The Normans from France, originally 'Northmen' or Vikings themselves, invaded Britain in 1066 - this affected the Celtic lands more than any other previous invasion. They occupied the Anglo-Saxon areas, and the Celtic lands of Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland, and later invaded Ireland.

Ironically, they were called upon to help a defeated king of Leinster regain his lands. In 1169 the Normans landed and took Wexford and Dublin. A year later they took Waterford, led by Strongbow, a Norman warlord from occupied Wales, who later inherited the kingship of Leinster as part of his deal to help the previous king. For over 300 years, the immigrant warlords settled in and grew to largely ignore their old Norman, now English, rulers.

Map of Ireland

In the 1500s an attack by the powerful Fitzgeralds of Kildare on the English garrisons of Dublin, resulted in the English King Henry 8th sending an army to Ireland, which crushed the Fitzgeralds, and divided their lands among the English. Henry also left the Catholic Church over his divorce situation, then proceeded to dissolve the Irish monasteries, keep their riches, and made the Irish parliament declare him king of Ireland.

Elizabeth 1st increased the English power by occupying Connaught and Munster, but the O'Neill kings of Ulster were a remaining problem. In the early 1600s a joint Spanish and O'Neill army were defeated, Ulster came under English rule, and 2 years later, most of the O'Neill chiefs left Ireland. Many Irish lands were confiscated, and Ulster was settled by immigrant English and Scots with their new Protestant religion.

In the 1640s, the English Civil War was won by Oliver Cromwell and his supporters, defeating and executing Catholic King Charles 1st, prompting him to bring an army to Ireland, to crush rebellions of the Irish and Old English Catholic supporters of his late enemy. He devastated Ireland, exiled his defeated enemies, and confiscated one third of the country.

40 years later the Catholic King of England James 2nd was exiled, and replaced by Protestant William of Orange. In 1689 James 2nd came to Ireland and was made king by the supportive Irish parliament, and began giving land back to the Catholics. Just over a year later, at the Battle of the Boyne, William of Orange (a Dutchman) led the Protestant English army and won a decisive victory against James 2nd (a Scotsman) and the Catholic Irish army. The resulting treaties put strict laws upon the Catholics, including a ban on all Irish culture, including music, schooling and worship, which continued in secret. Nearly 100 years later, Catholics owned almost no lands in Ireland. The 18th century saw several unsuccessful rebellions and a temporary reinstated Irish parliament.

The Great Hunger - An Gorta Mor - or the Great Famine of 1845-49 was disastrous, as crops of potatoes, the only affordable food for millions of poverty stricken Irish, failed. 2 -3 million people emigrated or died starving, as rich land owners exported other crops too expensive for their tenants. Huge emigration continued for the next 100 years, mainly to the U.S.A. At the time of the famine, there were maybe 9 million people in Ireland, and even today the population is only 6 million.

During the 1820s to 40s, Daniel O'Connell won an election in County Clare, although he could not take the seat as a Catholic, but the British government, fearing an uprising, repealed an old law and he became a Member of Parliament. He embarked on a campaign to restore the Irish parliament, with meetings attracting 1/2 million people. In the later 1800s, Parnell started a movement towards Irish home rule, surprisingly supported by the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone. Ulster Protestants alarmed by this formed the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a vigilante group opposed to the bill, and a republican group formed the Irish Volunteers in support of the bill, which was passed. The other republican groups Sinn Fein and the Fenians were formed about this time, and the protestant loyalist Orangemen.

The Easter Rising of 1916 by the Irish Volunteers lasted a week in Dublin before they surrendered, and Pearce, Connolly and 13 others were shot for their part. 2 years later, Sinn Fein republicans won majority seats in the general election, and declared Ireland independent. Eamon de Valera was leader of the 1st Dail Eireann, the Irish Parliament. The Anglo-Irish War started in 1919 between the Irish Republican Army led by Michael Collins, and the British Black and Tans. In 1920, the IRA had killed 14 suspected spies, and in retaliation, during the 1st 'Bloody Sunday', the Black and Tans drove armoured cars into a Gaelic football stadium, and open fired on the crowd, killing 13 people and wounding dozens of others. The war ended in 1921 with a treaty making 26 counties the Irish Free State, but leaving 6 Ulster protestant counties under British rule. Collins under pressure signed the treaty without de Valera's consent, which led to civil war in 1922-23, during which Collins was killed and de Valera imprisoned. He later formed another successful political party, the Fianna Fail, and held power for years the next majority declared Ireland a Republic in 1949.

Northern Ireland remained relatively quiet until the late 60s, when the Troubles started and British troops were brought in to maintain law and order with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the Irish Republican Army became more active. The Troubles continued for the next 30 years, the most notorious incident was 'Bloody Sunday' in 1972, when 13 civilians were killed by British troops.

The north has become more peaceful in recent years, with some folks looking ahead to a time of tolerance and forgiveness.

If you are in Belfast there is a unique tour - a personal black cab tour of 'The Troubles'. To gain a better understanding of the turbulent local history, and see the famous murals, this may be the way to go. Our Maui Celtic folks were picked up by a knowledgable and impartial guide, who took them to the Shankill Road and Falls Road.

Shankill Road (left) and Falls Road (right) wall murals, West Belfast

Shankill Road mural, West BelfastFalls Road mural, West Belfast

He explained the history of the area, and the murals, while showing us the huge paintings, the burnt-out Crumlin Rd Courthouse, the massive West Belfast 'Peace Wall', and one of the original memorial gardens. An informative, emotional, and startling insight to the everyday life of a troubled community, that outsiders have generally only heard about in the media, and have little understanding of the reality.


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