Was Ireland really called Ireland?


On the edge of Europe

The Republic of Ireland is an island nation with an area of ​​70,283 square kilometers in northwestern Europe. It borders on the north and north-east of the province of Ulster, also known as Northern Ireland, which is still part of Great Britain.

A little over four million people live in the Republic of Ireland today. 150 years ago the island was populated by almost twice as many people. But Ireland's history and that of its people have been shaped by numerous invasions by foreign peoples.

For example, the occupation of the island and the subjugation of the Irish by the English led to the fact that the official language in Ireland today is English. Although the Irish have their own language with Irish (or Gaelic) that has nothing in common with English.

Those who have not already grown up with the Irish language and have cherished this legacy will find it difficult to learn the language later. Today Irish is taught in schools, but there are still many Irish who cannot speak or understand Irish.

The first residents

Ireland was probably first settled by humans around 10,000 BC. These peoples are called "Tuatha de Danaan" and "Firbolgs". But to this day we don't know much more about them. From the fourth century BC, Celtic immigrants from the Gael people settled on the island from northern France.

Many smaller kingdoms soon merged into five major domains: Ulster, Connacht, Leinster of the North (or Meath), Leinster of the South, and Munster. The capital recognized by all was Tara (County Meath).

It was not until 1998 that the remains of a stone road from the Ballyhoura Hills to the Nagle Mountains were discovered in the southwest of the island. It dates back to the Celtic period and proves that at that time the Irish were not only able to build wooden paths to cross the moors, but also obviously had wagons with wheels or chariots, as they were known in England at the same time.

The first conquerors

Unlike England, Ireland was not conquered by the Romans. Until the 5th century AD, the island was largely left to its own devices. But then the Irish were mainly Christianized by the missionary Patrick and the island experienced a religious and cultural boom.

From the 7th century, monasteries played a more important role. The mostly noble abbots, at the same time also bishops and landowners, became as powerful as the regional kings.

From 795 to the 11th century there were repeated attacks by the Vikings, who also settled in Ireland. The cities of Dublin, Wexford, Limerick and Waterford are Viking foundations. It was not until the Irish High King Brian Boru finally defeated the Vikings in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

The English are coming!

In 1171/72 the English King Henry II invaded Ireland with the approval of the Church and made the island the Lordship of Ireland. The English barons drove the Gaelic aristocracy out of the territories they occupied and established a feudal system.

In 1534 the English King Henry VIII deposed the Count of Kildare as his deputy in Ireland. Seven years later, in 1541, he was finally proclaimed King of Ireland - by the Irish Parliament, which consisted only of members loyal to England.

His attempt to join the Irish in the new Anglican Church sparked uprisings among Irish Catholics. Henry responded by demolishing more than 400 Irish monasteries and giving Irish lands to the English. This policy was continued by his successors.

Irish uprisings in Munster (1569-83) and Ulster (1595) failed despite massive support from also Catholic Spain.

English rule

In 1603 the English King Jacob I eliminated the traditional social and political system of the tribal leaders and instead introduced central power in Dublin and the English "common law". Through systematic resettlement, the Protestants soon made up the majority in the province of Ulster.

But the uprisings did not stop in the 17th century either. In 1690 the Protestant William II of Orange inflicted a crushing defeat on the Irish under the deposed Catholic-English King James II at the Battle of Boyne. This event is still celebrated today in Northern Ireland with the controversial marches of the Orange Orders.

As a result, Protestants replaced the previous Catholic landowners across Ireland. From then on the English aristocracy ruled Ireland. The patriotic-Protestant party achieved political equality between Ireland and its parliament in 1782/83, which has since been allowed to enact its own laws.

But targeted trade bans on Irish wool products soon turned Ireland into a backward poor house.


Famine (1727-29 and 1740/41), the dependence of the tenants on the landowners and religious conflicts led to an uprising under the influence of the American and French revolutions in 1796-98, which severely shook English supremacy.

England then declared Ireland part of the English Kingdom. The Irish Parliament was dissolved and a joint parliament was formed in London. The two state churches were forcibly united. Catholics were then granted more civil rights, but the dependence on England remained.

Potato rot raged in Ireland from 1845-50. This caused a devastating famine that killed two million Irish people. Another 1.5 million emigrated to America.

Since England did nothing about the famine, there was another uprising in 1848. Although it was bloodily suppressed by England, it subsequently led to the establishment of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians) and the Home Rule Party. Both fought for self-government in Ireland.

The British Prime Minister Gladstone campaigned for economic reforms in Ireland, but failed with the autonomy of Ireland at the English House of Lords, which he advocated. That strengthened the radical nationalist forces in Ireland. In 1900 the radical Catholic organization Sinn Féin ("We Ourselves") was founded, which has been striving for full sovereignty of Ireland ever since.

In 1914, the Liberal Party of England still enforced Irish autonomy (Homerule Bill). But this led to a riot among the Protestant Unionists in Ulster. Ireland was on the brink of civil war when World War I broke out and the homerule regime was suspended.

Easter Rising and Independence

The English were once again able to bloodily suppress the famous Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. But the War of Independence of 1919-1921 ended with the establishment of an Irish Free State, which was also recognized by British Prime Minister Lloyd George on December 6, 1921.

The downside: the island has been divided. The predominantly Protestant counties of Ulster in the north remained with England at their own request. Hoping to secure its influence over the new state, however, England insisted that Ireland remain a member of the Commonwealth.

The economic backwardness and the unresolved Ulster question led to the Irish civil war in the following years, which killed 4,000 Irish people. Only the Prime Minister W. T. Cosgrave was able to restore peace in 1932.

In 1937 the country passed a new constitution and gave itself the Gaelic name Éire. Gaelic became the national language, the Catholic Church received special rights and reunification with Northern Ireland was declared a national goal. Ireland remained neutral during World War II.

New state and old problems

The new independent state had to grapple with the same problems as Ireland under British occupation: the country's economy was simply not strong enough to guarantee the island's residents a secure income. Numerous Irish people always had to emigrate. The Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael Labor Party replaced each other in government responsibility in a relatively short period of time.

The ailing economy experienced a certain stabilization in the 1960s, but the 1973 oil crisis and the subsequent global economic crisis revealed the old weaknesses of the young republic: unemployment and high national debt.

Only drastic spending cuts improved the situation until 1990. In the same year, Mary Robinson, the first woman to be elected President of the Republic.

Northern Ireland - the eternal conflict

In 1949 the Republic of Ireland was officially proclaimed. In the same year the country left the Commonwealth. Irish Prime Minister Sean Lemass assured that Northern Ireland and the Republic should only be reunited with the consent of both sides. In 1955 Ireland became a member of the United Nations.

The emergence of a peaceful Catholic civil rights movement in 1968 sparked tension and eventually unrest between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. In 1969 the British army intervened on a massive scale. During "Bloody Sunday" on January 30, 1972, British paratroopers shot dead 13 unarmed demonstrators.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has since bombed itself to notoriety, but without the majority of Northern Irish Catholics behind it.

On the other hand, Presbyterian pastor Ian Paisley preached his hatred of everything Catholic and Protestant Unionists terrorized Catholic civilians. In 1972 alone, 467 people were killed, 321 of them civilians. During the 1980s and 1990s, terror was also exported to England.

It was not until 1995/96 that a ceasefire was concluded with the IRA and, in 1998, a peace treaty (Good Friday Agreement), which included disarming the IRA. By then, over 3,000 people had died in the conflict in Northern Ireland.