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The Human Colonization of Ireland


Humans first arrived in Ireland around 10,000 years ago after the last ice age. It is believed that their journey began in Northeast Spain, in an area now known today as the Basque Country. Their journey took them north across western France, into Britain and eventually into Ireland. These first humans were undoubtedly followed by others but how many, and when, remains a mystery (although DNA studies may eventually shed some light).

By far the most important human migration into Ireland was by the 'Celtic' peoples of the Rhine River Valley area of Central Europe, who began arriving in waves from approximately Images of old Irelande800BC onwards. Although there is DNA evidence of at least 2 surviving Pre-Celtic Paternal genetic markers in Ireland, the newly arriving Celts do appear to have wiped out most of the previous inhabitants (descendants of the Pre-historic and Neolithic inhabitants) by a combination of warfare and disease. The most recent Celts to arrive in Ireland were the Gauls fleeing Roman Conquest in around 50BC. Over time, the descendants of the exiled Gauls would become the 'Gaels' who would eventually come to dominate Ireland and would shape its national identity.

Gaelic Ireland was already a violent society where the national pastime appears to have been ‘cattle raiding’. The intensity of this warfare was increased with the arrival of the next humans on these shores; the Vikings. The first Viking raids began in 795AD, but is was not until 840AD that they established their first settlement by Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, other more permanent settlements followed, including Irelands first towns; Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. The Vikings were followed by their distant relatives; the Normans, who arrived with their Welsh, English, Breton and Flemish army in 1169AD. 

What followed was the eventual conquest of almost the entire island. Many of the descendants of these new settlers became ‘more Irish than the Irish,’ and Gaelic culture appears to have undergone a revival of sorts by 1300AD with English rule and law reduced to the area known as the ‘Pale’ surrounding what is now County Dublin. The Gaelic revival was aided by the presence from 1259AD onwards of Mercenary Scots of Viking ancestry, called ‘Gallowglass’ who were employed by Native Irish Chieftains to combat the Normans.

Under Henry the VIII, the re-conquest of Ireland began in earnest, and the violence that plagued Irish society for so long would continue for at least a century and a half. During this time, new immigrants, loyal subjects of the British crown, known as ‘Planters,’ and consisting of mostly Lowland Scots and Northern English poured onto these shores to occupy confiscated lands. Their descendants have stayed and remained loyal, and have made the biggest contribution to the genetic make up of this island since the Celts. Amazingly, modern DNA studies have revealed that up to 33% of the Lowland Scots that settled in Ireland from 1610AD onwards actually carry Gaelic Irish genetic markers. It turns out that their Irish ancestors had setled in Scotland in around 1100AD. Between 1100AD and 1610AD the descendants of those Gaelic Irish would evolve into English speaking, Protestant Lowland Scots. 

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