Irish (Irish Gaelic: Muintir na hÉireann, na hÉireannaigh, na Gaedhil) the people of Ireland.


The island of Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years (according to archaeological studies, see Prehistoric Ireland), with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded have legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolgs, Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians the last group supposedly representing the "pure" Gaelic ancestry, and still serving as a term for the Irish race today. The main groups that interacted with the Irish in the Middle Ages include the Scottish people and the Vikings, with the Icelanders especially having some Irish descent. The Anglo-Norman invasion of the High Middle Ages, the English plantations and the subsequent English rule of the country introduced the Normans and Flemish into Ireland. Welsh, Picts, Bretons, and small parties of Gauls and even Anglo-Saxons are known in Ireland from much earlier times. There have been many notable Irish people throughout history. The 6th century Irish monk and missionary Columbanus is regarded as one of the "fathers of Europe", followed by Kilian of Würzburg and Vergilius of Salzburg. The scientist Robert Boyle is considered the "father of chemistry". Famous Irish explorers include Brendan the Navigator, Ernest Shackleton, and Tom Crean. By some accounts, the first European child born in North America had Irish descent on both sides; while an Irishman was also the first European to set foot on American soil in Columbus' expedition of 1492.

Ireland's history has been shaped by the inescapable facts of geography. A small island at the western edge of Europe, barely within the mainstream of Continental experience, it lay beyond the reach of the Roman Empire (with all that that entailed for the development of law and modes of administration) yet would later become one of the great depositories of Christian art, spirituality, and learning. The European context is crucial to an understanding of Ireland's past, but the critical geographical fact is the island's proximity to Britain. On a clear day, the Mull of Kintyre in southwest Scotland is visible from the Antrim coast in northeast Ireland. Gaelic civilization, moreover, extended like an arc along the western and northern coasts of Ireland into the Scottish Highlands. Scottish Lowlanders and the English referred to Scots Gaelic as the "Irish language." From the importation by Gaelic lords of Highland mercenary soldiers—the gallowglass and the redshanks—to the role of Scots settlers in the Ulster plantation and the Scots army in the North in the 1640s, a strong Scottish dimension runs through early modern Irish history, though ultimately Ireland's troubled relationship with its larger neighbor, England, would have the greater impact.

The Fall of the House of KildareEdit

In 1450 Ireland was a lordship, and the king of England its lord. The English crown's claim to sovereignty over the whole island had never been vindicated in practice, however, and during the later Middle Ages English power and jurisdiction were in retreat. Effectively, the king's writ and the common law were confined to the Pale, the area of English settlement around Dublin, capital city and seat of royal authority. Beyond the Pale and the towns, the great Anglo-Norman magnates negotiated the shifting frontiers of Gaeldom through "march law," a bastardized amalgam of common and Irish brehon (native) laws and customs. Even the levers of royal authority began to slip from the king's grasp. The crown in Ireland was represented either by a lord lieutenant, a lord deputy, or, in the absence of one or the other, by lords justices. Between 1447 and 1460, Richard of York's (1411–1460) political standing conferred stature upon the lord lieutenancy and, equally important, kept it within the orbit of the court. Then, between the 1470s and 1520, successive earls of Kildare virtually monopolized the office, using it as a source of patronage to extend their local power base and network of alliances.

The local autonomy enjoyed by the "Kildare ascendancy" has struck some historians of the old nationalist school as part of a wider pattern of incipient Anglo-Irish separatism. But it is surely anachronistic to attribute proto-nationalist ambitions to a political community, the descendants of the original Anglo-Norman settlers, that had no concept of an Irish "nation" in the modern sense. It did, however, have a strong sense of English identity, albeit "English by blood" rather than by birth. Nevertheless, from Parliament's declaration that Ireland was "corporate of itself" (1460) to its declaration of legislative independence in 1782, Anglo-Irish constitutional relations provides a major framework for Irish political history. Subordination of Ireland to England (and, after 1707, Great Britain) and Irish resistance to subordination, though rarely rising to outright separatist aspirations, runs like a leitmotiv through these centuries.

