Irish Story

Urban and rural scenes of Ireland

Kinsale. Click for larger photo



Some key battles which took place over the second millenium in Ireland had lasting effects on the history, culture and attitudes of the country.

Clontarf in 1014 is famous as the battle at which Brian Boru defeated the Vikings. As a definitive battle it is somewhat dubious – Brian had a personal agenda to pursue and later scholars discount Clontarf as being “Ireland versus the Vikings” – there was no unity of chiefs in Ireland - as well as discounting the popular notion that this was the end of the Vikings.

Yellow Ford was Red Hugh O’Donnell’s great victory against the English in 1595. The Irish were outnumbered and had inferior weapons, but routed the English through tactical skill. The effect was to unite all of Ulster behind the O’Neill and the O’Donnell in the Nine Years War, which came closest of all the uprisings to freeing Ireland from the English.

Kinsale in 1602 was the end of the Nine Years War. The Irish were persuaded to attack to relieve their Spanish allies, who had landed in the extreme south near Cork instead of further north where they might have been effective, resulting in a comprehensive defeat which resulted in the Ulster Chiefs departing for the continent a few years later. The Flight of the Earls in 1607 left their people at the mercy of the English James I, who promptly confiscated their lands and installed protestant settlers in the infamous Plantation of Ulster.


The Seige of Derry occurred during the Jacobite wars. In 1685, the Catholic James II came to the throne of England. His agent Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnell, started to dismiss Protestant officers from the army in Ireland, replacing them with Catholics. For English Protestants, the last straw came when the birth of a son to his second wife meant that his Protestant daughter Mary would not succeed to the throne. In the summer of 1688, a group of seven prominent Englishmen sent a message inviting Mary's husband, William of Orange, to take the English throne, which he did. James fled to France, then came to Ireland hoping that he could regain the throne with the help of supporters in France, Ireland and Scotland.


In December 1688, Tyrconnell ordered a Catholic regiment (Lord Antrim's Redshanks) to take over the Derry garrison, replacing Mountjoy's regiment which had been sent to Dublin. On 7 December 1688, when the first companies of Redshanks had crossed the Foyle River, a group of young apprentices took matters into their own hands by closing the gates of the city against the Catholic army. This act - treachery to Catholics but heroism to Protestants - is commemorated during the annual Orange Marches in Ulster.

The Battle of the Boyne in 1690 gave William of Orange [William III of England] a final victory over the Irish. James II, usurped by William, fought with the Irish, but his weakness as a king and leader was exposed by the battle. The defeat at the Boyne marked the end of the Irish Catholic aristocracy as a force in Ireland. In 1795 the Orange Order was founded to celebrate Protestantism’s victory in Ireland. Its members are responsible even today for provoking unrest. The Orange Marches, held from Easter until the battle’s anniversary on 12 July each year, perpetuate the divisions between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster. The march organisers deliberately provoke Catholics by insisting on routing the marches through Catholic areas of Belfast and Derry.

The Uprising of 1798 led by the United Irishmen was put down savagely by the English, who feared a repeat of the French and American revolutions. An interesting feature is that virtually all of the founders and leaders of the United Irishmen were Protestants, including the famous Theobald Wolfe Tone – this was a rising based not on religion but on race.

From the United Irish catechism:

What have you got in your hand?
A green bough.
Where did it first grow?
In America.
Where did it bud?
In France.
Where are you going to plant it?
In the crown of Great Britain.

When it was over the British government passed the infamous Act of Union, so that from now on any Irish risings would count as treason.

Its significance for Australia is that thousands of those who were not executed were transported to the new colonies. These Irish exiles had a powerful influence on the development of the distinctive Australian culture.

The Easter Rising of 1916 was doomed from the start as a rebellion. The general population did not support it at the time, the rebels were disorganised, ill armed and had no hope at all of driving the English out of Ireland. The Rising began a day late, on Easter Monday. A small group took over the Dublin GPO, raised the tricolour Irish flag then read a proclamation that repudiated English rule and claimed Ireland for the Irish. Its significance is that the British reprisals caused a swing to public support for the rebels and eventually a free Ireland. The heroes of the Rising are immortalised in Irish society.






About Ireland

Irish History

Learn Gaelic

Irish Roots

CopyrightSite MapContact Us