It won’t come as any surprise to anybody that we’ve invaded Ireland. More people, by contrast, will be surprised that quite a lot of the invaders were coming in the opposite direction.
Historical sources suggest there were raids across the sea from Ireland in the fourth century. There is also the famous instance of Patrick being abducted from Britain and taken back to Ireland by raiders. In the post-Roman period, historical and archaeological sources suggest Irish settlers arriving (perhaps to join cultures with existing strong links to Ireland) in a number of places in Britain, including in particular Dyfed and, in what is now Scotland, Dalriada.
No doubt there was already a certain amount of two-way traffic even in this period, and soon the Anglo-Saxons would start taking a serious interest in Irish matters as well. The Annals of Tigernach for 629, for example, state that a Saxon prince, Osric, and his retinue were involved in a battle between two Irish forces. And there is a tradition that Saxons were present at the Battle of Mag Rath in County Down in 637. Then in 684, the Northumbrian King Ecgfrith sent an expedition to Ireland that seized slaves and booty. In 795, the Vikings first raided Ireland and for the next few centuries they were to be the main foreign force in the country.
By the second half of the twelfth century, however, Brits were again a major factor. In 1166, King Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster was forced into exile and he wanted to get back his kingdom. He decided that the best way to do this was by recruiting some foreign help, in this case Norman and Welsh help. It is a classic case of unforeseen consequences. No doubt the English invasion would have come eventually, but that it came then is down to Dermot seeking external assistance in internal conflicts. It is strangely and ironically similar to the way in which Saxons are first supposed to have come to Britain itself, invited by the British King Vortigern to deal with other raiders.
So into Ireland came people like Richard FitzStephen and Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, better known as Strongbow. Strongbow even married Dermot’s daughter, Aoife of Leinster, giving him the chance of becoming King of Leinster. At this point, King Henry II of England decided that things were getting out of hand, with the prospect of a new independent Norman kingdom in Ireland, and he himself now invaded Ireland with an army. This was on a much bigger scale than anything Strongbow had to offer and the result was that the kings of Ireland paid homage to Henry. He in turn made his younger son, John, Lord of Ireland. John unexpectedly then became king and continued to take an interest in Ireland, visiting it in 1185 and again in 1210.
After that, the English kings lost interest in Ireland until Richard II in the fourteenth century.
In the meantime, other assorted political and military developments were under way. For instance, the Norman forces of John Fitzgerald were defeated by the forces of Finghin MacCarthaigh at the Battle of Callann in 1261. And in 1315, Edward Bruce, brother of the rather more famous Robert, invaded with a Scots army, hoping to open a second front in the war against the English. Some Irish supported him, some opposed him. Eventually, he was killed at the Battle of Fochart in 1318 and the Scots went home. For a while. By the reign of Richard II, the position of the English in Ireland had become so weak that the Anglo-Irish lords pleaded for the king to intervene. So he took an army of more than 8,000 men to invade Ireland and did a bit of campaigning. It was a success in some sense, but had little long-term effect and the Wars of the Roses were soon to divert English attention elsewhere.
By 1536 there was an open rebellion against Henry VIII and he decided on a policy of bringing Ireland under tight Crown control. Thus began the Tudor invasion of Ireland. The Desmond Rebellions of 1569–73 and 1579–83 in Munster saw tough resistance to the spread of English control, and in 1594 the Nine Years War broke out, with Hugh O’Neil leading resistance in Ulster. He even managed to get Spanish forces to arrive in Ireland in support of him, but the combined forces were defeated at Kinsale. In 1607, in what became known as �?The Flight of the Earls’, O’Neil and other local leaders left Ireland, hoping to return with forces to pursue their cause. They never managed to. In some ways you could argue that the British invasion of Ireland was now complete, but perhaps it’s easiest to see some key events in the rest of the seventeenth century as a continuation of what had gone before.
The arrival of Protestant settlers created tensions with locals, and events in Britain were about to have a dramatic impact on Ireland. In 1641 rebellion broke out, but with the English Civil War raging in England, it was not until 1649 that an English army, under Cromwell, was able to confront it. He did so ruthlessly, in a campaign that involved the atrocity of massacring the defenders of Drogheda, and that dragged on until 1653. More land confiscations followed.
In 1688, James II was deposed and replaced by William III. A Jacobite army was raised in Ireland and James, with the support of French troops as well, arrived in Ireland. He met William III and his army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. James lost and fled Ireland. By 1691 the Jacobites were defeated and the war was over.
A number of rebellions were to follow. After the Easter Rising of 1916, and the War of Independence against Britain, the Irish Free State came into being in 1922. In 1949 Ireland officially became a republic and left the Commonwealth.