermen.

The Neolithic or New Stone Age (3 500 B.C.) marked the start of a proper civilization with the concept of agriculture. The farming of crops and breeding of animals enabled people to become sedentary.

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Co. Clare

In the Bronze Age (2 000 B.C.) the use of stone was replaced by the skilled craftsmanship of different metals including gold. Then a period of renewal leading to the Iron Age (250 B.C.) during which a Celtic group, the Gaels, eventually reached the Irish shores. They had by A.C. 400 conquered the whole of Ireland and were about to dominate it for nearly a thousand years. 

Early Celtic Ireland was divided into 150 small and quite independent kingdoms, or clans (tuatha), each of them ruled by a king. The society was composed of no less than 27 social classes. They were the local King, lawyers, druids and poets being at the top of the scale. There was no all Ireland King until the 10th century, when the country was divided into five groups of tuatha: Ulaidh (Ulster), Laighin (Leinster), Mumhain (Munster) and Connacht (Connaught) and Midhe (Meath). The last one was merged with Leinster following the Norman invasion. The provinces represented the most influential Irish families and were named after them. 

Another major aspect of the history of Ireland was that it was never under Roman domination, and thus it established its own language, currency and rules.  It was a culture without a state.


It is s said that Christians were already present on the island in the early 5th century. It is at that time that Pope Celestine sent Bishop Palladius in A.D. 431 to ‘visit the Christians of Ireland’. 

Saint Patrick, who will play an important role in the the history of Ireland, was the first real missionary to spread the Gospel to pagans on the island. Originally from Britain, it is said that Patrick was captured by Irish pirates when he was about 16, and taken to Ireland. He escaped 6 years later and returned to Britain where he became a priest and a bishop. He then made the decision to go back to Ireland to pursue his mission.

Due to the absence of towns, the Church was represented by monasteries which were widely recognised for their educative and disciplinary virtues. The Book of Kells, a manuscript of the Four Gospels written by the monks and kept in Trinity College, is an artefact dating from that era. 


Statue of St Patrick beneath Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo

The Vikings first came to Ireland in A.D. 795 from Norway. They raided the coast and rivers, established settlements and started trading, which became a major part of the economy. 

The Vikings mastered the art of navigation, and attacked the main form of power within the island, monasteries. However, historically, it is viewed that they never achieved total control over Ireland. The battle of Clontarf in 1014 with Ireland’s last High King Brian Boru put an end to their power. 

However, Brian did not free Ireland from a Norse (Viking) occupation, simply because it was never conquered by the Vikings. In the last decade of the 8th century, Norse raiders began attacking targets in Ireland. And beginning in the mid-9th century, these raiders established the fortified camps that later grew into Ireland’s first cities. For example, Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, and Cork

Within only a few generations, the Norse citizens of these cities had converted to Christianity, intermarried with the Irish, and often adopted the Irish language, dress and customs. Therefore, becoming what historians refer to as the ‘Hiberno-Norse‘. Such Hiberno-Norse cities were fully integrated into the political scene in Ireland long before the birth of Brian. They often suffered attacks from Irish rulers, and made alliances with others. Rather than conquering Ireland, the Vikings, who initially attacked and subsequently settled in Ireland, were, in fact, assimilated by the Irish and became part of the history of Ireland.

Reginald’s Tower, built by the Vikings in 914. 

In 1169 MacMurrough, King of Leinster, asked the permission of King Henry II to hire Normans to re-conquer his lost territory. Ireland seemed like a promising land for the Norman expansion and so the King agreed on this invasion. The assault took place under Richard de Clare. 

It is noted in the history of Ireland, throughout the 13th century Normans conquered the vast majority of the land. In the mid-14th century the epidemic Black Death allowed the Gaelic resurgence to happen. Indeed the natives living in rural settlements were not affected as badly as English and Normans dwelling in villages and towns. The Norman power shrank to the Pale and the Liberties, respectively an area around Dublin ruled by the English Crown and territories ran by Norman magnates. 

