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~~ An Irish Blessing ~~

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back,
The sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

The History of Ireland - an overview

by Rick Steves

One surprising aspect of Ireland is the richness of its history. While the island is not particularly well-endowed
with historic monuments, it is soaked in history.  Here's a thumbnail overview:

The story of Ireland can be broken into four sections: 
500 BC-500 AD (Iron Age), 500-900 (age of "Saints and Scholars"), 900-1900 (age of invasions and colonization),
and the 20th century (independence and the question of one Ireland).

Through the Iron Age, the Celtic people left the countryside peppered with thousands of ancient sights . 
While most of what you'll see are little more than rock piles and take a vigorous imagination to reconstruct 
(ring forts, wedge tombs, monumental stones, and so on), just standing next to a megalith that pre-dates the 
pharaohs while surrounded by lush Ireland is evocative. 
The finest gold, bronze, and iron work of this period is in the National Museum in Dublin.

The Romans called Ireland Hibernia, "Land of Winter"--apparently too cold and bleak to merit an attempt to take 
over and colonize. The biggest non-event in Irish history was the Romans never invading. 
While the mix of Celtic and Roman contributes to what makes the French French and the English English, the Irish
are purely Celtic. 
If France is "boules" and England is cricket...Ireland is hurling. This wild Irish national pastime (like airborne hockey
with no injury timeouts) goes back to Celtic days, 2000 years ago.

Celts worshipped the sun. Perhaps St. Patrick had an easy time converting the locals because they had so little
sun to worship. 
Whatever the case, a former Roman slave boy, Patrick, helped Christianize Ireland in the 5th century. From this 
period on, monks established monastic centers of learning which produced great Christian teachers and 
community-builders. They traveled, establishing monastic communities all over Ireland, Britain and Europe. 
One of them, St. Brendan, may have even sailed to America.

While the collapse of Rome left Europe a mess, it meant nothing to Ireland. Ireland was and remained a relatively 
cohesive society based on monastic settlements rather than cities. While Europe was rutting in the Dark Age mud,
the light of civilization shined brightly in Ireland through a golden age lasting from the 5th through the 9th centuries. 
Irish monks--such as those imported by Charlemagne to help run his Frankish kingdom in 800 AD--actually carried 
the torch of civilization back to Europe. Perhaps the greatest art of "Dark Age" Europe are the manuscripts 
(such as the 8th century Book of Kells, which you'll see in Dublin) "illuminated"--or richly illustrated--by Irish monks.
Impressive round towers dot the Irish landscape--silent reminders of this impressive age.

The Viking invasions of the 9th century wreaked repeated havoc on the monasteries and shook Irish civilization. 
Vikings established towns (such as Dublin) where, before, there had been only Celtic settlements and monasteries.

The Normans, who invaded and conquered England after the Battle of Hastings (1066), were Ireland's next uninvited
guests. In 1169, the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland. These invaders, big-time organizers, ushered in a new age 
where society (government, cities, and religious organizations) was organized on a grander scale. Individual monastic
settlements (the basis of Irish society in the "Age of Saints and Scholars") were eclipsed by monastic orders just in
from the Continent such as the Franciscans, Augustinians and Cistercians.

The English made a concentrated effort to colonize Ireland in the 17th century. Settlers were planted and Irish society
was split between an English-speaking landed gentry and the local Irish-speaking, landless or nearly landless
peasantry. During the 18th century, English Ireland thrived. Dublin was Britain's second city.

Over time, greed on the top and dissent on the bottom require colonial policies to become more repressive. 
The Enlightenment provided ideas of freedom and the Revolutionary age emboldened the Irish masses. 
(Even the non-Catholic Dubliner, Jonathan Swift, dean of St. Patrick's cathedral in the early 18th century, declared
"burn all that's British, except its coal.") To counter this Irish feistiness, English legislation became an out-and-out 
attack on the indiginous Gaelic Culture. The harp was outlawed. 
Written and unwritten laws made life for Catholics and speakers of Irish very difficult.

The potato famine of 1845 to 1849 was a pivotal event in Irish history. The stature of Ireland and its language never 
recovered. In a few years, Ireland's population dropped from 8 million to 5 million (3 million either starved or emigrated).
Ireland's population has not changed since. Britain's population, on the other hand, has grown from 12 million in 1845
to around 60 million today. 
(During this period, Ireland's population, as a percent of England's, dropped from 65% to 8%.)

