(text from the tv programme Arte : "Le dessous des Cartes")
Ireland, a celtic country
At the beginning of the Christian era, Ireland was divided into seven provinces, each of them were governed by a king. Ireland was inhabited by Celts speaking Gaelic.
Christianisation of Ireland
The famous Saint Patrick evangelized the Irish in the Vth century.
The beginning of the English colonization
In the middle of the XVIth century, Henri VIII of England proclaimed himself king of Ireland, he began a populating politic called settling. English and Scottish farmers came and settled on grounds seized to the Irish. They were situated in the north of the island, in Ulster, the land was more fertile.
Loss of the Irish lands
Irish owners became progressively a minority in the middle of the XVIIth century. They once were 60%, then only 14% in the whole population.
Irish conflict origins
As the colonization continued, Henri VIII wanted to impose Anglicanism to the whole realm, including the Irish who were fervent catholics. At the end of the XVIth century, an Irish conflict appeared. English colonizationn implied the confiscation of the lands by English or Scottish settlers. The religious topic opposed protestant settlers to catholic natives . Yet, the most important issues, for instance the emancipation from London, became minor to the religious issue.
The sharing of the Island
After the First World War (or the Great War), London finally gave homerule to Ireland. To satisfy the Irish protestants, who didn't want to be separated from the United Kingdom, and being a majority in the province of Ulster, the island was shared.
A "made to measure" sharing for the English
Out of 32 counties in the island, 6 were to become the later Northern Ireland, the other 26 were to form Free Ireland State. This border does not correspond neither to the Province of Ulster - counting 9 counties - nor to a religious separation between catholics and protestants, since the Protestants were only in majority in 4 of the 6 counties of Northern Ireland. This cutting is therefore demographic and economical since the British gave a territory to the Protestants. That territory presented a demographic majority and was viable from an economic point of view. Belfast had the same advantages, it was the only industrial area in the island. London thus kept with Northern Ireland the useful part of the island.
The Republic of Ireland
As to the Republic of Ireland, completely independent since 1948, its area equals to 70 000 km2. It counts 4 millions inhabitants ; Dublin is its capital. The green part on the flag of the Republic of Ireland represents the Catholics; the orange part is for the protestants, in homage to William of Orange who supported the fight of the protestants, in the XVIIth century; as for the white part, it represents the truce between the two communities.
Ireland is a 95% catholic state. Most of the protestants live in Northern Ireland. The church influence remains very strong, on mentalities as well as on the society itself. Gaelic is the national language, with the English dominating in the country, except in certain rural areas in the Western part of the country. In 1948, year of its independence, Ireland is rather a poor country, deprived of the industrial part of the island, in the North, with an economy based on agriculture. Thus, part of its population leaves in order to work in England or in the United States.
Ireland in the EEC
Ireland joins the EEC, European Economic Communauty, in 1973, at the same moment than the United Kingdom. In the middle of the eighties, Ireland has a GDP per inhabitant similar to poor regions in Greece, Portugal, Spain or the Italian Mezzogiorno.
European grants represented 32 milliard euros, in financial transfers during 30 years (1973-2003). Ireland was thus able to double its GDP per inhabitant. It experiments since 1991 the most important economic growth in Europe : nearly an 8% average growth between 1991 and 2001. Contrarily to the United Kingdom, Ireland is part of the euro zone.
Ireland, a "celtic tiger"
If Ireland became a "celtic tiger", it is not only thanks to European grants. The tax system on firms is the lowest in Europe. Labour force is skilled and English-speaking, which allows to Ireland to attract a great number of foreign investors. Greatly concentrated in Dublin, Cork and in the free zone of Shannon, these investments particularly concern pharmaceutical, telecommunication and computer science sectors, in particular softwares, of which Ireland is today the first exporting country in the world.
Relationships with the United States
Out of 1050 foreign firms, Ireland welcomes nearly 500 American firms. the geographical location of the island on the Atlantic is an obvious advantage, yet more than 40 millions Americans claim an Irish origin, that fact explains the interest of American investors. The Great Famine in 1845, due to an illness of the potatoe, forced more than a million of Irish to emigrate to the USA. Thus, some politicians in Dublin say that they feel themselves "closer to Boston than to Berlin". Furthermore, diplomatically, Americans were very active for the treaties of peace in Northern Ireland. These links between the two countries allows to American aircraft to stock up with fuel in the Shannon airport during Irak war in 2003, whereas Ireland wants to be a neutral country. Ireland hopes to take profit of its privileged links with the USA to cool down relations between Europe and the USA, which were very tensed in 2003 because of Irak and commercial controversies. A summit took place in Ireland between the USA and the European Union in June 2004.
EU and peace in Northern Ireland
The entrance in the European Union had also an impact on the evolution of relationships between Ireland and Northern Ireland : setting up of a euro cross-border region between Northern Ireland and the 6 southern counties. Initiative for peace in Northern Ireland through economic development, with supports from London, Dublin and Washington. After 30 years of violence and more than 3500 killed, this process led in 1998 to the agreement on Good Friday. This return to stability allowed an economic boosting in Northern Ireland, even though violence is sporadically present in the streets of Belfast.