Irish literature is almost inevitably influenced by the political and sectarian history of Ireland, so an overview of that history is very important.
Ireland: A Brief History
1155: English involvement with Ireland most clearly begins, with Henry II’s invasion.
1366: The Statutes of Kilkenny are passed, laws which restrict the Gaelic language and culture.
1535: Henry VIII assumes the title King of Ireland.
1540s: While the Protestant Reformation takes place in England, Ireland remains Roman Catholic.
1556: First English settlers in Ireland.
1572-3: English settlers in Ulster.
1601: Revolt by the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel.
1603: Gaelic Ireland is finally conquered by England.
1607: Flight of the Earls.
1608-9: More settlement of Ulster under James I.
1641: Catholic revolt against the settlers.
1649-50: Cromwell subdues rebellion in Ireland. Massacres in Drogheda and Wexford.
1690: The Battle of the Boyne takes place on 12th July. The Protestant King William of Orange defeats Catholic James II.
1691: Treaty of Limerick and the Flight of the Wild Geese.
1690s-1820s: Suppression of Irish Catholics through the Penal Laws.
1791: United Irishmen founded by Wolfe Tone.
1798: Rebellion by the United Irishmen put down.
1800: Act of Union. Irish Parliament suspended; Irish MPs have to take their seats in Westminster.
1803: Robert Emmet leads a rebellion, which fails.
1829: Catholic emancipation; Catholics can stand for Parliament. Daniel O’Connell, referred to in Translations, is the first Catholic to become an MP.
1833: Translations set.
1840s: The Great Famine following the potato blight. Steep decline in population due to starvation and emigration.
1848: Members of the Young Ireland movement revolt, and the Fenians are formed.
1867: Fenian uprising and the formation of the Protestant Orange Order in response.
1858: Formation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
1912: Home Rule Bill for Ireland is finally passed. In response 470,000 Protestants sign a covenant of defence of the Union with England. Formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
1914: World War One. Irish Home Rule suspended.
1916: Republican Easter Rising, which is unsuccessful. Its leaders are executed.
1919-21: The War of Independence against Britain.
1921: Treaty ends the war. The result is that 26 counties form the independent Irish Free State. 6 counties with a Protestant majority remain within the UK, forming Northern Ireland.
1921-22: Civil War in Southern Ireland caused by a disagreement over the Treaty and Partition.
1937: Irish Free State becomes the Republic of Ireland.
1945: Start of Reading in the Dark.
1967: Formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
1969: Arrival of British troops in Nothern Ireland, to protect the Catholic minority.
1970: The formation of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
1971: The start of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) offensive and the introduction of internment in Northern Ireland. End of Reading in the Dark.
1972: Bloody Sunday occurs on 20th January. 13 Catholic civil rights marchers killed by British paratroopers. Stormont Government suspended. Direct rule of Northern Ireland from Westminster.
1973-4: The Sunningdale Agreement sets up power-sharing between Catholics and Protestants; brought down by a loyalist strike.
1975: Internment is ended. North published.
1980: Translations first performed.
1981: IRA prisoners campaign for political status by going on hunger strike; 10 die.
1997: Reading in the Dark published.
1998: The Good Friday Peace Agreement brings tentative peace to Northern Ireland as the IRA and Loyalist terrorist groups commit themselves to political means.
1999: The Northern Ireland Assembly is established at Stormont.
2000: Arguments over the IRA’s decommissioning of weapons leads to the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly for a time and the reimposition of direct rule by Westminster.
2002: Northern Ireland Assembly suspended again in October. Northern Ireland is still ruled directly by Westminster.
For a more detailed exploration of Ireland’s history, refer to the comprehensive BBC site.