Can you explain to me the effects of colonialism on Ireland?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Colonialism has had many negative effects on Ireland since the Anglo-Norman conquest in the twelfth century when English barons grabbed lands in an area including Dublin and its surroundings known as the "Pale". The Tudors in the sixteenth century expanded and intensified English control over Ireland, disarmed local Irish aristocrats, and tightened control over the entirety of the island.

These elements of the Anglo-Norman and English conquest of Ireland had many of the typical elements of colonialism. The Irish were a Gaelic speaking people and the English spoke English. From the time of Henry VIII on, the English were Protestants and the Irish Roman Catholics. This led to driving both Roman Catholicism and the Celtic language and cultural traditions underground.

Internationally, many Irish groups opposed to English rule allied themselves with the enemies of England (such as Spain and France). These tensions led to increasing oppression of Irish Catholics, including confiscation of land and property, criminalizing Roman Catholic worship, making English the language of government and commerce thereby disadvantaging Gaelic speakers, and restricting access to education to Protestants. The 1801 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland, while giving the Irish some representation in Parliament also attempted to suppress the nascent Irish nationalist movement.

The main effects of colonialism were impoverishing the Irish, suppressing Celtic cultural and linguistic traditions, centralizing power and wealth in the hands of the Protestant minority, and creating civic unrest which continues to the present day in Northern Ireland. The combination of poverty and oppression also lead to massive emigration, at certain times amounting to 40 percent of the adult population, and a large diaspora that still maintains ties to Ireland and influences Irish politics and culture. 

One particularly significant piece of evidence of this cultural hegemony is that most of the Irish today are functionally monolingual speakers of English, with only a small minority knowing the Irish language.


hannalane | Student

In the 12th century, Ireland was split into many small groups of peoples, with no central power and each group jockeying for control of the entire country. However, in 1169 the Normans seized power. 

This development concerned King Henry II of England. He decided to secure his authority in Ireland, and he was supported by Pope Adrian IV who was also English because the Pope wanted to reign in religious abuses in the country. 

The first invasion of the English was not neatly organized nor complete in its influence but it changed Ireland for good. It led to faster development of infrastructure and agriculture in Ireland. The ideas of land divisions that feudalism introduced gave rise to towns, which in turn led to citizen rights and trade.

In 1536, Henry VIII re-conquered Ireland, this time with a stronger hand. Under English rule the country quickly shed all its previous clan-type divisions and became an organized and strictly governed, monarchical society. The presence of England in Ireland also began the country's deep divisions between Catholics and Protestants as the colonization came at the same time as the Reformation and later English leaders did not take a strong and stable position in relation to this larger schism within the Church.