The eastern coast of Ireland is comparatively regular and has few deep indentations;
the western coast is fringed by drowned or submerged valleys,steep cliffs, and hundreds of small islands torn from the mainland mass by the powerful forces of the Atlantic.
Topographically, the surface of the island may be described as basin-shaped. The chief physiographic features are a region of lowlands, occupying the central and east central sections, and a complex system of low mountain ranges, lying between the lowlands and the periphery of the island. Among the principal ranges are the Mourne Mountains in the northeast, rising about 610 m (about 2000 ft) above sea level;
The central plain, or lowlands region, has an extreme length of about 160 km (about 100 mi) from east to west and a maximum width of about 80 km (about 50 mi) from north to south. Numerous bogs and lakes are found in the plain. The principal rivers of Ireland are the Erne and the Shannon, which are in reality chains of lakes joined by stretches of river.
The northern portion of the central plain is drained by the Erne River,
and the center of the plain is drained by the Shannon, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean through a wide, lengthy estuary. Nearly half of the Shannon, above the estuary, is made up of Allen, Ree, and Derg lakes.All the principal rivers of Ireland flow from the plain, and an interior cana system facilitates communications. The climate of Ireland is typically insular. Because of the moderating influence of the prevailing warm, moist winds from the Atlantic Ocean, the mean winter temperature ranges from 4.4° to 7.2° C (40° to 45° F),
approximately 14° C (25° F) higher than that of other places in the same latitude in the interior of Europe or on the eastern coast of North America. The oceanic influence is also very pronounced in summer, the mean summer temperature of Ireland, 15° to 16.7° C (59° to 62° F),being approximately 4° C (7° F) lower than that of other places in the same latitudes. The rainfall averages 1016 mm (40 in) a year.
The flora of Ireland comes largely from England (it originally came to England from the western portions of the European continent.) Sedges, rushes, ferns, and grass are the principal flora The Irish fauna does not differ markedly from that of England or France.
The great Irish deer and the great auk, or garefowl, were exterminated in prehistoric times; and, since civilization took root in Ireland, the island has lost its bear, wolf, wildcat, beaver, native cattle, and other species of animals. Remaining are the small rodents of the woods and fields and such small birds as belong to the fields,
gardens, and shore. No serpents are found in Ireland, and the only reptile is the lizard.
According to local legends Ireland was inhabited first by various tribes, the most important of which werethe Nemedians, Fomorians, Firbolgs, and Tuatha De Danann. These tribes are said to have been eventually subdued by Milesians (Scots). Although Ireland is mentioned under the name of Ierne in a Greek poem of the 5th century BC and by the names of Hibernia and Juverna by various classical writers,little is known with certainty of its inhabitants before the 4th century AD. At that time Irish tribes, called the Scoti, harried the Roman province of Britain. These expeditions were continued and extended to the coast of Gaul until the time of the Loigare, or King MacNeill (reigned 428-63), during whose reign St. Patrick attempted to convert the natives. Although Christianity had been previously introduced in some parts of Ireland,
Patrick encountered great obstacles, and the new faith was not fully established in the island until a century after his death (circa 461).
From early times each province of Ireland appears to have had its own king; according to legend these kings were subject to the ardri, or monarch, to whom the central district, called Meath, was allotted, and who usually resided at Tara, a hill in present-day county Meath. Each clan was governed by a chief selected from its most important family. The laws were dispensed by professional jurists called brehons, who were endowed with lands and who were allowed important privileges.
In the 6th century extensive monasteries were founded in Ireland, learning were zealously cultivated during the early Middle Ages of Europe. From these establishments numerous missionaries went forth during the succeeding centuries, while many students of distinction from England and the Continent visited Ireland to further their education. The progress of Irish civilization was checked by the incursions of the Scandinavians, which began toward the close of the 8th century and continued for more than two centuries. The Vikings established settlements on the east coast of Ireland and conducted raids in the interior until their signal overthrow at the Battle of Clontarf, near Dublin, in 1014, by the Irish king Brian Boru.
