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Gaelic Ireland is the name given to the period when a Gaelic political order existed in Ireland. The order continued to exist after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans (1169 AD) until about 1607 AD. For much of this period, the island was a patchwork of kingdoms of various sizes and other semi-sovereign territories known as túatha, much like the situation in Medieval Germany but in most periods without any effective national overlordship. These kingdoms and túatha very frequently competed for control of resources and thus continually grew and receded with the fortunes of time. Thousands of battles and predatory excursions involving their leaders are recorded in the Irish annals and other sources.
After the Norman invasion of 1169–71, large portions of Ireland came under the control of Norman lords – this territory was known as the Lordship of Ireland. However, the Gaelic system continued to exist in areas outside Norman control, and the government's power gradually shrank to an area known as The Pale. In 1541 the Kingdom of Ireland was established and the English monarchy began to conquer the island. This resulted in the Flight of the Earls in 1607, which marked the end of the Gaelic order.
Culture and society in Ireland 
Gaelic culture and society was centered around the Fine (clann) and, as such, the landscape and history of Ireland was wrought with inter-fine relationships, marriages, friendships, wars, vendettas, trading, and so on. Despite this, Gaelic Ireland had a rich oral culture and appreciation of deeper and intellectual pursuits. Filí and draoithe (druids) were held in high regard during pagan times and orally passed down the history and traditions of their people. Later, many of their spiritual and intellectual tasks were passed on to Christian monks, after said religion prevailed from the 5th century onwards. However, the filí continued to hold a high position in their clanns and territories. Poetry, music, storytelling, literature and other art forms were highly prized and cultivated in both pagan and Christian Gaelic Ireland. Hospitality, bonds of kinship and the fulfilment of social and ritual responsibilities were held sacred.
The Gaelic order in Ireland, rather than a single unified kingdom in the feudal sense, was a patchwork of túatha (singular: túath). These túatha often competed for control of resources and thus continually grew and shrank. Law tracts from the beginning of the 8th century describe a hierarchy of kings: kings of túath subject to kings of several túatha who again were subject to provincial overkings. Already before the 8th century these over-kingships had begun to dissolve the túatha as the basic sociopolitical unit.
Religion and mythology 
Before Christianization, the religion of the Gaelic Irish was polytheistic or pagan. They worshipped many gods and goddesses, which generally have parallels in the pantheons of other Celts. They were also animists, believing that all aspects of the natural world contained spirits, and that these spirits could be communicated with. Burial practices –which included burying food, weapons, and ornaments with the dead– suggest a belief in life after death. Some have equated this afterlife with the realms known as Magh Meall and Tír na nÓg in Irish mythology. There were four main religious festivals each year, marking the traditional four divisions of the year – Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
The mythology of Ireland did not wholly outlast Christianization, but much of it was preserved, shorn of its religious meanings, in medieval Irish literature. This large body of work is often split into three overlapping cycles: the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, and the Fenian Cycle. The first cycle is a pseudo-history of Ireland that describes four invasions (or migrations) by semi-divine peoples. Two of these groups, the Fomorians and Tuatha Dé Danann, are believed to represent the pre-Gaelic and Gaelic pantheons. The second cycle tells of the lives and deaths of Ulaidh heroes such as Cúchulainn. The third cycle tells of the exploits of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna. There are also a number of tales that do not fit into these cycles – this includes the immrama and echtrai, which are tales of the 'otherworld' and the voyages to get there.
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Gaelic law (collectively known as Fénechas) was originally passed down orally, but was written down in Old Irish during the period 600–900 AD. Most of the laws were developed before Christianization and are mainly secular, but there is some Christian influence. These secular laws existed in parallel, and sometimes in conflict, with Church law. The brithem (modern spelling: breitheamh) were the judiciary in Gaelic society and were expected to interpret the written laws and give advice or pass judgment accordingly. Kings would have been able to pass judgment also, but it is unclear how much they would have been able to make their own judgments, and how much they would have had to rely on professionals. However, unlike other kingdoms in Europe, Gaelic kings—by their own authority—could not enact new laws as they wished and could not be "above the law".
Gaelic law was a civil rather than a criminal code, concerned with the payment of fines (dire) for harm done. Although Gaelic law acknowledged a distinction between intentional and unintentional harm, any kind of harm required compensation. The law text Bretha Déin Chécht goes into great depth about compensation based on the location, severity, and kind of wound. Types of fines included coirpdire (body-fine), einachlan (honour-price) and éraic (reparation). The éraic (modern spelling: éiric) was the fine for murder or manslaughter; the fine for murder being twice that for manslaughter. State-administered punishment for crime was a foreign concept. Criminals were summoned to appear before a brithem, who heard the case and assessed the amount of fine that should be paid. If the defendant did not pay outright, his property was seized until he did so. Should the offender be unable to pay, his family would be responsible for doing so. Should the family be unable or unwilling to pay, responsibility would broaden to the fine or clann. If the criminal died, and his crime was purely personal, the fine or clann would be freed of liability. However, if the criminal died and his crime had caused damage/loss of property, the fine or clann was still liable for this loss. Hence, it has been argued that "the people were their own police".