The ascendancy of the earls of Kildare entailed a sometimes spectacular loss of royal control over Irish affairs, most vividly in 1487 when the Yorkist eighth earl, Garrett Mor, crowned the pretender, Lambert Simnel (c. 1475–1535), king of England in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Kildare's survival in office, despite his treason, underlines the weakness of the English crown in the fifteenth century. From a position of greater strength and internal stability, however, Henry VIII would not countenance such overmighty subjects anywhere within his realm. Thus, when the ninth earl was summoned to London under the shadow of the executioner in 1534, his son, Lord Offaly, "Silken Thomas," led his followers in the Geraldine League into rebellion. The Geraldine revolt, which lasted until 1540, opened a new, blood-drenched chapter in Irish history. The advent of a new era was signaled by the first ever use of artillery—against the Kildare stronghold of Maynooth—by the ruthless suppression of the rebellion, and by the first stirrings of anti-Reformation Catholicism among the rebels.

The fall of the house of Kildare also inaugurated a prolonged phase of direct rule from London. That practice became the sine qua non of England's Irish policy, and several illustrious names among England's governing elite occupied Dublin Castle, namely the earls of Essex (1599), Strafford (1633–1640), and Chesterfield (1745–1747). There were notable exceptions to the rule: the Irish-born Protestant first duke of Ormond served as lord lieutenant under both Charles I and Charles II, while the Irish-born old English Catholic, the earl of Tyrconnell, held the office under James II in the 1680s. But after the first decade of the eighteenth century (when the second duke, Ormond's grandson, served) occupation of Dublin Castle was reserved for Englishmen. Until the very end of that century, and the appointments of John Fitzgibbon as lord chancellor and Viscount Castlereagh as chief secretary, Englishmen monopolized all senior executive posts, including the lord lieutenancy, chief secretaryship, lord chancellery, and the archbishopric of Armagh. On one level, official Ireland, especially its established church, functioned merely as a patronage outpost for a British political system oiled by the disbursement of places, preferments, pensions, promotions, titles, and favors. On another level, control of the executive rested on British security considerations.

England's Difficulty, Ireland's OpportunityEdit

Security underpinned England's Irish policy. In essence, the concern was strategic. As Thomas Waring put it in the wake of the Cromwellian reconquest of 1649–1650, "humane reason and policie dictate's that the hous cannot bee safe so long as the back door is open." Ireland served as England's "back door" as early as 1497, when another Yorkist pretender, Perkin Warbeck, landed at Cornwall with a retinue of Irish supporters. Then, as Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe split into warring camps, the vulnerability of Protestant England's western seaboard (and the dangers of Spain's sponsorship of Irish Catholic rebels) concentrated the Tudor mind. Spain (and the papacy) twice intervened in Ireland, landing troops at Smerwick, County Kerry (1580), and, in greater force, at Kinsale, County Cork (1601). Strategic necessity lent urgency to the Tudor reconquest of the sixteenth century and galvanized English determination to hold onto Ireland thereafter. Enemies changed, geography did not: French soldiers fought in Ireland in 1690 and 1798.

England's dominance depended, at bottom, on coercive force. Beyond that, Whitehall and Westminster exercised an array of political, legislative, and administrative controls. These included the retention in English hands of key public offices and the imposition of restrictive laws limiting the autonomy of the Irish Parliament and regulating Irish trade. A few legislative landmarks plot the troubled course of Anglo-Irish relations. First, "Poynings's Law" (1494), aimed originally at too-powerful lord deputies of the Kildare type, evolved into a procedure whereby all Irish parliamentary bills were subject to amendment—amounting to a veto—by the English Privy Council. The repeal of Poynings's Law constitutes the so-called revolution of 1782. Second, the Irish Parliament's subordinate status, institutionalized under Poynings, received confirmation in the Declaratory Act of 1720, a forthright assertion of Westminster's supremacy in the Kingdom of Ireland. Finally, Westminster used its claim of jurisdiction to impose laws prohibiting the import of Irish cattle to England (1667) and the export of Irish wool (1699). Both laws long caused bitter resentment in Ireland, the preliminary controversy surrounding the latter provoking the classic defense of Ireland's historic right to legislative independence, William Molyneux's The Case of Ireland Being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England, Stated (London, 1698).