The Anglo-Norman Period
The first step toward an Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland was made by King Henry II of England, who is said to have obtained in 1155 a bull (official document) from Pope Adrian IV authorizing him to take possession of the island, on condition of paying to the papal treasury a stipulated annual revenue. This bull is thought to have been a forgery. In any event, nothing was done until Dermot MacMurrough, the deposed king of Leinster, sought refuge at King Henry's court and obtained permission to enlist the services of English subjects for a recovery of his kingdom. Dermot, returning to Ireland in 1169 with foreign mercenaries and numerous Irish allies, succeeded in recovering part of his former territories and in capturing Dublin and other towns on the east coast. After his death the succession to the kingdom of Leinster was claimed by his son-in-law Richard Strongbow, 2nd earl of Pembroke. In 1172 Henry, with a formidable army, visited Ireland, received homage from several minor Irish chiefs and from the principal Norman leaders, and granted to the latter charters authorizing them, as his subjects, to take possession of portions of the island. The chief Anglo-Norman adventurers, however, encountered formidable opposition before they succeeded in establishing themselves on the lands that they claimed. The government was entrusted to a viceroy, and the Norman legal system was introduced into such parts of the island as were reduced to obedience to England. The youthful Prince John, later John, king of England, was sent by Henry into Ireland in 1185, but the injudicious conduct of his council excited disturbances, and he was soon recalled to England. John made a second expedition to Ireland in 1210 to curb the refractory spirit of his Norman barons, who had become formidable through alliances with the Irish. During the 13th century various Anglo-Norman adventurers succeeded in firmly establishing themselves in Ireland, either by assisting or suppressing native clans. The Fitzgerald clan acquired power in Kildare and East Munster; the Le Botiller, or Butler, in West Munster; and the de Burgh in Connaught. After the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Edward Bruce, the younger brother of Robert Bruce, king of Scotland, invaded Ireland and attempted unsuccessfully to overthrow the English there. The pope, at the instigation of England, excommunicated Bruce and his Irish allies. Although Bruce's enterprise failed, the general result of his invasion was a decline of English power in Ireland. The descendants of the most powerful Anglo-Norman settlers in Ireland gradually became identified with the native Irish, whose language, habits, and laws they adopted to an increasing extent. To counteract this, the Anglo-Irish Parliament passed, in 1366, the Statute of Kilkenny, decreeing excommunication and heavy penalties against all those who followed the custom of, or allied themselves with, the native Irish. This statute, however, remained inoperative; and although Richard II, king of England, later in the 14th century made expeditions into Ireland with large forces, he failed to achieve any practical result. The power and influence of the natives increased so much at the time of the War of the Roses that the authority of the English crown became limited to the area known as the English Pale, a small coastal district around Dublin and the port of Drogheda. In the War of the Roses, the struggle in England between the houses of York and Lancaster, Ireland supported the losing house of York.
The Period of English Supremacy
The participation of the Anglo-Norman nobility from the coastal Pale in the War of the Roses greatly impaired English strength in Ireland. When Henry VII became king of England, he left Gerald Fitzgerald, 8th earl of Kildare, as viceroy of Ireland, although Kildare belonged to the Yorkist party. The assistance rendered by Kildare to the Yorkist pretenders, however, finally compelled the king to replace him in 1494 with the English soldier and diplomat Sir Edward Poynings. Poynings represented the purely English interest, as distinct from the Anglo-Norman interest, which up to that time had prevailed in Ireland. He at once summoned the Parliament of Drogheda, which enacted legislation providing for the defense of the Pale and the reduction of the power of the Anglo-Irish lords. The nobility was forbidden to oppress the inferior baronage, to make exactions upon the tenantry, or to assemble their armed retainers; and the Statute of Kilkenny, which compelled the English and Irish to live apart and prohibited Irish law and customs in the Pale, was confirmed. All state offices, including the judgeships, were filled by the English king instead of by the viceroys, and the entire body of English law was declared to hold for the Pale. Most important of all was the so-called Poynings Law, which made the Irish Parliament dependent on the English king by providing that all proposed legislation should first be announced to the king and meet with his approval, after which he would issue the license to hold Parliament. Henry VII eventually reestablished Kildare, the most powerful of the Irish nobles, as viceroy, and under Kildare's rule the Pale grew and prospered. His family, the Geraldines, rebelled and was overthrown during the reign of King Henry VIII. When Henry VIII attempted to introduce the Reformation into Ireland in 1537, the dissolution of the monasteries was begun. Somewhat later, relics and images were destroyed and the dissolution was completed. The native chieftains were conciliated by a share of the spoils and received English titles, their lands being regranted under English tenure. It was Henry's policy thus to conciliate the Irish and to leave them under their own laws. An English commission held courts throughout the island, but Irish right was respected, and the country remained peaceful. In the Parliament of 1541, attended for the first time by native chieftains as well as by the lords of the Pale, Henry's title of lord of Ireland, which had been conferred by the papacy, was changed to king of Ireland.