Punishment was adjusted to match one's rank or profession. In some cases, those of higher rank could receive a higher amount of compensation. However, an offence against the property of a poor man (who could ill afford it), was punished more harshly than a similar offence upon a wealthy man. The clergy were more harshly punished than the laity. When a layman had paid his fine he would go through a probationary period and then regain his standing, but a convicted clergyman could never regain his standing.
It is generally believed that execution of criminals was rare. If a murderer was unable/unwilling to pay éraic and was handed to his victim's family, they might kill him if they wished should nobody intervene by paying the éraic. Certain criminals might be expelled from the fine and its territory, even though the fine had been paid. Such people became outlaws (with no protection from the law) and anyone who sheltered him became liable for his crimes. If he still haunted the fine territory and continued his crimes there, he was proclaimed in the fine's public assembly and after this anyone might lawfully kill him.
The law texts take great care to define social status, the rights and duties that went with that status, and the relationships between people. For example, chieftains had to take responsibility for members of their fine, acting as a surety for some of their deeds and making sure debts were paid. He would also be responsible for unmarried women after the death of their fathers.
In Gaelic Ireland each person belonged to a kin-group known as a clann (plural: clanna) or fine (plural: finte). Each clann was a large group of related people—theoretically an extended family—supposedly descended from one progenitor and all owing loyalty to its chieftain, known as a cennfine or toísech (plural: toísigh) in Old Irish. Often, clanna are thought of as based on blood kinship alone; however, clanna also included those who were fostered into the clann and those who joined the clann for strategic reasons (such as safety or combining of resources). As Nicholls describes, they would be better thought of as akin to the modern-day corporation. The power of clanna fluctuated, and endemic warfare between clanna was rife. Once-powerful clanna could wane over time and be amalgamated into once-smaller ones. How this "merger" would be dealt with would be a matter of negotiation. Many clanna were also split into a number of sub-groups known as septs, often when that group made a home outside the original clann territory.
Lineage was based on tanistry (rather than primogeniture). At a gathering called a tocomra a relative was chosen—before the death of a leader—to be his deputy and then his successor. To be eligible for election, one had to share the same great-grandfather as the toísech. This group of electable cousins was called the derbfine, and the elected person was called a tanaiste (plural: tanaistí). The clann system formed the basis of society.
Gaelic society was structured hierarchically.
- The top social layer was the nobility (nemed), which included kings (ríg), princes (flatha), lords (tiarnaí), and chieftains (toísigh). See also Gaelic nobility of Ireland for their surviving modern descendants.
- Below that were the professionals (dóernemed), which included skilled poets (fili), judges (brithem), craftsmen, physicians, and so on. Masters in a particular profession were known as ollam (modern spelling: ollamh). The various professions—including law, poetry, medicine, history and genealogy—were associated with particular hereditary families. Although most had only one profession, some had more than one. Before the Christianization of Ireland, this group also included the druí (or 'druids') and fáithe (or 'vates'). The druí could have the role of priest, judge, scholar, poet, physician, and religious teacher, while the fáithe acted as soothsayers and clairvoyants.
- Below that were those who owned land and cattle (bóaire).
- Below that were serfs (bothach) and slaves (mug). Slaves were typically criminals or prisoners of war.
- The warrior bands (fianna) generally lived apart from society. A fian was typically composed of young men who had not yet come into their inheritance of land. A member of a fian was called a fénnid and the leader of a fian was a rígfénnid. Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf. But during the summer, from Bealtaine to Samhain, they were beholden to live by hunting for food and for hides to sell.
Although distinct, these ranks were not utterly exclusive castes like those of India. It was possible to rise or sink from one rank to another. Rising upward could be achieved a number of ways, such as by gaining wealth, by gaining skill in some department, by qualifying for a learned profession, by showing conspicuous valour, or by performing some service to the community. An example of the latter is a person choosing to become a briugu (hospitaller). A briugu had to have his house open to any guests, which included feeding no matter how big the group. For the briugu to fulfill these duties, he was allowed more land and privileges, but this could be lost if he ever refused guests.
Marriage, women and children 
Historian Patrick Weston Joyce wrote that free women in Gaelic Ireland "held a good position". In social rights and property, "they were, in most respects, quite on a level with men". Richard Stanihurst wrote in 1584 that at Irish social gatherings, "the prime place at the table is bestowed upon the woman of the household".
It seems that the laws on marriage and divorce were wholly pagan, and never underwent any change in Christian times. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Gaelic Irish kept many of their marriage laws and traditions sundered from those of the Church.
Under Gaelic law, married women could hold property independent of their husbands, the link between married women and their own families was kept intact, couples could easily divorce/separate, and men could have concubines (which could be lawfully bought). These laws differed from most of contemporary Europe and from Church law.
