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The Republic of Ireland is a European country located on the island of Ireland in the North Sea, and is also comprised of the islands of Manx, the Faeroes, and control the North Islands of the Shetland archipelago jointly with the Kingdom of Scotland. The capital of Ireland is Dublin, on the island's eastern coast, and its other major cities include Cork, Belfast, Limerick, and Ulster. Ireland is predominantly Roman Catholic, although a nominal Protestant minority exists in the north in Ulster and around Belfast, and the Muslim minority has grown in recent years due to immigration. The primary language is English, although native Irish (a Gaelic dialect) is used often.
History of Ireland
Independence and Internal Strife
The 1815 Treaty of London was designed by its chief architect, French diplomat Robert de Sarroue, to humiliate the British. As a result, the treaty provided for the division of the United Kingdom into what Napoleon I jokingly referred to as the 'Divided Kingdom' - the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland would become effectively independent and, to an extent, subservient to the French Empire. While England was humbled but still powerful, Napoleon recognized that the first order of business in this situation was to discourage the now-defunct British Empire from trying to rebuild by invading Ireland. Scotland's ties to England were difficult to outmaneuver, but Ireland herself was of critical importance to the French - a fellow Catholic country that England relied upon for economic manipulation.
In 1817, Napoleon stationed a contingent of the French Foreign Legion in Dublin and stationed a fleet of twenty French galleons in the Irish Sea to discourage any attempt at invasion from England. The new Irish king, John I of the House Breadon, was in the middle of a struggle with established English landowners who controlled the countries wealth. With French help, he expelled many of the landowners, but it made him a dependent on the French crown.
John the Great, as he was called, died in 1837, and a new king, John II, took power. John II was of the family McDean, cousins to the Breadons, who seized power bloodlessly in 1837 by claiming that John I's son William was unfit for rule. John II's son Patrick was married to Marie Bonaparte, Napoleon I's daughter and the younger sister of Emperor Louis I, in 1848 upon her return from America. At this time, the potato famines of the mid-1840's had gutted Ireland - the kingdom was poor and its army still weak. A mass exodus of Irishmen to the United States had decreased the impoverished country's population.
John II died in 1850 and Patrick I was coronated. His reign would only last seven years, until 1857, when he was succeeded first by son Patrick II and then, in 1859, by his nephew, James, when Patrick was overthrown by a popular revolt.
King James and the First Irish Republic
King James was the last of the McDean dynasty - the hard times in Ireland for the past fifteen years had finally reached a boiling point in the late 1850's with the sudden overthrow of his cousin, Patrick II. James was a reluctant John the Great had instituted land reform, the mass-expulsion of English landowners and the reaffirmation of the Catholic Church as one of the primary loci of power in Ireland. Still, the vacuum of authority and stability provided by the old gentry had created a free-for-all, and the corruption that resulted, as well as the lawlessness and instability, made the execution of law in Ireland extremely difficult.
While his rule was attributed to the fall of the Kingdom of Ireland, James's policies in fact built the legal and political infrastructure that made the Republic of Ireland possible. James began sweeping land reforms similar to those of John the Great and established a central government, ending much of the autonomy granted to the counties. He employed French and American businessmen to help design a series of railroads and canals, and the system, while not particularly extensive, had boosted internal trade by 1870. The expansion of the bureaucracy and internal infrastructure, as well as his insistence on building a modern, professional Irish military and navy to provide work for poor Irishmen, made James the "Savior of Ireland."
Ironically, the death of his young son John in 1874 would make James the last King of Ireland. Without an heir, James respectfully abdicated the throne on November 1st, 1874, and announced his retirement to the McDean family home in rural Ireland.
The ensuing power vacuum brought the intelligent Irish general Conor Tobbin to power, and the "Kingdom without a King", as it was called, was ruled by its military until 1877. That year, Grand Marshall Tobbin presented Ireland with the Irish Constitution, a document modeled on that of the United States but also borrowing ideals from the French Republic that preceded the Empire. With the support of United States President Josiah Marks, Tobbin became the first Consul of Ireland and invited the first Dail (Congress) to provide law in Dublin.
The difficulty the First Republic encountered, however, was the ability to execute and enforce its power in rural and, in particular, northern Ireland - a trouble which would only increase dramatically with time.
Irish Civil War, Belfast Conference and Second Irish Republic
The Irish Civil War began in 1882 with the assassination of Consul Tobbin by the so-called "Anti-Republicans," a group that opposed the attempted unification of Ireland under Tobbin and felt that his goal was to become a military dictator, despite his efforts towards democratic law. The Republicans, in turn, retaliated in Belfast with a massive military invasion that resulted in the deaths of thousands.
