The history and people of Ireland are a fascinating subject of study. Ireland is an island of the British Isles, to the west of Great Britain, and it is divided into the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Ireland is renowned for its lush green landscape, festive atmosphere and friendly populace. The vibrant culture of the modern Irish is a product of Ireland's ancient history.
Settled by the Celts in the 6th century, Ireland became divided into the rival kingdoms of Meath, Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht. Christianity was introduced to Ireland in the 5th century by St. Patrick, who is celebrated as the patron saint of Ireland. Ireland became a leading cultural center of Europe in the 6th to 9th centuries. In the 11th century, the Viking invasions were halted by Brian Boru, but Ireland was still split into warring kingdoms. The English invasion began under Pembroke in the 12th century and the invaders soon mingled with the Irish. By the early 15th century, only small pockets of Ireland remained under direct English rule. Henry VII attempted to bring Ireland under English jurisdiction by means of Pynings' Law in 1495. Opposition to English rule increased when the Penal Laws attempted to impose Protestantism and the political struggle became merged in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants.
In the reign of Elizabeth I, rebellions were ruthlessly suppressed and Protestant Scots were settled in Ulster. In the mid-17th century, another rebellion was put down by Cromwell with a great loss of life and was followed by a thorough Protestant settlement. The Irish supported James II in his unsuccessful attempt to retain the throne, but they were defeated by William III at the Boyne in 1690. Absentee landlordism worsened the already desperate economic conditions. Grattan and the Irish Volunteer army obtained an independent parliament in 1782. Continued Irish unrest and Wolfe Tone's rebellion in 1798 led to the Act of Union in 1800 and Irish representation in British Parliament. Daniel O'Connell's agitation resulted in the granting of Catholic Emancipation in 1829. The Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s decimated the population and caused mass emigration. The Fenians forced Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone to disestablish the Irish Church in 1869 and to pass the Irish Land Act in 1870, which guaranteed fair rents and to unsuccessful attempts to pass Home Rule Bills. A Home Rule Act was passed in 1914, despite Conservative opposition, but its application was delayed until after WWI. In 1920, the Home Rule Act incorporated the northeast in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The island of Ireland became the Irish Free State in 1921.