Ireland (; Irish: Éire ; Ulster Scots: Airlann) is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island in the world. It lies to the northwest of continental Europe and is surrounded by hundreds of islands and islets. To the east of Ireland is Great Britain, separated from it by the Irish Sea. The island is divided between the Republic of Ireland, which covers just under five-sixths of the island, and Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, which covers the remainder and is located in the northeast of the island. The population of Ireland is approximately 6.2 million people. Just under 4.5 million live in the Republic of Ireland and just under 1.8 million live in Northern Ireland.
Relatively low-lying mountains surrounding a central plain epitomise Ireland's geography with several navigable rivers extending inland. The island has lush vegetation, a product of its mild but changeable oceanic climate, which avoids extremes in temperature. Thick woodlands covered the island until the 17th century. Today, it is the most deforested area in Europe. There are twenty-six extant mammal species native to Ireland.
A Norman invasion in the Middle Ages gave way to a Gaelic Resurgence in the 13th century. Over sixty years of intermittent warfare in the 1500s led to English dominion after 1603. In the 1690s, a system of Protestant English rule was designed to materially disadvantage the Catholic majority and Protestant dissenters, and was extended during the 18th century. In 1801, Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom. A war of independence in the early 20th century led to the partition of the island, creating the Irish Free State, which became increasingly sovereign over the following decades. Northern Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom and saw much civil unrest from the late 1960s until the 1990s. This subsided following a political agreement in 1998. In 1973, both parts of Ireland joined the European Community.
Irish culture has had a significant influence on other cultures, particularly in the fields of literature and, to a lesser degree, science and education. A strong Irish culture exists, as expressed for example through Gaelic games, Irish music and the Irish language, alongside a common Western culture, such as contemporary music and drama, and sports such as soccer, rugby and golf, and the English language.
Most of Ireland was covered with ice until the end of the last ice age over 9,000 years ago. Sea-levels were lower and Ireland, like Great Britain, was part of continental Europe. Mesolithic stone age inhabitants arrived some time after 8,000 BC and agriculture followed with the Neolithic Age around 4,500 to 4,000 BC when sheep, goats, cattle and cereals were imported from the Iberian peninsula.
At the Céide Fields, preserved beneath a blanket of peat in present-day County Mayo, is an extensive field system, arguably the oldest in the world, dating from not long after this period. Consisting of small divisions separated by dry-stone walls, the fields were farmed for several centuries between 3,500 and 3,000 BC. Wheat and barley were the principal crops.
The Bronze Age – defined by the use of metal – began around 2,500 BC, with technology changing people's everyday lives during this period through innovations such as the wheel, harnessing oxen, weaving textiles, brewing alcohol, and skillful metalworking, which produced new weapons and tools, along with fine gold decoration and jewellery, such as brooches and torcs. According to John T. Koch and others, Ireland in the Late Bronze Age was part of a maritime trading-networked culture called the Atlantic Bronze Age that also included Britain, France, Spain and Portugal where Celtic languages developed.
The Iron Age in Ireland is traditionally associated with people known as the Celts. The Celts were commonly thought to have colonised Ireland in a series of invasions between the 8th and 1st centuries BC. The Gaels, the last wave of Celts, were said to have divided the island into five or more kingdoms after conquering it. However, some academics favour a theory that emphasises the diffusion of culture from overseas as opposed to a military colonisation. Finds such as Clonycavan Man are given as evidence for this theory.
The earliest written records of Ireland come from classical Greco-Roman geographers. Ptolemy in his Almagest refers to Ireland as Mikra Brettania (Lesser Britain), in contrast to the larger island, which he called Megale Brettania (Great Britain). In his later work, Geography, Ptolemy refers to Ireland as Iwernia and to Great Britain as Albion. These "new" names were likely to have been the Celtic names for the islands at the time. The earlier names, in contrast, were likely to have been coined before direct contact with local peoples were made.
The Romans would later refer to Ireland by this name too in its Latinised form, Hibernia, or Scotia. Ptolemy records sixteen tribes inhabiting every part of Ireland in 100 AD. The relationship between the Roman Empire and the tribes of ancient Ireland is unclear. However, a number of finds of Roman coins have been found, for example at New Grange.
Ireland continued as a patchwork of rival tribes but, beginning in the 7th century AD, a concept of national kingship gradually became articulated through the concept of a High King of Ireland. Medieval Irish literature portrays an almost unbroken sequence of High Kings stretching back thousands of years but modern historians believe the scheme was constructed in the 8th century to justify the status of powerful political groupings by projecting the origins of their rule into the remote past.
The High King was said to preside over the patchwork of provincial kingdoms that together formed Ireland. Each of these kingdoms had their own kings but were at least nominally subject to the High King. The High King was drawn from the ranks of the provincial kings and ruled also the royal kingdom of Meath, with a ceremonial capital at the Hill of Tara. The concept only became a political reality in the Viking Age and even then was not a consistent one. However, Ireland did have a unifying rule of law: the early written judicial system, the Brehon Laws, administered by a professional class of jurists known as the brehons.
The Chronicle of Ireland records that in 431 AD Bishop Palladius arrived in Ireland on a mission from Pope Celestine I to minister to the Irish "already believing in Christ." The same chronicle records that Saint Patrick, Ireland's best known patron saint, arrived the following year. There is continued debate over the missions of Palladius and Patrick but consensus that they both took place and certainty that the older druid tradition collapsed in the face of the new religion. Irish Christian scholars excelled in the study of Latin and Greek learning and Christian theology. In the monastic culture that followed the Christianisation of Ireland, Latin and Greek learning was preserved in Ireland during the Early Middle Ages in contrast to elsewhere in Europe, where the Dark Ages followed the decline of the Roman Empire.
