Ireland, United Kingdom

State: Ireland, United Kingdom

Lat/Long: 53.0000, -8.0000

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean. The second-largest island in the British Isles, it lies west of the United Kingdom, separated from England by St. George's Channel and the Irish Sea. Human habitation of Ireland began as early as 900 BCE. Around 500 BCE, Celtic tribes invaded and conquered the island. Christianity came to Ireland in the fifth century AD, and Irish monasteries became centers of scholarship and missionary activity from the sixth to the ninth centuries. English invasions of Ireland began in 1169, and in the 1640s, Oliver Cromwell subdued the entire island and placed it under English domination. In 1800, Parliament formally united Ireland with Great Britain with the Act of Union, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Opposition to union (or support for Home Rule) remained strong in Ireland and largely shaped Irish political life through most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The most significant event during the period was the catastrophic Great Famine of 1845 to 1849. Irish agriculture had been in decline since the end of the Napoleonic Wars but the massive crop failures of 1845 severely exacerbated the situation. Estimates vary widely, but between 750,000 and 1,000,000 people died during the famine and an additional 1,500,000 emigrated outside of Ireland - many to the United States. The seeming indifference and economic mismanagement of British authorities responding to the crisis further fostered resentment toward British rule and a rising Irish nationalist movement.

The leading political figure of the period was Daniel O'Connell. His primary goal was "Catholic Emancipation" - the right of Catholics to sit in Parliament. He supported this movement by establishing the Catholic Association in 1823, which used donations to fund political campaigns. O'Connell successfully ran for Parliament in 1828 and attempted to assume his seat despite his religion. This forced the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, to act and King George IV approved Catholic Emancipation the following year. O'Connell spent the rest of his career working to peacefully repeal the Act of Union but others, such as the Fenians and the Young Ireland movement, preferred violent means. The most significant violent event during the period was the Rebellion of 1848, led primarily by Young Ireland to achieve Home Rule and protest British actions during the Famine. Like most revolutions in Europe in 1848, the Irish rebellion failed, and Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom throughout Abraham Lincoln's lifetime. Since 1922, Ireland has been divided politically between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

D. George Boyce, Ireland, 1828-1923: From Ascendancy to Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992), 1-44; R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 (New York: Penguin, 1989), 289-430; Webster's New Geographical Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1988), 548; Courtlandt Canby, The Encyclopedia of Historic Places (New York: Facts on File, 1984), 1:419-20.