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England's Role

The Normans, who had established themselves in England after 1066, invaded Ireland in 1171. They had the blessing of the Pope, who was anxious to impose Catholic religious practices on the rebellious Irish church. Great Norman families established feudal estates on the rich Irish countryside, often expelling the native Irish residents. The conquerors were only able to impose full control over a small part of the country stretching immediately north, west, and south from their military headquarters in the city of Dublin. This area became known as the “Pale of Settlement,” and the wild, rebellious regions outside, which were inhabited by native Irish clans, were considered “beyond the pale” or outside effective English authority.

Over time, the new arrivals adopted the language and customs of their native neighbours, much to the despair and frustration of the English authorities in London. The Irish continued to resist, with some success. By 1500 the Gaelic lordships of O'Neill, O'Donnell, Maguire, McMahon and O'Reilly in Ulster, O'Byrne, O'More and O'Connor in Leinster, the various branches of the MacCarthys and O'Briens in Munster and the O'Connors in Connacht were semi-independent principalities.

With the centralising of royal power in the 16th century, England made a second attempt to impose its rule over Ireland, leading to a series of wars between Irish clan chieftains like the great Hugh O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell, and armies of occupation led by English noblemen in the service of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

In the final struggle against the Tudor monarchy Hugh O'Neill proved himself one of the greatest of all leaders of Gaelic Ireland. His vision of politics, at first confined to central Ulster, was soon broadened to include all Ireland and ultimately had a European dimension as well. An unusual combination of Gaelic chieftain and Renaissance prince, he recruited both Gael and Anglo-Irish in his service. The Battle of Kinsale, at which the O'Neill and the O'Donnell were defeated, marked the effective end of Ulster 's resistance to English dominance. Lord Mountjoy, the English commander, then proceeded to punish the rebels, especially after the sour James 1 succeeded to the English throne.

A great rising of Irish Catholics broke out in 1641. Soon the Irish struggle came to be part of the English Civil War between King Charles I and the parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell. Following his victory in England, Cromwell dispatched his army to Ireland to crush the Catholic rebels once and for all. Determined to drive them “to Hell or to Connacht,” Cromwell pushed the Irish into the remote, barren west of the country, securing the fertile regions for even more Protestant settlers. His troops committed terrible atrocities, such as the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed civilians at Drogheda and Wexford, and what the Irish were to call the “curse of Cromwell” lay heavy on the land for many decades.

On 12 July 1690, a battle was fought on the banks of the River Boyne north of Dublin. On one side were the mainly Protestant forces loyal to the Dutch ruler William of Orange, who had assumed the English throne two years before. On the other side were those who supported James II, the English monarch who had been ousted by Parliament in favour of William because of his Catholic faith. The victory of William and the Protestants marked the subjugation for a century of Catholic Ireland to English control.

In 1798 there was another great Rising, this time led by a combination of Protestants and Catholics. After crushing the Rising, the English passed harsh laws suppressing native Irish culture - including prohibiting the wearing of green - and it was not until more than a century later that the Irish were able to regroup sufficiently to force first Home Rule, then in 1949, the creation of the Republic of Ireland. Six counties remain under British control.






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