The great Norman branches that were left were the Fitzgerald of Kildare and Desmond, and the Butlers of Ormond. During the 15th century, the English attention was caught by the Wars of Roses, the battle to access the English throne between York and Lancaster. The Earls of Kildare were the effective rulers of Ireland and allies of Henry VIII or Henry Tudor.

A constitutional and religious conflict took place under Henry VIII in the 16th Century. He first wanted to conquer and bring Ireland under control as it would not be a threat to England. Under his reign the country became a kingdom instead of a lordship and he was proclaimed King. 

The decision to divorce his wife and the refusal of the Pope to annul his marriage led him to create his own Church. Known as the Church of England, Henry VIII proclaimed himself head of it, dissolved the monasteries and obliged Gaelic land owners to give out their possessions to him.

The Plantations in the 16th and 17th centuries in Ireland played a major role in shaping the history of Ireland. They were the confiscation of land by the English crown and the colonisation of this land with settlers from England and the Scottish Lowlands. 

The 16th century plantations were established throughout the country by the confiscation of lands occupied by Gaelic clans and  Hiberno-Norman dynasties. These dynasties were principally in the provinces of Munster and Ulster. The lands were then granted by Crown authority to colonists (“planters”) from England. This process began during the reign of Henry VIII and continued under Mary I and Elizabeth I. It was accelerated under James I, Charles I and Oliver Cromwell and in their time the planters also came from Scotland.

In 1641, Catholics rebelled against Protestants settlers and persecuted around 12 000 Protestants in Ulster. This rebellion entangled with the English civil war. From 1642 to 1649, a Confederate Ireland ruled the country. In 1649, in Britain a parliamentary victory put an end to the English civil war and was followed by the execution of King Charles I. Among this victorious parliament Oliver Cromwell decided to reconquer Ireland and avenge the massacre of the Ulster Protestants.

By 1652, Cromwell had managed to control the whole of Ireland but through terrible acts of barbarism and cruelty. He confiscated all the remaining land owned by Catholics and the Cromwellian plantation lasted until the 20th century. 

The Plantations had a profound impact on Ireland in several ways. The present day partition of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is largely a result of the settlement patterns of the Plantations of the early 17th century. 

The Plantations also had a major cultural impact. Gaelic Irish culture was sidelined and English replaced Irish as the language of power and business. Although, by 1700, Irish remained the majority language in Ireland. English was the dominant language for use in Parliament, the courts, and trade. In the next two centuries it was to advance westwards across the country until Irish suddenly collapsed after the Great Famine of the 1840’s.

Finally, the plantations also radically altered Ireland’s ecology and physical appearance. In 1600, most of Ireland was heavily wooded, apart from the bogs. Most of the population lived in small townlands, many migrating seasonally to fresh pastures for their cattle. By 1700, Ireland’s native woodland had been decimated, having been intensively exploited by the new settlers for commercial ventures such as shipbuilding. Several native species such as the wolf had been hunted to extinction. Most of the settler population now lived in permanent towns or villages, although the Irish peasantry continued their traditional practices. 

King James II succeeded Charles II who did have an heir. His son in law William of Orange took over him by a coup d’état, forcing him to flee to Ireland where he was defeated again. 

The Battle of the Boyne in 1690 illustrated the Glorious revolution by William of Orange and opposing Williamites (Protestants) to Jacobites (Catholics). The victory was a pivotal point in the history of Ireland with the Protestant Ascendancy.       


Battle of the Boyne site, Co. Meath.


At the end of the 18th century, Ireland was ruled by a parliament held in Dublin castle under the control of Great Britain. It was a golden period in the history of Ireland for the Protestant Ascendancy (members of the Anglican Church) who owned most of the land acquired during the Plantation. It used the Penal laws to maintain its power and even though some were abolished after 1770, Catholics still protested against the tithes they had to pay to Anglican clergy. 

