Ireland is an island comprising the countries of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the latter of which is part of the United Kingdom.
People all over the world have pictures of Ireland that live in their imaginations. When they think of the Emerald Isle, it is of rolling green farmlands outlined by snaking lines of grey stone walls, tidy white thatched cottages with bright painted doors, whitecapped waves crashing against the impressive Cliffs of Moher, or the brick houses of Belfast with sectarian slogans printed on them and British soldiers patrolling the rubble-strewn streets. All these images are equally valid, and none of them are quite correct.
Ireland is seductive, a picture postcard of a lost way of life that is uncluttered and nostalgic. She calls to her expatriates, beckoning them still to take up her causes, sing her praises, was poetic about her triumphs, and honor her achievements. Once a year, they do so, indulging in the “wearin’ o’ the green” and marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades, but few ever return to her.
Centuries of conflict and biter hatreds have taken their toll. In modern times, tourism has depleted much of the magic that once held sway in this island of bittersweet glories. The last bastion of Europe, this westernmost island country (and province) exercises an allure and enduring sentiment far beyond what its size would suggest. So ingrained is the image of lush green fields, so inspiring her many struggles for freedom, so enticing the popular notion of Irish charm and hospitality, that thousands of people the world over claim Irish ancestry, even when it isn’t true.
Thousands of visitors flock to Ireland’s many castles and historic sites every year to kiss the Blarney Stone, drink Guinness in a real Irish pub, sleep in an Irish castle, walk upon the Giant’s Causeway, and photograph the Celtic crosses, ruined monasteries, and other landmarks that have become the stock-and-trade of the tourist industry. They bring their dreams of an Ireland of their own creation, but leave Banality in their wake as they seek to grasp that elusive “something” they are searching for… something they believe Ireland will give them.
The real Ireland may be impossible to find, even for her natives. The history of this “island of saints and scholars” is a never-ending series of battles and invasions. Her legacy is a wealth of sad songs, merry jigs, witty writers, brilliant poets, and imaginative storytellers. It is also one of grim repression, the sundering of families, wasted chances, martyrs to the cause of Irish freedom, economic hardships, and ongoing violence in the name of patriotism. Ireland’s sons and daughters have been forced to emigrate in search of a better future, leaving in waves since the Great Famine and scattering around the world.
There are now far more people of Irish ancestry who live in the United States than populating the whole of modern Ireland. Nor are the Catholic Irish the only ones who have fled. The Scot-Irish of Ulster were among those who became the American pioneers. But the energy and talents both groups brought to America were lost to those left at home. History and religion have created a divided island, with the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland adamantly opposed to reuniting the island, and a Catholic majority in the Republic of Ireland which is uncertain it could shoulder the burdens that would fall to it should there actually be a reunification.
Ireland is one of the wettest countries of Europe, though the temperature is mild due to the Atlantic Gulf Stream, which softens and warms the westerly winds. No point on the island is further than 70 miles from the ocean, giving the whole of it a temperate climate that rarely falls below 40 degrees F in the winter or rises above the low to mid-60s in summer. Rain is more plentiful in the West, while the southeast is the driest part of the island. Snow is rare, usually falling only in the higher elevations, and never lasts for long.
Most of Ireland is subject to the grey, overcast days of light, drizzling rain, which the Irish refer to as “soft weather.” Most days, though, have at least partial sunshine. The West gets heavy rainstorms, and frightening squalls blow in off the ocean. The weather is notorious for its capriciousness, changing in the space of a few minutes or hours from grey and rainy to sunny and clear. It is not unusual on a day that has been heavily overcast to suddenly have the clouds open and spotlight portions of the land with brilliant shafts of sunlight, or for the clouds to disappear entirely in time for a rosy sunset. The humidity of the island sets the stage for spectacular rainbows, which are most frequently seen in the Southwest.
Fewer people live in the whole of Ireland than live in the city of London. With a population of just over 5 million (of which 3.5 million reside in the Republic and 1.5 million in Northern Ireland), it constitutes one of the most sparsely populated areas of Europe. At one time, Ireland claimed over 8 million people. The Great Famine in the 1840s, and its attendant disease and emigration, reduced this by half. Emigration since that time further reduced the number in the Republic to less than 3 million by the 1960s. That number has now climbed over the 3 million mark again.
Approximately one-third of the population of the republic lives in the capital of Dublin, and one third of the people of Northern Ireland reside in its capital of Belfast. While the North has always been more industrialized, this constitutes a major shift for the people of the Republic who were more agrarian in the past.
In the Republic of Ireland, Catholics comprise 95% of the population, with Protestants representing only a little over 3%. In Northern Ireland, Protestants have a 55% majority, and Catholics are a large minority with 40% of the population. While there is supposed to be no discrimination, in actual fact, it was unavoidable because of the division of the island. The percentage of Protestants has declined in the Republic, while in the North, disenfranchisement of Catholics was built into the province at its inception. And preference for Protestants has existed for centuries. Ironically, while the Catholics of the North were discriminated against by the Protestants, the Protestants themselves (Presbyterians and others) were (and continue to be) looked down upon by the established Church of England. Religions is still an important part of life in Ireland, and has had a profound effect on its political, economic, and social development.
In both the North and the South, almost half the population consists of young people under 25 years of age. Most are well-educated, though the high unemployment rate in both the Republic and the North have left many with few choices other than emigration. Recently there has been a shift away from large families due to the availability of contraceptives, and to leaving the traditional farming life which required many children to work the land.
Usually characterized as being amiable, helpful, goodhearted, and eloquent, the Irish people (both North and South), are generally friendly and talkative, as is evidenced by the profusion of local pubs that serve as centers of social life. There, people gather to engage in craic, which is basically a rousing good time involving lots of humorous talk, drink, good fellowship, and debates on everything. Their speech is flavored by the cadences of Irish Gaelic, and their love of storytelling harks back to the oral traditions of the Celtic bards. The Irish are noted both for their wit and love of gossip, and visitors are treated with great hospitality, warmth, and generosity, all of which help make strangers relax and feel at home.
On the other hand, the Irish are also seen as melancholy dreamers holding onto vain hopes and bygone glories. That they are given to introspection is not unusual in the light of the sorrows which have afflicted this small island throughout its history. There are few Irish who cannot relate at least some of the sad past in either story or song.
All too often, the people of the South are dismissed as being quaint, uncultured, and superstitious, while those of the North are perceived to be dour, stubborn, and unforgiving. Better descriptions of both might emphasize their charm, resilience, and resourcefulness throughout a history brimming with conflict. Too often, though, today’s decisions are based on glorious yesterdays that never were or terrible wrongs that should have never been. Myth and history have become political weapons wielded by both sides in the ongoing Troubles in Northern Ireland, where warring dreams clash in violent conflict.
The picturesque peasant cottages so dear to the imagination of tourists held grinding poverty within them until quite recently. While still a very poor place compared with most of their European neighbors, Ireland has begun the move into the modern age. Since joining the EU (European Union) in 1973, the Republic has acquired new industries and foreign investments. In the West, traditionally the part of Ireland most dependent on agriculture, farms have been forced to modernize, foreign industry has arrived, and forestry is a developing business. Ireland’s denuded hills have been reforested in many places, but the trend toward planting conifers rather than hardwoods has led to lines of dreary, dark trees that conflict with, rather than contribute to the wild beauty of the rural West.
Once one of the greatest industrial cities in the British Isles, Belfast has been in decline, its industries outdated, most of its linen mills now closed. Newer, more modern industry has been recently introduced, though, and has begun to make inroads. Cross-community initiatives that hire both Protestants and Catholics bring hope in areas where unemployment reaches 80%. The city of Derry has begun an economic recovery as well, but only by an almost total segregation of Catholics and Protestants.
Both parts of Ireland are plagued by the problems that beset most modern urban societies: a rising crime rate, drug use, and high unemployment rates. Nonetheless, they are beginning to edge toward greater prosperity, and some of the worst slum areas have been replaced by better housing. In both North and South, tourism has become the industry of the moment. Despite the Troubles, the confusing exchange rate, and the exasperating delays and difficulties inherent to Ireland, the tourists grow more numerous every year.
Travelling Around Ireland
The Republic of Ireland has four international airports (Dublin, Shannon, Cork, and Knock). In Northern Ireland, Aldergrove Airport near Belfast is the only international airport of the province. Regional airports exist in Galway, Killarney, Sligo, and Waterford in the Republic, and in Derry (Londonderry) in Northern Ireland. Aer Lingus serves not only as international transport, but has several flights per day from Dublin to Cork, Shannon, and Galway. Smaller airlines provide domestic flights, with Aer Arann flying from Carnmore airport near Galway to the Aran Islands.
Flights from many English airports as well as from Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland are available to Dublin, Shannon (near Limerick), Waterford, and Cork. From the United States, Flights aboard Aer Lingus are direct from New York or Boston to Shannon and Dublin airports. Most air travel from Europe goes to Great Britain first. From there a flight to Ireland takes about an hour. Dublin is the usual entry point to Ireland, though Shannon’s famous duty-free shopping attracts thousands of visitors a year. Getting from the airport to the city can be done via bus service or taxi in all the main airports.
Land & Sea Travel
Ireland and Britain are linked by several ferry routes. The most frequent used is the ferry to Dún Laoghaire (pronounced Dunleary) and Dublin. Ferries also run to Cork, Rosslare Harbor, and Belfast. The shortest trip is about two hours (from Holyhead to Dún Leoghaire), while the longest (about 11 hours) runs from Liverpool to Belfast. Further travel is available through connections to the Irish Rail service and various private and national bus companies.
DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) is an electric rail service that runs between Howth in County Dublin and Bray in County Wicklow. It stops at 25 stations along the way, many of them in Dublin. One DART station is located at Dún Laoghaire where the ferry lands and provides a 10-15-minute ride to downtown Dublin.
Getting Around in Ireland
All of Ireland’s large cities can be reached via air travel, bus, or train. Many package tours also take visitors to smaller towns and notable tourist attractions. One of the best ways to see Ireland, though, is by car.
There are major highways only in the Dublin and Belfast areas. The rest of the island is served by major roads, which generally connect the larger cities, and small local roads, which are usually not very well maintained. Traffic is relatively heavy on the major routes, while the minor ones often have obstacles such as wondering cows and sheep blocking them. Although nowhere is very far from anywhere else in Ireland, many of the island’s most beautiful attractions are in rural areas where the roads are narrow, public transportation is virtually nil, and the pace of life is slow. Patience is a requirement when travelling the island.
Signposts on major routes are usually well-maintained, but those on minor routes can be difficult to interpret. Ireland is slowly changing to the metric system, though it isn’t always apparent where. Older signposts are white with black writing in Gaelic or both Gaelic and English. These may list distances in either miles or kilometers. Newer signs have white lettering on green or blue backgrounds, and are written in both Gaelic and English with the distances in kilometers. In Northern Ireland, signposts are only in English and distance is measured in miles. It should be noted that speed limits are noted in miles throughout Ireland, though gasoline is sold in liters rather than gallons.
When crossing into Northern Ireland, travelers are advised to stay on the main roads and cross via the border posts that are marked on most maps. In Northern Ireland (particularly in Belfast), there are areas marked as “Control Zones,” where no parking is allowed. Vehicles parked within those areas will attract police attention due to the North’s history of car bombings.
Other options for travel include bicycling and renting horse-drawn caravans. Irelands many quiet roads and light traffic make bicycling a pleasure, though the winds, rains, and many, many hills require a lot of stamina. Caravans are replicas of the round-topped wagons favored by the Irish travelingfolk (tinkers). Capable of housing up to four people, the wagons are driven by caravan operators. The horses must be fed oats and turned out for pasturing each evening, making this a leisurely way to travel (usually no more than 10 miles a day or so) to fixed itineraries.
Travel by water is possible on the Shannon River and the lakes and canals that connect to it. These form a web of inland waterways. Cabin cruisers with up to eight berths may be rented for a cruise on the waterways.
Lastly, there is always the option of walking. Although it is more usual for those who want to hike to find a central location and make day-trips around it, it is possible to hike from one town to the next in less than a day in many parts of Ireland. Since 1978, over 600 miles of footpaths and designated hiking trails have been developed and marked, including some interesting paths through the island’s peat bogs.
Tourism has become a huge industry in Ireland. In the West, farming communities are now running tours of their local sites, whether historical or ecological in nature. In the North, those who were once intimidated by the Troubles have poured into the province since the cease-fire of 1994. Throughout the island, castles have been converted into luxury hotels, and small bed-and-breakfasts have sprung up almost overnight. Standing stones and earth mounds that the locals ignored (or plowed around) for years have acquired historical significance and sport new signs or spiffy new visitor centers.
While one of the main attractions for visitors in undoubtedly the presence of many, many historical sites, these have never been the only draws. Ireland’s reputation as a paradise for fishers and golfers is well-deserved. Unfortunately, the popularity of golf has led to the creation of so many golf courses (about 250 of them) that it is almost impossible to travel for more than a few miles without running across yet another of the pesky things. Amazing, and perhaps a little excessive in a place slightly smaller than the state of Maine!
Many visitors come for the sports. Hurling and Gaelic football attract thousands of fans, as does soccer (which they call football) in the North. Horse and greyhound racing are well-established pastimes, as are various equestrian pursuits such as trail riding and hunting. Sailing a swimming have their adherents, and eco-tours involving hiking and birdwatching are gaining popularity. For the less physically inclined, Ireland’s many festivals showcase Irish music, dance, theatre, and literature.
On the plus side, the influx of tourists and the need to accommodate them, entertain them, sell them souvenirs, and (hopefully) lure them back, has led to the creation of new jobs, to increased sensitivity to the needs of the disabled, and to a new era of palatable cuisine designed to appeal to world travelers. While it has undoubtedly made many more sites more accessible to those who wish to visit them, government sponsorship and “improvements” to some historic places have rendered them inconsequential by trivializing them. Such is the case with the meticulously engineered megalithic site of Newgrange. No longer must visitors to Newgrange await the winter solstice to see a shaft of sunlight illuminate the interior chamber. Now, this amazing moment is recreated for visitors by the “magic” of modern, scientific showmanship several times a day. And while the Giant’s Causeway is devoid of some of the worst excesses, like ice cream vendors, it has been so widely publicized that it is often difficult to take a photograph of it without catching dozens of strangers in the picture.