The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking and sculpture flourished and produced treasures such as the Book of Kells, ornate jewellery and the many carved stone crosses that still dot the island today. A mission founded in 563 on Iona by the Irish monk Saint Columba began a tradition of Irish missionary work that spread Christianity and learning to Scotland, England and the Frankish Empire on Continental Europe after the fall of Rome. These missions continued until the late middle ages, establishing monasteries and centres of learning, producing scholars such as Sedulius Scottus and Johannes Eriugena and exerting much influence in Europe.
On May 1, 1169, an expedition of Cambro-Norman knights with an army of about six hundred landed at Bannow Strand in present-day County Wexford. It was led by Richard de Clare, called Strongbow due to his prowess as an archer. The invasion, which coincided with a period of renewed Norman expansion, was at the invitation of Dermot Mac Murrough, king of Leinster.
In 1166, Mac Morrough had fled to Anjou, France following a war involving Tighearnán Ua Ruairc, of Breifne, and sought the assistance of the Angevin king, Henry II, in recapturing his kingdom. In 1171, Henry arrived in Ireland in order to review the general progress of the expedition. He wanted to re-exert royal authority over the invasion which was expanding beyond his control. Henry successfully re-imposed his authority over Strongbow and the Cambro-Norman warlords and persuaded many of the Irish kings to accept him as their overlord, an arrangement confirmed in the 1175 Treaty of Windsor.
The invasion was legitimised by the provisions of the Papal Bull Laudabiliter, issued by Adrian IV in 1155. The bull encouraged Henry to take control in Ireland in order to oversee the financial and administrative reorganisation of the Irish Church and its integration into the Roman Church system. Some restructuring had already begun at the ecclesiastical level since the Synod of Kells in 1152. There has been some controversy over the bull, but its authenticity is now generally accepted. It granted Henry dominion over Ireland in the name of the papacy.
In 1172, the new pope, Alexander III, further encouraged Henry to advance the integration of the Irish Church with Rome. Henry was authorised to impose a tithe of one penny per hearth as an annual contribution. This church levy, called Peter's Pence, is still extant in Ireland as a voluntary donation. In turn, Henry accepted the title of Lord of Ireland which Henry conferred on his younger son, John Lackland, in 1185. This defined the Irish state as the Lordship of Ireland. When Henry's successor died unexpectedly in 1199, John inherited the crown of England and retained the Lordship of Ireland.
Over the century that followed, Norman feudal law gradually replaced the Gaelic Brehon Law so that by the late 13th century the Norman-Irish had established a feudal system throughout much of Ireland. Norman settlements were characterised by the establishment of baronies, manors, towns and the seeds of the modern county system. A version of the Magna Carta (the Great Charter of Ireland), substituting Dublin for London and Irish Church for Church of England, was published in 1216 and the Parliament of Ireland was founded in 1297.
However, from the mid-14th century, after the Black Death, Norman settlements in Ireland went into a period of decline. The Norman rulers and the Gaelic Irish elites intermarried and the areas under Norman rule became Gaelicised. In some parts, a hybrid Hiberno-Norman culture emerged. In response, the Irish parliament passed the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1367. These were a set of laws designed to prevent the assimilation of the Normans into Irish society by requiring English subjects in Ireland to speak English, follow English customs and abide by English law. However, by the end of the 15th century central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared and a renewed Irish culture and language, albeit with Norman influences, was dominant again. English Crown control remained relatively unshaken in an amorphous foothold around Dublin known as The Pale and under the provisions of Poynings' Law of 1494, the Irish Parliamentary legislation was subject to the approval of the English Parliament.
English rule of law was reinforced and expanded, in the 16th century leading to the Tudor conquest of Ireland. A near complete conquest was achieved by the turn of the 17th century following the Nine Years' War and the Flight of the Earls. This control was further consolidated during the wars and conflicts of the 17th century, which witnessed English and Scottish colonisation in the Plantations of Ireland, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the Williamite War. Irish losses during the Wars of the three Kingdoms (which, in Ireland, included the Irish Confederacy and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland) are estimated to include 20,000 battlefield casualties. 200,000 civilians are estimated to have died as a result of a combination of war-related famine, displacement, guerilla activity and pestilence over the duration of the war. A further 50,000 Giovanni Battista Rinuccini wrote 50,000, T.N. Burke said 80,000 to 100,000=""citation book" >Foster, Robert Fitzroy (1989). . Penguin. p. 107. . "'slave-hunts' certainly happened, though their extent has been exaggerated; there were probably 12,000 Irish in the West Indies by the late 1600s" Giovanni Battista Rinuccini wrote 50,000, T.N. Burke said 80,000 to 100,000" Note="Note"/> were sent to slavery in the West Indies. Some historians estimate that as much as half of the pre-war population of Ireland may have died as a result of the conflict.
The religious struggles of the 17th century left a deep sectarian division in Ireland. Religious allegiance now determined the perception in law of loyalty to the Irish King and Parliament. After the passing of the Test Act 1672, and with the victory of the forces of the dual monarchy of William and Mary over the Jacobites, Roman Catholics and nonconforming Protestant Dissenters were barred from sitting as members in the Irish Parliament. Under the emerging penal laws, recusant Irish Roman Catholics and Dissenters were increasingly deprived of various and sundry civil rights even to the ownership of hereditary property. Additional regressive punitive legislation followed 1703, 1709 and 1728. This completed a comprehensive systemic effort to materially disadvantage Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters, while enriching a new ruling class of Anglican conformists. The new Anglo-Irish ruling class became known as the Protestant Ascendancy.