5000 years of Irish history in images

These images convey a history of Irish culture and art from before recorded history to the present. Please click on thumbnails to see full-sized images.



Newgrange passage tomb

ca. 3200 B.C.E. (portions of exterior reconstructed in 1970s).

Measurements -- diameter 280' height. 43'

Location: County Meath, Ireland

Image of Newgrange from SE

View of burial mound at Newgrange from South East              Interior of Newgrange


interior of Newgrange burial tomb, end of entrance passage 


Newgrange carving

 close-up of carved patterns on Newgrange tomb





Gallarus Oratory or “Beehive Hut”

Beehive Hut


 An early Irish monk’s living space.

 Date: 6th or 7th century. Location: Gallarus, County Kerry, Ireland



Drawing of beads and part of sword found in a Viking grave in Dublin

iage of Viking hoard Drawing of beads and part of a sword found in a Viking grave in Dublin

Vikings invaded Ireland in the 8th century and settled in the area now known as Dublin on the East Coast, which they ruled until the 11th century, by which point intermarriage and mixing of cultures meant that the Irish and Viking cultures had amalgamated. They also founded Wexford, Waterford, Limerick, and Cork as trading centers.


Tara Brooch

Tara Brooch


ca. 700. Made of bronze, gold filigree, glass,and amber.
Found at Bettystown, County Meath, Ireland



Book of Kells

Kells Lion

  Detail of illumination of a lion. 9th century.


 The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels of the New Testament, and is the most famous    example of its kind. Such manuscripts were copied out and decorated in Irish monasteries.



Manuscript of Brehon Laws

Brehon Laws


Ca. 14th century

Written in Irish, in insular script. The Brehon Laws were in place as the governing rules of civilization from at least 250 AD and were the law of the majority of the island until the seventeenth century.


Norman Castle in Kilkenny

Kilkenny CastleCastle originally built around 1210

In the lush South-East of Ireland. One of the seats of the Butler family, an Anglo-Norman noble family that was one of the wealthiest and longest-established dynasties in Ireland. Came over with Prince John of England in 1100s when he established his lordship over Ireland, as granted him by his father, King Henry II.


Essex, Military Commander for Elizabeth I of England


Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

Painted 1590
Essex was sent to Ireland by Elizabeth I to battle and subdue the chiefs of the O’Neill and O’Donnell clans



Gráinne Uí Mháille and Queen Elizabeth I

Two Queens


Gráinne Uí Mháille (L) meets Queen Elizabeth I (R)


Gráinne Uí Mháille was Chief of the O’Malleys of Mayo and Galway in the 16th century. She is also known as “Grace O’Malley the Pirate Queen.” Engraving is contemporary with the meeting.

The meeting occurred at the queen of England’s Greenwich court in 1593. Ui Mhaille was sixty at the time. She was pardoned and her property restored after the English governor of Ireland had confiscated her land and imprisoned her son and other relatives.


Irish Uprising of 1641

Gaelic Rebellion of 1641Rebellion of Gaelic Irish Catholics: killing Protestant Scottish and English at the bridge at Portadown

Irish Catholics displaced by Protestant settlers rebelled against the loss of their land and language, killing thousands of Protestant landowners. This period of sectarian violence left scars particularly in Ulster for centuries to come.


The Battle of the Boyne

Battle of the BoyneTriumph of Orange over Green
On July 1, 1690 two Kings contesting the English throne faced each other across the River Boyne in Ulster. By evening King William of Orange, originally of the Netherlands, had won a decisive victory, preserved the Protestant settlement in Ireland and drove the Catholic King James into permanent exile. It was a great victory for William and is celebrated to this day by the Orange Order.


Founders of the United Irishmen and Leaders of 1798 rebellion


James Napper Tandy (1740-1803)                                      

Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798)Wolfe Tone


The 1798 Rebellion was led by Protestants, but joined by many Catholics. It was supported by Napoleonic France with weapons and ships.



