Prior to 1922 see Great Britain
An island in northwestern Europe, west of Britain. After the Celtic conquest of the British Isles in the 4th century B.C., Ireland was a center of Gaelic culture in Western Europe. After its conversion to Christianity by St. Patrick in the 5th century A.D., it was a center of Christian scholarship and an outpost of Christian culture, amidst pagan German and, later, Norse, incursions in Northwest Europe. In the 12th century, England began invasions of Ireland and eventually conquered the island. The Irish never accepted the harsh English rule, and there was constant pressure for independence. Open revolution during 1916-19 brought freedom to most of the country in 1921, as the Irish Free State, a dominion within the British Commonwealth. In 1937 the name Eire was adopted and independent sovereignty was proclaimed, following a national plebiscite. In 1948-49 full independence was proclaimed and recognized by Great Britain. A continuing source of tension is the status of Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland, which has remained part of the United Kingdom. There, the Protestant majority resists union with the Catholic Irish republic, and centuries of antagonism between Protestants and Catholics continue in bloody terrorist acts from extremists on both sides. Negotiations on the future status of Ulster are ongoing.