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    A Brief History of Ireland

    Curious about who the Neolithic people were? When the Vikings arrived? What happened during the Middle Ages? The impact of St Patrick? What actually happened during the rebellions and Troubles? The tragedy behind the Great Famine? Learn about Irish history here.

    Irish History - A Brief Snapshot

    Ireland has a long and fascinating history. As with every country, trying to tell the story of a nation in a single article is an enormous undertaking.

    In this article, we look at a snapshot of some of Ireland’s most important events and historical figures, drawing your attention to the most interesting and relevant eras of Irish history. From Prehistoric times and the Celts, to the arrival of St Patrick, the Vikings and the Normans, straight into the era of Cromwell, and the many wars and rebellions that have taken place since, before finally alighting at the 1900’s with the Easter Rising and more recently, The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

    Below, find a list of each era covered for easy references. Click on the link to take you directly to each section.

    Island Hopping – Cork & Kerry

    Activity: Hiking

    Duration: 7 days

    Comfort: Classic

    Historical Sites: Skellig Michael beehive huts, ruins of the Blasket Islands, Fastnet Lighthouse, Baltimore Beacon, Sheep’s Head Lighthouse.


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    The Wicklow Way

    Activity: Hiking

    Duration: 7 days

    Comfort: Classic

    Historical Sites: Dublin sites such as the historic downtown and Trinity University, Glendalough Monastic City, Powerscourt Estate and gardens.


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    Aran Islands

    Island Hopping – West Coast

    Activity: Hiking

    Duration: 7 days

    Comfort: Classic

    Historical Sites: Clare Island castle, Aran Islands sites, Dun Aonghus fort, Croagh Patrick pilgrimage, and the Burren megalithic sites.


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    Gallarus Oratory

    The Dingle Way

    Activity: Hiking

    Duration: 7 days

    Comfort: Classic

    Historical Sites: Gallrus Oratory, clocháns (beehive huts), archeology, Minard Castle, Blasket Island Centre.


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    Burren Poulnabrone Tomb

    Connemara & the Aran Islands

    Activity: Biking

    Duration: 7 days

    Comfort: Classic

    Historical Sites: Dun Aonghus fort, Padriag Pearse’s Cottage, the Gaeltacht communities of the Aran Islands, Poulnabrone Dolman.


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    The Causeway Coast & Donegal

    Activity: Hiking

    Duration: 7 days

    Comfort: Classic

    Historical Sites: Rathlin Island Lighthouse, Dunluce Castle, famine village, Grianán of Aileach fort, Glenveagh Castle, Drumcliff and Yeats Grave.


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    Prehistoric Ireland

    Until recently, it was believed Ireland’s oldest evidence of human settlement was Mountsandel in Co. Derry, dating back to 10,000BC. This was blown out of the water in 2016 with the discovery of animal bones with kerf marks in a Co. Clare cave, which dated to approx. 12,500 BC.

    The Prehistoric Period in Ireland is one of the most fascinating eras in Irish history for its great age and rich archaeology (for comparison’s sake, many Irish Neolithic monuments predate the Pyramids of Giza). The Prehistoric period, encompassing Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze eras, ended around 500BC.

    The Neolithic period is when people settled into small, stable communities and began to keep livestock and farmland. Bronze Age people were prolific builders, constructing thousands of megalithic tombs and stone circles throughout Ireland, varying in size, format and location. We also have unique jewellery, weaponry and other metallurgy found strewn through the ruins of hill-forts, ring-forts and promontory forts.

    The Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age peoples had very interesting and complicated belief systems, of which very little evidence survives. We do know is they had an affinity with astrology and seasons – many monuments were aligned with summer and winter solstices, or form some kind of astrological calendar.

    Neolithic Ireland

    Ireland’s Origin Story & The Tuatha de Dannan

    Ireland has no clear “origin story,” though the Book of Invasions details the comings and goings of many people. An important one to highlight are the quasi-mythical Tuatha de Dannan. They are the Sidhe (pronounced “shee”) – mystical fairy-like people who supposedly inhabited Ireland prior to the arrival of the Celts (the Milesians).