Rebellion of 1798


Massacre by Irish rebels of Irish loyalists on the Wexford Bridge

Many of the participants in the 1798 rebellion were from County Wexford, in the South-East of Ireland.



George IV Entering Dublin

George IVPainting by William Turner de Londe, 1821.

Heading South into Dublin, coming past the Rotunda Hospital.

King George IV was the first English monarch to visit Ireland since the 14th century.



Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O'Connell, by Sir George Hayter (1834)

Known as “The Liberator,” O’Connell was an Irish lawyer and politician who was able to orchestrate Catholic Emancipation in Ireland in 1829. This allowed Catholics to own land, go to university, and be members of Parliament. He also supported Home Rule and the repeal of the Act of Union (in place since 1800).


Irish Potato Famine

Potato Famine Victim

 Contemporary engraving of victims of the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849)

After Raleigh brought the potato back from the new world, the Irish found it could be grown quickly and in great abundance. Initially, many kinds were grown, but the Irish began to be dependent on one variety for sustenance, creating a monoculture. When the blight came in, it infected every crop of this potato, leading to starvation throughout Ireland, except part of Ulster, the northern province, where people also grew oats for their consumption. One million people died, and one million emigrated.

“The Sketch of a Woman and Children represents Bridget O'Donnel. Her story is briefly this:-- '. . .we were put out [evicted] last November; we owed some rent. I was at this time lying in fever. . . they commenced knocking down the house, and had half of it knocked down when two neighbours, women, Nell Spellesley and Kate How, carried me out. . . I was carried into a cabin, and lay there for eight days, when I had the creature (the child) born dead. I lay for three weeks after that. The whole of my family got the fever, and one boy thirteen years old died with want and with hunger while we were lying sick.’”

-- Illustrated London News, December 22, 1849


Rural Irish Couple, 19th Century

Irish rural couple

The elderly couple are identified as either Cormac and Kate Holland, or Patrick and Mary Ann McElroy. In Clogher, County Tyrone (Ulster). Some traditional elements of Irish country life can be seen here. The open hearth, fueled by bricks of turf, is the center of the house. The man is smoking a clay pipe, and the woman is wearing a shawl, as typical of countryfolk.


Cane (Shillelagh). Second Half of 19th Century

Shillelagh“Natural light wood knob handle; thornwood stick shaft, wound with thorny wood vine; black metal ferrule.”

“The shillelagh is a traditional walking stick of Ireland, associated with folklore and given as a symbol of coming of age to young men. Also modified and used as a protective weapon, the shillelagh was carried by men to use against rival factions that might meet during public events. The thorny vines of this example are attractively interwoven around the gnarled shaft with a polished root handle. “ From the Brooklyn Museum


Belfast Office Workers in 19th Century

Belfast Office C19

Belfast was the center of industry in Ireland in the 19th century. Shipbuilding and linen-making were the main industries, but others thrived as well.



Irish lace – part of a wedding dress.

Irish Lace

Lace made circa 1870

"Ireland was known for its lace makers: Irish lace was considered the height of luxury in the US and UK in the nineteenth century. This is cream Irish crochet lace, with various three-dimensional motifs including roses, lilies-of-the-valley, hanging fuschias, morning glories, buds and berries, and flat and folded leaves and ferns." From the Brooklyn Museum


Evicted Tenant and his Family

Evicted TenantsCirca 1880

Evictions were routine in nineteenth century Ireland if tenants could not pay their rent. Very few peasants owned their own land, and landlords often lived in England off the income from renting their estates.



Irish Politicians in British Parliament

ParnellParnell (center) with Irish MPs protesting after hearing of the arrest of land rights activist Michael Davitt (3 February 1881).

All were suspended and then forcibly removed from the House. Charles Stewart Parnell led the parliamentary efforts to secure Home Rule from 1877 until 1890. Michael Davitt was the child of evicted farmers who went on to be a Fenian (violent revolutionary), to found the Land League (an Irish tenants’ rights organization), and to become a member of Parliament.


