An island in northwestern Europe, west of Britain. After the Celtic conquest of the British Isles in the 4th century B.C., Ireland was a center of Gaelic culture in Western Europe. After its conversion to Christianity by St. Patrick in the 5th century A.D., it was a center of Christian scholarship and an outpost of Christian culture, amidst pagan German and, later, Norse, incursions in Northwest Europe. In the 12th century, England began invasions of Ireland and eventually conquered the island. The Irish never accepted the harsh English rule, and there was constant pressure for independence.
Open revolution during 1916-19 brought
freedom to most of the country in 1921, as the Irish Free State, a
dominion within the British Commonwealth. In 1937 the name Eire was
adopted and independent sovereignty was proclaimed, following a national
plebiscite. In 1948-49 full independence was proclaimed and recognized
by Great Britain. A continuing source of tension is the status of
Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland, which has remained part of
the United Kingdom. There, the Protestant majority resists union with
the Catholic Irish republic, and centuries of antagonism between
Protestants and Catholics continue in bloody terrorist acts from
extremists on both sides. Negotiations on the future status of Ulster
are on going.