    The Tuatha de Dannan are credited with naming Ireland. Sending three of their goddesses Banba, Fodla and Ériu to meet with the incoming Celts, they named their new lands after Ériu, later becoming Éirinn and eventually – Eireann.

    The unified Celtic people as we know them today were once multiple tribes spread all over Europe. The tribe supposed to have arrived here first around 500BC were the Milesians. It’s hard to tell whether the Celts came to invade or gradually assimilate – one thing is for sure, they truly left their mark and brought with them a dominant culture & expert use of Iron that would stand to them in battle.

    See below for some of the most intriguing monuments from Neolithic, Bronze & Iron Age Ireland. 

    Newgrange & Bru na Boyne

    The biggest and most famous of Ireland’s Neolithic monuments, Newgrange is 5,200 year old located in the heart of the ancient Boyne Valley. The huge tomb contains a 19-metre-long passage to three chambers. Abandoned and used as a quarry for hundreds of years, archeologists have painstakingly researched and reconstructed the ancient tomb.

    Carrowkeel & Carrowmore – Sligo

    Over a dozen ancient cairns are huddled atop a series of small, eerie mountains in Sligo. Far less famous than Newgrange – and requiring a bit more of a trek to get here – three of of Carrowkeel’s cairns are open. With a bit of a squeeze, you can duck into two of rhese ancient cairns. Sligo is a hotspot of ancient archeology – find many more Neolithic sites in this area.

    Poulnabrone Wedge Tomb – Burren

    The lunar-like barren landscape of the Burren is a hotbed of Neolithic sites. The most famous is Poulnabrone Dolman, a huge portal tomb, located amidst the exposed limstone landscape. Of the 172 dolmens in Ireland, the Poulnabrone Dolman is the most photographed. Poulnabrone tomb dates back to at least 3,800 BC, and was used as a burial site.

    Cavehill Promontory Fort – Belfast

    Moving away from the Neolithic Age, there are many Iron Age promontory forts. Little is left of these forts to the untrained eye, but the upside is that they are generally located high up with a great panoramic view. The fort at Cavehill Park just outside Belfast offers amazing views over Belfast and they nearby magical landscape.

    St Patrick and Christianity

    Statue of St Patrick at the base of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain, and also one of the best hikes in Ireland.

    St Patrick is probably Ireland’s most well-known religious and historical figure.

    One of Ireland’s three patron saints (the others are St Colmcille and St Brigid), St Patrick started off life as a Welsh slave born to Roman parentage, brought to Ireland in the 5th century. He later escaped, travelled to Rome to study Christianity, became a priest and then bishop. After training, St Patrick was dispatched to Ireland to Christianise the polytheistic ‘pagans’.

    At the time Ireland was “Pagan,” worshipping a plethora of gods and goddesses. The Romans never settled in Ireland – though they did visit and trade with it extensively – and therefore did not introduce either their Roman gods nor Christianity. A bishop named Palladius had previously tried to Christianise Ireland in 432 AD without success.

    Saint Patrick succeeded in converting Ireland by merging the pre-Christian with the Christian. St Patrick brought the word of God to pagan Ireland by travelling the island to share the word and convert the people.

    According to legend, he used the symbol of the three-leafed shamrock to teach the idea of the Holy Trinity.

    Another famous tale of St Patrick is that he drove the snakes from Ireland, an allegory for the druids (pagan priests), as Ireland never had any snakes. From the 5th century onwards, Ireland began the gradual process of converting to Christianity.

    As with any religious takeover, the new religion had to contend with the old; the best way to do so was to adapt elements of the former religion. Examples include goddess Bridget becoming St. Brigid, Eostre becoming Easter, or a more complex is the prevalence of Sheela na Gig, pagan goddess of womanhood/fertility whose importance elevated the Virgin Mary’s status compared to contemporary Christian countries.

    Many sites are associated with St Patrick in Ireland. Perhaps the most famous is Croagh Patrick mountain, where the saint supposedly fasted for 40 days. Once revered in pre-Christian Ireland, it’s now a popular pilgrimage for St. Patrick.

    Other pilgrimage walks include St Kevin’s Way in Wicklow, Mt Brandon in Dingle and St Finbarr’s Way in Cork.

    Irish Pilgrimage Routes

    Looking up at the conical shape of Croagh Patrick, which looms over Westport and Co Mayo.