Maud Gonne as Cathleen Ni Houlihan

Maud Gonne as Cathleen At the National Theatre in 1902

Cathleen Ni Houlihan is a play written by Lady Augusta Gregory and WB Yeats, which isabout a young man being inspired by national spirit to leave his family and fight the British. The audience was electrified by Gonne’s performance.



Recruiting Poster and Handbill for Irish Volunteers


“Home Rule,” meant that Ireland would get its own parliament, but would still be part of the United Kingdom. This was the main goal of Irish politicians in the British parliament in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.



Volunteers Handbill


This handbill, distributed in Dublin, cites Robert Emmet. Emmet led the failed rebellion of 1803.



Recruiting Poster for World War One



Map of Ireland and foreign battles in World War One. Many Irishmen served in the British army and navy throughout the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.



Padraig Pearse (1879-1916)

Pearse  Age 18 (c. 1897)

Padraig (Patrick) Pearse was an Irish poet, teacher, and revolutionary. He was one of the leaders of the takeover of the General Post Office during the Easter Rising in 1916. Spokesman for the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB -- later the IRA) and the Irish Volunteers. Executed by the British along with the other 14 leaders.



Aftermath of British shelling, Dublin 1916


Dublin was destroyed by shelling from a British gunship that came up the Liffey River into the center of Dublin to fight the rebels. Nelson’s Tower can be seen in the distance.




Irish rebel prisoners in Stafford Gaol

1916 prisoners

Captured Irish Rebels (1916), Michael Collins marked with an 'x.’





Sectarian riot in York Street, Belfast

Sectarian Riot


Protestant shipyard workers are shown driving back Catholics on their way to work on Queen's Island in 1920.





News of Michael Collins being shot and killed in Cork.

Collins's Death

Scene in Dublin in 1922, during Irish Civil War (1922-23)

The news of Collins's death was a traumatic shock. Collins was a member of the IRA, the political party Sinn Fein, and the Irish Volunteers. From 1917-1920 he fought with Eamon De Valera and other rebels against the British. During the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921) he led the IRA and was a member of the unofficial Irish government. He later negotiated a treaty with British PM Lloyd George. De Valera disagreed with the terms of the treaty and led a rebellion against the nascent Irish State. Collins supported the new state. He was killed during the Irish Civil War (1922-23).


1979 Public Mass at Phoenix Park

1979 Mass in Phoenix Park Pope John Paul II visited Dublin in 1979, leading a public mass in Phoenix Park during his visit. This picture shows the crowds of 1.25 million in attendance. Catholicism has been the majority religion in Ireland for most of its history. In the 1970s, 90% of Irish people identified as Catholic and attended at least mass once a week. While the majority still are baptised as Catholic and attend first communions, the figure attending mass weekly fell to 25% in 2006.  Said Irish journalist Simon Rowe, then editor of the Catholic newspaper The Voice Today, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune, "The 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II, that was the high-water mark of Catholicism in Ireland."

Source: Hundley, T. "How Catholicism Fell From Grace in Ireland." The Chicago Tribune. "Nation and World." July 9, 2006. Image source: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/227/444406075_f3e5d19a02.jpg


British Soldier in Catholic Belfast neighborhood

Brit solider

Taken 1989 in Clonard Gardens, Belfast, NI.
British soldiers arrived one day, blocked off the street, and this soldier then swept the road for mines.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/20354043@N00/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0



Three Generations of Lambeg Drummers


Brownlees Family. Three generations from Ballymena, members of the Orange order, Lambeg drummers. 1989.

Source: The Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College




The  Spire

spikeDublin, 2004. Erected in the winter of 2002-3, , the Spire of Dublin, or Monument of Light, stands where Nelson's PIllar once did on O'Connell St. (once Sackville St.), the main thoroughfare on the North side of the city.




Temple Bar , Dublin

Temple BarA scene of the nightlife in a walking district in Dublin called Temple Bar which now is teeming with restaurants, bars, and cultural attractions. Established in 1990s after the area went through a period of  decay.