Increasing Religious Turmoil
The religious changes under King Edward VI and Queen Mary I had little effect on Ireland. Although Mary was herself a Roman Catholic, she was the first to begin the colonization of Ireland by English settlers. The Irish people of Kings and Queens Company were driven out and their lands given to English colonists. Queen Elizabeth I at first followed her father's policy of conciliating the Irish chieftains, but the rebellion of the Ulster chieftain Shane O'Neill caused her policy to become more severe; an act was passed dividing all Ireland into counties, and the commissioners of justice were invested with military powers, which they used in arbitrary fashion. The religious wars of Elizabeth were attended by rebellions of the Irish Roman Catholics. James Fitzgerald, 16th earl of Desmond, a member of the great house of Geraldine, which ruled over the larger part of Munster, was defeated after a long struggle. The Irish soldier Hugh O'Neill, 3rd baron of Dungannon and 2nd earl of Tyrone, annihilated an English army on the Blackwater and also defeated Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, whom Elizabeth had sent against him. About 1603, however, O'Neill was compelled to submit to the English. During the war the greatest cruelty and treachery were practiced on both sides. In order to destroy Irish resistance, the English devastated villages, crops, and cattle, putting many people to death. The greater part of Munster and Ulster was laid desolate, and more inhabitants died from hunger than from war. Under Elizabeth and James I the power of the Anglican state church was extended over Ireland. The Church of England obtained all that belonged to the church of the Pale and was invested with the establishment belonging to the Celtic church as well. An ancient feud existed between these two Irish churches, and they were intensely hostile to each other. The Church of the Pale—that is, in and near Dublin—was affected by the Reformation, but the Celtic church had become increasingly Roman Catholic. Nearly the entire Celtic population of Ireland and the majority of the inhabitants of the Pale remained Roman Catholic, and the Anglican church served as a political instrument for the English rulers in Dublin Castle. During the reign of James I English law was pronounced the sole law of the land. No longer able to act independently, the earl of Tyrone and Rory O'Donnell, 1st earl of Tyrconnel, with some 100 other chieftains, fled in 1607 to Rome. The land in six counties of northern Ulster was confiscated. The last vestiges of the independence of the Irish Parliament were destroyed by the creation of 40 boroughs out of small hamlets, a political maneuver that secured a permanent majority to the English crown. The stern but vigorous rule of Thomas Wentworth, 1st earl of Strafford, viceroy of Charles I, produced order and prosperity in Ireland. By balancing the number of Roman Catholics and Protestants in Parliament and holding out to the former the promise of toleration, he succeeded in obtaining liberal funds for the king in his conflict with the English Parliament. The native Irish, who had been dispossessed in Ulster and elsewhere, made use of the English situation to regain their possessions. Under the leadership of the Irish chieftain Rory O'More, a conspiracy was formed in 1 to seize Dublin and expel the English. The Irish succeeded in driving the English settlers out of Ulster and committed many outrages. English writers have estimated that at least 30,000 were put to death by the Irish, but this number is thought to be exaggerated; the Scottish in Ulster were, as a rule, spared. The insurgents were soon joined by the Roman Catholic lords of the Pale, and together they chose a supreme council to govern Ireland. Charles I sent Edward Somerset, earl of Glamorgan, to treat with them, and the earl went so far as to promise them the predominancy of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland as the reward for their assistance to Charles. In 1647 the alliance between the lords of the Pale, who desired nothing beyond toleration for their religion, and the native Irish, who hoped for the restoration of the ancient land system, came to an end. In 1648 the Irish statesman and soldier James Butler, 12th earl of Ormonde, returned as the viceroy of Charles I and made an alliance with the Roman Catholic lords, thereby securing Ireland to the Royalist party.