While the English are likely to blame the famine on overpopulation (Ireland's population doubled in the 40 years leading
up to the famine) many Irish say there actually was no famine--just a calculated attempt to starve down the local 
population. In fact, there was plenty of food grown on the island for export. It was only the potato crop which failed...
and that happened to be what the Irish subsisted on.

The average farmer grew fancier export products for his landlord and was paid in potatoes which, in good years, he 
grew on the side. 

The famine was a turning point in Irish history. Before the famine, land was subdivided--all the boys got a piece of the 
family estate (which grew smaller and smaller with each generation). After the famine the oldest son got the estate 
and the younger siblings, with no way to stay in Ireland, emigrated to the USA, Canada, Australia and Britain. 
Today, there are 40 million Irish-Americans.

After the famine, Irish became the language of the peasant. English was for the upwardly mobile. Because of the huge
emigration to the USA, Ireland faced west and American influence increased. (Even in 1996, as negotiations between
the North and the Republic get going, American involvement in the talks is welcomed and considered essential by 
nearly all parties.)

The tragedy of the famine inflamed the nationalist movement. Uprising after uprising made it clear that Ireland was 
ready to close this thousand-year chapter of invasions and colonialism. 
Finally, in 1919, Ireland declared its independence. While the northern six counties (the only ones without a Catholic 
majority) voted to stay with Britain, the independent Republic of Ireland was born. 

Excerpted from "Rick Steves' Great Britain & Ireland"

The Blarney Stone

Blarney is celebrated the world over for a stone on the parapet that is said to endow whoever kisses it with the eternal
gift of eloquence - the 'Gift of the Gab'. The origin of this custom is unknown, though the word "blarney", meaning to 
placate with soft talk or to deceive without offending, probably derives from the stream of unfulfilled promises of 
Cormac MacDermot MacCarthy to the Lord President of Munster in the late sixteenth century.

Having seemingly agreed to deliver his castle to the Crown, he continuously delayed doing so with 
soft words, which came to be known as "Blarney talk".

The massive castle, which looks even larger because of its picturesque situation on the edge of a cliff,
was supposedly built in 1446 by Cormac MacCarthy "the Strong", probably on the site of a castle 
occupied by the Lombards, whom the MacCarthys had displaced. It has an L-shaped plan with five storeys,
the lower two being under a pointed vault with walls 12 feet thick; higher up the walls get thinner and the
rooms bigger. The building sequence is a little puzzling, but the slender tower containing the main stair 
and a tier of small rooms evidently predates the main block. The whole is crowned with high stepped 
battlements, projecting more than 2 feet beyond the walls and carried by long inverted pyramid corbels.

The MacCarthys held onto the castle with a few interruptions until the Williamite wars, when Donagh MacCarthy, 
the fourth Earl of Clancarty, supported the losing side and had his estates forfeited. It is said that before leaving he cast
the family silver into the lake. The property was acquired by Sir John Jefferys, who built a Gothic-style house onto the
castle with pointed windows and curvilinear pinnacled battements. This was burnt c. 1820, but a semi circular staircase
tower still remains. Nearby the family made a megalithic garden folly and in 1874 they built a Scottish Baronial-style
house overlooking the lake in the park.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

The world famous Blarney Stone is situated high up in the battlements of the castle. Follow one of the several long, 
stone spiral staircases up to the top and enjoy the spectacular views of the lush green Irish countryside, Blarney 
House and The Village of Blarney.

The stone is believed to be half of the Stone of Scone which originally belonged to Scotland. Scottish Kings were 
crowned over the stone, because it was believed to have special powers. The stone was given to Cormac McCarthy 
by Robert the Bruce in 1314 in return for his support in the Battle of Bannockburn.

Queen Elizabeth I wanted Irish chiefs to agree to occupy their own lands under title from her. Cormac Teige McCarthy,
the Lord of Blarney, handled every Royal request with subtle diplomacy, promising loyalty to the Queen without 
"giving in". Elizabeth proclaimed that McCarthy was giving her "a lot of Blarney", thus giving rise to the legend.

The Legend of the Leprechaun

If you should be walking along a wooded path some moonlit night in Spring and hear the faint tap-tapping of a tiny 
hammer, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of an Irish leprechaun, the elfin shoemaker, whose roguish
tricks are the delight of Irish story-telling.

According to legend, the leprechaun has a pot of gold hidden somewhere, and he must give up his treasure to the
one who catches him. You'll have to step lively and think quickly to capture a leprechaun's gold though, because this
sly little fellow will fool you into looking away for an instant while he escapes into the forest.
A story is told of thee man
who compelled a leprechaun to take him to the bush where the gold was buried. The man tied a red handkerchief to 
the bush in order to recognize the spot again and ran home for a spade. He was gone only three minutes, but when he
returned to dig, there was a red handkerchief on every bush in the field.