Events & Festivals
Aside from the legal holidays observed in the Republic and Northern Ireland, there are well over 125 special events and festivals well-known enough to considered either famous or international in scope. Many feature the arts, with traditional singing, dancing, literary readings, drama, and art exhibitions topping the list. A significant number feature horse racing and trading. Some have religious connotations, and others celebrate local culture. A few of the best known, most interesting, or just plain strange are listed below.
- Point-to-Point Season: Opens in January. These are small steeplechases (a sport invented in Ireland) held in different places each Sunday until May.
- Dublin Film Festival: 10 days of the best international cinema, with lectures and seminars on film-making.
- Punchestown Bloodstock Sales: One of the most important racehorse auctions in Ireland, Nass, co. Kildare.
- Horse Plowing and Heavy Horse Show: An old-time plowing competition, the show has been held for over 100 years at Fair Head, Ballycastle.
- St. Patrick’s Day: A national holiday in the Republic, parades all over the country are featured. In Dublin, the parade features guest bands from the US. A festival of traditional Irish music called the Dublin Feis Ceoil takes place as well. It is a time-honored tradition for the taoiseach (Ireland’s prime minister) to travel to Washington, D.C. and present a Waterford crystal dish filled with shamrocks to the US president on St. Patrick’s Day.
- Belfast Civic Festival & Lord Mayor’s Show: 21 days of concerts, competitions, and exhibitions with floats and bands.
- “Bloomsday” (June 16th) in Dublin: Celebration of Joyce’s Ulysses with readings, dramatizations, costumed breakfasts, and pilgrimages.
- Sheep & Wool Festival: Sheep-shearing demos, wool spinning, and dances in Connemara.
- City of Belfast International Rose Trails: Over 100,000 roses vying for the honor to be accorded official status.
- Galway Arts Festival: The largest in Ireland; 10 days of theatre, music (all kinds including rock), readings, parades, street events, films, children’s shows, art exhibitions, and comedy.
- Galway Races: A week of horse racing in the week following the Arts Festival. These are the famous races celebrated in song.
- O’Carolan Harp & Traditional Irish Music Festival, Keadue, co. Roscommon
- Street Entertainers’ & Buskers’ Championships, Enniskillen
- Clifden Community Arts Week, Clifden, co. Galway: Concerts, exhibitions, and readings are featured; top literary and musical names usually attend.
- Gaelic Football & Hurling Finals, Croke Park, Dublin
- Ireland’s Harvest Matchmaking Festival, Lisdoonvarna, co. Clare: Traditionally farmers went to Lisdoonvarna to look for a wife once the hay and crops were in. This has become a week of dances and events in which single people have a chance to meet each other.
- Oyster Festivals: At the beginning of September is the Clarinbridge Festival, co. Galway, the original Oyster Festival. At the end of the month is the Galway City Oyster Festival. Lots of oysters and smoked salmon are consumed, accompanied by competitions, music, dancing, and drinking.
- Ballinasloe Great Fair & Festival: One of the biggest and oldest horse and cattle fairs in Europe.
- Dublin Theatre Festival: Two weeks of drama with up to 40 international and Irish productions.
- New Year Viennese Ball, Belfast City Hall: The Ulster Symphony Orchestra performs music by Johann Strauss.
- St. Stephen’s Day: When traditional Wren Boys in masks, straw suits, and motley sing in the streets and demand money (which goes to charity).
Ireland’s Legal Holidays
- January 1st
- March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day)
- Good Friday (Widely observed, but not official)
- Easter Monday
- First Monday in June (Bank Holiday)
- First Monday in August (August Weekend)
- Last Monday in October (Autumn Bank Holiday)
- December 25th (Christmas Day)
- December 26th (St. Stephen’s Day)
- January 1st
- Good Friday (Widely observed, but not official)
- Easter Monday
- May Day (May 1st) or First Sunday in May (Spring Holiday)
- Last Monday in May or First Monday in June (Bank Holiday)
- July 12th (Orange Day, anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, 1690)
- Last Monday in August (August Bank Holiday)
- December 25th (Christmas Day)
- December 26th (Boxing Day)
Irish traditional music and song, played by such masters as the Chieftains, are known and celebrated the world over. So are exports such as U2, Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, Clannad, Enya, Mary Black, Dé Dannann, Sinéad O’Connor, Planxty, the Hothouse Flowers, the Pogues, and the Cranberries. There are a few instruments and practices, though, that may not be as familiar.
- Step Dancing: a form of traditional dance in which participants leap high into the air and execute a number of complex patterns with their feet, all while holding the upper half of their bodies rigid with their arms straight down at their sides.
- Sean Nós singing: Features a very old style in which an unaccompanied singer performs a song with several verses, with each successive verse showing variation as the song is developed. The singing is in Irish, and the emphasis is on ornamentation, rhythm, and melody.
- Traditional instruments: Instruments such as the fiddle, flute, and tin whistle (also called a penny whistle) are the mainstays of Irish traditional music. Less familiar are the uillean pipes, which are similar to bagpipes except that they are pumped by bellows squeezed by the player’s right arm against their side. Bones from sheep or goats (each about 4-6 inches long) are held in one hand and knocked together to produce the complex “clickety-clickety” rhythms (somewhat like spoons are played in a jug band). The bodhran (pronounced bo-rann) is a small drum with only one head. Traditionally made of goatskin stretched over a wooden frame, it is played with a small, double-headed stick or tapped with the hand. Its rhythms provide the steady beat over which the interweaving patterns of the other instruments are laid. The Celtic harp has been around since the time of the Gaels. It was played by the great poets, and is undergoing a revival of popularity for the delicacy and intricacy it brings to traditional music. The best-known compositions for harp were composed in the 18th century by the master harpist Turlough O’Carolan. The Celtic harp is recognized the world over as the symbol of Ireland.
- Irish Wakes: Wakes have achieved a reputation that they probably deserved at one time. Until the end of the last century, they were common in Ireland. Some still follow the practice, but do so more discreetly and quietly. The purpose of the wake was to allow relatives, friends, and neighbors to gather together the night before the funeral and pray for the deceased. At one time, it was also used to make certain that the person was actually dead. To this end, the wake was a “waking of the dead” in which the corpse was treated as if it were still alive. Drinks were placed on the dead person’s coffin (or nearby on a table), card hands were dealt to them, and occasionally, someone who was really far gone with drink would grab the corpse and dance a few steps with them. In general, wakes usually turned into wild parties given in the dead person’s honor. Though there would be keening and solemn prayers, eventually the gathered crowd would tell amusing stories or relate stirring examples taught them by the dead person’s exemplary (or not so noble) life. Games, drinking (often of the illegal whiskey known as poteen), eating, drinking, storytelling, and more drinking were the mainstays of a rousing Irish wake. Frowned upon by the clergy, wakes were a community ritual designed both to reaffirm those left behind and to make a final farewell to cherished friends and family members.
Ranging from elegant and expensive converted castles and country houses to smaller, comfortable, and friendly hotels, to unpretentious youth hostels, Ireland’s selection of accommodations is truly vast. The choice depends on what you want, how much you can afford, and where you are going. Prices range from $6 for hostels, to $20 or so for a decent room in a small hotel, up to $200 for exclusive lodgings in an island castle. Bed-and-breakfasts are popular (and seemingly ubiquitous), as they allow tourists to meet natives (and other travelers) in a more intimate setting, usually a private home with a little extra space. B&Bs serve a full Irish breakfast of eggs, sausage, bread, cereal, bacon, orange juice, and coffee or tea. For the adventurous, there are campsites, though many of these are intended for use by caravans rather than tent-users. Designated campgrounds have toilets, running water, and showers, and occasionally they have kitchens, laundries, and shops as well. Camping is not allowed in state forests and national parks, and those making a bed for themselves in the boglands should remember that peat is highly flammable.
Both the Republic and Northern Ireland have local and international phone service and mail. Medical services for visitors can be obtained through arranging for insurance to cover the cost of emergency care and specialists’ fees. Some pharmacies are called chemists, and some are identified only with the symbol of an old-fashioned serpent entwined around a goblet.
In the Republic, the police are called the Gardaí (pronounced Gee-ardee/ Gordee) or Garda in the singular, while in Northern Ireland, they are known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Despite the popular belief that Northern Ireland is a constant war zone, neither the Republic nor the North have much personal crime. The Gardaí are friendly and helpful. Their Northern counterparts are somewhat less approachable, having been the target of bullets and bombs for so long.
Despite the recent ceasefire in the North (particularly since the apparent cancellation of the ceasefire in early February of 1996), visitors should not leave packages unattended, as this may cause concern in an area that until recently was targeted by both package and car bombs. Some shops may ask customers to reveal the contents of packages brought into the store as a routine precaution. In general, even in the height of the Troubles, tourists were rarely in danger.
Other difficulties can usually be handled either through travelers’ package tour operators, Bord Fáilte, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, or through the various embassies in Dublin.
One service which had garnered much attention in modern times is genealogical research. Those seeking to trace their roots can find help at the Registrar General, the Public Records Office, Registry of Deeds, and the National Library, all in Dublin. Local parishes also keep old records. In Northern Ireland, the Public Records Office in Belfast serves the same function.
Passports & Customs
British citizens do not need a passport to travel to Northern Ireland or to enter the republic if they travel directly from Britain. All others require a passport or national identity card to enter either the Republic or Northern Ireland. Visas are not required of visitors from the EU, US, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.
Currency & Banking
Northern Ireland uses the Northern Ireland pound sterling as its currency while the Republic uses the punt (also called the Irish pound). The punt is divided into 100 pence. The two currencies are not interchangeable. Money from the United Kingdom is accepted in the Republic at the value of its Irish equivalents (about 98%). In the North, the Northern Ireland pound has the same value as the British pound and both are accepted. Strangely, although British pounds are accepted in both North and South, the South does not accept the Northern Irish pound, nor does the North take the Irish punt.
Money can be exchanged at international airports, bureaus of exchange, several banks, and at the General Post Office in Dublin. An Irish punt is worth approximately $1.60 US currency, while the pound is worth about $1.55. Travelers’ checks and credit cards are widely accepted in the larger cities and towns.
Ireland is served by two television channels, RTE (Radio Telefis Eireann) 1 and Network 2. Additionally, the four British television channels are available in most parts of the island. Cable TV has become common in the Republic, with many hotels offering the service. There are three national radio stations, one of which is in the Irish Gaelic language, in addition to many local stations.
Six national daily newspapers and five Sunday papers are available, with the Irish Times being noted for its excellence. The Belfast Telegraph, which goes on sale in the afternoon, is Northern Ireland’s top paper. The Times and other British papers are available in large towns, and magazines such as Newsweek and Time can be found in major cities. Local and regional papers have good sections on events, performances, and celebrations in their areas. Gay Community News has comprehensive listings of gay locales including pubs and nightlife.
All Ireland is on Greenwich Mean Time, which is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (New York). From March through October, Ireland observes Summer Time, which is one hour in advance of GMT.
Openings & Shopping
Shopping is usually a leisurely affair. Dublin and Belfast have main shopping areas where stores are within easy walking distance of each other. Those displaying an overabundance of Irish symbols (leprechauns, shamrocks, and harps) are tourist traps with their “Irish” goods made in Singapore. Shops with fine quality Irish-made goods usually display a Guaranteed Irish symbol.
Among the most popular goods bought in Ireland are Waterford crystal, tweeds from Donegal and Connemara, jewelry with small pieces on Connemara marble in them, Aran sweaters, Belleek porcelain, reproductions of Celtic brooches, linen tablecloths, and claddagh rings. Northern Ireland is famous for its linen goods. Several small craft workshops are located throughout rural Ireland, many which welcome visitors to demonstrations of their art from leatherworking to sculpting thousand-year-old bogwood.
Many of the landmark buildings, castles, and sites that are of interest to tourists have variable opening times depending on the time of year and local whim. A general rule of thumb is that most sites open at 10 am and close at 5 pm. Some few are open later, depending on the season; others close for lunch. Many are closed on Sunday and Monday. During the summer, all attractions are open, but are inundated with tourists. In winter, many are closed except for certain days of the week (unless they’re closed for the entire winter). Some open for holidays such as Easter, then close again until summer.
The official language of the Irish Republic is Irish Gaelic. Should you be unfamiliar with the language, don’t despair. Most of the Irish don’t speak it either; everyone speaks English. Though there has been a campaign to save the old language, and it is taught in schools and posted on many signs, it is dying out. Of course, Irish has almost died out before only to be rescued by W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Edward Martyn, who formed the Abbey Theatre, creating a demand for plays and literature written in the language. It has also served in the past as a rallying-point for those who wished to throw off Britain’s grip on the island, and many Republicans use it in political slogans.
Only in the Gaeltacht, areas where Irish is spoken daily, does it really survive. Most of those places are in the West of Ireland, far from the cosmopolitan East. Even when Irish Gaelic is written and spoken, there are variations in the spelling and the pronunciation. Ask two Irish speakers from different areas how to pronounce Bord Fáilte (which literally means “the welcome board”, and one will tell you it’s pronounced Bord Falt-sche while the other will say it’s actually Bord Foil-tshe. This is made all the more difficult because many of the letters in Irish Gaelic words are not pronounced at all, a state of affairs that prompted a revision of their spelling earlier in the 20th century. Not everyone agrees on the new versus the old, though.
The odd language construction so familiar as stereotypical “stage Irishisms” actually came about due to Irish speakers only speaking English and adapting Gaelic grammar into English sentences. So, many otherwise unstereotypical Irish may still say such things as, “I’m after going to the store,” or “It won’t do at all, says he,” or “I’ll be thanking you not to track mud into the house.” Though less frequent now than in the past, some of these are still in evidence, especially in more remote areas. Oddly, while Irish Gaelic is dying in the Republic, there is a renewed interest in the language in Northern Ireland; not only, as might be expected, among those with Republican sympathies, but among Protestant young people who wish to explore their ties to an Irish heritage they may not have been exposed to before. Translations of some Irish words, particularly those related to place names, can be found in any good travel guide to Ireland.
- Boulder Tombs: Small capstones set low to the ground on upright supports.
- Cairns: Stones piled on top of one another to form a heap, usually an above-ground means of burial.