The emergent leaders of the Irish Civil War were Thomas Pinnock of the Anti-Republican Militia (ARM) and Sam Smeadon of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The ARM's power was based on its control of rural provinces in central and northern Ireland, and based its operations out of Ulster and, for a time, Belfast. The IRA had the support of the south and urban folk, who dreamed of a stronger Ireland. France's Foreign Legion stayed neutral per the instructions of Emperor Philippe, who, like most French leaders, believed in the patient observation of foreign conflicts until a clear victor began to emerge.
The ARM sought to create a decentralized, rural-based government that was only nominally federal. Smeadon understood that with England a reemerging world power, they needed to be able to compete globally as they had attempted to do for some time in the race for colonial influence. The bloody conflict claimed over 200,000 Irish lives until its resolution in 1884, when Pinnock was killed by IRA assassins using dynamite in the first-ever recorded instance of explosives being used in a political assassination.
The "Belfast Bomb," so called due to its location, cut off the proverbial head of the snake. The Anti-Republicans had always been plagued by infighting, and without strong, inspirational leadership such as Pinnock, soon factionalized.
On October 4th, 1884, the two strongest factions of the rapidly deteriorating Anti-Republican movement met with the strong, organized IRA in Belfast. Smeadon offered a truce and, in fact, lenient amnesty for all ARM members and leaders who would peacefully lay down their weapons and broker a compromise that would build an Irish Republic everyone would be pleased with. Realizing that the unpopularity of the Irish Constitution stemmed from the lack of input given to it by much of the country (Tobbin had penned much of it personally), Smeadon sought the help of American and Colombian leadership to form a framework of a government, and then hammer out the details in the Belfast Conference.
The Belfast Conference lasted from October 15th to December 7th, and in January, 1885, the Irish counties were asked to vote on the validity of the Irish Articles of Republican Government, called the New Constitution. Due to its generous sharing of power with the counties, only one county (Ulster) did not approve the document, and with an overwhelming majority ratification, the Second Irish Republic was born.
Emergence as European Power
Smeadon is hailed as a hero in Ireland, partially due to his leadership during the civil war and Belfast Conference, as well as his long tenure as President of Ireland from 1885 to 1895. During his ten years in office, Smeadon vigorously pushed through legislation to improve the government, open new venues of freedom for the Irish press, and to build stronger economic partnerships with France and her client states. They also embarked on an ambitious overseas agenda, seizing territory along the Indian coast, their establishment of a colony in Irish Nigeria, and the Treaty of Hobart in 1893, which granted them the island of Tasmania south of Australia, as per agreement with the English, in exchange for the granting of Irish territory by the Cape of Good Hope (which would later become the Republic of Southern Africa).
Smeadon stepped down as President and died shortly thereafter, and in the early 20th century Ireland flexed her muscles as a European power. Besides occasional wars with the Kingdom of Nigeria over land in Africa, Ireland engaged in its first major international conflict during a war with Denmark to seize control of the Faeroes. The Irish Navy won a major victory off of the Norwegian coastline to crush the Danish and in 1913, after only six months in the Faeroe War, the Treaty of Trondheim was signed and the Irish were given control of the strategically important islands in the North Sea.
In 1909, as the English monarchy collapsed, Ireland was quick to support the fledgling regimes with cash. The reversal of fortunes in the British Isles had come full circle - the English were now economically dependent on the Irish.
While the 1910's and 20's were a meager economic time worldwide as colonial conflicts and later the Pacific War flared up, the Irish internal economy boomed. The period between 1923-1931 in Ireland is known as the "Age Without Limit" - a time when the growth of the economy was so unfettered that the rich and the decadent enjoyed their lives while larger industrial nations around the world were trapped in stagnation and war.
In 1930, the Irish hosted the Olympic Games in Dublin to enormous fanfare and success, and while its economy plateaued afterwards, the Irish were now an established European power - and that power would soon be tested.
Irish War, Colonial Troubles and the Great Movement
The Socialists in England had been brought to power with help of Irish leadership (notably Eamon de Valera) and ambitious foreign policy makers in the French Empire. While David Barham had been an internally-focused leader in England, the success of the 1920's in England (as opposed to the stagnant, dredging economy on the continent and later in North America), in the early 1930's, the rapidly-industrializing and militarizing Socialist Republic posed a direct threat to Ireland and, to a lesser extent, European peace. Emperor Albert I of France had flexed his military muscles in the Oktoberkreig, but now he faced an organized enemy in Francis Cumberland, whom he suspected envisioned a new British Empire under Socialist rule. Ireland's position in the North Atlantic and old-fashioned, anti-English hubris moved Albert to mobilize the French Army and prepare for war.