As long as there are Irishmen to believe in the "little folk," there will be leprechauns to reflect the wonderful Irish 
sense of fun, and many a new story of leprechaun shenanigans will be added to Irish folklore each year.

The Legend of the Shamrock

Long ago, When Ireland was the land of Druids, there was a great Bishop, Patrick by name, who came to teach the 
word of God throughout the county. This saint, for he was indeed a saint, was well loved everywhere. 
One day, however, a group of his followers came to him and admitted that it was difficult for them to believe in the 
Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God.

Saint Patrick reflected a moment and then, stooping down, he plucked a leaf from the shamrock and held it before 
them, bidding then to behold the living example of the "Three-in-One." The simple beauty of this explanation convinced
these skeptics, and from that day the shamrock has been revered throughout Ireland and is a symbol of the Trinity,
a cornerstone of Catholicism.

The Life of Saint Patrick

The Patron Saint of Ireland was born into either a Scottish or English family in the fourth century. He was captured as
a teenager by Niall of the Nine Hostages who was to become a King of all Ireland. He was sold into slavery in Ireland
and put to work as a shepherd. He worked in terrible conditions for six years drawing comfort in the Christian faith that
so many of his people had abandoned under Roman rule.
Patrick had a dream that encouraged him to flee his captivity and to head South where a ship was to be waiting for him.
He traveled over 200 miles from his Northern captivity to Wexford town where, sure enough, a ship was waiting to enable
his escape.
Upon arrival in England he was captured by brigands and returned to slavery. He escaped after two months and spent
the next seven years traveling Europe seeking his destiny.

During this time he furthered his education and studied Christianity in the Lerin Monastery in France. He returned to 
England as a priest. Again a dream greatly influenced him when he became convinced that the Irish people were calling
out to him to return to the land of his servitude.

He went to the Monastery in Auxerre where it was decided that a mission should be sent to Ireland. Patrick was not 
selected for this task to his great disappointment. The monk that was selected was called Paladius, but he died before
he could reach Ireland and a second mission was decided upon.

Patrick was made a Bishop by Pope Celestine in the year 432 and, together with a small band of followers, traveled to
Ireland to commence the conversion.

Patrick confronted the most powerful man in Ireland Laoghaire, The High King of Tara as he knew that if he could gain
his support that he would be safe to spread the word throughout Ireland. To get his attention Patrick and his followers
lit a huge fire to mark the commencement of Spring. Tradition had it that no fire was to be lit until the Kings fire was 
complete, but Patrick defied this rule and courted the confrontation with the King.

The King rushed into action and travelled with the intention of making war on the holy delegation. 
Patrick calmed the King and with quiet composure impressed the King that he had no other intention
than that of spreading the word of the Gospel. The King accepted the missionary, to the dismay of 
the Druids who feared for their own power and position in the face of this new threat. 
They commanded that he make snow fall. Patrick declined to do so stating that this was Gods work.
Immediately it began to snow, only stopping when Patrick blessed himself.
Still trying to convince the King of his religion Patrick grasped at some Shamrock growing on the 
ground. He explained that there was but one stem on the plant, but three branches of the leaf, 
representing the Belssed Trinity. The King was impressed with his sincerity and granted him 
permission to spread the word of his faith, although he did not convert to Christianity himself.
Patrick and his followers were free to spread their faith throughout Ireland and did so to great effect. 
He drove paganism (symbolized by the snake) from the lands of Eireann.

Patrick was tempted by the Devil whilst on a pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick. For his refusal to be tempted, God rewarded
him with a wish. Patrick asked that the Irish be spared the horror of Judgment Day and that he himself be allowed to 
judge his flock. Thus, the legend that Ireland will disappear under a sea of water seven years before the final judgment, 
was born.

Patrick died on March 17th in the year 461 at the age of 76. It is not known for sure where his remains were laid although
Downpatrick in County Down in the North of Ireland is thought to be his final resting place.

His influence is still felt to this day as Nations the world over commemorate him on March 17th of every year.

History of the Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh Ring originated in the Claddagh fishing village near Galway City in the 
West of Ireland. 
The ring shows two hands (representing friendship) presenting a heart (representing love) 
adorned by a crown (representing loyalty) and it is thus the traditional Irish wedding band.


The motto associated with the ring is 'Let love and friendship reign'.



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