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The History of Ireland: Four Turning Points

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The History of Ireland: Four Turning Points

From Conversion to Conquest

All-Day Weekend Program

Full Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, October 3, 2020 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2094
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
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In an ancient legend recounted in The Book of Invasions from the 11th-century, the island of Ireland is populated by waves of intruders, some of whom have supernatural powers. The real story is less magical but equally fascinating, as Ireland was profoundly shaped by its encounters with newcomers: peaceful missionaries who sought to bring Ireland into the orbit of the Christian church, Vikings bent on trade and plunder, and English invaders who arrived in the 12th century but took more than four centuries to subdue the island completely. How did each of these encounters with outsiders change the course of Irish history?

Historian Jennifer Paxton explores the complex history of Ireland’s interactions with the outside world that led to the transformation of the island over a thousand years from a relatively isolated island to a colony of its far more powerful neighbor, England.  

9:30–10:45 a.m.  The Conversion to Christianity

How was Ireland transformed from a bastion of paganism into a thoroughly Christian society that evangelized much of northern Europe? Learn about how St. Patrick (and many lesser known missionaries) converted Ireland to Christianity, and how the Irish created a distinctive new culture drawing on both their own pagan past and on the classical legacy they adopted along with the new religion.

11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  The Vikings in Ireland

Do the Vikings deserve their fearsome reputation? Their impact on Ireland was lasting but somewhat surprising. In addition to raiding and plundering, they also founded most its important cities in Ireland, including the capital, Dublin, and they drew Ireland into a far-flung trading network that stretched as far as Russia and the Islamic world.

12:15–1:30 p.m.  Lunch break (participants can either stay in the webinar or leave and return)

1:30­­–2:45 p.m.  English Invasion and Settlement

The English invasion of Ireland started out as a semi-official, largely entrepreneurial enterprise led by noblemen eager to carve out new lordships far from the reach of the English king. The crown was not fully committed to conquering Ireland due to the expense involved, but neither could it abandon the English settlers, leading to four centuries of conflict and cultural contact between the newcomers and the native Irish that created a hybrid society, neither wholly English nor wholly Irish.

3–4:15 p.m.  The Tudor Conquest of Ireland

After centuries of shrinking from the cost of military conquest, England finally determined to subdue Ireland once and for all when the Protestant Reformation created new political alignments in Europe that threatened English security. Since Ireland was seen as a back door for invasion by Catholic Spain, the government of Elizabeth I embarked on the final subjugation of the island, followed by extensive English and Scottish colonization that sowed the seeds for the political conflict that would characterize Irish history to the present.

Paxton is clinical assistant professor in the department of history and director of the university honors program at Catholic University of America.

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