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Essay/Term paper: Ireland

Essay, term paper, research paper:  High School Essays

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Why are the Irish so lucky? What is a leprechaun? Is there really gold

at the end of a rainbow? And why does everyone drink green beer on St.

Patrick's Day? These questions all have one thing in common, they are myths

from the Emerald Isle we all call Ireland. In this paper I will try to

explain these myths through Ireland's people, their Celtic tradition, and

their religion.

To understand the people of Ireland, you first need to understand where

Ireland is and what it's like there. Ireland is an island, to the West of

England. The climate in Ireland is rainy, year round. Ireland has a little

bit of everything from the mountains and castles, to the coasts and pastures.

People first came to Ireland about 10,000 years ago. Ireland was one of

the last parts of Europe to become inhabited. The people who came to

Ireland probably went across the land bridges that linked England to

Scotland, and Scotland to Ireland. These first people lived mostly along the

coasts of Ireland eating berries, small animals, and shell fish. Then about

6,000 years ago, these tribes of people started to become more advanced and

civilized. They raised cattle and sheep and farmed the land for crops. They

also moved further inland and had very extravagant burial grounds. Next

around 2000 BC, the Bronze age came upon Ireland. The Irish people quickly

became infamous for their weapons made of metal, especially their swords.

This encouraged trade amongst other European countries, mainly England,

Spain, and Portugal. By 500 BC the Celtic people had started to invade

Ireland. The Celts as they were known were a very aggressive tribal group

that originated as a Germanic tribe. They had defeated the Romans for a

slight time period, but eventually they were run out of Europe. Their only

safe haven was Ireland. For some reason, the Romans stopped their Empire at


In Ireland, the Celtic people easily over threw the simple Irish tribes.

This happened for two main reasons, 1) The Celts were much better fighters,

and 2) There was about five times as many Celts as there were Irish tribes

men. The Celts were not just great fighters though, Roman writers described

them as being 'lively, imaginative people fond of fighting and hunting as

well as poetry and storytelling. They had a complex tribal community made up

of chieftains, warriors, poets, and Druids, (the priests of their mystical

religion.)' Ireland pg. 37 The Celtic people gave more to Ireland though

than just myths, they brought it it's first language, a language still spoken


Through it all, the Celtic language, Gaelic or Irish has survived.

Through out the country, people still speak this original language. It is

especially prevalent in the western parts of the country. This is why the

native Irish sometimes call Ireland Erin, or Erie the ancient Celtic names

for their pagan goddess of nature that the island was named after.

The island of Ireland is a divided island, not by physical boundaries,

but religious ones. Over 95% of the people in Ireland are Roman Catholic,

followed by 3-4% Protestant. The reason that Ireland is primarily Catholic

is because of the work done by St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St.

Patrick was captured at the age of 16 by Celtic warriors and forced into

slavery in Northern Ireland where he tended sheep. Because of his situation

he became very religious and when he escaped six years later, he went back to

England to become a priest. Fifteen years later, Patrick was sent back to

Ireland, this time by the Pope, to take the position of bishop. Within 30

years, Patrick had successfully converted most of the Druid Irish to

Christianity. He is said to have used a 3 leafed clover, known as a shamrock

to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish people, this is why the shamrock is

still known today as a good luck charm all over the world. Along with this,

Patrick established over 300 churches and personally baptized over 100,000

people. One myth about St. Patrick was that he chased all the snakes out of

Ireland. This has two meanings. The first is that the snake represented the

devil and as he traveled the country spreading Christianity he chased the

'devil' out of the people. The other meaning is that the snake represented

the paganism practiced in Druidism. Irish all over the world celebrate St.

Patrick's Day on March 17, the day he died.

Along with Christianity came a written language to Ireland. Monks were

able to translate the Irish Gaelic to Latin and wrote numerous volumes of

Celtic legends, myths, and Christian beliefs. The most famous of theses

volumes is the Book of Kells. This book had both Celtic and Christian

aspects to it. "If you look close enough to it' someone said, 'you will see

such delicate, subtle intricacies..that you'll believe that angels not men

created it." Ireland, pg. 42 The Book of Kells can now be seen at Trinity

College in Dublin.