    Follow in the Footsteps of St Patrick

    The Vikings Come to Ireland

    This push was largely a result of the Frankish King Charlemagne’s ambitions to expand his territories, making local trade more difficult for the Scandinavians. Initial raiding parties soon developed into a colonial thirst and they set up camp in many countries – England, Scotland, France (Normandy comes from “nord-men” i.e. North-men) and Ireland to name but a few…

    Skilful at bringing their ideas and technologies with them as well as integrating with the locals, the Vikings were masters of moving and adapting. They had an enormous influence on Dublin in particular, raiding and setting up camp here in 841 AD.

    This first visit led to over 200 years of on-and-off warfare between the native Gaelic kingdoms and the Viking settlers. There was much to learn from each other but also much to lose in a time where “might was right.”

    It all came to a head in 1014 in the Battle of Clontarf, when Gaelic forces led by the legendary Brian Ború came to bloody blows with a Norse-Gael alliance. The Gaels prevailed in a decisive victory over the Norse invaders and they were expelled from rule in Ireland. The battle was such an event that it is remembered in both Irish and Norse Annals.

    What Ireland Has to Thank the Vikings

    Expanding Settlements

    Before the arrival of the Vikings in Ireland, there were over 150 kingdoms on the island with no central rule. Gaelic people lived in close-knit, family-based settlements near monasteries that served as ‘safe houses’ for valuables, food and cattle.

    The Vikings brought the notion of towns, ports and cities. During their first wave of exploration, they expanded the settlement of Dublin – then known as Dubh Linn (or Black Pool). The second wave of Norse settlers established further towns and cities such as Waterford, Wexford, Limerick, Cork and others.

    These Norsemen and women left a lasting impression on the Gaelic people. Names such as Doyle (son of the dark foreigner), MacAuliffe (Son of Olaf) and MacManus (Son of Manus) all originate from the Scandinavian warriors who made Ireland their home.

    Shipbuilding & Navigation

    Due to Ireland’s densely forested landscape, travel overland was difficult. The Vikings’ superior shipbuilding and navigational skills opened up many new possibilities of travel for the Gaelic people. These new longboats were perfect for sailing long distances while still being shallow-hulled. It was this expertise that allowed the Vikings to sail across oceans to unknown lands – as well as able to sail upriver during invasions.

    Though legend has it that Irish St. Brendan was supposed to have crossed the Atlantic in a leather-covered boat in the 6th century, the waterways could be utilised more efficiently by the Gaels upon learning better shipbuilding and navigation from the Norsemen. It enabled the Gaelic sailors to go further afield and were even used against the Vikings in battle once the Gaelic folk got to grips with these new skills.

    Currency & Trade

    In the year 997AD, Dublin’s Viking leader at the time, Sihtric Silkbeard, is said to have established Ireland’s first coin currency. Up until this point, the Irish people had traded goods in using the barter system.

    The introduction of coin-based currency coincided with the expansion of Irish trade under the Vikings, making Dublin a centre of domestic and even international trade. By the 11th century, Dublin had rapidly expanded into a city of thousands along the River Liffey, an exceptional location for trade and travel.


    The Arrival of the Normans

    Fast forward to 1066, when the Duke of Normandy William the Conquerer invaded England at the Battle of Hastings. Though one of the world’s most famous battles, little is remembered of its significant impact on Ireland’s history.

    The Norman Invasion of Ireland

    By 1169, still giddy with pride at their successful invasion of England, the Normans arrived in Co Waterford in Ireland at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurragh), ousted King of Leinster. With the help of the Norman Richard de Clare (also called Strongbow), Diarmuit reclaimed his territories in Leinster, instigating the Norman invasion of Ireland. Strongbow was rewarded with extensive territories and the hand in marriage of Diarmuit’s daughter Aoife.

    This led to further conquests and raids on surrounding lands. Years of back-and-forth warfare took place between the Gaelic and Norman forces. Norman strongholds began popping up all over the east coast of Ireland, as far north as Carrickfergus Castle, near Belfast.

    Though Strongbow and counterparts such as Hugh de Lacy, Miles de Cogan and Raymond Fitzgerald made a huge impression in Ireland, it was soon apparent this was only the beginning.