The influence of the French and American revolutions as well the rural poverty were all factors leading to the 1798 rising whose leadership was under Theobald Wolfe Tone. Tone was a lawyer from an Anglican family and he had always admired the principles of the French revolution and worked to improve laws for Catholic people. Disappointed with the reforms for Catholic people, he founded the United Irishmen and sought to take the lead of Catholic masses and give a national purpose to defeat the English power. The Rising of 1798 failed due to insufficient organisation and French help who arrived at Bantry Bay (County Cork). Wolfe Tone was later captured and killed himself rather than being executed. The consequence to this idealism of a republic, which later inspired other risings, is the Act of Union.

In response to the rebellion of 1798, the Act of Union commenced on the 1st January 1801. It made Ireland part of the Britain State and merged the two parliaments together leaving out the Irish legislature. A Lord Lieutenant and Chief Secretary of Ireland were respectively appointed by the King and Prime minister of Britain. A Test Act was also part of this act. This was meant to remove any remaining discrimination against Catholic, however, it was refused by George III willing to preserve the Protestant nature of the State. 

Daniel O’Connell, a significant figure in the history of Ireland, was a lawyer and a frustrated politician who was banned from the Parliament because of his religion. He founded the Catholic Association to bring Catholicism and Irish nationalism together. He was educated in France where the revolutionary events influenced his vision of politics. He mobilised Catholics through the Church and introduced them to politics. In 1829, the Catholic Relief Act allowed Catholic to sit in the Irish Parliament. 

The next step after Catholic emancipation was the repeal of the Act of the Union. For this, he founded the Repeal Association, but it did not succeed.

The Great Famine was a sad period in the history of Ireland with mass starvation, disease and emigration between 1845 and 1852. It is also known, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine or an Gorta Mór, meaning “the Great Hunger”.

The Irish dependence on the potato was immense and therefore when a potato blight appeared the overpopulated land ended up with a national Famine lasting for about 10 years. During which time it is estimated that over one million died and another million fled overseas. The U.S, Britain and Australia were the main destinations. It was exacerbated by a host of political, ethnic, religious, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate. 

The famine was a changing moment in the history of Ireland. It effected Ireland’s demographic, political and cultural landscape. For both the native Irish and those that emigrated, the famine would remain a painful memory. 

The famine strained the relations between many of the native Irish and the British establishment. It led to a heightening sense of Irish republicanism, which eventually led to Ireland gaining independence in the next century. 

Dunbrody Famine Ship, Co. Wexford

Members of the Repeal Association formed the Young Ireland movement. Two of its members James Stephens and John O’Mahony then founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858, whose nickname was the Fenians. With no successor to O’Connell they appeared as the descendants of republicanism. 

In the wake of the famine, the ‘land war’ started under the Irish National Land League which denounced the unfair Plantation. Leaders such as Charles Parnell and Davitt fought for the realization of the Fs. Fair rent, Free sale and Fixity of tenure. A series of land acts gave new rights to land settlement and ended the Cromwellian plantation. Parnell by a series of political stratagems brought up the question of Home Rule (self-government for Ireland) on the agenda of the British government. However, his involvement in a divorce scandal brutally put an end to his career.

The Famine participated in the decline of the Irish language with Irish speakers either dying or fleeing. The fall of Parnell coincided with what is called the cultural revival in literature, Gaelic language, and sports. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) promoted Irish sports among which the world famous Hurling and Gaelic football.

Hurling game

At the beginning of 20th century, the history of Ireland took a new direction. Still under rule from London since the Act of the Union in 1800,  the Irish members of the Parliament (MPs) sat in the House of Commons and House of Lords in Westminster. The Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) or Irish Volunteers led by John Redmond longed for the introduction of the Home Rule and self-government for Ireland. At that time the country was divided between nationalists such the IPP who wanted self-government with a Parliament in Dublin and the unionists like Ulster who were for keeping the system under British rule. 