- Cliff Forts: Nothing more than partial Ring Forts set on top of a cliff edge that forms part of its defense, presumably the major part.
- Clochans: The beehive huts so popular with early Christian hermits.
- Court Tombs: Structures made up of a flat-roofed gallery with a courtyard or part of a courtyard in front.
- Crannogs: Artificial islands that serve as the base of a dwelling.
- Dolmens: Stone tables also known as Portal Tombs.
- Hill Forts: Defensive structures usually built to encircle the top of a hill.
- Megalithic Tombs: A complex of roofless courts associated with a covered gallery like a Court Tomb and often having sever chambers and nearby Dolmens.
- Mounds: Simply what archaeologists call hills, some of which are natural and some of which are constructed.
- Ogham Stones: Standing pillars of rock inscribed with the characteristic marks of early Irish writing called ogham.
- Passage Tombs: Underground corridors usually leading into a larger, central chamber. Most are located within Mounds.
- Pillarstones: Single standing stones. They are sometimes found as part of one of the other structures. As often as not, though, they simply stand like stone fingers pointing at something in the sky. If they have writing on them, they are called Ogham Stones.
- Portal Tombs: Made from at least three (usually more) upright stones capped by a horizontal piece of larger rock.
- Promontory Forts: Defensive structures built across a peninsula or part of a mountain. They are not to be confused with Hill or Cliff Forts.
- Rath: Earthenwork ring forts.
- Ring Forts: Defensive structures built in the form of a circle, sometimes surrounded by other protections (likewise circular) such as ramparts, banks, ditches, or moats.
- Souterrains: Artificial caves carved into hillsides or rock faces.
- Standing Stones: Pillarstones. Most of them have a purpose, though what it is is often lost to history or folklore. They sometimes occur in groups.
- Stone Circle: Standing Stones that form a ring or other roughly circular shape. Sometimes they surround something, often another stone.
A Mythical History of Ireland
The history presented here is called mythical, though many true historical facts are contained within it. The earliest histories of the land are so wound about with legend that the two are inseparable. A goodly portion of what is said will undoubtedly be unpopular with those who would have things otherwise than they are. Much of that era has been lost to us, and we can only make our best guess as to what is real and what is some misguided historian’s pet thesis. As the Hidden Ones have endeavored to make all such questions impossible to answer, I can only provide you with the facts as I know them. – Siobhan ni Oghma
The Mythic Age
The Earliest Settlers
Crossing a land bridge from Europe, the first Irish arrived about 8000 BCE. Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, these nomads used crude stone tools. Though they failed to penetrate much farther than Antrim because of the dense forests of oak and elm, many built defensible lake homes called crannógs, artificially constructed islands upon which they built their houses. Surrounded on three sides by water, these circular wooden structures could be reached only by a well-guarded causeway, a hidden pathway of stones laid under the water, or by boat. Even after the people disappeared, their crannógs were discovered by new arrivals and used for hundreds of years. The basic design inspired the use of moats around castles.
The Origin of the Fomorians
Born of the fear-filled dreams of the earliest settlers in Ireland, the ur-fae known as Fomorians, or Fomhoire, were nightmarish creatures with gigantic, monstrous bodies and twisted minds. It is unknown whether they took their name from the human tribes or from a great chieftain or leader among them. Terrible in warfare and frightening in their command of magic, the Fomorians demanded and received tribute from their human creators. So cruel and greedy were they that many of the humans fled to Scotland and into remote, isolated areas where the Fomorians could not find them.
The Fir Bolg
Born around 3700 BCE, a group of tribes arrived in hide-covered coracles, sailing over from Scotland. Neolithic farmers, they moved into the interior, clearing forests to plant crops and building stone pens for their livestock. They preferred to dwell in isolated family settlements instead of villages. Their houses had stone foundations, thatched roofs, and walls made of planks or wattle and daub; still the design of the quintessential Irish cottage.
These people, known as the Fir Bolg, are credited with having built the megalithic monuments that dot the island. There are an estimated 1200 such sites in Ireland, ranging from court tombs and portal tombs to the great passage tombs such as Newgrange. While they are called “tombs,” there is little evidence that most of them were originally constructed as burial mounds. Rather, they align with underground waters or along straight tracks known as ley lines, some arranged with such precise engineering that a shaft of sunlight is focused into the interior at a given time on the Winter Solstice. The megaliths are still associated in the minds of the Irish people today with “the fairy folk.”
The Fir Bolg lived under the rule of the Fomorians. Each year at Samhain, they were required to pay a tribute of two-thirds of their corn, milk, and children. Finally, they rose in rebellion against their overlords. Only a few survived the battle. They quit the island, supposedly travelling to Greece, but later returned with greater strength. The Fir Bolg divided the land into five provinces: Leinster, Munster, Connaught, and Ulster for the four cardinal directions, and Meath, which occupied the center of the country. Meath was later divided up among other provinces by the British. Further, they instituted government by a king and a warrior elite. Sporadic fighting with the Fomorians continued, but the Fir Bolg would eventually be ousted by the legendary Tuatha de Danaan.
Fae legend tells a different story of the province of Meath. Rather than a physical location in the center of the island, it was actually the “heart” of the land, the kingdom of Arcadia. Though it was not then called Arcadia, this “middle kingdom” (known as Midhe) was accorded to the Fair Folk as a sign of respect. Many sidhe believe it was from this location that the Tuatha de Danaan entered Hibernia… and where they later returned when they left the island to the Milesians. Others claim that the mighty beings appeared from a storm cloud atop a hill in Connaught.
The First Celts
Near the beginning of the Bronze Age, in approximately 2050 BCE, early Celtic tribes known as the Beaker People reached Ireland. Makers of delicate pottery, exquisite bronze weapons, and gold jewelry, these talented folks were the dreamers associated with the Tuatha de Danaan.
The Tuatha de Danaan
Where the Fomorians were hideous and the Fir Bolg small and dark, the Tuatha de Danaan were tall, fair, and beautiful. Greatly skilled in magic, the Tuatha fought and defeated the Fir Bolg in a series of bloody battles. Gracious in triumph, they allowed the defeated Fir Bolg to settle in the west of Ireland.
Godlike in their powers and wrapped in Glamour, it was only a matter of time until the Tuatha were challenged by the might of the jealous Fomorians. The tale is told elsewhere and ended with the Fomorians expelled forever from Ireland.
Consolidating their gains, the Tuatha de Danaan and their dreamers established their rule over the whole of Ériu (as they called Ireland). This was a golden age for the fae. Working alongside humans, they graced the land with fertility, improved upon the workings of the Fir Bolg, and constructed great chimeric holdings. The Tuatha taught humankind many wonderous arts and used their magics to make life pleasant for all. As time went on, though, the Tuatha began to specialize in certain arts and skills.
Soon thereafter, other fae, created from the dreams of the early Celts, were born. Because their lives were less hard and more settled, the new fae were somewhat less powerful than their godlike elders. The Tuatha cherished these new children and guided them in the ancient arts, but already the first winds of the Sundering had begun to blow across the green fields of Ireland.
Some among the Tuatha de Danaan elders felt that their close proximity to humans was harmful to the dreamers. Some among the humans, rather than accepting and embracing their faerie brethren, were jealous of their powers and greedy for their wealth. To assuage these fears and hungers, the more powerful among the Tuatha began to withdraw from human society, spending more time in Arcadia while leaving contacts with mortals to their less powerful, less fearsome children.
A Matter of Blood
It has been claimed by many ancient sidhe that the Tuatha went out from Hibernia into other parts of the world. There they took on different forms, becoming the gods and goddesses or the faerie folk of many disparate cultures, from Africa throughout the whole of Europe and into Asia. As the Celts migrated from Bohemia and southern Germany across most of Europe, it is not inconceivable that the Tuatha returned to those places where their dreamers once ruled. Nor is it impossible to imagine that they may have taken on those forms first, as their dreamers migrated, before they ever arrived in Hibernia. They may even have originated in Africa or Asia. We cannot be sure how far they travelled, as they are no longer available for commentary. If the Tuatha indeed intermixed or were the genesis of fae in Africa, Asia, and Europe, it certainly raises an interesting question as to why the sidhe are called noble while their other children are considered to be commoners.
The Iron Age
The Cold Winds of the Sundering
By 500 BCE, a noticeable shift in the attitudes of humans was taking place. Many failed to acknowledge fae help; others demanded service rather than asking for aid and thanking those who answered them. Humankind and the fae began to grow distant from one another. The Sundering took many fae by surprise, though in retrospect, it should have been obvious that the old ways were dying. Respect for one another became harder to find; the Unseelie, such as of Houses Balor and Leanhaun, began pushing for more than their share of rulership. Rather than relinquishing their hold when the year turned to summer, they argued for a war to wipe out those who had lost respect for them. At this vulnerable moment, while Seelie and Unseelie waged a war of words, a new Celtic tribe entered Ériu.
Coming upon the more savage Fir Bolg in the west, new arrivals, who called themselves the Sons of Míl or Milesians, began to carve out a new kingdom for themselves. Sophisticated and vigorous, possessed of a set of legal customs governed by Brehon law (from the word brehon, which means “jurist”) and a precise and comprehensive oral tradition, the people who were also known as Gaels or Celts would become the dominant culture in the land. They brought with them one weapon against which the Tuatha de Danaan had no chance: the cold, killing metal known as iron.
The Míl Espáine (“soldiers of Spain,” which came down to us as Milesians) sailed to the island from Spain because they believed that the name Hibernia was derived from Iberia. A branch of the Celtic tribes who had spread from the steppes of western Russia across the face of Europe and into India, they became a dominant power, controlling lands as far east as Portugal. Considered to be barbarians by the Romans because they chose not to entrust their legends and history to a written language, they were quite culturally advanced. The Celts were ruled by elected rather than hereditary chieftains, and enjoyed a tripartite society composed of free men who were noble warriors and owned cattle and land, professionals (priests, bards, diviners, storytellers, jurists, and poets), and slaves who performed most of the agricultural and herding duties. Over each community or tribe was a king who owed allegiance to an overking, who in turn owed allegiance to a high king (called the Ard-Rí).
The Celts reckoned their wealth in cattle. Cattle raiding and ritualized warfare were hallmarks of their society (see Cattle Raid of Cooley). To prevent easy theft and surprise attacks by natives, they built numerous earthworks and stone ring forts. With their iron weapons and tools, the Celts, though a minority, became the overlords of the island, defeating the Beaker People, intermarrying and mingling the earlier culture with their own. Thus, the fierceness and energy of the Milesians and the poetic artistry of the Bronze Age Irish melded into a society that would mold the Irish character for the next thousand years.
The Withdrawal of the Tuatha de Danaan
Landing in the southwest of Ireland on Beltaine, the Milesians pushed toward Tara, seat of the high king, and met there with the Tuatha de Danaan. Finding that these earlier Celts had much in common with themselves, the Milesians agreed to allow the Tuatha time to gather their hosts for war. The Milesians briefly withdrew from the island, and fought their way ashore again despite a magical storm sent by the Tuatha that threatened to blow them out to sea. Despite the magical might of the Tuatha and their children, the sons of Míl defeated the Tuatha at Tailtiu, the site of annual festivities that were instituted by Lugh. Most changelings attribute their victory to their possession of iron swords, but this fails to tell the whole story.
Had the Milesians landed earlier than Beltaine, they would have been met by a host of Tuatha led by the Unseelie among them. The Unseelie had often urged their people to total war against humankind for their “crimes” against the fae, but at the changing of the year during the Beltaine feast, the ancient ways were followed, and it was with a Seelie court that the Milesians dealt. The Seelie among the fae recognized that the Celts were distant cousins of their own people with many similar customs and an honorable method of waging war. Some among the fae foresaw that the time of closeness between Earth and Arcadia was drawing to an end, and counseled their people to accept what could not be changed, urging complete withdrawal. Others thought that if they could defeat the upstarts, the Sundering would die away and they could return to the old ways, and thus called for total, unconditional war.
The majority of the Tuatha, recalling the seas of blood which had washed the land during their battles with the Fir Bolg and the Fomorians, were reluctant to unsheathe their weapons of great might against their children’s children; they refused to bring forth the Sword of Light or Lugh’s spear, lest their destructive powers be loosed upon both human and fae alike. Instead, they met the Milesians with honor, armed only with bronze. And they lost.
Legend states that the corn would not grow, nor the cows give milk, until the Milesians agreed to divide the island with their defeated foes. It was agreed that the Celts would occupy the overlands and that the fae would retreat beneath the earth. Many fae had holdings within the raths and megalithic stone monuments, and it was to these they actually withdrew, all but disappearing from the world. The misunderstanding concerning where they went caused the Celts to name them sidhe, or “gods who dwell within the earth.”
Some mortals still sought out the sidhe, hoping to gain knowledge of their magic and secrets, and the sidhe still held their festivals and rode out to the hunt every now and then. Those who still believed in them made pacts with them, promising to honor their ancient places and to make token offerings of respect.
Throughout the rest of Europe and in Britain, the Roman legions began to carve out an empire and impose Roman law on the conquered lands. Despite plans made to invade Hibernia, though, the Romans never did. The Celts were thus left to develop their society, holding to the Brehon law and following their own customs. Practicing piracy along the shores of Britain, they did come into contact with Rome and invented a written language based on a system of lines and notches representing letters, these were carved upon the corners of huge, upright stones that came to be known as oghams (rhymes with poems).
There were many battles, both political and actual, among the nobles who sought to become high king. Those who had been content to be doughty warriors of their tribes now became noble lords and ladies, vying for honors and lands. And the fae followed suit.
The Fenian Cycle
The Fenian Cycle celebrates the values of the Celtic culture from which it sprang. The heroes are loyal to their clan, warlike, extravagant, larger than life, boastful, and filled with pride. They also value honor, prowess in battle, and poetry. Because of the end of the stories, they also represent a transition period during which Ireland moved from paganism to Christianity, and the Sundering rendered the things of faerie more and more distant from the things of the Earth.
