A Short History of Ireland

Jan 13, 2013 by

A Short History of Ireland by Constantia Maxwell was originally published in 1917 and is a fascinating read about the history of Ireland and the Irish people.

Here are a few paragraphs to give you a feel for this book:

The Geographical Position of a country has always some influence upon its history, and this is especially true of that great group of islands which lies to the northwest of Europe, of which Ireland forms part. Owing to the isolated position of Great Britain and Ireland in the Western sea we have been unaffected by many of the movements and forces which have played an important part on the Continent. Our problems have often been peculiar to ourselves, and so our development has been different from that of other nations. If Ireland had been placed an island like Iceland, entirely apart, she too would have had a separate and original development ; but being, as she is, a near neighbour of England, the history of the two countries has necessarily been closely connected. Though they have not always recognised the fact, their nearness has given them a common fortune, the safety and well-being of the one being bound up with the safety and well-being of the other.

Ireland, however, lies just far enough away to have made a perfect union between the two countries extremely difficult, and one of the main problems of British history has been to find the best method of so far uniting the two islands as to secure the mutual advantage of each. The Natural Features of Ireland itself have been of great importance in her history. The ring of mountains round the coast, for instance, has prevented free communication with the interior, and so has made commercial development difficult. Again, the great number of rivers, mountains and lakes, and the way in which they are placed, have intersected the country to such a degree that its different parts are very much cut off from one another. This has made an invader’s task always extremely difficult, and has greatly aided the natives in their methods of defense. For this reason, too, the Irish, like the ancient Greeks, who were similarly situated, have always tended to gather together in isolated groups like separate little peoples, and this partly accounts for the fact that we have never, as a people, shown a sustained spirit of patriotism, or been able to form a really firm and united nation.

The Original Inhabitants of Ireland were a nameless race, of which we know little, except that they were probably of Aegean origin. They have left their traces all over the country in those great stone monuments known as ‘ Cromlechs,’ ‘ Dolmens,’ ‘ Menhirs,’ and so forth, which are also to be found in the rest of Western Europe. They gradually gave way before other invaders with whom they mingled. The chief of these invaders of whom we know anything definite were the Celts. The Celts formed part of the great Aryan race to which most of the European peoples belong. They came originally from the Danube, and gradually spread over Central Europe, reaching the height of their power about 300 years before Christ. They soon broke up, however, before the force of Rome and the more vigorous Teutonic races from the North, and their numerous tribes drifted in successive waves mostly to the west, where they found a permanent resting-place.

In England they were driven northwards to the Scottish Highlands and westwards to the mountains of Wales, but in Ireland, which was never subjugated or even visited by the Romans, they were left unmolested. According to the old Irish legends, which must have been grounded on some sort of fact, Ireland was invaded and colonised by five different peoples : the Parthalonians, the Nemedians, the Firbolgs, the Dedannans, and the Milesians. The stories about the first three were probably meant to explain the existence of the various non-Aryan peoples which were found in subjection in historical times — that is to say, they represent the very earliest migrations to Ireland, of which very little is known. The legend of the Dedannans was perhaps invented after the introduction of Christianity to explain the origin of the pagan deities and fairy people reverenced by the earlier inhabitants, while the coming of the Milesians seems to have been based upon the various Celtic invasions which, unlike the others, come within the times of more certain knowledge. Just as the first colonists gradually became merged in the Celts, who thenceforth formed the dominant element in the Irish people, so the Celts in later times became blended with the large numbers of Norman, English and Scottish settlers who came over to Ireland at different periods. Thus the modem Irish, like other European peoples, are descended from a mixture of many races. ”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *