History of Ireland

An (Incomplete) History of Ireland: From the Dawn of…

Who could ever compile a complete history of a country and be proud of it? This infographic was compiled to highlight the salient points of Ireland’s past – an incomplete history of ireland.

Click the image to enlarge it. If you prefer to read the text instead, scroll down below the infographic where we have included the incomplete history of Ireland in written form.

Incomplete History of Ireland


Eurostat reported that Ireland had a population of 4.9 million people in 2019, up from 2.8 million in 1960. In Northern Ireland in the last census (2011), 48% of the population were Protestant and 45% were Catholic (the remaining 7% were other denominations or who identified as ‘none’).

14,000 BC

Ireland’s land mass breaks free from Britain to form its own island.

10,500 BC

A bone found in Co. Clare in 1903 suggests humans came to Ireland 12,500 years ago.

7,900 BC

Hunter-Gatherers: Mesolithic Man spends his days foraging for food.

4,000 BC

Early signs of Agriculture: Sparking the start of Ireland’s Neolithic culture, evidence has been found of stone tools, wooden homes, and the domestication of sheep and cattle.

3,200 BC

Newgrange is constructed: Newgrange (Irish: Brú na Bóinne) is a passage tomb in Co. Meath, built around 3,200 BC – older than Stonehenge! It’s structure fills with sunlight on the morning of the shortest day of the year, Winter Solstice.

2,000 BC

The Bronze Age: Bronze Age man now begins producing bronze and gold tools, weapons and jewellery. Communal burial tombs fall out of favour for separate cemetery-style plots.

600 BC

The Iron Age: Celtic-speaking communities start to arrive in Ireland. The earliest known La Tene style Celtic items (named for their origins in Switzerland) have been dated to circa 300 BC.

The Irish Celts are estimated to have had over 60 deities, made up of both Fir Bolg and Tuatha dé Danann characters.

Manannán mac Lir, the sea god, was said to have a self-navigating boat and a horse who can walk on water.

AD 100

Attack of the Romans? It has been speculated, but never confirmed, that Rome may have mounted an invasion of Ireland around the year 100. Trajan, who was later known as Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Divi Nervae Filius Augustus, was the Roman emperor around this time.


Ptolomy paints a picture: The Greek geographer, Claudius Ptolemy, creates the oldest known cartographic representation of Ireland, marked as Ibernia.

The hillfort known as Grianán Ailigh (in its native Irish) was pinpointed as a royal site, ‘Regia’.

432 – 461

Traditionally, St. Patrick (Patricius) is said to have come to Ireland to help convert the pagan Gaels to Christianity. St. Patrick was not the first Irish bishop – that was Palladius who, according to Prosper Aquitaine, was sent to Ireland by the pope some time before St. Patrick.

Bonus fact: St. Patrick is credited with bringing the Roman alphabet to Ireland, but there is little evidence to support this (and let’s not even mention the snakes! There were no snakes in Ireland at the time).


The English are coming! Anglo-Saxon monasteries and abbeys are established in Ireland for English students. This was England’s first of many official forays into the Emerald Isle.


The Brega Raids: Northumbrian King Ecgfrith sends his first raiding party to Brega, north of what is now Dublin.


Attack of the Vikings: Norwegian Vikings are said to have looted Ireland as early as 795. They later went on to establish settlements in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford and Dublin.


The Gospel according to the Kells: The Book of Kells, containing illuminated transcripts of the four Gospels of the New Testament, is created sometime around the year AD 800.


Show me the Money! Ireland’s first coins are minted by the Vikings and adopted across the land.


Brian Boru defeats the Vikings: Somewhere between 7-10,000 men were killed during the Battle of Clontarf – including Brian Boru himself. It sparked the beginning of the end for Viking power in the island.


The Knights of Normandy: The first Norman invasion of Ireland takes place. Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, is later made heir of the kingdom, Lord of Leinster. The Irish king Diarmait mac Murchada was deposed and he sought England’s help in reclaiming Leinster in return for giving de Clare his daughter in marriage. De Clare claimed kingship in 1171.


The English return: Henry II lands his fleet in Waterford, becoming the first English king to stand on Irish soil. Six years later, troubled by the Normans, Henry appoints his son, John Lackland, as Lord of Ireland.