    The Normans are Here to Stay

    In 1171, English King Henry II landed in Waterford, commencing a four-year offensive which led to the Treaty of Windsor between Henry II and High King of Ireland Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Connor). This treaty halved Ireland under two influences – Henry as lord of Anglo-Norman lands and Ruaidrí as lord of the rest of Ireland, with Ruaidrí agreeing to swear fealty to Henry.

    By 1300, the Anglo-Normans controlled most of the island, aside from a few pockets in Connemara, the peninsulas of Cork and Kerry, Clare, and northwestern Ulster (interestingly enough, these regions correspond with the Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking communities of modern Ireland.

    It was around this period that “the Pale” came about – a fenced region from which the English Lords held power, though they had to contend regularly with Gaelic forces with constant fluctuations in territory.

    Though the Anglo-Norman/English powers expected the Norman lords to enforce English ways, many Normans assimilated and settled as Hiberno-Norman people, adopting the Irish language and culture. There is considerable evidence of Norman influence in Ireland today, with powerful family names such as Butler, Fitzgerald, Joyce and D’Arcy to name a few. Through their colonisation of England, the Normans also impacted the English language we all speak today.

    Ireland in the Late Middle Ages

    In Ireland in the late Middle Ages the Gaelic people found themselves marginalised and expelled outside “the Pale,” though for the most part, they were able to continue speaking Irish and practising Irish customs and laws.

    During the Middle Ages, Ireland followed the ancient Brehon Laws (operating until the early 17th century following the English Tudor conquest), coming from the Irish Breitheamh meaning ‘to judge’. (Also the name for wandering lawyers of the time).

    Initiated by Earl of Kildare “Silken Thomas” Fitzgerald by renouncing his allegiance to Henry VIII, his failed Geraldine Rebellion of 1534 led to the extensive English plantation of Ireland’s Munster region.

    This quashed revolt drew King Henry VIII’s attention to Ireland . He resolved to maintain order by extending the English powers beyond ‘the Pale’ and anglicising the Gaelic lordship. Henry established his authority by declaring himself King of Ireland in 1542, implementing a policy known as ‘surrender and regrant,’ forcing Gaelic clans to surrender their land. Upon receiving their lands again as a “gift from the King,” they were expected to renounce Gaelic language, customs and law, accept whatever new name was given to them by the King and convert to Protestantism.

    There were many uprisings against these social and religious upheavals. Most notably:

    • The Demond Rebellions (1569–1573 and 1579–1583): The Fitzgerald Clans in Munster fought to maintain autonomy from the English monarch, but ultimately led to further land confiscation and plantation of Munster. Learn more about this at Ross Castle.
    • The Nine Years War (1593 – 1603): The O’Neills and O’Donnells of Ulster fought against English rule, leading to defeat for the Gaelic Lords and paving the way for the Ulster plantation.

    The Flight of the Earls

    Rugged Donegal cliffs and coasts

    The Nine Years War

    The Nine Years War (1593 – 1603) was a seminal moment in Irish History and provides the backdrop for what led to the exile of over 90 of Ireland’s finest Chieftains of the 16th century,  which became known as The Flight of the Earls.

    The war was led by an alliance of Ulster Chieftains Hugh O’Neill of Tír Eoghain (Tyrone) and Hugh Roe O’Donnell of Tyrconnell (Donegal), gathering support from as far as Spain to put a stop to the intruding British forces. Successful in early skirmishes of the Nine Years War, the Earls had victories in Monaghan in the Battle of Clontibret (1595) and in Armagh at The Battle of Yellow Ford (1598). They were bolstered in support by Gaelic Lords such as Hugh Maguire (Fermanagh), Brian O’Rourke (West Breifne), Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare (West Cork), Fiach McHugh O’Byrne (Wicklow) to name a few.

    The Doomed Battle of Kinsale

    Things began to figuratively head south for the Earls after their defeat at the 1601 Battle of Kinsale in Cork (Spanish allies accidentally landed in Cork, the opposite end of the island!), when they were overpowered by English cavalry and forced to retreat. Red Hugh O’Donnell and some others were fled to Spain while others were pardoned for their part in the war, but were forced to make do with diminished land holdings and power as well as submission to the English Crown.

