According to tradition, St Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in 432. He is also credited with introducing the Roman alphabet to the island. After this Celtic Christianity prospered for centuries, and was spread to nearby areas as well as all over Ireland. It was later supplanted by Roman Catholicism, though Irish Christianity retains some of its own characteristics.
From the 9th Century, for the next three centuries, Vikings attacked large areas of southern Ireland, sailing up navigable rivers to reach inland towns. They also founded cities, such as Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Limerick. They were defeated in 1014 and Ireland became a patchwork of a dozen or so small kingdoms.
In the 12th Century, the Normans arrived, initially on the invitation of the exiled King of Leinster, Diarmuit mac Murchada. Soon the areas they controlled fell under the rule of King John of England, and by 1300, the Anglo-Normans controlled most of the island. In the next century, however, there was a Gaelic resurgence, with Irish language and customs dominating the island once more.
The Celtic recovery lasted until 1536, when Henry VIII of England decided to put the whole of Ireland under the English crown. Over the next century, the western, Gaelic parts of Ireland slowly fell under English control. The 1641 Rebellion, which aimed to reverse this trend, started 11 years of war that culminated in Oliver Cromwell's brutal reconquest of the island. Some Irish were enslaved and shipped to the Caribbean, and more land confiscations followed, under the Penal Laws.
In the period around 1700, the English started to make 'plantations' on the island, in which land was confiscated and colonised by Scottish and English people. Most of these colonies were in the north-east. From around this time, Protestants were in the ascendancy and, after further Gaelic attempts to regain control, the Irish Parliament was dissolved in the 1801 Act of Union, and Ireland was ruled directly from Westminster.
An Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, devastated the island between 1845 and 1852, killing around a million people, with another million or so emigrating. The famine was exacerbated by the incompetence and indifference of the Westminster government; it was after this time that resistance to British rule became more organised. The process of the British relinquishing their rule begun in 1910, with the first Home Rule Act. The 1916 Easter Uprising led to a great deal of upheaval, which eventually led to the declaration of the Irish Free State in 1922.
Ireland became fully independent in 1937, and remained neutral in the Second World War (though only technically, as many Irish volunteers fought on the Allied side.) In 1949, Ireland left the British Commonwealth, becoming a republic. Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and adopted the euro as its currency in 1999. During this time, the country has generally prospered, though it was hit particularly hard by the credit crunch and the following global recession.
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