The lawful age of marriage was fifteen for girls and eighteen for boys. Upon marriage, the families of the bride and bridegroom were expected to contribute to the match. It was custom for the bridegroom and his family to pay a coibche (modern spelling: coibhche) and the bride was allowed a share of it. If the marriage ended owing to a fault of the husband then the coibche was kept by the wife and her family, but if the fault lay with the wife then the coibche was to be returned. It was custom for the bride to receive a spréid (modern spelling: spréidh) from her family (or foster family) upon marriage. This was to be returned if the marriage ended through divorce or the death of the husband. Later, the spréid seems to have been converted into a dowry. Women could seek divorce/separation as easily as men could and, when obtained on her petition, she kept all the property she had brought her husband during their marriage.
Trial marriages seem to have been popular among the rich and powerful, and thus it has been argued that cohabitation before marriage must have been acceptable. It also seems that the wife of a chieftain was entitled to some share of the chief's authority over his territory. This led to some Gaelic Irish wives wielding a great deal of political power.
Before the Norman invasion, it was common for priests and monks to have wives. This remained mostly unchanged after the Norman invasion, despite protests from bishops and archbishops. The authorities classed such women as priests' concubines and there is evidence that a formal contract of concubinage existed between priests and their women. However, unlike other concubines, they seem to have been treated just as wives were.
In Gaelic Ireland a kind of fosterage was common, whereby (for certain timespans) children would be left in the care of other fine members, namely their mother's family, preferably her brother. This may have been used to strengthen family ties or political bonds. Foster parents were beholden to teach their foster children or to have them taught. Foster parents who had properly done their duties were entitled to be supported by their foster children in old age (if they were in need and had no children of their own). As with divorce, Gaelic law again differed from most of Europe and from Church law in giving legal standing to both "legitimate" and "illegitimate" children.
Settlements and architecture 
For most of the Gaelic period, buildings were generally round and the Gaelic Irish typically lived in circular houses with conical roofs (see roundhouse). Square and rectangle-shaped buildings came into use slowly, and it was not until the 14th or 15th century that round buildings vanished. In some areas, walls were built mostly of stone. In others, walls were built with timber, wattle and daub, clay, or a mix of materials. Roofs were made of thatch or sods. Glass windows are mentioned in many old writings. It was common for women to have their own 'apartment' called a grianan (anglicized "greenan") in the sunniest part of the homestead.
These houses (along with livestock) were often surrounded by a circular rampart called a "ringfort". There are two main kinds of ringfort. The ráth is an earthen ringfort, averaging 30m diameter, with a dry outside ditch. The cathair or caiseal is a stone ringfort. Usually there were several buildings inside. Most date to the period 500–1000 CE and there is evidence of large-scale ringfort desertion at the end of the first millennium. Between 30,000 and 40,000 lasted into the 19th century to be mapped by Ordnance Survey Ireland. Another kind of native dwelling was the crannóg, which were fortified roundhouses built on wooden platforms in lakes.
Monasteries emerged in the 5th century. Although there were no towns or villages, the monasteries sometimes became the heart of a small settlement cluster or "monastic town". By the 10th century, there were few nucleated settlements other than these monastic towns and the Norse-Gaelic ports. It was at this time, perhaps as a response to Viking raids, that many of the Irish round towers were built.
In the fifty years before the Norman invasion (1169), the term "castle" (Old Irish: caistél/caislén) appears in Gaelic writings, although all the recorded pre-Norman castles have been destroyed. After the invasion, the Normans converted some ringforts into motte-and-baileys. From the mid 14th century onward, the Normans began to build tower houses in large numbers. These are free-standing multi-storey stone towers usually surrounded by a wall (see bawn) and ancillary buildings. Gaelic families had begun to build their own tower houses by the 15th century. As many as 7000 may have been built, but they were rare in areas with little Norman settlement or contact. They are concentrated in counties Limerick and Clare but are lacking in Ulster, except the area around Strangford Lough.
In Gaelic law, a 'sanctuary' called a maighin digona surrounded each person's dwelling. Within this, the owner and his family and belongings were protected by law. The maighin digona's size varied according to the owner's rank. In the case of a bóaire it stretched as far as he, while sitting at his house, could cast a cnairsech (variously described as a spear or sledgehammer). The owner of a maighin digona could offer its protection to someone fleeing from pursuers, who would then have to bring that person to justice by lawful means.
There was no money in Gaelic society; instead, livestock (cows, sheep, pigs, goats, horses, a.s.f.) and fish were the main currency and the main source of sustenance. Horticulture was practiced; the main crops being oats, wheat and barley, although flax was also grown for making linen. The main exports were fish, hides, wool and linen cloth. The main imports were goods that could not be found in Ireland, such as salt and wine.
Transhumance was practised, whereby the people moved with their livestock (over short distances) to higher pastures in summer and back to lower pastures in the cooler months. The summer pasture was called the buaile (anglicized as booley) and it is noteworthy that the Irish word for boy (buachaill) originally meant a herdsman. Many moorland areas were "shared as a common summer pasturage by the people of a whole parish or barony".