    There was much uproar amongst the English and Anglo-Irish that the Earls had been let off lightly for their “treason.” Soon, there were murmurs that O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell – brother of Red Hugh – were to be arrested and imprisoned in an effort to quell the upset.

    Donegal’s Lough Swilly

    The Flight of the Earls

    Upon hearing this news, and after many years making numerous concessions to the Crown, Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell departed from Lough Swilly in Co. Donegal, sailing for Rome, with around 90 others, in the hopes of eventually returning with an army – now known as the Flight of the Earls.

    Unfortunately, none of the Earls ever returned with an army, as their greatest allies in Spain eventually made peace with the new English monarch. They spent the rest of their days in Rome or further abroad and their exile paved the way for the increasing plantation of Ireland by Protestant English, Scottish and Welsh settlers.

    Explore the Rugged Region of Donegal

    Invasions and Rebellions

    The Cromwellian Invasion

    The Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland helped end Gaelic Ireland. 

    Cromwell’s army arrived in 1649 to put “troublesome” Gaelic and Anglo-Irish back in their place after the 1641 Irish Rebellion and the 1642 Confederate Irish War. The English Civil War was over, the king was disposed, and the rebel Irish were a thorn in England’s side. 

    Within weeks, Cromwell’s forces controlled most of Ireland’s East through violence, murder, burning and pillaging, leaving a trail of death and destruction in his army’s wake.

    Rebels and participants were executed, or had their lands confiscated and were shipped off as indentured servants to the West Indies. Others were forced to flee or become tenants on the poorest lands in the West of Ireland.

    Cromwell was a fanatical Protestant, viewing Catholicism as disgraceful and abhorrent, forbidding them from residing in towns, and paying his soldiers by dispossessing Catholic landowners to give their land and castles to distinguished Crown soldiers.

    Seen as ethnically cleansing the Gaelic people and replace with the English language, laws and customs, it put a strain on Irish – British relations.

    The Williamite Campaign

    Catholic King James II was overthrown by his Protestant daughter Mary and son-in-law William, leading to the Williamite War of 1688–1691.

    Though overthrown, former King James II still maintained a loyal base in Ireland as many Irish Catholics had hoped he would address the widespread instances of religious persecution. Obviously, this was something the new monarchs felt needed dealt with.

    Taking place largely in the northern half of Ireland, the war began with a few small skirmishes and came to a head with the Siege of Derry (1689). This battle ended in a defeat for the Jacobites (defenders of James II) and the Williamites took hold of many important towns in Ulster.

    The two year war came to end after a series of notable battles such as the Battle of the Boyne and the Siege of Limerick (1690) and then finally the Battle of Aughrim (1691) in which the Williamites were victorious, ending the war and leading to the signing of the Treaty of Limerick.

    The Treaty of Limerick ensured the Jacobites could remain in Ireland and hold their lands in return for swearing allegiance to the English crown. This didn’t last long though, as it is often said that “the ink was not dry on the Treaty” before the English broke it.

    The Penal Laws

    In 1695, the Penal Laws were forced on Irish Catholics and Protestant dissenters.

    Penal Laws placed restrictions on the Irish people, including: forbidding Catholics and Presbyterians from practising their religion, major limitations on the education systems, as well as prohibiting the Irish language, the right to vote, working in government or public office.

    Catholic and Presbyterian schools were forbidden  so people set up unofficial secret schools in private homes or hidden outdoor locations – the “Hedge Schools.

    As non-Anglican religious services were also banned, Mass Rocks began to pop up and a majority still stand today. These were places were locals would gather in secret to celebrate mass, with large rocks used as alters. It was a dangerous practice and anyone caught, particularly the priest, would be put to death.

    A majority of these laws were relaxed between 1778-1793, with the last of them removed in 1829.

    Want to see history hands on? Visit a pilgrimage path or a mass rock yourself, where illicit mass was said, such as the little-travelled Pilgrim’s Path up the Slieve League Cliffs.

    Learn More

    The 1798 Rebellion

    Another uprising against the austere British regime was the 1798 Rebellion, a reaction to the harsh Penal Laws.