Ireland from 1650 to 1700
In 1649 the English soldier and statesman Oliver Cromwell landed at Dublin, which the Roman Catholic lords had been unable to take. With his well-disciplined forces, 10,000 men of the New Model army, he stormed Drogheda and put its garrison of 2000 men to the sword. A similar Cromwell victory occurred at Wexford. Cromwell's successors, the English soldiers and regicides Henry Ireton and Edmund Ludlow, successfully concluded the war, and a great part of the best land of Munster, Leinster, and Ulster was confiscated and divided among the soldiers of the parliamentary army. The Roman Catholics and Royalist landowners were banished to Connaught. A portion of the land confiscated at this time was later restored under King Charles II, but at least two-thirds of the land in Ireland remained in the hands of the Protestants. The viceroyalty of Ormonde, while maintaining the Protestant ascendancy, did much to restore order and promote industry. King James II, however, reversed the policy of Charles II. Under James's viceroy in Ireland, Richard Talbot, earl of Tyrconnel, Roman Catholics were advanced to positions of state and placed in control of the militia, which Ormonde had previously organized. Consequently the entire Roman Catholic population sided with James II in the English Revolution of 1688. Thus, in 1689, when James landed at Dublin with his French officers, Talbot had an Irish army ready to assist him. The Protestant settlers were driven from their homes and found refuge in the towns of Enniskillen and Londonderry, which James attempted to capture. He was hampered by his lack of artillery, however, and the city was relieved by way of the sea. His Parliament of 1689 restored all lands confiscated since 1641 and passed an act of attainder against the partisans of King William III. In the following year William landed in Ireland and, in July 1690, in the Battle of the Boyne, he defeated the Irish forces. He failed, however, to capture the town of Limerick, which was bravely defended. A brilliant tactic of the Irish patriot Patrick Sarsfield destroyed William's heavy artillery, and he was forced to retire. The next year, William's generals defeated the Irish army at the town of Aughrim, and Limerick was forced to capitulate. By the terms of the Treaty of Limerick (1691), Roman Catholics were permitted a certain amount of religious freedom, and the lands that Roman Catholics had possessed under Charles II were to be restored to them. The Parliament of England subsequently forced William to break the concession of the Treaty of Limerick regarding the restoration of the land, and the Parliament of Ireland violated the terms granting religious toleration by enacting the Penal Laws, directed mainly against the Roman Catholics. Irish commerce and industries were deliberately crushed by the English. By enactments in 1665 and 1680 the Irish export trade to England in cattle, milk, butter, and cheese had been forbidden. The trade in woolens, which had grown up among the Irish Protestants, was likewise crushed by an enactment of 1699, which prohibited the export of woolen goods from Ireland to any country whatever. Small amends for these injuries were made by leaving the linen trade undisturbed. The result of these measures was gradual economic decline. Many Irish emigrated from the country—the Roman Catholics to Spain and France, the Protestants to America
The American Revolution awakened much sympathy in Ulster, especially among the Presbyterians, who, being disqualified from holding office, desired a general emancipation including that of the Roman Catholics. In 1778 the Irish Parliament passed the Relief Act, removing some of the most oppressive disabilities. Meanwhile the Irish Protestants, under the pretext of defending the country from the French, who had entered into an alliance with the Americans, had formed military associations of volunteers, with 80,000 members. Backed by this force they demanded legislative independence for Ireland, and on motion of the British statesman and orator Charles James Fox the British Parliament repealed the Poynings Law and much of the anti-Catholic legislation. The Irish Parliament, however, was composed entirely of the Protestants of the established church, who were unwilling to extend the suffrage to Roman Catholics.