Throughout the Middle Ages, the common clothing amongst the Gaelic Irish consisted of a brat (a woollen cloak) worn over a léine (a loose-fitting, long-sleeved tunic made of wool or linen). For men these were either thigh-length or knee-length and for women they were longer. Men sometimes wore tight-fitting truis on the legs, but otherwise went bare-legged. The brat was usually fastened with a crios (belt) and dealg (brooch), with men usually wearing the dealg at their shoulders and women at their chests. The ionar (a short, tight-fitting jacket) became popular later on. In Topographia Hibernica, written during the 1180s, Gerald de Barri wrote that the Irish also wore hoods at that time (perhaps forming part of the brat), while Edmund Spenser wrote in the 1580s that the brat was (in general) their only clothing. However, it is uncertain if Medieval Irish clothing fashions were influenced by other cultures they came in contact with, such as the Angles, Norse or the Romans. The discovery of the bog body in Gallagh indicates that during the Iron Age, wearing of animal skins was common.
According to Gerald de Barri, most of the Irish wore clothes made of black wool, because most of the sheep in Ireland were black in his time. The number of colours worn came to betoken the rank or wealth of the wearer; the wealthy often wore cloth of many colours while the poor only wore cloth of one colour.
Both men and women grew their hair long. It is said that the Gaelic Irish took great pride in their long hair—for example, a person could be forced to pay the heavy fine of two cows for shaving a man's head against his will. For women, very long hair was seen as a mark of beauty. Sometimes, both men and women would braid their hair and fasten hollow golden balls to the ends of the braids. Another style that was popular among some medieval Gaelic men was the glib (short all over except for a long, thick lock of hair towards the front of the head). A band or ribbon around the forehead was the typical way of holding one's hair in place. For the wealthy, this band was often a thin and bendy strip/ribbon of burnished gold, silver or findrinny. When the Anglo-Normans and the English colonized Ireland, hair length came to signify one's allegiance. Irishmen who cut their hair short were deemed to be forsaking their Irish heritage. Likewise, English colonists who grew their hair long in the back were deemed to be giving in to the Irish life.
Gaelic men typically let their facial hair grow into a beard and mustache, and it was often seen as dishonourable for a Gaelic man to have no facial hair. Beard styles varied – the long forked beard and the rectangular Mesopotamian-style beard were fashionable at times.
Gaelic Ireland was well furnished with roads and bridges. Bridges were typically wooden and the roads were sometimes laid with wood and stone. There were five main roads leading from Tara and many named roads are mentioned in literature.
Horses were one of the main means of long-distance transport. Although horseshoes and reins were used, the Gaelic Irish did not use saddles, stirrups or spurs. Every man was trained to spring from the ground on to the back of his horse (an ech-léim or "steed-leap") and they urged-on and guided their horses with a rod having a hooked goad at the end.
Two-wheeled and four-wheeled chariots (singular carbad) were used in Ireland from ancient times, both in private life and in war. They were big enough for two people, made of wickerwork and wood, and often had decorated hoods. The wheels were spoked, shod all round with iron, and were from three to four and a half feet high. Chariots were generally drawn by horses or oxen, with horse-drawn chariots being more common among chiefs and military men. War chariots furnished with scythes and spikes, like those of the ancient Gauls and Britons, are mentioned in literature.
Boats used in Gaelic Ireland include canoes, currachs and sailboats. Ferryboats were used to cross wide rivers and are often mentioned in the Brehon Laws as subject to strict regulations. Sometimes they were owned by individuals and sometimes they were the common property of those living round the ferry. Large boats were used for trade with mainland Europe.
Gaelic Ireland was a land of continuous warfare, as túatha fought for supremacy against each other and (later) against the Anglo-Normans. Throughout the Middle Ages and for some time after, outsiders often wrote that the style of Irish warfare differed greatly from what they deemed to be the norm. The Gaelic Irish preferred hit-and-run raids (the creach), which involved catching the enemy unaware and storming their strongholds. If this worked they would then seize any valuables (mainly livestock) and potentially valuable hostages, burn the crops, and escape. The cattle raid was often called a táin bó in Gaelic literature. Although hit-and-run raiding was the preferred tactic in medieval times, the Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib tells of lengthy pitched battles and the use of boats in tandem with land forces. It was not unusual for armies to launch long-range attacks, setting up camps along the way.
A typical medieval Irish army included light infantry, heavy infantry and cavalry. The bulk of the army was made-up of light infantry called ceithern (anglicized kern). The ceithern wandered Ireland offering their services for hire, usually carrying swords, knives, short spears, bows and shields. The cavalry was usually made-up of a chieftain and his close relatives. They usually rode without saddles but wore armour and helmets and wielded swords, knives and long spears. One kind of Irish cavalry was the hobelar. The heavy infantry were the gallóglaigh (anglicized gallo[w]glass). They were originally Scottish mercenaries who appeared in the 13th century, but by the 15th century most large túatha had their own hereditary force of gallóglaigh. They usually wore chainmail and helmets and wielded claymores and axes. The gallóglaigh furnished the retreating plunderers with a "moving line of defence from which the horsemen could make short, sharp charges, and behind which they could retreat when pursued". As their armour made them less nimble, they were sometimes planted at strategic spots along the line of retreat. Both the horsemen and gallóglaigh had servants to carry their weapons into battle.