The religious division in Ireland began around 1534, when King Henry VIII

tried to impose Protestantism in Ireland. This was a huge misfortune for

both the English and the Irish. Henry's first plan was to take the land away

from any Irish Catholics. He then labeled all Catholic Monks, Friars, and

Priests 'rebels'. Henry's plan did not accomplish any more than making the

Irish more active in their religion. Then in 1553, Henry's daughter Mary

took power and instated her own 'plantation' program. Her program took all

land away from practicing Irish and gave it to loyal Protestants. This

ripped apart the majority of the Irish tribes that had been together since

the beginning with the Celts. The main 'plantation' that the English had was

in Ulster, a county in Northern Ireland. After Mary's sister Elizabeth took

control and started executing Irish priests, the people fought back. In

1641, a Catholic-Protestant war broke out in Ireland, it lasted for more than

a decade. The English were brutal. It is estimated that during the war,

Ireland's population fell from 1.5 million to just over 600,000 people.

This constant battle lasted for another 200 years. Then in the 1850's, a

potato famine hit Ireland. This was the worst disaster of all time because

the potato was the main food for the peasants during this time. Over 1.5

million Irish died from starvation, and over another million traveled to

America in search for a new beginning. Then one hundred years later in 1922,

the Irish Free state was founded, and in 1949 Ireland became the Republic of


The Celtic Traditions still live on today in Ireland through Ireland's many

tourists attractions. Blarney Castle, the pre-historic forts along the coast

of Gallway, the Marble factories of Connemara, and the amazing Celtic burial

ruins are just a few examples.

Everyone who has ever been to Ireland or who will be going to Ireland has to

kiss the Blarney stone. The word 'Blarney' came to be after 1602 when Cormac

McMathy avoided swearing allegiance to queen Elizabeth for such a long time

that he became the laughing stock of the county. An Irish Moment, pg. 21.

Ever since then, the word 'Blarney' has carried the meaning of having the

ability to be quick whited and have clever excuses. To kiss the Blarney

Stone is easier said then done however. You must first lye on your back and

then hang out many stories above ground to kiss the mystical stone.

The people in some parts of Ireland live today the same way they have for

centuries. For example, on the Aran islands, located at the entrance of

Gallway Bay, people still gather seaweed and sand from the beach and mix it

with the clay in the fields until it is deep enough to grow potatoes. There

are huge stone walls that surround these people's property, made from the

rock cleared from the land. These walls protect the thatched roof homes on

the island, their pastures, and animals from the strong wind. However, there

are no doors in the walls. What the Irish have had to do is actually break

pieces of the wall away to make openings to go from one field to another.

As probably guessed, farming and fishing are two major industries in Ireland.

Never the less, major cities in Ireland such as Dublin, Kerry, and Cork have

all slowly turned into bustling cities. One thing has not changed over time

though, the Irish's belief in love of ones family. In fact, the Irish

Constitution recognizes the family as "the primary and fundamental unit group

of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable rights

furthermore, the government guarantees to protect the family as it is

indispensable to the welfare of the Nation." Ireland pg. 90 Irish families

care for one another from birth till death. Only in rare occasions are the

elderly put in a nursing home or a child homeless. One interesting fact is

that until recently, the men and women in Ireland stayed at home and cared

for their past 30 years old, and delayed marriages respectfully. Even today,

the average age of a person marring in Ireland is 25. Ireland pg. 90

Another tradition that still takes place today is when it comes to the family

roles. Ninety percent of the time, the women take care of the cooking,

cleaning, and the raising of the children while the men work either in the

cities like Dublin or Cork, or in the potato fields or fishing.

Even though its been over 2,000 years since the first Celt came to Ireland,

the legends, myths and customs still live on. No one knows if the Irish are a

lucky people, why leprechauns are supposedly at the end of rainbows, or why

vast amounts of green beer are consumed on St. Patrick's day, all that the

Irish know is that their people, religion, and Celtic backgrounds have gotten

them through the worst of times, and they are very proud to be able to pass

them on to many generations to come. 

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