The island of Ireland has been inhabited for about seven thousand years. During this time it has experienced a number of invasions which have resulted in a unique mix of ancestry and traditions evidence of which can be seen throughout the country today. The first settlers were thought to have come from Britain and were mainly hunters and fishermen who settled along the island’s eastern coast. The next group didn’t arrive until 3000BC and were farmers who raised animals and cultivated the soil paving the way for the numerous generations of farmers which have inhabited the country since.
Following this, Ireland saw the arrival of its Neolithic ancestors around 2000BC. These settlers were responsible for building such structures as the one which remains fully intact at Newgrange, Co. Meath. The Gaels, a Celtic speaking people from western Europe and the group which have had the most lasting effect on the Irish people, didn’t arrive until sometime between 600 and 150BC.
Evidence of Ireland’s ancient Celtic origins can still be seen in the country’s culture. The arts still play a huge role in placing the Irish on a world stage and this is something which has descended directly from the ancient inhabitants of the country. Irish writers, artists, actors, film directors and musicians including William Butler Yeats and his brother Jack, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Pierce Brosnan, Brenda Fricker, Colm Meaney, Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan, U2, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor and Enya have ensured that Ireland maintains an enviable status in the world of arts and entertainment.
And, when it comes to entertainment it is also necessary to mention the latest cultural phenonmenon, Riverdance. A unique performance incorporating traditional Irish song, dance and music, it has now being shown to over eleven million people worldwide and includes numerous ancient Celtic airs and dance movements which have remained through the centuries.
After the influential Gaels, the next settlers to arrive on the island were those who introduced Christianity to the country. This occurred around the fifth century and although Saint Patrick usually receives all the credit for doing so, there is evidence that there were Christians in Ireland before his arrival. He did banish all the snakes from the country too though and gave the Irish a really good excuse to party every year so it is only fair to give him the credit he is due.
Like the Celts, the purveyors of the faith were also to play a lasting role in Ireland’s development. The sixth and seventh centuries saw a flowering of Irish art, learning and culture in the multitude of monasteries which grew up around the country. Like the Neolithic buildings, these centres of learning were to last through the centuries as were some of the works of art. Some of the better examples include the monasteries at Clonmacnoise in Co. Westmeath and Glendalough in Co. Wicklow and the world famous Book of Kells and Book of Durrow.
In the centuries that followed the arrival of Christianity, Ireland has undergone invasions by the Vikings during the ninth and tenth centuries and the Normans in the twelfth century. It has also come under English rule, suffered a famine in the nineteenth century which reduced the country’s population by a quarter through death and emigration and withstood a civil war in the twentieth century. Again all of these events have had lasting effects on the country’s development, the only difference in this case is that they weren’t as positive as those made by the Celts and the Christians.
Nevertheless, the country has always managed to pick itself back up after the numerous knocks it has got since the first settlers arrived over nine thousand years ago. And, when you get there you’ll soon see why ‘the land of saints and scholars’ became known as ‘Ireland of the thousand welcomes’. You won’t be disappointed.