The roots of England's perennial "Irish problem" lay in the failures of England's Irish policies. By 1450, although the territory of the Pale had contracted, it still boasted the most densely populated, intensively cultivated, and economically diverse region of the country. Yet Gaeldom had also demonstrated its military and cultural vitality. And, as Sir John Davies recognized in his Discovery of the True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Entirely Subdued (1612), the Irish problem would remain intractable for so long as the Gael remained outside—and indeed resistant to—the boon of common law, civility, and, by Davies's time, Protestantism or "true religion." "All the world knows their barbarism," Cromwell remarked of his Irish enemies. Only the adoption of English customs, Reformed religion, language, and law—in a word, anglicization—could save them from their wretched condition.

Gaelic IrelandEdit

The Gaelic Irish saw matters differently, and while the story of English-Irish conflict supplies the historian with a ready, dramatic, and compelling narrative structure, it is vital that historians not view the past solely in terms of that conflict. Early modern Ireland, viewed from the Atlantic shores of Donegal, looks rather different from the anglophone Ireland mapped and preserved in the Public Record Office. For the historian, the question of perspective is precisely about rescuing the Gaelic-speaking O'Donnell retainer and Mac Sweeny swordsman from the enormous condescension of the state papers. Gaelic politics, economy, and society are more difficult to reconstruct than Anglo-Ireland because they never generated the sorts of records—tax rolls, bureaucratic memoranda, even paintings—upon which historians usually rely. The Gaelic world has thus either remained hidden, or, as recently as 1988, been caricatured on the basis of the naive or hostile reportage of outsiders. Fortunately, the dearth of conventional sources has been circumvented somewhat by the mining of a rich, if tricky, lode of nontraditional evidence: Irish-language poetry. Excavations (and cataloguing) are still in the heroic phase, but already the findings of scholars working with these hitherto underused sources have altered and enhanced our understanding of, for example, the depth and range of Irish Jacobite sentiment in the eighteenth century.

English late medieval society, including the Irish Pale, was organized around legally binding principles of mutual obligation and services based on land tenures. In contrast, in Gaelic society land ownership and inheritance, obligation, and political succession were determined by kinship. A chief's power rested on his ability to enforce it, and under the system of "tanistry" his designated heir was as likely a brother or cousin as an eldest son. Kinship, alliances through marriage and fosterage and the receipt of tribute from lesser clans defined a great chief's status more than territory or even cattle—the staple of the Gaelic pastoral economy. Certain families, notably the O'Neills and O'Donnells in Ulster, the O'Connors in Connacht, and the Mac Carthys and O'Briens in Munster, predominated. They inhabited a world of insistent, lowintensity warfare and comparative political instability. Exactions of tribute—in kind, or in military or labor services—lacked regulation, and by the early modern period were epitomized by the abuses of "coign and livery"—the billeting at free quarters by a chief of his dependants on his tenants.

The crown and the Dublin administration were not prepared to leave the natives to their own ways for three reasons. First, the inevitable processes of intermarriage, cultural interaction, and linguistic borrowings (in both directions) of the Gaedhil (or Irish) and the Gaill (or foreigners)—which historians call gaelicization but which the English called degeneracy—could not be permitted to continue. Second, the English "common law mind" embraced legal uniformity and abhorred local particularism. Ireland, reported an early-sixteenth-century English observer, comprised a patchwork of over sixty "countries" ruled by captains, each of whom "maketh war and peace for himself, and holdeth by the sword, and hath imperial jurisdiction within his room, and obeyeth to no other person." Worse still, degenerate "captains of English noble family . . . folloeth the same Irish order." The gaelicized Anglo-Norman House of Desmond cast its shadow across the common law mind. Finally, particularistic march law and Gaelic custom rooted in local power bases challenged royal sovereignty as well as legal uniformity.

"Conquest and Reform"Edit

Whereas conventional nationalist histories of sixteenth-century Ireland focused on reconquest, revisionist historians have recovered the Tudor commitment to reform, although conquest and, in Brendan Bradshaw's terminology, "the catastrophic dimension of Irish history" are now being reintroduced to a more complicated picture. The set pieces of reform are the Act of Kingly Title (1541), which upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a kingdom, and "surrender and regrant," under which Gaelic chieftains surrendered their titles to the crown and were regranted them in English law. Several leading figures were ennobled, for example "the O'Neill" now became Earl of Tyrone, and succession and inheritance were at least theoretically stabilized by the extension of primogeniture. In the longer run, however, the prospects for reform were dashed by the rise of confessional conflict.

