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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

The second largest island of the British Isles, much influenced by the *Celts for whom this was the last point in their long migration westwards through Europe. After the conversion of the Irish by St *Patrick, it was Ireland which exerted pressure and influence on Britain – first in the missionary journeys of St *Columba and others, then in the expansion of the kingdom of the *Scots. But the pattern changed a century after the Norman *Conquest. From then until 1921 it was more a case of constant pressure from Britain provoking constant Irish grievance.

In 1171 *Henry II landed in Ireland and spent the winter in Dublin, receiving the homage of most of the Irish kings and granting large tracts of Irish land to his English followers. Dublin became the centre of English rule, though its authority often extended no further than the surrounding *pale. The first king to establish firm administrative control over Ireland was *Henry VIII, in 1541. In the Elizabethan period a succession of rebellions by Irish hereditary chieftains resulted in vast areas of their land being confiscated and handed over to English adventurers. Meanwhile the *Reformation, which had made no headway in a strongly Roman Catholic Ireland, caused any friction between the Irish and the English to be seen also as a clash between Catholics and Protestants.

Four years after Elizabeth's death the incident known as the flight of the earls took place. The earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, vassal lords of large crown territories in *Ulster, had engaged in rebellion against the queen. Reinstated in their lands, but under conditions which they found intolerable, they fled from Ireland to Roman Catholic Europe in September 1607 with a party of about 100 family and retainers. They thus provided the perfect opportunity for Britain to alter the balance in Ireland to its own advantage. English and Scottish Protestants were settled on the lands of the departed chieftains, giving northern Ireland a strong and favoured Protestant minority.

A rising of the Catholics in Ulster in 1641 led to a broader Irish war which only aggravated the situation. The English parliament raised an army by promising confiscated land in Ireland to those who would provide troops or money; Oliver *Cromwell himself conducted the later stages of the campaign. The Irish Catholics had one last chance to redress their grievances in war, when they marched in 1689 in support of *James II. His defeat at the *Boyne condemned them to decades of severe restrictions under a parliament in Dublin which was limited to Protestants and which was in any case little more than a mouthpiece for London.

For the next two centuries Ireland was culturally a part of the United Kingdom. The elegance of 18C Dublin, much of which survives, is in the style of other British cities of the time; and a succession of brilliant Anglo-Irish Protestant writers (*Swift, *Goldsmith, *Sheridan, *Wilde, *Shaw) lived in England and adorned English literature, a pattern broken only when Yeats and Synge made a special theme of their Irishness. But in the political context Irish aspirations remained fresh, stimulated by the examples of the War of *American Independence and of the *French Revolution.

The latter led to the formation of societies of United Irishmen, urging Catholic emancipation, and to armed insurrection by Wolfe *Tone (1763–98) with assistance from France. This unrest persuaded *Pitt that Ireland should be part of the United Kingdom, and the Act of Union was passed in 1800 with effect from 1 January 1801.

The political arena moved now from Dublin to London, with Irish members of parliament at Westminster. The election of Daniel *O'Connell in 1828 led directly to the *Emancipation Act of 1829, admitting Roman Catholics to public offices. Although the *Great Famine of the 1840s had the temporary effect of reducing nationalist pressure, *Home Rule was the most consistently urgent topic in London from the 1870s. In Ireland the *Fenian movement was founded in 1858 and *Sinn Fein in 1902. The final stages of the long slow process towards Home Rule, violently opposed by *Carson, were only postponed by World War I.

The war offered the more radical nationalists an opportunity for action, with possible support from Germany (as sought by Roger *Casement). The result was the *Easter Rising of 1916, followed by the emergence of what became the *IRA and the period known as the Troubles (more formally the *Anglo-Irish War).

The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 provided for separate parliaments in Dublin and Belfast, each with limited local autonomy. Such a parliament came into effect in *Northern Ireland. But Sinn Fein rejected the proposal for the south, and violence continued until the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December 1921; this finally recognized the whole island (except the *six counties of Ulster) as the independent Irish Free State, with *dominion status in the British empire. The name was changed to Eire in 1937, and to the Republic of Ireland in 1948. By the same act of 1948 Ireland withdrew from the *Commonwealth.

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