Archaeological findings suggest that around 7000 B.C., hunter-gatherers migrated to Ireland from Scotland. By 3000, they had established an agrarian society. Celtic tribes from Europe invaded in the 4th century B.C. The people were grouped into tuatha (clans) and the country was divided into five kingdoms: Connaught, Leinster, Meath, Munster and Ulster.

In 432 A.D., the Christian missionary St. Patrick arrived in Ireland. By the time he died, the whole island had been converted to Christianity. Irish monks began recording the country's oral traditions and history. In the early 9th century, the Vikings invaded and plundered much of the country. They established towns and cities near important rivers, including the present-day cities of Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. In 1014 A.D. the Vikings were driven out. In the 12th century, England came to dominate Ireland and Irish Christianity came under the control of the Roman Church.

During the Reformation in England in the 16th and 17th centuries, the English tried to force the Irish to convert to Protestantism. The British persecuted priests and bishops, and outlawed Catholic religious services. During the 17th century, the English evicted many Irish Catholics from the north and gave their lands to Scottish and English Protestants.

When a Catholic king, James II, came to the English throne in 1685, the Irish hoped that they would regain their lands, but James II was deposed in 1688. He came to Ireland and raised an army, hoping to win back his throne, but he was defeated by the Protestant king William III at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Over the next hundred years, England strengthened its hold over Ireland and the Anglo-Irish controlled the country's wealth. In 1798, the Irish rebelled unsuccessfully against the English. In the wake of this revolt, the Irish parliament was abolished and in 1801, the Act of Union made Ireland part of the United Kingdom. The 19th century was marked by a series of unsuccessful attempts on the part of the Irish to gain control of their country.

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During the Potato Famine of 1845 to 1851, Ireland's population dropped by half. A million Irish starved to death and millions more left Ireland and emigrated to countries around the world.
In 1916, a group of revolutionaries declared Irish independence in Dublin, an event called the Easter Rising. Although the British suppressed the revolt, it fuelled Irish nationalism. During the 1918 elections, Irish republicans won a majority of Irish seats in British parliament. Rather than going to London, however, they set up their own government in Dublin. On January 21, 1919, they again declared Irish independence. This led to the Anglo-Irish war between 1919 and 1921.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 ended the war. The 26 southern counties formed the new Irish Free State and the remaining six, largely Protestant counties in Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. Although the Irish House of Representatives accepted the treaty, many people opposed it. Civil war broke out, which lasted until 1923. On April 18, 1949, the Irish Free State severed all official ties to Britain and became an independent republic. Irish nationalists hope that in the 21st century, Ireland will finally be reunited with Northern Ireland.