The songs and poems of the Fenian Cycle concern the great hero Finn MacCool and his warband, the Fianna. (See the larger article Finn MacCool)
The Christian Era: Island of Saints & Scholars
Although there were scattered attempts to bring Christianity to Ireland as the new faith took hold in Europe, it was not successfully imported until the fifth century AD with the advent of St. Patrick. Other Irish saints, such as Columbcille, Brendan, Brigid, and countless more guided the young faith and left their particular Irish stamp on it, but it is Patrick who is first in the hearts of the Irish. (For more, see the article Saint Patrick)
The Early Church
The early Christians of Ireland were very ascetic. They built monasteries in wild places such as the Skelligs. Being mainly scholarly and missionary in their aims, the early saints attracted followers and made converts wherever they traveled. Their monasteries became renowned throughout Europe during the Dark Ages as the light which kept the flame of Christianity and learning alive. Their illuminated manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells, are justifiably famous. From their monasteries in Ireland, the priests reached out and became missionaries across the face of Europe.
The monasteries also became the focus for many of the land’s riches. Abbots were often relatives of petty kings and nobles, who left their treasures and worldly goods in the care of the monks (gaining blessings thereby). Additionally, Christian kings often deeded great tracks of land to their local monasteries. The Church thus held not only held spiritual power over the people, but in many cases acted as their landlords as well.
The Roman Catholic Church and the Irish version of that faith did not always see eye to eye. For one thing, many Irish priests were married and had children. It was not unusual to find that a monastery was founded and maintained by an extended family consisting of the clan head (the abbot), his wife and children, their spouses and children, and whatever cousins chose to live with them as well. The Irish faith also embraced much of the lore and mysticism of the land, including the belief in faeries.
From the sixth to the ninth century, the Church grew in size and importance, until, as the Druids prophesied, its flame conquered all and looked to rule over the island forevermore. In CE 664, the Synod of Whitby declared that the Irish Church should conform to Rome regarding the date of Easter. It would only be a matter of time before the mystical hybrid that was the Celtic Catholic Church would be forced to bow to Rome and conform to her dictates regarding doctrine and practice.
Faerie Knights & Celtic Christianity
Like their dreamers, many of the fae who were left in Ireland embraced the Celtic Christian religion, which linked the new faith with older pagan rituals. Thus, in the Celtic Christian faith, the fire goddess Brigit became associated with St. Brigid, and many druidic customs and rites became part of the Christian celebration in Hibernia. Some new-born fae became Christian knights. Many of these were sidhe nobles who found inspiration through the espousal of this new faith. Stories, poems, and songs still abound concerning both the deeds of the noble faerie knights and of Christian knights who found themselves enamored of faerie lovers.
Some fae even found that the passionate dreams of the vital young religion fired them to become priests, monks, or nuns themselves. Among these were many commoners who felt a kinship with the lowly carpenter’s son who became the King of Heaven. Certainly, the glorious illuminated manuscripts that were drawn during this period still resonate with the Glamour of the devotion and artistry that went into their making.
The Fae as Demons
Despite many faeries embracing the new religion, the change in tone and beliefs enforced on the Celtic Church by Rome inevitably excluded most of the fae. Faced with edicts that labeled them demons, sorcerers, and agents of corruption, some fae who had accepted the new faith now found themselves ostracized, banned from holy ground, and forbidden to participate in the Church’s rituals. Their pagan cousins, who had never accepted Christianity, welcomed them back into the fold and incited them against the Christians. While some lamented their loss and sought to prove themselves worthy, many of the fae were greatly angered at this perceived treachery by the Church.
These fae deliberately set out to act out the demonic roles the Church assigned to them. They stole mortals away to Arcadia, cursed the cow so her milk was soured, and seduced Christians with their fae beauty, leading them to sheltered spots where they danced, feasted, and loved in fierce opposition to Church doctrine. This in turn led to the Church’s further condemnation of the fae as seducers and corrupters of the faithful.
It also led to friction among the fae themselves. Christian faeries, who felt they were unjustly persecuted but who still sought to protect their mortal neighbors from predation by the most vicious anti-Christian fae, found themselves battling their own kin. Many mortals still believed in faeries and honored them in the ancient ways despite being nominally Christian. Other mortals were genuinely frightened by stories of malicious, evil faeries, and their protectors, such as those of Houses Liam and Scathach, tried to shield them from the wrath of vengeful fae. Despite their efforts, as the Church gained in prosperity and power, the fae lost ground and were relegated to their new role as demons and agents of Satan. While fae families were ripped apart by religious bickering and outright battle, while noble fought commoner and Christian fought pagan, mortal perceptions began to erode the very essence of the fae. Many who had chosen to stay in the world now left for Arcadia; others fell into their Unseelie natures in response to Christian beliefs. Behind the smooth serenity of mortal acceptance of a Christianized Hibernia, battles that would lead to continued enmity and lifelong hatreds raged among the fae. And the nightmares set in motion by the condemnation of the fae slowly and inevitably led to the Shattering.
The peaceful life enjoyed by the people of Ireland was shattered by the arrival of the Vikings in 795 CE. These warriors plundered the defenseless monasteries and communities, making off with their treasures and often many of their people. Some of the reavers came only to slaughter, making sacrifices to their gods. The terrified monks and farmers were particularly afraid of the huge warriors among the Vikings. Gigantic, fierce, and strong, the trolls of the Norseman had arrived.
Panic ruled whenever Viking ships were sighted. To protect themselves, the monasteries built great round towers which served as lookouts for Viking raiders and into which the monks quickly loaded their treasures, and themselves, whenever Viking ships were spotted. The towers had no door at ground level. Instead the entryway was high up the side of the tower, reached by a rope ladder which was pulled up behind the fleeing monks.
By 850 CE, the Vikings had begun to establish port towns in Ireland. Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, and Wexford were all walled towns built by the Vikings. Despite their fierceness, the Vikings began to trade with the Gaels rather than raiding. They taught the Irish new farming methods, introduced them to coinage, and taught them their method of shipbuilding.
The Vikings became overlords in many parts of the South, and were often approached to provide military strength to back up one king’s claim or another’s to the high kingship. After a period of relative peace (in which Irish trolls made overtures to their Viking cousins), more Viking raiders invaded and began plundering again. After a period of warfare, Sitric Silkenbeard, Viking king of Dublin, surrendered in 999 CE to Brian Boru of Munster, high king of Ireland (who had usurped the high kingship from the O’Connors).
In 1014, Brian found that he had to battle the Vikings again, and defeated a joint army of Vikings and the King of Leinster at Clontarf. This broke the power of the Vikings, but Brian was murdered in his tent after the battle, and the O’Connors, the O’Loughlins, and the O’Briens began fighting among themselves to determine who would become high king. The Vikings began to integrate with the native population. Their legacy can be seen among many natives of the island to this day in the bright red hair they inherited from their Danish ancestors.
A Few Remaining Faithful
Though many of the leaders of the land scoffed at the idea that the fae lived among them or that they had ever existed, the common people kept them in their hearts. But, ravaged by their internal battles and responding to the new perception of them as demons, many fae chose to leave the earth. A mass exodus to Arcadia began. Places that had once held faerie palaces were sealed up and forgotten; mortal dreams and aspirations turned to more practical pursuits; and the Glamour began to fade from the land as fewer and fewer faeries remained. Soon, although some mortals still left gifts for the fae on their doorsteps, there were often no fae left to claim them.
The Norman Invasion
While the great lords fought among themselves and failed to unify under a strong leader, the people of the land suffered. Because of the lack of unity among the Irish kings and the continued adherence to Celtic mysticism by the Irish Church, the country was ripe for invasion. Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, made off with the wife of Tiernan O’Rourke. Having also supported the wrong candidate for the high kingship, MacMurrough found himself hard-pressed by the united front of O’Rourke and high king Rory O’Connor. In 1166, he fled overseas and swore fealty to the English king Henry II in return for permission to raise an invasion force of Norman knights. Angered by the Irish Church’s continued “pagan” practices and wishing to support his homeland (he was an Englishman), the Pope gave his blessing to the proposed expedition.
Some 100 or so years after they had helped William of Normandy win the English crown, the descendants of those Norman knights invaded Ireland. The native Irish had poor weapons compared to the Normans, who overran large tracts of land, then consolidated their hold on them with castles, moats, and walled towns.
The Anglo-Norman nobles, led by Richard de Clare (nicknamed Strongbow), occupied the major towns, leaving only a few poorer lands in the west and north of Ireland to the Irish. King Henry, a little concerned by his nobles’ success, proclaimed himself overlord of Ireland, a title the Pope confirmed in 1172 when the Normans began founding new monasteries… monasteries that had English abbots and conformed to Rome’s doctrines. Henry granted fiefs in Ireland to his Norman barons. The Irish chiefs were forced to pay him homage. The Normans built mighty castles to defend the land they had taken, which came to be known as the Pale. For the first time, inland towns were founded to serve as market places and staging areas from which the barons could assert their authority. MacMurrough, restored as king of Leinster, gave his daughter to Strongbow and made him his heir in return for helping him regain his lands.
Though the Anglo-Normans became the dominant force in the south and east of Ireland, the area known as the Pale fluctuated greatly. The Gaelic lords continued fighting for over four centuries, and most of their holdings in the north and west were never fully conquered or subdued. John de Courcy, a Norman knight, did conquer large sections of counties Down and Antrim. When John Lackland became king of England, de Courcy refused to do homage, allying himself instead with the native Irish kings. For this, he was stripped of his earldom and his lands awarded to the de Lacys.
The English kings were beset by other problems, and the barons in Ireland became both independent and powerful. Many, such as the de Burgos (Burkes) became “more Irish than the Irish themselves.” Due to their power, the Anglo-Norman rulers of Ireland were able to convene the first Irish Parliament in Dublin in 1297. Though it was a Parliament of the Anglo-Norman landholders, it still served notice to the English crown that the Irish nobles were beginning to think in terms of independence.
Cousin Against Cousin
While it is possible that the fae might have turned the tide had their knights fought alongside the overmatched Irish, they had little incentive to do so, as they were engaged in difficulties of their own. Aside from their internal bickering, they found themselves assaulted on all sides by Banality as fewer and fewer people truly believed in them. Even worse, they would have found themselves pitted against their own cousins, the fae of Normandy. Given such a choice, they instead extended a welcome to their relatives, and the Normans easily overcame the Irish.
Death of the Dream
In 1314, Robert Bruce of Scotland defeated the English forces at Bannockburn. He dreamed of a united Celtic kingdom and invaded Ireland to make it a reality, placing his brother Edward on the throne of Ireland. 1316 was a year of famine and disease, though, and the war made things worse. Edward’s rule was a disaster. He was killed at Dundalk, ending Bruce’s dream. The Irish great chiefs continued to hold their territories, and the lands of the Pale became smaller and smaller.
Prelude to the Shattering
The Church still found it convenient to equate the old faeries with demons and devils, and more and more fae began to respond to these beliefs. Arcadia was drawing further from the Earth, and many noble houses had already withdrawn there. Though there had been many warnings and the build-up was gradual, there is still a date which singularly marks the Shattering.
1348 was the year that the Black Death came upon the lands. One-third of Ireland’s population died in three years. In pain and fear, humans turned against those they believed responsible: the fae they now saw as devils and tormentors. All over the world, the freezing force of Banality crashed in, annihilating the fae and slamming shut the gates to Arcadia.
The Statutes of Kilkenny
Various land grabs and arranged marriages among the aristocracy resulted in giving Irish land into the hands of English absentee landlords. The Anglo-Irish lords, who intermarried with the Irish and adopted many of their customs, actually lived in Ireland and became a distinctive class. Concerned that the English residents were “going native,” Edward III sent his son Clarence to Ireland. Under his auspices, the Statutes of Kilkenny were formulated. These included such restrictions as: forbidding trade or marriage with the Irish, banning the use of Irish names, the institution of English common law, and no contact with Irish singers and poets would be tolerated, since they were obviously “spies.”
Though these restrictions were hard to enforce, their intentions were clear: to stop the English aristocracy from becoming Irish, and to limit the effectiveness of the native Irish, lest they revolt against those they still saw as “foreigners.”
In actuality, there were spies among the Irish poets and singers, but less to spy on English doings than to judge the pulse of the new society and to look for signs of continued dreaming among mortals. Clurichaun bards, eshu storytellers, and pooka jesters crept from the ashes of the Shattering to once again find their places on the fringes of mortal society. They kept alive the old stories and tales so that the fae would not be forgotten, and wove new legends from the deeds of grand ladies and lords.
Ireland Under the Tudors
From this time until the succession of Henry VIII to the throne, England was unable to formulate any coherent plan for Ireland. Occupied by war with France and the War of the Roses, the English mostly ignored the Irish, leaving them to the governance of the Anglo-Irish earls. From about 1420 on, the earls were virtually autonomous. New Irish nationalist feelings emerged, led (strangely enough) by one of the great Norman families, the Geraldines. The earls backed the wrong horse in the succession, though, and the Irish Parliament was forbidden to meet without Royal consent in 1494.
Many of the Anglo-Irish were just as tired of the English as the native Irish. In 1534, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald (one of the Geraldines), head of the Kildares, renounced his allegiance to Henry VIII. Then in 1535, desiring a divorce from his wife and unable to obtain it from the Pope, Henry broke with the Catholic Church, founded the Church of England, and dissolved the Catholic monasteries in 1539.
Knowing that the Catholic Irish could prove to be a problem, Henry bribed the Irish Parliament into declaring him king of Ireland. He assumed “ownership” of all Irish land, then gave it back to the aristocracy in the form of land grants. Sweeping aside their own laws which had failed to recognize the Irish at all, the English granted the native Irish land for the first time under English law. The O’Neills, the O’Briens, and the Burkes became earls.
The reforms this was intended to bring about were not really successful, and Henry gained little support from the native Irish. Native Irish chieftains were not feudal lords who owned the land. Rather, they were elected from within the clan (usually by virtue of being the strongest male). Henry’s attempts to anglicize the Irish through hereditary earldoms would not work because the leader was not always from the same family.
It became apparent that warfare and legislation would never win Ireland over for the English. Edward VI attempted to make Ireland a Protestant country by burning St. Patrick’s staff and other holy relics. Even against the Catholic monarch Mary Tudor there was resistance.
Resistance continued against Elizabeth I. Sporadic wars flared up and died, notably the Geraldine revolt and the revolt of Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone, which was ultimately put down by Mountjoy, Lord Deputy of Ireland. Neither revolt worked because Ireland was too politically unstable to unify and fight for freedom. In effect, the revolts occurred in a vacuum and only broke the power of the earls.
