Irish Culture Includes Rich, Diverse Traditions and History (Part 1)

By Jay Hirshberg

Irish culture offers a rich and distinct cultural history that makes traveling to this temperate island nation an exercise in enjoyment and edification. The nation today known as Ireland covers just five-sixths of the island on which it exists. Ireland’s status as an island has greatly influenced its history over the last two millennia. Because it is an island, ship-faring people from other areas of Europe had easy access to it, while natives of the island found it difficult to leave.

The migration of the Celts to Ireland  brought new language influences and affected art, technology, and other aspects of regional culture. During the fifth century, Christians introduced their religion to Ireland, which proved to be one of the most lasting determinate factors in how the people of the island have lived their lives. The Irish people gained a reputation for devotion, attracting the religious to its monasteries and later, convents. These members of the clergy built churches, schools, orphanages, and other social work facilities.

Norse invaders came to Ireland beginning in the ninth century. These people raided the settlements of Ireland, but over the next 100 years or so, they established their own trading centers and settlements along the Irish coast. Many of these people became assimilated into Irish families and customs, as did Norman invaders who started to arrive in Ireland in 1169. The Anglo-Normans, however, changed the political makeup of the island, instituting feudalism, parliamentary legal systems, and Anglo-inspired laws and government. Nonetheless, intermarriage remained common between the Gaelic Irish and Anglos, and Norman rule ultimately was superseded by local nobility, except for a small area around Dublin.

England’s King Henry VIII sought to bring Ireland back under English control as part of his ongoing feud with the Roman Catholic Church. His efforts to establish the Church of England as the presiding religious institution in Ireland helped bring about the fierce loyalty of the Irish to Catholicism and the Church. Queen Elizabeth I ultimately conquered Ireland and sent English and Scottish settlers to the island to ensure a loyal population. In many cases, these new arrivals received Irish houses and farms for their troubles. The forcible removal of the Irish further alienated them from their new government.      

At the end of the 17th century, the period known as the Protestant Ascendancy began. During this era, Roman Catholics were prohibited from marrying Protestants, owning large shares of land, obtaining long-term land leases, voting, teaching, attending universities, and adopting children. The Irish Catholics could not own firearms or expensive horses, items which would make it possible for them to form a militia.

About the Author: Jay Hirshberg launched a number of successful technology startups after receiving his Master of Business Administration from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He enjoys traveling to countries such as Ireland and learning new languages.

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