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Ireland history culture

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© Lonely Planet Publications
33

History
VENI, VIDI, VICI
If there is one historical theme most Irish have an opinion about, it is being
conquered, and it matters not a jot that to many the facts are a little hazy.
‘Eight hundred years’ has long been the rallying call of Irish nationalists,
these years being roughly the period of time dear old Britannia ruled the
Irish roost. And while Ireland’s fractious relationship with its sister island
across the Irish Sea casts an overwhelming shadow over Ireland’s history of
conquest and domination, it’s not just the English that conquered and even
when they did, their relationship with their new subjects was fraught with
complexities and contradictions rather than being the simple narrative of
conquest and rebellion that some nationalists would have us believe.
The island has been the subject of a series of conquests since the 8th century
BC, when the fearsome Celtic warrior tribes began making steady attacks on
the island – the last of these tribes, commonly known as the Gaels (which in
the local language came to mean ‘foreigner’), came ashore in the 3rd century
BC and proceeded to divide the island into at least five kingdoms. They also
set about creating the basics of what we now term ‘Irish’ culture: they devised
a sophisticated code of law called the Brehon Law that remained in use until
the early 17th century and their swirling, mazelike design style, evident on
artefacts nearly 2000 years old, is considered the epitome of Irish design.
Yet the Celts weren’t ‘Irish’ in any nationalistic sense. The kingdoms were
constantly at war with each other, and even though they all nominally paid
allegiance to a high king who sat at Tara, in County Meath, their support
was fraught and fluid, given when it suited and withdrawn just as quickly
when it didn’t. It was this lack of unity that allowed the Vikings to make such
easy forays into Ireland, targeting the rich monastic settlements that had
grown up as a result of the steady Christianisation of the Celts beginning in
the end of the 4th century AD. Even the Battle of Clontarf (1014), taught to
every Irish schoolkid as the ultimate showdown between the native ‘Irish’
lead by the High King Brian Ború and the Viking invaders, wasn’t quite
as straightforward as that: fighting alongside the Vikings was the king of
Leinster, Máelmorda mac Murchada, who was looking to use the Vikings in
a bid to oust Ború and take the throne for himself (both mac Murchada and
Ború lost their ...
VENI, VIDI, VICI
If there is one historical theme most Irish have an opinion about, it is being
conquered, and it matters not a jot that to many the facts are a little hazy.
‘Eight hundred years’ has long been the rallying call of Irish nationalists,
these years being roughly the period of time dear old Britannia ruled the
Irish roost. And while Ireland’s fractious relationship with its sister island
across the Irish Sea casts an overwhelming shadow over Ireland’s history of
conquest and domination, it’s not just the English that conquered and even
when they did, their relationship with their new subjects was fraught with
complexities and contradictions rather than being the simple narrative of
conquest and rebellion that some nationalists would have us believe.
The island has been the subject of a series of conquests since the 8th century
BC, when the fearsome Celtic warrior tribes began making steady attacks on
the island – the last of these tribes, commonly known as the Gaels (which in
the local language came to mean ‘foreigner’), came ashore in the 3rd century
BC and proceeded to divide the island into at least five kingdoms. They also
set about creating the basics of what we now term ‘Irish’ culture: they devised
a sophisticated code of law called the Brehon Law that remained in use until
the early 17th century and their swirling, mazelike design style, evident on
artefacts nearly 2000 years old, is considered the epitome of Irish design.
Yet the Celts weren’t ‘Irish’ in any nationalistic sense. The kingdoms were
constantly at war with each other, and even though they all nominally paid
allegiance to a high king who sat at Tara, in County Meath, their support
was fraught and fluid, given when it suited and withdrawn just as quickly
when it didn’t. It was this lack of unity that allowed the Vikings to make such
easy forays into Ireland, targeting the rich monastic settlements that had
grown up as a result of the steady Christianisation of the Celts beginning in
the end of the 4th century AD. Even the Battle of Clontarf (1014), taught to
every Irish schoolkid as the ultimate showdown between the native ‘Irish’
lead by the High King Brian Ború and the Viking invaders, wasn’t quite
as straightforward as that: fighting alongside the Vikings was the king of
Leinster, Máelmorda mac Murchada, who was looking to use the Vikings in
a bid to oust Ború and take the throne for himself (both mac Murchada and
Ború lost their lives, but Ború’s armies won the day). Like the Celts before
them, the Vikings eventually settled, giving up the rape-rob-and-run policy
in favour of integration and assimilation: by intermarrying with the Celtic
tribes they introduced red hair and freckles to the Irish gene pool.
The ‘800 years’ of English rule in Ireland nominally began in 1169, when an
army of English barons (actually Cambro-Norman, being a mix of Welsh and
Hi s tory
After the last Ice Age ends,
humans arrive in Ireland during
the Mesolithic Era, originally
crossing a land bridge between
Scotland and Ireland. Few
archaeological traces remain of
this group.
10,000–8000 BC 4500 BC 700–300 BC
The first Neolithic farmers
arrive in Ireland by boat from as
far afield as the Iberian penin-
sula, bringing cattle, sheep,
and crops, marking the begin-
nings of a settled agricultural
economy.
Iron technology gradually
replaces bronze. The Celtic
culture and language arrives,
ushering in 1000 years of cul-
tural and political dominance.
For a concise, 10-minute
read on who
the Celts
were see www.ibiblio
.org/gaelic/celts.html.
The Course of Irish History
by TW Moody and FX
Martin is a hefty volume
by two Trinity College
professors who trace
much of Ireland’s history
to its land and its proxim-
ity to England.
33
© Lonely Planet Publications
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