Catholic Against Protestant Against Pagan
Henry’s decree created a new split among the changelings. Despite their persecution by the Church, almost all the changelings of Ireland found themselves being born into Catholic families and practicing the Catholic faith. Some among them embraced Henry’s new religion as a means of escaping Rome’s stranglehold. Battles ensued. House Scathach attempted to mediate among the various groups, but usually to no avail. All too often they fell to their own passions, provoking worse battles than those they attempted to stop. Those who continued to hold to the old beliefs refused to deal with either of these Christian religions, feeling they were both equally banal.
The Flight of the Earls
In 1606, British authorities formally abolished the traditional Irish system of Brehon Law. Although Hugh O’Neill had submitted to the crown after his revolt was crushed and had retained his lands in Ulster, pressure was being placed on him and his authority was being curtailed. The overwhelming majority of his followers were Catholics, and James I insisted on levying the recusancy fine on them (for failing to attend Church of Ireland services; the Church of Ireland was virtually synonymous with the Church of England). Apparently unwilling to rule without real authority in lands his family had held for generations, O’Neill and his younger brother Rory left Ireland in what has become known as the Flight of the Earls. This left the native Irish with no real leaders of their own, and opened the lands of Ulster to settlement by Scots and English. The Troubles in Northern Ireland today can be traced back to the plantation of Ulster.
While there is no absolute proof, it has been theorized that the disillusionment of the earls and their flight may have been worsened by the workings of Unseelie elements. Native Irish Kithain have argued that the Unseelie English Kithain attempted a takeover of the northern portion of the island. That the earls were persuaded to abandon their holdings in September, mere weeks before the Unseelie were to assume control of the court, may seem like evidence of the truth of this theory. If it is true, the Unseelie must bear a good portion of the blame for the subsequent sorrowful battles that have enmeshed the North ever since.
A Land Divided
The Plantation of Ulster
In 1610, the lands of the departed earls were divided up and given out to army veterans, private companies, and settlers. A small portion of the land, invariably the poorest plots “high in the heather,” was set aside for the Irish. This “plantation” was intended to uproot the Catholic Irish and replace them with Protestant subjects. The Ulster plantations were on a large scale and well-funded. Enclaves of Protestants were placed in fortified positions, forming islands of English prosperity among what has been called “a hostile sea of dispossessed Irish.”
In 1641 the Irish rebelled, inflicting atrocities on the Protestants. All over the island, the Gaelic people, who had been burning for a chance to inflict punishment on the English overlords, took out their frustrations on the Protestant settlers. Though there were equally horrific reprisals, the Ulster Protestants never forgot their treatment at the hands of the Irish.
The differences between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads during this time consumed England, and the Irish seized the opportunity, gaining control of much of the island and declaring an independent capital at Kilkenny Town. Disputes and internal squabbling soon entered in, though, and the confederation dissolved in 1648.
Along with the English and Scottish settlers came many changelings. Church of England nockers and Presbyterian boggans accompanied their human kin, and found themselves assaulted by Catholic redcaps and trolls and the pagan pooka and sluagh of Hibernia. House Scathach itself was split down the middle as many remained Catholic, while others were born into Protestant families. The Clurichaun, many of whom considered themselves either fully pagan or Celtic Catholic, entered the fray on the side of their Irish kin.
The Protestants who died in 1641 found an avenger in Oliver Cromwell. Leading his Puritan army, he began a systematic and brutal punishment of the Irish, sacking Drogheda and Wexford, where he slaughtered soldiers, priests, and civilians equally. With ruthless efficiency, he subjugated all of Ireland by 1653. All Irish lands were confiscated, and Irish landowners were banished west of the Shannon River, given a choice between “Hell or Connaught.” The fertile lands to the east of the Shannon were divided among Cromwell’s soldiers (in lieu of payment) and those who were loyal to England. Thousands of Irish were sent to the English colonies in Virginia and the Caribbean to work as slaves. So began the Protestant Ascendency: Irish-speaking Catholic peasants completely ruled by English-speaking Protestant overlords.
The Battle of the Boyne
The monarchy was restored in England, and when James II, a Catholic, came to the throne, he appointed Catholics to high offices and revoked Cromwell’s land distributions. Though this was never acted upon, England’s anti-Catholic Protestants were so alarmed that James was forced to flee to France. With the help of Louis XIV, he went to Ireland to raise an army to reclaim his throne.
Meanwhile, the British invited James’ son-in-law, a staunch Dutch Protestant known as William of Orange, to become king of England. He became King William III in 1689. His forces landed in Ireland and gave battle to James. They broke the siege of Londonderry, where a group of apprentice boys had shut the gates in James’ face as he sought to take the city. Food supplies in the city could not support everyone, and many starved during the 15-week siege, but they would not give in. The foodship Mountjoy broke through a boom across the Foyle and relieved the siege, a major psychological victory for the Protestants and one they celebrate in Londonderry to this day on Apprentice Boys Day. This symbol of Protestant determination is still commemorated in Loyalist areas of the North with the words, “No Surrender,” usually painted on the walls in bright red.
James decided to meet William’s forces at the Boyne River. William’s 36,000-man army crushed James’ 25,000 Irish and French troops, and James fled. Limerick was in turn besieged by William, and the Irish made an equally heroic defense of the city. Finally, the Treaty of Limerick was signed in which William guaranteed Catholics the same rights they had under Charles II. It returned Catholic estates that had been registered before 1662, and gave Catholics the right to be lawyers, hold commissions in the army, and sit in Parliament. The final clause allowed those who had fought to leave for France under safe passage. Once all of the fighting men had departed, though, the rest of the treaty was not honored.
This underhanded trick convinced the Irish people that treaties with Britain were useless, and that they could never negotiate peaceful settlements with those who had no honor. The incidence of such maneuvers has fueled the distrust of modern extremists, who feel justified in calling for violence as the only solution to British perfidy. In all, 11,000 Jacobites (as James’ adherents were called) sailed to France to join her army and formed the Irish Brigade. Many other Irish joined them over the years as they gave up on ever achieving equal rights in their native land. They are remembered in Ireland as the Wild Geese.
The Wild Geese
Many broken-hearted changelings left with the Irish who fled to France in the wake of the broken treaty. While many redcaps refused to be driven from their homes and stayed to harry the invaders, some members of House Scathach and many trolls, eshu, and even Clurichaun believed that their time in Hibernia was over. Though they longed for a free Ireland, it seemed that the best way to achieve it was to leave and fight elsewhere, hoping to return when they had gained more expertise and times were more settled. Like their human kin, though, they gave their hearts to their new homeland, where they were welcomed and cherished. Though the changelings left behind expected them like they waited for the annual migration of the wild geese, most who left never returned.
The Penal Laws
The defeat of the Jacobites resulted in the confiscation of even more land and a bargain with the Protestant planters. In return for a complete monopoly of political power and most of the land, they would act as Britain’s garrison to insure peace and keep the Catholics from power. To help them maintain control, the British passed the Penal Laws.
- No Catholic could purchase freehold land, and any son of a Catholic who turned Protestant could turn his parents off their land and claim it for himself. Land was to be parceled out among all their children (thus making what were formerly profitable holdings uneconomic).
- All Catholics were forced to pay a tithe toward the upkeep of the Anglican Church, while all Catholic priests were banished. No Catholic schools were allowed. (Paid spies ferreted out attempts to run “hedge schools” in which teachers and priests secretly taught Catholic children.)
- Catholics were not allowed to enter a profession or hold a commission in the army.
- No Catholic could own a horse worth more than five pounds. (in effect, this meant that any horse a Catholic owned could be bought out from under him by any Protestant who waved five pounds under their nose.)
The effect of the Penal Laws was to turn the Irish people into a nation of smugglers, liars, and lawbreakers as they sought to survive under such harsh conditions. It became heroic to break the law in clever ways. It also created an almost impossible gulf between the Catholics and their Protestant neighbors. Neither side understood the other. Ironically, the Protestants were betrayed as well by England’s imposition of heavy taxes on whatever Ireland produced, in effect, making sure that Ireland could not compete.
Such total disenfranchisement had an interesting effect on the Irish peasantry, though. Instead of becoming Protestants, they became even more fiercely Catholic, clinging to their faith and protecting their priests with their lives. Even more, they turned once again to the stories of Ireland’s glorious past, remembering the reign of the Tuatha de Danaan and the heroes Cuchulainn and Finn MacCool. And they remembered faeries.
The Dreamers Awaken
Belief in the “good folk” and the “little people” had never entirely waned, but in the hour of need, they were recalled with great clarity. In the midst of sorrow and want, there sprang up wells of Glamour from the hedgerow teachers and travelling shanachies who sought to keep their people’s hopes alive through the stories of ancient heroes and clever faeries. No Kithain practiced this more heartily than the eshu, clurichaun, and selkies, while the pooka regaled their listeners with tall tales of the ancient days. The fae, most of them sympathetic to the plight of their dreamers, responded to ease suffering where they could, whether the one in need was a Protestant who feared Irish takeover and slaughter, or a Catholic dreaming of the day he would hold his own land again. The mortals responded by building upon the old legends and fashioning new stories that emphasized Celtic achievements and Irish pride, in effect continuing an old tradition and infusing their changeling neighbors with Glamour.
In the 1700s, Parliament gained more independence from Westminster, and in 1793, in response to Catholic secret societies who rode against their landlords (and were in turn punished by Protestant groups), the Penal Laws were relaxed. Catholics were allowed to bid on land. Desperate to regain land, they outbid Protestants, tying themselves to ridiculous rental agreements and exorbitant loans, but also taking away land the Protestants considered theirs. Brutal fighting between the two factions continued. After a particularly nasty battle in 1795, the victorious Protestants renamed themselves the Orange Order in honor of William of Orange, to whose victory at the Battle of the Boyne they likened their triumph.
The United Irishmen
Inspired by the American War for Independence, the United Irishmen sought to open the Irish Parliament to all Irishmen, disregarding their rank or religion. They were led by a Dublin lawyer by the name of Wolfe Tone, who persuaded France to help Ireland gain her freedom. A French invasion force was sent, but kept from landing by terrible storms. In May of 1798, rebellion broke out, but many of the United Irishmen’s leaders had been arrested, the Protestants within the organization were distrusted by the Catholics, and there was no overall plan. Tone himself was captured as he tried to lead another French invasion fleet and was executed. He became a symbol to the Irish, and is recorded among the “martyrs to Irish freedom.”
Confusion reigned as the British tried to set the Orangemen against the United Irishmen, some of whom were fellow Protestants. Offers of amnesty were made to men of property for surrendering their arms. In all, 30,000 people (peasants with pitchforks, women and children among them) were shot down. Cooperation between Catholics and Protestants was discredited, as were the Protestants Britain had counted on to control Ireland. It became obvious to the English that if they wanted order restored, they would have to do it themselves.
Wild Geese Return
Those who had been exiles attempted to return to Hibernia at this time. Reborn into French families, some of the changeling Wild Geese who had left Hibernia with the Jacobites now returned with the French invasion force. They were doomed to failure and disillusionment once more. Unknown to them, dozens of Unseelie working for the English had concentrated their Glamour, focusing on creating the terrible storm system that prevented the French from landing. It has been theorized that to do so, they used one of the Immortal Eyes, the Waystone, reversing its usual properties to bar the way rather than opening it. If this is true, it raises interesting possibilities for the use of such treasures should they ever be found again.
Union between Great Britain and Ireland seemed the only reasonable answer. In 1800, Prime Minister Pitt bribed the Protestants in the Dublin Parliament by creating earldoms for them. Pitt promised Catholics equality, and the Act of Union passed. Catholics were disappointed, though, for Pitt soon lost his office and King George III opposed Catholic emancipation.
Daniel O’Connell, a barrister and great orator, organized peaceful “monster rallies” of up to a million people in pursuit of Catholic emancipation. He was elected MP (Member of Parliament) for Claire in 1828. After a five-year campaign by O’Connell, the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1828, giving a limited number of Catholics the right to vote. He hoped for a separate Parliament in which Catholics would hold the majority (as they were the majority in Ireland). He didn’t succeed for several reasons. First, he was against trade unions, which were important to the workers of Ireland. Second, he understood very little about Ulster, and failed to see why the Protestants would not fall in line and accept their few minority seats in a Dublin Parliament. That Ulster’s prosperity was seen as a direct result of union with Britain didn’t occur to him. He achieved half his aims, but could never persuade Britain to restore home rule.
The Great Famine
In 1845, Catholics owned only 5% of the land in Ireland. Most of them farmed land for absentee landlords who charged them rent, mostly in the form of grain, which the Irish grew for profit. Agents were greedy and rents were high, meaning that the difference between making it another year and going under was very slim. For their own consumption, Catholics grew potatoes, which were easy to plant and care for. Families became dependent on their potato crop as their sole reliable food source. Then the potato blight struck.
Potatoes that had appeared healthy rotted in the bins; most turned to slush in the ground. Though the Irish turned to cabbage, turnips, and wild plants, they could not be found in great enough numbers to feed the population. Many of the absentee landlords had mortgaged their estates so that they might maintain town houses in Britain, and were dependent on the rents to retain their property. They had to have the other crops produced by their tenants to sell in English markets or go under. The British government was reluctant to interfere in private enterprise; grain and cattle left Ireland for English markets as the people starved. With starvation came “famine fever:” dysentery. The English government allowed corn to be brought into Ireland in an attempt to feed the populace because nobody had a vested interest in the crop. Private charities set up food distribution and started some public works.
The Irish were faced with starving or being thrown out of their homes for failure to pay the rent. Mass emigration began, with many people sailing away to America or Canada in “coffin ships,” leaky, overcrowded vessels that were lucky to make the crossing at all. Many Irish went deeply into debt to the “gombeen men,” loan sharks who charged exorbitant interest, in order to pay for seed to plant the next year’s crop. And then it happened again. And again. And again. In all, the potato crop failed for four straight years.
Although somewhat sympathetic to the plight of the Irish, after four years, the English people and government were tired of hearing about Irish famine. Most didn’t understand the problem. They couldn’t see how the Irish could be starving when exports of grain and cattle continued without interruption. Between evictions, emigrations, starvations, and death due to disease, Ireland lost over a quarter of her population. By 1847, over a quarter million Irish were emigrating annually.