In 1914, the Home Rule Act was passed but as war broke out it was suspended. To ensure the Home Rule after the war, Redmond asked Irish nationalists to support the British war. However, with his acceptance of the Home Rule, this declaration was seen as a betrayal by many. Consequently the Irish Volunteers separated into two groups. The National Volunteers following Redmond and the minority, the Irish Volunteers. 

The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed rising in Ireland during Easter week in 1916. The Rising was directed by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing an independent Irish Republic. It occurred  at a time when Britain was heavily involved in World War I. It was one of the most significant uprisings in the history of Ireland. 

It was organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It began on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, and lasted for six days. Members of the Irish Volunteers which were led by a schoolteacher and barrister called Patrick Pearse. It was also joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 members of Cumann na mBan. They seized key locations in Dublin and declared Ireland a republic, independent of the United Kingdom. 

The Rising was suppressed after six days of fighting, and its leaders were court-martialed and executed. However, it succeeded in bringing republicanism and the us of force back to the forefront of Irish politics. The support for republicanism continued to grow in Ireland especially as a result of the conscription crisis of 1918.  

Irish Republic Proclamation, 1916

In 1905, the creation of a nationalist party called Sinn Fein by Griffith went unnoticed but was to play an important role in the history of Ireland and its future. On 20th January 1919, it won the majority of MPs and elected its own assembly Dail Eireann. The war of independence started on the same day with the death of two policemen shot by members of the Irish Republican Army former Irish Volunteers.

There were two approaches to independence. A passive resistance by Sinn Fein and the guerrilla war campaign led by the IRA. The most famous act (later on interpreted in a song by the Irish group U2) is known as Bloody Sunday on 21st November 1920. British agents were killed by the IRA and the revengeful act took place in Croke Park on the same day during a football match killing 14 people.

In 1921, Griffith and Collins, the leaders of Sinn Fein formed the delegation which achieved the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It declared the status of Dominion of the Commonwealth of Nations for the Irish Free State. The Treaty also separated the Northern six counties which had the tightest link with Britain (the six counties from Ulster which were the most Protestant) from the rest of the country. The following year, Northern Ireland which had the choice to opt out of the Irish Free State to stay within the United Kingdom did so and thus creating a new chapter in the history of Ireland.

The Irish civil war illustrated the repression of those Anti-Treaty by those Pro-Treaty. In 1932 Eamon De Valera (anti-Treaty) led his new party Fianna Fail (in the tradition of O’Connell and Parnell) to the victory by peacefully being elected at the head of the country and showing that the conflicts had finally settled. 

The Irish Free State officially became the Republic of Ireland and gained its full independence in 1949.

During the 1960’s, a period of tensions and brutality between the Republic and Northern Ireland grew. Protestants in Northern Ireland always felt like a minority and in 1968 some reforms for civil rights were seen as unfair to them and as a sign of nationalism which they were against. The IRA posted itself as protector of the Catholics and started a campaign of attacks which was to last for about 25 years until the Good Friday agreement in 1998 signed by the two governments. From 1921 to 1972, Northern Ireland was governed by a unionist government based in Belfast. From 1972 to 1998, the Stormont government was replaced by an indirect government operated from London as the capital was judged unsafe. 

Because they depended on their trading structure, the Republic of Ireland had to wait until the United Kingdom was accepted in the European Economic Community in order to be able to join as well in 1973. 

From the 1990’s to 2007 the Republic of Ireland experienced an economic boom, a period in the history of Ireland of abundant growth and prosperity. It turned Ireland into a wealthy nation while Northern Ireland remained divided between two different communities both politically and religiously opposed.

However, the world and including Ireland suffered greatly from the global financial crash in 2008. Brought about by the collapse of the world’s banking system which played a significant role in the failure of key businesses and declines in consumer wealth. The housing market was severely hit and resulting in evictions, foreclosures and prolonged unemployment for the nation of Ireland. 

Today, Ireland has emerged from this financial crisis with a stronger economy that focuses on a wider range of industries that can strengthen its footing in case of future economic crisis.