    With infamous rebel members such as Theobald Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Neilson, the Belfast-based United Irishmen grew into a large uprising. Crossing religious divides, this group was comprised Catholics and Protestant dissenters. In contrast, the mainly-Protestant loyalists to the English Crown established The Orange Order in 1795, named after Dutch Williamite leader, William of Orange.

    Clashes took place as tensions escalated, pushing the United Irishmen to enlist the help of a common enemy of Britain: the French, who came to their aid in 1798 under the leadership of General Humbert.

    The British experienced a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Carrignagat when young Irish Lieutenant Teeling destroyed a significant British gunner, forcing the English forces to retreat to Co Sligo.

    The 1798 Rebellion was eventually quashed after a decisive British victory at the Battle of Ballinamuck in 1798. While the French soldiers were pardoned, the Irish soldiers were executed.

    The Act of Union was introduced in 1800, effectively creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, abolishing the Irish government, and replacing with the British parliament.

    Check out a place where rebels met atop the mystical Cavehill nearBelfast. 

    Learn More

    The Great Hunger

    Ireland Before the Famine

    Before this atrocity, Ireland had a population of 8.2 million. Most native Irish were tenant farmers to rich, absentee landlords whose power often went unchecked. Land holdings were so small that tenants were forced into a monoculture of growing the quickest and easiest crop, the potato.

    The Potato Blight

    A disease known as Potato Blight decimated the potato crop. This triggered a domino effect of defaulted rents and great debt. Many were left homeless and starving.

    Sadly, there were of other food sources and crops in Ireland but Irish tenant farmers did not have the right to take advantage of such food sources due to crippling laws and high tariffs on staples like corn and bread. It’s widely recorded that food and livestock were shipped from impoverished Ireland to England during the Famine – leading some to allude that Famine was more like a genocide.

    The Irish Famine

    Around 1 million people died of starvation. Another roughly 2 million emigrated on “coffin ships, so named as small ships, high numbers and poor conditions caused high death rates in transit. Many landlords actually paid for their tenants’ passage in order to replace tenants with sheep, seen as “cheaper and less trouble” – reminiscent of the Highland Clearances in Scotland.

    Those who could not feed themselves or emigrate were forced into workhouses, established under the Poor Law Act 1834, where sickness was rife and the limited food of little nutritional value. Another alternative were the Famine Relief Projects. Starving people were put to backbreaking and superfluous work – breaking stones, building walls and constructing roads, because the attitude of the English landlords was you couldn’t get something for nothing, even if you were starving. Many died where they worked.

    The Great Hunger was one of worst tragedies of 19th century Europe, and had profound effects on Ireland and the Irish. Even today, Ireland has not reached pre-Famine population levels.

    The Gaelic Revival

    The 1800s brought a revival of the Gaelic language, music, sports, and traditions. Douglas Hyde was a founding member of the 1876 Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (Cumann Buan-Choimeádta na Gaeilge), the first brick on which the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) was founded on in 1893 by Eoin MacNeill.

    The society was brought about to develop national interest in the Irish Language and culture – folklore, sports, dance, arts and music. Weekly meetings were organised where people would gather to speak Irish, take courses and discuss the culture in order to combat the ongoing Anglicisation.

    It’s worth noting that the Gaelic League was the first cultural society to allow female members, even sitting on branch committees and allowed a say in club affairs. Journalist Mary E. Butler was a member of the executive and it was she who suggested the organisations’ name.

    Though the focus of the Gaelic League was on teaching Irish at home, they successfully campaigned to re-introduce the Irish language to schools (Irish had been banned from schools during the Penal times and the 1831 introduction of National Schools further enforced English).

    In 1899, the weekly newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light) was established, eventually edited by a young Padraig Pearse from 1903-1909. Pearse is considered the first modernist writer in Irish and was a famous revolutionary leader in the Easter Rising.

    Other organisations of equal importance were:

    • Cumann Lúthchleas Gael 1884 (Gaelic Athletic Association)
    • An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha 1927 (The Irish Dancing Commission)
    • Coimisiún Béaloideasa Éireann 1935 (Irish Folklore Commission)

    Finding Today's Gaeltacht Regions

    The 20th Century - The Rising and Independence

    The Easter Rising

    In Dublin on Easter Monday 24th April 1916, there was an insurrection, later known as the Easter Rising, to overthrow British rule and establish an independent Irish Republic.

