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A coveted island: Nine times Ireland has been invaded, conquered and occupied

Oliver Cromwell with his infamous New Model Army [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]
Oliver Cromwell with his infamous New Model Army (Picture: Wikipedia Commons)
THROUGHOUT its history, the island of Ireland has been a highly-prized land in the eyes of foreign invaders.

From the first Viking warlords that founded the city of Dublin, to a little-known Scottish plot to take the Emerald Isle, Ireland has played host to a whole host of overseas conquerors.

Here are nine conquerers who have invaded the island:

1. The Vikings

Who else? In the 700s, land scarcity in Scandinavia forced young Norsemen out to find fortune elsewhere. The first recorded Viking raid in Ireland occurred in AD 795, when a group of ferocious Norwegian warriors pillaged Lambay Island near modern day Dublin.

Over the next two hundred years, waves of Viking raiders plundered monasteries and towns throughout Ireland until they eventually settled. Between AD 914 and 922, Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick were all established.

The Norse reigned supreme in Ireland until 1014, when the famed high king Brian Boru defeated a Viking force at the Battle of Clontarf.

2. The Normans

Exactly a century after the Normans had conquered England at the Battle of Hastings in 1166, the King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, was ousted by Ireland’s high king – Ruaidri Ua Conchobair.

To help take back his kingdom, Mac Murchada invited the Normans to Ireland in 1169. The move soon backfired when the Normans took his domain for themselves.

The Norman invasion was a watershed in the history of Ireland, marking the beginning of more than 700 years of direct English and, later, British involvement in Ireland.

A reconstruction of a Viking longship in Waterford, Ireland [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]
A reconstruction of a Viking longship in Waterford city [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]

3. The Normans (again)

Realising his noblemen in Ireland were getting rich all on their own, King Henry II of England decided to rein them in.

Henry was particularly jealous of Richard ‘Strongbow’ de Clare, who Henry feared might declare himself King of Ireland so much was his power.

On October 17, 1171, Henry landed in Waterford with a huge army of 500 knights and 4000 soldiers. It marked the first time a King of England had set foot on Irish soil – but far from the last.

4. The Scottish

Most people associated the British invasion of Ireland with England, but few known of Scotland’s attempted takeover of the emerald isle.

The Scottish king Robert Bruce sent his brother Edward to Ireland in 1315 to help “rid Hibernia of the English scourge” and form a Gaelic alliance.

Edward Bruce was initially successful, but a Europe-wide famine soon decimated his troops and Edward was killed in 1318.

Actors from the documentary 'After Bannockburn' [Picture: BBC Pictures]
Actors playing the Scottish invasion force from the documentary After Bannockburn [Picture: BBC Pictures]

5. The Tudors

Following a failed rebellion by the Earl of Kildare, Henry VIII was declared King of Ireland in the 1530s with the aim of taking back control of the Pale from the Anglo-Irish lords, who had effectively ruled the country for two centuries.

The Irish soon found themselves caught between their acceptance of the Vatican and the allegiance demanded by the Protestant dynasty.

By the end of the Tudor age in Ireland in 1603, Gaelic Ireland had been decimated – paving the way for the confiscation of land by English, Scots, and Welsh colonists, culminating in the Plantation of Ulster.

6. The Spanish

After Philip II’s death in 1598, Philip 3 continued to provide direct support for Irish rebels fighting against the English.

In 1601 Philip sent 6,000 men and a huge amount of arms and ammunition to Ireland to help defeat the English. Bad weather separated the Spanish ships and only 4,000 were able to disembark at Kinsale, Co. Cork.

Outnumbered and outgunned, the Spanish-Irish alliance soon surrendered to an approaching English army. The result of the Battle of Kinsale was devastating to the existing Irish culture and way of life, as the old Gaelic system was finally broken.

Reconstruction of the Siege of Kinsale [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]
Reconstruction of the Siege of Kinsale [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]

7. Cromwell

English parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland in 1649 with his New Model Army, hoping to seize Ireland from the ruling Irish Catholic Confederation.

By 1652 most of the country had been taken, but pockets of guerrilla rebels endured. Cromwell employed unprecedentedly brutal tactics to defeat them.

Estimates of the drop in the Irish population resulting from Cromwell’s genocidal campaign sometimes range as high as 50%. The Parliamentarians also deported about 50,000 people as indentured labourers to the Carribean. Cromwell is still a reviled figure in Irish history today.

8. The Dutch

The famous Battle of the Boyne was fought between the English King James I and the Dutch Prince William of Orange near to modern day Drogheda.

William of Orange landed in Carrickfergus, Ulster on June 14 1690, and within a fortnight had decimated the outnumbered Jacobite troops.

As the last ever Catholic king of England, James’ defeat ensured an era of Protestant rule over the people of Ireland.

The Battle of the Boyne [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]
The Battle of the Boyne [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]

9. The French

In February 1760, a force of 600 French troops landed in Carrickfergus, Ulster and overwhelmed the small garrison of English troops guarding the town and its castle.

When word of the invasion force reached Dublin, only a very small English force was despatched, as there were fears that it was merely a diversion. The French held out for five days before returning to their ships and retreating back to France.

Francois Thurot, who had commanded the force, became a national hero in France for his feat in landing on enemy soil. His raid would prove to be the last time Ireland was successfully invaded by a purely foreign force.

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One comment on “A coveted island: Nine times Ireland has been invaded, conquered and occupied”

  1. Barry

    “The SNP and its forebears for the past 100 years have pursued a policy of self-government or independence for Scotland. In that entire century not a single person has lost their life arguing for or against Scottish independence."


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