Warriors were sometimes rallied into battle by blowing horns and warpipes. Gaius Julius Solinus wrote (in the 2nd century) that the pagan Irish besmeared their faces with the blood of the slain to frighten their enemies. According to Gerald de Barri (in the 12th century), they did not wear armour, as they deemed it burdensome to wear and "brave and honourable" to fight without it. Instead, most ordinary soldiers fought semi-naked and carried only their weapons and a small round shield—Spenser wrote that these shields were covered with leather and painted in bright colours. Chieftains sometimes went into battle wearing helmets adorned with eagle feathers. For ordinary soldiers, their thick hair often served as a helmet, but they sometimes wore simple helmets made from animal hides.
Gaelic warriors (and Celtic warriors in general) had a reputation as head hunters. Ancient Romans and Greeks recorded the Celtic custom of beheading their enemies and publicly displaying the severed heads (for example by hanging them from the necks of horses). According to Paul Jacobsthal, "Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions, as well as of life itself".
Visual art 
Artwork from Ireland's Gaelic period is found on pottery, jewelry, weapons, drinkware, tableware, stone carvings and illuminated manuscripts. Like other kinds of Celtic art, Irish art from about 300 BCE is part of the wider La Tène art style, which developed in west central Europe. By about 600 CE, after the Christianization of Ireland had begun, a style melding Celtic, Mediterranean and Germanic Anglo-Saxon elements emerged, and was spread to Britain and mainland Europe by the Hiberno-Scottish mission. This is known as Insular art or Hiberno-Saxon art, which continued in some form in Ireland until the 12th century, although the Viking invasions ended its "Golden Age". Most surviving works of Insular art were either made by monks or made for monasteries, with the exception of Celtic brooches, which were likely made and used by both clergy and laity. Examples of Insular art from Ireland include the Book of Kells, Muiredach's High Cross, the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Hoard the Derrynaflan Chalice, and the late Cross of Cong, which also uses Viking styles.
Music and dance 
Although Gerald de Barri had a negative view of the Irish, in Topographia Hibernica (1188) he conceded that they were more skilled at playing music than any other nation he had seen. He claimed that the two main instruments were the "harp" and "tabor" (see bodhrán), that their music was fast and lively, and that their songs always began and ended with B-flat. In A History of Irish Music (1905), W. H. Grattan Flood wrote that there were at least ten instruments in general use by the Gaelic Irish. These were the cruit (a small harp) and clairseach (a bigger harp with typically 30 strings), the timpan (a small string instrument played with a bow or plectrum), the feadan (a fife), the buinne (an oboe or flute), the guthbuinne (a bassoon-type horn), the bennbuabhal and corn (hornpipes), the cuislenna (bagpipes - see Great Irish Warpipes), the stoc and sturgan (clarions or trumpets), and the cnamha (castanets). There is also evidence of the fiddle being used in the 8th century.
As mentioned before, Gaelic Ireland was split into many clann territories and kingdoms called túath (plural: túatha). Although there was no central 'government' or 'parliament', a number of local, regional and national gatherings were held. These combined features of assemblies and fairs.
In Ireland the highest of these was the feis at Teamhair na Rí (Tara), which was held every third Samhain. This was a gathering of the leading men of the whole island — kings, lords, chieftains, druids, judges etc. Below this was the óenach (modern spelling: aonach). These were regional or provincial gatherings open to everyone. Examples include that held at Tailtin each Lughnasadh, and that held at Uisneach each Bealtaine. The main purpose of these gatherings was to promulgate and reaffirm the laws — they were read aloud in public that they might not be forgotten, and any changes in them carefully explained to those present.
Each túath or clann had two assemblies of its own. These were the cuirmtig, which was open to all clann members, and the dal (a term later adopted for the Irish parliament - see Dáil Éireann), which was open only to clann chiefs. Each clann had a further assembly called a tocomra, in which the clann chief (toísech) and his deputy/successor (tanaiste) were elected.
List of clanna, túatha and kings 
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Before 400 
400 to 800 
800 to 1169 
Anglo-Norman occupation 
Ireland became Christianized between the 5th and 7th centuries. Pope Adrian IV, the only English pope, had already issued a Papal Bull in 1155 giving Henry II of England authority to invade Ireland as a means of curbing Irish refusal to recognize Roman law. Importantly, for later English monarchs, the Bull, Laudabiliter, maintained papal suzerainty over the island:
|“||There is indeed no doubt, as thy Highness doth also acknowledge, that Ireland and all other islands which Christ the Sun of Righteousness has illumined, and which have received the doctrines of the Christian faith, belong to the jurisdiction of St. Peter and of the holy Roman Church.||”|
In 1166, after losing the protection of High King Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn, the King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, was forcibly exiled by a confederation of Irish forces under the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Fleeing first to Bristol and then to Normandy, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry II of England to use his subjects to regain his kingdom. By the following year, he had obtained these services and in 1169 the main body of Norman, Welsh and Flemish forces landed in Ireland and quickly retook Leinster and the cities of Waterford and Dublin on behalf of Diarmait. The leader of the Norman force, Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, more commonly known as Strongbow, married Diarmait's daughter, Aoife, and was named tánaiste to the Kingdom of Leinster. This caused consternation to Henry II, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman state in Ireland. Accordingly, he resolved to visit Leinster to establish his authority.
