is an island off the west coast of the main land of Great Britain, perhaps 70 miles from
Wales in the south and just 20 miles from Scotland in the north. The island is about 150
miles by 250 miles in size. Ireland is composed of 2 states Northern Ireland (NI), which
is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, an independent nation.
The McCabes supposedly immigrated from Scotland to Leitrim, Longford and Cavan
(counties in the north central part of the Irish Republic) around 1300. Our ancestor
McCabes were reportedly from Cork, in County Cork, which is on the southern coast. The
McIlhargeys are reportedly from Antrim, in County Antrim, which is the northeastern-most
county in Northern Ireland.
The land is mainly green rolling hills, with abundant lakes and rivers. The climate is
moderate and somewhat rainy, without extreme temperatures due to the Gulf Stream providing
relatively warm coastal waters. Agriculture, especially livestock, is the dominant
industry. There are about 5 million people in Ireland, including 1.5 million in NI.
In the Republic, 94% are Roman Catholic, with no significant ethnic minorities. All
speak English and about 1/4 also speak Irish (Gaelic). The capital, Dublin, is the largest
city, with about 1 million people, followed by Cork with 175 thousand.
In NI, although Roman Catholic is the largest denomination (28%), the combined
Protestant denominations prevail (Presbyterian 23%, Church of Ireland (Anglican) 19%,
Methodist 4%). Belfast is the largest city with 300 thousand people. NI, being more
urbanized and industrial, is generally more prosperous than the Republic.
The earliest inhabitants were Neolithic peoples in the flint age (Stone Age in this
region was probably 2 million BC to 4000 BC) and Mediterranean (small, dark, warlike)
tribes of the bronze age (3000 BC to 1000 BC). These peoples are thought to have been
eventually (350 BC) subdued by the slightly more advanced Celts, including the Milesians,
or Scots, who may have come from Spain (sons of Spanish King Milesius), but more likely
came from France. Throughout much of ancient history and until AD 300, the Irish were
known (to Greeks and Romans, for example) as the Scoti, and Ireland as Scotia. This name
was eventually taken for Scotland, where Irish chieftains often made conquests.
Saint Patrick came to Ireland as a Christian missionary in AD 432, but Catholicism did
not really take hold until the early 500's. The conversion of Ireland to Catholicism was
an important event in world history, as the 1996 book, How the Irish Saved Civilization,
points out. Patrick and his successors established monasteries, first in Ireland, and
later throughout England and the continent of Europe. Christianity and learning went
hand-in-hand in early Ireland. These holy men were scholars, and the holy scholars became
From the 500's to the 900's, most of the western world was illiterate, with virtually
no means of education. The monasteries and missionaries provided the most important (or
only) source of education at that time. Art, and especially literature, were fostered and
preserved. Thus the Irish and the Catholics helped to ensure the survival of the classical
knowledge of the Greeks and Romans. They probably helped to bring about the Renaissance
and eventually the Enlightenment, or emergence of culture and knowledge from the Middle or
Dark Ages (700 AD - 1500). Ironically, the resulting Enlightenment involved a
confrontation between religion, Roman Catholic in particular, and science, whereby the
Roman Catholic church was now mainly in a position of suppressing knowledge and
From the time of the Viking's first known invasion, right up until today, the history
of Ireland is a history of occupation by foreign invaders, or at least
"settlers." In 795 Vikings attacked the Irish coast and established some
permanent settlements near present Dublin and other coastal cities. From here the Vikings
would periodically venture inland, plundering at will. They destroyed many of the Catholic
monasteries and their treasures. The Vikings remained in Ireland until 1014, when at last
they were driven from the island by Irish natives near Dublin.
Early Ireland was divided into 5 kingdoms Leinster and Meath in the E, Munster in the
S, Connaught in the W, and Ulster in the N. Meath later merged into Leinster and thus
Ireland had 4 Provinces. Within each kingdom there were various clans, and religious
In 1170 the Normans (rulers in England since their conquest there in 1066) invaded,
having received the blessing of the Pope, who was of English origin and considered the
Irish to be uncivilized and irreligious. The English established settlements on the
island, but not without significant, if unorganized, resistance from the displaced former
occupants. In these earliest times, the English occupied mainly lands around Dublin, with
somewhat less presence in Ulster; however, they would eventually gain control over the
vast majority of the island. War was frequent, and could involve Irish vs English
invaders, or battles between the numerous Irish clans and parishes. In 1258 the
Gallowglasses (mercenary soldiers) came to Ulster from Scotland. One of our ancestral
families, the McCabes, are thought to have arrived in Ireland among the Gallowglasses.
After the Norman invasion, the English introduced the "shire" or county
system of government, forming the first 12 counties in 1210. More counties were gradually
added, and ever since 1605 Ireland has been divided into 32 counties.
The English gradually increased their dominance over the natives, but were hampered by
strongly entrenched native customs. England established an Anglo-Irish parliament to
administer government in Ireland and enforce English domination. In 1366 this parliament
passed the Statute of Kilkenny to outlaw Irish native customs.
English authority continued to grow and in 1536 the Anglo-Irish parliament, along with
the most prominent native Irish leaders, acknowledged Henry VIII of England as King of
Ireland and head of the Church of Ireland. The Reformation which he soon brought about in
England meant that the English people, including the dominant English settlers in Ireland,
were now, at least "officially," Protestants.
In 1608 a British colony was declared in Ulster, thus formalizing and attempting to
establish a sense of propriety to the British occupation. This action was seen as an
affront to Irish pride and was met with increased resistance from Irish nationalists. In
1641 uprisings against British authority began in Ulster and spread elsewhere. However,
England used its military might to restrain and repress the nationalists (mostly
Catholics) and by 1650 over 2/3 of Ireland was Protestant. The Anglo-Irish parliament
passed a law in 1692 excluding Catholics from parliament and all professions; this lasted
Irish independence did not begin to win political favor until after the American
Revolution. Most of Ireland, even the ruling Protestants, were sympathetic to the American
cause. Native armies were formed in Ireland under the auspices of protecting the country
from the American's ally, France. After the war, the Anglo-Irish parliament, backed by
this militia, was able to win some concessions from the British, and even eased some
restrictions on the Catholics. The Catholics were also becoming more politically
influential. In 1820 they won many civil rights, but continued to be forced to pay tithes
to the Anglican Church of England, and still could not vote.
In addition to the centuries of land disputes and religious persecution, the dissension
that resulted from "the trouble" was caused by economic repression. English
trade and commerce policies were deliberately unfair to the Irish. In 1845 this economic
repression, coupled with a diseased potato crop (the main staple of the Irish) resulted in
The Great Famine, which lasted until 1848. The population fell from 8 million to 6.5
million through starvation, disease, and mass immigration.
In 1905 Arthur Griffith created Sinn Fein, a newspaper devoted to promoting the Irish
economic welfare and achieving independence. In the Easter Rebellion in 1916 nationalists
failed in their attempt to overthrow the Tori government in Ireland. England overreacted
by killing 15 Irish nationalist leaders, which actually helped to propel Sinn Fein into a
leading political force.
Under mounting pressure, in 1922 the British finally allowed Irish "home
rule" for those counties which were mostly Catholic. Thus the Irish Free State was
formed, except for the six Ulster counties, which voted to remain British. Extremist Irish
nationalists, or Republicans, were aghast at this "Partition." Right-wing
Protestants and the Republicans, or IRA, have been engaged in an undeclared, mostly
guerilla war, ever since.
In 1937 the Irish Free State became Eire. And in 1949 it became the Republic of
Ireland, a distinct nation.