In Ireland, the Protestant Reformation assumed the character of an alien imposition. Decisively, the old English, as well as the native Irish, remained Catholic. Protestants were—and remained—a minority. When the Tudors completed the reconquest by the subjugation of Hugh O'Neill (1603), Gaelic Ireland had suffered military defeat but retained its cultural identity. Ethnic origin divided the Gael from his fellow Catholic old English almost as much as from the Protestant new English, yet shared adversity during the first decades of the seventeenth century conspired to forge a common Catholic identity. The defeat of O'Neill was followed by "the flight of the Earls" (1607) when O'Neill and others fled to Catholic Europe. Interpreted as an act of rebellion, the fugitives' lands escheated to the crown and were redistributed to English and Scottish settlers in the plantation of Ulster. The last bastion of Gaelic civilization thereby became the beachhead of British Protestantism in Ireland. The Scottish communities, moreover, laid the seedbed for Presbyterianism.

Stuart Ireland thus hosted four major ethno-religious groups: native Irish Catholics, old English Catholics, new English Protestants of the established church, and (before 1642, informally) Scots Presbyterians. Intra-denominational relations, already tense, strained to breaking point with the crisis of the Stuart monarchies in the late 1630s. Ireland, in fact, helped detonate the wars of the three kingdoms with the Ulster rebellion of 1641. Many Protestant planters were killed by insurgents, and lurid tales of massacre swept England, deepening the rage against popery and suspicion of the king, in whose defense the rebels claimed to act. Ireland, like England and Scotland, experienced the trauma of civil war in the 1640s. Alliances and allegiances shifted bewilderingly but, crucially, the old English were forced into military coalition with their Gaelic coreligionists. When Cromwell arrived in 1649 once more to subjugate the Irish and to revenge 1641, he made no ethnic distinctions among his papist enemies.

The land confiscations begun in the Tudor era and continued by the Ulster plantation reached unprecedented levels with the Cromwellian settlement. In 1603 Catholics owned more than 60 percent of the land; by 1659 that figure had been reduced to about 9 percent. During the reign of Charles II, Catholic ownership climbed back to around 25 percent, thanks to successful pleas in the court of claims, but fell again to 14 percent by the end of the century as a result of the forfeitures that followed the second defeat of Catholic Ireland in 1691. This time there would be no court of claims, but rather a relentless chipping away, by the implementation of penal laws, at the remaining Catholic-owned land. By 1775 it stood at 5 percent. The political nation, like the landowning elite, of eighteenth-century Ireland was Protestant. But the Protestants were a minority, and if anything is inevitable in history, the Catholics could not be excluded from public life and political power forever. A rising Catholic mercantile class had already begun to articulate its grievances by the 1780s, but once more it was events outside the island that catalyzed Irish politics, including the "Catholic question." With the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a new epoch opened in European—and Irish—history.

Diaspora & ColonizationsEdit

Large populations of people of Irish ethnicity live in many western countries, particularly in English-speaking countries. Historically, emigration has been caused by politics, famine and economic issues. An estimated 80 million people make up the Irish diaspora today, which includes Great Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, France, Germany and Brazil. The largest number of people of Irish descent live in the United States—about ten times more than in Ireland itself.


Ireland's culture comprises elements of the culture of ancient immigration and influence(such as Gaelic culture) and more recent Anglicisation and Americanisation as well as participation in a broader European culture. In broad terms, Ireland is regarded as one of the Celtic nations of Europe, which also includes Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Mann and Brittany. This combination of cultural influences is visible in the intricate designs termed Irish interlace or Celtic knotwork. These can be seen in the ornamentation of medieval religious and secular works. The style is still is popular today in jewellery and graphic art, as is the distinctive style of traditional Irish music and dance, and has become indicative of modern "Celtic" culture in general.

Religion has played a significant role in the cultural life of the island since ancient times (and since the 17th century plantations, has been the focus of political identity and divisions on the island). Ireland's pre-Christian heritage fused with the Celtic Church following the missions of Saint Patrick in the 5th century. The Hiberno-Scottish missions, begun by the Irish monk Saint Columba, spread the Irish vision of Christianity to pagan England and the Frankish Empire. These missions brought written language to an illiterate population of Europe during the Dark Ages that followed the fall of Rome, earning Ireland the sobriquet, "the island of saints and scholars". In more recent years, the Irish pubs have become outposts of Irish culture worldwide.