After the famine, the Irish would never be the same people again. They had always been poor, but they had met adversity with courage, resourcefulness, humor, and an abiding sense that they would eventually triumph. The famine left the people broken, their dreams shattered. Never again would the Irish be a people whose gaiety was not tinged by sadness, and never again would they dare to dream without doubts and reservations in their hearts.
The Changelings Lament
Irish changelings would never be the same either. Though they had weathered years of religious bickering, various risings, and other difficulties of life in Hibernia, they were unprepared for the onslaught of nightmares caused by the Great Famine. As their dreamers lost hope, so did the fae. Many fell to Banality, becoming embittered Dauntain. Others found themselves consumed by their Unseelie natures. Underlying even the most riotous Irish changeling is a core of cynicism and pessimism that things will never turn out as planned. Irish fae truly hope for the best and dream of glory and wonder, but in their hearts, they expect disaster.
Home Rule & Republicanism
Many who fled the famine harbored great hatred for the British government and their lack of action. Their children inherited that hatred, a hatred that would lead them to participate in bloody uprisings and support armed insurrection into the 20th century. These formed the nuclei for such groups as the Fenian Brotherhood (named for the legendary Fianna), many of whom joined Republican uprisings in Ireland, and Clan-na-Gael, which collected money and provided for such organizations.
In Ireland, James Stephens founded a movement that was similar to the Fenians. It was called the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association was formed to promote Irish traditions. Once again, Irish nationalism and dreams of old times were in the air.
By 1900, Ireland’s pre-famine population of eight million had fallen by half. Starving tenant farmers were evicted from their lands, prompting the founding of the Land League, which began a campaign for tenants’ rights. This was followed by demands for independence from Britain. In Parliament, the Catholics’ new hope, Charles Stuart Parnell, lobbied for “home rule.”
Two home rule bills were passed in Parliament, but vetoed by the House of Lords. If a third home rule passed, it would become law regardless of opposition from the Lords. In 1912, Edward Carson rallied the Ulster Protestants who created a solemn covenant to defeat home rule. It was signed by 471, 414 people. In 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Force formed to demand that six counties in Ulster remain part of the United Kingdom. Gun-running became the order of the day as the Protestant North armed against a sell-out by the British. In 1914, the home rule bill was passed but suspended for the duration of World War I. Irishmen, both Catholic and Protestant, were called upon to do their duty and volunteer for service. The time lag between its passage and implementation, though, gave critics of the home rule bill time to see its limitations. Nationalists despaired of Parliamentary solutions, though the Irish people were not receptive to organizations like the Irish Republican Brotherhood and its political counterpart, the Sinn Féin party founded by Arthur Griffith.
The Fenian Brotherhood
It is said the Fenian Brotherhood was actually founded by a knight of House Scathach as an attempt to rekindle old memories of a time of glory. Whether this is merely rumor, or whether the legendary Scathach temper got the better of the founder and the Brotherhood, is impossible to say. In any case, the lofty ideals that prompted the founding of this group was sacrificed to the necessity of waging guerilla warfare in a hostile land. That changelings were involved is not in dispute, but whether Seelie or Unseelie has yet to be determined and may never be clear. Every rising and every protest in Ireland since that time has contained its share of changelings. The story of the Irish Kithain is the story of Ireland’s quest for independence. Are they then Seelie heroes or Unseelie conspirators? Even the historians cannot say. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and when dreams themselves take sides in the ongoing battle, the lines become blurred.
The Easter Rising
Believing that armed insurrection was the only way to gain Ireland’s freedom, a small force of Irish rebels planned an uprising. They counted on German support that didn’t materialize. Despite confusion in the ranks, a rising commenced in Dublin. Led by Patrick Pearse of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 2,000 Irish volunteers occupied several sites around the city, raised the tri-color flag of their new Irish Republic, proclaimed Ireland’s freedom, and appointed themselves Ireland’s provisional government. They stood up to English soldiers and artillery for the week, then surrendered.
The Irish people were horrified by civilian loss of life; many had sons in the British army and felt that the uprising betrayed them. The 1916 Easter Rising had been very unpopular until the British made the mistake of executing the leaders after secret trials. Details emerged that pointed to British cruelty. James Connelly, badly wounded, was carried out in a chair and shot. Suddenly they were no longer nuisances, but Irish patriots fighting for the freedom of their country. Sentiments swung in favor of the nationalists, and the same people who threw garbage at them as they were taken into custody now hailed them as martyrs.
1916 marked the date when thousands of Ulstermen gave their lives at the Battle of the Somme. They greatly resented the rising and the idea that they would be forced to be part of an overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland. After the Easter Rising, the North was assured by Lloyd George that the six northeastern counties of Ulster would be excluded from the home rule bill.
In 1918 conscription was begun in Ireland, and the Irish flocked to the Sinn Féin party in droves, giving them all but six of the Irish seats in Parliament. 44 of those representatives were imprisoned in English jails, but the rest met and set up their own Dail Eireann. Eamon De Valera, saved from execution for his part in the Easter Rising because of his American birth, escaped from prison and was elected first President of the Irish Republic in 1919. The Irish Volunteers became the Irish Republican Army, and the Dail declared the independence of Ireland.
The War of Independence
Britain was caught by surprise. After dealing with the Treaty of Versailles, they responded by sending in the Black and Tans to reinforce the police. These were mostly ex-soldiers who wore a mixture of police and army uniform. Their brutal methods were met head-on by retaliations from the Irish Republican Army. Michael Collins, head of military operations for the IRA, had set up a very effective intelligence system. Actin on information from them, he was able to wage a vicious campaign against British forces. Most famous of all were Collins’ Flying Columns: small, mobile groups who could strike quickly and retreat before real opposition could be formed against them. Seemingly, they could be anywhere, anytime. The British public urged compromise, and a truce was declared in July 1921. In October, an Irish delegation, including Griffith and Collins, went to London to negotiate a treaty.
Unknown to them, Lloyd George had already concluded an agreement with the Protestants of the North. The British offered them partition. They would have their own Parliament while remaining a part of Britain. English sentiment was clearly on the side of the Protestants, who had proven time and again their loyalty to the crown. That the Protestant Loyalist leaders were willing to arm their followers to fight British soldiers if they didn’t get what they wanted has rarely been mentioned except in Republican circles.
The Irish delegates were presented with partition as a non-negotiable part of any treaty they gained. Under threat of “immediate and total war” should they fail to sign the treaty, the delegates signed a document granting Ireland dominion status (similar to Canada). The six counties were carved away from the rest of the Island, and it was demanded that Irish legislators take an oath of allegiance to the crown and that certain ports be designated as usable by the British navy.
Michael Collins, who claimed he signed his own death warrant when he signed the treaty, saw it as a stepping stone toward total independence and eventually winning back the six counties. Others disagreed. The anti-treaty side was against the oath and unwilling to accept a divided Ireland. De Valera, firmly anti-treaty, resigned as head of the Dail. The IRA split on the issue, with part of it breaking away and beginning a violent campaign in the North against the newly created Northern Ireland. Collins reorganized the rest into the Free State Army, but in the violent civil war that erupted between the pro- and anti-treaty factions, Collins was assassinated. People who fought side by side against the Black and Tans now shot one another on sight. In 1922, the Free State government, attempting to deal with the dissident IRA, passed measures as draconian as those usually decried in Northern Ireland: internment and floggings. Finally, the anti-treaty side, known as Republicans, sued for peace. De Valera ordered a cease-fire. For the first 10 years after the civil war, the Dail concentrated on building up the remaining 26 counties into a strong state. In 1926, De Valera broke with Sinn Féin and formed the Fianna Fail party which gained control of the Dail in 1932.
In 1937, De Valera drew up a new constitution declaring Ireland a republic and containing an article that claimed the right of the Dublin government to exercise jurisdiction over the whole island. It further recognized the special position of the Roman Catholic Church in the new state. The country’s name was changed to Éire. Embarrassed by the extremist IRA, De Valera declared them an illegal organization. In reality, the IRA continued to receive support from both the government and the people so long as the didn’t go too far.
Reflecting the hatreds and bitterness that surrounded them, the Kithain went to war as well. Pro and anti-treaty changelings fought just as viciously as ay mortal. Trolls squared off against redcaps, selkies withdrew from the conflict, and the clurichaun were about evenly divided on the issue. Most of House Scathach was based in the South and welcomed the treaty for their own homes’ sake, but feared it would interfere with their duty as Riders of the Silver Court to protect King Meilseoir (their greatest duty and their greatest secret). Boggans and nockers argued more than engaging in actual battle, the satyrs were more concerned with access to good whiskey than with treaties, and the pooka were in their glory disseminating misinformation to both sides.
Response to Partition
Neither the Irish nor the British actually expected partition to be forever. A boundary commission was set up to determine just how much of Ulster could be said to contain a clear Protestant majority. Catholics thought the commission would draw up boundaries that made it into an impossible economic unit. IRA attacks that commenced before the boundary commission could even begin work provoked the Unionists and gave them an excuse to introduce paramilitary police. The Catholics, believing the situation would resolve itself when it was seen how ridiculous it was to partition the island, refused to join Northern Irish institutions such as the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary).
Embattled by the IRA and faced with Catholic boycotts, the Unionists believed that all Catholics were likely traitors to the new state. They felt like a garrison in hostile territory. The response to their fears was the creation of the Special Powers Act of 1922 under which possession of a firearm was a capital offense and people suspected of Republican sentiments could be flogged. Though their reasoning may seem absurd to outsiders, they believed they were fighting for their survival. Since the IRA’s stated aim was to overthrow this new country, they felt justified in invoking extreme measures.
Blatant gerrymandering of wards and districts ensued, designed to insure Protestant majorities even in territories where Catholics actually outnumbered them. Thus, an area that held thousands of Catholics was all made into one district, while an area that held an equal number of Protestants might be divided in two so they would be able to elect more representatives. The border question became embroiled in attempts by both sides to gain territory while cutting the other side out, and was eventually left as a dead issue when the Free State accepted the original partition.
The ‘30s and ‘40s were marked by increased sectarian division as a depression hit. Rather than bringing together working-class Protestants and Catholics, the fear of unemployment made Protestants grateful for their superior position. At least they were employed, no matter how bad the conditions, and it was made very clear to them that their continued employment depended on their support for the British crown and their Protestant employers. To some extent, sectarian violence was even encouraged as a means for letting out their frustrations, though this was never actually stated.
Éire declared neutrality during World War II. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, provided men, ships, aircraft, and agricultural goods to the war effort. In response, the Germans bombed the province four times, including one raid in which 700 people were killed and 100,000 made homeless in Belfast. After the war, legislation from the Labour government was extended to Northern Ireland, providing them with free health care, secondary schooling, grants for attending universities, and welfare benefits. Nationalists hoped the Labour party might be more sympathetic to their case, particularly in forcing the Unionists to adopt the one man-one vote law rather than granting a number of votes equal to the value of the property held, so that some Protestants got up to six votes, while the poorer Irish, already outnumbered, had to make do with one. In 1949, when Éire became a Republic outside the British Commonwealth, the British government declared that Northern Ireland would not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom until the Parliament of Northern Ireland consented to it.
Funded by generous grants from England, advances were made in agriculture and the development of Industry in Northern Ireland. Sadly, in too many cases, the Catholics were mostly forgotten. Unemployment among the Catholic population remained high and their housing substandard. Seen as disloyal by their Protestant neighbors and the Unionist government at Stormont, the Catholics became more and more disillusioned by life in Northern Ireland, and many fled across the border to the Republic.
Beginning in 1956 and lasting until 1962, the IRA began a series of attacks across the border with the goal of ending the partition. Though much damage was done, the Catholic population, given benefits by the English, failed to support the campaign, and it was called off as being ineffective. Rather than seeing the Catholic response to the IRA as an indicator that they supported Northern Ireland, the Unionist government continued to see them as disloyal and potentially dangerous. Catholics continued to be discriminated against in education, housing and positions in government. Attempts to grant the Catholics more jobs or equal rights met with vehement backlash from extremists among the Protestants.
Young, better-educated Catholics and Protestants began to agitate for better conditions and an end to injustice. In 1967, the Civil Rights Association, inspired by the American civil rights movement, was born. Concessions toward Catholics were already being made, but many of these came to late. Unionists such as Ian Paisley (a Presbyterian minister who had broken with his church and gone independent) regarded any softening in attitudes toward Catholics as tantamount to treason and reacted with violence. A peaceful civil rights march at Burntollet in 1969 was stoned by a Paisleyite mob as the police stood by and did nothing.
A similar confrontation in the Bogside in Londonderry was even more violent, and eventually resulted in the disbanding of the B-Specials (a Protestant-dominated, often ultra-violent, part-time police force who were given special powers to search out IRA members). More significantly, to restore order, British troops were ordered into Northern Ireland. Though this would have been the perfect time for the IRA to win supporters by protecting Catholics, they were woefully disorganized and failed to seize the initiative. In Belfast, disgusted Nationalists quipped that the IRA actually stood for “I Ran Away.” Instead, the Catholics welcomed the British soldiers as their saviors and protectors from virulent Protestants like the Paisleyites.
The Return and the Troubles
It is no coincidence that the Resurgence in 1969 coincided with violent confrontations between Catholics, Protestants, and police. Some of those difficulties resulted from conflicts between sidhe and commoners that escalated out of control. “The Return,” as it was called in Hibernia, was even more shockingly violent than in the USA. Fears and hatreds ran high, as is ever the case in Ireland. Some Kithain welcomed the return of the nobility, hoping they would put things right, but they forgot that the sidhe had left when feudalism held sway. The sidhe’s assumption of their right to reclaim old freeholds and places of power and to once again set their rules over commoners whose struggles had mirrored those of the Irish people were greatly resented, and those resentments flared into battle on more than one occasion.
In particular, the redcaps and trolls who had borne the brunt of the fighting throughout Ireland’s struggle toward freedom refused to bow before the sidhe and surrender the freeholds and advances they had gained. Theirs was the most violent clash, but other Kithain fought in their own way to make the sidhe aware of the changes wrought by time. From fighting a war for Catholic civil rights, the changelings turned to a war for commoner rights. Since it was waged under the guise of the other struggle, much of the changeling battle for supremacy in Ireland was camouflaged as Catholic-Protestant violence.
