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The Republic of Ireland, called simply Ireland by most, is a sovereign state in northwest Europe occupying the majority of the island of Ireland, sharing it with the country of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Dublin is both the largest city and the capital. It shares a land border with only Northern Ireland, and the waters which surround it are the Atlantic Ocean, the Celtic Sea, Saint George's Channel, and the Irish Sea. Almost 78% of those in Ireland are Roman Catholic, 10% are not religious, 4% are Protestant (mostly belonging to the Church of Ireland), 1% are Muslim, and approximately 6% are of other faiths.

Before the arrival of Christianity, there was no written history of Ireland, so early dates are somewhat fuzzy.

Some time around 800 BC to 400 AD, Celtic-speaking people from western Europe first came to Ireland. Whether they invaded or simply trickled in is commonly debated. In any event, they had a lasting effect on the people of Ireland in their language, art, and other parts of their culture. By 400 AD, they were living throughout the island. Most people in Ireland believed in pagan gods.

In 431, Pope Celestine sent a Christian named Palladius from Gaul to be the bishop to Christians in Ireland. Palladius established a large number of churches as more and more people were converted to Christianity. It was still, however, a radically pagan nation.

And then the man who would be known as St. Patrick arrived.

The facts we know about him are rather scant for one so famous, but we do know that Patrick was born in Roman Britain. His father was a rich official. In the early 5th century, the sixteen year old Patrick was caught up in a raid by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland where he shepherded sheep for his master, a chieftain within the Irish clan system named Milchu. Although he admitted he "knew not the true God," some of his family members did, including his grandfather who had been a priest. He wished that he had not ignored the family's religion, as he felt a pull to practice it now, in these dire circumstances. But he did know how to pray, and that's what he did throughout his captivity. He tended the sheep for six years before he escaped and returned to Britain.

Patrick returned to Ireland when he was in his mid-forties to pick up where Palladius had left off. Patrick's plan was to convert all of the chieftains first, and they would convert their claims. Milchu was one of his first converts in Ireland. He was very successful in his missionary work, journeying all over Ireland, which soon came to be known as one of Europe's centers of Christianity.

Patrick was actually not a Saint at all. He was never beatified or canonized, as neither had been established in the 12th century. Instead, he was acclaimed as a saint by the local Catholic community just after he died in 465. Nor did he drive out snakes, as Ireland had no snakes. What he did drive out of Ireland was paganism.

Norwegian Vikings arrived in Ireland in 795 to plunder the island, and for the next couple of centuries came to loot the towns and monasteries across Ireland. In 845, Vikings landed in Dublin Bay where they established a settlement and a fortress numerous other settlements Dublin. They established settlements along the coasts where they spent the winter months. They were vanquished by King Muirecán, who ruled Ireland at that time but later returned to retake Dublin, after which there were numerous skirmishes, ending in 1014 with the Battle of Clontarf, which began their decline.

The Normans overtook the east coast in the 12th century, with the Irish retaking the land.

In 1348 the Black Death arrived, hitting the Normans much harder than the native Irish, probably due to their living in more rural areas, and once the plague had run through the island, Irish customs and culture made a resurgence.

In 1536, Henry VIII wanted to control Ireland, and he proclaimed himself to be king of Ireland. Nearly 100 years later, total English control was achieved, except for Britain's conversion of the Catholics to Protestantism. The Crown took the land of the Catholics and gave the land to Protestants who soon became the ruling class. Slowly, they converted as a defense against poverty.

In 1922, after the Irish War of Independence, a treaty was signed which severed Ireland from what came to be Northern Ireland.


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