The Irish Dail elected former general Michael Collins to the Irish Presidency in 1932, fearing an attack by England. Collins quickly pumped millions of Irish pounds into the military industry, producing tanks, airplanes, and guns. Across the Irish Sea, the same approach was being taken in England.Collins' fears were proven right when England launched a preemptive naval, aerial and ground assault against the Isle of Manx in September of 1935. The Irish base at Woods Point, at the heart of the island, had been fortified for years, and the entire eastern shore of the island was trapped and mined. The battle raged for several weeks, with thousands of English perishing. The English feinted and landed troops near Dublin and in southern Ireland, and soon the Irish abandoned Manx due to heavy aerial bombing, to defend their homeland.
The leadership of Collins as the English fought around Dublin and in the south proved invaluable. His knowledge of military matters, and later his ambitious bombing campaigns against England herself, roused Irish morale. The French naval landing at Cork to reinforce Irish regulars and the French invasion of Cornwall brought about a forced peace agreement.
Collins would be elected again and serve until 1943, when he suffered a stroke and lost use of his legs. He retired, wheelchair-bound, but stayed active in the public eye until his death in 1951. Coming out of their successful war against England, the Irish seized English East Africa and expanded their West African territory as well. While France was caught in a dangerous civil war in the early 1940's, Ireland nominally supplied Edmond Bonaparte with materiel, although as the tide turned towards Sebastien Bonaparte they changed their allegiance.
It was at this time that two major moments in Irish history emerged - with the retirement of Collins from power, the efficient secularism of the Irish Republic had an enormous power vacuum. Religious leader Aidan Bair outmaneuvered de Valera for power in Ireland in what was called the Great Movement, a return from the wartime state of the 1930's and early 40's into a government and economy based on the traditional Irish way of life - Catholic, opportunistic, and equal. The power of industrial companies had grown so that Bair once said, "The corporations elect the Dail, not the people." This populist, fundamentalist movement coincided in the mid-to-late 1940's with losing battles in Nigeria, East Africa and southern India to maintain power. The loss of interest in corporate influence eventually sealed the death warrant of Irish colonialism overseas.
Anarchy in England, Troubles at Home, and Role in Cold War
The Anarchy in England was an opportunity for Ireland to exact some measure of revenge on the English for the tribulations of the Irish War. The Irish Army, fresh off their battles in the colonies, was deployed to Wales - Bair, by this point President, believed that annexing Wales would increase Irish hegemony in the British Isles. Despite their efforts to work with the English Workers Army in the early parts of the Anarchy, the stiff resistance to the Irish presence in England became so steep that two hundred Irishmen were dying a month. With the arrival of the Americans in 1952, there were direct engagements between the US Army and the Irish regulars. By 1953, the Irish had started to withdraw from what was clearly a losing effort in Wales - but Bair strengthened their alliance with the French throughout the Anarchy, and into the mid-1950's.Bair was defeated in the 1957 general election by Michael O'Shay, a liberal candidate who, while drawing from some of the ideals of the Great Movement, was a modern, secular candidate opposed to the strength of the Church, especially its reliance on cardinals appointed by Rome, in the Irish government. In 1962, O'Shay was assassinated in Belfast in possibly one of the most spectacular public killings in the country's volatile history. Many suspect that while O'Shay was markedly unpopular with the Church, the Churat may have been instrumental in his murder due to his reluctance to accept "the finality of French decisions" in the emerging Franco-Irish Alliance. Cearbhall O Dalaigh inherited the position from O'Shay, and was driven out by a corruption scandal in the early 1970's - resigning in 1970, being reinstated under popular pressure in 1971, and being impeached by the Dail in 1972.
Throughout all this, Ireland warily watched the political turmoil between Scottish Protestants and Catholics as the Scottish monarchy struggled to maintain power in the late 1960's, and the emerging rifts between Irish Catholics and Protestants began to grow violent at this time too, especially in the north. Ireland also grew closer to France after O'Shay's death, and began expanding their military with the resurgent England and dangerous Scotland in mind.
Ireland dodged a major bullet in 1979 after Catholic President Patrick Hillery was assassinated by car bombing Protestant forces, who sought to form a free Protestant state, to be called Northern Ireland. The violence boiled to the point of fear of civil war - but Hillery's successor, Jack Lynch, mobilized the Irish military and moved it to Belfast to combat the rising partisan violence.