The principles of the French Revolution found their most powerful expression in Ireland in the Society of United Irishmen, which organized the rebellion of 1798. The peasantry rose in Wexford and, although insufficiently armed, made a brave fight. At one time Dublin was in danger, but the insurgents were defeated by the regular forces at Vinegar Hill. A French force of 1100 landed in Killala Bay but was too late to render effective assistance. The British prime minister William Pitt, the Younger, thought that the legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland together with Roman Catholic emancipation was the only remedy for Roman Catholic rebellion and Protestant tyranny in Ireland. By a lavish use of money and distribution of patronage, he induced the Irish Parliament to pass the Act of Union, and on January 1, 1801, the union was formally proclaimed. Owing to the opposition of George III, however, Pitt was unable to make good his promise of emancipation for Roman Catholics.
The history of Ireland after the union was principally concerned with the struggle for Irish civic and religious freedom and for separation from Great Britain. Hardly had the union been established when dissatisfaction in Ireland gave rise to the armed outbreak of July 23, 1803, under the Irish patriot Robert Emmet. The uprising was easily suppressed, and for some time no further armed revolts occurred. In 1823 the Catholic Association was founded, which demanded, and finally obtained, complete Roman Catholic emancipation in Ireland. In 1828 Roman Catholics were permitted to hold local office, and in 1829 they were allowed to sit in Parliament. The struggle then turned upon the tithes, which all Irish, Roman Catholics included, were compelled to pay for the maintenance of the Anglican church in Ireland. Great cruelties were perpetrated on both sides during the so-called Tithe War, which was coupled with a renewed emphatic demand for the repeal of the Act of Union. Various societies were formed to carry on the agitation, and considerable lawlessness occurred, fostered by the so-called Ribbon Society. The reform of the British Parliament in 1832 increased the number of Irish members from 100 to 105. More important, it gave the middle class more power, weakening the pro- English aristocracy. In 1838 a bill was passed converting the tithes into rent charges, to be paid by the landlords; as a result, agitation in connection with the Anglican church ceased to be acute for a time. From 1845 to 1847 rent-racked Ireland suffered a disastrous famine resulting from the failure of the potato crop. Again large numbers of people emigrated, especially to America; it has been estimated that by the end of 1848, through emigration and deaths resulting from famine, the population of Ireland decreased by more than 2 million people.
In the last 35 years of the 19th century many ecclesiastical and agrarian reforms were effected in the country. Agitation for Home Rule, however, assumed a leading place in Irish politics. The cause found a champion of great ability in the Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell. At that time, also, many secret societies were working for the establishment of an Irish republic. As early as 1867 the more extreme members of these societies, calling themselves the Invincibles, had started an abortive rebellion in counties Dublin and Kerry. In 1882 the same revolutionaries were responsible for the murder of the British chief secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Charles Cavendish, and the undersecretary, Thomas Henry Burke, in protest against the Coercion Act of 1881, which gave the lord lieutenant of Ireland power to arrest any person on mere suspicion of treason, intimidation, and the like. The Crimes Act, which was passed soon after the dual murder, made the provisions of the Coercion Act more stringent. In England, Prime Minister William Gladstone attempted to resolve the Irish question by a Home Rule Bill, which he formally introduced in 1886. The bill would have given the Irish Parliament the right to appoint the executive of Ireland, although the taxing power was still supposed to be retained by the British Parliament. Parnell accepted the bill, but it was greatly opposed in Ulster and in England and did not pass the House of Commons. Gladstone introduced another Home Rule Bill in 1893, but it failed to pass the House of Lords. During the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century two new forces developed in Irish life that to a large degree stood apart from political and religious struggles: the Irish Agricultural Organization Society, inaugurated in 1894, and the Gaelic League, founded in 1903. The former aimed to do in the economic field what the latter attempted to do in the intellectual, that is, to rehabilitate Ireland from within. In 1902 the Irish political leader and journalist Arthur Griffith founded the Sinn Fein, which became a political party in 1905. At first an organization to promote Irish economic welfare and to achieve the complete independence of Ireland, the Sinn Fein became the most important political party in the country and a leading force in achieving ultimate independence.