Because the only sidhe they had dealt with for hundreds of years were those of House Scathach, who do not possess the Art of Sovereign, the commoners were defeated by the sidhes’ power to command their obedience. Eventually, it became apparent that the sidhe would grant the commoners certain rights in return for their acknowledgement that the sidhe once again ruled the island. There was never an actual accord, merely a cessation of hostilities. The commoners retreated to their freeholds, and the sidhe divided the island into four kingdoms.
The New IRA
The IRA was not long idle. An internal struggle occurred in which some members wanted to move away from violence toward left-wing political activities, and the traditionalists broke away and formed the Provisional IRA (named for the provisional government declared by Patrick Pearse in the Easter Rising). The latter, known as Provos (but more often just referred to as the IRA), declared their intention to wage a campaign in the North. While the Catholics had initially welcomed the British soldiers, their heavy-handedness in dealing with security threats soon alienated the Catholic community. The IRA began moving into Catholic areas and acting as the “natural guardians” of the people there. Their aim was to break down law and order, and they began to shoot down both army and police (reasoning that both were tools of the British oppressors and the Unionists) and set off bombs in the cities.
Dealing With the Problems
Stormont (Northern Ireland’s government and Parliament) began to address some of the civil rights issues, such as allocating housing more fairly, stopping job discrimination, overhauling the RUC, and disbanding the B-Specials. A new part-time security force, set up within the British Army, was called the Ulster Defense Regiment (UDR). Much of this was seen as being too little too late. Support for the soldiers declined, the IRA’s bombing campaign intensified, and British soldiers responded to the hatred directed at them with even more heavy-handedness. When the IRA killed the first British soldier in 1970, the Catholic nationalists cheered. When the army was called in to quell a riot in Bogside in 1972, they ended up killing 13 people. Hatred of the army grew with their destructive house searches, and the cycle of violence spiraled out of control. Instead of helping, the presence of the British and the renewed presence of the IRA created an even more divided society, split along sectarian lines. This left the region a legacy of bitterness, hatred, and violence.
In 1971, internment was instituted, which allowed suspected terrorists to be imprisoned without trial. This polarized Catholics even more against the British as they saw British “justice” used as a terror tactic against their community. Though internment was phased out, the Diplock system of Criminal Courts was introduced in its place. There were courts in which alleged terrorists were tried by judges who presided over the trial without a jury. The argument made for these courts was that juries would be subjected to intimidation, presumably by both the IRA and extremist Protestants. Though it is probably true that some way was needed to curb the terrorists, denying anyone the right to trial by a jury of their peers violates the very heart of the British justice system. Whether the courts were fair or not, it was inevitable that they would be seen as secret, kangaroo courts designed to imprison those who spoke out against injustice.
In 1972, the Stormont government and Parliament were suspended, and the British implemented direct rule from Westminster. There was now a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (who is appointed by the British Prime Minister), and English civil servants administer the province. The various political parties still elect representatives, but these now sit in Westminster and try to get the House of Commons to listen to Northern Irish issues.
While the sidhe are ostensibly in control of all of Hibernia, the Kingdom of Ulster has never been fully pacified. Continued fighting between commoners and nobles has been sparked by terrorist actions of both Protestants and Catholics. In some cases, lesser nobles have used the British army to quell disturbances in areas where they know commoner changelings have their homes. For their part, the commoners associate the army with sidhe terrorism designed to curtail their rights. It has been claimed that some changelings were targeted for death by sidhe, who persuaded enchanted human soldiers to shoot them, thus leaving their own hands clean. King Finn of Ulster is the acknowledged ruler of the land, but it has been rumored that he has fallen into depression over the unceasing violence in his kingdom, embracing his Unseelie nature in response to it.
The Sunningdale Agreement
Leaders of the Northern Irish parties met with Ministers from both the United Kingdom and (for the first time) the Republic of Ireland. The council was intended to provide a framework for cooperation between the North and South. Additionally, a power-sharing agreement was called for that would result in a joint government of Catholic and Protestant representatives. Terrified that the agreement constituted abandonment by the British, the Unionists reacted to quash it. The Ulster Workers’ Council called a general strike that paralyzed the province. Rather than having the army stop the strike, the British allowed the Protestant paramilitary groups their way, a reaction that the Catholic community understood to mean that whatever the Protestants did would be winked at, while anything the Catholics did would be immediately shut down. The Unionist members of the proposed new executive resigned, and direct rule was reinstated.
Since then, the North has suffered greatly. Sectarian killings, bombings, economic woes due to lack of investment in the area, hunger strikes by IRA prisoners seeking reinstatement of their status as political prisoners, and the attendant publicity have marked the province in a way few outsiders can understand. Those born since 1969 have never known peace. Unceasing violence and turmoil, uncertainty, and economic hardship have infected the communities with feelings of fear and despair of ever seeing an end to things.
1973 also brought the beginning of the IRA’s bombing campaign in England. Reasoning that one bomb in London was worth dozens in Belfast because of the attendant publicity, the IRA bombed New Scotland Yard, the Old Bailey, and other such “strategic” targets. They soon moved beyond that, though, setting off bombs in Guildford and Birmingham that killed many civilians. Anti-Irish hysteria and demands by the public for the government to do something resulted in the arrest of the wrong people, who were convicted and jailed, although it later became apparent that the British authorities knew they were not guilty.
The IRA used this to point up British injustice, and in response the British government implemented the Prevention of Terrorism Act under which hundreds of innocent Irish citizens have been held. This Act and the Emergency Provision Act made it lawful for British forces to stop anyone, anywhere, at any time, and demand their names, addresses, and destinations. Further, anyone could be arrested at any time and held up to seven days for interrogation, all without being charged for any crime. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that seven-day detentions are a violation of the European Convention. Tortures used to extract confessions prompted the Court of Human Rights to find the British government guilty of “inhuman and degrading” treatment of prisoners. Though intended to strike at terrorists and quickly remove them from the streets, the legislation has often been misinterpreted and misused.
Some of the less extreme “silent majority” Catholics and Protestants came together to try to end the violence, and the organizers of the Ulster Peace Movement, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo for their efforts in 1976. Though many desired peace, skepticism about British justice, continued unemployment, and old, bitter hatreds continued to rule the day through the 1980’s.
In 1981, hunger-striker Bobby Sands (and several others, less publicized prisoners) died in H-Block of Longkesh Prison. While he did not achieve his aims, the publicity surrounding his hunger strike and death once again focused world attention on Northern Ireland.
It is truly sad and ironic that so much effort is spent and so many lives lost in the attempt to reunify the six counties with the rest of Ireland and the reaction against that attempt by the Loyalists. Reunification with the Republic is not really an option for Northern Ireland at this time. Even if the Unionists agreed to it (a very remote possibility), the reunification is not economically feasible. The Republic is just beginning to benefit from their membership in the EU and starting to attract industry and foreign investment, while Northern Ireland is the most heavily industrialized part of the island. On the surface it would appear that the North would be welcomed and would benefit from the recognition that they were bringing much-needed industry to Ireland.
The problem with this utopian view is that the Republic’s standard of living is lower than Northern Ireland’s (which in turn is poor compared to the rest of the UK). The Irish government could not afford to keep up the unemployment benefits currently paid out by the British government. Further, the government cannot afford to adequately fund services such as transport and health in the counties they already administer. Adding six more counties and another million and a half souls would swamp their resources entirely.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement
Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minster, and Garrett Fitzgerald, leader of the Fine Gael party, were instrumental in the passage of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. The basics of the agreement were that Northern Ireland would remain a part of the UK for as long as the majority desired, and that the Dublin government would have the status of being a consultant in Northern Irish affairs. Unionists desperately clutched at continued union with Britain, fearing that this was another attempt by England to cast them off. Nationalists were dismayed because it seemed that the Republic had finally given up on reclaiming the six counties that make up Northern Ireland. Opposition by the Loyalists and the Republicans proved bitter. Murders, fire bombings, and beatings continued.
In 1990, Mary Robinson became the first female President of the Republic, an event that has been seen as an achievement by Irish feminists in their fight to throw off the domination of the Catholic Church. While the Anglo-Irish Agreement was discredited, peace initiatives moved forward as the IRA continued bombing campaigns in London. Protestant terrorists continued their campaign of murder and mayhem against Catholics that was the equal of anything the IRA dealt out. Whereas the Protestant groups see the Catholics as their enemies, the IRA believes their true enemy is the British government.
After an IRA bomb killed 10 people in Belfast and the extremist Loyalists retaliated by shooting 14 people in a pub in Greysteel, more moderate leadership in the IRA allowed Sinn Féin to begin lobbying for peaceful solutions. Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Féin, became a well-known figure as the political arm of the IRA rose to the forefront. In one of those ironies so typical to Ireland, even as the IRA was bombing “soft targets” such as the homes of policeman and shooting Catholics who tried to join the RUC, Gerry Adams, was assigned an RUC guard to protect him from assassination.
The Downing Street Declaration
The Irish and British Prime Ministers issued a joint declaration in 1993 which stated that: “Britain had no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland.” The statement further said that the people of both Southern and Northern Ireland have the right to “self-determination,” and that the status of Northern Ireland can only be changed if the majority of the people wish it. The Irish government agreed to drop its claims to the six counties. Both governments offered to accept negotiations from extremist factions on both sides if they renounced violence.
After several months delay, the IRA declared a ceasefire in 1994. This was followed by a Protestant ceasefire one month later. For the first time in 25 years, there were no troops on daylight patrols in Northern Ireland, and many of the barricades and checkpoints were dismantled.
It should be noted that certain levels of violence never ceased despite the ceasefire. Both the IRA and the Loyalists tend to “keep order” in their respective territories. This includes beating those they disapprove of with baseball bats or kneecapping teenagers who steal cars to go for joyrides. Additionally, each group has become dependent on the money they make through the drug trade. It seems unlikely that they will simply cease operations if an agreement is ever reached… especially since unemployment remains a significant problem in the region.
Breakdown of Negotiations
Sinn Féin expected to be invited to peace talks within three months, but delays mounted. The British demanded that the IRA hand over its guns before they would be allowed a place in negotiations, and in retaliation, Sinn Féin demanded that the British army and RUC give up their arms as well. They called for the RUC (seen in Nationalist areas as an instrument of Protestant oppression) to be disbanded entirely. After 17 months of relative peace, none of the extremists had given up their guns. Many have questioned why the British thought that either side would give up their arms before peace was assured. It seemed more of a roadblock to progress than a real demand since it was so unlikely as to be ridiculous.
John Major, the British Prime Minister, then called for elections to choose delegates to the peace talks. Because of various rules, this made it very difficult for Nationalists to win enough votes to actually elect representatives, especially those most likely to be apprised of the issues. Sinn Féin accused Major of stalling tactics to derail the peace initiative. It is hard to refute their argument. Major only would remain Prime Minister as long as his party was in power, and his majority depended on support from the Northern Irish delegates (many of whom either have ties to or must answer to those who vehemently wish to maintain their union with Britain). Whether Northern Ireland’s chances for permanent peace were sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, only the principle players knew. The peace was ultimately shattered.
End of the Ceasefire
In February of 1996, the ceasefire ended abruptly when a bomb exploded in London’s Canary Wharf. It followed a brief announcement from the IRA stating that the ceasefire was over. The nonviolent stance of Sinn Féin was apparently overruled as rumors surfaced that the IRA leadership had undergone a reorganization. Such rumors indicated that the former commander of the IRA’s Northern Operations assumed overall control. The commander, whose name was not given, was noted for his ultra-violent policies, including the human bomb campaign which forced civilians to drive booby-trapped vans loaded with bombs to British army posts under the threat of having their families killed. The Protestant terrorists and their political counterparts may decide to call off their own ceasefire as well, especially if the bombing campaign moves back to Northern Ireland.
In many cases, the term "Catholic" is seen as synonymous with the words Irish, Nationalist, and Republican, while "Protestant" is thought of as English, Unionist, and Loyalist. All the terms are not interchangeable, though. Some Unionists are Irish Catholics who see union with Britain as more desirable than being a part of Ireland as a whole. Many Protestants feel that they have an Irish heritage as well as an identity with Britain.
There is also confusion when speaking of the two places. To the Unionists (and the British), the six northeastern counties of Ulster are Northern Ireland. Those with Republican leanings are more likely to refer to it as "the six counties." Those who want a less political word for the region often use "Ulster," but this isn't entirely correct either, as Ulster has nine counties, not six. The most political neutral term is "the North," but that's incorrect too, as parts of the Republic reach further north than Northern Ireland.
Then there is the problem of Derry. Renamed Londonderry when the London guilds took over funding it, the city has always remained "Derry" to the Catholics. To call it Londonderry was to betray Unionist sympathies, while to call it Derry was to mark yourself as Republican. The name has been changed back to Derry, but many still attach "London" to the front of it.
It is difficult enough to try to follow the intricacies of Irish politics when you know who the players are. Without that knowledge, the web of initials and similar-sounding names quickly strands newbies in a swamp of confusion. Some of the principle players are below.
- Alliance Party
This is a middle-of-the-road party made up of both Catholics and Protestants. The party supports British rule but also promotes links to Dublin. They get about 10% of the popular vote.
- Fianna Fáil
The "Soldiers of Destiny" party was created by Eamon De Valera and his supporters in response to the signing of the treaty partitioning Ireland. They were anti-treaty. Linked to the IRA, delegates elected from this party refuse to take their seats in the Dail because they refused to swear allegiance to the British crown. Finally in 1932, the party came to power in coalition with the Labour party.
- Fine Gael
The "United Ireland" party was started to oppose Fianna Fáil in 1933 from the remnants of those who had accepted the treaty and served in the Dail since 1922. The two parties have dominated politics in the Republic of Ireland since that time.
- Irish Republican Army (IRA)
This one is a little more complex. Never disbanded after the Irish Civil War, the IRA sought to free the whole of Ireland from British rule and reclaim the six counties by using guns and bombs. They were declared illegal in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, but reorganized after the 1969 civil rights marches. The Marxist members advocating peaceful agitation called themselves the Official IRA (OIRA) while the traditionalists what wanted to keep fighting became the Provisional IRA (PIRA).