The 1979 Belfast Crisis eventually ended with a truce, and it formally ended the dominance of the Catholic Church on Irish politics - Lynch sponsored an amendment in 1982 cutting governmental ties between the Catholic Church and the Dail, and reworded parts of the Constitution to lessen the dominance of his own office, making the Dail's Taoiseach - the leader of that body - stronger in the day-to-day affairs of the government.
By the close of the 1970's, Ireland had emerged as France's most stalwart ally in the Cold War, a nuclear power itself and a growing economic hub of activity. Dublin was the second-most populous city in the British Isles behind London, and Lynch stepped down in favor of Liam Cosgrave in 1982 controlling the most powerful military in the European bloc besides France.
Emergence as Global Power, Svalbard War and Modern Day
Cosgrave stepped down in 1985 in favor of Albert Reynolds, the young, popularly elected leader. Reynolds expanded Irish industry and rapidly deregulated its economy, creating a massive boom in the economy to compete with the surging English industrial base. The Irish car company Macnair became one of the fastest-selling cars in overseas markets, at one point causing a proposed protective tariff signed in America to keep Macnairs from putting American dealerships out of business. Irish banks grew in power and influence and soon controlled half of the private equity in Scotland, and a third of all private and public equity in Iceland. It was the dependence of Iceland on the Irish government that created the 1990 Svalbard War.
Iceland defaulted on loans it had to Alaska, Ireland and the United States in December of 1989, and Reynolds quickly called a summit of banking leaders from the US and Ireland in Dublin to discuss how to resolve the matter. President Redford of the United States told Reynolds that there was little the US could do - corporate banks had lent Iceland the funds, and it was not in his place to deal out due punishment for the banks. Due to a higher government involvement with An Loisear, the largest bank in Ireland, however, Reynolds felt responsible for exhibiting Irish might to the Icelandic, who did not "appreciate" the legitimacy of loans it had been granted by Irish banks and the Irish government itself in the late 1980's.
To repay debt, Reynolds suggested that North Sea islands belonging to Iceland be handed over to Ireland, and that the Irish government be granted a takeover of Icelandic business interests owned by the government - namely, oil. Reynolds informed the government of Iceland that they had until March 1st, 1990 to complete the takeover before Ireland did by force.
Iceland, naturally, did not comply and on March 3rd Reynolds mobilized the Irish Navy and sent it north towards Iceland. On March 5th, Iceland declared war on Ireland after Irish Special Forces captured two Icelandic oil platforms in the North Sea. Icelandic forces moved against the Faroes, and soon a war had begun.
Iceland was hammered on the high seas, but held ground during the land invasions of Svalbard and Iceland proper. The United States and England both offered support to Iceland with humanitarian aid, and as a result Ireland staged flyovers over the English countryside and deployed a destroyer fleet to the English Sea. For the first time since the Anarchy, there was a real danger of war in the British Isles once again. Icelandic forces began using derelict, outdated helicopters as suicide weapons against Irish boats and even civilian targets in the Faeroes and Shetlands. Terminally ill hospital patients were trained to fly the helicopters into targets, and on April 14th, an Icelandic "chopper bomb" crashed into the Dail while it was in session, killing 43 and injuring over a hundred more, and effectively destabilizing the Irish government.
Reynolds promptly ordered the deployment of two nuclear warheads against Reykjavik and Keflavik in Iceland, and mobilized the short-range missile fleet in case England or the United States struck back against Ireland. While the two bombers were en route to Iceland, Albert II called Reynolds and convinced him to turn back the bombers. A thermonuclear incident was narrowly avoided as a result.
The United States eventually intervened, with French assistance, and nationalized Icelandic oil companies, and created a provision requiring that the Irish government receive a percentage of the profits earned. Irish companies were also given "free trade status" within Iceland, a status where they were exempt from normal Icelandic business laws. This would last until 2002, when Iceland finally drove out Irish corporate influence, sometimes with violence.
The 1990's were largely successful for Ireland, until a financial collapse in 1998 coupled with the Icelandic turmoil of the early 2000's somewhat stemmed the country's growth. In 2005, Irish economists optimistically pointed out that the economy had been growing strongly again for over a year and as of 2010 Ireland is once more a dominant economy, especially coupled with the recent ebb in British growth.
The most critical portion of the Irish government is its powerful executive, the President, as well as his cabinet of Ministers. The current President is Mary McAleese, relative conservative who has been in power since 2001. Her focus has been largely on domestic policy in order to combat the poor economic tides preceding her election.