    It ended in defeat for the Irish on Saturday 29th April when Padraig Pearse, an Irish volunteer and organiser of the uprising, surrendered.

    In the brutal aftermath of the Easter Rising, court martials began: 187 participants were tried in illegal trials in Richmond Barracks. 90 others were sentenced to death in Kilmainham Gaol including the 7 signatories of the Proclamation – a document drafted for the Easter Rising as a declaration of Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom.

    Though unsuccessful, the brutality of the post-Rising executions demonising the British and increased support for the Irish cause.

    In 1918, the Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) was formed by Irish political party Sinn Féin. Their first order of business? Reaffirm the Proclamation of Independence and reconstruct the Irish Volunteers movement to become a new Irish Republican Army.

    The Irish War of Independence & The Partition

    During the Irish War of Independence, hostility towards the British generated countless attacks on Crown forces. A ruthless force of constables called the Black & Tans were recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary to “police” the situation.

    With things in a constant state of disarray, the British introduced the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, splitting the country in two – Northern Ireland and The South of Ireland. This would pave the way for the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, signed by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, and the eventual Partition of Ireland. In 1922, 26 counties became the Irish Free State while the remaining 6 were left to stay in the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland.

    Not all were pleased. This led to the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), during which revolutionary Michael Collins was assassinated. Fought between pro-treaty and anti-treaty opposition, the Civil War ended in a ceasefire in early 1923 when the anti-treaty forces were weakened by limited resources.

    The Irish Republic would have its first constitution by 1937 while tensions continued to bubble below the surface.

    What were the Troubles?

    You’ve probably heard of the Troubles in Ireland, a conflict resulting primarily from the status of Northern Ireland and ongoing friction between the Nationalist/Irish (Catholic) population wanting a United Ireland, and Unionist/British (Protestant) community, preferring to remain in the UK. This debate continues to this day (think Brexit).

    Since creating Northern Ireland, the Unionist population has dominated by discriminating against the Nationalist/Irish community in elections, employment, housing and policing. This abuse of power gave rise to the Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967 who campaigned for equality of all people. An important leader of the Civil Rights movement was 20-year-old Bernadette Devlin, the youngest person ever voted into parliament at Westminster.

    In 1969, riots grew in frequency, responding to ongoing injustice and cruel treatment. Civil Rights marches were regularly attacked by off-duty officers and loyalists or given no protection at all. On August 12th a loyalist march was allowed to pass by the Bogside in Derry, a Nationalist/Irish part of the city. This sparked fury among Bogside residents, leading to days of rioting. On August 15th, in response to the Battle of the Bogside, the British Army was deployed into the city of Derry, which caused widespread rioting across Northern Ireland.

    The Future of Ireland: A "United Ireland"?

    The conflict reinvigorated the Republican cause for a United Ireland. Tit-for-tat violence continued for years between Nationalist and Loyalist paramilitaries and many innocent people became victims as a result. Allegedly sent to keep the peace, the British Army reigned terror upon the people in a clear bias towards the Union with the United Kingdom.

    In 1998, after a tumultuous 30-year conflict and many discussions of peace, the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The agreement between all major political parties and both the Irish and British government saw self-government re-introduced on the basis of power-sharing, the reconstruction of the RUC (now the PSNI) and outlined issues such as civil and cultural rights, demilitarisation and justice.

    The British Army officially left Northern Ireland in 2007 and there have since been investigations into their conduct during the conflict. The 2016 Brexit vote has sparked numerous debates on the future of Ireland and the possibility of a united Ireland.

    Our holidays reviewed
    in your own words

    This is an exceptional trip with some challenging up hills reprieved with long sloping trails thru a diversity of woods. We felt so satisfied to walk all day to exhaustion and fall into these cosy Inns for food and drink and a nice bed. Well planned out. I would highly recommend this trip. Ireland is gorgeous and the Wicklow Way is a highlight.

    Fay Simpson
    Self Guided Walking - The Wicklow Way
    Reviewed on 12/04/2022

    Rated 4.94 out of 5 based on 1,684 reviews

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