Henry landed in 1171, proclaiming Waterford and Dublin as Royal Cities. Adrian's successor, Pope Alexander III, ratified the grant of Ireland to Henry in 1172. The 1175 Treaty of Windsor between Henry and Ruaidhrí maintained Ruaidhrí as High King of Ireland but codified Henry's control of Leinster, Meath and Waterford. However, with Diarmuid and Strongbow dead, Henry back in England, and Ruaidhrí unable to curb his vassals, the high kingship rapidly lost control of the country. Henry, in 1185, awarded his younger son, John, the title Dominus Hiberniae, "Lord of Ireland". This kept the newly created title and the Kingdom of England personally and legally separate. However, when John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King of England in 1199, the Lordship of Ireland fell back into personal union with the Kingdom of England.
Gaelic resurgence 
By 1261, the weakening of the Anglo-Norman Lordship had become manifest following a string of military defeats. In the chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land. The invasion by Edward Bruce in 1315-18 at a time of famine weakened the Norman economy. The Black Death arrived in Ireland in 1348. Because most of the English and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements. After it had passed, Gaelic Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again. The English-controlled area shrank back to the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin. Outside the Pale, the Hiberno-Norman lords intermarried with Gaelic noble families, adopted the Irish language and customs and sided with the Gaelic Irish in political and military conflicts against the Lordship. They became known as the Old English, and in the words of a contemporary English commentator, were "more Irish than the Irish themselves."
The authorities in the Pale worried about the "Gaelicisation" of Norman Ireland, and passed the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366 banning those of English descent from speaking the Irish language, wearing Irish clothes or inter-marrying with the Irish. The government in Dublin had little real authority. By the end of the fifteenth century, central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared. England's attentions were diverted by the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) and then by the Wars of the Roses (1450–85). Around the country, local Gaelic and Gaelicised lords expanded their powers at the expense of the English government in Dublin.
Gaelic kingdoms during the period 
Following the failed attempt by the Scottish King Edward Bruce (see Irish Bruce Wars 1315–1318) to drive the Normans out of Ireland, there emerged a number of important Gaelic kingdoms and Gaelic-controlled lordships.
- Connacht. The Ó Conchobhair dynasty, despite their setback during the Bruce wars, had regrouped and ensured that the title King of Connacht was not yet an empty one. Their stronghold was in their homeland of Sil Muirdeag, from where they dominated much of northern and northeastern Connacht. However, after the death of Ruaidri mac Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair in 1384, the dynasty split into two factions, Ó Conchobhair Don and Ó Conchobhair Ruadh. By the late 15th century, internecine warfare between the two branches had weakened them to the point where they themselves became vassals of more powerful lords such as Ó Domhnaill of Tír Chonaill and the Clan Burke of Clanricarde. The Mac Diarmata Kings of Moylurg retained their status and kingdom during this era, up to the death of Tadhg Mac Diarmata in 1585 (last de facto King of Moylurg). Their cousins, the Mac Donnacha of Tír Ailella, found their fortunes bound to the Ó Conchobhair Ruadh. The kingdom of Uí Maine had lost much of its southern and western lands to the Clanricardes, but managed to flourish until repeated raids by Ó Domhnaill in the early 16th century weakened it. Other territories such as Ó Flaithbeheraigh of Iar Connacht, Ó Seachnasaigh of Aidhne, O'Dowd of Tireagh, O'Hara, Ó Gadhra and Ó Maddan, either survived in isolation or were vassals for greater men.
- Ulster: The Ulaid proper were in a sorry state all during this era, being squeezed between the emergent Ó Neill of Tír Eógain in the west, the MacDonnells, Clann Aodha Buidhe, and the Anglo-Normans from the east. Only Mag Aonghusa managed to retain a portion of their former kingdom with expansion into Iveagh. The two great success stories of this era were Ó Domhnaill of Tír Chonaill and Ó Neill of Tír Eógain. Ó Domhnaill was able to dominate much of northern Connacht to the detriment of its native lords, both Old English and Gaelic, though it took time to suborn the likes of Ó Conchobhair Sligigh and Ó Ruairc of Iar Breifne. Expansion southwards brought the hegemony of Tír Eógain, and by extension Ó Neill influence, well into the border lordships of Louth and Meath. Mag Uidir of Fear Manach would slightly later be able to build his lordship up to that of third most powerful in the province, at the expense of the Ó Ruaircs of Iar Breifne and the MacMahons of Airgíalla.