The national theatre is the Abbey Theatre founded in 1904 and the national Irish-language theatre is An Taibhdhearc, established in 1928 in Galway. Playwrights such as Seán O'Casey, Brian Friel, Sebastian Barry, Conor McPherson and Billy Roche are internationally renowned. Until the end of the early modern period, the majority of educated Irish were proficient at both speaking and writing in Latin and Greek. Notable Irish writers in the English language include Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney. Some of the 20th century writers in the Irish Gaelic language include Brian O'Nolan (aka Flann O'Brien), Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Pádraic Ó Conaire, Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin and Máirtín Ó Direáin.

Food & DrinkEdit

Irish food and cuisine takes its influence from the crops grown and animals farmed in the island's temperate climate and from the social and political circumstances of Irish history. For example, whilst from the Middle Ages until the arrival of the potato in the 16th century the dominant feature of the Irish economy was the herding of cattle, the number of cattle a person owned was equated to their social standing.Thus herders would avoid slaughtering a milk-producing cow. For this reason, pork and white meat were more common than beef and a thick fatty strips of salted bacon (or rashers) and the eating of salted butter (i.e. a dairy product rather than beef itself) have been a central feature of the Irish diet since the Middle Ages. The practice of bleeding cattle and mixing the blood with milk and butter (not unlike the practice of the Maasai) was common and black pudding, made from blood, grain (usually barley) and seasoning, remains a breakfast staple in Ireland. All of these influences can be seen today in the phenomenon of the "breakfast roll".

The introduction of the potato in the second half of the sixteenth century heavily influenced cuisine thereafter. Great poverty encouraged a subsistence approach to food and by the mid-19th century the vast majority of the population sufficed with a diet of potatoes and milk. A typical family, consisting a man, a woman and four children, would eat 18 stone (110 kg) of potatoes a week. Consequently, dishes that are considered as national dishes represent a fundamental unsophistication to cooking, such as the Irish stew, bacon and cabbage, boxty, a type of potato pancake, or colcannon, a dish of mashed potatoes and kale or cabbage.

Since the last quarter of the 20th century, with a re-emergence of wealth in Ireland, a "New Irish Cuisine" based on traditional ingredients incorporating international influences[183] has emerged. This cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish (especially salmon, trout, oysters, mussels and other shellfish), as well as traditional soda breads and the wide range of hand-made cheeses that are now being produced across the country. The potato remains however a fundamental feature of this cuisine and the Irish remain the highest per capita consumers of potatoes in Europe. An example of this new cuisine is "Dublin Lawyer": lobster cooked in whiskey and cream. Traditional regional foods can be found throughout the country, for example coddle in Dublin or drisheen in Cork, both a type of sausage, or blaa, a doughy white bread particular to Waterford.

The Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim.Ireland once dominated the world's market for whiskey, producing 90% of the world's whiskey at the start of the 20th century. However, as a consequence of bootleggers during the prohibition in the United States (who sold poor-quality whiskey bearing Irish-sounding names thus eroding the pre-prohibition popularity for Irish brands)and tariffs on Irish whiskey across British Empire during the Anglo-Irish Trade War of the 1930s, sales of Irish whiskey worldwide fell to a mere 2% by the mid-20th century. In 1953, an Irish government survey, found that 50 per cent of whiskey drinkers in the United States had never heard of Irish whiskey. Irish whiskey, however, remained popular domestically and in recent decades has grown in popularity again internationally. Typically, Irish whiskey is not as smoky as a Scotch whisky, but not as sweet as American or Canadian whiskies. Whiskey forms the basis of traditional cream liqueurs, such as Baileys, and the "Irish coffee" (a cocktail of coffee and whiskey reputedly invented at Foynes flying-boat station) is probably the best-known Irish cocktail.

Stout, a kind of porter beer, particularly Guinness, is typically associated with Ireland, although originally being more closely associated with London. Porter remains very popular, although it has lost sales since the mid-20th century to lager. Cider, particularly Bulmers (marketed outside of the Republic of Ireland as Magners), is also a popular drink. Red lemonade, a soft-drink, is consumed on its own and as a mixer, particularly with whiskey.