After 1972, there were internal feuds resulting in the appearance of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and their political arm, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), led by Bernadette McAliskey (the former Bernadette Devlin who achieved fame in the Burntollet Bridge incident and for slapping the Home Secretary's face while she was an MP at Westminster). In many ways, the INLA and the IRSP were outgrowths of the OIRA and the Sinn Féin. The IRA and INLA engaged in a bloody battle for dominance, with assassinations on both sides. In 1977, a truce was called. Since then, the action has been carried on by the "Provos," the PIRA that is usually just referred to as the IRA.
Those who not only favor union with Great Britain, but are hardliners. Often the word is used to describe paramilitary membership or sympathies.
Anyone who supports a united Ireland are known as Nationalists. They are primarily Catholic and often accused of having links to the IRA. They have one main party in Northern Ireland, the Socialist Democratic and Labour Party. The SDLP holds the biggest Nationalist vote. It was founded in 1970 to achieve a united Ireland through peaceful, democratic means.
- Orange Order
Formed from the vigilante Peep-O-Day Boys, a Protestant working-class secret society who fought the Land League, the Orange Order took its name from their hero, William of Orange. The Orange Order has traditionally feared Catholics would somehow obtain a majority, displace them in their jobs and homes, and force a unification with the rest of Ireland. Staunchly Unionist, they have often erupted into violence and rioting when Catholics seemed on the verge of gaining advantages they consider threatening. During their traditional marches in July and August commemorating Protestant victories over Catholics (in 1690, no less), they frequently provoke disturbances by choosing routes through Catholic areas.
Hardline Nationalists are called Republicans. The word usually carries the connotation of being a member or sympathetic to the IRA.
- Royal Ulster Constabulary
The RUC is Northern Ireland's police force, though they often must act together with th eBritish army to maintain security as well. Reorganized in the 1970s in an attempt to make them less overtly Protestant in nature, they are still viewed with much suspicion by Catholic Nationalists who see their actions as repressive measures against peaceful dissenters. While it is true that the RUC earned such distrust in the past (by such measures as standing aside while peaceful protesters were beaten by Protestant mobs), they have tried to clean up their act and entice more Catholics into their number to make the police representative of the population. Their efforts in this area have been frustrated because any Catholic who joins the RUC is singled out for death by the IRA.
- Sinn Féin
The original Sinn Féin was the party that won independence for Ireland. Today's party is technically known as Provisional Sinn Féin (though almost no one calls them that). It acts as the political wing of the IRA and also serves as a radical working-class Nationalist party. They refuse to recognize British rule of the North.
"Unionist" is the term used for one who supports continued union with Great Britain. They see no legal foundation to the Republic's claim on the six counties, and interpret involvement by Dublin as an attempt to assert their (nonexistent) authority over British territory. They fear Dublin's aims are to force a reunification between the North and the Republic. The Unionists hold 13 seats in Parliament and so hold crucial votes in support of the Conservative government. Should they withdraw their support, John Major's party would no longer be in the majority. It is therefore in the interest of the Conservative government to keep the Unionists happy. Of course, nobody else wants them, at least for now, though there has been a long history of making deals and allegiances purchased by one British party or another.
The two Unionist parties. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is the larger, more moderate group who advocate making Sinn Féin a mainstream party through election to an assembly.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is led by Ian Paisley. Extremely right-wing in attitude, members of the party are set against any cooperation with Dublin or any plans for power sharing with the SDLP. Paisley has called the Vatican "anti-Christ."
- UVF, UFF, & UDA
The Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Freedom Fighters operate as smaller units under the protection of the Ulster Defense Association. All are illegal Protestant terrorist organizations whose main support comes from the working class. While they should probably be referred to as Loyalist terrorist instead of as Protestant, since they are (so far as known) totally comprised of Protestant members, it is as accurate to call them Protestant terrorists as it is to identify the IRA as being exclusively Catholic. The UDA was considered legal until 1992, a state of affairs which greatly angered the Catholic community who saw this as another instance in which their side was kicked while the Protestants were allowed to do as they pleased. None of the groups have any aim other than terrorizing and frightening Catholics and performing revenge killings in response to IRA attacks. The Ulster Defense Association's political arm is known as the Ulster Democratic Party, and serves much the same function as Sinn Féin does for the IRA.
- Baronies of Avalon
- Jeremy McNeil
- Herbert Westin
- Brendan Garrity
- Robert de Courcy
- Malcolm of Belfast
Garou presence in Ireland is mostly confined to the Fianna, Silver Fangs, and Get of Fenris. There is a substantial Glass Walkers presence in Dublin and Belfast, and scattered Bone Gnawers might be found just about anywhere. The Fianna are the dominant werewolf tribe in Irish territories. The Sept of the Tri-Spiral, Brugh Na Boinne, near Leinster, is controlled by them.
Changeling: The Dreaming
Among the Fae, Ireland is known as the Kingdom of Hibernia.
And what of those changelings? They bask in the dreams and creativity to be found throughout Ireland, but they also live in the shadows engendered by banal tourist traps and the poisoned Glamour of The Troubles. For a time, during the recent cease-fire observed by both the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the Protestant Loyalist groups, there had been hope of a new beginning. But the cease-fire has proven to be a broken dream, and Winter once again looms on the horizon.
While it is still possible to enjoy a leisurely tour of out-of-the-way scenic spots, such idyllic getaways are becoming scarcer as movie stars and the glitterati have discovered the unpretentious charm of Ireland. And in their wake come tour buses filled with camera-wielding vacationers bent on “discovering Ireland” in five days or less. The Banality they bring with them hangs over whatever sites they visit, stripping them of their Glamour, and leaving them devoid of the very magic they sought to find there.
As more and more historic sites are turned into tourist traps, changelings find themselves faced with the prospect of losing most of their ancient freeholds. Those that were claimed by the commoners during the Interregnum were mostly the poorer, more isolated sites since the sidhe often closed off access to their fine palaces before leaving. When they returned, the sidhe found themselves in the awkward position of having to search for suitable spots to rebuild. Most of their cherished castles and holdings had long since crumbled under the onslaught of Banality brought about by centuries of conflict and modern marauders clad in khaki and brandishing video cameras. While some of their ancient strongholds survive, these are now castles under siege.
In each of the four great kingdoms, the ruler’s birthday is celebrated. The Leinster Court holds a grand ball and bardic festival on King Bran’s birthday (July 22nd). Munster has a moodier celebration with poetry sessions, chimeric sculpture competitions, and a great feast in honor of Queen Nuala’s September 22nd natal day. Connaught’s court is much more practical. King Fiachra likes all sorts of machinery, so on his birthday (May 6th), there is a mechanics’ fair featuring new inventions, interesting gadgets, and train rides. King Finn’s November 20th birthday is celebrated by a gathering of all who owe fealty to him to pledge their loyalty and drink to his health. The Ulster court usually manages to arrange some sort of extravaganza to entertain the visitors, but these change from year to year.
Irish Kithain also acknowledge the following holidays: Samhain, the Winter Solstice, Imbolc, Beltaine Eve, Midsummer Night, and Lammas. Not all changelings celebrate each festival, but many do. There has recently been some talk of instituting a festival to commemorate the Cattle Raid of Cooley and the triumph over Balor of the Evil Eye and his Fomorians, but dates have yet to be set.
Mood & Atmosphere
Ireland is the natural home of changelings. They glean Glamour from the thousands of tourists who come to Ireland with dreams of an emerald paradise. Willing to suspend their disbelief, tourists kiss the Blarney Stone to become eloquent and buy “lucky” shamrocks by the score. They attend medieval feasts in Bunratty Castle, and search for great grandma’s grave with sentimental tears. They are willing to let Ireland’s magic work on them and forget their mundane cares.
Ironically, though they provide changelings with much-needed Glamour, when they converge on historic sites and landmarks, or arrive en masse at a pub rumored to feature the best in local talent, their lust for sensation, to cram as much of Ireland into their itineraries as possible, strips all the Glamour away, leaving the changelings bereft and sealing the taint of Banality to the area. Often, the tourists themselves feel it, leaving unsatisfied and vaguely troubled that highly recommended attractions failed to move them.
Tourists are not the only source of Banality, though. Centuries of strife, sorrows, and the diaspora of the Irish people have engendered Banaltiy as dreams were crushed, dreamers were executed or fled, and old hatreds were allowed to fester into violence. In the North, the hard men of the IRA and the Protestant terrorist organizations, the stubborn extremists on both sides, and the terror and angry reprisals of the British have created a pall of tainted Glamour that threatens to overwhelm any changeling coming into contact with it and wrench them into the deepest throes of their Unseelie nature.
Nonetheless, there is still a sense of timelessness and magic in the land. As the people re-evaluate their feelings and look forward to a more prosperous future, they dream new dreams. And while the ceasefire has held, new changelings have emerged in Northern Ireland, as last able to climb out from under Banality and contact the Dreaming that lies hidden beneath the surface.
Mage: The Ascension
The Verbena have several covens spread around Ireland. They often meet at some of the lesser-known megalithic structures for rites. The Order of Hermes has a presence in Dublin, Cork, and Sligo, while the Celestial Chorus can be found in Dublin, Armagh, Derry, Belfast, and Galway. The Technocracy has a surprisingly small presence in Ireland, confined mostly to Belfast and Dublin, but are beginning to spread to the West, where new industry and development are taking root. Many are Progenitors who seek fertile grounds for testing their experiments before exporting the results to larger population centers.
Wraith: The Oblivion
From all the tragic stories told of Ireland, it would seem that no one could take a step without passing through one ghost or another. There are flourishing Necropoli in both Dublin and Belfast, testament to their bloody histories and large populations. Among the most interesting wraiths to be found in various parts of the island are:
- The Flying Column: This group of Renegades has made a name for itself by taking over the GPO, site of the Easter Uprising, and giving a slap in the face to the Hierarchy. They are in contact with a Fianna Theurge named Dierdre ni Breanainn.
- Jenny: This small girl appears by the side of the road. She is dressed in rags, is terribly thin, and has green stains around her mouth (as if from eating grass). She is a spirit left from the Great Famine and if offered food and a warm place to sleep, she disappears.
- Sean: Sean is a tousle-haired teenager. He can be found in Derry where he died when his house was torched during a riot. He often appears when someone is in danger, beckoning them down alleyways and streets he knew well when alive. Once the danger is past, he flares into a column of flame and is gone.
- Prehistory - Garou begin the Impergium. With Fianna support, Druid Verbena mages of Ireland help to enforce the Impergium through human sacrifice.
- Prehistory - The strife between the Fuat Drochit and the Fey reaches a boiling point due to the Fey Trickster Nimué's deception and her theft of the sword Claíomh Solais which results in the Mages cutting their ties with all of the Fey folk Kingdoms and Freeholds.
- 2000s BCE - Likely time of the first War of Rage. Fianna wipe out the Nagah in Ireland and kill every single snake there. 
- 300s BCE- Life of Fionn mac Cumhail, Fianna Kinfolk. He had adventures with a band of mercenaries called The Fianna Eireann, after the Garou tribe. His spirit and those of his comrades were eventually bound into the Sword of Fionn, a powerful Fianna Fetish.
- 57 BCE - Fianna Garou Cinvortrix battled Elim of the Fierce Ones for the high kingship of Tara. Elim won and proclaimed himself Ard Righ or high king of all the Fianna, although this claim was not be recognized by most Fianna outside of Ireland for some time.
- Around 500 CE - Settlers from Ireland found Dalriada. Fianna capture two Caerns just prior to the initial landings.
- 960s CE - The first packs of Northern Fenrir land in Ireland with an interest in taking some Fianna Caerns, but fail to do so.
- 1100s - A band of insane mages lay waste to the Hermetic Covenant of Fuat Drochit in Ireland, turning stones to flowers and setting fire to wells. An account mentions "ravaging marauds like unto the mad, strewing storms like flour in a baker's hovel." When word of the attack reaches House Criamon, the term "Maraud" sticks.
- 1169 - Irish Fianna and Silver Fangs reach an accord as to Ireland itself; the Silver Fangs swear that they shall take no caerns in Ireland, and in return the Fianna would stay out of the way of the Silver Fangs' Norman Kinfolk.
- 1191 - The Toreador-backed Archbishop of Dublin begins constructing St. Patrick's Cathedral outside Dublin's city walls.
- 1400s - By this time, there are branches of the Knights of St. George and the Dragon as far apart as Ireland and India.
- 1442 - End of Wyndgarde's March. Christopher Wyndgarde sweeps Britain until an ambush outside Newry, Ireland, leaves his forces frozen solid. He dies at Nightshade's hands.
- 1452 - Minor Tribunal held in the Gediz Caves. The Primi formally dedicate their Crays to Horizon. Primary Crays include the floating tip of Lyonesse (France); Stonehenge, Chalice Hill and Glastonbury Tor (Britain); Loch Neagh (Ireland); Nemi Lake and San Lorenzo in Lucina (Italy); the Dragons of Guilin (China); Arches National Park (Utah, USA); Gediz Caves (Turkey); Artaxerxes' Court, the Canyon of Qu'Dali (Persia); and the Library of Alexandria.
- 1507 - Calida, the Toreador Methuselah who had reached Golconda long ago, leaves Aix-la-Chapelle with Einhard, the Ventrue chronicler of Charlemagne, before finally leaving Germany altogether in order to move to Ireland.
- 1649 - During Cromwell's campaign in Ireland, a small, mysterious army attacks the Silver Tara in the Second Battle of Tara. Though their uniforms resembled that of English soldiers, their firearms were unusually advanced for the time, and held swords that were unusually painful to the Fianna (burning like silver). Though they are defeated, their identity and motives are never uncovered.
- 1700s - Maeve McKinnon, an Irish witch, creates a Grimoire, the Book of Shadows of Maeve McKinnon.
- 1845-1849 - The Potato Famine strikes in Ireland; Fianna Kinfolk are among the many who flee Ireland to escape the famine and suffering there. In addition, the virulent spread of the blight is accompanied by a thick miasma in the Umbra that would cast spirits into Slumber should they come upon it. The exact nature of this Umbral fog is still a mystery.
- October 31, 1885- Benjamen Holmscroft invites some friends and acquaintances to discuss the formation of a society dedicated to the scholarly pursuit of the occult, away from the delusions of the Hermetic Order of the Rising Day. Among those invited are Winthrop Murray, French occultist Etienne DuLac, Reverend Jebediah Spector Brown, American thanatologist Jonathan Kelvin, and the Irish poet Liam McPhee.