- Leinster: Likewise, despite the adverse (and unforeseen) effects of Diarmait Mac Murchada's efforts to regain his kingdom, the fact of the matter was that, of his twenty successors up to 1632, most of them had regained much of the ground they had lost to the Normans, and exacted yearly tribute from the towns. His most dynamic successor was the celebrated Art mac Art MacMurrough-Kavanagh. The Ó Broin and Ó Tuathail largely contented themselves with raids on Dublin (which, incredibly, continued into the 18th century). The Ó Mordha of Laois and Ó Conchobhair Falaighe of Offaly - the latter's capital was Daingean - were two self-contained territories that had earned the right to be called kingdoms due to their near-invincibility against successive generations of Anglo-Irish. The great losers were the Ó Melaghlins of Meath: their kingdom collapsed despite attempts by Cormac mac Art O Melaghlain to restore it. The royal family was reduced to vassal status, confined to the east shores of the River Shannon. The kingdom was substantially incorporated into the Lordship of Meath which was granted to Hugh de Lacy in 1172.
- Desmond: See Kingdom of Desmond, Barony of Carbery, Battle of Callann
- Thomond: Despite huge setbacks, the descendants of Brian Bóruma had, by surviving the Second Battle of Athenry and winning the decisive battles of Corcomroe and Dysert O'Dea, been able to suborn their vassals and eradicate the Normans from their home kingdom of Thomond. Their spheres of interest often met with conflict with Anglo-Normans such as the Earls of Desmond and Earls of Ormond, yet they ruled right up to the end of Gaelic Ireland, and beyond, by expedient of becoming the O'Brien Earls of Thomond.
Tudor conquest 
From 1536, Henry VIII of England decided to conquer Ireland and bring it under English control. The FitzGerald dynasty of Kildare, who had become the effective rulers of the Lordship of Ireland (The Pale) in the 15th century, had become unreliable allies and Henry resolved to bring Ireland under English government control so the island would not become a base for future rebellions or foreign invasions of England. To involve the Gaelic nobility and allow them to retain their lands under English law the policy of surrender and regrant was applied.
In 1541, Henry upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a full kingdom, partly in response to changing relationships with the papacy, which still had suzerainty over Ireland, following Henry's break with the church. Henry was proclaimed King of Ireland at a meeting of the Irish Parliament that year. This was the first meeting of the Irish Parliament to be attended by the Gaelic Irish princes as well as the Hiberno-Norman aristocracy.
With the technical institutions of government in place, the next step was to extend the control of the Kingdom of Ireland over all of its claimed territory. This took nearly a century, with various English administrations in the process either negotiating or fighting with the independent Irish and Old English lords. The conquest was completed during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, after several bloody conflicts.
The flight into exile in 1607 of Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone and Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell following their defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the suppression of their rebellion in Ulster in 1603 is seen as the watershed of Gaelic Ireland. It marked the destruction of Ireland's ancient Gaelic nobility following the Tudor conquest and cleared the way for the Plantation of Ulster. After this point, the English authorities in Dublin established real control over Ireland for the first time, bringing a centralised government to the entire island, and successfully disarmed the Gaelic lordships.
See also 
- Whilst Ireland had a single, strong, unifying culture, "patchwork" is a very common way to describe the political arrangement of Gaelic Ireland. For example:
- Dáibhí Ó Cróinín (1995), "Early medieval Ireland, 400-1200", in Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Longman History of Ireland (London: Longman) 1: 110, ISBN 0-582-01566-9, "By the time of our earliest documentary evidence (law texts, genealogies, and annals), the vision of Ireland as a unitary state, ruled by a 'high-king', had apparently disappeared, to be replaced by a patchwork of local tribal kingdoms, each confident in its own distinctiveness."
- Michael Richter (2005), "Medieval Ireland: the Enduring Tradition", New Gill History of Ireland (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan) 1: 172, ISBN 0-7171-3293-5, "The political map of Ireland in the fifteenth century, like those of Germany and northern Italy at the time, resembles a patchwork, consisting of many elements of varying size."
- "After a period of relative quiet, Ireland was again invaded in the twelfth century. This time it was King Henry II and his Anglo-Norman barons from the neighboring island of Britain. The Ireland they found was still a regionalized patchwork of petty kingdoms. Henry set about consolidating the array of separate kingdoms into one kingdom, setting up a governing administration and instituting laws of a feudal society that rested on a hierarchy of authority under his kingship." - Patrick A. Lavin, Celtic Ireland West of the River Shannon
- "In 1023 Donnchad had his half-brother assassinated. He fought his way back to power in Munster, but that was as far as he could go. Brian's kingship of all Ireland has long since ended. He has not created a united kingdom of Ireland. Nor has he brought the Irish people together to fight the Viking outsiders. (Although in later centuries Irishmen came to believe that this is what he had done, and made Brian a national hero). In earlier centuries a few equally successfully Irish kings has claimed, just as Brian did, to be 'high king'. But none had tried to destroy the other kingdoms, and after their death the old pattern of many kingdoms had returned. After Brian's death in 1014 this happened once more. The map of eleventh-century Ireland remained a complicated patchwork quilt of scores of kingdoms. Like the Welsh, the Irish were united by language, law and culture, not by politics." - Mike Corbishley, Kenneth O Morgan, The young Oxford history of Britain & Ireland
- "When John succeeded to the throne in 1199, the lordship of Ireland was annexed to the kingdom of England. His policy was three-fold: to reduce the power of the older baronage in Ireland; to favour the Irish chiefs for policy's sake; and to build up a central government strong enough to override both. But this ambitious scheme failed to live up to expectations, and in the late thirteenth century the lordship of Ireland was 'less a lordship then a patchwork of lordships'." - David George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland
- Jaski, Bart (2005). "Kings and kingship". In Seán Duffy. Medieval Ireland. An Encyclopedia. Abingdon and New York. pp. 251–254.