The Black Death pandemic arrives in Ireland, killing more English and Normans than it did the native Irish. The plague spread quicker in towns and villages than it did the Irish rural settlements. The English fortified themselves in Dublin and could not regain control of the island for almost 200 years.


Henry VIII decides to reconquer Ireland and assume control. He is proclaimed King of Ireland five years later.


Tyrone Rebels: Hugh Ó’Neill and Hugh Roe Ó’Donnell fought the Nine Years’ War against English Rule. The majority of the fighting was concentrated in Ulster, in the North of Ireland.


Catholics Rebel: Revolting against the English and Scottish protestant settlers that spread across the nation, the Irish Catholics commence a lengthy rebellion.


The English general Oliver Cromwell reconquers Ireland for the Commonwealth. Almost half of Ireland’s population are killed or enslaved.


Backed by the wealthy Catholics who remained, James II attempted to reverse the Penal Laws in 1688. Now, in 1690, James’ forces were defeated by William of Orange and the Battle of the Boyne.


The First Famine: Ireland’s first blight, known as the Year of Slaughter, killed around 400,000 people (from a population of 2.4 million) and caused a further 150,000 to emigrate.


Seeking Parliamentary reform, the Society of the United Irishmen is established in Belfast. This eventually led to a renewed rebellion in 1798, which was quickly crushed.


Kingdoms United: Following the most recent rebellion, the Acts of Union is established, creating a political entity known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.


Catholic Parliamentarians: The Irish Reform Act is signed, and Catholics are finally allowed into the Irish Parliament – although the new (higher) property qualification costs were prohibitive for poorer Irish freeholders.


The Great Famine: Mass starvation, death and emigration occurred with Ireland’s second famine, the potato blight. Population went from 8 million to just 4.4 million.


Home Rule: The Government of Ireland Act was passed, aiming to establish ‘home rule’ in Ireland, but the plans were suspended due to the outbreak of World War I.


Easter Rising: A six-day Easter-week rebellion by Irish republicans was mounted against British rule to establish an independent Irish Republic. The uprising resulted in over 485 deaths, of which 54% were civilians.


The Republic: On January 27, MPs met to form a 32-county Irish Republic, declaring its independence from the United Kingdom. The Free Irish State was established 1922, and the six counties of Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.

Bonus Fact: Only 7.4% of the Free State was Protestant, and by the 1960s, it had halved in size.


Northern Ireland: The state of Northern Ireland is created by the Government of Ireland Bill, consisting of Derry/Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Antrim, Down and Armagh. The Ulster Unionist Party is the governing party until 1972.


Independence: Ireland formally leaves the British Commonwealth and is declared a Republic.

Green, White and Orange

The Irish flag, known as the tricolour, was first presented to Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848 from a group of French women who were sympathetic to the Irish cause. When the Constitution of Ireland is introduced (ratified in 1937) the tricolour is officially confirmed as the national flag of Ireland. It was first raised over Dublin’s General Post Office during the 1916 Easter Rising.


Tensions between Nationalist and Unionists leads to severe violence in August. This in turn sparks the deployment of British Troops in Northern Ireland. And so begins the period of Irish history known as “The Troubles”.


Sunday, Bloody Sunday: 26 unarmed civilians are shot by British paratroopers in Derry’s Bogside area on January 30 – 13 died instantly, and one died later in hospital. In 2010, Britain finally acknowledged the killings were unjustified and issued an apology.


Ceasefire: In August 1994, the IRA announces a ceasefire and loyalists follow suit in October. The IRA revokes its ceasefire in 1996 and sets off a bomb in London’s Canary Wharf. They call a second ceasefire in 1997.


Devolution: The Good Friday Agreement is signed on April 10, seeing a degree of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Devolution is suspended multiple times over the years. In January 2020, British and Irish governments agreed to a deal to restore a devolved government. As of today, they are still in talks.


Equality for all: On January 13, same-sex marriage became legal in Northern Ireland when the Northern Ireland Executive failed to form by its October 2019 deadline. The first ceremony took place on February 11, 2020. Same-sex marriage has been legal in the Republic of Ireland since 2015.

Publication note: This infographic was first published in March 2020. It is republished here without change.

Peter J Merrigan
Peter J Merrigan was first published at the age of 17 in the Simon & Schuster anthology, Children of the Troubles. He has studied extensively and maintains a passion for pre-Christian Ireland. He is the author of the Ailigh Wars Saga novels, set in Iron Age Ireland.