- Miranda Green. (1992:196) Animals in Celtic life and myth. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-05030-8
- Barry Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp.208-210. ISBN 0-19-815010-5.
- The Celts in The Encyclopedia of World Mythology, Dr Ray Dunning, page 91
- Koch, John (ed). Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2006, p. 332
- The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter I, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
- Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 23-5, 52
- Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, p. 21-22
- The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter VII, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
- Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law pp. 131 ff
- Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, 13-14
- The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter IV, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
- Jefferies, Dr. Henry A. "Culture and Religion in Tudor Ireland, 1494-1558". University College Cork. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
- The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter V, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
- Hutton, Ronald, The Druids (London: HambledonContinuum, 2007) p2
- Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland, Longman, 1995, p. 88
- Dictionary of the Irish Language, Compact Edition, Royal Irish Academy, 1990, pp. 299, 507
- Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 2.45
- Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 36-7
- Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906). Chapter 15 part 2. Library Ireland.
- Connolly, Sean J (2007). "Chapter 2: Late Medieval Ireland: The Irish". Contested island: Ireland 1460-1630. Oxford University Press. pp. 20–24.
- The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter VIII, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
- Kenny, Gillian (2006). "Anglo-Irish and Gaelic marriage laws and traditions in late medieval Ireland". Journal of Medieval History (Elsevier) 32.
- Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906). Chapter 16 part 1. Library Ireland.
- Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906). Chapter 16 part 2. Library Ireland.
- Barry, Terry. Rural settlement in Ireland in the middle ages: an overview. Ruralia 1 (1995).
- O'Keeffe, Tadhg. Rural settlement and cultural identity in Gaelic Ireland. Ruralia 1 (1995).
- Evans, E Estyn (2000). "Bally and Booley". Irish Folk Ways. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 27–38.
- Logan, James (1831). The Scottish Gael. Smith, Elder and Co.
- Connolly, Sean J (2007). "Prologue". Contested island: Ireland 1460-1630. Oxford University Press. p. 7.
- The Topography of Ireland by Giraldus Cambrensis (English translation)
- Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906). Chapter 18 part 1. Library Ireland.
- Bartlett, Robert (1994), "Symbolic Meanings of Hair in the Middle Ages", Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Sixth series 4: 43–60, ISSN 0080-4401
- Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906). Chapter 24 part 1. Library Ireland.
- Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906). Chapter 24 part 3. Library Ireland.
- Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906). Chapter 24 part 2. Library Ireland.
- Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906). Chapter 24 part 4. Library Ireland.
- Irish frontier warfare: a fifteenth-century case study. Cormac Ó Cléirigh (1997)
- Flanagan, Marie Therese (1996). "Warfare in Twelfth-Century Ireland". A Military History of Ireland. Cambridge University Press. pp. 52–75.
- Diodorus Siculus, 5.2
- Jacobsthal, Paul. Early Celtic Art.
- A History of Irish Music: Chapter III: Ancient Irish musical instruments, William H. Grattan Flood (1905)
- Malachy McCourt (2004) Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland, Running Press: "In the Treaty of Windsor, Rory accepted Henry II as the overlord and promised to pay annual tribute gathered from all of Ireland to him. For his part, Rory would remain King of Connaught and High King of all unconquered lands in Ireland."
Further reading 
- Kelly, Fergus (1988). A Guide to Early Irish Law. Early Irish Law Series 3. Dublin: DIAS. ISBN 0901282952.
- Duffy, Patrick J.; David Edwards; Elizabeth FitzPatrick, ed. (2001). Gaelic Ireland, c. 1250—c.1650: land, landlordship and settlement. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
- Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth (2004). Royal inauguration in Gaelic Ireland c. 1100-1600: a cultural landscape study. Studies in Celtic History 22. Woodbridge: Boydell.
- Mooney, Canice (1969). The Church in Gaelic Ireland, thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. A History of Irish Catholicism 2/5. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
- Nicholls, Kenneth W. (2003) . Gaelic and Gaelicised Ireland in the Middle Ages (2nd ed.). Dublin: Lilliput Press.
- Simms, Katherine (1987). From kings to warlords: the changing political structure of Gaelic Ireland in the later Middle Ages. Studies in Celtic History 7. Woodbridge: Boydell.